Anna fasts for strong Lokpal as LS debates bill

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Mumbai: Amidst cheering supporters, Anna Hazare today began his three-day fast here in protest against a "weak" Lokpal Bill even as Lok Sabha initiated a debate on the proposed law.

Hazare, who is suffering from a viral infection, arrived at the MMRDA grounds in Bandra Kurla Complex of suburban Mumbai along with his close aides Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Manish Sisodia to a thunderous applause and slogans of `Bharat Mata ki Jai` and `Vande Matram`.

Hazare began his fast shouting slogans of `Vande Matram` and `inqilab zindabad`.

The 74-year-old activist reached the venue after paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Juhu Beach while on his way in a rally, which took two-and-half hours to reach the ground, passing through Santacruz, Tulip Star Hotel, Mithibai College, S V Road, Vile Parle, Khar and Bandra Highway.

Hazare travelled in a decorated open truck from the guest house to MMRDA grounds waving tricolour and a number of people were seen waiting to greet him on the streets.

However, there was high drama on way as around 20 men blocked his convoy and showed him black flags. The convoy of Hazare, on way to Mahatma Gandhi`s statue on Juhu beach, was briefly stopped by the protesters carrying black flags and national tricolour and shouting "Anna Hazare murdabad".

In Delhi, Lok Sabha started a discussion on the bill. However, Team Anna`s protest elicited a lukewarm response with supporters blaming the winter chill and absence of Anna Hazare for the low turnout at Ramlila Maidan.

The protest relay fast in Delhi was scheduled to start at 10 AM but it started only 90 minutes later as the crowd was not as huge as witnessed during the earlier agitation when Hazare was at the centre stage.

The leader of the protest in Delhi Shanti Bhushan himself came to the podium at 10:30 AM though another Team Anna member and his son Prashant Bhushan was at the venue before explaining to media persons about the protest and the delayed start.

Hazare was supposed to sit on a fast here but the venue was changed taking into consideration the weather in the capital. The activist is staging a three-day fast in Mumbai.

Prashant blamed the chilly and foggy weather for the low turnout in the morning. "I am sure people will come here as well. It is a cold day, foggy day today. It will take sometime for people to turn up. They will come, don`t worry," he said.

Activist Gopal Rai said winter and probably the absence of Hazare may be the reason for the low turnout but expressed hope that more people will come.

Explaining the need for protest, Prashant said the Bill in its present form is unacceptable. Protest will continue as well as jail bharo agitation, he added.

Team Anna has raised the pitch yesterday by pointing out "four non-negotiable" demands for calling off their jail bharo agitation which included provision for an independent investigating agency for the anti-corruption ombudsman.

In Mumbai, police have fortified the fast venue by deploying 2000 police constables and 200 sub-inspectors of police, six platoons of state reserve force, three Quick Response Team and two Bomb Detection and Disposal Squads.

The ground has six emergency exits, 16 fire extinguishers, six metal detector units and round-the-clock ambulance services.

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