India's anti-graft activist returns home a 'hero'

RALEGAN SIDDHI, India - Anna Hazare, the Indian activist whose 13-day fast forced the government to reconsider a new law tackling graft, has returned to his village in triumph after leaving hospital.

The 74-year-old arrived in Ralegan Siddhi, in the western state of Maharashtra, late Wednesday to loud cheers and celebrations from local people bearing traditional gifts of flowers and sweets.

Hazare had spent four days in a New Delhi hospital after ending his public hunger strike in the capital on Sunday morning. During his fast he lost 7.5 kilogrammes (16.5 pounds) in weight.

"Anna's health is excellent now," Vibhav Kumar, one of Hazare's spokesmen, told AFP. "He is eating normal food again."

Hazare's campaign, which galvanised millions across the country, pressured India's government into agreeing in principle to some of his demands over new anti-corruption legislation.

Hazare, who regards the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi as his hero, stepping out of a car in Ralegan Siddhi, around 165 kilometres (100 miles) from Mumbai, to be greeted by well-wishers.

He was also met by crowds waving the Indian flag and shouting slogans of support at Pune airport, before being driven to the village.

The veteran campaigner lives in a spartan room in the Hindu temple that he helped rebuild with his own money.

Ralegan Siddhi has became a magnet for visitors inspired by his cause.