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A crucial round of talks between Team Hazare and the government ended Monday with both sides sticking to their stands on key issues, including on bringing the prime minister within the ambit of a strong Lokpal bill.

But both sides for the first time agreed that the atmosphere of their seventh meeting was 'non-acrimonious' and 'cordial'.

Emerging from the three-hour, penultimate meeting at North Block, Gandhian Anna Hazare described it as 'good' and said the talks are 'finally' back on track.

While Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal described the meeting as a 'major step forward', the civil society members were less happy, saying that 'two new issues of disagreement have emerged' and the key issues are yet to be resolved.

The two sides will be meeting for the last time Tuesday - to exchange their versions on the 'contentious issues' on the Lokpal bill, which would then be submitted to the cabinet for a final call.

Speaking to reporters, Sibal said there were 'full-fledged discussions on a range of issues. The atmosphere was non-acrimonious, it was friendly... there was a broad consensus.'

'I think it's a major step forward. Both sides feel that we should move towards a consensus, and where there are significant areas of divergence and disagreements to formulate a draft in which those areas will be spelt out,' he said.

Sibal also said the government will be meeting and discussing the key issues with political parties. The all-party meet - the dates will be announced - will be held in July.

'It has been a major breakthrough because ultimately on the basis of the broad range of agreements, I think there will ultimately be a strong Lokpal bill, which will be put in place,' he said, adding that the bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament.

He claimed that the two sides agreed on '80-85 percent of the clauses' in the bill. However, the civil society members denied this.

Describing Monday's meeting as 'cordial', civil society members said 'differences persisted' between the two sides.

The two sides have been locked in a war of words in recent weeks over various issues, including on whether or not to bring the prime minister and higher judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal.

Although this was not taken up in Monday's meeting, the two areas of disagreement that arose were on removal of the Lokpal and appointment of the Lokpal selection committee.

Later, lawyer and Hazare confidante Prashant Bhushan said: 'We had two new issues that were discussed. One was the appointment of the Lokpal selection committee and the other was removal of the Lokpal.'

The meeting started Monday 11 a.m. and went on till 2 p.m.

Giving more details, Arvind Kejriwal, also activist member of the drafting committee, said they had 'proposed a broad-based committee consisting of non-political and independent people in the draft of the proposed bill while the government's version has mainly political people in the appointment committee'.

'There were a lot of disagreements between both the sides, but all of them were discussed in an elaborate way,' Kejriwal said.

Besides Hazare, Bhushan and Kejriwal, other civil society activists on the panel that was set up in April to frame a comprehensive Lokpal bill to fight corruption in high places are Karnataka Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde and Supreme Court advocate Shanti Bhushan.

Hedge could not attend the meeting as he had some prior commitment and would be attending Tuesday's meeting.

The government is represented by cabinet ministers Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, M. Veerappa Moily, Salman Khurshid and Sibal.

By Indo Asian News Service | IANS
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