THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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Ex-priest testifies against Bagri
Vancouver, December 6
Ajaib Singh Bagri, the key accused in the Air India bombing case, urged Sikhs to avenge “Operation Bluestar”, ordered by then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a former head priest of a Hamilton gurdwara told the court.

White-black clash over Zimbabwe
Abuja (Nigeria), December 6
A panel of Commonwealth leaders wrestled today with the divisive issue of Zimbabwe’s suspension, while the summit of Britain and its former colonies turned to the pressing concerns of AIDS, terrorism and free trade.

Scams — almost like back home
Abuja, December 6
If scams and scandals are an important component for improving the comfort level of politicians, for the Indian netas Nigeria would be almost like back home.

Abuja — a feast for the eyes
Abuja, December 6
Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today laid the foundation of the Indian High Commission building in Abuja. After Abuja became the federal capital of Nigeria India’s was among the many diplomatic missions that stayed put in Lagos, the former capital and financial hub of the African nation.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee watches a model of the new Indian High Commission building after laying its foundation stone in Abuja on Saturday Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (R) watches a model of the new Indian High Commission building after laying its foundation stone in Abuja on Saturday.
— PTI photo

Special UK envoy for India
Abuja, December 6
British Prime Minister Tony Blair will send a special envoy to India next month for an “informal confidential exchange” of views with National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra to have a closer understanding on global, political and economic situation between the two countries.


Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi participates at a working session held behind closed doors in Tunis during a summit of five southern European countries
Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi participates at a working session held behind closed doors in Tunis during a summit of five southern European countries and five North African nations devoted to regional cooperation, on Saturday. — Reuters

EARLIER STORIES
 

Window on Pakistan
Peace initiatives occupy centrestage in media
C
onfidence-building measures (CBM) between the two warring nations continue to occupy centrestage in most Pakistani newspapers. Both English and Urdu seem to be competing in churning out surfeit of articles and editorials, either warning Pakistani leaders of the designs of wily Indian leaders or arguing that the present mood and efforts should lead to a permanent peace.

Bomb in Afghan bazaar injures 20
Kandahar, December 6
A bomb exploded in a bazaar in this southern Afghan city today, injuring 20 persons, at least three of them seriously, officials said. The bomb, apparently placed on a motor cycle, went off outside a hotel at about 12:30 p.m. (0230 hrs IST) in the Herat bazaar in Kandahar’s commercial centre.

More than 3,600 persons, dressed as Santa Clause, gather in Taipei on Saturday to break the world record for the largest meeting of Santas More than 3,600 persons, dressed as Santa Clause, gather in Taipei on Saturday to break the world record for the largest meeting of Santas. An official from the Guinness Book of World Records said the 3,618 Santas in Taipei broke the previous record, set on December 7, 2002, when 2,685 costumed Santas paraded down the streets of Bralanda, Sweden. — Reuters

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Ex-priest testifies against Bagri

Vancouver, December 6
Ajaib Singh Bagri, the key accused in the Air India bombing case, urged Sikhs to avenge “Operation Bluestar”, ordered by then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a former head priest of a Hamilton gurdwara told the court.

Bagri addressed a congregation and held private meetings at the Hamilton gurdwara about seven times between July and October 1984 to recruit members for a terrorist group, former head priest Tejinder Singh testified before the British Columbia Supreme Court yesterday.

“At every meeting (Bagri) reminded people that the Indian Government is our enemy, the same way the Hindu society is our enemy,” Singh told the court.

Bagri always visited the temple with Talwinder Singh Parmar, the leader of the Babbar Khalsa who is considered the mastermind behind the Air-India bombings, he said.

“Get your weapons ready so we can take revenge against the Indian Government,” Singh quoted Bagri as saying.

He said Bagri also urged Sikhs to boycott Hindu businesses and Air-India, the national carrier, the Canadian Press reported.

“We are slaves in Punjab. Our brothers and sisters are being killed and so we have to stand up for ourselves. Nobody’s going to help us.

“So to make our own state we need an army, we need ammunition, we need rifles to fight with the Indian Government to make our own state, Khalistan,” Singh quoted Bagri as saying at a meeting at the gurdwara.

These meetings were also used as fundraisers for the Babbar Khalsa, said Singh, who worked at the temple from April 1981 to October 1984.

Parmar or Bagri never asked for money directly but indirectly the committee members, used to collect money, (saying) ‘We need the money for organisation,’” Singh said.

Bagri was Parmar’s “right hand” in the armed struggle against the Indian government.

Bagri’s lawyers did not challenge Singh’s testimony.

Parmar, the alleged mastermind of the Air India bombing, was shot dead by Indian police in 1992.

Bagri and co-accused Ripudaman Singh Malik are charged with murder and conspiracy in the deaths of 329 people aboard Air India’s ‘Kanishka’ flight on June 23, 1985.

About an hour earlier the same day, two baggage handlers were killed at Tokyo’s Narita Airport after a suitcase exploded before it was to be loaded on to another Air India flight. — PTI

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White-black clash over Zimbabwe

Abuja (Nigeria), December 6
A panel of Commonwealth leaders wrestled today with the divisive issue of Zimbabwe’s suspension, while the summit of Britain and its former colonies turned to the pressing concerns of AIDS, terrorism and free trade.

The six-nation panel, which includes India, is charged with breaking the impasse over President Robert Mugabe’s exclusion, which dominated the 52-nation summit’s opening sessions yesterday.

Western leaders say the year-old suspension should stand till Zimbabwe embraces democracy and human rights. But several African and other developing nations are campaigning for Mugabe’s reinstatement — insisting that dialogue and engagement, not isolation, will bring about change.

Some spoke with resentment, saying Western nations were trying to impose their will on others.

“We should not penalise a member country which is faced with problems,” Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, was quoted as saying in Saturday’s New Straits Times newspaper.

“There is a tendency among the white governments in the Commonwealth to tell us to do this and that,” Syed Hamid told the newspaper. “They must stop their colonial ways, stop dominating us in the Commonwealth.”

The special panel of Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, Mozambique and South Africa is to set ground rules determining whether Zimbabwe’s isolation continues.

On Friday, former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, lost out in the battle for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General.

Kadirgamar lost to incumbent New Zealander Donald McKinnon 11.40. The New Zealander’s second term as Secretary-General starts in March. According to diplomatic sources, Kadirgamar was put up by South Africa and other African countries to register their protest against the continued suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. — AP, IANS

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Scams — almost like back home
Tribune News Service

Abuja, December 6
If scams and scandals are an important component for improving the comfort level of politicians, for the Indian netas Nigeria would be almost like back home.

Nigerian President Oleusegun Obasanjo, who won a second term of four years on the anticorruption plank, must have amazing reserves of energy to be seen cracking the whip on his own corrupt ministers on the day when he, as host, was also busy with the inaugural ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting here.

The talk of the nation, that is more interested in setting its own house in order, than in the high diplomacy on display at the meeting of 52 heads of government of former British colonies, was the sacking of Labour Minister Alhaji Husaini Akwanga for alleged acts of corruption by President Obasanjo.

Akwanga, along with two former ministers is charged with having cleaned up the bank to the tune of $214 million as head of the national identity card programme. Surely the amount that the disgraced Nigerian minister and his political and bureaucratic partners in crime would make most Indian scams like crying over the pinching of small change.

There is a shade of the India in the unfolding identity card scam in the sense that one of the accused, former director of the department of national civic registration, Mr Christopher Orumgre is in the united kingdom with which Nigeria does not have an extradition treaty. Without him the anti-graft commission is reluctant to make further arrests. L.H.N.

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Abuja — a feast for the eyes
L.H. Naqvi
Tribune News Service

Abuja, December 6
Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today laid the foundation of the Indian High Commission building in Abuja. After Abuja became the federal capital of Nigeria India’s was among the many diplomatic missions that stayed put in Lagos, the former capital and financial hub of the African nation.

Abuja is an unusual city. It is unlike any other planned national capital, including Islamabad and Canberra. Islamabad is said to be a close copy of Chandigarh. But Abuja, perhaps the newest city in the world, considering it became the official capital of Nigeria in 1991, has a lot more character, in terms of town planning and architectural designing than Chandigarh or Islamabad. The planners have made intelligent use of the little hillocks on which the city is located to create an ambience of a hill resort (although temperatures at the height of winter are slightly lower than what would count as a heat wave in India!). Another unique feature is that Abuja as the new planned capital of Nigeria was cleared by President Oleusegun Obasanjo in the 1970s, when was in power as a military dictator! Today it is still in the process of expansion under a dispensation, headed by Mr Obasanjo, who is being praised by the global community for laying the foundations of genuine democracy in one of the most impoverished nations of Africa.

Abuja does not have any of the problems of an overcrowded city like Lagos. But what makes it an interesting place to visit is the clever use of open spaces and use of a mix of architectural styles. It makes Abuja, perhaps, the most attractive township in Africa, if not the world.

The Indian High Commission building will come up on a plot of land in what looks like an improvement on Delhi’s Chanakyapuri.

The best way to enjoy the beauty of this city is stand on top of a high building. There is no shortage of magnificent edifices in Abuja. From the national mosque, with its golden dome glistening in the sun, to the bright pink federal secretariat complex, to the newest addition, the national sports building, Abuja provides an asthetic feast to the eyes.

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Special UK envoy for India
Devidas Gupta

Abuja, December 6
British Prime Minister Tony Blair will send a special envoy to India next month for an “informal confidential exchange” of views with National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra to have a closer understanding on global, political and economic situation between the two countries.

This was conveyed by Blair when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee met him today on the sidelines of the ongoing Commonwealth Summit here.

The two leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including the security sitution in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process and terrorism, Indian High Commissioner in London Ronen Sen told reporters after their parleys.

As regards the meeting between Blair’s special envoy Sir Nigel Sheinwald and Mishra, Sen said there would be no fixed agenda and it would not be a formal meeting. — PTI 

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Window on Pakistan
Peace initiatives occupy centrestage in media
Gobind Thukral

Confidence-building measures (CBM) between the two warring nations continue to occupy centrestage in most Pakistani newspapers. Both English and Urdu seem to be competing in churning out surfeit of articles and editorials, either warning Pakistani leaders of the designs of wily Indian leaders or arguing that the present mood and efforts should lead to a permanent peace. Most comments happily fall in the second category. M.A. Niazi writing in the Nation found some correlation between domestic political cauldron reaching boiling point and the flurry of confidence-building between India and Pakistan.

He wrote: “ There may be no direct linkage, but they represent a juggling act, as both tracks of negotiations crisscross each other, and interact to create pressures on the Musharraf-Jamali combination. The government is negotiating with the enemy on both tracks, though the enemy is not really an out-and-out demon.” He wrote: “The primary reason relates to domestic politics. At the moment, the government has taken steps, which leave it vulnerable to the charge of cracking, of bending over backwards to please the Indians.” Niazi also found “pressure from USA, as the Taliban was getting support from some areas of Pakistan, and to relieve pressure on strategic goals in its West, therefore, it appears Pakistan might be relieving pressure by playing along with US wishes in the East. It is a paradox that Musharraf is refusing to budge domestically from his position that he will not give up his uniform, but is now budging cheerfully on bilateral issues with India.”

An editorial in the Nation found India serious about peace. It wrote: “While it is understandable that the full Indian response will take time to be milled through a system of consensus, there is ample indication here that the Vajpayee government is more receptive to CBMs than it is to talking on the core issue of Kashmir. There appears to be a reversal of diplomatic strategy since the Agra Summit: Pakistan had emphasised the need to focus on the core issue of Kashmir, while India gave the CBMs priority; Islamabad had pushed for a structured dialogue, while New Delhi insisted on freewheeling talks. Now Pakistan seems to be showering India with CBMs without extracting any understanding that the Kashmir dispute will be put on the table; India is soaking up the CBMs and according to a spokesperson is now asking for a structured dialogue whenever it takes place”.

But columnist Nusrat Mirza struck a different note in Nawa-e-Waqt: “Foreign Office had not formulated foreign policy on the basis of its permanent self-interest but on short-term advantage. It had done the right thing by siding with the USA during the cold war and then getting the USA and China to unite, but was not afterwards able to ensure Pakistan’s benefits. It got Pakistan into the big global gambles where others used the country as a pawn. The last great blunder was the adoption of America’s war against the Al Qaida as its own war. This was the most dangerous gamble striking at the very root of Pakistan’s identity as a state,” he wrote.

Columnist and parliamentarian Shaukat Mahmmod wrote in News International, “Good sense seems to have invaded the subcontinent for a change. Yesterday’s nuke brandishers are now sitting across a table and actually agreeing on something. The flight suspension over each other’s territory was particularly ridiculous and hurt both nations. It was about time that this was undone. The path to peace seems so rational and has such good outcomes that one wonders why it takes so long to move towards it. Now that we are finally on it, let us not prevaricate or be afraid of the unknown. Let us do what needs to be done for peace. The only beneficiaries would be the one billion people living in the subcontinent.”

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Bomb in Afghan bazaar injures 20

Kandahar, December 6
A bomb exploded in a bazaar in this southern Afghan city today, injuring 20 persons, at least three of them seriously, officials said.
The bomb, apparently placed on a motor cycle, went off outside a hotel at about 12:30 p.m. (0230 hrs IST) in the Herat bazaar in Kandahar’s commercial centre.

“Taliban and al-Qaida carried out this terrorist attack. We are trying to catch those responsible,” said city police chief Mohammad Hashim.

Mr Nick Downie, head of ANSO, an independent body that advises aid organisations on security in Afghanistan, said seven persons were seriously wounded. Mr Hashim put the figure at three.

Mr Downie said the motorcycle was parked between two cars shortly before the explosion and that surrounding buildings were badly damaged. Kandahar is the former stronghold of the Taliban, whose supporters this year have mounted a wave of deadly attacks on soldiers from the US-led coalition, Afghan officials and aid workers.

On Wednesday, two US soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, in Kandahar when a suspected Taliban militant threw a grenade at their military vehicle in a busy square. Residents say American soldiers have been patrolling the city since a car bomb exploded outside UN offices here on November 11, injuring two, including a UN security guard. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.

Today’s blast came a day after the Taliban threatened to step up attacks ahead of the Grand Assembly or Loya Jirga in Kabul later this month to approve a new constitution. — AP, Reuters

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BRIEFLY


US troops patrol through a flooded street after heavy rain in Baghdad on Saturday
US troops patrol through a flooded street after heavy rain in Baghdad on Saturday. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Saturday that there was no chance of American forces stumbling on key Iraqi fugitives, including the former dictator.

Miss India Ami Vashi waves to the crowd after being named one of the five finalists at the Miss World 2003 contest in Sanya
Miss India Ami Vashi waves to the crowd after being named one of the five finalists at the Miss World 2003 contest in Sanya, China, on Saturday. However, it was Rosanna Davison of Ireland who took away this year's Miss World title. —Reuters photos

Russians to vote today
MOSCOW:
Russia’s 110 million voters will cast their ballots in the State Duma elections on Sunday, the results of which are expected to further erode the strength of Communists in the parliament. In all, 2,000 contenders belonging to 23 parties are in the fray for the 450-seat Duma, the lower house of Parliament. However, only about five of them are expected to garner more than five per cent votes, the legal minimum for entering Parliament. —UNI

Koreans protest against troops to Iraq
SEOUL:
Some 3,000 people rallied near the US embassy here on Saturday to protest the South Korean government’s decision to send troops to Iraq. The protesters chanted anti-US and anti-government slogans on the pavement, some 150 metres away from the embassy compound. They also chanted slogans opposing a free trade agreement with Chile and opening the market to agricultural imports. Companies of riot police formed human barriers to block roads leading to the embassy. — AFP

Independent filmmakers win suit
NEW YORK:
Independent film producers won a major court battle on Friday when a federal judge stopped big movie studios from enforcing the so called “Oscars screener’’ ban that prevents advance copies of films being sent to movie award judges. US District Judge Michael Mukasey sided with independent film producers who accused the Motion Picture Association of America of participating in an antitrust conspiracy to limit the smaller movie makers’ exposure during the annual award season. — Reuters

Student’s prank lands him in lockup
Kuala Lumpur:
Malaysian police arrested a 19-year-old student after he claimed during a flight that he would hijack the plane with his two guns, a report said on Saturday. Deputy district police chief in Kuching said a stewardess onboard an AirAsia plane overheard the student talk to his mother about hijacking the plane. Investigations revealed that the teenager had joked because he was concerned that there were no taxis from Johor Baru airport to neighbouring Singapore, where his family was heading. — AFP

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