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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped | Reflections

EDITORIALS

Jolt for Akalis
Power is not for amassing wealth
THE Shiromani Akali Dal has suffered a major setback when its top leaders Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukbir Badal did not get any relief from the Supreme Court in the corruption cases in which they are embroiled.

Prison term for Navjot
The law does catch up one day 
The sentencing of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu to three years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for the murder of a person in Patiala 18 years ago by the Punjab and Haryana High Court is bound to be hailed as an independent and bold judgement.

Costlier power in Haryana
Make its supply regular at least
The Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission has hiked the power rates for different consumers except farmers. That is in keeping with the pro-farmer image of the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government. 



EARLIER STORIES

From minister to lifer
December 6, 2006
A step forward
December 5, 2006
Invite Hurriyat to talks
December 4, 2006
We will tackle women’s problems jointly: Kamal
December 3, 2006
Setback for BJP
December 2, 2006
Protest within limits
December 1, 2006
Politics of oil
November 30, 2006
Rajnath again
November 29, 2006
Maya in the soup
November 28, 2006
Dam of discord
November 27, 2006
Career in the military
November 26, 2006
SC snubs Modi
November 25, 2006
Hu’s advice
November 24, 2006


ARTICLE

Supreme Court as saviour
Women can have child’s custody even if they remarry
by V. Eshwar Anand
The Supreme Court, as the protector and custodian of people’s rights, has never failed in its duty in coming to the rescue of hapless citizens. Remarkably, in the latest case, it has departed from the traditional law by ruling that a divorced mother can be the guardian of her minor child even after her remarriage.

MIDDLE

One man’s battle for eco-logic
by Baljit Malik
Mine is a one-man battle, struggle, celebration.
That man could also be you.
A man not always lonely.
A man sometimes, depressive, at times manic, sometimes swinging along vibes of harmonic equilibrium.

OPED

China-Pakistan nexus
The aim is to encircle India
by Amit Kumar
Not many in New Delhi would be doubtful on the Chinese perceptions about India’s strategic weaknesses and Beijing’s propensity to pin down India with the help of its “all-weather” ally, Pakistan.

Liberhan report soon
It has been 14 years but nemesis might still come calling on several leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and hardline Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) when Justice M.S. Liberhan, probing the demolition of the Babri mosque, completes his report.

Fiji’s military faces sanctions after seizing power from PM
by Christopher Zinn and Anne Penketh
Fiji's armed forces have staged the country's fourth coup in 20 years after a long-running political crisis. The bloodless seizure of power - ending weeks of tension between the military commander and the Prime Minister - was played out in a typically leisurely Melanesian fashion, and resulted in immediate international sanctions.

Lebanon ripe for war by proxy
by Mohamad Bazzi
The Lebanese political crisis risks creating a new proxy conflict between Shia-dominated Iran, which supports Hezbollah, and Sunni Arab regimes allied with the United States. This battle is an extension of a similar struggle between Iran and Arab governments over the future of Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime until the U.S. invasion in 2003.


 REFLECTIONS

 

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Jolt for Akalis
Power is not for amassing wealth

THE Shiromani Akali Dal has suffered a major setback when its top leaders Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal did not get any relief from the Supreme Court in the corruption cases in which they are embroiled. Five other Akali leaders, who were in the Badal ministry, besides Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal in the Amarinder Singh government, have also been affected by the ruling. They had questioned the cases registered against them on the ground that the sanction for prosecution was not in order. The court has categorically ruled that there was no need for prior sanction for prosecution of public servants, including chief ministers and ministers, in corruption cases. It will give little comfort to them that they have been hit as hard as Railway Minister Lalu Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi and Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achutanandan.

In turning down their pleas, the Supreme Court has laid down the principle that the law requiring prior sanction for prosecution of public servants could not be taken advantage of by the corrupt. The provision for prior sanction was incorporated in the rules to free the public servants from the bother of malicious litigation, which will prevent them from discharging their duty in a fair and impartial manner. Asking for and obtaining bribe, taking commission etc cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as discharging official duty. The ruling is a warning to all those who think that by using their power and influence in the government they can frustrate all attempts to haul them up before a court of law by managing denial of prior sanction.

The immediate fallout of the ruling is that the Akali leaders will have to fight the corruption cases registered against them in the courts of law. It is going to be a tough battle which can sap their energy, particularly when they have to face the electorate in a few months from now. Their plan to put the Amarinder Singh government in the dock for the corrupt deals it went into will get blunted somewhat when they have to defend themselves against charges that they had amassed a huge fortune when they were in power in the state. Whatever be their political and personal problems, the Supreme Court judgement is a step forward in the fight against corruption irrespective of who is in power and is, therefore, a welcome warning to all those rulers who tend to misuse their position to amass wealth for themselves and their families.
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Prison term for Navjot
The law does catch up one day 

The sentencing of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu to three years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for the murder of a person in Patiala 18 years ago by the Punjab and Haryana High Court is bound to be hailed as an independent and bold judgement. The Division Bench consisting of Justice Mehtab Singh Gill and Justice Baldev Singh, without being influenced by the high profile and star status of the accused, decided the case purely on the evidence. Sidhu and his associate, Rupinder Singh, were convicted on December 1 for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The court has suspended the sentence to enable him and his accomplice to go on appeal to the Supreme Court by January 30. This may seem to be a bit of reprieve for Sidhu, but the conviction and the quantum of punishment, unless set aside by the Supreme Court, are a big blow to his political future and career with TV channels.

One has to wait and see what stand the Supreme Court would take on Sidhu’s conviction and sentence. In principle, the apex court does not want the High Courts to reverse acquittal orders passed by lower courts. By the same token, the apex court has also ruled that undue sympathy should not be shown while awarding punishment to accused.

Whatever may be the outcome of Sidhu’s special leave petition in the Supreme Court, there is no doubt that his image has taken a beating. This will affect the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine’s prospects in Punjab which has projected him as the star campaigner in the forthcoming assembly elections. The BJP is following double standards. It condemns the UPA for making Mr Shibu Soren a Union Minister, now imprisoned for life, but considers Sidhu as “innocent”. However, Wednesday’s Punjab and Haryana High Court ruling, close on the heels of Mr Soren’s imprisonment by the Delhi Sessions court, sends out a clear message to the political class — no politician can escape the long arm of the law if found guilty of criminal offence. 


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Costlier power in Haryana
Make its supply regular at least

The Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission has hiked the power rates for different consumers except farmers. That is in keeping with the pro-farmer image of the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government. Creditably, the successive Haryana governments have resisted farmers’ pressure to opt for Punjab’s populist approach of giving free power to agriculture. However, it is not proper to club all farmers in one category. The state subsidy should be given only to the really deserving. Thanks to the skyrocketing land prices, there are quite a few “crorepati” farmers in Haryana who can pay their power bills.

Power reforms, initiated by the Bansi Lal government, have got stuck. The Hooda government too has avoided taking hard decisions. Political interference in the power sector is a reality. The power utilities deferred the levy of the fuel surcharge for extraneous reasons and now propose to recover the arrears amounting to Rs 941 crore from the industry and government agencies and Rs 319 crore from the domestic consumers. The regulatory commission has rightly expressed its dismay at this, but let them off lightly.

Domestic and corporate consumers may not mind paying a little more for power provided its regular supply is assured. The gap between demand and supply is fast widening due to the accelerated pace of industrialisation in Haryana. The government needs to invest more in the power sector to expand the present capacity while the power utilities can focus on reducing pilferage and other transmission losses. Purchasing power during the peak summer months may be a good temporary solution, but it is better to have regular and reliable sources of power. There is a talk of having a nuclear power plant in the state. A tie-up with Himachal Pradesh for tapping the latter’s tremendous hydel power potential may also be an option.

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Thought for the day

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. — American proverb

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Supreme Court as saviour
Women can have child’s custody even if they remarry
by V. Eshwar Anand

The Supreme Court, as the protector and custodian of people’s rights, has never failed in its duty in coming to the rescue of hapless citizens. Remarkably, in the latest case, it has departed from the traditional law by ruling that a divorced mother can be the guardian of her minor child even after her remarriage.

Significantly, the Supreme Court was not impressed by the pleadings of a Saudi Arabia-based businessman-father that he had all the money and resources to take care of the child and impart the best education available to him. What mattered to it most was the degree of love and affection of a divorced mother vis-à-vis her child. When the boy wants to stay with his mother, “it will be beneficial for the boy and his education for a better future”, ruled the court.

The Bench, headed by Justice A.R. Lakshmanan and Justice Altamas Kabir, quashed the judgement of the Kerala High Court which reversed the finding of the trial court and directed the mother, Lekha, to give the custody of her 12-year-old son, Rohit Vishnu, to his father, P. Anil Kumar. A careful examination of the case suggests that the High Court dealt with the case in a casual and perfunctory manner. It didn’t try to understand the larger dimension of the case — the repercussions of the loss of a mother on a child’s mental condition. Surprisingly, the High Court did not even bother to seek the child’s opinion about his own preference - whether he intends to live with his father or mother.

The Supreme Court verdict is indeed a watershed in the annals of custodial law. For, unlike the Kerala High Court, it refused to confine itself to the four corners of the statute book. Instead, it looked beyond the parameters of the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890, and the Hindu Law with a view to rescuing a hapless woman and her child. Its overriding concern was the child’s welfare and, thanks to the judgement, this has now become the law of the land for all the courts to follow - including the family courts - on deciding cases relating to the custody of minor children.

According to the Hindu Law, the father is the natural guardian of a minor after the age of six years. In the next place, the guardian of a child is the mother. The cardinal principle of guardianship is that there is a presumption that parents will be able to take better care of their children unless, of course, they are unsuitable as guardians. Though the legislation is heavily loaded in the father’s favour, the courts will have to keep the child’s welfare in mind while deciding on his custody.

The Supreme Court ruled that the mother’s remarriage after the divorce of her first husband is no ground for depriving her parental right of custody. In cases like the present one, the mother may have shortcomings in terms of her financial status, but this “does not imply that she is not deserving of the solace and custody of her child.”

It is noteworthy that the father lost the case in the trial court. He claimed that he was financially better off than his wife to look after the child. He had even promised to keep a chauffer-driven vehicle at the child’s disposal to attend school and return home. The trial court examined the oral and documentary evidence and, more important, interviewed the child before dismissing the original petition.

The father, then, knocked the doors of the Kerala High Court. He said that his divorced wife’s remarriage, soon after the trial court’s order, contrary to her deposition before the trial court that she would not remarry, would harm the child’s welfare. The High Court, however, erred in allowing his appeal. For, according to the Supreme Court, the High Court, without seeking the child’s opinion about his “willingness” to stay with his mother, peremptorily decided in the father’s favour squarely on the ground of her remarriage.

The Supreme Court observed that the High Court had committed “a grave error” in not seeking the child’s views. It said that this fact had been consistently held by the courts for deciding the grant of custody of minor children. A crucial factor that goes in the mother’s favour is that she and the child have been living together happily for several years, her divorce and remarriage notwithstanding. She gave birth to a child after remarriage and this too in no way affected her deep attachment towards the first child.

The child unequivocally told the trial court - and the apex court - that he would continue to live with his mother. When the son expressed his preference for the mother, the High Court had no right to rule otherwise, said the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has ruled that in this case, there is no finding by the High Court that the mother’s remarriage has adversely affected the child’s mental condition. In this context, the apex court had relied on three earlier rulings - Shaik Moidin v. Kunhadevi, AIR 1929 Madras 33 (Full Bench); Samuel Stephen Richard v. Stella Richard AIR 1955 Madras 451; and Thrity Hoshie Dolikuka v. Hoshiam Shavaksha Dolikuka, AIR 1982 SC 1276. In all these rulings, the courts have ruled that the fact that the father is the natural guardian would not ipso facto entitle him to custody. As it is a question of the minor child’s future and welfare, the courts should examine such cases carefully. There could be exceptions when a mother is insane or unsound. But the mother has to be preferred because the tender years of a child need her care, protection and guidance most.

At the same time, the Supreme Court recognised the fact that the love and affection of both parents is a must for the harmonious upbringing of the child. Keeping this in view, it ordered that the father should be given every opportunity to enjoy the child’s company during important festivals, vacations and weekends. Thus, the ruling, while restoring the child’s custody to the mother, also approved of the father’s right to have a say in his welfare.

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One man’s battle for eco-logic
by Baljit Malik

Mine is a one-man battle, struggle, celebration.

That man could also be you.

A man not always lonely.

A man sometimes, depressive, at times manic, sometimes swinging along vibes of harmonic equilibrium.

Many are the methods in this madness that must be harnessed in the battle against the insanity of eco-illogicality.

Methods Gandhian-Martin Luther Kingish.

Methods incorporating folklore, theatre jazz, Naxal energy, constitutional propriety, techniques and technology of electronic communication. My battles begin with myself, not others. But they do not end with myself. For battles have to be waged with and against others. Battles against being over and under-weight. Against feasting, fasting, starving.

Against being in too much of a hurry.

Against fashion, appearances, being politically correct.

Against over-consumption, too much organised religion and education.

Against too much organisation, too much freedom.

Battles not only against, also battles for:

Common sense and decency.

For caring, compassion, for repairing-rediscovering our lost natural instinct; for militant resistance against eco-illogicality.

Battles for “eco-friendly”, not chemicalised warfare; battles to convert defence forces from being killing machines to being regiments to protect land, air and water from eco-illogicality.

Sometimes a 3 in 1 battle with, for and even against the word of ecologists and environmentalists; when battles remain words for others while inaction, an ossification of established habit persist in our personal life;

When ayurveda, health foods, yoga, and ultimatums for detoxification turn from panaceas to being a scourge, a plague on Nature.

I am waging this battle within myself.

Will you join me in a similar battle within yourself?

A battle at times lonesome, sometimes with a mentor, a pupil, a friend.

A battle with a bird, an insect, a pet.

A battle with strangers, with anonymous friends in a crowd.

A battle against too much wealth pocketed, banked too unevenly; a battle against too much electricity, too many lights and ACs; a battle against too much agriculture and industry; too many books, newspapers, TVs, exams, degrees. A battle against a minority, against parasites living off a majority.... even against parasites at war against other parasites.

To be sure, a battle nevertheless...with dhyana, pranayam, a living Nirvana of ecstasy, exultation, victoriousness.

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China-Pakistan nexus
The aim is to encircle India
by Amit Kumar 

Not many in New Delhi would be doubtful on the Chinese perceptions about India’s strategic weaknesses and Beijing’s propensity to pin down India with the help of its “all-weather” ally, Pakistan.

To acquire strategic and economic gains in South Asia, China and Pakistan have signed major agreements for modernisation of transport corridors covering Xinjiang, Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the northern areas, and expansion of the Chinese presence in the Gwadar port. This agreement should be considered as a further step in deepening the Chinese “arc of influence” around India with the help of Islamabad.

China’s role in setting up Gwadar as a deepwater cargo port and naval base is no less significant than its well-documented part in arming Pakistan with nuclear and missile capabilities. The Gwadar port, lying close to the Strait of Hormuz, has the potential to address China’s manifold interests in the region.

A presence in Gwadar provides China with a listening post where it can monitor US naval activity in the Persian Gulf, Indian activity in the Arabian Sea and future US-India naval cooperation.

It would also help China enhance its strategic influence with South Asian nations, particularly Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, which would prompt the Indians in turn to restrengthen its naval spread.

The Pakistan Navy has already announced its decision to treat the Gwadar port as its third naval base after Karachi and Ormara and as an improvement in Pakistan’s deep sea defence. Pakistan benefits from having a new port as alternative to the more vulnerable Karachi which lies 725 km east of Gwadar, and has been blockaded by the Indian Navy during past conflicts.

The value of this distance becomes evident if one considers the vulnerability of Karachi port, which handles 90 per cent of Pakistan’s sea-borne trade. During the 1971 war, India’s blockade of Karachi had a serious impact on the Pakistan economy. During the 1999 Kargil conflict, India had again threatened to blockade the Karachi port.

Agreements on the modernisation of transport corridors between Xinjiang, PoK and the northern areas is a part of China’s grand strategy to gain access to these politically sensitive areas and convert this access into economic opportunities.

China’s trans-border highways are no longer mere transport links for the Chinese Army but are instruments for the expansion of Chinese economic influence into the subcontinent.

The rail and road links via Pakistan will constitute a modern trade corridor between Gwadar and land-locked Xinjiang and western China as well as provide Beijing with new strategic and economic accessibility with Central Asia, West Asia and African states.

China and Pakistan have also agreed in principle to build a trans-Karakoram oil pipeline along the Karakoram Highway to connect West Asia with the Xinjiang region through Gwadar. The pipeline once in place can set the stage for another worthwhile oil link from West Asia and land-locked Central Asia to the Chinese market.

On the pattern of the trans-Alaska pipeline, it would be possible to build an oil grid starting from Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan travelling through Tajikistan and the uninhabited Wakhan corridor and the peaceful Ashkoman valley of the Northern Areas to converge with the trans-Karakoram pipeline at around Gilgit for onward transportation to Gwadar.

China has always had a better sense of gaining geo-strategic advantages across the globe. The contrast with India’s strategic planning is striking. After Independence, India allowed its existing border infrastructure to degrade and consciously chose not to develop additional connectivity on its northern borders.

In spite of its favourable geographical location, New Delhi has failed to match the Chinese strategy to develop infrastructural facilities in the northern region to assure certain economic benefits and strategic gains. Although New Delhi has in recent years showed concerns about Chinese progress in the frontier areas, it is insufficient to counter the China-Pakistan nexus in the region.

To counter the Sino-Pak collaboration, India has brought Afghanistan and Iran into an economic and strategic alliance. India is working in cooperation with Iran to build the Chahabar port and road links between Iran, Afghanistan and northward towards Tajikistan. Once completed, Indians will use this access road to the port for their imports and exports to and from Central Asia.

The establishment of regional trade linkages between Ladakh and Xinjiang through the Karakoram pass and a further extension of this corridor up to Tajikistan is New Delhi’s new strategy, which if successful, would provide a new impetus to India-China and India Central Asia economic relationships. This can also be a possible route for the Tajikistan-India gas pipeline, a secure energy route in contrast to the proposed India- Iran gas pipeline.

Certainly, the agreements between China and Pakistan on the modernisation of transport corridors, development of a new oil route and expansion of the Gwadar port is a wake-up call for India.

The writer is a Research Associate at Indian Pugwash Society, New Delhi

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Liberhan report soon

It has been 14 years but nemesis might still come calling on several leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and hardline Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) when Justice M.S. Liberhan, probing the demolition of the Babri mosque, completes his report.

The one-man panel, one of the country's longest running inquiry commissions which has cost the government Rs.63.60 million till date, is currently writing up his report on the sequence of events leading to the razing of the Babri mosque by Hindu mobs on Dec 6, 1992.

Sources told IANS that besides identifying those who played a role in the destruction of the 16th century mosque, the commission would also unravel why and how the demolition happened and name the larger forces and actors responsible for it.

"At this point all I can tell you is that I am writing the report and it will be given soon," Justice Liberhan told IANS from Chandigarh.

For the hardline Hindutva forces, and the BJP in particular, the report, when it is out, could be a looming black cloud on the horizon especially if it is made available before the crucial Uttar Pradesh assembly elections expected early next year.

Liberhan parried questions on whether any BJP leaders' roles were being scrutinised.

"I will not say anything on the matter. Wait for the report." Appointed by former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao two weeks after the demolition on Dec 16, 1992, to ward off criticism against his government for having failed to protect the mosque, the commission in August last year finished hearing its last witness Kalyan Singh -- who was Uttar Pradesh chief minister at the time of the demolition and was dismissed soon after.

In April this year, after months of delay, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government filed its final written submission before the commission accusing the BJP, its mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena of having "collaborated and connived" to demolish the structure at Ayodhya in a well-planned manner.

"From the records it is apparently clear that the demolition was clearly an act of conspiracy between the state government held by the then chief minister Kalyan Singh, his cabinet colleagues, various prominent leaders of BJP and Sangh Parivar including RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena..." the UPA government said.

The 246-page submission, supported by 149 pages of annexure, states that even minimum force was not used to block the free flow of kar sevaks (volunteers) towards the disputed structure.

The UPA's petition is expectedly in sharp contrast to the National Democratic Alliance's (NDA) stand. Counsel Lala Ram Gupta’s depositions before the commission almost amounted to the assertion that the destruction of the mosque was an act of God.

He also told the commission that the disputed site in Ayodhya was the birthplace of Lord Ram and maintained the only issue was whether a temple existed there before the construction of the mosque in the Uttar Pradesh town.

In 14 years of its proceedings, the commission recorded statements of several politicians, bureaucrats and police officials including Kalyan Singh, late Narasimha Rao, former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani and his colleagues Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati as well as Mulayam Singh Yadav.

— Indo-Asian News Service 

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Fiji’s military faces sanctions after seizing power from PM
by Christopher Zinn and Anne Penketh

Fiji's armed forces have staged the country's fourth coup in 20 years after a long-running political crisis.

The bloodless seizure of power - ending weeks of tension between the military commander and the Prime Minister - was played out in a typically leisurely Melanesian fashion, and resulted in immediate international sanctions.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama said yesterday he had temporarily assumed the country's presidency and sacked Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and his ministers, who he accused of bribery and corruption.

"We consider that Fiji has reached a crossroads and that the government and all those empowered to make decisions in our constitutional democracy are unable to make decisions to save our people from destruction," he told a press conference yesterday.

The Commodore claimed the government, which had won a second five-year term in May, was too lenient with those behind Fiji's last coup in 2000. He had first threatened to overthrow Mr Qarase in July last year.

The Prime Minister, who is under house arrest, has refused to resign. He had previously asked Australia and New Zealand to send troops to Fiji to prevent the coup but was refused.

The Commonwealth's secretary general, Don McKinnon, warned that Fiji faced suspension from the 53-nation organisation which champions democratic principles. The country was suspended in 1987 and 2000 following military interventions.

"The likelihood of Fiji to be suspended is very high," said Mr McKinnon, a New Zealander who convened a meeting of eight Commonwealth foreign ministers in London on Friday which is expected to take the decision to suspend Fiji. Britain immediately suspended bilateral and military assistance, although it has no troops in Fiji. The Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said the coup was, "a major setback to the process of democracy in Fiji".

The political crisis has alarmed countries in the region and Australia sent three warships to Fiji in case its nationals had to be evacuated. The unrest follows trouble in the nearby Solomon Islands.

New Zealand's Prime Minister, Helen Clarke, attacked the "arrogance" of Commodore Bainimarama, saying she could only conclude he was, "severely deluded". "He called on people not to break the law - the military commander has just ripped up Fiji's constitution and chucked it out the window," she said.

New Zealand, which hosted crisis talks between the two Fijians last week, joined Australia in suspending defence ties with Fiji and barred those involved with the coup from entering either country. A ban on sporting contacts is also possible in the future.

Heavily armed troops set up roadblocks throughout the capital Suva and in Nadi, the tourism hub in the west of the main island of Viti Levu.

Last night, the situation in Suva was described as calm but uncertain by Romanu Naceva, a former sergeant major in the Royal Artillery and head of the British Servicemen's Families Association.

"What has happened is regrettable, it's illegal but what can we do? The only support the commodore has had is within his own establishment," he said.

It was announced the interim prime minister would be a doctor, Jona Baravilala Senilagakali, who is not a member of the military and has no political experience.

September 1987

A second coup declares Fiji a republic and gives native Fijians a much larger share of power despite the Indo-Fijian population being marginally larger. Amid international outcry, Fiji is thrown out of the Commonwealth and thousands of Indo-Fijians flee.

May 2000

Although Fiji is readmitted into the Commonwealth in 1997, its membership is suspended after nationalist George Speight takes PM Mahenrda Chaudry, an ethnic Indian, hostage, sparking another coup. Speight is jailed for treason and Laisenia Qarase is made Prime Minister.

December 2006

Mr Qarase proposes an amnesty for the plotters of the 2000 coup - a move bitterly opposed by the military. Relations reach rock bottom as the Prime Minister tries to fire Fiji's military leader Frank Bainimarama who refuses to step down and launches the fourth military coup.

By arrangement with The Independent

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Lebanon ripe for war by proxy
by Mohamad Bazzi 

The Lebanese political crisis risks creating a new proxy conflict between Shia-dominated Iran, which supports Hezbollah, and Sunni Arab regimes allied with the United States.

This battle is an extension of a similar struggle between Iran and Arab governments over the future of Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime until the U.S. invasion in 2003. But unlike Iraq, where the new Shia-dominated government has American support, Arab regimes could have a better chance of influencing events in Lebanon, where the U.S. labels the main Shia party, Hezbollah, a terrorist group.

While Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and his Cabinet remain besieged by thousands of protesters camped outside government offices in downtown Beirut, Arab and Western diplomats are making daily pilgrimages to meet with Saniora. The two major Arab powers, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are leading the charge to ensure Saniora's government does not collapse.

On Saturday, a day after 800,000 people rallied in Beirut demanding Saniora's resignation, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak revealed the extent of Sunni Arabs' worry. He warned against ``foreign powers,'' code for Iran and its ally, Syria, supporting Lebanese Shia and prompting Arab governments to support the Sunnis.

``What I fear is that, if the protests continue and take on a sectarian form, supporters of these sects from outside Lebanon will join in and no one will be able to control it,'' Mubarak said. ``And the result will be a transformation of Lebanon into a battlefield that subjects it to potential destruction.''

When protesters blockaded the Grand Serail, the Ottoman-era palace that houses Saniora and much of his Cabinet, on Friday night, Egyptian and Saudi diplomats pressured the speaker of parliament, a Hezbollah ally, to remove demonstrators from one road leading into the palace.

The growing ambitions of Iran, which wields great influence over the Shia government in Iraq and over Hezbollah, is fueling tensions between Shia and Sunnis throughout the region. Iran also supports the militant Sunni group Hamas, which swept Palestinian elections in January and now controls the government. ``Lebanon has become the latest stage for confrontation between the so-called Iranian-Syrian axis and the conservative Arab regimes backed by Washington,'' said Tall Salman, editor of As-Saffir, a leftist Beirut daily. ``Many Arab regimes are also uneasy about the military success of Ebola.''

After Hezbollah guerrillas abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, Israel launched its most intense attack since it invaded Lebanon in 1982. During the 34-day war that ensued, Hezbollah fired thousands of Iranian- and Syrian-made rockets at northern Israel. While Israeli bombing destroyed large swaths of Shia-dominated southern Lebanon and Beirut suburbs, Hezbollah emerged with its military capability largely intact. In much of the Arab world, it was seen as having scored a victory against a far superior Israeli military.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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God will make a joke of them, amplifying their outrages as they wander astray.
— The Koran

The will of the One God alone pervades in all the worlds, as all creation is born of him.
— Guru Nanak

It is not easy to live among material objects and give up all attachment to them. The wise person is not disheartened by failures. He tries again and again till he masters the art. Perseverance and determination are facilitators to the way of success.
— The Bhagvad Gita

Love is proved by deeds; the more they cost us, the greater the proof of our love.
— Mother Teresa

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