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EDITORIALS

The daily bread
Congress tries to reach out to the poor 

A
ll
party manifestos aim for the moon, and dole out plenty of promises. From a ruling party’s point of view, the Congress manifesto is a well-thought-out document aiming at the welfare of all sections of society, focussed more on the weaker sections. 

Sheer arrogance
Mulayam culpable for threatening EC official 
Some
politicians are arrogant even before the elections. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav believes that he can do anything and get away with it. That is, perhaps, why he has reportedly made in one of his speeches threatening references against the District Magistrate of Mainpuri, from where he is contesting the Lok Sabha elections.


EARLIER STORIES

Third alternative?
March 25, 2009
Prosecute Varun Gandhi
March 24, 2009
Iran as the US master-key
March 23, 2009
Buy the best for armed forces
March 22, 2009
Jail for Telgi
March 21, 2009
Threat to security
March 20, 2009
Punish Varun
March 19, 2009
Marxist manifesto
March 18, 2009
Restoration of Chief Justice
March 17, 2009
Deepening crisis in Pakistan
March 16, 2009
Manifesto of an unborn party
March 15, 2009


Attack on media
Kerala CPM must check the tendency
T
HE frequency and ferocity of attacks on the media are increasing day by day. Goons intoxicated on power think nothing of physically harming journalists whose writing they find inconvenient. 
ARTICLE

Bailing out the unbailable
Only saving the world will help the US
by Aditi Roy Ghatak
A
bus ride in New York costs a dollar and a half; a Citigroup share costs less and that, in a manner of speaking, sums up the state of capitalism in its citadel, the US. The question is being asked whether capitalism, as we have known it, has gone kaput and whether the humungous stimulus packages being offered by the US and Europe to Japan and South Korea can really salvage anything from a mass graveyard of the erstwhile soldiers of capitalism. The question deserves serious consideration because, at best, the stimulus seeks to tweak the system that got it into the state of financial meltdown to begin with; there seems to be no new thinking.

MIDDLE

Virtual time
by Harish Dhillon

Time once gone never returns.  This idea has been the refrain of so many songs, and poems that it remains deeply etched on our minds all through our lives. Our parents, too, tell us to make the most of each moment because it is never going to return, no matter how much we may want it to. Yet, my own experience tells me that time does sometimes return and visit us again, moments from the past come back totally unbidden, in a virtual kind of way.

OPED

Manifesto for ‘aam admi’
Congress promises cheap food for the poor
News analysis by Anita Katyal, our Political Correspondent
Years
ago when former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh had insisted that the state’s election manifesto include a provision for free power to farmers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had scrutinised the poll manifesto, had raised serious objections to doling out subsidies which, he argued, would worsen the financial condition of the electric utilities and place an unnecessary burden on a cash-strapped government. Manmohan Singh was overruled by the Congress leadership, which was facing a crucial assembly election.

Lebanon’s freedom is fragile
by Max Boot
U
S Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says: "We need to focus on the three D's – defense, diplomacy and development." No mention of another D word: democracy. This new approach has garnered widespread applause across the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Not in Lebanon.

S. Africa denies visa to Dalai Lama
by Karin Brulliard
Organizers
of a peace conference meant to showcase the role of sports in promoting unity canceled the forum on Tuesday, citing the South African government's decision to block the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, from attending.




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The daily bread
Congress tries to reach out to the poor 

All party manifestos aim for the moon, and dole out plenty of promises. From a ruling party’s point of view, the Congress manifesto is a well-thought-out document aiming at the welfare of all sections of society, focussed more on the weaker sections. Many of these promises may be made for electoral reasons, but improving the standard of living of those at the lower rungs is choosing the right path, even if it means greater efforts to strike a balance between growth and social justice. In the country where a large section of the people still does not get two square meals a day, it makes sense to enact a National Food Security Act, under which it would provide 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg to every family living below the poverty line. The scheme, besides making the poorest of the poor hope for their daily bread, may also win over the farming community. To that extent, the proposal may prove to be as effective a selling proposition as “Gharibi Hatao” turned out to be for Indira Gandhi way back in 1971. Although details have yet to be announced, the decision to create a youth corps for those between 18 and 23 years of age for “nation-building” is welcome — a measure which, if properly implemented, can help dilute the rigours of unemployment and draw the youth away from the naxalites and sundry groups controlled by the criminal mafia, caste senas and other such elements.

The manifesto also promises to revolutionalise the reservation regime. It has offered quota for economically weaker sections of all communities without prejudice to the existing reservation for SCs/STs/OBCs; reservation for minorities in government employment and education on the basis of their social and economic backwardness on the lines of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, 33 per cent quota for women in central government jobs, free education for SCs/STs and education loan without collateral. Essentially, the economic criteria for reservation are being underlined.

On almost all national, international and regional issues, the party has promised to walk the “middle path” befitting the party’s nature and temperament. Laudable that the blueprint for the future is, everything will depend on its implementation. The Congress must ensure that the manifesto becomes its agenda for governance in case people return it to power. The public too must make sure that the Congress and other political parties conform to what they had put on offer to garner votes and don’t forget their pre-poll promises. 

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Sheer arrogance
Mulayam culpable for threatening EC official 

Some politicians are arrogant even before the elections. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav believes that he can do anything and get away with it. That is, perhaps, why he has reportedly made in one of his speeches threatening references against the District Magistrate of Mainpuri, from where he is contesting the Lok Sabha elections. As the CD submitted by the DM, also a Returning Officer, to the Election Commission has it, the SP chief said, “I am restraining myself only because you are a woman officer. Had you not been a woman, you would have already faced the consequences.” This is a serious matter and calls for exemplary punishment for Mr Yadav. He is a former Defence Minister and UP Chief Minister, who should know how to behave with the officials of the Election Commission.

Mr Yadav has made the threatening remarks against the Mainpuri DM because she has allegedly cancelled the gun licences of many people, who obviously might have been posing a threat to the conduct of elections. She has done her duty as an officer. Mr Yadav’s conduct cannot be justified. Irrespective of who have been deprived of their gun licences, no one has the right to browbeat an officer associated with the conduct of the elections. The Election Commission must take action in the matter soon to send across the message that anyone found guilty of violating the code of conduct or trying to influence the conduct of elections in any manner will not be spared, howsoever high or mighty he may be.

An almost similar incident happened in Madhya Pradesh last November. It was a case of a minister having insulted a woman electoral officer-in-charge of the Sonkach assembly constituency. Following a complaint by the woman officer, the minister was arrested and put behind the bars for a few days. Mr Yadav, too, must be made to realise at least this time that he cannot be allowed to go scot-free if the charges against him are found to be correct, or unless he apologies to the officer.

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Attack on media
Kerala CPM must check the tendency

THE frequency and ferocity of attacks on the media are increasing day by day. Goons intoxicated on power think nothing of physically harming journalists whose writing they find inconvenient. On Saturday, the Kozhikode office and OB van of TV channel Manorama News was ransacked allegedly by CPM workers. This blatant attack was one of a piece with a similar assault on the Palakkad district office of Mangalam, a Malayalam daily, last month, also by CPM men. The provocation? A reporter of the daily had posed an uneasy question to Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan during a Press conference whether the party would look into the corruption charges against the district leadership.

Such intolerance towards the media thrives because of the tacit support that the attackers enjoy at the hands of the ruling party in the state. The supporters of the party are invariably given a long rope by the police. The conclusion is inevitable that those in power are behind such attacks. It is not true of Kerala alone, where CPM workers rule the roost. Similar high-handedness is brazenly shown by elements of the Sangh Parivar in Karnataka and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. The Editors Guild of India strongly condemns such incidents, but the governments do not go much beyond making some perfunctory arrests.

“Hurt sentiments” is the excuse flaunted too often by disgruntled elements for whom any kind of criticism is a red rag. While physical intimidation is the worst form of unofficial censorship, many other lesser methods are also routinely used to browbeat journalists. These include slapping libel cases against the publications in different parts of the country, just to harass them. Closer home too, many a Chief Minister has tried to browbeat the Press by such time-tested methods as stopping official advertisements. All right-thinking persons should join hands with the journalistic community in condemning such tendencies because it is not just an attack on the newsmen but also an assault on the common man’s right to know. 

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Thought for the Day

The way to ensure summer in England is to have it framed and glazed in a comfortable room. — Horace Walpole

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Bailing out the unbailable
Only saving the world will help the US
by Aditi Roy Ghatak

A bus ride in New York costs a dollar and a half; a Citigroup share costs less and that, in a manner of speaking, sums up the state of capitalism in its citadel, the US. The question is being asked whether capitalism, as we have known it, has gone kaput and whether the humungous stimulus packages being offered by the US and Europe to Japan and South Korea can really salvage anything from a mass graveyard of the erstwhile soldiers of capitalism. The question deserves serious consideration because, at best, the stimulus seeks to tweak the system that got it into the state of financial meltdown to begin with; there seems to be no new thinking.

Approached from the commonsense perspective, it would seem that the answer to the problem and the mass of junk that it has produced clearly lies in demand rather than supply- side management as has been practised for about three decades. Demand management would, in this case, entail creation of employment for it is the salary that the wage earner earns that will finance the demand. In America’s case, thanks to the outsourcing of the production base, the wage earner lives in China! This represents the final stage of the three-step prescription provided by the International Monetary Fund in the late seventies, when Mrs Margaret Thatcher ruled supreme in Britain.

Economists had forgotten to put on their thinking caps in those heady days of supply side economics that primarily believed that it was the supply of financial inputs that would oil the entire economy as America emerged as the sole super power; its writ ran all over the world. Thanks to Operation Desertstorm of the 1990s, the war with Iraq — whereby Mr George Bush managed to get the Western world allied with hardly a voice of dissent — and the break-up of the Soviet Union that led to the disappearance of any opposition, whatsoever, it was an unipolar world with a standard economic policy. There was no professional manager that thought otherwise; the West used every communication device at its disposal; the glitzy power point presentations to convert the “nay” sayers. Even the mainline economists and business writers succumbed to the Western propaganda.

America thus ushered in globalisation of the kind that it had devised: free movement of goods and money, but no free movement of employment. It is the restriction of the cheap labour that was confined to the underdeveloped world that eventually led to a crisis of monumental proportions within the developed world. The arrival of Premier Deng of China in the mid-nineties cleared the decks to make China the global production platform and, in effect, the developed world became the distribution centre for such products in a world where everything seemed hunky- dory.

Apparently, things were not so but by then the offshoring, for instance, was making available to the corporates vast surpluses on the labour account and within a matter of years China was the El Dorado of all American businesses and, for that matter, of the rest of the developed world. America had decided that demand management was not a concern because that would mean focusing on creating domestic demand at the current levels of the cost. Thus, on the one hand, the American corporates had surplus funds and, on the other, there was a world of low-cost produce flooding the American market whilst much of the surplus that corporate America produced spilt over into Wall Street for want of any alternative investment channel, once the dotcom bubble went bust. That was the beginning of the dance of the Dow Jones. What happened in America, happened around the rest of the developed world.

There is one simple truth that one tended to forget in those heady days of supply- side economics: people make up the economy, not primarily money or commodities. The pre-Thatcherite world was largely dominated by a system where money went into production that was sold at a profit that was ploughed back in a balanced cycle of funds within a domestic economy. The globalised world order broke the cycle and led to outsourcing of production as the developed economies chose to become service economies, selling products made overseas. The message was: it did not matter where production was taking place as long as the people at home could afford the commodities in the market. It was inevitable that under such a system the building of surpluses was taking place in China — at the last count it had shot up to $1.9 trillion at the macro-level, taking both the China and US end — while employment dwindled, leading to a drop in earnings at a micro-level and a virtual collapse of demand.

The beneficiaries of such a system, as long as the going was good, were the large corporates — that primarily soared on the wage differential — the US government that enjoyed the benefits of Chinese reserves being pumped into government securities and Wall Street bankers, that stood to gain in a regime in which money did not have to go into domestic production and could easily be pumped into Wall Street operations.

The state of balance of payments was disrupted on the one hand and, on the other, the government — under the watchful eye of Alan Greenspan — chose to direct all spending towards a mortgaged housing system even as the top Wall Street bankers conspired to create a world of toxic assets that have been much written about. In effect, the American economy was left with anything between $11 trillion and $13 trillion in the mortgage market with a still undetermined amount having gone toxic.

Worse, the ordinary American was left with very little real money though much of the US was holding huge volumes of junk bond. Overnight people who considered themselves to be comfortably placed were shoved into the realms of penury and debt even as the producers of American goods — the car makers, companies like GE and other such towering figures of capitalism were left tottering. At the last count the American insurance giant AIG was in the red by $61.7 billion for the final quarter of 2008. No American corporation had ever reported such a huge loss, the annual deficit being around $100 billion.

The government’s response was that the insurer was “too big to fail” as it extended to AIG another $30 billion in new capital in addition to the $150 billion in new equity and loans that was provided last year.

What about the US government? Uncle Sam, on its part, is even deeper in the red but is left with no option but to pump in paper money — estimated to go up to around $3 trillion — to transfer the bankruptcy noose from the necks of the Wall Street bankers to its own. The grateful Jeffrey Immelt, boss of General Electric, made appropriate noises around the crisis resulting in the global economy and capitalism being “reset in several important ways” with the government becoming a “key partner” to business even as its shares tumbled and the top credit rating came under threat.

To get back to the original question, can such a stimulus help? It would be worthwhile to follow this logic: the stimulus package can only apply to the domestic economy. The truth, though, is that the domestic economy in the West, from the US and the UK to Germany, the Netherlands along with much of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan has virtually outsourced the real economy. The question then is: on whom will the stimulus be applied as far as the real economy is concerned? Will a bankrupt country bail out the unbailable for, as far as the financial economy is concerned, banks in most developed countries are virtually bankrupt; their funds are lost in a toxic maze of shadow banking. The European banks have become a spent force, having put in funds into East European reconstruction. For the US, saving America will only be possible if the world is saved, but nobody is looking beyond his nose around the stimulus spend.

In India, given the current shape of demand and the real economy — construction, automobile, personal credit — the damage is still to be assessed and divulged. Clearly, the government cannot afford to disturb the fragile balance in a pre-election period. Come June and the skeletons are bound to come out of the cupboard. The developing food and energy shortage should gradually become full-blown. That is when the shit will hit the fan. There can be no polite way of making this point.

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Virtual time
by Harish Dhillon

Time once gone never returns.  This idea has been the refrain of so many songs, and poems that it remains deeply etched on our minds all through our lives. Our parents, too, tell us to make the most of each moment because it is never going to return, no matter how much we may want it to. Yet, my own experience tells me that time does sometimes return and visit us again, moments from the past come back totally unbidden, in a virtual kind of way.

It was 1972, my second year in school as a teacher, and I had been assigned the stage management of the school show “The King and I”.  Mr B Singh, Mucho, the director, insisted that I be there throughout rehearsals right from day one.  The props, both stage and personal, had to be provided weeks before the dress rehearsal so that the actors knew how to handle them without any awkwardness.  I knew every word, every movement of the play and I knew all the cast and crew as if they were members of my family. 

It had been gruelling work  but I had enjoyed every moment of it and for months afterwards I would find myself humming one of the songs.  But over the years the experience faded away and was completely forgotten.

In 2003, in YPS, “The King and I” was taken up as the annual play.  Apart from a passing comment,  “We did this in Sanawar in 1972”, the situation did not evoke any memories or bring that magical performance back to me. Then one day, while on a round,  I heard young, ethereal voices practicing the song “Getting to Know You”.  Time slipped away.  It was 1972 again.  My heart missed a beat and I felt blind panic.  I was late for rehearsal and Mucho would kill me.  I rushed as fast as I could and as I ran I worried about all the things  that could have gone wrong.  Butch was always fidgeting with the vase I had borrowed from Mrs Sawhny, he might have knocked it off its stand and broken it.  Ashish was constantly pulling the cotton snow from the roof of Uncle Tom’s cabin to make moustaches.  He could have taken it all off.  Perhaps Jyotsna had not been able to get the fan from the property box  in time for this scene.

I came finally to the rehearsal and in a flash 1972 was gone and I was in 2003 again.  There was no Barne Hall, no Mucho, no Jyotsna, no Ashish, no Sanawar.  For a moment I stood there, my mind a total blank, unable to cope with the rapid time-transit. Then I turned and walked slowly back to my office. This was not a mere stirring of memory, I had actually been in 1972 and lived through that magical time again.

Time is not irretrievable, moments do not go away, they remain a part of us as long as we live.

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Manifesto for ‘aam admi’
Congress promises cheap food for the poor
News analysis by Anita Katyal, our Political Correspondent

Years ago when former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh had insisted that the state’s election manifesto include a provision for free power to farmers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had scrutinised the poll manifesto, had raised serious objections to doling out subsidies which, he argued, would worsen the financial condition of the electric utilities and place an unnecessary burden on a cash-strapped government. Manmohan Singh was overruled by the Congress leadership, which was facing a crucial assembly election.

Today, when the global economy faces the worst crisis in 50 years, when the market mantra is on the wane and world leaders have suddenly rediscovered the virtues of socialism and a mixed economy, the Prime Minister, also known as the father of economic reforms in India, would have had little objection to the Congress’s manifesto for the 2009 elections released yesterday. It offers an endless list of freebies to the grand old party’s core constituency comprising the poor, minorities and farmers.The aam aadmi remains the party’s centre piece while inclusive growth is now the new mantra even as economic reforms take a back seat.

The “middle path”, enunciated at the 2003 AICC session in Bangalore following an outcry against unbridled economic liberalisation by vocal and committed “Left-of-Centre” voices from within the party ranks, has acquired a new thrust in the party’s manifesto.

“Balance – or the middle path - has always been the hallmark of the policies of the Indian National Congress”, the manifesto underlines and goes on to point out that it is this balance which is standing India in good stead while the world faces a severe recession.

Falling back on the old trusted model of “mixed economy”, the grand old party has been quick to take credit for the resilience shown by the Indian economy under the current adverse circumstances, putting it down to the policies of successive Congress governments which supported a strong public sector and the nationalisation of banks.

It is in line with this “middle path” that the Congress has emphasised that both the private and public sector are necessary for India’s growth story. The pro-reforms agenda of the Congress-led UPA government had faced tough opposition from the Left parties, which were supporting the ruling coalition from outside.

Consequently, the UPA government was forced to abandon its plans to undertake disinvestment of profit-making public sector undertakings and privatisation of nationalised banks.

The Congress now tacitly admits that these forced decisions actually saved the day for the UPA government when developed countries found themselves in the grip of a severe financial crisis as India remained largely insulated from the global slowdown precisely because of its state-owned banks and a profitable public sector.

It has instead adopted the middle path of disinvestment, where the government holds the majority shareholding, as against privatisation which would put private players in the driving seat. It is a recognition of this Indian reality and the recent experiences of major US private banks and insurance companies which has propelled the Congress election manifesto to reject the policy of blind privatisation while specifying that companies in the manufacturing sector like energy, transport and telecom and in the financial sector like banks and insurance will remain in the public sector.

Since the name of the game is all about wooing the electorate and winning elections, the Congress manifesto is, predictably, high on populism. Clearly pleased with the success of its national rural employment guarantee scheme, promised in the last manifesto, the Congress has gone a step further by offering a subsidised food scheme for the poor and farmers to cushion the adverse impact of global meltdown.

Continuing with its commitment to the “aam aadmi”, the Congress has promised to enact a National Food Security Act, which will entitle all families below the poverty line, by law, to 25 kg of rice or wheat every month at the rate of Rs 3 per kg. The party said it will set up subsidised community kitchens in all cities for homeless people and migrants. In this particular instance, the party appears to have been inspired by the success stories of the legendary N.T.Rama Rao and, more recently, Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, who was able to buck anti-incumbency and rode to power on the basis of his offer of cheap foodgrains.

Although state governments have, over the years, used this sop successfully, this is the first time that such an offer is being made at an all-India level.

This is not all. Continuing to position itself as as a party which cares for those living on the margins, its lengthening list of poll promises also includes need-based scholarships for all students, free education for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe children, job quotas for the minorities, health insurance coverage to every family below the poverty line while assuring a special deal for farmers, a powerful constituency which the Congress wants to woo with promises of crop insurance schemes and interest relief to all farmers who repay bank loans on schedule.

The Congress is clearly under pressure as it fears that the global meltdown could result in large-scale job losses. That perhaps explains its unabashed populism which economists and experts fear could further burden the country’s fragile economy and widen a fiscal deficit, which is already over 10 per cent of the GDP.

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Lebanon’s freedom is fragile
by Max Boot

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says: "We need to focus on the three D's – defense, diplomacy and development." No mention of another D word: democracy.

This new approach has garnered widespread applause across the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Not in Lebanon. At least not among members of the March 14 coalition, as the pro-democracy forces are known. The name is a reference to the date in 2005 when more than 1 million people gathered in downtown Beirut to protest the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a massive car-bomb blast widely believed to have been arranged by Syrian agents. Those protests, which came to be called the Cedar Revolution, garnered strong support from France and the United States and forced Syria to end its long occupation of Lebanon.

But in the four years since, Syria and its Hezbollah proxies have tried to stage a comeback described by former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel as "creeping annexation." Although the Syrian regime has opened an embassy in Lebanon for the first time, it has still not sent an ambassador to a country that it has long viewed as a wayward Syrian province.

It's believed that Syria continues to ship arms to Hezbollah in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, passed in August 2006 to end the war between Hezbollah and Israel. The Syrian-backed campaign of intimidation culminated in a May 2008 rampage by Hezbollah gunmen through Beirut, which forced a power-sharing arrangement that gave Hezbollah veto power over the Lebanese government.

The coming parliamentary elections on June 7, assuming they are held as scheduled, will be the latest test of strength between the forces of March 14 and those of March 8 (the date in 2005 of a less-attended pro-Syria rally). But even if the March 14 coalition candidates win, they will face a difficult struggle to maintain their country's fragile independence.

The Lebanese army lacks the capacity or the will to take on Hezbollah, and the Christian militias, active in the civil war from 1975 to 1990, have been disbanded. That leaves Lebanese democrats almost entirely dependent on outside support. They are cheered that the U.N. tribunal set up to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the Hariri assassination has now convened, but they still fear they will be sold out by Western powers intent on doing a deal with Syria or Iran.

"Stop legitimizing Hezbollah by opening official channels with them as the British government is doing," Ali Makdad, a Shiite political activist, pleaded with a group of U.S. visitors organized by the New Opinion Group, a pro-democracy nongovernmental organization. The British are claiming they will talk only to the "political wing" of Hezbollah, but Makdad and others point out that is a distinction without a difference: All of Hezbollah is dedicated to taking over Lebanon.

If American talks with Syria were aimed at curbing its meddling in Lebanese affairs, the March 14 activists told us, they would be acceptable. But more likely, they say, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad will simply stretch out the negotiations while he continues to try to undermine Lebanese democracy. They especially fear a relaxation of U.S. sanctions. "Any release of pressure on Syria and Iran would have serious repercussion on the Lebanese domestic scene," said Fares Souaid, secretary-general of the March 14 coalition.

For the time being, Lebanon is flourishing. A plethora of newspapers and television stations air a variety of viewpoints. Political candidates vigorously debate the issues, including the possibility of normalizing ties with Israel. Beirut, a war zone not so long ago, once again feels like the Paris of the Middle East. Fashionably dressed young people party late into the night at bars and clubs where the booze flows freely. There are more burkas visible in London than in Beirut.

Yet everywhere there are reminders of how fragile the Lebanese achievement is. Just a few miles from secular Beirut neighborhoods, you can drive into Hezbollah-dominated Shiite strongholds where posters of "martyrs" such as terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh are rife and where an Iranian-style theocracy is taking root.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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S. Africa denies visa to Dalai Lama
by Karin Brulliard

Organizers of a peace conference meant to showcase the role of sports in promoting unity canceled the forum on Tuesday, citing the South African government's decision to block the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, from attending.

South Africa's denial of a visa to the Dalai Lama prompted a quick exodus of several star members of the conference's lineup, who accused the government of succumbing to pressure from China, a major trade partner. The government's decision drew widespread condemnation, with critics portraying it as a major blunder ahead of the nation's hosting of the 2010 Soccer World Cup and an erosion of South Africa's reputation as a beacon of freedom and human rights.

"The conveners have therefore decided, in the spirit of peace, to postpone the South Africa peace conference to ensure it is held under conducive conditions," Irvin Khoza, chairman of South Africa's World Cup organizing committee, the conference sponsor, told reporters at a news conference that was originally intended to publicize the event's final schedule. It was to begin Friday.

Two of three South African Nobel peace laureates who had invited the Tibetan leader, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president F.W. de Klerk, said Monday that they would boycott the event, and organizers said the third, former president Nelson Mandela, would likely do the same. The Norwegian Nobel Committee also backed out.

A spokesman for South African President Kgalema Motlanthe played down the controversy, saying the government had not been bullied by China but felt the Dalai Lama's presence would distract attention from next year's soccer tournament. Motlanthe would not welcome the Dalai Lama for any reason, "whether today or tomorrow," spokesman Thabo Masebe said.

"We would like to take full advantage of this in terms of promoting and marketing South Africa to the rest of the world," Masebe said in an interview. If the Dalai Lama came, he said, "the people would be talking about Tibet, talking about China and so on. That would be a diversion."

If South Africa's intent was to avoid a firestorm, it greatly backfired. On Tuesday, the topic dominated talk radio and newspapers, which were emblazoned with headlines such as "SA sells its soul to China." Some critics said the visa decision, like South Africa's gentle approach to autocratic Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, was more evidence the government that toppled apartheid was abandoning its values.

"This rejection by the government, to not issue a visa, is really tainting our efforts at democracy. It's a sad day for South Africa. It's a sad day for Africa," said conference organizer Mandla Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela. "Where are we heading in the future?"

A spokeswoman for the Chinese Embassy in the capital of Pretoria declined to comment on whether China, which regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist, had urged South Africa to turn him away.

"All countries which have diplomatic relations with China, including South Africa, recognize that there is only one China in the world and do not recognize the so-called independence of Tibet," spokeswoman Du Ling said, reading a statement. "We fully respect the position upheld by the South African government."

The conference was to be kicked off with a tour of Soweto, the Johannesburg township that was an epicenter of anti-apartheid resistance, and finish with a soccer match between South Africa and Norway. Khoza said the soccer match will take place and that organizers hope to reschedule the conference before the World Cup.

That will mean re-inviting several luminaries of diplomacy and the silver screen who had pledged to attend. On Tuesday, organizers held up letters of confirmation from people including Queen Rania of Jordan and South African actress and U.N. Messenger of Peace Charlize Theron. The government was given a list of the invitees in November, which included the Dalai Lama, and made no objections, Mandela said.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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