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Cong, BJP spar over Katju

NEW DELHI: Sparring between BJP and Congress on Monday intensified over Markandey Katju's controversial remarks against Narendra Modi and subsequently Arun Jaitley, as the Opposition party demanded dismissal of the Press Council chairman. Rejecting the BJP's demand, AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh jumped to Katju's defence, saying he had always been impartial and wondered whether Jaitley was reacting in this manner because he "owed" his Rajya Sabha seat to Gujarat Chief Minister Modi.

Upping the ante against the PCI chief, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha accused Katju of "crossing the red lines repeatedly" and not using the language befitting a former judge.

"Katju has been crossing the red lines repeatedly through his various press statements. What kind of judge Katju was I don't know, but I am convinced he does not deserve to be the chairman of an important body like the Press Council of India.

"He should be dismissed immediately. There is no point in asking for his resignation. Secondly, he has no business interfering in politics. the Press Council chairman is not going to determine who is going to be the Prime Minister of this country," Sinha said.

Katju and Jaitley had on Sunday engaged in a spat over the former's article in newspaper that criticised Modi.

"This is not the part of his jurisdiction. What he has done is that he has confused his personal opinion, with that of the PCI chairman, therefore he does not deserve to hold the office of the PCI chairman," Sinha said wondering "what does he mean by writing the most objectionable article against Narendra Modi."

Digvijaya Singh, however, dismissed Jaitley's stringent criticism of Katju asking, "Is it because he owes his Rajya Sabha seat to Mr Narendra Modi, that Mr Arun Jaitley feels that he should defend Mr Narendra Modi? I think Mr Arun Jaitley should not comment like this, it is unbecoming of Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha."

Slamming Jaitley for his "venomous" attack on the PCI chairman, Digvijaya Singh said that Katju had always been impartial and at the same time very sensitive to the people's cause.

"Why did Mr Arun Jaitley keep quiet when he brought out the issues against the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, against the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, against the Home Ministry in the arrest of Iftekhar Gilani.

"When he sort of publicly rebutted the police in the case of gangrape in Delhi. He kept quiet on those occasions," the Congress leader added.

Digvijaya also asked if the incident reflected BJP's reluctance to take criticism to which he said that "the fact is that they are a fascist ideology who can't take criticism ....who believe in either you are my way or the highway."

Yashwant Sinha, however, said that he found Katju using words like "non-sense" and "rubbish" against Jaitley, something unbecoming of a judge.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi trashed Jaitley's comment that Katju was "more Congress than Congress" questioning whether everybody who has criticised Modi was a Congress plant.

"I am astonished at the outburst (of Jaitley). Over the last eleven years, people of all colours, parties, persuasions and views have at different times criticised and even condemned Modi. Does it mean all of them are Congressmen?

"Anybody who criticised Modi becomes a Congress plant. In that case, thousands of people of the country - unconnected with politics, connected with politics, whosoever has done so must be treated as a Congress member," Singhvi said.

Lok Janashakti Party also backed Katju saying that be it Gujarat or Bihar, NDA governments are "playing the game of statistics and manipulation" in the name of development and criticised Jaitley for his "unjustified" anger.

"Jaitley should talk after due consideration. Katju speaks on the basis of facts. BJP is attacking PCI Chairman unnecessarily. In similar manner, the NDA government in Bihar has gagged the media.... We support Katju on whatever he has said over the situation in Gujarat now and Bihar in past," party chief Ram Vilas Paswan said.

A three-member team constituted by Katju over the media situation in Bihar last year had said that the media in Nitish Kumar-ruled Bihar is facing some sort of censorship and not being able to function freely. Katju has invited sharp criticism from some quarters even then.

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said whatever observations Justice Katju had made were his own observations.

"He is working as an independent person as chairman of the Press Council of India and he is a man of reputation. The BJP is in the habit of making baseless allegations," Alvi said. — PTIBack







Govt unlikely to hand over Afzal Guru's body to family

NEW DELHI: the government is likely to turn down the request of family of Afzal Guru, who was hanged and buried in Tihar jail, for handing over his body.

A senior Home Ministry official said a final decision in this regard will be taken soon and the Jammu and Kashmir government will be informed about it.

The state government had forwarded a letter sent by Tabassum, wife of Parliament attack convict Afzal, to the Deputy Commissioner of Baramulla in North Kashmir demanding handing over of his body.

The Home Ministry official said Afzal was buried inside the Tihar Jail complex in line with the prison manual and the government has no plans to hand over the body considering various aspects, including the law and order situation in the state.

Various outfits, including main opposition party in the state PDP and separatist groups, have been demanding handing over the body of Afzal who was hanged on February 9 after his conviction in the 2001 Parliament attack case.

The Kashmir Valley was agog with rumours yesterday that Afzal's body had arrived and was being buried in the cover of darkness. The news spread like a wild fire through social networking sites.

Last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had expressed his displeasure to Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde over the delay in informing Afzal's family about his hanging.

Singh told Shinde that Guru's family should have been informed in advance about the execution carried out last Saturday morning at Tihar Jail here for his role in 2001 Parliament attack case.

Afzal was buried inside the Tihar Jail alongside Kashmiri separatist leader Maqbool Bhat, who was also interred in the jail complex after his hanging in 1984.

The mortal remains of Bhat were not handed over to his family.

The government has already said it will allow close relatives to visit Afzal's grave, an offer rejected by the family saying they want nothing but his body. — PTIBack







Ready to discuss chopper scam in Parliament: PM

NEW DELHI: Under attack from the opposition over the controversial VVIP chopper deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday he was ready to discuss the issue in Parliament during the Budget Session beginning Thursday.

“We can always sit down. There is scope for discussion. Parliament is a forum for discussion. We are ready to discuss all issues,” Dr Singh said when asked about the Opposition threat to stall Parliament on VVIP chopper “scam”.

The Prime Minister was talking to reporters on the sidelines of a function in Rashtrapati Bhawan to confer the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development on noted social worker Ela Bhatt.

The Budget Session of Parliament begins on Thursday.

The BJP has accused the government of a “cover up” in the alleged scam in the purchase of 12 choppers from AgustaWestland at a cost of Rs 3,546 crore.

It has also claimed that the government had kept Parliament in the dark over the internal probe being carried out by the Defence Ministry on the issue.

The Left parties have demanded cancellation of the contract with AgustaWestland, which has already delivered three of the 12 choppers.

The chopper scam surfaced following the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, by Italian authorities on charges of overseeing payments of bribes to help the company’s helicopter division win a contract in India. — PTIBack






SC stays execution of death sentence of 4 Veerappan aides

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday stayed till further orders the execution of death sentence of four aides of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, who were awarded capital punishment in 2004 for a landmine blast in Karnataka that left 22 police personnel dead.

The Bench posted the matter for Wednesday.

"In the meantime, the execution of death sentence of four convicts shall remain stayed," a Bench comprising Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and justices R Dave and Vikramajit Sen said.

"Let the writ petition be heard day after tomorrow," it said.

The petition on behalf of the four convicts was filed by advocate Samik Narain, who was given the liberty to amend and rectify it after objections were raised on its maintainability by Attorney General G E Vahanvati who was asked to assist the court.

The four aides of Veerappan on saturday moved the apex court against the execution of their death penalty in connection with a landmine blast that had killed 22 policemen in Karnataka nearly 20 years ago.

Veerappan's elder brother Gnanaprakash, Simon, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilavendran were awarded death sentence in 2004 in connection with a landmine blast at Palar in Karnataka in 1993 in which 22 police personnel were killed.

Their mercy petition was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee on February 13 and according to sources.

The four convicts are lodged in a jail in Belgaum in Karnataka.

A TADA court in Mysore had in 2001 sentenced them to life term which was enhanced to death sentence by the apex court.

Gang leader Veerappan was killed in an encounter with the Tamil Nadu police in October 2004. — PTI







Nagaland Home Minister detained; cash, arms seized

KOHIMA: Nagaland Home Minister Imkong L. Imchen was on Monday detained near Wokha district for allegedly carrying a cache of arms and ammunition and Rs 1.10 crore in cash in a vehicle, official sources said.

Imchen was going to his constituency Koridanga in Mokokchung district from Kohima when Assam Rifles personnel, conducting search of vehicles near Wokha district, found the arms and ammunition, liquor and cash, the sources said.

The Assam Rifles personnel handed him over to the district administration and police.

Imchen is the Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) candidate from Koridanga and is also the NPF campaign in-charge of Mokokchung district.

The NPF has put up 10-candidates in Mokokchung district.

On February 16, an Election Commission surveillance team had seized Rs. one crore cash from a helicopter allegedly being used by a candidate of the Nagaland Peoples Front (NPF) in Nagaland.

A team of EC-appointed observers seized the cash from a chopper, which was allegedly hired to ferry Nyemli Phom, who is contesting the Assembly polls from a constituency in Longleng district. — PTI







UP govt orders judicial inquiry into Allahabad stampede

LUCKNOW: The Uttar Pradesh government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the stampede at Allahabad Railway Station that left 37 people dead. 

Principal Secretary (Home) R.M.Srivastava said retired High Court judge Justice Omkareshar Bhatt has been entrusted with the inquiry into the incident which took place on Mauni Amavasya on February 10. 

He said Justice Bhatt would submit his report in two months. 

The state government had earlier ordered an inquiry by the chairman of the revenue board into the incident. 

The stampede had occurred at the Allahabad Railway Station when thousands of passengers, mostly Maha Kumbh devotees returning after taking the holy dip at the Sangam on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya, had gathered to board a train. — PTI







Shooting not 'accidental', 'rock-solid' case
against Pistorius: Report

JOHANNESBURG: Oscar Pistorius has formally called off the races that were due in coming months in the face of charges of murdering his girlfriend on Valentine's Day, his manager said.

The Olympic and Paralympic athlete was charged on Friday with the premeditated murder of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot dead at his luxury Pretoria home.

He had been contracted to compete in races in Australia, Brazil, Britain and the United States between March and May.

"I have decided that following these tragic events that we have no option but to cancel all future races that Oscar Pistorius had been contracted to compete in, to allow Oscar to concentrate on the upcoming legal proceedings," manager Peet van Zyl said on Sunday.

Sponsors and partners would in the meantime maintain their contractual commitments awaiting the outcome of the legal process, said Van Zyl in a statement.

Pistorius is accused of killing his girlfriend who was shot four times. The police reportedly found a bloodied cricket bat at the house, according to a local Sunday paper.

Pistorius' family denies he intentionally killed the blonde covergirl. His father said he had "zero doubt" his son had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder and his 89-year-old grandmother told AFP the killing was accidental.

The family has said the 26-year-old, who is widely seen as an adrenaline junkie with a love for speed and guns, is "numb with shock as well as grief" over Steenkamp's death.

South Africa's independent City Press newspaper quoted police sources saying the investigators had found the cricket bat.

"There was lots of blood on the bat," one source said.

The police is probing whether the bat was used to assault Steenkamp, who was shot four times, including in the head, during the early hours of Thursday, or if she may have used it to defend herself, the newspaper said.

"The suspicion is that the first shot, in the bedroom, hit her in the hip. She then ran and hid herself in the toilet... He fired three more shots," the police source told City Press.

Authorities have rejected suggestions that Pistorius mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and on Sunday police spokesman Neville Malila refused to comment on the reports of the cricket bat.

"I don't know where they got it from, but they didn't get it from any official source in the police," Malila told AFP.

The newspaper described the case against Pistorius as "rock-solid".

Other reports suggested there had been an altercation between the two lovers that had spilled over from Wednesday night, when neighbours called security guards complaining about a "commotion" inside the Pistorius home.

The British Sunday People said a sobbing Pistorius had phoned his friend, Justin Divaris around 4:00 am (0200 GMT) on Thursday telling him "My baba, I've killed my baba (baby in Afrikaans). God take me away."

Pistorius was a national icon who inspired people around the world when he became the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympic Games last year.

His bail hearing on Tuesday will come the same day a funeral will be held for his slain girlfriend. He faces a life sentence if convicted of premeditated murder.

His father Henke Pistorius, 59, was quoted by Britain's Sunday Telegraph as saying the family had "zero doubt" his son shot Steenkamp on instinct after mistaking her for an intruder.

"When you are a sportsman, you act even more on instinct," he said. "It's instinct -- things happen and that's what you do."

When contacted by AFP, the father denied speaking to the Sunday Telegraph and refused to provide any further details. The newspaper's reporter Aislinn Laing confirmed she had spoken to the father on Saturday.

Echoing the family's line, Pistorius' 89-year-old grandmother also indicated the shooting had been accidental.

"I know it was a mistake anybody can make," Gertie Pistorius told AFP. "I have got my trust in my (grandson) and I have got my trust in the case, and I am sure things will go the right way" she said.

Police said there had been several previous domestic incidents at Pistorius's home.

Pistorius, who broke down sobbing in his first court appearance on Friday, has built up a powerful team of lawyers, medical specialists and public relations experts for his defence.

Stuart Higgins, a former editor of British tabloid The Sun, whose lengthy list of clients includes British Airways, Chelsea FC and Manchester United football club, will be handling public relations in the case.

One of the lawyers, Kenny Oldwage, acted for the driver in a 2010 accident that killed former president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela's great-grandchild Zenani. The driver was acquitted. — AFP









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