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US hopes diplomat’s arrest won’t hit bilateral ties

WASHINGTON: The US has expressed hope that the diplomatic row over the arrest of Indian Deputy Consul-General in New York will not affect bilateral ties with India, which has strongly reacted to the treatment meted out to the senior diplomat terming it “absolutely unacceptable”.

After India took up the matter with the US Ambassador in New Delhi, the State Department said it was handling the issue.

“We are handling this incident through law enforcement channels. We have a long-standing partnership with India, and we expect that partnership will continue,” a US State Department spokesperson told PTI.

India’s Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, was taken into custody on Thursday and handcuffed in public on visa fraud charges before being released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty.

The State Department, however, refused to comment on the specifics of the case, describing it as a pending matter in the court.

The 39-year-old Khobragade’s arrest, only a day after Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, accompanied by the Joint Secretary in charge of Americas division in External Affairs Ministry, concluded her highly successful Washington trip, has caused a major diplomatic crisis between India and the US.

Lodging a strong protest against the arrest of its Deputy Consul-General in New York, India has conveyed to the US that such kind of a treatment to its diplomat is “absolutely unacceptable”.

“It was conveyed in no uncertain terms that this kind of treatment to one of our diplomats is absolutely unacceptable,” the Indian Embassy said in a statement in Washington on Friday after the Charge d’Affaires Taranjit Singh Sandhu met senior officials of the State Department.

“It was emphasised that Dr Devyani Khobragade is a diplomat who is in the US in pursuance of her duties and hence is entitled to the courtesy due to a diplomat in the country of her work. She is also a young mother of two small children,” the statement said.

“The Government of India is shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the US authorities,” it said.

Sandhu also asked the US officials to resolve the matter at the earliest during the meeting.

In Delhi, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh summoned US Ambassador Nancy Powell on Friday to convey India’s “shock” over the “absolutely unacceptable” treatment meted out to the senior Indian diplomat. — PTIBack







AAP seeks 10 days from Lt Governor, sets terms for Cong, BJP

NEW DELHI: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Saturday sought 10 days time from Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung to take a decision regarding government formation in Delhi.

AAP chief along with party members Manish Sisodia and Kumar Vishwas met Najeeb Jung on Saturday.

“We have asked for 10 days time to take decision on the matter,” AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal told media persons outside the Lt Governor’s residence. “We have written a letter to Sonia Gandhi. We have also written a letter to Rajnath Singh,” said Kejriwal.

“We did not ask for your support. What is their intention? What is in their mind?” he said while referring to the BJP and Congress.

Kejriwal said that the Congress as well as the BJP should make their “stand clear” on 18 issues that they have raised. Earlier, Kejriwal had given to Jung the copies of the letters he had written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BJP president Rajnath Singh seeking their views on a list of 18 issues that included ending VIP culture in the Capital, audit of electricity companies and removal of the MLA local funds scheme.

Jung invited AAP after the BJP declined the offer to form the government in the state as they didn’t have a majority. The BJP secured 31 seats and fell short of a clear majority in the 70-member House.

AAP won 28 seats in the Delhi Assembly elections. The Congress, which bagged eight seats, said they are ready to give unconditional outside support to the AAP. — IANSBack







Congress to respond to AAP letter soon 

NEW DELHI: Congress will respond in a day or two to the letter of Aam Aadmi Party convener Arvind Kejriwal, who has set some new conditions before it can decide on forming a government in Delhi, party general secretary Shakeel Ahmed said on Saturday.

“We will examine the letter and will get back to Kejriwal in a day or two,” Ahmed said.

“If AAP is ready to form the government, Congress party will extend support from outside,” Ahmed had told Kejriwal.

In his letters to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BJP chief Rajnath Singh, he has sought their views on a list of 18 issues that included ending VIP culture in the capital, audit of electricity companies and removal of MLA local funds scheme. — PTIBack








Hazare softens stand on Lokpal issue

Ralegan Siddhi (Maharashtra): Softening his stand on the Lokpal issue, social activist Anna Hazare on Saturday suggested moving ahead with the amended Bill presented in the Rajya Sabha and said improvements in the legislation could be brought through amendments later.

“Time has come to move (ahead) with the present draft of the Lokpal Bill and get it passed. Improvements can be made later through amendments once it becomes a Constitutional reality,” Hazare said as his indefinite fast for a citizen’s ombudsman entered the fifth day on Saturday.

The government had on Friday introduced the amended Lokpal Bill for consideration by the Rajya Sabha but it could not be taken up due to disruptions by various parties including Samajwadi Party, which supports the UPA dispensation from outside.

The amended Lokpal Bill delinks setting up of Lokayuktas in the states and transfers the powers of sanction of prosecution against public servant to the ombudsman.

The amendments were made after the Union Cabinet accepted 14 of the 16 recommendations made by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee, set up in May last year amid sharp differences among political parties because of which the legislation remained stuck in the Upper House since December 2011.

An indication of softening of Team Anna’s stand on the Bill had come on Friday when former Army Chief General V.K. Singh said, “if a person is naked, he should at least get undergarments, a three-piece suit can follow.”

Meanwhile, the fast has started impacting the 76-year-old anti-corruption crusader’s health. He has lost 3.68 kg and his blood pressure is on the higher side, doctors who examined him, said.

Former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, a close aide of the veteran social activist, has reached Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district of Western Maharashtra, and joined the hunger strike to press for the passage of a strong anti-graft law.

“I am on hunger strike for the first time in life and determined to continue as long as Anna carries on his fast,” the 64-year-old Ramon Magsaysay Award winning activist said. — PTIBack









New Parliament to be constituted by June 1: Chief Election Commissioner

WASHINGTON: The next general elections would be held in multiple phases next year and be completed in time to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha by June 1, Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath has said.

"National elections may be held in five, six or seven phases," Sampath said at an event at the Brookings Institute, an American think-tank, hosted in association with the US India Business Council and Confederation of Indian Industry.

He said the Election Commission (EC) has already started preparations for the 2014 elections in which 780 million people are likely to cast their vote at over 8,00,000 polling booths, using over 1.18 million electronic voting machines.

Without giving any details of the poll schedule, Sampath hinted that the election process could begin in mid-March and said the 16th General Elections will elect 543 members.

"Indian elections never missed the deadline, even in most trying circumstances," he said yesterday. "Preparation is on."

"Tenure of the present Lok Sabha comes to an end on May 31. So, the next House has to be before June 1. It is our responsibility to conduct the election before that date," he said, adding that the number of phases has yet to be decided.

He said the notification for the election would be issued three weeks before the first date of the poll and announcement of the election comes another three weeks in advance.

"So six weeks before the actual first day of the poll, the Election Commission would make the announcement of the election," he said, adding that the model code of conduct would come into force on the day the announcement is made.

"Summary revision of electoral roll 2014 is in progress and India will have a new electoral roll published within a month," he said, adding the EC will continue its efforts to enroll any missing people and weed out wrong ones till close to the polls.

"Our close review of election preparedness in each part of the country will begin soon. Will cover law and order, logistics, condition of polling stations, resources, men and material and equipment," he said.

This would mean, he said, mobilisation of millions of temporary staff, supervisors and police forces and their planned deployment; putting in place sound mechanism to deal with possible threats like muscle power, money power and power of incumbency; creation of specific enforcement modules and imparting of time-bound training and scientific and comprehensive voter education and awareness measures to make the largest possible citizen participation. — PTIBack









Saurav Ganguly offered BJP ticket to contest LS poll: Report

KOLKATA: Former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly has been offered a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha poll next year by the BJP but is undecided on whether to accept the offer.

It is learnt that the offer has come from the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi who has promised to make the Bengal sports icon the Sports Minister in the Cabinet if the party comes to power.

"Yes, I've an offer. But I'm still undecided on what to do. I've been busy for last few days... I'll let you know soon," Ganguly was quoted as saying in a leading Bengali daily.

The speculation has been doing rounds after he met Varun Gandhi through a common friend in the Capital in mid-November.

Varun, the national general secretary of the BJP, is also the observer for West Bengal.

In the Trinamool Congress-ruled Bengal with 42 seats, the BJP has a solitary presence in Darjeeling.

Ganguly, however, could not be reached for a reaction to the report. — PTIBack









7 die in Mumbai building fire

MUMBAI: Seven persons were killed in a massive blaze that broke out in a high-rise residential building in South Mumbai on Friday night, fire brigade officials said on Saturday.

Six fire personnel, including two officers, were also injured while carrying out rescue and firefighting operations.

The fire started on the 12th floor of the 26-storey Mont Blanc building in upscale Kemps Corner area. Huge flames were seen emanating from the floor.

"Seven residents from the building have died in the blaze. Identification of some of the residents have been made, while the others could not be identified as they have been badly burnt. The victims were declared dead in the BMC-run Nair Hospital," the official said.

The injured firemen are being treated in the civic-run medical facility and also National Burns Centre & General Hospital at Airoli in adjoining Navi Mumbai.

The cooling operation on the gutted floor are still underway, he said.

Fourteen fire engines, aided by seven water tankers, battled for several hours to putout the inferno. The cause of the fire was not yet known. — PTI




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