Pervez troops pullback on Atal peace push
Bus race crushes child at father feet
Quattrocchi extradition move rolls
Cong sees hint of snap polls
Broken hearts, wish me well
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Pakistan today tried to upstage Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s extension of the ceasefire with an offer to partially pull back troops from the Line of Control (LoC).

The announcement came hours after India extended the truce by another month, but made it clear that it will assess Islamabad’s sincerity before returning to the talks table.

International pressure mounted on Pakistan with the United Nations Security Council, through a resolution calling for stricter sanctions against the Taliban, warning the Pervez Musharraf regime of keeping a safe distance from the student militia in Afghanistan.

In a bid to ease the pressure and establish itself as a reasonable nation wanting peace in the region, Pakistan said it was taking the “bold initiative” to reduce the number of troops as a follow-up to its earlier decision to exercise “maximum restraint” on the LoC. “The move-back has already commenced and the troops have started moving towards cantonments,” a military statement in Islamabad said.

Asking India to respond to the move, the statement added: “However, necessary safeguards have been taken against any possible Indian misadventure across the LoC to ensure protection of the local population.”

The statement made it clear that the decision was taken to try to push the peace process forward. The announcement, however, did not indicate from where the forces were being withdrawn.

Vajpayee, while extending the ceasefire for another month, acknowledged that cross-border terrorism and infiltration across the LoC had reduced. But he insisted that these incidents must “cease entirely”.

The Prime Minister repeated India’s commitment to a dialogue with Pakistan, but made it clear that talks can be held only in a “suitable environment”.

Vajpayee told the Lok Sabha the government will take “exploratory steps” that it considered necessary to resume the dialogue process.

No time frame was given nor were the “exploratory” steps elaborated upon. “As the initiator of the dialogue process with Pakistan, India remains committed to it. The existence of a suitable environment for such a process is self-evidently necessary,” the Prime Minister said.

The remark indicates that India will first try to assess Pakistan’s commitment to the Lahore peace process, scuttled by the Kargil intrusions, before returning to negotiations.

Though the government will gauge the mood of the military regime through the Track II channel, Delhi will continue to exert pressure on Islamabad until it is convinced that the junta is serious about normalising relations.

What boosted the Indian stand was the UN Security Council resolution calling for more stringent sanctions against the Taliban. The resolution, passed by a 13-0 vote, is a clear message to Pakistan, the Taliban’s main backer, not to support terrorism.

For India, the move is significant as any step against the militia in Kabul will help check the flow of foreign mercenaries into Kashmir. “We hope the Taliban and their mentor (read Pakistan) pay heed to the international sentiments and draw appropriate conclusions from the UNSC resolution,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said. “It’s a vindication of India’s principled stand,” he added.

The United Jihad Council, the alliance of Kashmiri guerrilla groups, has rejected the extension of the ceasefire. “If India is sincere in its offer, than it should agree to hold talks with Pakistan and Kashmiris... reduce its forces and recognise Kashmir as a dispute,” said Mohammad Usman, vice-chairman of the council.


Calcutta, Dec. 20: 
A speeding bus, recklessly competing with two others in the morning peak-hour at Gariahat in south Calcutta, today crushed a three-year old-girl to death, provoking a crowd to torch vehicles, block the road and cause mile-long traffic snarls.

On her way to her nursery school off Gariahat, Riddhima Basu, who was chattering excitedly to her parents, careened out of the cradle of her father Rana’s arm when the speeding minibus grazed him. The bus ran over the grounded child, flattening her head.

At 9 am, a few hundred people, including school-bound children with their parents, stood in a freeze-frame at Gariahat junction, one of Calcutta’s most accident-prone areas, as they watched the onrush of the speeding buses, the lurch with which the father hurtled forward and the child’s fall.

“It was all over in under a minute. As if pushed by a great force, the little girl almost flew out of her father’s arm, hit the ground and went stiff. Then, oh god, blood started gushing out of her mouth. We felt we all had turned into stones. Then the giant wheels squashed her head,” recalled a woman who was taking her daughter to school.

Basu and his wife Sushmita, residents of Kalupara in Kasba, along with their only child Riddhima, had reached Gariahat junction by a bus. After alighting from the bus, the father, a sales executive in a private firm, picked up the daughter before setting out to walk to Morning Glory, Riddhima’s nursery school on Hindustan Road, when the tragedy happened.

Gariahat, Hindustan Park, Hindustan Road, Dover Lane, Ballygunge, Golpark, Ekdalia Place and many other connected areas went through a convulsion as an angry crowd torched two buses, stoned scores of vehicles, pulled down shop shutters and blocked the arteries.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee blamed competitive speeding by buses for the accident and asked police to take tough steps against reckless drivers. “I am not happy at what is being done to curb road accidents,” he said.

The police said the killer mini-bus of the Garia-BBD Bag route, whose driver and conductor had fled, was one of the two vehicles — other a private bus of route 240 — that were torched.

Nearly 3,000 people, mostly residents, officegoers and traders, blocked the Gariahat Road, Rashbehari Avenue and the connected road network.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
The Bofors gun, silent for some time, roared again, spluttering political shrapnel with Gandhi family friend Ottavio Quattrocchi being hauled to a Kuala Lumpur court today on India’s request for extradition.

One of the key accused in the Bofors case, the Italian businessman has been living in Malaysia for six-and-a-half years since leaving India. Quattrocchi was later released on a bail of Malaysian ringgit 400,000 ($105,263) after he voluntarily surrendered his passport as condition for the bail. The bail was posted by his wife, Maria, and a Malaysian.

Quattrocchi’s counsel, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, objected to the prosecution’s application to set up an inquiry to consider the Indian government’s request to extradite him to face charges of corruption and cheating.

“I have not had sight of the charge. I’m in no position to advise the subject (his client) on how to plead because I myself have not seen the charge,” he said.

According to a report in a local newspaper, The Star, the counsel for the prosecution, Siti Zainab Omar, told the sessions court the application was merely for an inquiry to determine if India’s request was satisfactory in law. The prosecution maintained that as an extradition inquiry is not a criminal trial, charges need not be provided. The case will come up for hearing on January 22.

Quattrocchi is among the five chargesheeted in the Bofors case last year. The CBI said in Delhi: “It was a major step forward.”

Extradition, if at all, will take time. India does not have an extradition treaty with Malaysia. But the foreign ministry and the CBI said the absence of a treaty would not come in the way. Both countries are members of the Commonwealth and have to provide assistance to each other in criminal cases.

Besides, Quattrocchi’s criminality was “dual” (in India and Malaysia) in nature, the CBI said.

CBI director R.K. Raghavan said: “This sets in motion the process of extradition. It is difficult to set a time frame for him to be brought over to India.” He added that it had been a “successful” year for the agency in the Bofors inquiry. “First, the chargesheet was filed, followed by the arrival of Win Chaddha, next the supplementary chargesheet was filed against the Hinduja brothers and now this,” Raghavan added.

Politically, it comes as a bonus to the BJP. Party spokesman V.K. Malhotra described it as a “positive development” and hoped that after a long wait the case would reach its conclusion. The Congress reacted angrily saying that a government which had fallen back on Ram temple sentiments was now trying to bring alive another old issue. The BJP may well use the Bofors card to split the Opposition and alienate the Left from the Congress.

The foreign ministry denied any political angle to the development. A spokesman said Quattrocchi’s arrest was simply a matter related to certain illegal money transactions in the Bofors gun deal in the mid-eighties. Behind the scenes, India has been pursuing this case vigorously with Malaysia. Today’s arrest was a friendly gesture by Malaysia three months before Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s visit.

Quattrocchi’s friendship with the Gandhi family became well known during Rajiv Gandhi’s premiership. In the gun deal, he represented A.E. Services, a company which was paid a three per cent commission by Bofors, now renamed Celsius.

According to the Swiss documents procured by the CBI, three per cent ($7,343,942) of the amount paid by the Indian government to Bofors was transferred to A.E. Services. Subsequently, this was redirected to an account identified as Colbar which is Quattrocchi’s personal account. From there the money travelled to Guernesey Island and to Austria.

After Quattrocchi’s involvement came to light, the CBI began to press the Interpol for investigative support. Letters rogatory were sent to a Swiss court and one of the defendants in that case was Quattrocchi. He left India in July 1993 and went to Malaysia via Italy.

A Delhi court issued a non-bailable warrant against him, following which the Interpol flashed red-corner notices in his name. He unsuccessfully contested the warrant in the high court and the Supreme Court.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
A defensive Congress today tried to put up a brave face after the arrest of Ottavio Quattrocchi with the counter-charge that the mandir issue and renewed activity on the Bofors front indicated the BJP’s attempts to force mid-term polls.

The news of the arrest of the key Bofors accused in Malaysia had demoralised party MPs who were beginning to regain confidence in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, especially after she had scored a point on the farmers’ issue and the moral victory in the Rajya Sabha on Ayodhya.

Having given virtually a cent-per-cent mandate to the AICC chief in the recent polls for party president, Congressmen are now privately pondering Sonia’s susceptibility in the Bofors controversy. Party MPs are wondering if Sonia will comment on the issue or ignore it when she addresses the Congress Parliamentary Party general body tomorrow.

Many of the MPs want her to categorically deny any link with the Italian businessman. “If she goes on the offensive, we will stand behind her like a rock. But if she goes on the defensive, the suspicion will grow,” an MP from Madhya Pradesh said.

The subject may also cast a shadow on the AICC session slated for January 6-7. Leaders like Madhavrao Scindia, Ghulam Nabi Azad and V.N. Gadgil were in favour of all state units authorising Sonia to select 24 Congress Working Committee (CWC) members. But senior leaders now want elections for the 12 CWC berths.

According to them, the voting pattern would settle the most important issue of the number two in the party. “Anyone getting the maximum number of votes in the CWC would automatically qualify for that slot,” a functionary said.

The party officially feigned ignorance about Quattrocchi ’s arrest. AICC spokesperson Margerate Alva said she was not in a position to react as she was unaware of any such development. She, however, added that “the law will take its course”. She said the way the “insecure” BJP-led government was raking up Bofors and Ayodhya issues were signs that it plans to go in for mid-term polls.


Bangalore, Dec. 20: 
It was a meeting of mind, body and soul that shattered a million hearts.

Bollywood heart-throb Hrithik Roshan threw screen wisdom to the wind and married his childhood sweetheart Suzanne Khan today in a closed ceremony that drew on both Hindu and Muslim rituals at a heavily-guarded resort outside Bangalore.

“Even if they (the fans) are heartbroken, I am sure they will wish me well,” said Hrithik, who took Bollywood by storm with Kaho Naa... Pyar Hai.

In a brief appearance before the media, Hrithik, dressed in casuals but wearing tell-tale signs of the haldi ritual he had been yanked away from, said the event of his life — billed the wedding of the century by the bride’s uncle and matinee idol Feroze Khan — had not unnerved him. He was “feeling fine, but tired, very tired!”

The weariness is a giveaway of the partying that has been going on over the past two days at the venue — the balmy and exotic Golden Palms Resort and Spa, 22 km away on the Bangalore-Pune highway. Jimmy Amrolia, the resort’s landscape director, told The Telegraph: “He woke up only by noon.”

“I have never seen such partying. Very select crowd, and all of them are having a good time,” let out a guard at the resort after much badgering. All the guards and attendants have been cautioned not to talk to the media. But Sanjay Khan, Suzanne’s father, found time for the press. Dressed in a resplendent white suit, he said the marriage ceremonies observing both Hindu and Muslim rites were a reflection of the amity between the two communities.

The ceremonies would culminate into a registered marriage slated for the evening, he added.

“Does love have any religion,” he asked, shaking his head. Religion is no bar to true love, he added, recalling how Hrithik’s love for Suzanne had blossomed from his boyhood.

Sanjay said the marriage was a very private family affair, and only about 70 invitees will attend this evening’s do by the poolside, adorned with golden marquee and fancy lights.

Hrithik will wear a jodhpuri suit, designed by Rocky S, for the occasion, but Suzanne’s dress has been kept a surprise. “I am not supposed to see her,” the star said.

Among the invitees are Kannada matinee idol Raj Kumar, who hogged the headlines after bring abducted by Veerappan, Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, Anil Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Rishi and Randhir Kapoor and Jitendra.

For those who missed out, Sanjay had a message: “Wait for the public reception in Mumbai next month. That will be open to all my brothers in the film world and brothers in the media.”

Even as the resort, owned by Sanjay, was convulsed by hectic activity since morning, an eerie calm prevailed outside with Hrithik’s fans being shooed away by the overzealous security guards.

“The marriage is a very private event. It is out of bounds for the media or the general public,” said Sanjay, matter-of-factly.

But Hrithik’s fans were hard to convince. “I came to see my hero with so much expectation. These securitymen don’t understand how a fan feels. Am I going to cause any security problem for my hero?” asked an agitated Anasuya Sen, a 20-year-old from Orissa studying at NIIT here.

Pratipal Singh, a teenager, and his brother, Bunty, were heard screaming: “We want to see Hrithik. We want to see Hrithik”. But to no avail. “We even bluffed that we were schoolmates of Hrithik, but it didn’t work,” Pratipal cribbed.

“Believe me, even I have not been invited,” said superintendent of police S. Ramakrishna, who is personally supervising the tight security arrangements for this evening’s gala, to be attended among others by Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna.

Police said the security cover was strengthened as Mumbai police has informed their Karnataka counterparts that Rakesh was top on the “hit list” of the Mumbai mafia, whose links with the Hindi film industry is an open secret.

While the bride remained away from the media glare, her sister Farah said Suzanne is “excited”, and the entire family is thrilled with the match. “Marriage is a bed of roses if you make it one. We all wish her well.”

The couple will fly to Europe for their honeymoon. “We are still planning it,” Hrithik said.

Power punch

The Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation dealt a shock to the celebrity ceremony at the Golden Palms Resort and Spa by slapping a punitive bill of Rs 37 lakhs for illegal tapping of power during construction.

Peeved by the charge that greeted him on the morning of his daughter’s wedding, Sanjay Khan brushed aside the controversy, saying: “There is no truth in it. I will talk about it some other time.”    



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Minimum: 14.9°C (+l)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 44%


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 14°C
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SUNSET: 4.52 pm

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