Iron fist crushes shrine fugitives
Birth in Russia, blast-off in India
For witness Bangaru, seeing is believing
US gets ringside view of Nepal
Calcutta Weather

 
 
IRON FIST CRUSHES SHRINE FUGITIVES 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, June 12: 
Signalling a new resolve to tackle militants taking shelter in places of worship, commandos stormed a mosque in Kashmir this morning and killed all the extremists holed up inside.

The lightning operation, which came less than a fortnight after a group of militants who hid in mosque were given safe passage, ended a nearly 40-hour siege laid by security forces to a shrine at Shangus in Anantnag. Six militants and a soldier were killed in the encounter.

An officer said a portion of the mosque was damaged during the final assault mounted by the National Security Guards and other security forces. The army appealed to the people to not let extremists take shelter in mosques. “People of Kashmir must ensure that the terrorists are not permitted to use mosques for their nefarious activities,” Reuters quoted an army statement as saying.

The Unified Headquarters, headed by chief minister Farooq Abdullah, warned that security forces would reserve their right to take action against criminals taking refuge in mosques. It issued a notice in public interest asking religious heads to ensure that places of worship are not abused.

Storming of religious shrines by security forces has been a sensitive issue since Operation Bluestar.

The initial political reaction in the Valley was not too hostile to the operation. The Hurriyat Conference asked militants not to misuse mosques as sanctuaries. “Militants should not bring religious places, including mosques, in the ambit of their activities as it amounts to desecration of the place of worship,” Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone said.

Security forces were finding it difficult to pursue militants who have increasingly been rushing inside the numerous mosques that dot the Valley after shootouts.

The latest stand-off, too, set in after a group of extremists killed an officer leading a search party and took refuge in the mosque on Sunday afternoon. National Security Guards commandos were deployed last night.

“The commandos and the security forces stormed the mosque at 3.30 am. The operation was completed within minutes. Bodies of six militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba were found,” a police officer told The Telegraph. While two militants were killed during a gunbattle before the strike, four died during the operation inside.

Saying it exercised maximum restraint, the army added that village elders had appealed to the militants to leave the mosque. “However, the terrorists, in total disregard to the sanctity of the mosque, continued to fire and throw grenades,” the statement said.

The decision to crack down hard on militancy was in sharp contrast with the “soft policy” adopted during a similar stand-off last month. On May 30, the administration gave safe passage to two militants taking shelter in a mosque at Shopian in south Kashmir.

Militants’ attempts to take refuge in mosques have been a source of recurring worry for the security forces. In 1993, militants made their way into Hazratbal, which houses the holy relic of Prophet Mohammad. In 1995, Hizb-ul Mujahideen militants entered the Chrar-e-Sharif shrine which was gutted.

Camp strike

Two Central Reserve Police Force jawans were killed after a militant, a member of the suicide squad of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, stormed a camp of the Special Operations Group in Pulwama last night.

   

 
 
BIRTH IN RUSSIA, BLAST-OFF IN INDIA 
 
 
BY DEBABRATA MOHANTY AND CHANDAN NANDY
 
Bhubaneswar and New Delhi, June 12: 
A supersonic cruise missile capable of striking targets 280 km away within 300 seconds was test-fired in Orissa today, becoming the first to blast off a joint venture between India and Russia.

The defence ministry described the missile, christened PJ-10, as the “first of its kind in the world” since there are no supersonic systems with a 280-km range. The ministry said its “high effectiveness can defeat most of the modern ship-defence systems”.

The 6.9-metre missile can carry multiple warheads and can be launched from different platforms such as mobile launchers, ships, submarines and aircraft.

A team of scientists from the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Russian State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia had worked together on the missile. While the missile’s propulsion system was developed in Russia, its guidance mechanism was the brainchild of DRDO scientists. The system was designed by a joint venture called BrahMos, which will produce and market the missile.

Today’s trial is the first in a series planned to demonstrate the system’s capabilities to potential customers. The missile will be ready for regular production and marketing within two years. In the cut-throat arms bazaar, India will find it difficult to gain a toehold but the Russian collaboration may help the joint venture draw small clients.

Both India and Russia hailed the successful trial-run as an “outstanding symbol of joint endeavour” but the test-site itself had witnessed unparalleled camaraderie between the two.

Last month, a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile, OSA-AK, was test-fired from the range at Chandipur-on-sea. The foreign missiles were secretly flown in.

Today’s launch was witnessed by defence minister Jaswant Singh, air force chief A.Y. Tipnis, 50 scientists from the DRDO and Russia, including academic H.A. Yefremov, and a representative of the Russian president.

Applauding the “spectacular joint achievement”, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said from Mumbai: “In the conviction that strength deters war, our objective is to develop such weapons as truly weapons of peace.”

PTI quoted a Kremlin official as saying in Moscow that the test-launch was in full conformity with President Vladimir Putin’s new concept of military-technical cooperation with Russia’s allies and strategic partners.

Sources said Russian scientists would stay back at Balasore to analyse the test results. The scientists had checked into a hotel in Balasore over a month ago. But the town got to know about their presence only this morning.

   

 
 
FOR WITNESS BANGARU, SEEING IS BELIEVING 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, June 12: 
After Tehelka, Bangaru Laxman cannot be too careful.

The former BJP chief has told the commission probing the Tehelka expose that he would reply to its notice only after he or his lawyers were shown the eye-popping videotapes.

A special screening of the tapes was eventually held today at Vigyan Bhavan. But Laxman did not show up to see what the entire country had soaked up three months ago. Instead, he sent his lawyers.

“It (the commission) has referred to the videotapes in its notification, but we have not got the tapes, only the transcript. I will reply in due course,” Laxman said today. But he refused to specify a date.

The Justice Venkataswami Commission investigating Defencegate had sent a notice to Laxman a week ago, asking him to reply to allegations of accepting kickbacks from fictitious arms dealers. In the Tehelka tapes, he is seen accepting a fistful of currency notes.

Laxman then set the tape condition, indicating that his lawyers would be able to draft a reply to the notice only after viewing the videotapes.

The former BJP chief, who was supposed to depose yesterday, did not do so today, too. It was then that the commission, housed at Vigyan Bhavan, decided on the special screening.

The BJP leader is a noticee under Section 5(a) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, which means that he is a witness and not an accused. But under Section 8(B) of the Act, a person summoned to the commission is obliged to depose and his statement could be used against him as evidence.

The commission has served notices on George Fernandes, Jaya Jaitly, Brajesh Mishra and several others, asking them to depose before it.

Any delay on the part of the witnesses or those deposing under Section 8(B) before the commission would hamper the functioning of the panel, which is supposed to submit its report by July. Commission sources said almost all the witnesses and other persons issued notices might demand a “video-viewing session” before sending their replies and this might cause a considerable delay in the proceedings.

Laxman’s lawyers said the reply would be sent soon as the BJP leader is now slated to depose before the commission on July 2. Laxman also indicated that he might appear on that day.

Justice Venkataswami, a retired Supreme Court judge, was appointed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to probe the matter after the Tehelka tapes had convulsed the country.

Tehelka.com editor Tarun Tejpal and the two sting reporters behind the tape expose, Aniruddha Bahl and Mathew Samuel, have also been issued notices.

   

 
 
US GETS RINGSIDE VIEW OF NEPAL 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Kathmandu, June 12: 
Within hours of saying that it wanted Nepal to free a newspaper editor and two officials arrested on sedition charges after the palace massacre, the United States today sent a diplomat from its mission here to observe the first court appearance of the three.

Yubhraj Ghimire, editor of Kantipur, along with the publication’s managing director Kailash Sirohiya and director Binod Raj Gyawali, was taken into custody on Wednesday after the paper — the largest-circulated Nepali language daily — printed an article by Maoist leader Babu Ram Bhattarai, who alleged that India’s Research and Analysis Wing had connived with King Gyanendra to wipe out the royal family.

After a four-hour hearing, a special district court remanded the three in police custody for three more days for further questioning. The government has been given until 9.30 am on Friday to file formal charges against them. If found guilty, they could face up to three years in prison.

Asking the Nepal government to release the editor and the officials, US state department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington: “We are following this case closely and we have urged the government of Nepal to free the journalists. We consider free press to be an essential element of a healthy democracy.”

“In recent years, the Nepali press has become much more independent in its reporting, and we’ve seen that independence as a good sign for Nepal’s future,” he added.

Ghimire, who appeared calm and composed, told reporters that he and his colleagues were being treated “nicely” in the VIP cell at the Kathmandu district police headquarters at the historic Hanuman Dhoka square.

Political parties, journalist federations and human rights organisation have called for the release of the arrested trio.

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors and media executives, today issued a press release condemning the Nepal government’s decision to arrest the three. “In any democratic society, the media plays a crucial role of informing the public, such a role involves the right to express opinion, especially where no further factual information has been provided,” the IPI release said.

Demanding the release of the detainees, the IPI said: “IPI calls upon the Nepal government to uphold its Constitution that expressly guarantees freedom of the media.”

Over 350 working journalists, local and Kathmandu-based foreign correspondents, marched from New Road to the police superintendent’s office carrying placards denouncing the government’s action. “We want to enjoy press freedom under the democratic constitution,” they said in their letter to the police. “We severely condemn this step taken at a time when the press is being established as an industry in Nepal and politics is in the process of being democratised and we also express our solidarity with journalists placed under detention,” the letter added.

All major political parties, including the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), Samyukta Jana Morcha Nepal and Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist), have also condemned the arrests.

After an 11-day mourning, Kathmandu today returned to work as banks, schools and government offices opened for the first time since the carnage of June 1. The special probe commission investigating the killings is likely to finalise its report on Thursday, but government sources have said it will only be made public next Monday, once King Gyanendra has had the chance to study it.

Few Nepalese expect it to conclude anything other than what witnesses have already said — that Crown Prince Dipendra, who became king while he lay in a coma, gunned down his family in a drunken rage apparently sparked by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride.

UK warning

British citizens have been advised against travelling to Nepal until further notice. The foreign office said violence could break out after the inquiry panel’s report on the killings is published.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:31.3°C (-3)
Minimum: 26.3°C (-1)

Rainfall:

7.5 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 77%

Today

A few spells of light rain
Sunset: 4.54 am
Sunrise: 6.18 pm
   
 

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