Manipur burns in truce backlash
Direct-rule Delhi snores
Diplomacy brake on Pak defence
Summit sneak preview for US
Calcutta Weather

 
 
MANIPUR BURNS IN TRUCE BACKLASH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Imphal, June 18: 
Ignited by fear for its territorial integrity, Manipur burned today as protesters demonstrating against extension of the Naga ceasefire poured their wrath on the Centre and politicians.

In a spontaneous and devastating outpouring of anger that took the administration of Governor Ved Marwah completely by surprise, mobs torched the Assembly building, the chief minister’s office and the Speaker’s residence. Rough estimates suggest nearly 80,000 people were out on the streets of capital Imphal. By some silent consensus, they had decided to target only the seats of government — the Governor who is in charge by virtue of President’s rule — and politicians.

Today was the third day of protest against the Centre’s decision to extend the ceasefire agreed with the militant National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to areas in Manipur. Manipuris see the move as the beginning of an attempt to slice territories out of their state to be handed over to Nagaland as part of the demands of the NSCN(I-M) for a Greater Nagalim.

Thirteen people were killed when the security forces, vastly outnumbered, opened fire. Over 30 were injured. Four MLAs and Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy, who was in his residence when it was set afire, were injured when protesters attacked them. Two legislators were trapped in the blazing Assembly building and would have been burnt alive had fire service men not rescued them on time. The Speaker finally took shelter at Raj Bhavan.

Twelve bungalows belonging to legislators and former ministers as well as offices of many political parties were razed.

“Everywhere it is burning, burning, burning in Imphal,” a local resident told Reuters.

Indefinite curfew has been clamped on Imphal and Greater Imphal as the Governor summoned top security officers and asked them to take measures to restore order. A.A. Siddiqui, director-general of police, said: “Curfew has been imposed in the three districts of Imphal East, Imphal West and Thoubal. Security personnel have been told to shoot at anyone trying to create trouble.”

Trouble erupted today when thousands of people marched towards Raj Bhavan from different directions carrying effigies of several Central leaders and NSCN(I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng. Muivah.

When the protesters entered Imphal’s VIP security zone and started burning the effigies, the tension escalated. The police first fired in the air to disperse the protesters without success. The mob — anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 — chased the security personnel away and reached the gates of Raj Bhavan at 11.30 am, demanding an audience with the Governor.

At noon, the protesters turned violent and first burned down the office of the Manipur State Congress Party. After that, they targeted offices of other political parties and ministers’ residences. The offices of the Congress and the Manipur People’s Party were also set ablaze. The office of the BJP was dismantled. The CPI and Samata offices were damaged.

At 1 pm, the Assembly was attacked. In minutes, the building, which also houses the Assembly secretariat, was up in flames. Four MLAs, who were on the premises, were beaten up.

Two — N. Bihari Singh and K. Tomba of the BJP, who had got trapped inside — were admitted to hospital with serious burn injuries.

The security forces first fired on protesters when they attacked the chief minister’s office and the residence of the Governor’s adviser, K. Kipgen. Some other protesters had already set upon the official residences of MLAs and former ministers at Babupara VIP colony, adjacent to the chief minister’s office and the state police headquarters.

The official residence of the Union minister of state for food processing, Thonoujam Chaoba Singh, was gutted.

Although security forces opened fire, they could not stop the mob from burning down houses of MLAs and former ministers. While three protesters died on the spot, 10 others succumbed to injuries in hospitals.

The house of a Manipuri CRPF officer was damaged by protesters who accused him of issuing orders to open fire. The officer was in charge of the CRPF company which was guarding the chief minister’s office and residence.

In Bangkok, Muivah said the ceasefire agreement with New Delhi had nothing to with the demand for a Greater Nagalim comprising all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas, PTI adds.

“The ceasefire is a ceasefire” and “at the moment it has nothing to do with territories,” he said.

   

 
 
DIRECT-RULE DELHI SNORES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 18: 
The Centre was caught napping while Manipur burnt and had little to say on why it could not prevent the uprising in a state which is under Delhi’s direct rule.

The Manipur Assembly is in suspended animation after the Centre clamped President’s rule following the impasse over government formation.

Delhi rushed additional “companies” of paramilitary forces but a home ministry spokesman said the “exact number” could not be disclosed for “security reasons”, a statement later echoed by minister L.K. Advani.

Advani repeatedly said he “will not comment” on the situation. “I am in constant touch with the (Manipur) Governor (Ved Marwah). The situation is under control but tense,” was all he was willing to say. Advani also would not comment on whether the “protest” was engineered by militants.

But the spokesman said it was “a civilian protest” and the government was, therefore, tackling the situation “cautiously” because any drastic action could result in “civilian casualties”.

While the spokesman refused to be drawn to the ceasefire agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the extension of which to neighbouring areas dominated by Nagas triggered the unrest, Advani said there would not be any “review” of the decision. “Review aise thodi hota hai (reviews are not done just like that),” he said.

The spokesman said a civilian mob, protesting against the extension of the ceasefire, laid siege to Raj Bhavan and tried to set the Manipur Assembly building on fire. “The Speaker and four legislators were injured and five deaths have so far been reported,” he said before the official toll rose.

Asked if the chief ministers of other north-eastern states were consulted on the decision, especially because Assam’s Tarun Gogoi is against it, Advani said: “It is the decision by the Union government and the NSCN(I-M)... however, there was a discussion chaired by the Prime Minister and the other chief ministers agreed. In the meantime, there is a new chief minister in Assam, but the decision was made earlier (with the consent of Gogoi’s predecessor Prafulla Kumar Mahanta).”

As Advani held a series of meetings with home secretary Kamal Pande and later with additional secretary in charge of northeast affairs P.D. Shenoy and special secretary M.B. Kaushal, speculation raged that Marwah — the home minister’s hand-picked man — had invited his wrath.

“Marwah could have gauged the mood a day in advance and, of course, there could have been intelligence failure as well,” a source said, adding that the “repercussions” of the decision were not properly assessed before announcing the ceasefire extension.

The flare-up has put the BJP in yet another spot as the Samata Party — which has a stake in Manipur, where its government lost majority because the state BJP refused to back it — is unhappy with the Centre for extending the ceasefire. The Centre hopes to restore “normality” within a day or two and could even restart a political dialogue of sorts with the Samata Party, said the source.

   

 
 
DIPLOMACY BRAKE ON PAK DEFENCE 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Islamabad, June 18: 
Ahead of the summit with India, Pakistan today froze its defence spending at last year’s level. In real terms, this indicates a sharp cut as the country has seen a high inflation rate over the past few months.

The freeze marks a departure from successive increases in Pakistan’s defence spending by about 15 per cent every year. Last year, Pakistan had claimed to have frozen the bill but some analysts had suggested that it was done by shifting some expenses to the civilian account.

“This (the freeze) reflects Pakistan’s desire to reduce tension between the two sides,” said a defence expert here.

Presenting the budget over radio and television, finance minister Shaukat Aziz also announced a 27.4 per cent rise in development expenditure. He froze defence spending at Rs 13,163.70 crore.

Besides an attempt to clear the air ahead of Pervez Musharraf’s talks with A.B. Vajpayee, Pakistan’s staggering debt burden, coupled with pressure from the IMF and World Bank, played a role in forcing the country to slam the brakes on defence expenditure.

The budget projected growth in gross domestic product rising from a meagre 2.6 per cent in the fiscal year ending this month to 5.2 per cent in fiscal 2003-04.

“This is indeed the path of endurance. Every citizen has to contribute to this process,” Aziz said, adding that a difficult move towards balancing government finances was inevitable after years of mounting debts.

“Undoubtedly that process of adjustment to a state where the government balances its budget is a bit painful but it is inevitable,” he said.

“We are clearing the burden to remove the obligations that our previous generations have passed on to us. But we could be fortunate to bequeath a future free of such a burden to the coming generations.”

Economic growth this year was about the same as the annual increase in Pakistan’s 140 million population, meaning per capita GDP did not rise at all in a country where 35 per cent of the population is listed as living in poverty.

Pakistan is struggling under more than $60 billion in public debt, including $37 billion in foreign debt. Servicing it takes more than half the state revenue.

This means the government cannot increase investment in development and stimulate the economy without breaching its agreement with the IMF on containing fiscal deficit.

The government forecast a budget deficit next fiscal year of 4.9 per cent of GDP, down from this year’s 5.3 per cent which was already the lowest in 18 years despite repeatedly scaling back revenue goals.

However, the austerity has spawned widespread criticism by politicians and the media about tight spending controls forced by international lenders, which has hit development especially hard.

   

 
 
SUMMIT SNEAK PREVIEW FOR US 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 18: 
Wondering what the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit next month is all about? Ask the Americans!!

Although the Bush administration is crying hoarse that it has nothing at all to do with the planned summit meeting between India and Pakistan, key architects of foreign policy in both New Delhi and Islamabad have begun a process of briefing Washington on what will happen when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee meets Pervez Musharraf in less than four weeks.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Abdul Sattar is already here meeting his counterpart, General Colin Powell, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Inevitably, much of his discussions here will centre around the upcoming Indo-Pakistan summit, which, like Vajpayee’s bus journey to Lahore, is attracting global attention.

The Pakistanis are leaving no stone unturned in their effort to get President George W. Bush to walk into one of Sattar’s meetings here.

That, to say the least, will salvage the reputation of Maleeha Lodhi, Islamabad’s high-profile envoy here, who had boasted that the election of a Republican to the White House will restore US-Pakistan ties to its glory in the Cold War days. There is no indication yet, whether the president will oblige her by meeting Sattar.

Understandably, the Pakistanis were deeply upset when Bush walked into Rice’s meeting with external affairs minister Jaswant Singh in April and escorted him to a 40-minute meeting in the White House Oval Office.

Shortly after Sattar finishes his meetings here, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra will be in Washington for meetings similar to those which Sattar is going through this week.

By the time Mishra reaches Washington, only a fortnight will be left for Vajpayee’s meeting with Musharraf. A considerable part of his discussions here will, naturally, focus on the sub-continental summit in New Delhi.

The Bush administration is also be keenly awaiting the visit here at the end of this month by Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Opposition. Washington realises that in the past, India has often used the absence of a national consensus on foreign policy to dodge difficult decisions which are of interest to the US.

Her views will, therefore, be carefully listened to by officials here to assess the likely course of consensus politics in India on issues like the National Missile Defence (NMD).

K. Natwar Singh, the Congress ideologue on foreign affairs, has been seen here as an acerbic critic of NMD.

Because he will accompany Sonia on her visit, the administration here expects to have talks with him as well on the future course of Indo-US ties.

Having said that, US officials are carefully steering clear of any overt involvement in South Asia’s fragile diplomatic initiatives. They are keen to see that nothing that they say or do affects the current Indo-Pakistan peace initiative.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 25.8°C (-8))
Minimum: 24.6°C (-2

Rainfall:

41.7 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 93%

Today

A few spells of light to moderate rain, with one or two rather heavy showers.
Sunrise: 4.54 am
Sunset: 6.21 pm
   
 

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