Atal thrusts, Blair parries on Pak
‘Hijack’ flight crew forcelands
Runaway van kills four in temple
American killed in Saudi blast
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Oct. 6: 
Papering over perceived contradictions and reinforcing Pakistan’s newfangled status as a frontline state in the war on terrorism, British Prime Minister Tony Blair today made it clear to the Indian leadership that the West cannot afford to arm-twist Islamabad now.

But Blair cushioned the hard-nosed message with a strong condemnation of the recent suicide strike on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

If at all any action is expected against Pakistan — now a frontline state for the US campaign against terrorism – it will come after the completion of the first phase: the destruction of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network and the possible toppling of the Taliban regime.

Be patient and trust the West – that was the gist of the conversation Blair had with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the morning.

But Vajpayee squeezed in a subtle reference to Pakistan during a joint press conference, saying: “Even while extending our whole-hearted support to the pursuit of the guilty terrorists of September 11, we should not let countries pursue their own terrorist agenda under cover of this action.”

Referring to the Kashmir attack, Vajpayee said terrorism must be tackled globally and added: “Condoning a terrorist act in one place may lay the foundation for a far more virulent act elsewhere.”

Blair voiced India’s concern when he agreed with Vajpayee that terrorism in “all its forms” should be fought by the international coalition. Conveying his “deepest sympathies” for the victims of the Kashmir attack, Blair said: “Such outrages have no place in any civilised society and those who perpetrate them should be brought to justice.”

By implication, Blair’s comment may be viewed as one directed at Islamabad. But the fact that the British Prime Minister studiously avoided naming Pakistan indicated that London, like others in the West, are not willing turn the heat on Musharraf now.

Fresh from a brief visit to Islamabad, Blair was evasive in his reply to a pointed question on Pakistan and gave a vague response on what specific role India could play in the coalition against terror.

Indian officials said there was “neither any surprise nor any disappointment at this morning’s meeting.” The hectic diplomatic engagements notwithstanding, India is aware that being a frontline state, Pakistan will continue to enjoy the focus of the international community for a while.

But Delhi is drawing solace from the fact that Blair did not ignore India completely. During his interaction with the Indian leadership, the British Prime Minister said he had told Musharraf that the international community would not accept terrorism as part of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

This may have assured India that the fight against terrorism does not stop with bin Laden, but the second part of the message was more explicit: do not expect intense pressure on Musharraf at this juncture. “We do not expect them to twist his arm, especially when they expect the arm to fire the gun for them,” an official said.

India took the opportunity to tell Blair that Delhi, too, has a stake in any future regime in Afghanistan. Delhi stressed that it was in favour of a “broadbased and representative” government in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Musharraf had also agreed with Blair yesterday on the need for a “broadbased” government but India fears that given a chance, Islamabad could foist another Taliban on Afghanistan.

Blair and Vajpayee met for nearly an hour-and-a-half in the morning. Before leaving, Blair had a breakfast of idlis and dosas. He also met home minister L.K. Advani and foreign minister Jaswant Singh.


New Delhi, Oct. 6: 
Alliance Air has grounded the entire crew of the flight that was at the centre of the hijack drama on Wednesday night.

The state-run airline’s move came two days after the government patted itself on the back for the “clockwork” response to the hijack threat and even before an official inquiry has taken off.

“The management of Alliance Air has decided not to utilise the entire crew of flight CD 7444, consisting of the commander, co-pilot, air hostesses and stewards for flight duties,” a release issued by the airline said. But it did not cite any reason for the “grounding”.

Alliance Air managing director S.K. Goyal said the action was “routine whenever such an incident occurs. The grounding is only till the probe is completed”. He stressed that “we are not fixing any blame on anyone”.

However, pilots and senior officials of other airlines were sceptical. “It is almost as if they have already decided the pilots and crew members were to blame for the fiasco and not other senior functionaries of the government who possibly spread more panic,” said a director of Alliance’s parent, Indian Airlines. The grounded staff of Alliance could not be contacted.

The government has come under severe criticism for its handling of the “hijack” episode. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has expressed his displeasure and the Opposition has demanded the resignation of civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain.

As part of a mock hijack drill, Captain Ashwin Bahal was warned by Ahmedabad Air Traffic Control of the possibility of a terrorist takeover.

The official release said the threat to flight CD 7444 was “rather specific and all laid down precautions had to be taken within the very short period available in such contingencies”.

“In any case, once the commander of the aircraft activates the hijack signal, all other things like convening of the central committee and the crisis management group and observing a state of highest alertness have to be followed,” the release said.

It added that the “correctness or otherwise of the communication given to the commander and the decision of the commander to activate the signal were matters of detailed scrutiny”.

A committee, headed by S.B. Mohapatra, special secretary in the home ministry, has been constituted to look into the issue and submit a report within 15 days.

The committee will examine in “totality the situation arising out of events triggered by an anonymous telephone call regarding the imminent hijacking of flight CD 7444”, the government said.

It will also focus on analysis of communication between the agencies concerned and responses of the officials.


Calcutta, Oct. 6: 
A van fleeing a chasing police jeep rammed into a roadside temple near Sarkar Bazar on Beliaghata Main Road, killing four persons, including a boy, and injuring five. The driver escaped.

As news of the accident spread, angry residents blocked the road. The blockade was lifted when the police intervened.

Police said three persons died on the spot while another succumbed to injuries in hospital. Of the injured, the two helpers of the mini-lorry were admitted to Nil Ratan Sarkar Medical College and Hospital, where their condition was stated to be critical.

The victims, all residents of the locality, were identified as Abhijit Das, 25, Bijoy Mahato, 17, Aloke Basu, 40, and Prosenjit Saha, 12.

Sanjoy Mukherjee, deputy commissioner of police, Eastern Suburban Division (ESD), said the incident took place around 6 pm when at least 60 devotees had gathered at the Shani temple.

The van driver, who had run into an ESD jeep on the eastern slope of the bridge on Beliaghata Main Road, began speeding along the crowded road to shake off the police jeep that had started chasing him.

“While trying to escape, the driver lost control and rammed into the temple a few metres from the bridge,” said Mukherjee.

Ratan Basu, an eyewitness, said: “I was on my scooter when I heard a loud noise followed by screams. As I ran to the temple, I saw the roadside wall cave in. People were trapped under the wheels of the van. I saw a lifeless body on the temple roof.”

Local residents, who swung into action, found it difficult to extricate the trapped devotees. “We decided to upturn the van. But it could have resulted in more deaths. So we started dragging out the bodies and rushing them to NRS hospital,” said Shyamal Bhowmik, a resident.

Doctors at the hospital said Abhijit, Bijoy and Prosenjit died before reaching the hospital. Aloke died as he was being wheeled to the operation theatre.

“Aloke had parked his scooter in a lane and just entered the temple when the accident took place. The incident would have claimed more lives if it had happened a few minutes later as the devotees were just beginning to come in,” said Ajit Sarkar, another resident.

The local residents blamed the police for chasing the van and put up the road block. However, they were pacified when a large force led by Mukherjee, which had rushed to the spot, assured them that the absconding driver would be arrested.


Washington, Oct. 6: 
Three Americans are feared to have been killed in a bomb blast in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al Khobar. Reuters confirmed the death of one American.

Al Jazeera, the Arabic TV channel which reported the explosion, said it occurred shortly after midnight (IST) on Saturday. It said the bomb was detonated by remote control outside a store on King Khaled Street in Al Khobar.

Reuters confirmed the death of one American. This is the first major terrorist attack on an American ally since the US declared war on Osama bin Laden after the incidents in New York and Washington on September 11.

Nineteen US servicemen were killed in an attack on the US base at Dhahran, near Al Khobar in 1996. Two years later, a US army residence in Al Khobar was attacked. Both the attacks were attributed to Saudi-born bin Laden.

Guns boom in Kabul

In Kabul, thousands of Afghans stared upwards as pounding anti-aircraft guns brought the threat of US air strikes to the capital and the ruling Taliban tried to mollify their enemies.

A surface-to-air missile arced through the sky while the guns fired, but failed to touch two planes buzzing the city. While a pilotless reconnaissance aircraft circled out of reach, a second high-speed plane darted away.

The Taliban sought to use eight detained Western aid workers as bargaining chips to deflect US anger but Washington immediately rejected any deal. Pakistan said it had no plans to intercede further to try to avert the conflict.




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