Foreigners bleed in Pak blast
Indo-Thai extradition treaty on right track
US does what Delhi did
Cricket film to rescue cricket
Team grills Modi over Gill
Thackeray fills Naidu vacuum
Safe passage for Naxalite truce team
Antony spills Left loan secret
Sourav rush to clear tax blot
Calcutta Weather

Karachi, May 8: 
A suicide bomber in an explosives-laden old Toyota killed at least 12 Frenchmen and three others this morning in Pakistan’s commercial capital within striking distance of the home team and the visiting New Zealand cricket squad.

The bomb exploded at around 8 am outside the Sheraton Hotel as a bus packed with French naval experts was about to leave for a dockyard where they were helping to build a submarine, Agosta 90B.

The Pakistani cricket team and the New Zealanders, staying in the Pearl Continental Hotel across the street, escaped being caught up in the explosion by minutes as they were preparing to leave for a Test match starting today. New Zealand called off the tour immediately and the team left for home.

The still unidentified car-bomber seems to have followed a Pakistan Navy bus that was carrying 34 French and Pakistani officials from two different hotels. As the bus picked up the last five of its passengers from the second hotel, the suicide bomber parked his 1974 Toyota Corolla close and triggered the explosion.

All occupants were trapped inside the mangled bus. When rescue teams arrived, 10 were already dead and two more died in hospital. Twenty were injured.

The explosion was so powerful it sent the car’s engine flying 100 feet down the street. The sides of the bus were completely blown away and the torn-apart metal sheets of its roof flung up into the sky.

President Pervez Musharraf summoned security officials and ministers to an emergency meeting. Speaking on state-run television later, he linked the attack to Pakistan’s stand against terrorism. “Unless we fight this internal and external terrorism united, we will not be in a position to overcome it through law enforcement agencies,” he said.

He appealed to the international community to try and understand Pakistan’s “domestic environment”. Musharraf said: “Pakistan will do and is already doing what it can to combat international terrorism.”

French President Jacques Chirac condemned the bombing as “a murderous, cowardly, odious terrorist attack”.

The US called the attack a strike on two of its key allies, Pakistan and France, in the war on terrorism.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but information minister Nisar Memon said the authorities “did not rule out the possibility of a foreign hand from across the eastern borders from a country perpetually inimical to Pakistan”.

He did not name India, but a top police official did. “We cannot rule out the involvement of al Qaida but our suspicions are across the border. I am pointing towards India,” said Syed Kamal Shah, police chief of Sindh province, of which Karachi is a part.

India dismissed the allegation. Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “We treat it with the disdain it fully deserves. It is totally and completely baseless.”

“We condemn the act of terror. India is against terror, wherever it occurs,” she added.

The bombing, in the same city where murdered US reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in January, is likely to add to the pressure on Musharraf to carry through a promised crackdown on militants.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan blamed Islamic extremists and said Musharraf’s much vaunted crackdown had been neither genuine nor effective. “Unless a genuine commitment is shown in tackling militancy rather than making merely cosmetic gestures under international pressure and rounding up low-level activists... violence will continue to grow,” it said.

Musharraf said the act was aimed at disrupting Pakistan’s economic recovery and hitting at the country’s defences.

The Karachi stock exchange index fell nearly three per cent and in the first sign of the trouble Pakistan could face, Singapore Airlines suspended its flights to Karachi and Lahore starting Friday for security reasons.

Today’s blast was the first time in Pakistan that a car-bomb had been used to cause such devastation and in which so many foreign nationals died.

Pools of blood lay on both sides of the street and almost all the windows facing the road in the Sheraton and the Pearl Continental were smashed to pieces.

The man who washes cars in the Pearl Continental was outside in the parking lot when he heard a deafening sound. “I started running the other way, but when I turned back to have a look, I saw a human leg, just a few metres away from me,” he said.


Bangkok, May 8: 
An extradition treaty between India and Thailand, which is likely to be in place soon, is expected to give New Delhi the much-needed leverage in dealing with Northeast insurgents as well as other big-time criminals.

Indian ambassador to Thailand Leela Krishnamurty Ponappa said here on Monday that negotiations between the two countries were advancing in the “right direction”.

“The issue of extradition was also taken up with the Thai foreign minister when he visited India recently,” she added.

Ponappa, however, said insurgency was not the primary issue with the Indian mission in Bangkok, but “Indo-Thai bilateral ties”. She was quick to add that both the countries were sensitised to security issues.

On the recently-held talks between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M), Ponappa said the embassy was “not involved” in the dialogue as New Delhi’s chief interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah did not contact her. “The talks are a continuous process,” she said.

However, a source, referring to the latest round of Indo-Naga talks held here last week, said, “There is nothing to write home about.” A four-day Naga consultation meeting began at Bangkok on Monday as a follow-up to the New Delhi-NSCN (I-M) talks held last week.

The Indian insurgent outfits have always preferred Bangkok as the venue for their own conclaves as well as negotiations with New Delhi’s emissaries.

Besides mafia dons from India, even leaders of Northeast militant organisations, are known to have taken advantage of Thailand’s tourist-friendly immigration laws to find safe havens in the South East Asian nation.

At present, citizens of 154 nations can enter the country without a visa while Indians can also fly to Bangkok and get a 15-day tourist visa on arrival.

Among the wanted-in-India mafia dons who had located a safehouse in Bangkok and openly went around shopping for Kalashnikovs was Chhota Rajan. Many in the Indian establishment still believe that the daring escape of the Mumbai gangster from a Bangkok hospital last year would not have been possible if he could have been extradited immediately after arrest by Thai police. Chhota Rajan had tied a couple of bedsheets to a railing overlooking his first-floor hospital room to make good his escape, leaving behind a trail of mystery and lots of red faces among Thai police and the Indian embassy.

However, the biggest worry for the Indian authorities was the fact that even insurgent leaders from the Northeast frequently use Thailand as a “shopping mall” — where sophisticated arms are readily available to anyone willing to pay — or a transit point for country-hopping.


Washington, May 8: 
Four years after India was criticised by western countries for rejecting the idea of an International Criminal Court (ICC), the Bush administration has followed in New Delhi’s footsteps.

Not content with Washington’s earlier decision not to ratify the treaty creating the ICC, the US this week took the unusual step of unsigning the covenant, which was drafted to create what many countries believe is a missing link in the international legal system.

The 18-judge court in the Hague will be empowered to impose imprisonment sentences of up to 30 years, but not the death penalty on individuals for war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity anywhere in the world.

It will also have the power to impose a fine and confiscate the proceeds and property derived from such crimes.

With 60-plus countries — the base figure — signing and ratifying the 1998 Rome Treaty to set up the ICC, the court will start functioning from July 1.

But with New Delhi’s refusal to accede to the covenant, the ICC will have no jurisdiction over India. Indian representatives who took part in the Rome negotiations on the ICC four years ago argued that such a court would impinge on the sovereignty of free nations and their judiciary.

India is part of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also based in the Hague, but the ICJ deals only with disputes between states and has no jurisdiction over individuals.

Hypothetically, the new court could in future haul up the likes of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, especially when people like former Prime Minister V.P. Singh compare events in Gujarat to Bosnia and ethnic cleansing.

Under the Rome Treaty, however, only crimes committed after July 1 this year, when the covenant takes effect, can be tried before the ICC.

If a Jagmohan was to return as Governor to Jammu and Kashmir or a Siddhartha Shankar Ray to Punjab under the conditions in which they held those offices, they could both hypothetically be accused before the ICC by those who may criticise their actions in office.

The effect of President George W. Bush’s decision to walk out of the Rome Treaty, which was painstakingly tailored during the negotiations to accommodate US concerns, is that the ICC will have little credibility and virtually no teeth.

Like India, Pakistan has also refused to sign the Rome Treaty. China, Indonesia, Iraq and Turkey are among the other prominent dissenters. Israel, Russia, Egypt and Iran have signed, but not yet ratified the covenant.

One of the last acts by President Bill Clinton in office was to sign this treaty. Marc Grossman, Bush’s under-secretary of state, said in a speech here this week that “the ICC could have a chilling effect on the willingness of states to project power in defence of their moral and security interests”.


London, May 8: 
Cricket has created celluloid success, now it is the turn of the movieworld to return the favour.

Lagaan is going where no film has gone before. To be more specific, the car park of the Warwickshire County Cricket ground at Edgbaston, Birmingham, on the evening of July 4.

The Oscar-nominated film will be screened at this unlikely venue two days before an India-Sri Lanka one-day international. “We are seeking to maximise audiences,” Stewart Robertson, the marketing manager for the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), told The Telegraph today.

The initiative is being taken jointly with the British Film Institute, which is running an eight-month festival of Indian films this year called ImagineAsia.

The cricket authorities fear attendance at cricket matches this year may dip because of the rival — and far stronger — attraction of the football World Cup in Korea and Japan, starting on May 31. In the past, however, there have been no problems drawing Indians to the grounds when an Indian side was touring England.

When Sourav Ganguly’s boys turn out for their game against Leicester on June 26, there is a plan to show an Indian film on the giant replay screen after the day’s proceedings, according to Robertson. He said that subject to permission being granted by the local authority in Birmingham, the screening of Lagaan would be at the large car park at Edgbaston.

Since even an English summer night can turn chilly, there would be no need for viewers to wind down their car windows to catch the sound.

“That will be broadcast on radio,” explained Robertson. “People will just tune in.”

Mindful of the presence in Britain of one million people of Indian origin, the ECB (which has had regular run-ins with Indian cricket czar Jagmohan Dalmiya) wants to appeal to an audience which extends beyond its traditional English supporters, who are not coming to cricket grounds anyway, absorbed as they are in the condition of football captain David Beckham’s injured left foot.

Most of the anxiety about attendance centres on the three Test matches England will play against Lanka. The first Test starts at Lord’s next Thursday and just over 2,600 tickets for the opening day had been sold until yesterday, according to a PTI report.

Ironically, the ECB is turning to football to push cricket. On the fourth day of the second England-Lanka Test at Edgbaston, Beckham’s boys — whether the star midfielder’s foot recovers by the time or not — will play their first match of the football World Cup.

The ECB will encourage people turning up to watch the football game at a giant screen in a public place to go to the cricket match afterwards.

There is no such desperation surrounding the series against India, though. The first three days of all four Tests — to be played between July 25 and September 9 — are sold out, along with the entire one-day Natwest tri-series where the third team is Sri Lanka.

“This is a very good opportunity since film is such an important part of Indian culture,” added Robertson.

The ImagineAsia season, which is introducing such classics as Mother India and Mughl-e-Azam to a new audience, both Indian and English, wants to exploit the presence of the Indian cricket team in England this summer.

Cary Sawhney, who is organising the festival on behalf of the British Film Institute, revealed that there were plans to show films at other matches when India was playing.

“We are waiting for the ECB to come back to us,” he said. “Cricket is as big a religion as cinema in India.”


Gandhinagar, May 8: 
Narendra Modi’s Cabinet colleagues today strafed him with uncomfortable questions on K.P.S. Gill’s appointment as security adviser even as the supercop met Gujarat’s top police officers to evolve a strategy to end the cycle of violence.

Sources said the queries were signs of differences in the government over Gill’s role, especially when some Sangh parivar members are being accused of triggering the fresh flare-up to show that the appointment is not having the desired impact. At least nine people were killed today, five of them in police firing on rampaging mobs, as the latest burst of violence entered its fourth day.

At the weekly Cabinet meeting, the floodgates were opened by industry minister Suresh Mehta, a moderate and No. 2 in the government, who asked Modi to clear the veil of secrecy over the appointment.

Although today’s agenda was the Indus Water Treaty, Mehta asked the chief minister if he had asked the Centre to send the former Punjab police chief or the Union government had imposed him on the state. If Gill was Modi’s security adviser, why was he directly interacting with Union home minister L.K. Advani, Mehta asked.

The ministers felt Gill’s appointment has lent credence to the Opposition’s charge that the state government had failed to handle the situation. For the first time since the Godhra carnage — the original flashpoint — almost all senior ministers voiced concern over the situation which, they admitted, has adversely affected the BJP’s image and for which the party might have to pay a price.

“If the law and order situation is not controlled, the party may actually face the music as the business class is fast turning against us because of the continuing violence,” they told the chief minister, sources said. One after another, the ministers stressed on the need for arrests and effective combing operations in sensitive localities. So far, only Opposition parties, human rights groups and some NGOs have been demanding this.

Besides Mehta, others who raised these issues at today’s meeting were Narottam Patel, Fakir Vaghela, Nitin Patel, Kaushik Mehta, Ashok Bhatt and Naryanbhai Patel. Some of these ministers from Ahmedabad city, like Bhatt and Mehta, are considered close to Modi, who appears to be losing support in the BJP’s state unit. Modi asked them to “come up with concrete suggestions”.

Gill, who returned from Delhi yesterday after meeting Advani, met director-general of police K. Chakrovarty, Ahmedabad police commissioner P.C. Pande and other top police officers and is believed to have briefed them on the role he wants assigned to the Punjab commandos. He had yesterday asked for the Punjab force, specially trained to operate in disturbed areas, to help tackle the violence.


New Delhi, May 8: 
Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi has emerged as the “consensus” choice for the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post, prompting the party, considered by many as a political pariah, to tom-tom the honour as its finest achievement.

Government sources claimed that the Opposition, which could not have won in the event of an election, said it had no problems with Joshi. But several Opposition leaders voiced concern at the prospect of having a Sena MP presiding over the House at a time when the country is going through a communal crisis.

Joshi’s nomination was proposed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and seconded by home minister L.K. Advani after Chandrababu Naidu refused to nominate a Telugu Desam candidate.

“This is the greatest honour our party could have received,” a delighted Sena MP said.

If the Sena has emerged as the surprise winner, the biggest loser is the Desam. Naidu’s party, which had declined the post to register its protest against the continuation of Narendra Modi in Gujarat, suffered the ignominy of seconding a Sena member’s nomination.

Outwardly, the gesture conveyed a sense of renewed solidarity within the NDA after the censure motion stand-off. But, in the process, the Desam unwittingly became party to an exercise that gifts more legitimacy to a political group with a divisive ideology.

Congress sources said deputy leader of the parliamentary party Shivraj Patil managed to convince Sonia Gandhi, saying Joshi was “proper” and need not necessarily be partisan. However, Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy could not help saying what he felt: “We had no voice in their choice.”

CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee said “there was no unanimity, no consensus”. But he promised cooperation with a word of advice for Joshi: “Sitting in the Chair, you will have to forget you are a Sainik first, unlike the Prime Minister who calls himself a pracharak first”.

Joshi filed his nomination at 6 pm on his return from Mumbai, where he met his party chief Bal Thackeray. The election will take place on May 10. The Speaker-in-waiting told reporters that Thackeray gave his blessings and asked him to go and do justice to his post.

Although BJP sources had initially insisted that the party would have its own candidate and not from an ally, they admitted that Thackeray’s pressure tilted the balance in Joshi’s favour. The Sena chief had been upset for a long time at the “under-representation” of his members in the Union Cabinet despite being the second largest NDA constituent after the Desam.


Hyderabad, May 8: 
Andhra Pradesh has accepted the ceasefire offered by the People’s War Group and urged leaders of the banned outfit to inform the government before May 20 of their plan of action for the proposed talks to take off.

State home minister T. Devender Gowd told reporters today that the negotiating team of the Naxalite outfit will be given “safe passage” to come for the first round of talks. “A three-member legal team of the extremists is expected to come for the negotiations,” he said.

The government’s decision came after the banned Naxalite outfit yesterday declared a 30-day ceasefire from May 10 but asked the administration to reciprocate by temporarily lifting the ban on it and giving safe passage to the negotiators. Gowd, however, said the “question of lifting the ban” does not arise at this stage.

Yesterday, PWG state committee secretary Ramakrishna told reporters who called on him at his hideout in the Nallamala forests near Nandyal, about 300 km from here, that “the PWG will not undertake any attacks or assaults unless in self defence”.

The initiative for the ceasefire came in the wake of chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s statement that the PWG had remained faceless despite the government’s efforts to hold talks with them.

“With whom should I discuss peace. Please let me know the address of these persons…,” Naidu had remarked recently when asked about the progress on the dialogue front.

Ramakrishna conceded that the number of “fake” encounters by the state police had come down after the talks initiative gained momentum. “But more action is expected from them as the ball is in their court,” he said.

The extremist menace has already taken a heavy toll of over 6,000 lives. “If political process can resolve the burning problem of rural violence, let us give it a chance,” said home secretary Bharatchandra.

Sources, however, said the talks could run into a wall because of the PWG’s refusal to give up arms. “We took to arms to give power to the people and we will not rest till we achieve the same,” the Naxalite leader said.

Another factor is that the dialogue is limited to only the outfit active in Andhra. The organisation is banned in four other states as well — Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar.


Kochi, May 8: 
Kerala’s Left Front has been caught red-handed in the middle of a high-pitched round of economic doublespeak.

The Front’s campaign against the Congress-led government’s “secret and mysterious deal” with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for a Rs 3,600-crore loan suffered a blow with chief minister A.K. Antony’s office releasing eight documents.

The documents show that the Left Front had agreed to the same terms for the infrastructure development loan when it was in power.

Though the government’s primary objective behind the disclosure was to score debating points and turn public opinion in favour of the loan, it also underscored how fiscal compulsions has enforced an undeclared economic consensus in a state known for its sharp political polarisation.

The documents reveal the readiness of the ideologically-opposed mainstream parties to promise, at least in private, to take a number of similar steps to pull the state out of near-bankruptcy.

The Left Front had been attacking the Antony government for recent reforms – downsizing and redeployment of government staff, closure of sick units and unprofitable schools and reduction of retirement benefits for government employees.

The documents do bear out the Left claim that the reforms were in line with the diktat of the ADB. However, they also show that the previous Left Front government led by CPM’s E.K. Nayanar was as amenable as the Antony administration to implement the ideas for the loan.

The documents, totalling nearly 250 pages, disclose that the official proposals to get the loan were first put forward by the Left Front government as early as 1998.

The concept paper submitted to the Centre by the same government on October 15, 1998, shows that the state had agreed to take steps to eliminate revenue deficit in a phased manner, reform the public sector undertakings by offering voluntary retirement scheme for excess staff, restructure the power sector and initiate administrative reforms.

According to the documents, the present government is also taking steps to abide by the ADB’s conditions to get the loan.

The papers make it clear that the ADB had systematically maintained that the sanction of the loan is related to Kerala government’s willingness to initiate reforms in crucial sectors such as public finance, public sector enterprises, power, road development, industry and administration.

The reforms, as highlighted by the ADB, include downsizing of staff, closing down of non-profitable institutions and industry as well as recasting the power sector.

The Left Front, however, never got around to actually implementing these proposals during its tenure, which came to an end in 2001. But the new government has started implementing the ADB proposals.

The first instalment of the loan is expected in October this year. Antony has made it clear that Kerala cannot do without the loan, which had generated so much heat that a militant Left-wing organisation had vandalised the ADB consultancy office at Thiruvananthapuram.


Calcutta, May 8: 
Upset by the income-tax department clubbing Sourav Ganguly with high-profile defaulters, the Indian cricket captain’s authorised representative has written to the authorities asking them to clear his name as early as possible.

Yesterday, the tax dues of 33 cricketers, including Sourav, Kapil Dev, Azharuddin and Nayan Mongia, were made public in the Rajya Sabha by finance minister Yashwant Singh. The dues totalled Rs 3.8 crore.

Sourav’s representative, Dipak Kumar Mitra’s letter to the chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes said that the charges were “absolutely embarrassing”. “Any association of his name with genuine tax dodgers/evaders is not at all expected from any quarter or agency or authority.”

Such moves, the letter pointed out, affects the public image of Sourav Ganguly. Sources close to the Indian skipper said the authorities should have noted that Sourav was the highest taxpayer in Bengal.

“It is not only very strange, but insulting as well,” the sources said. They said that though negotiations were on with the tax authorities, they went ahead and screamed foul play.

Mitra’s letter, written on Ganguly’s letterhead, explained that the Indian skipper was clear of all tax dues till April 2, 2002. It was only recently that the income-tax department had made a demand of Rs 41 lakh for two assessment years, 1998-1999 and 1999-2000. This was done by the tax authorities on April 3, this year.

Mitra explained in his letter that he had already appealed to the authorities, within the stipulated 30 days, praying for permission to pay in instalments. Today, a challan for Rs 12 lakh was sent to the tax authorities.

“It is to be mentioned in this context that Mr Sourav Ganguly is entitled to a refund of around Rs 14 lakh on the basis of income-tax returns filed for the assessment year 2001-2002,” Mitra’s letter said.




Maximum: 37.3°C (+1)
Minimum: 28.2°C (+2)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 91%,

Sunrise: 5.03 am

Sunset: 6.03 pm


Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts

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