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King brings eye hope

Jan. 22: Hopes of a royal pardon rose for an Indian whose eyes could be gouged out if a Saudi Arabian court verdict is enforced but the Indian government trod with caution to ensure that the issue does not overshadow the impending visit of King Abdullah.

A Shariat court had delivered the eye-for-an-eye sentence after Abdul Latif Naushad, a Malayalee, was held responsible for blinding an Arab during a scuffle in a shop three years ago.

Kerala was abuzz with reports today that King Abdullah is likely to announce the pardon before he arrives in New Delhi on Tuesday. Naushad’s mother received a call from a relative in Saudi Arabia saying her son could be pardoned.

Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy said that “I am 100 per cent confident that Naushad will be freed as early as possible, most probably in January itself. We are expecting good news.”

However, he added that “we haven’t got any official communication”.

In New Delhi, the minister of state for external affairs, E. Ahamed, was more circumspect. He told The Telegraph that the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia had not confirmed that Naushad would be pardoned.

But, he added, the government was in constant touch with Saudi authorities and there was a positive indication that Naushad would be safe.

Naushad’s wife Suhaila, accompanied by their two-year-old daughter and some relatives, arrived today in Delhi from Kerala.

“I have come here with a prayer and a belief that the king pardons my husband,” a sobbing Suhaila said.

The family members have sought a meeting with the king. Ahamed said he would meet the family tomorrow. But he ruled out the possibility of a meeting between the king and Naushad’s family.

Sources said the Indian government is still not sure whether a full pardon ' a prerogative of the assault victim ' would be granted or the palace will limit its intervention to setting aside the order to gouge out Naushad’s eye.

Besides, the Indian government is not keen to jump the gun and add a jarring note on the eve of the visit.

The Centre, eager to meet the energy needs of the booming economy, is giving utmost importance to the visit of Abdullah, who will be the chief guest on Republic Day.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will break protocol to receive the monarch at the Delhi airport. Usually, the minister-in-waiting welcomes state guests when they touch down.

Officials said they cannot recall any world leader having been received by a Prime Minister in the recent past.

The Saudi king is coming with a huge delegation of 200. The Saudis are looking to deepen economic ties with India as well as China ' which is hosting Abdullah ' whose energy needs are soaring as their economies witness red-hot growth.

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