Delhi renews ties with old friend Palestine
Vaiko meet skirts Lanka
Prasar Bharati report under fire
Orissa fears conversion attacks rerun
CBI questions Ali Irani
PF rate cut protest
Blood flows in fields, banks dry

Gaza, July 1 
India made it clear today that its keenness to improve and strengthen relations with Israel was not at the cost of Palestine and its renewed interest in West Asia should not be seen as a zero-sum game where Delhi had to sacrifice its time-tested ally to pursue the new-found bonhomie with Tel Aviv.

�I am here as an ambassador of India � a land that has always empathised with the aspirations of the people of Palestine,�� foreign minister Jaswant Singh said. He added: �India�s support to Palestine and its land will not alter.�

Indicating that Delhi, though a supporter of the West Asia peace process, would like to maintain its neutrality, he said: �I will not go into the game of assigning blame. There has been slippages in the peace talks and we are concerned about that.��

Jaswant is the first Indian minister to come here after the Palestinian National Authority under President Yasser Arafat�s leadership was established in 1994. After Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, he is the first minister from Delhi to have come to Gaza for a substantive visit. A few days ago, Union home minister L.K. Advani was here for 30 minutes. The Israeli leg of Jaswant�s visit starts from tomorrow.

Last night the foreign minister held a meeting with President Arafat and his senior aides at Ramalla, a short distance away from Jerusalem which is also under the Palestinian National Authority.

The discussions, which lasted an hour, focused on the West Asia peace process. The discussions were held in a cordial atmosphere and gave the two leaders an opportunity to iterate the historic links between India and Palestine and to re-affirm their friendship.

Singh�s decision to start his four-day tour of West Asia with Palestine is aimed at sending out the signal that there will be no fundamental change in India�s policy in the region. The drive from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip does not take more than an hour, but the short distance separates two different worlds: one of prosperous Israelis and the other of impoverished Palestinians.

India does not want to lose either of them. It wants to broadbase its ties with Israel by strengthening cooperation in the economic and political fields. At the same time, it wants to continue its support to the Palestinian �just cause and aspirations of its people�.

With this in mind, Singh, while inaugurating the Mahatma Gandhi library-cum-student activity centre and the Jawaharlal Nehru library in Gaza, also pledged a credit line offer to the Palestinians and Delhi�s help in infrastructure development. Singh made it clear that Delhi will help in areas that would generate income for the Palestinian youth.

What Singh is perhaps trying to achieve by this visit to West Asia is to carve out a role for Delhi in the crucial and volatile region. But for the time being, he does not want to expand India�s role in the peace process. By having good relations with the Palestinians and the Israelis, India wants to have leverage with both and �access to the decision making�.

Before coming here, he had a discussion about the peace process with US secretary of state Madeline Albright in Warsaw.

The fact that world leaders are today discussing major developments in the world with Indian is an indication of Delhi�s success in emerging as a key international player.    

Erode, July 1 
With everyone steering clear of the vexed issue of Tamil Eelam, the MDMK conference today got off to a sedate start here in western Tamil Nadu.

There was no slogan hailing Prabhakaran or projecting the Sri Lankan Tamil cause anywhere in the graffiti or wall-posters splashed across this flourishing business town. But some MDMK activists wearing Prabhakaran badges were seen arguing with police videographers at the rally.

The party took out a huge procession in the afternoon, but the slogans on the Eelam issue itself were few and far between. However, there were a couple of slogans in the official list distributed among the cadre: �The blood spilt by the Tamils in Eelam is our very own,� �Let the voices in support of the Eelam Tamil reverberate in all eight directions.�

The slogans that reverberated through Erode had more to do with hailing the greatness of Vaiko, the high-profile secretary of the MDMK, and the party�s might than with Eelam itself. The Eelam-related slogans seemed to have been deliberately underplayed.

There were also slogans laying a special emphasis on how Anna, C.N. Annadurai (as the DMK founder is fondly remembered), was an apostle of peace.

If anyone still had doubts about the party�s intentions, Vaiko was there to clarify.

In an informal chat with some newspersons, he is said to have blamed the media for �distorted reports� on his Eelam stance. �All I want is a fair deal for the Eelam Tamils,� the MDMK leader said.

But he refused to give any hint on the resolution the conference is to pass tomorrow. �Wait and watch,� is all he would say.

Sources conceded that there would be nothing controversial or provocative in any of the resolutions. Though the convention is expected to make a demand for autonomy to the state, Vaiko was not willing to commit himself on the resolution cleared by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

�I can�t agree with it all, anyway I�ve not had an occasion to go through it in full, clause by clause. I reserve my comments till I do so,� he said.

�Supposing Farooq Abdullah, one of the invitees, did take up the theme tomorrow?� he was asked.

Vaiko, determined not to say or do anything that would embarass the Centre, replied: �Well, home minister Advani would also be there. He would respond suitably.�

The meet, which was initially billed as the conference to mark the awakening of the Tamils, later became one to mark the awakening of Tamil Nadu. In the end it has boiled down to a bland Erode district conference of the MDMK.    

New Delhi, July 1 
The Shunu Sen review committee on the working of the Prasar Bharati is under attack. More than 30,000 Prasar Bharati employees see the report as a �covert plan to convert Prasar Bharati into a private company�.

They think it will hinder the democratic functioning of Prasar Bharati and increase the role of both the CEO and the information and broadcasting minister, which is antithetical to the idea of autonomy.

The United Forum of Prasar Bharati Employees and the Association of Radio & Television Engineering Employees, the two associations representing nearly two-thirds of Prasar Bharati employees, have submitted a memorandum to information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley and expressed shock.

The associations allege that the committee has gone beyond its terms of reference and recommended amendments to the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990, which they say, is �absolutely uncalled for�.

The report centralises power in the CEO�s hands, reducing the board�s role. One of them said: �We see a dark future for the Rs 56,000 crore worth assets of Prasar Bharati which...will pass into the hands of multinational media barons...�

The associations are wary that the recommendation of the parliamentary committee will be abolished. What employees are most concerned about is the recommendation for the amendment of Section 11 (1) of Chapter 2 of the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990. This clause provides employees the right either to join the corporation or remain in government service.

According to the report, this right should be taken away and Prasar Bharati should be allowed to select its own staff from its present employees.    

New Delhi, July 1 
The Biju Janata Dal government in Orissa has warned Union home ministry officials that there is every likelihood of a resurgence of communal hatred and violence against Christians in the tribal regions of the state.

Senior Orissa government officials raised the issue during a discussion on communal and caste tensions throughout the country at Wednesday�s session on internal security chaired by Union home secretary Kamal Pande, his ministry colleagues and top officials, including chief secretaries, home secretaries and directors-general of police of all states.

The immediate provocation of Orissa government officials was the recent spate of attacks against Christians and places of worship of the minority community in Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.

During the discussion the Orissa government representatives said according to intelligence inputs, �anti-conversion� forces in the state, particularly those operating in the tribal districts of Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Baripada, were seething and planning to strike against those allegedly trying to convert tribals to Christianity.

The BJD government of Naveen Patnaik is issuing this warning at a time when there is a perceptible tension between the BJD and the BJP on how both parties should respond to the growing feeling of communal hatred in tribal Orissa. The BJD has been silent on the issue of conversions, maintaining what it claims to be a secular approach to the problem. On the other hand, several state BJP leaders have been vocal on proselytisation along the lines of the state units of some Hindutva organisations.

The officials indirectly pointed out that some fundamentalist Hindu organisations have been clandestinely reorganising themselves against Christians and missionaries who, they feel, are behind proselytisation of the backward and poor tribals. There was also a parallel move on the part of these fundamentalist forces to re-convert those who have already embraced Christianity.

Officials from Bhubaneswar are believed to have told home ministry bureaucrats that Dara Singh, who was behind the gruesome killing of Australian missionary Graham Steines and his two minor sons at Manoharpur in Keonjhar district early last year, is a member of the extreme Hindu forces.

All this information has unnerved North Block which is feverishly trying to unearth whether Christians are being targeted in an organised manner by a hardline section of the extreme Hindu fringe. It is also trying to find out whether the blasts in churches in Andhra Pradesh and the murder of Christians in Uttar Pradesh was part of a larger conspiracy by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency with the objective of sparking off communal tension.

Apart from asking all state governments concerned to �thoroughly investigate� all cases of attacks against Christians and their institutions, the home ministry has despatched strong advisories to the states, directing them to strictly follow the guidelines on communal harmony and bring to book the culprits no matter what their affiliations are.

The state governments have also been asked to put their intelligence apparatus, Special Branch and Criminal Investigation Departments (CID), on the alert and report without delay or impartiality on incidents of communal violence or hatred.

The states have also been reminded that attacks against minority communities amount to violation of human rights and they must invoke provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act.    

New Delhi, July 1 
Former physiotherapist of the cricket team Ali Irani today told the CBI that he neither had evidence nor could he cite any instance of match-fixing involving Indian players.

Irani, who was questioned by the CBI at its headquarters for nearly 90 minutes, was among those secretly filmed by Manoj Prabhakar. The bureau had summoned him following his statements before Prabhakar�s hidden camera.

Among other allegations, Irani is purported to have said that former skipper Mohammed Azharuddin enjoyed political protection. In the video, Irani appears to be agreeing with what Prabhakar has to say about match-fixing and dressing room dramas which only hint at the involvement of certain players and the access bookies enjoyed. Sports minister S.S. Dhindsa today declined to comment on whether the team should take part in the coming three-nation tournament in Toronto.

�The BCCI has to submit a report on match-fixing before July 27. I can comment only after that, though I agree that some individuals don�t want the team to be sent till CBI investigations are over,� Dhindsa said in Chennai.    

New Delhi, July 1 
Left trade unions are planning a nation-wide protest against the recent one per cent slash in interest rates on the employees� provident fund.

M.K. Pandhe, the Centre of Indian Trade Union (Citu) general secretary, said: �The committee of public sector undertakings will meet this Wednesday to chalk out an action plan against the decision.� The labour ministry has said it will request the finance ministry to reconsider its decision to reduce the interest rate.

Next week�s meeting of public sector trade union leaders will also take up issues like disinvestment and the Centre�s decision to shut down several public sector undertakings in West Bengal.

So far the Indian National Trade Union Congress (Intuc) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) have not participated in any action launched by the Left trade unions. �We will try to involve the Intuc and the BMS in the protest programme,� said Pandhe. Next week�s meeting of public sector trade union leaders will also take up issues like disinvestment and the Centre�s decision to shut down several public sector undertakings in West Bengal. There have been strikes in Asansol and Durgapur but on a limited scale. �The municipal polls came in the way of a large-scale action. But we will plan widespread protests at next week�s meeting,� said the Citu general secretary. In spite of the trade unions� bluster, they have not been able to put a brake on the Vajpayee government�s liberalisation policies. With the Congress supporting the ruling BJP on crucial economic policies in Parliament, the Left has been reduced to making noises without being capable of stalling any of the policies. The trade unions have staged routine dharnas and organised sporadic bandhs, but the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has stuck to the hard decisions. The Platform of Mass Organisations, which includes Left mass organisations, despite its claims, has not been able to create a wave against any of the recent policies of the Centre.    

Patna, July 1 
Blood banks have gone dry in the killing fields of Bihar with caste massacres creating a sudden spurt in demand.

The last time the Central Bank of Bihar in Patna supplied blood was in the first week of June in the aftermath of the Nawada massacre.

Following the shoot-out in Hajipur last week, the blood bank authorities were unable to supply blood to the four injured persons rushed to the Patna Medical College. The relatives were forced to procure blood from other sources.

With the Central and Magadh blood banks formally closed, the district hospitals have been forced to function without blood supply. In emergency cases, doctors ask relatives to get blood donors. A senior doctor in Gaya said: �We cannot guarantee the quality of the blood because we have no test kits for HIV detection.�

In Muzaffarpur, patients are falling back on physically-unfit professional donors. �While the massacre victims need blood to escape death, they also risk getting infected by fatal diseases like AIDS,� said Animesh Pal, a social activist.

Dr Ashoke Yadav, in-charge of Patna Medical College�s Central Blood Bank, said the blood bank used to supply 50 units of blood to the emergency wing of the hospital and about 15 units went to the districts. �Since the blood bank has closed down, district hospitals have been forced to rely upon the haphazard supply of private blood banks,� he said.

Sources said the Central Drug Controllers� office withdrew the bank�s licence because it violated the norms of running a blood bank. Among other requirements, a blood bank has to test blood with kits supplied by the state health department.

�All the norms of running a blood bank were being flouted. It did not even conduct the mandatory tests and allowed untested blood to be used by patients,� said Dr Jha, director of the Drug Control in Patna.

Blood bank sources said the AIDS testing kits for January to March have been cleared only now. �If the last three months� kits are being supplied now, one can imagine how the blood bank functioned during that period,� said Yadav. He iterated that the bank was closed down abruptly and rare blood groups like A- and B- stored in the bank could not be retrieved. Moreover, the test kits being supplied now would go waste.

Yadav admitted that the blood bank had flouted rules but claimed that the state government did not provide adequate facilities. State government sources said a probe had been ordered and the guilty would be brought to book. The uproar over the closure of the blood banks has forced the government to appeal to voluntary organisations to supply blood to massacre-hit districts.    


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