Swadeshi cry to fight China flood
Double blaze in city markets
Five daughters and mother die in father�s fury
Hurriyat courts talks and tussle
Ulfa top gun hit in foreign den
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 17: 
Juggling his reform credentials and domestic compulsions, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today invoked the swadeshi spirit in a bid to build a bulwark against the Chinese cheap goods deluge.

Appealing to the people to refrain from buying imported goods �unnecessarily�, Vajpayee said: �Chinese goods like toys, batteries, radios and televisions are cheaper, compared with Indian products as their prices are fixed. There is a need to generate a swadeshi feeling because the small-scale industries manufacturing them are facing a serious challenge.�

The Prime Minister said that some imports were inevitable. �But this does not mean people will pick up foreign goods even when those purchases are unnecessary,� he told councillors from Lucknow who called on him at his home.

Vajpayee�s appeal has traces of the hard line championed by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, but sources close to the Prime Minister insisted that his statement should not be read out of context.

They pointed out that Vajpayee was not �entirely� against imports, but he did not support the idea of Indian consumers fancying only foreign goods � whether Chinese or from another country.

Keen to limit a possible negative fallout, they said the Prime Minister was neither pleading for a protectionist economy nor was he suddenly taking up the cause of the manch in the wake of his controversial statement on the Ayodhya issue. But the appeal, made by the Prime Minister for the first time since the imports caused concern, is bound to please hawks in the BJP who have been pleading with Vajpayee for steps to stem the inflow of Chinese goods. Industrialists, especially from eastern India � where these goods are now a common sight � had petitioned him.

However, some economists have argued that the Chinese are reaping the advantages of a more efficient production process and a volume-driven sales strategy. They felt that such strategic challenges will keep confronting Indian industrialists when globalisation strikes its roots deep.

The issue was discussed at the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting and the Centre was considering ways of stopping the flood. The Prime Minister assured the councillors that his government was �alarmed over the dumping of the goods� and it was making efforts to prevent this by hiking import duties.

Most of the councillors who met him today were hardliners and the Prime Minister could not have displeased those from his constituency. Vajpayee tried to dispel their fears that the economy depended too much on imports. He said the import duty on some items had been raised up to 300 per cent.


Calcutta, Dec. 17: 
The fabled churi patty (wholesale bangle bazaar) on Canning Street was devastated in a fire that started early this morning and blazed through the better part of the day.

Before the embers died down, another fire broke out at Humayun Court on Lindsay Street around 10.15 pm. The building, located in one of the city�s busiest shopping zones, houses several shops, including the Nu York department store, a Titan showroom and the offices and godown of India Book House.

Eight fire-tenders had been deployed. At 1.30 am, fire brigade officials said the blaze �has been arrested, but not controlled�.

In the Canning Street fire, scores were injured as hundreds of firefighters, policemen, soldiers and volunteers battled the flames for 20 hours. About 400 shops and godowns in seven buildings stretching across Canning Street, Sukeas Street and Old Chinabazaar were gutted. A sprawling four-storey building was razed and six adjacent structures damaged.

Raj Kanojia, deputy commissioner of police (central), said the Debiprasad market on 33 Canning Street turned into an inferno within minutes of the fire bei-ng spotted in a first-floor godown. �We are not sure what caused the fire. It could be a short-circuit or a gas cylinder explosion,� he said.

The police said the damage could have been unprecedented had the fire spread across Old Chinabazaar. It brought back me-mories of the blaze at Manohar Das Katra a few years ago, which razed an entire market in a day.

Today was a sunny December day, but the sky over Writers� Buildings, Howrah Bridge and other landmarks in the BBD Bag-Strand Road-Burrabazaar belt was black with smoke.

The fire was noticed around 4 am. Two of the nearly 50 fire tenders pressed into service reached the spot after 45 minutes. By then, the fire had engulfed the first and third floors. As the water pressure in the hose pipes was low, the fire spread, aided by the plastic and lac stored in the godown.

State ministers Pratim Chatterjee, Subhas Chakraborty and Manab Mukherjee rushed to the site. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee also showed up. Mamata Banerjee visited the spot on her return from Nabadwip.

Angry residents went to the fire station on CR Avenue around 6 am. In half-an-hour, 37 fire engines reached the spot, but could not do much. The residents then gheraoed Chatterjee. �Most shops and godowns in this building are illegal and do not abide by safety norms,� he said.

Between 11 am and 1 pm, the fire fed on three quick explosions of LPG cylinders. It then raced towards a school and a chemicals godown at the back. The fire was controlled around 6 pm. The area will be closed to traffic till the ravaged building is pulled down.


Calcutta, Dec. 17: 
In one of the most macabre murders in recent memory, a man last night strangled to death his wife and five minor daughters before slashing at a neighbour who he suspected was having an affair with his wife.

Police said Biresh Poddar, the 42-year-old killer, has been on the run since last night and is a plywood merchant with a factory on Canal West Road. Digvijay Sharma, 48, whom he stabbed in the abdomen several times, lives in a single-room flat in the same Murari Pukur Road house near Maniktala where the incident took place.

A note signed by Biresh was found in the dingy flat where the murders were committed. It read: �Maine apney haathon se apna parivar ko khatam kar dala (I have finished off my family with my own hands).�

The homicide department of the city police said it had not seen such a gruesome case in several years. �I have never seen such a cold-blooded and pre-meditated act of murder in almost 20 years in the department,� Samir Ganguly, officer-in-charge, homicide, said.

Police said Biresh appeared to have fed sleeping pills �- a strip of Valium tablets was found in the room � to his 33-year-old wife Rita, and daughters Rima (13), Preeti (11), Smriti (8) and the five-year-old twins before strangling them. Some suspect their food was also laced with poison.

Biresh strangled his sleeping family one by one with a dupatta and scarf. His children were found lying side by side on a double-bed dressed in frocks. Rita was found in a sari on a mat, but the strangulation marks on her throat were deeper.

Rita�s brother Chandradeep Poddar said Biresh was unhappy he had five daughters. �He often threatened my sister he would remarry. After the third daughter, my sister tried to commit suicide by jumping into a well,� Chandradeep said.

A tenant, Ramkumari Gupta, said Biresh often picked fights with Rita alleging she was having an affair. The quarrels had become frequent over the past month, she added. Others refused to comment.

�How can we know what is going on behind closed doors?� asked Prashanta Dey, a local resident.

Police said after the multiple murders, Biresh, armed with a stick and razor, appeared to have crossed the courtyard into Digvijay�s flat. Digvijay is from Vaishali � where his wife lives � and works for an aluminium manufacturing firm in BBD Bag.

Biresh knocked on Digvijay�s door around 2.30 am, saying one of his daughters was ill. When a groggy Digvijay came out, Biresh struck him on his head with the stick, whipped out the razor and repeatedly stabbed him.

When Digvijay�s son Kaushal raised an alarm, other tenants, including landlord Shyamal Saha rushed out. Biresh then tried to flee on his motorcycle. But he suddenly changed his mind and ran out into the street.

Police reached the site after 3 am. A tenant directed them to Biresh�s flat, which they broke open to find the bodies.

�The corner of the victims� mouths were frothing, indicating poison,� said Pradip Ghosh, assistant commissioner, eastern suburban division, in charge of the probe.

City detectives have fanned out into many areas, including Muzaffarpur where Biresh hails from, on the trail of the killer.


Srinagar, Dec. 17: 
The All-Party Hurriyat Conference today formally welcomed the Ramzan ceasefire and offered talks with the Centre, but the simmering tension within the umbrella organisation erupted in a clash between pro-Pakistan and pro-Independence factions.

At the five-hour meeting, all seven executive members of the Hurriyat discussed �the situation arising out of the unilateral ceasefire and unanimously reiterated its stand that the Hurriyat will take part in any meaningful and result-oriented political process aimed at resolving the Kashmir issue permanently�.

A statement issued this evening said: �If the ceasefire declaration leads to the resumption of a comprehensive dialogue, resolution of the Kashmir dispute, restoration of peace in South Asia, most important, in relation to India and Pakistan, then the offer on the part of the Government of India is to be regarded as a positive change in the attitude of the Indian leadership in Delhi towards Kashmir.�

The Hurriyat leaders reiterated that �for restoration of peace and to make the ongoing efforts meaningful, we be provided with a chance to meet Indian and Pakistani leaders as also leaders of various militant outfits�.

Stating that �Hurriyat resolves to work unitedly and with discipline to reach its goal�, the statement said the efforts of those �who want to create confusion and division in the ranks of Hurriyat will fail�.

But the fractures in the 23-member organisation came to the fore as rival factions clashed immediately after the meeting, leaving three persons injured.

The trouble began when chief of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, was leaving with his supporters, who struck up slogans. Jamaat Islamia and People�s League activists reacted by raising pro-Pakistan slogans. Soon a fierce clash broke out with the groups hurling stones at each other.

Policemen, posted at the venue since early morning, moved into the headquarters and used batons to disperse the mob. Three persons were admitted to hospital with injuries.

The clash came as a slap in the face of the Hurriyat after leaders, despite their serious differences, had agreed to work together to �take the ongoing struggle to its logical conclusion�.

Top Hurriyat leaders, including Abdul Gani Lone, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, put up a brave front and claimed there was no division in their ranks. �Leaders of all the constituents are united. Supporters do not represent the leadership,� Lone told reporters.

Pro-Pakistan Jamaat Islamia leaders on both sides of the Line of Control will meet in Saudi Arabia in the next few days to work out their strategy.

Jamaat chief G.M. Bhat is likely to meet Syed Salahuddin, the Pakistan-based chief of Hizb-ul Mujahideen.


New Delhi & Calcutta, Dec. 17: 
Mob-patented ambush has caught up with one of India�s most feared militant groups on foreign soil.

The Assam Rifles today claimed that the commander-in-chief of the banned Ulfa, Paresh Baruah, was injured and his trusted aide and sharpshooter, Raju Baruah, killed in a �group clash� in a hideout in Bangladesh yesterday. Raju Baruah was said to be �controlling� the series of mass murders in Assam at the behest of Paresh Baruah. Nearly 100 non-Assamese have been killed in the attacks.

The Bangladesh strike is the second incident this year, which suggests that foreign soil is no longer a safe haven for Indian fugitives. Mumbai mobster Chhota Rajan had been shot at and wounded in Bangkok by hitmen hired by Dawood Ibrahim.

Assam Rifles DIG, Brigadier B.K. Panwar, said in Agartala this morning that Raju Baruah was killed when he tried to shield Paresh Baruah during a clash at a Ulfa camp in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

In the evening, the Assam Rifles made the brigadier�s statement official in a press note, which said: �It has been reliably learnt that there was an encounter between two rival factions of the Ulfa in CHT, Bangladesh, on December 16, 2000, at approximately 4.30 pm. It is believed that Paresh Baruah has been seriously injured and shifted to a Dhaka hospital under high security. Raju Baruah has been reportedly killed in the encounter.�

However, Lohit Deuri, an erstwhile aide of Paresh Baruah, claimed that �Paresh Baruah was not present at the spot�. Deuri was contacted in the wake of rumours that Paresh Baruah had �rung him up last night�. �We have received unconfirmed reports that Raju Baruah was injured in the accident, but it has been confirmed that the commander-in-chief was not present there at the time,� Deuri said. Deuri had come overground on August 14.

Director general of Assam Police H.K. Deka said: �As per intelligence reports, Paresh Baruah is still alive and in Bangladesh. There is no information on Raju Baruah.� Brigadier Panwar said Paresh Baruah, accompanied by Raju Baruah, reached the Ulfa hideout near Thangnan under Khagracherri district in the Chittagong Hill Tracts last afternoon to address �higher-level cadre�.

Even as he was addressing the meeting at around 4-30 pm, a group clash broke out and in the resultant shootout, Raju Baruah fell to bullets while trying to shield his chief. But Paresh also sustained serious injuries.

Later, the injured Ulfa chief was shifted to Dhaka in a critical condition under heavy security reportedly provided by the Bangladesh government. Paresh was shifted presumably by a helicopter to a hospital in Dhaka.

�We are as yet not sure who shifted Paresh Baruah with security to Dhaka but we do have authentic information about the clash and its outcome,� the brigadier said, adding that death or injury of other Ulfa cadre in the clash could not be ruled out.

The incident is significant in view of minister of state for external affairs Ajit Panja�s statement on December 11 wherein he stated: �We are in close touch with the Bangladesh government on the insurgency issue and even exchanging information. Very soon you will see good results.�

Sources in the defence establishment refused to comment on the significance of Pan-ja�s statement but said: �He is definitely better informed than we are.�

The attack on the Ulfa chief comes in the midst of a renewed campaign by the outfit, specially against the non-Assamese people.

Almost simultaneously, unidentified assailants began targeting relatives of Ulfa rebels. Six relatives of militants have been shot by unknown assassins. Paresh Baruah�s house near Chabua in Dibrugarh district was also attacked though no one was injured.

The Ulfa chief had issued a stern warning that if attacks on the rebels� family members did not stop by December 31, the outfit would target members of the ruling Asom Gana Parishad.

The Ulfa holds the government responsible for masterminding the attacks. Following the warning, the police decided to provide security to families of the Ulfa rebels.

Paresh Baruah has been leading the outfit ever since it was formed in 1979 in Sivasagar district along with Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa.




Maximum: 27.4�C (0)
Minimum: 14.6�C (+1)



Relative humidit

Max: 91%
Min: 40%


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be 15�C

Sunrise: 6.17 am
Sunset: 4.50 pm

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