Prime Minister meets President amid role debate
July signal for Bofors papers
Outrage as Nato bombs hit China embassy
Ramani and family held on illegal bar charge
Before first ball, Indian wins
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 8 
President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee were closeted in a one-to-one, hour-long meeting, considered significant because of the ongoing debate over the caretaker government?s role.

Vajpayee had driven over to Rashtrapati Bhavan this afternoon. Both the President?s secretariat and the Prime Minister?s Office (PMO) tried to play down the meeting, officially describing it as a routine affair.

But, after the hue and cry raised by the Opposition over the Centre?s refusal to function in a caretaker capacity, the meeting was being treated as more than a courtesy call in political circles.

Over the past few days, the President has been exercising himself over the present government?s powers. He has met constitutional experts and has been forming his opinion on the subject.

Since the Lok Sabha was dissolved, the BJP government has said it would not function in a restrained manner till polls are held. Of late, the Cabinet has taken quite a few economic decisions and carried out two rounds of bureaucratic transfers. The Left and the Congress have met the President, expressing their displeasure over the government?s action and has complained that the BJP is loading the highest rung of the civil service with its own men.

While the PMO insisted that this government?s role as a caretaker was not discussed, Rashtrapati Bhavan kept mum. The PMO suggested that unlike the Giani Zail Singh days, when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi hated travelling to Raisina Hill to meet the President, Vajpayee believed in maintaining cordial relations with Narayanan and keeping him abreast of developments.

But there were reasons to believe that the powers of the government defeated on the floor of the House did come up during the talks, with Vajpayee himself briefing Narayanan on some of his government?s plans over the next few weeks.

The Prime Minister does not want to throw convention to the winds and he has been apprised of the decisions taken by other caretaker governments, including those of Chandra Shekhar and I.K. Gujral.

The Opposition has been watching these developments with some anxiety. It fears the government would make use of its office to create a positive political atmosphere for the ruling coalition.

There have been reports from abroad that India is ready to test another missile, Agni-III. Talk of granting fertiliser subsidy is also doing the rounds.

Narayanan is aware of these developments and sources said it is likely that these issues did crop up during the dialogue.    

New Delhi, May 8 
Switzerland is likely to hand over by this July the final set of documents on the alleged payoff in the Bofors controversy.

?There are indications that the final papers relating to the Bofors payoff will be handed over to Indian authorities between June and July this year,? a senior Swiss government official said.

The government in Berne is also considering a CBI request to force former Swiss foreign minister Rene Felber and some senior officials to answer questions on discussions in Davos they reportedly had with India?s former external affairs minister Madhavsinh Solanki in 1992.

Solanki had allegedly handed Felber a note during a sideline meeting at Davos, requesting him to go slow on the Bofors probe.

The final documents, which some feel contain ?interesting? names of kickbacks recipients, could whip up an uproar, turning Bofors into a big election issue.

The Swiss official?s disclosure comes when the CBI is finalising the first chargesheet in the Rs 64-crore Swedish gun case against Solanki and former defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar.

The government had received the President?s sanction to prosecute Solanki early this week. With the Congress trying to project Sonia Gandhi as future Prime Minister, the BJP and its allies are keen to reload the Bofors gun before the elections.

Swiss President Flavio Cotti, while touring India last November, had assured the BJP-led government that Berne would cooperate with New Delhi to send the Bofors documents. Cotti, an Italian-speaking Swiss, had also met Sonia Gandhi. It is not known whether they discussed Bofors.

In the last polls, Sonia Gandhi had surprised her detractors by challenging the then United Front government to name the kickbacks recipients. But this time, neither the Congress nor 10 Janpath has raised the issue so far.

For the Swiss government, the Bofors issue is not a major concern. But the scandal has added another dimension to the controversy dogging Swiss banks over the Nazi gold issue. The Swiss banking system, keen to dissociate itself from tags labelling it keepers of ?dirty money??, has made its operations more transparent. Its interest in clearing its name on Bofors stems from this.

However, the Swiss had made it clear last year that the names in the documents should be kept confidential. They had said permission to make them public could be considered only if the Indian Parliament sets up a special commission to probe the case and makes such a request to Switzerland?s Federal Office for Police.

It remains to be seen whether the CBI chargesheet, which needs to be filed on the basis of earlier documents from the Swiss, will violate this agreement. And if so, whether that will delay the handover of the final documents.    

Washington, May 8 
In a war going increasingly off target, Nato forces struck by mistake the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing at least four persons and wounding 20 in an attack condemned by Beijing as a war crime and a ?barbarian act?.

Enraged Chinese officials called for an immediate halt to the bombing as Nato owned up to the ?tragic mistake?. But the accidents are on the increase as Nato jets continue the rain of bombs, striking civilians, hospitals and refugee convoys in their bid to bring Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to his knees.

Thousands of Chinese students attacked the US mission in Beijing to protest the bombs, shouting slogans and breaking windows.

Condemnation came from all quarters of the Chinese establishment and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, whose incoherent threat yesterday against Nato had caused a stir, ordered his foreign minister to stay home to register Moscow?s anger. India also strongly condemned the strike.

The attack on the embassy created a major crisis for Nato leaders, who launched an urgent damage-control exercise overnight, trying to prove that the war they were conducting was still relatively free of massive civilian casualties. But it was clear that this mistake was going to cost them dear as they try to move the diplomatic manoeuvring to the UN, where China has veto power.

The White House called the Chinese embassy here to ?explain? the bombing and US ambassador in Beijing James Sasser spoke to senior Chinese officials in an attempt to placate them. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan added his voice to the international outrage, saying he was ?shocked and distressed? at the report.

Nato jets apparently were trying to hit Hotel Jugoslavia which, according to western officials, has been taken over as headquarters for the special force headed by the infamous Zeljko Raznjatovic or Arkan. He has been a target since the war in Bosnia, where his Serb units committed atrocities against the Muslims.

But instead of Arkan, the smart bombs got Chinese journalists and other personnel, creating a huge diplomatic crater for the Nato leaders to fill. Yugoslav fire-fighters battled the blaze around a gaping hole on the side of the embassy?s six-storey building. Missiles hit the building from three directions, according to a broadcast on Chinese television.

China called an emergency session of the UN Security Council today, where as a permanent member it could veto the peace plan which western allies are trying to bring to the table. Flustered, red-faced Nato officials tried to explain their ?mistake?, offering their regret but no apologies.

China?s UN ambassador Qin Huasun told the council that the attack was a ?crime of war? that should be punished. Nato spokesman Jamie Shea said the wrong building had been hit but the attacks would continue.

In another horrible tragedy, Shea admitted that bombs had hit a hospital complex and a marketplace in the southwestern town of Nis, killing 15 persons and injuring 70. The intended targets in the area were a radio tower and an airfield.    

New Delhi, May 8 
Socialite Bina Ramani, at whose restaurant model Jessica Lal was murdered last week, was arrested this evening along with husband George Mailhot and daughter Malini, for allegedly violating the Excise Act by running an illegal bar at their Tamarind Court restaurant in south Delhi.

All three were granted bail by the metropolitan magistrate on a personal bond of Rs 10,000 each and a surety of the same amount.

Delhi police also seized the passports of Ramani, a British national, and Mailhot, a Canadian. Joint commissioner Amod Kanth said the police are now looking into whether Ramani obtained the necessary permission for foreigners to run a business in India.

?We are examining all issues in consultation with the Foreigners? Regional Registration Office. To begin with, we have held her (Ramani) for violation of the Excise Act,? Kanth said.

Although a British passport-holder, Ramani had allegedly signed up as an Indian with the income-tax authorities and the police may investigate offences in this regard as well.

Ramani and Malini were witnesses to Jessica Lal?s murder early on April 30 and the police have been complaining they are not cooperating with the probe. There are also allegations that the Ramanis tampered with evidence by wiping blood off the restaurant floor soon after the shooting. The police have not, however, booked them for tampering with evidence yet.

The police also arrested Amit Jhingan, one of prime accused Manu Sharma?s acquaintances, who allegedly helped him hide the murder weapon. Jhingan, picked up on the basis of disclosures allegedly made by Manu, has been remanded in judicial custody till May 21.

Police raided several places to trace Vikas Yadav, son of Rajya Sabha MP D.P. Yadav, and Titu, both friends of Manu, who allegedly helped him in destroying evidence, sources said.

Delhi police got in touch with their counterparts in Calcutta to help track down model Vidya Munshi, present in the restaurant when Jessica was shot dead. Delhi police want her in Delhi to testify in the case.    

London, May 8 
Whatever the result of the World Cup, an Indian will be the winner. His name is Dilip Jajodia, a Bangalore man.

This is because Jajodia will be supplying all the 600 ?white balls with black stitching? that will be used in the matches.

?They are not cheap,? he says happily.

He will not divulge the exact cost of a ball ? ?between ?30-?40? is all he will say.

Jajodia, who came to Britain from Bangalore in 1962, is managing director of British Cricket Balls Ltd, a mail-order company which he bought in 1987. Based in the ?garden of England? in Beltring, near Tonbridge, Kent, the firm dates back to 1760.

It employs a gifted band of six craftsmen and women to make Duke?s balls, which are normally red but will be white for the World Cup. The World Cup contract is not a huge money-maker but is, nevertheless, a prestigious one to win.

Jajodia angrily dismisses criticism from some experts that the Duke?s balls will behave differently from the normal red ones. South African pacers Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock had said the balls had a narrower seam, which made them deviate less off the pitch.

?It?s all hype,? he comments. ?It?s the same for everybody. We have been using the balls for five to six years. There has been no problem. A ball is a ball.?

He reckons each one is capable of lasting for the duration of 250 runs. Experts do not think the allotted 50 overs will usually yield more than 250 runs in a game.

But England fast-bowler Darren Gough has said: ?I?d like to see the white ball a little bit softer so that it doesn?t travel so fast off the bat.?

According to Robert Croft, the Glamorgan all-rounder, ?the white balls are far better for spin bowling because they stay harder longer?. ?The seam also seems to stay proud so you can spin it during longer spells,? he adds.

?The white ball also seems to travel further through the air as well. I think that?s because the white ball is harder and pings off the bat.?

Lancashire?s all-rounder Andrew Flintoff says: ?I?m sure the white ball moves around a little bit more, but as we are all using the same ball, I can?t see that it will make that much difference. We?ve been using white Duke?s balls in Sunday League cricket here for a few years now and there have still been high scoring matches and some great batting.?

Jajodia?s firm is also supplying ?light-weight pads? to six Indian batsmen, including Sachin Tendulkar, six Bangladeshis and some of the Sri Lankans.

There was a toss-up whether Duke?s or Readers, the other ball used in first class matches in England, would be used in the World Cup. ?Obviously, we were both open to be selected as the World Cup supplier, but after a lot of extensive testing, our ball was chosen for last summer?s triangular series with England, South Africa and Sri Lanka,? Jajodia said.

More tests were done by the English Cricket Board. ?After all that, we were pleased that they decided to use Duke?s balls for the World Cup. The better product won the day,? he says.

Jajodia had a head start. ?Fifteen of the 18 counties use our balls,? he points out. He insists the white balls are no different from the red ones, except they are dyed a different colour.

Each ball receives four-and-a-half hours of loving care during production, then finished off with hand polishing and individually stamped with the World Cup logo.

The white balls are given a thin film of polyurethane to keep them cleaner for longer. Jajodia explains: ?The red ball has grease on the surface which looks after the leather like hand cream, whereas the white ball has this film of urethane spray which makes the leather a fraction smoother and harder.?

His biggest problem is competition from abroad. ?Most balls are made in India or Pakistan because of the low cost of labour. These people are trying to muscle in on the market by quoting cheaper prices. So we have to guard those skills closely,? he adds.

Jajodia expects to see the final. He fancies South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and India.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. with possible development of thundershowers towards evening or night. Not much change in day temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 35?.5 C (1?C above Normal)
Minimum 29.1?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 87%
Minimum 64%


Sunset: 6..03 pm
Sunrise: 5.03 am

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