Rocket rain on America hub in Pak
Durban wields double-edged axe
Tada rebirth with human face
Advani cries off heartland quagmire
Signs and sounds of life in ghost town
Calcutta weather

Islamabad, Nov. 12 
In what appeared to be a coordinated attack, seven rockets exploded within two minutes near the US embassy, the UN building, an American cultural centre and downtown government buildings here, wounding at least six people.

Pakistan?s military ruler, Gen. Parvez Musharraf, refused to comment on who might be behind the attack, saying it was under investigation. ?This is...quite serious,? he said. However, senior Pakistani interior ministry sources said they suspected commandos of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden were involved in the explosions.

The blasts occurred within a two-minute span over several kilometres in the heart of the capital. Three rockets exploded near government buildings, about half a kilometre from parliament and its adjacent President House. Major damage was averted because all the rockets were fired from cars positioned at some distance from the buildings in relatively uncrowded places.

The blasts occurred two days before a UN deadline for the Afghan Taliban militia leadership to turn over bin Laden for trial. The US accuses him of masterminding bombings of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania last year in which 224 people died.

Interior ministry sources pointed out that the Taliban, which has harboured bin Laden, had already warned the US and Pakistan against taking any action to force his handover. ?These explosions are a warning to the Pakistan military leadership that if they cooperate with America against Osama, there could be even worse violence,? a senior official said. ?This warning is not only for Americans, but also for Pakistan,? said another official.

However, the reclusive Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, condemned the Islamabad explosions. In a statement from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, Omar said they were meant to damage relations with Pakistan and worsen dealings with the US.

In his first public statement after overthrowing the Nawaz Sharif government, Gen. Musharraf had signalled a shift in Pakistan?s unequivocal support of the Taliban rulers, appearing to suggest that they share power with their opponents.

Shortly after the rocket attacks today, Gen. Musharraf said he was willing to talk to the Taliban to ?get into the realities? of the bin Laden issue. ?If he is involved in terrorism, yes, surely, I would like to negotiate with them to resolve the issue,? he said.

After the blasts, hundreds of people gathered outside the American Center to watch a car burning there. A blackened rocket launcher could be seen inside it. The US condemned the attack.

Sharif okay

Nawaz Sharif is healthy and unhurt, Canadian high commissioner Ferry de Kerckhove said. He met with Sharif for 15 minutes in Islamabad, together with his Malaysian counterpart. Both were representing the Commonwealth.    

Durban, Nov. 12 
The Commonwealth tonight decided to extend Pakistan?s suspension from its councils to ?an indefinite period?, striking a compromise after India managed to sharply divide opinion at the summit here.

However, Pakistan retains its membership and its flag will continue to fly at all Commonwealth meets. But no representative of the country will be able to attend the meetings.

By adding the ?indefinite? clause to the temporary suspension, India managed a face-saver and blocked the West?s attempt to lift the curb at the next summit in Auckland two years from now.

Pakistan?s suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth, preventing it from attending meetings of the multi-lateral body, had come into effect right after the coup on October 12.

But, since there was no mention of any timeframe, some western powers had initiated efforts to ease the suspension after two years. Today?s decision made it clear, the suspension will remain in force till civilian rule returns.

Adopting a moral stand which forced many developing nations to follow suit, India made it clear that the democratic tradition of the Commonwealth should be maintained and no special allowance should be made for Pakistan.

In a simultaneous manoeuvre against Pakistan?s allies, India said a failure to suspend that country would make the Commonwealth a party to the coup.

?Let us not do that which makes the Commonwealth a participant in the consequences of a military coup,? said Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee at the debate on the developments in Pakistan. The debate began soon after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet opened.

Vajpayee described the coup as ?sad and disappointing? and made it clear that ?the situation in Pakistan does not warrant any deviation from the past practices? of the Commonwealth.

In the past, Nigeria and Fiji were suspended after the military took over there. Bangladesh, Guyana and Nigeria also said the Commonwealth should send a strong message by acting against the army regime.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who met with his Canadian and British counterparts, Lloyd Axworthy and Robin Cook, also discussed the Pakistan situation with them. He stressed that the Commonwealth was, perhaps, the only body which could take a hard line on Pakistan.

Suggestions are now being made for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to expand its jurisdiction and monitor some elected governments to ensure their adherence to democratic norms. Until now, the group worked only against military dictatorships among member nations. But the Pakistan coup showed there was popular support behind Nawaz Sharif?s ouster. The expansion is being proposed with this factor in mind.

Vajpayee said last night, before leaving for Durban, that Delhi would talk tough on the Pakistan issue. ?We will demand Pakistan?s suspension if it fails to give a time-frame by which the country will return to democracy,? he said.

?Our interaction will also focus on measures to meet the challenges to democracy and the fight against terrorism,? he said. The Prime Minister?s remark was a clear move to link democracy with terrorism. Delhi has accused Islamabad of abetting terrorism in India and refused to resume a dialogue until this stops.    

New Delhi, Nov. 12 
The Centre is planning to introduce a Bill to fill the ?vacuum? created by the repeal of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Tada) Act.

The home ministry has submitted an outline of the Bill to the Law Commission which is examining the details. ?In another eight to 10 days we should be able to complete our work,? a commission member said.

After the commission?s review, the Bill will be placed before the Cabinet. Following its approval, the law ministry will draw up the final Bill.

?It is a sensitive matter and the name of the Bill has to be palatable to everyone,? a law ministry official said. After the Law Commission works on the home ministry?s guidelines, the Bill could turn out to be ?Tada with a human face?.

The BJP, particularly its home minister L.K. Advani, has been pushing for a ?strong? state armed with enough legal ammunition to bring to heel terrorist and subversive elements.

But not all parties are at one on a ?blind crackdown? and the government is treading fragile ground here. Tada had kicked off a huge uproar after cases of its misuse piled up, spurring legal and human rights institutions to protest excesses committed in its name.

Though introduced by a Congress government, Tada was later criticised by a section of the party. Senior Congress leaders C.K. Jaffer Sharief and Arjun Singh had joined former colleague Mamata Banerjee and Left parties in protesting the gross misuse of the Bill.

There was a time when Mamata, who is now railway minister, would not allow a single day to pass without demanding the release of Tada detenus and a repeal of the Act.

The Congress contended that Tada was being used to target minorities, particularly in the then BJP-ruled states of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

Political configurations have changed since then and several parties, including the Trinamul Congress and JD(U), which had protested against Tada, are now part of the Cabinet. It would be difficult for Mamata now to make a swift turnaround.

However, for Sharad Yadav, JD(U) chief and civil aviation minister, it may not be so daunting, since he has already swallowed his opposition to the Women?s Reservation Bill.

But the new Bill, if it is approved by the Cabinet, is unlikely to have a smooth passage.

Opposition parties such as the Congress, the Left, the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, are expected to resist it on the ground that the Bill could heighten apprehensions among the minorities that that it may be used to intimidate them.    

New Delhi, Nov. 12 
Home minister L.K. Advani today called off his visit to Lucknow to attend the swearing-in of chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta.

BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu had announced yesterday that Advani and human resources development minister M.M. Joshi would be in Lucknow today. But only Joshi made it.

Officially, the BJP maintained there was nothing ?amiss?, saying that being the ?number two? in the Cabinet, Advani had to remain in Delhi as the Prime Minister was abroad. ??Things are explosive in Kashmir, and problems are mounting in Orissa. In such a situation, it was untenable for Advani to be away from Delhi for even a few hours,?? said party vice-president J.P. Mathur.

BJP sources, however, conceded that the decision to skip the swearing-in may have stemmed from Advani?s ?unhappiness? with the way the old guard in Uttar Pradesh was ousted.

Had Advani gone to Lucknow, Kalyan would have used the opportunity to press for the ouster of his opponents, Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon, from the state ministry.

The apprehensive duo had last evening called up K.N. Govindacharya, the BJP general secretary in charge of the state who played a key backstage role in the Uttar Pradesh drama. Mishra and Tandon sought and reportedly received an assurance from Govindacharya that their positions would not be jeopardised.

But Govindacharya soon got in touch with Advani and told him that he would fly to Delhi today to meet him. Sources said Govindacharya wanted to persuade Advani to drop the Kalyan detractors to avert a split in the party. Though Advani?s sympathies are with Kalyan, he turned down Govindacharya?s suggestion to avoid a fresh controversy.

Sources said that during Tuesday?s meeting at Vajpayee?s residence to finalise the name of Kalyan?s successor, the home minister seemed ??reconciled?? to the exit of his prot?g?.

Advani apparently wanted to get state BJP chief Rajnath Singh nominated as Kalyan?s successor. Though Rajnath was perceived as an arch rival of Kalyan, Advani was willing to accept him as a ?second-best? choice.

But Vajpayee, along with party president Kushabhau Thakre, opposed the move as they were against any ??faction?? leader. For the same reason, Vajpayee did not push the name of his nominee, Mishra, too hard. Finally, when Joshi proposed Gupta?s name as a ??consensus?? nominee, Vajpayee and Thakre accepted him immediately.

Sources said Advani left the meeting before it was over on the plea that urgent work was pending in North Block.    

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 12 
Two weeks after the cyclone struck, Bhubaneswar is clawing its way back to normality. Children are returning to their classrooms, telephones are ringing and most homes have electricity.

Life came back to this teeming city of 300,000 as knocked-out utility poles were righted, snapped cables were fixed and the broken doors and windows of the schools repaired.

As the government restored power to homes and offices, water began to trickle out of faucets that had run dry. The airport hummed with activity and passengers, many of whom were aid workers and government officials shuttling between Bhubaneswar and New Delhi.

Trains chugged out of the station as workers toiled in the scorching sun to repair the tracks lifted off the ground by the tearing winds and left standing at an angle, like a camel?s hump.

The highway to Calcutta was opened after a gap in the road caused by flash floods was bridged by sweating armymen. Arterial roads in the capital, clogged with uprooted trees even a week ago, were cleared. The cyclone flattened 90 per cent of the trees in the city.

As the misery eased, the well-heeled flocked to Bhubaneswar Club to relax in a city starved of entertainment. The billiard room came back to life, liveried waiters rushed about.

Birds, which had disappeared after the storm blew away their nests, were flying back to the city and making new homes in the nooks of office buildings and apartment houses.

But the government?s efforts have come too late for the seething city. ?It took the government two weeks to restore power and water to most homes, although the weather cleared up three days after the cyclone,? said Suryakanta Das of Nayapalli.

?Even this wouldn?t have been possible had Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu not sent his men to repair the uprooted electric and phone poles.?

Barely 50 years old, Bhubaneswar, a planned city with broad avenues, well-kept parks and bungalow-style sprawling government houses, has been scarred beyond recognition. And the scars go beyond the surface.

Though no death was reported in the capital, hundreds of people living in shanties across Bhubaneswar have lost their homes. With little help coming from the government, they do not know how to rebuild their lives.

The government opened soup kitchens on October 31, but closed them abruptly after a few days without giving any reason.

Many of the residents, migrant workers from the villages, grieved for their relatives killed or missing in the coastal districts. ?Many families living here have lost someone or the other in the villages,? said Sanjukta Padhi, a housewife.    

Forecast for today: Mainly clear sky. Not much change in night temperature. Maximum temperature: 30?C (Normal) Minimum temperature: 17.9?C (-1?C) Maximum humidity: 90% Minimum humidity: 36% Rainfall: Nil Sunset: 4.50 pm Sunrise: 5.52 am    

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