Sharif hurls back hijack charge
Heir hopeful resists Governor bait
Hitman held, kingpin at large
Envy sows killer seeds in farms of toil
Calcutta weather

Karachi, Nov. 19 
Ringed by paramilitary Rangers, Nawaz Sharif today stepped out of an armoured personnel carrier and the 39-day military iron curtain, saying: ?I am not a hijacker.?

?It is the democratic government of this country which has been hijacked,? he said.

The deposed Prime Minister, who made his first public appearance since the coup, was ordered to be held in police custody after an anti-terrorist court delayed formally charging him with kidnapping and hijacking, said public prosecutor Feroz Mahmood Bhatti.

Sharif?s appearance coincided with Pakistan?s Supreme Court today reopening a contempt case against him relating to the storming of the apex court two years ago and ordered him to appear before it on December 7. A mob allegedly comprising Pakistan Muslim League workers had invaded the court on November 28, 1997, to foil a previous contempt case against Sharif.

The Prime Minister today arrived at the anti-terrorist court looking tired and clad in a pale blue salwar-kameez. ?I have done no hijacking. Hijacking is done at gunpoint, how can I do that?? he was quoted as saying by Ghulam Hasnain of Time magazine ? the only journalist who could elbow his way through the crowd of securitymen and get close enough to the ousted leader.

The Prime Minister said his detention by the army was ?illegal? and hinted that he had suffered mental torture. ?They did not torture me physically, but they did everything else. I don?t know where they were keeping me, but they kept shifting me from one place to another,? said Sharif. However, according to Sharif?s lawyer Iqbal Raad, he was kept in a hill resort outside Islamabad.

?Time will tell if I get justice or not,? he told Hasnain when asked if he expected a fair trial.

A court officer said Sharif told the judge he did not know why he was in court. ?He was then read out the charges,? the official said.

Reuters said the police remand was till November 22, but the Associated Press reported the custody period was till November 26, when the charges are to be framed. Public prosecutor Bhatti said Sharif would return to court on Monday.

The court also ordered the police to let Sharif?s wife and daughter visit him. It will be his first meeting with his family since the coup.

His son Hasan, who was asked if he feared his father?s fate would be like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, said in a television interview: ?I think the scenario has changed since what happened in the case of Zia-ul Haq and Bhutto. And I think the world is much more concerned and they are sincere with democracy ? the true democracy in Pakistan.

?I think Pakistan has got a great strategic importance for all the western nations and all over the world. Pakistan is now a nuclear power, and I think in all these different ways they do matter and I don?t think that, God willing, history will repeat itself.?

Hasan denied he had ever appealed to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee for ensure Sharif?s safety. ?I think the Pakistani people will make sure there is no harm done to Nawaz Sharif,? he said.

No explanation for the delay in framing of charges was given by public prosecutor Bhatti. However, Pakistan?s legal system allows at least two remands in police custody of up to one week each before formal charges are framed.

Raad later quoted Sharif as saying: ?Just today I am hearing that a case of hijacking and conspiracy to murder has been registered against me.?

?I was repeatedly asking them why am I being confined? What is my crime? But there was no reply,? Raad quoted Sharif as saying. ?Now I will set about preparing my defence,? Sharif said.

According to Raad, Sharif said he had been confined in Murree, a holiday resort north of Islamabad, until Wednesday, when he was handed over to the police. ?I was in a place that was very cold all the time and because of that my physical condition is very bad,? he reportedly said.

Sharif?s co-accused and his former adviser on Sindh affairs, Ghaus Ali Shah, who was also produced in court, told reporters: ?The case against us is concocted. But I believe in our court system and I believe we will get a fair trial.?

Shortly before Sharif reached the courthouse, police arrested several women who tried to demonstrate outside the building in support of the Prime Minister.

Sharif is being accused of hijacking and treason ? offences which carry the death penalty ? in connection with an October 12 incident in which the aircraft carrying army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf to Pakistan was refused landing rights in Karachi. It eventually landed after the army took control but with barely seven minutes of fuel remaining.

The pilot of the PIA plane, Capt. Sarwat Hussain, who had his statement recorded today before a magistrate as a prosecution witness, said despite his insistence on landing due to fuel shortage, he was denied permission by the air traffic controller. ?A little delay could have cause a loss of over 200 lives,? he said.    

New Delhi, Nov. 19 
With BJP chief Kushabhau Thakre?s term ending next May, the party?s plans of a smooth succession appear to be running into rough weather.

Jana Krishnamurthy, one of the two frontrunners for the post along with Venkaiah Naidu, has not taken up the offer to go to Karnataka as Governor, indicating he wants the top job in the party.

Sources said the BJP leadership was zeroing in on Naidu as Thakre?s successor and wanted to send Krishnamurthy to Bangalore to ensure a smooth takeover.

Naidu denied eyeing the party president?s post. ?I am not in the running. The party has not discussed the issue at all,? he claimed. He added that there were six months for Thakre?s term to end and the party had enough time to find a successor.

But Naidu gave himself away when asked if seniority was a factor in the choice of party president. Naidu, the youngest of the BJP?s top leaders, said: ?This is not a government post. Seniority is not the criterion here. Several other factors are involved.?

With no response from Krishnamurthy, the government today forwarded a list of only five Governors (for West Bengal, Bihar, Manipur, Punjab and Goa) to the President. The nominee for Karnataka has been withheld till Krishnamurthy makes up his mind.

Party sources said they were confident he would accept the proposal. Dismissing reports that former election commissioner G.V.G. Krishnamurthy was also in the reckoning for the Raj Bhavan appointment, a leader said only Krishnamurthy was offered the post.

After the party?s dull performance in the Lok Sabha election, the BJP leadership has been planning to replace the octogenarian Thakre with a dynamic president. Naidu was seen as the frontrunner though Krishnamurthy, who is part of the party think-tank, also emerged as a contender. Naidu, a good organiser and protege of home minister L.K. Advani, managed get into the good books of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee as well, brightening his chances.

Lok Shakti chief Ramakrishna Hegde, already cut up over being left out of the Vajpayee Cabinet, today said he was not consulted on the appointment of the Karnataka Governor.

A confidant of another BJP ally, M. Karunanidhi, dismissed reports that the DMK chief was opposed to Krishnamurthy?s appointment because he wanted his own candidate as Governor. According to the source, Karunanidhi said the report was ?200 per cent wrong?.

?Nobody asked us about Jana Krishnamurthy or any other candidate. We don?t have any objection. We will gladly accept Krishnamurthy. Why should we interfere in the affairs of another state? We do not have a wish-list like Jayalalitha,? the DMK chief was quoted as saying.    

Calcutta, Nov. 19 
Police claimed today to have made a breakthrough in the Jaiprakash Gupta murder case with the arrest of Mohammed Shabbir, a key member of the Raju Naik gang who allegedly shot the trader.

Gupta, a Mullickbazar trader, was kidnapped from his house last Friday and his body found in a pond in Nimta after the police botched up a rescue operation.

However, the ?kingpin? who had hired Raju Naik?s gang of contract killers to carry out the kidnapping is still unidentified.

Though the police had been on the lookout for Shabbir after the arrested kidnappers revealed his involvement in the crime, he fell into the police net quite by chance.

This morning, the police were carrying out searches to nab the nine city criminals that Raju Naik had contacted on the mobile phone in the days after the kidnapping.

They had got the criminals? addresses from a mobile phone agency, but earlier raids were fruitless as the addresses turned out to be false.

However, suspecting that they could be holed up in the city?s port area, the police today raided the homes of notorious anti-socials of the area.

In one of these houses, on Trenching Ground Road, they found Mohammed Shabbir and promptly arrested him.

Deputy commissioner, detective department, special cell, Manoj Malaviya, said at a news conference this evening that Shabbir had confessed to killing Gupta. He had been arrested last year by the North 24-Parganas police on charges of murder but was let out on bail.

Shabbir told investigators that a North 24 -Pargana trader had hired the Raju Naik gang to kidnap Gupta.

The idea was to extort ransom which would cover the amount that Gupta owed the trader but was unable to pay.

Shabbir was brought to Lalbazar in the evening and interrogated till late tonight.

He gave the names of several other hideouts where the kingpin and Raju Naik could be hiding.

Senior detectives have called a meeting in Lalbazar tonight to chalk out a fresh strategy to arrest the kingpin, Raju Naik and one of his associates, Munna.

Interrogation of Paltu Dutta and Avijit ? arrested earlier ? and that of Shabbir revealed that Munna and Raju Naik tortured Gupta when his father delayed the payment of ransom.

Police sources said more teams would fan out in different directions tonight.

The investigators said Shabbir would be produced in court tomorrow.    

Lotogaon (Palamau), Nov. 19 
As the police groped for clues on the midnight mayhem that wiped out a family of 12, villagers suggested that local resentment against Muslims buying up barren land and turning them cultivable could be at the root of the killings.

Twenty-four hours after the bodies were discovered, the baffled police hunted for leads on who executed the carnage in which Gafoor Mian and 11 of his family, including seven children, were butchered.

No senior official has been able to reach the inaccessible area. Only a company of the Bihar armed police escorted three inspectors into the village to remove the bodies. Though the government has beefed up security in minority-dominated areas of south Bihar, no police picket has been posted at Lotogaon.

Home officials had yesterday said that the killings may have been the result of the rivalry between the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the People?s War Group. But they could not explain why the MCC had killed women and children and not taken responsibility for the attack.

However, residents of Paru, Kajru and Arar villages ? all within 2 km of Lotogaon ? said there was more to the killings than mere Naxalite rivalry. They said the rebels? battle had been overshadowed by the running feud between Bhuyians and Muslims. The villagers suspect that the attack may have been carried out by the MCC ? which is supported by the Bhuyians and Chamars ? to take revenge on the Ali Sena, a private army raised by Muslim landlords on the lines of the Ranvir Sena.

??The Muslim farmer had become a bustling community, buying land from the backward classes and turning them cultivable,?? said panchayat leader Kameswar Pandey. As a result, he added, the Muslims were often the target of jealous Bhuyians and Chamars who had failed to get much out of their lands and were forced to sell them.

The MCC has been championing their cause to prevent outsiders from taking over tribal land. ??In any ongoing tussle, Naxalite groups take sides,?? said an officer at the Chhatarpur police station.

Gafoor Mian had bought the land from a Chamar family 20 years ago. Two separate plots of land, owned by Chamars, were sold to his relatives recently.

A winding, dirt track off the Palamau-Aurangabad road, cutting across paddy fields and a cluster of trees, leads to Gafoor?s house, which stands forlorn, steeped in eerie silence. As the wicket gate opens out into the main house, it becomes clear why Gafoor was envied by his fellow villagers.

A bicycle, some woollens, a pair of shoes, at least half-a-dozen slippers and bagfuls of rice lay strewn across the floor, a testimony to the farmer?s ??wealthy?? status in this area of abject poverty.

Patches of dried blood still blot the courtyard adjoining the sprawling paddy field. Some bodies were dumped there, while the others were found on a vacant plot 100 m from the house. Gafoor?s body lay near a huge tree, which the people described as ??karam ka per??.

??It appears that the killers tied their hands from behind and started with the children. Seeing this, the elders started to run. The murderers chased them, slit their throats and let the bodies remain there,?? said Zemmat Mian, Gafoor?s brother-in-law who stays 2 km away.

??The operation was neatly planned and executed. There is no doubt that professionals were involved,?? said Nirmal Chandra Azad, Palamau police superintendent. But he doubts whether the MCC carried out the murders.

However, a deputy superintendent did not rule out MCC involvement. ??Although the MCC has not claimed credit, it has not issued any denial either. As for the killings of children, the MCC at times breaks its set norms,?? he said.

The villagers said the war between the Ali Sena and the MCC has intensified over the past few years. They pointed out that in September, one Ibrahim Mian was kidnapped and his decomposed body found. A few days later, a Bhuyian farmer was abducted along with two of his associates. They have not been seen since.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in night temperature. Maximum temperature: 28.5?C (Normal) Minimum temperature: 20.3?C (2?C above normal) Maximum humidity: 91% Minimum humidity: 56% Rainfall: Nil Sunset: 4.47 pm Sunrise: 5.53 am    

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