Seattle siege strikes US chord
Govt embraces Cong?s risk-free insurance deal
NSCN-IM ceasefire cell sealed
Adios to quadrangle, Raghunath
Calcutta weather

Seattle, Dec. 1 
US President Bill Clinton today arrived in Seattle to scenes of devastation after huge protests in which anti-trade demonstrators battled with police and threw global trade talks into chaos.

The streets of this port city were littered with glass and other debris after activists smashed storefront windows, sprayed graffiti and set trash containers alight to vent their anger at a meeting of the 135-member World Trade Organisation.

Delegates had long expected protests, but nothing like the storm that hit Seattle when at least 40,000 activists took to the streets on the day the conference was to open, forcing the organisation to cancel the inaugural ceremony.

Disappointed WTO officials scrapped morning speeches by secretary of state Madeleine Albright and UN chief Kofi Annan and they headed straight into the first of a series of plenary sessions where all the trade ministers are able to air their concerns.

Several trade ministers, particularly those from the developing countries, felt the demonstration was stage-managed by Clinton to press for his demand to include labour standards and environmental protection into the WTO agenda. Developing countries, including India, have been opposing this, fearing this would legitimise protectionism.

White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said Clinton ??believes the people there protesting have a legitimate point of view and should be heard inside and outside the hall??.

As the clashes took place all day and into last night, WTO delegates inside the city?s heavily-guarded convention centre tried to hammer out an agenda for a new round of global negotiations aimed at cutting trade barriers, an initiative the protesters said would benefit big business at the cost of jobs, the environment and communities.

In scenes reminiscent of US civil rights and anti-war protests of the sixties, police in riot gear sprayed tear gas and shot rubber pellets they called ??Stingers?? to clear protesters who had clogged the streets and blocked access to the meeting venues.

Most demonstrators were peaceful but some looted shops, set fire to trash cans and fought running battles with the police. Around 60 people were arrested.

Clinton arrived to quiet streets early today after Mayor Paul Schell declared an emergency and imposed a curfew on the city and police cleared the demonstrators out of the city centre.

Seattle police admit they were taken by surprise. ??These demonstrators, particularly those who were bent on violence and destruction, made it difficult for us,?? police chief Norm Stamper conceded. But, he added, ??the area will be made safe for everyone??.

At Western Hotel, where US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky and her Japanese counterparts were staying, guests were told to go to their rooms for fear demonstrators would storm the building.

Undeterred by the protests, trade ministers went ahead and delivered dry speeches about their vision for the global trading system.

Barshefsky said negotiators had already made progress towards narrowing their differences over agriculture and electronic commerce. ??We?re very much on track,?? she said. But other diplomats were sceptical a breakthrough was at hand.

WTO chief Mike Moore said protesters demanding its destruction were working against poor people and developing countries. ??To those who argue that we should stop our work, I say: tell that to the poor around the world who are looking to us to help them,?? he said.

The protests spilled across the Atlantic. In London, rioters overturned vehicles, started fires and rampaged through a central London train station in a protest to coincide with the WTO meeting.    

New Delhi, Dec. 1 
Suspense and speculation on the fate of the insurance Bill ended today with the Atal Behari Vajpayee government ??in principle?? accepting the amendments moved by the Congress.

??We broadly accept the spirit behind the amendments proposed by the Congress. It should not be a problem,?? a top source in the government said. He, however, clarified that the amendments would have little impact on the Bill as they would have to be included while framing the rules for the insurance authority.

The Congress decided to back the legislation allowing the entry of private insurers after hawks and doves thrashed out a conditional consensus. The party offered its support provided the government agreed to include amendments in areas such as health insurance, infrastructure, social welfare and impose stiff penalties if they did not invest in these areas.

Former finance minister P. Chidambaram, who had tabled the legislation during the United Front regime but was defeated, ironically by the BJP, called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi last night to lobby for the Bill. Sonia also consulted pro-and-anti-Bill leaders, including Manmohan Singh, Jairam Ramesh, Murli Deora, Jitendra Prasada and Rajesh Pilot.

The Bill will be put to vote tomorrow in the Lok Sabha and then introduced in the Upper House.

Ramesh, a votary of economic reforms, said his party would vote in favour of the legislation if the government includes these changes:

Clause 27 (D), which relates to infrastructure, should include availability of drinking water, sewage, housing, power and crop insurance.

Clause 14 must ensure priority to health insurance as only two million of 960 million Indians are covered.

Clause 26 (D) should be changed to stipulate that 75 per cent of revenue is passed on to the social sector. The same amendment has to be included in Clause 26 (D) (e).

An amendment in the first schedule of the Bill on penalties if the companies fail to invest in the social sector. The Congress wants a flat fine of Rs 25 lakh, followed by de-registration.

While admitting that the party was still divided on the Bill, Ramesh said: ??We are going to support it if the government accepts these amendments.??

Emphasising the Congress? concern for the social sector, he said the party would like the new insurance companies to fulfil social obligations and invest in welfare programmes carried out by LIC and GIC.

The party wants the government to issue specific directions to new insurers to invest in infrastructure sector projects, like water supply, sewerage, housing and power. If they do not, stiff penalties should be imposed on them, Ramesh added.

Spelling out the Congress? stand in the Lok Sabha, Pilot said: ??We are prepared to support the Bill in the interest of the people, but we will not do it without a condition that interests of the poor sections are not compromised.??    

Kohima, Dec. 1 
In a move smacking of retaliation, security forces today sealed the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) ceasefire monitoring cell office in Dimapur.

The raid on the NSCN(I-M) office was ominous after the Assam Rifles directed the outfit to vacate the office by 4 pm yesterday. The directive was issued after the ambush on chief minister S.C. Jamir?s convoy on Monday.

An Army official said there was no option but to seal the office as the NSCN(I-M) was ?grossly misusing? the facilities provided to it. ?It was the de facto central headquarters of the outfit. Extortion, abduction, intimidation and illegal sale of lottery tickets were conducted from the office,? he said.

NSCN(I-M) information and publicity secretary Ng. Hungshi, however, denied the allegations. He said Assam Rifles personnel sealed the office this morning in violation of the ceasefire between the Centre and his outfit.

The rebel leader said he had written to government interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah and ceasefire monitoring group chairman P.D. Shenoy, seeking to know what the move was all about. ?We are not sure whether it implies that the ceasefire is no longer in force,? he said.

A senior official said ceasefire monitoring group meetings would be held as usual despite the NSCN(I-M) office being sealed. ?The surveillance mechanism will not be affected. Monthly meetings of the ceasefire monitoring group will be held at a mutually-decided venue,? he said.

The raid on the NSCN(I-M) office coincides with a scathing attack on the outfit by the chief minister.

Terming the ongoing ceasefire in Nagaland ?a licence to kill?, Jamir told a press conference here that his government had ample evidence of the NSCN(I-M)?s ?direct involvement? in Monday?s ambush.

?The police and intelligence agencies have evidence of the NSCN(I-M)?s involvement in the ambush. The operation was planned three or four days in advance and was carried out in accordance with a directive from the outfit?s commander-in-chief,? the chief minister told newspersons here.

According to a report submitted to the Union home ministry, nine NSCN(I-M) rebels carried out the operation. They were allegedly led by ?Maj.? Ninthing Shimray, ?Maj.? Nikiya Sema and ?Capt.? Inaikum Tangkhul.

Power minister K. Therie, who accompanied Jamir to the press conference, said the rebels who carried out the operation conversed in the Tangkhul Naga tribe dialect. He said this indicated that they were all NSCN(I-M) activists.    

New Delhi, Dec. 1 
Lalit Mansingh, the new foreign secretary, took office today even as South Block departed from yet another of its time-honoured customs in bidding farewell to his predecessor, K. Raghunath.

Raghunath departed from a five-decade old tradition and created history of sorts when he bid goodbye to his colleagues in the Indian Foreign Service yesterday by skipping the quadrangular farewell ? a practice instituted by India?s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and followed by all foreign secretaries since.

It was part of a carefully crafted and continuing effort on Raisina Hill to cut down on pomp and ceremony and increase the substance of governmental functioning. Sometime ago, the government did away with ceremonial welcomes at Delhi airport for visiting heads of state and government.

Later, it ended the practice of buggy rides for incoming ambassadors at Rashtrapati Bhavan and reduced the razzmatazz at the presentation of credentials.

The foreign secretary has the unique distinction of being the head of the service unlike secretaries in other ministries, who are drawn from the bureaucrats? pool to head various departments. The traditional quadrangular farewell is an opportunity for everyone in South Block, from peons and sweepers right up to the foreign minister, to bid goodbye to the outgoing foreign secretary and meet the incoming one. No other ministry has such a tradition.

In place of this traditional farewell, IFS officers had to be content with sharing tea and biscuits with the foreign secretary in South Block?s committee room.

Raghunath departed from another past practice when he stopped the IFS Association from hosting a farewell dinner for him. Citing the recent Orissa cyclone as the main reason, he said it would be ?inappropriate? to host a lavish dinner at a time when thousands were still suffering. The informal setting of the dinner provided departing foreign secretaries with an opportunity to mix freely with junior colleagues before bidding them goodbye.

The new foreign secretary said ?it is a big responsibility entrusted by the Prime Minister and the external affairs minister? on him.

He added that he was fully conscious of his responsibilities and will discharge his duties to the best of his ability.

Mansingh said foreign policy was designed to further the interests of the country. ?I am proud to inherit a professional and dedicated team in the foreign office and build on past successes,? he said.

The new foreign secretary quickly got down to business, meeting senior officials before rushing to Parliament where questions dealing with the external affairs ministry were slated during Question Hour.

Though Raghunath?s decision to skip the quadrangular farewell might be part of the new trend to do away with ceremonies, conspiracy theories, as usual, are doing the rounds. One is about Raghunath?s alleged differences with foreign minister Jaswant Singh on policy matters, which led to the cancellation of the farewell.

But there are not too many takers for this theory because though the minister was pre-occupied with Parliament proceedings, he had time to host a private dinner for Raghunath at his residence last evening.

Others said the decision to do away with the farewell was to avoid a time-consuming ceremony.    

Temperature: Maximum: 28.9?C (+1) Minimum: 17.7?C (+2) Rainfall: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 78%, Minimum: 48% Today: The weather office predicts a slight fall in night temperature. Mainly clear sky. Sunset: 4.47 pm Sunrise: 6.05 am    

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