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PM urges US to reconsider Modi's visa plea

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 19: The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on Saturday expressed serious concern over denial of visa to the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, by the US and said his Government had urged Washington to reconsider the decision. Responding to a special mention on the issue by the leader of Opposition, Mr Jaswant Singh, the Prime Minister said "It is not a matter of partisan politics, it is a matter of principles... Government of India's immediate and urgent response equally shows our principled stand in this matter."

Earlier, Mr Jaswant Singh's had said that the ground on which Modi was denied visa was totally unacceptable.

Meanwhile, US is assessing India's request for reconsideration of the decision to deny visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, American Embassy said here on Saturday. "The request of the Government of India for review of decision on denial of visa to Modi has been forwarded to the State Department. It is being assessed," Embassy spokesman David Kennedy said. He said the State Department will give a formal reply to the Indian government after assessing the request but refused the estimate how much time it would take.

Meanwhile, the US has said that its decision to revoke visa to Chief Minister Narendra Modi was not based on any US government findings about his responsibility for the Gujarat riots but the conclusions reached by the National Human Rights Commission of India in this regard. US State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli told newsmen in Washington that it was inaccurate to say that America have determined that Modi was behind the riots in Gujarat in 2002.

"The fact of the matter is that it was the Indians who investigated the riots and it was the Indian Government who determined that state institutions failed to act in a way that would prevent violence and would prevent religious persecution," he said here on Friday when asked whether the US investigated properly before taking the decision.

Yesterday, the US Embassy in New Delhi had said that it had revoked Modi's tourist/business visa and was also denying him a diplomatic visa. "So this isn't a matter of the United States saying something happened or something didn't happen. It's a matter of the United States responding to a finding by the Indian National Human Rights Commission pointing to comprehensive failure on the part of the state government of Gujarat to control persistent violations of rights," he said.

"On the basis of those facts, we determined a couple of things. Number one, we determined that (on) an application for a diplomatic visa to come to the United States, the terms for issuing that visa under US law had not been met, and so we decided not to issue the visa, based on US law and based on findings of fact by the Indian National Commission," Ereli said.

"And number two, we determined that an existing visa that Mr Modi had - an existing tourist/ business visa - should be revoked under Section 212(a)(2)(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which says that any foreign government official who is responsible for or directly carried out at any time particularly severe violations of religious freedom should not be eligible for a visa. So that's the background to those decisions." When asked why the existing visa, which was cancelled, was given in the first place, Ereli said: "the visa was given before the events of 2002; that is my understanding." (ends)

'Visa denial a courageous stand'

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 19: Many Indian American groups have welcomed the denial of visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and have called it as "a principled and courageous action" by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and the State Department. Expressing its happiness, the Federation of Indian American Christian organizations of North America (FIACONA) noted that the US State Department has made a strong decision in the right direction.

"As much as FIACONA is opposed to denying visa to anyone, we see this decision of the State Department as an important decision where people are going to be held accountable for their actions and their policies. FIACONA see this decision by the State Department as not just about the visas," said Mr John Prabhudoss, the Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee of FIACONA.

Mr Prabhudoss said "this action by the US Administration is a recognition of Modi's involvement in February 2002 killings and his continued policies of harassment of religious minorities in Gujarat." He said "those who invited Modi to honor him in the US has done so in total neglect for the pain and suffering he has caused to hundreds of thousands of people in Gujarat and elsewhere."

He asked "would the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) leadership have invited him if any of their family members were brutally killed by the state government under Modi?" Now AAHOA has nobody to blame but himself or herself for this situation. A little consideration and compassion for the victims of Modi would have avoided this situation, he said.

The National President of FIACONA, Rev. Bernard Malik, said "the pain and suffering of the people in Gujarat caused by Modi directly and indirectly have been taken note by the international community. In the free world one should not be allowed to get away with such brutal abuse of state power against vulnerable innocent people."

The National Vice President, Mr. Abraham Mammen thanked those Members of Parliament in India and those Members of US Congress from both parties, especially Cong. Pitts and his colleagues for their strong support in this effort. He pointed out "the fight for justice has not ended. The perpetrators of violence must be brought to justice in a court of law and FIACONA will help in making that happen."

The Coalition Against Genocide, which had planned to hold a protest outside the Madison Square Garden, has claimed that it represented the majority of the Indian-Americans and praised the decision to revoke Modi's visa, saying his effort to put up a moderate face have failed.

The denial of visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is "a principled and courageous action" by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and the State Department, said Arjun Appadurai, provost and senior vice-president of New School University, in New York. Mr Appadurai, who co-signed a letter of protest sent to Dr Rice urging the US not to permit Modi to come on a private visit, said he believed the denial of visa is a recognition by the US of the controversy surrounding Modi.

"It indicates to the world that the United States retains a deep commitment to human rights and a deep commitment to the rights of the minorities and to democratic inclusion across the world," he said. Asked to comment on Modi's assertion that the denial of visa is an insult to the Indian Constitution and gives a lie to US claim of respect for democracy since no court has indicted him in connection with the Godhra massacre, Appadurai said this is "a twisting" of facts. "The fact that he has not been indicted by court of law is a critique of our judicial institutions," Appadurai said.

Appadurai said many independent judicial and citizens' bodies had indicted Modi and that the Indian state and Indian judiciary should now confirm these findings.

"I believe to say that he has not been indicted by law and therefore the denial amounts to a stifling of democratic rights is not the correct estimate of this case. In fact, this on the other hand is upholding of democratic rights," he said.

Appadurai said in any case the rights of a chief minister to come to the US on a private invitation do not raise any constitutional issues at all. "As far as Modi's claim of "insult to the Indian Constitution" is concerned, it is entirely a red herring which should not even arrive," Appadurai said. "And if it arrives at all, it should arrive in the context of Modi's own activities in Gujarat in 2002 and how his government violated the rights of the minorities. That is a real constitutional issue and not this denial of visa."

US denies visa to Gujarat CM Modi

NEW DELHI, March 18: In a severe rebuke to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the United States has denied him entry to America. Taking a strong stand against the senior BJP leader and Hindutva icon, the US Consular division on Friday denied him a "diplomatic visa", apparently holding him responsible for the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002 which claimed over 2000 lives. In addition, his tourist/business visa, which was already granted, has also been revoked under a section of US Immigration and Nationality Act.

A US embassy spokesman confirmed that the "Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi had applied for but was denied diplomatic visa under 214 (b) of Immigration and Nationality Act because he was not coming for a purpose that qualify for a diplomatic visa." When pointed out that Modi was already holding a tourist-cum-business visa, the spokesman said Modi's "existing tourist/business visa has been revoked under Section 212 (a)(2)(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act."

The Section makes any foreign government official who was responsible or "directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religions freedom" ineligible for the visa. US officials argued that the State Department's stand on Gujarat riots were based largely on the reports of India's National Human Rights Commission findings and other independent Indian sources.

Its conclusions on Gujarat riots and the role of the then BJP government, state police, and other official organs as well as Chief Minister Narendra Modi, are all contained in detail in the US State Department's annual reports on human rights and religious freedom. Officials confirmed that with the denial of his visa, Modi now has no chance of entering the United States, where he has a large number of right-wing Gujarati following.

Modi was to pay a five-day visit to US from March 20 and some Indian-American groups had threatened to organise protests against him.

Liberal groups, with active support from several US Congressmen have been carrying out an e-mail campaign against Modi's visit to the US. Lobbyists had flooded Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with emails to deny the Gujarat CM a visa.

On Tuesday John Conyers Jr, Democrat Congressman from Michigan, had moved a resolution in the House of Representatives condemning Modi's conduct during the riots. It blames Modi for his actions to incite religious persecution and urges the US to condemn all violations of religious freedom in India.

The resolution, which has been referred to the Committee on International Relations, says the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has confirmed in its May 2004 report that government in Gujarat led by Modi has been widely accused of being reluctant to bring the perpetrators of the killings of Muslims and non-Hindus to justice.

Congressman Conyers said the US State Department "has discussed the role of Modi and his government in promoting attitudes of racial supremacy, racial hatred, and the legacy of Nazism through his government's support of school textbooks in which Nazism is glorified." Conyers' resolution in the House says Modi revised school textbooks to describe the "charismatic personality of Hitler the Supremo", while failing to acknowledge the Nazi extermination policies, the concentration camps, and the religious persecution.

"Such conduct by such a high-ranking foreign official undermines internationally-recognized fundamental rights and the directives of Congress under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998," the resolution said.

There are other active campaigns against Modi in the US by liberal groups against Modi. Though Modi had emerged as a Hindutva icon and a star campaigner for BJP immediately after the riots, in recent times BJP state units in Bihar, Haryana and Jharkhand have been wary of getting him to campaign for them in the state Assembly elections.

Senior BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani have admitted that the riots were a blot in six-year tenure of National Democratic Alliance government. In a recent interview, KR Narayanan, who was then the President, has accused Vajpayee government of blocking his efforts and requests to restore peace and normalcy in Gujarat.

BJP condemns America's move

NEW DELHI, March 18: BJP has condemned US move to cancel Gujarat CM Narendra Modi's visa on grounds of religious violations. In a statement issued by the party, spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, "The BJP condemns this move by the US. Religious liberties and democracy are very strongly rooted in India and are an internal matter. The US need not to worry about these on any count. The BJP will meet and chart its course of action on this issue very soon."

India, US to step up defence, energy, high tech cooperation

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 16: Dr Condoleeza Rice's day's visit to New Delhi marks a new phase in the growing ties between India and the US. But for couple of disagreements, the two sides had convergence of views on expanding cooperation in defence, civil aviation, energy and other sectors. This was visible when the US Secretary of State had warm, cordial and productive meetings with Indian leaders including the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the UPA Chairperson, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, and the Leader of Opposition, Mr L K Advani.

Dr Rice and Mr Natwar Singh said the two sides have decided to conclude the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) Phase II fairly soon. Both the leaders agreed that high technology trade would continue to grow. It was also decided to have an expanded dialogue on energy needs of the two countries.

Mr Natwar Singh said "we will cooperate more closely in the field of energy. Our defence cooperation will be expanded. Civil aviation is another major area of growth through an Open Skies Agreement. This will impact positively on our economic and trade links. Both governments will encourage their business communities to be more aggressive in exploiting opportunities and challenges."

Dr Rice started the day with a meeting with Mrs Sonia Gandhi. "I did have a very cordial and wonderful talks with Mrs Sonia Gandhi," she said. Their meeting lasted half-an-hour. Apart from being extremely cordial and warm, almost all issues of mutual interest were discussed.

Immediately thereafter, the United States Secretary of State and her Indian counterpart Mr Natwar Singh held their first formal bilateral dialogue and termed it as "productive" and forward looking. Senior officials from both sides were present during the delegation level talks. Mr Natwar Singh continued the talks with her over lunch at the Hyderabad House, former palace of the Nizam adjoining India Gate. On her first visit to Asia after taking over as the Secretary of State, Dr Rice arrived here on Tuesday evening and started her official engagements on Wednesday morning.

Dr Rice informed that President George Bush "wanted me to come here early in my tenure because this is a relationship that has transformed in recent years from one that had great potential to one that is realising its potential." She told the Indian side that there is "much more we can do", and said US looks forward to expanding defence cooperation, which is already "very strong".

Probably, the only points where the two sides agreed to differ were sale of F-16s to Pakistan and Iran-Pak-India gas pipeline.Dr Rice and Mr Singh agreed on the need for a formal dialogue on the growing energy needs of the two sides. The energy dialogue seems to have been agreed upon after India conveyed to the US its growing needs and the fact that it was looking forward to firming up the proposed Indo-Iran gas pipeline.

"Our views concerning Iran are very well known by this time. We have communicated our concerns about the gas pipeline cooperation between India and Iran. Those concerns are well known to the Indian government," she said. Mr Singh said, "We have traditional good relations with Iran, we will expect Iran will fulfill all demands" of the international community on its nuclear ambitions.

Acknowledging the general perception about Dr Rice's admiration for India, Mr Natwar Singh said, "We acknowledge your great political vision and I felt we are on the same wave length." The Minister said the two sides had "enormous potential to shape our global future to our mutual benefit." The two sides also had convergence of views on Iraq, Afghanistan, West Asia and restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal.

Mr Singh also apprised Rice of recent developments in composite dialogue with Pakistan. However, he said Indo-Pak relations could only improve if the latter put and end to cross-border terrorism. The Minister told the visiting dignitary that India would offer a warm welcome to President George Bush, who, Dr Rice said, will come to India as a friend. "When a friend comes to India they do not have to knock at any door, they will find the door open," said Mr Singh.

Dr Rice told reporters that the possible sale of F-16s to India and Pakistan came up during the discussions. "The question of arms sales including F-16s did come up. We are going to have broad discussion on security needs, defence needs of India," she said. Similar discussions would be held when she goes to Pakistan but she hinted that there wouldn't be immediate decision on sale of F-16s to Pakistan. Mr Natwar Singh said India expressed "our concerns on the defence issue as to how it might create some complications" in the region.

On the issue of UN reforms, Rice said the world was only at the "beginning of UN reforms" and that the US was studying the entire issue. "The world is changing, there are countries like India which have been major factors in international economy, international politics, taking on more and more responsibilities," she admitted, but stuck to the traditional stand of US of not supporting a permanent seat for India in the UNSC.

Mr Singh said the US was fully familiar with India's stand on UN reforms. He pointed out that India was a "democracy of one billion people and we are involved in many, many peace keeping operations" and have played critical roles in de-colonisation and end of apartheid in South Africa, as he pointed to India's standing in the global arena. "World of 2005 has nothing to do with world of 1945," he said.

In her meeting with the Prime Minister, Dr Rice conveyed that the US President, Mr George Bush, has invited him to visit the US. Rice, on her part, has invited the External Affairs Minister to visit the US. Dr Rice's had one-to-one meeting with the Prime Minister that lasted for 25 minutes.

Briefing newsmen, Mr Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, said the Prime Minister explained to her India's growing energy needs in view of its rapid economic growth. Dr Manmohan Singh underlined the need for an energy dialogue between the two countries covering all aspects, including various traditional and non-traditional sources of energy.

Expressing his strong commitment to the India-Pakistan dialogue process, Dr Singh emphasised the need for Pakistan to deliver on its commitment to prevent cross-border terrorism. This was necessary to ensure public support for the ongoing peace process in a democracy like India. Mr Sarna said nuclear energy was one of the sources India was looking at for meeting its energy needs.

Security issues to dominate Rice's talks with Indian leaders

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 15: The US Secretary of State, Dr Condoleezza Rice, arrived here on Tuesday on a less than 24-hour visit, during which she will hold talks with the External Affairs Minister, Mr K Natwar Singh, on bilateral, regional and international issues. Mr S Jaishankar, joint secretary (Americas) in the external affairs ministry, and US Ambassador, Mr David Mulford, received Dr Rice on arrival at the Palam Air Force Base by a special aircraft.

This is Dr Rice's first visit to India and the region and the first by a member of President George W Bush's cabinet in his second term. Officials have not failed to notice that Rice, who has consistently promoted US-India relations, has chosen New Delhi for her first stop of her six-nation Asia tour that will also take her to Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Japan and South Korea.

Her official engagements are all slated for Wednesday, when she will hold delegation-level talks with Mr Natwar Singh, call on the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mr L K Advani, before leaving for Pakistan late afternoon. Mr Natwar Singh would also host a lunch for her. Rice's visit precedes those by the US Transport Secretary, Mr Norman Mineta, the Treasury Secretary, Mr John Snow, and perhaps President Bush himself later in the year.

A spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Navtej Sarna said "She has taken a very close interest in bilateral relations between India and the US during the first term of President Bush." He noted that there had been significant developments in bilateral ties in defence and economic spheres.
"Both governments have been in close touch with each other on matters of global and regional interest," he added.

Mr Sarna also noted that the ongoing negotiations on Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) had led to the US de-licensing export of lower-end technology items completely and easing restrictions on higher-end items. He said further expansion of bilateral cooperation in technology, economy and security and the regional situation, including the situation in Nepal, Bangladesh and the India-Pakistan dialogue, would figure in the talks. Dr Rice will hold talks on the urgent need for reforms in the United Nations, including the Security Council, with Indian leaders. The two sides are also expected to discuss developments in Iraq and assess their ongoing cooperation in Afghanistan.

Dr Rice's visit to India so early in her new assignment is a mark of her desire to engage India in a substantive discourse on a range of issues, a US embassy spokesman in New Delhi. She met the prime minister briefly in New York last September on the sidelines of the United Nations summit.

Mr Sarna said there have been significant steps in the bilateral relationship leading up to this visit. These include cooperation in the Tsunami response between India and the US. That was a big boost to our military-to-military cooperation and working relationship with the US forces. This followed the visit of the Defence Secretary Mr. Donald Rumsfeld in December 2004.

On the economic side there have been some elements which provide for the basis for expansion of ties i.e. the enhancement of foreign holding in the telecom, housing, infrastructure, banking and civil aviation sectors. The positive movement is also indicated by the progress in the open skies agreement in civil aviation. The economic dialogue that is headed on the Indian side by the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission will give further momentum to this process.

At the political level, as you know, both governments have been in close touch and have been having regular consultations on matters of regional and global interest. Recently we have worked together with the United States on coordinating our positions on Nepal.

In Indian diplomatic circles, she is remembered most for her article 'Promoting the national interest' in Foreign Affairs magazine during the Bush election campaign of 2000. 'There is a strong tendency conceptually to connect India with Pakistan and to think only of Kashmir or the nuclear competition between the two States. But India is an element in China's calculation, and it should be in America's too. India is not a great power yet, but it has the potential to emerge as one,' Dr Rice wrote.

She is known to nurse concerns about the implications of China as the dominating power in south and East Asia. At the same time, she attaches equal importance to her country's relations with Pakistan -- an ally in the war against terrorism, a facilitator of US interests in Afghanistan and an accomplice of the US against Iran.

After she took over as secretary of state, she said she would follow an activist foreign policy and that, apart from pursuing vigorously America's war against terrorism, she would try to mend the country's relations with the European Union and play a more proactive role in conflict areas. Her visit to India is preceding an eventful visit to Europe and the Middle East.

Dr Rice's visit to India is also meant to underline the importance attached by the US to keeping the dialogue between Delhi and Islamabad going; to reiterate the importance attached by Bush to the US relations with India and to plan the second phase of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership.
Dr Rice is likely to hear some strong views from the Indian side on the contradictions in American policy on arms sales in the region.

While, India is opposed the proposed sale of American F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan, Islamabad is against the speculated sale of Patriot missiles to India.

PIFRAS requests AAHOA to recind the invitation to Modi

WASHINGTON, March 15: Policy Institute for Religion and State (PIFRAS) has urged the Asian American Hotel Owners Association to rescind Mr. Narendra Modi's invitation to the US for the upcoming four-day AAHOA convention from March 24 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Unfortunately AAHOA's decision to invite Mr. Modi will deeply polarize the Indian American community with some groups calling for a boycott of AAHOA, while others organizing a campaign against Modi in the media which will unnecessarily get AAHOA's name muddled in the process. Regardless of what one may think, this invitation will be seen as an endorsement of Mr. Modi's politics of divisiveness and violence, by the public, says a letter from PIFRAS to AAHOA members.

It is well documented by various reputed national and international organizations that Mr. Modi has been complicit in the violence against Christian and Muslim populations in Gujarat. In 2002 violence more than 2,000 fellow Indians were killed and over 100,000 lost their homes, many of whom are women and children. These facts have been established by several independent inquiries, including reports published by the British High Commission, Indian Citizen's Tribunal and the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

India has seen many religious violence in the past including, the horrific riots in 1947 during India's partition and then in 1982 when Sikhs were victimized, among many other. These wrongful events from the past could not justify the actions of present political leaders, says Mr J. Prabhudoss, Executive Director, PIFRAS, in the letter.

Three years after the killings, Mr. Modi has failed to seek justice for the victims in his own state, prompting India's Chief Justice VN Khare to declare: "I have no faith left in the prosecution and the Gujarat Government."

Given the established role Mr. Modi played in the religious violence, his visit to the US may raise legal issues as well, as it is in violation of Section 604 of the US International Religious Freedom Act.

Hillary Clinton bowls over young Indian MPs

NEW DELHI, March 1: She came, she spoke and she conquered. US Senator Hillary Clinton left an indelible impression on young and first-time Indian MPs during an all-too-brief 15-minute interaction with them during her visit here. "She was amazing. We all were very excited," gushed first-time Congress MP Naveen Jindal when asked about the meeting during Clinton's three-day visit to India last week.

The meeting, though "short but sweet", gave the MPs a chance to listen to her views on India-US relations, share their concerns about the two democratic countries and ask her questions about various issues ranging from Iraq to new US visa rules. The MPs, who were completely bowled over by the former US first lady, did not conceal their excitement about the meeting. "She looked stunning in her black trousers and fuchsia coloured silk jacket," said one of them.

"But she smartly dodged our queries on her prospect of becoming the next American president," said Jitin Prasada, also a first time Congress MP.

Many MPs pointed out that Clinton spoke of her "special bonding" with India. "India has been closer to my heart since I visited this country with my daughter Chelsea in 1995. That bond strengthened when I visited here with my husband (former US president Bill Clinton)," one of the 25-odd MPs who attended the meeting quoted Hillary Clinton as saying.

"Chelsea also still cherishes her memories about India. It's vital to have closer interactions between the two democratic countries," the senator added. When Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ravi Shankar Prasad, a former minister, asked Clinton about the US' "tilt" towards Pakistan, she admitted that India played a crucial role in fighting terrorism, but said the US wanted Pakistan also to do that.

"She was very diplomatic, supported the Bush government's foreign policies and was frank enough to say that she also believed an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq would not be good," Madhu Goud Yaskhi, a New York attorney who won his first Lok Sabha victory on the Congress ticket, said.

Clinton assured Yaskhi, who asked if there was a move to increase H1-B visas, that the Democrats would support such a move in the senate.
Yaskhi will forever remember the meeting.

"When I told her that I was once her constituent and was now a member of the Indian Parliament, she asked me about what I was doing, why I had come back and how I felt here. She was very sweet," Yaskhi said.

To businessman-turned-politician Vijay Mallya, who spoke of the difficulties Indians faced due to visa restrictions, Clinton said: "You have to understand what we are going through in the post-September 11 scenario. One has to live with this." The senator also urged the Indian government to facilitate investors if it wanted to improve inflows into the country. "I would always prefer India to China because it's a democratic country," she told Jyotiraditya Scindia of the Congress.

Where necessary, Clinton did not hesitate to call a spade a spade. "You do not have good airports or good roads, so how will you attract investments. Look at China, they have developed all the infrastructure facilities required," she maintained. Onkar Singh Kanwar, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and banker Deepak Bagla, apart from a few other businessmen also attended the meeting, organised by the Young Parliamentarians' Forum

Canada opts out of US Missile Defence

WASHINGTON, Feb 25: In a move that can further strain brittle relations with the United States, Canada has opted out of the US missile defence programme. Prime Minister Paul Martin, ending nearly two years of debate over whether Canada should participate in the development or operation of the multibillion-dollar programme, made the announcement on Thursday, but added Ottawa would remain a close ally of Washington in the fight against global terrorism and continental security.

He said he intended to talk to President Bush and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been informed of the decision earlier this week.
The decision is said to please a majority of Canadians, who fear, the shield could lead to an international arms race. A US State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that despite this decision, Washington expects cooperation with Canada will continue on a wide range of issues.

Talking to reporters after his foreign minister announced the move in the House of Commons, Martin said Canada would focus on strengthening its own military and defence in proposals laid out on Wednesday in the federal budget. "Canada recognises the enormous burden that the United States shoulders, when it comes to international peace and security," Martin said. "The substantial increases made yesterday to our defence budget are a tangible indication that Canada intends to carry its full share of that responsibility."

US armymen rape women detainees

WASHINGTON, Feb 23: The US military is investigating an allegation that a US servicemember raped a female detainee and has closed another criminal investigation into an alleged rape of a second female detainee for lack of evidence, a Pentagon spokesman said. Allegations of sexual misconduct by US military personnel surfaced last year during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, but these are the first known cases of soldiers being accused of raping female detainees.

"One of those cases has been thoroughly investigated and was closed, and there was insufficient evidence," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters on Tuesday. "The second one is an ongoing investigation." Whitman said he did not know when or where the rapes were alleged to have occurred.

"You've got prisoners, detainees under the control of the United States. Some allegations were made. The allegations are being investigated or have been thoroughly investigated, and to date there is no substantiation of any allegation that a US servicemember has raped an Iraqi female prisoner," he said.

The Pentagon disclosed the investigations only after senators last week asked US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whether any US personnel were reported to have raped Muslim women. Both Rumsfeld and Myers said they did not know.

FIACONA demands removal of Tarlochan from Minority Commission

WASHINGTON DC, Feb 21: The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) on Monday demanded the removal of the Chairman of the India's National Minorities Commission, Mr Tarlochan Singh. FIACONA has expressed its deep disappointment and shock over the insensitive statements and actions of Mr Tarlochan Singh in regard to the Christian community in India.

In a statement released in Washington DC by Mr. John Prabhudoss, FIACONA said that Mr Singh has consistently acted in a manner unbecoming of the high office he occupies. In a situation where episodes of communal violence are on the increase in the country and inter community relations are severely strained, the Chairman Tarlochan Singh has added fuel to the fire by his unfortunate and insidious statements. Instead of being a pacifying and unifying force the Commission has become an instrument for spreading suspicion and hatred under the Chairmanship of Mr Tarlochan Singh.

Rev Bernard Malik, President of FIACONA said " It is quite incredible that Mr. Tarlochan Singh is more concerned with the reportedly growing Christian population in one district of the North Eastern India than in dealing with serious issues such as recent killings of innocent Christians in several States. He refuses to take note, much less intervene, when 250 students of the Emanuel Bible College of Andhra Pradesh arriving by train in the early hours of February 19 to attend their graduation ceremony were brutally attacked at the Kota railway station by a 300 strong mob of Bajarang Dal activists".

In a separate incident activists from the Dharma Raksha Samiti of the VHP unleashed a reign of terror against Christians living in Firozpur district in Uttar Pradesh forcing over 5,000 of them to publicly renounce the Christian faith.

Mr. Abraham Mammen (National Vice President) said, "Chairman Singh's record on defending the rights of the citizens belonging to the minority community in Gujarat and his lack of support for the freedom of conscience of India's citizens as enunciated in the Constitution of India makes him ineligible to hold such a high office".

The Chairman has been doing mostly Christian bashing in his current post as the Chairman of the Commission and has grossly failed in his impartial duty therefore Christian community can no longer place any faith in the integrity of Mr. Tarlochan Singh. Before he does more harm to the secular fabric of the country FIACONA demands that the Prime Minister immediately intervene and remove Mr. Tarlochan Singh from the office.

Gitmo soldier details sexual tactics

SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico), Jan 28: Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man's face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider's written account.

A draft manuscript obtained by The Associated Press is classified as secret pending a Pentagon review for a planned book that details ways the US military used women as part of tougher physical and psychological interrogation tactics to get terror suspects to talk. It's the most revealing account so far of interrogations at the secretive detention camp, where officials say they have halted some controversial techniques.

"I have really struggled with this because the detainees, their families and much of the world will think this is a religious war based on some of the techniques used, even though it is not the case," the author, former Army Sgt. Erik R. Saar, 29, said.

Saar didn't provide the manuscript or approach AP, but confirmed the authenticity of nine draft pages AP obtained. He requested his hometown remain private so he wouldn't be harassed. Saar, who is neither Muslim nor of Arab descent, worked as an Arabic translator at the US camp in eastern Cuba from December 2002 to June 2003. At the time, it was under the command of Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller, who had a mandate to get better intelligence from prisoners, including alleged al-Qaida members caught in Afghanistan.

Saar said he witnessed about 20 interrogations and about three months after his arrival at the remote US base he started noticing "disturbing" practices. One female civilian contractor used a special outfit that included a miniskirt, thong underwear and a bra during late-night interrogations with prisoners, mostly Muslim men who consider it taboo to have close contact with women who aren't their wives.

Beginning in April 2003, "there hung a short skirt and thong underwear on the hook on the back of the door" of one interrogation team's office, he writes. "Later I learned that this outfit was used for interrogations by one of the female civilian contractors ... on a team which conducted interrogations in the middle of the night on Saudi men who were refusing to talk." Some Guantanamo prisoners who have been released say they were tormented by "prostitutes."

In another case, Saar describes a female military interrogator questioning an uncooperative 21-year-old Saudi detainee who allegedly had taken flying lessons in Arizona before the September 11 terror attacks. Suspected September 11 hijacker Hani Hanjour received pilot instruction for three months in 1996 and in December 1997 at a flight school in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"His female interrogator decided that she needed to turn up the heat," Saar writes, saying she repeatedly asked the detainee who had sent him to Arizona, telling him he could "cooperate" or "have no hope whatsoever of ever leaving this place or talking to a lawyer.'" The man closed his eyes and began to pray, Saar writes.

The female interrogator wanted to "break him," Saar adds, describing how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection. The detainee looked up and spat in her face, the manuscript recounts.

The interrogator left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner's reliance on God. The linguist told her to tell the detainee that she was menstruating, touch him, then make sure to turn off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash. Strict interpretation of Islamic law forbids physical contact with women other than a man's wife or family, and with any menstruating women, who are considered unclean.

"The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength," says the draft, stamped "Secret."

The interrogator used ink from a red pen to fool the detainee, Saar writes. "She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee," he says. "As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand. She said, 'Who sent you to Arizona?' He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred.

"She then wiped the red ink on his face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward" - so fiercely that he broke loose from one ankle shackle. "He began to cry like a baby," the draft says, noting the interrogator left saying, "Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself."

Events Saar describes resemble two previous reports of abusive female interrogation tactics, although it wasn't possible to independently verify his account.

In November, in response to an AP request, the military described an April 2003 incident in which a female interrogator took off her uniform top, exposed her brown T-shirt, ran her fingers through a detainee's hair and sat on his lap. That session was immediately ended by a supervisor and that interrogator received a written reprimand and additional training, the military said.

In another incident, the military reported that in early 2003 a different female interrogator "wiped dye from red magic marker on detainees' shirt after detainee spit (cq) on her," telling the detainee it was blood. She was verbally reprimanded, the military said.

Sexual tactics used by female interrogators have been criticized by the FBI, which complained in a letter obtained last month that US defense officials hadn't acted on complaints by FBI observers of "highly aggressive" interrogation techniques, including one in which a female interrogator grabbed a detainee's genitals.

About 20 percent of the guards at Guantanamo are women, said Lt. Col. James Marshall, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command. He wouldn't say how many of the interrogators were female. Marshall wouldn't address whether the U.S. military had a specific strategy to use women. "U.S. forces treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur, humanely and consistent with U.S. legal obligations, and in particular with legal obligations prohibiting torture," Marshall said late Wednesday.

But some officials at the U.S. Southern Command have questioned the formation of an all-female team as one of Guantanamo's "Immediate Reaction Force" units that subdue troublesome male prisoners in their cells, according to a document classified as secret.

In one incident, dated June 19, 2004, "The detainee appears to be genuinely traumatized by a female escort securing the detainee's leg irons," according to the document, a U.S. Southern Command summary of videotapes shot when the teams were used. The summary warned that anyone outside Department of Defense channels should be prepared to address allegations that women were used intentionally with Muslim men.

At Guantanamo, Saar said, "Interrogators were given a lot of latitude under Miller," the commander who went from the prison in Cuba to overseeing prisons in Iraq, where the Abu Ghraib scandal shocked the world with pictures revealing sexual humiliation of naked prisoners. Several female troops have been charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Saar said he volunteered to go to Guantanamo because "I really believed in the mission," but then he became disillusioned during his six months at the prison. After leaving the Army with more than four years service, Saar worked as a contractor briefly for the FBI.

The Department of Defense has censored parts of his draft, mainly blacking out people's names, said Saar, who hired Washington attorney Mark S. Zaid to represent him. Saar needed permission to publish because he signed a disclosure statement before going to Guantanamo. The book, which Saar titled "Inside the Wire," is due out this year with Penguin Press.

Guantanamo has about 545 prisoners from some 40 countries, many held more than three years without charge or access to lawyers and many suspected of links to al-Qaida or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime, which harbored the terrorist network.

Condoleezza Rice sworn in as US Secretary of State

WASHINGTON, Jan 27: Condoleezza Rice was today sworn in as the new Secretary of State at a White House ceremony following her confirmation as America's top diplomat by the US Senate. On Thursday the Senate confirmed Rice as President George W Bush's new Secretary of State in an impressive 85-13 vote, making her the first black woman to hold the post.

She is likely to go to the State Department early this morning to greet the staff and move into her new office. Rice, 50, National Security Adviser in Bush's first term in office, succeeds Colin Powell. She was Bush's most trusted security aide and an architect of policies on Iraq and war on terror.
As she takes up her new assignment, there is intense speculation whether there will be any change in policy.

US may double bounty on Osama's head

NEW YORK, Jan 24: With the trail of Osama bin Laden having gone cold, the Bush administration is expected to double the sum on the terror mastermind's head to 50 million dollars by the end of February, besides chalking out a new publicity blitz to help trace him. As part of the publicity blitz, the US State Department is reminding Afghans and Pakistanis of the existing 25 million dollar bounty.

By the end of February, the White House is expected to double the sum on bin Laden's head, to 50 million dollars, acting on a legislation passed in November by Congress, Time magazine reports. Bin Laden is still thought to be hiding somewhere along the 2,500-km mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but intelligence officials in Kabul and Islamabad believe there has been no trace of him for the past 20 months.

US to increase H1B visas for Indian professionals

NEW DELHI, Jan 6: The US has said outsourcing to India was "unavoidable" as the latter had earned its place as the world's knowledge capital in the BPO sector and that it was actively considering increasing the H1B visas for Indian workers.

"Several appeals were made by the US citizens to put a stop to outsourcing to India but were outright rejected as the US felt that outsourcing to India, the knowledge capital of the world in the BPO sector, was unavoidable," an Assocham statement said here, quoting US Deputy Chief of Mission Robert O Blake.

Speaking at an interactive session organised by the industry body, he said the US was now thinking about increasing the number of H1B visas to Indian professionals. "This decision is based on the fact that the US recognises India's contribution in the fields like accounts, software, engineering and law," he said.

Inviting closer cooperation between the small and medium sized companies of the US and India, he said, "Such technological advancements will be of great use to Indian small-scale sector." He said the fact that the US was sending several senators to India next week proves that the country was serious in boosting economic cooperation with India.

"This will give India an opportunity to showcase itself to an important legislative arm of the US Government," he said. India's imports from the US stood at five billion dollars in 2003 while the exports to the US were valued at over 13 billion dollars, it added.

US sensitive to Indian concern on arms sale to Pak

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 9: India on Thursday conveyed to the US its concern over repercussions of American arms supplies to Pakistan on the ongoing Indo-Pak dialogue and the deal's impact on its positive sentiments for Washington. The Indian leaders conveyed this to the visiting US Defence Secretary, Mr Donald Rumsfeld. This is the first visit of an US official to New Delhi at the Cabinet level after the re-election of President George Bush.

Mr Rumsfeld conveyed to New Delhi that the US understood Indian sensitivities in this regard and would remain continually in touch, according to Mr Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs. The spokesman said the two sides also shared perspective on their respective ties with Pakistan. Concern was expressed from our side about the repercussions of US arms supply on the ongoing India-Pakistan dialogue currently poised at a sensitive juncture.

It was noted that India-US relations had seen significant transformation during President Bush's first term and that US was now perceived as a strategic partner. These arms sales could impact on the positive sentiment and goodwill for the US in India. Mr Rumsfeld assured New Delhi that the US did not envisage relations with India and Pakistan as a zero-sum game and it was a US objective to have good relations with both countries.

During his stay here, Mr Rumsfeld called on the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and held discussions with the Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the External Affairs Minster, Mr K Natwar Singh, and the National Security Adviser, Mr JN Dixit.

In a joint brief interaction with the newsmen after his meeting with Mr Mukherjee, the visiting Defence Secretary said in his opening remark the ties were "strong one and something that we intend to see further knitted together as we go along the months and years ahead". Mr Mukherjee said "we had excellent discussion and we discussed all kinds of things that are important for our two ministries." The two did not take questions at the press meet.

The spokesman said the defence cooperation has imparted a significant impetus to the emerging Indo-US strategic partnership. "The role played by the Department of Defence in the growth of our bilateral ties was recognized during the discussions today. It was also noted that India cherishes its relations that are based on our shared belief in democracy. During the discussions considerable emphasis was also laid on the maintenance of the strategic focus of our bilateral relationship," he said.

The spokesman said the visit provided an excellent opportunity to review the current bilateral defence cooperation. There was satisfaction expressed at the rapid growth of this relationship including the effective working of the dialogue mechanism, military to military contacts, exercises, visits, education and training.

He said there was visible interest in broadening the ambit of the defence cooperation. Both sides also agreed and reiterated their commitment to work closely together in war against terrorism and combating WMD proliferation. The NSSP (Next Steps in Strategic Partnership) and related initiatives between India and the United States were also discussed.

Other international and regional issues also came up for discussion. In particular there was an exchange of views on the situation in Afghanistan where Secretary Rumsfeld has just been for the inauguration of President Karzai. He expressed deep appreciation for the reconstruction assistance being extended by India.

Afghanistan represented an example where India and US have cooperated closely to advance their shared agenda. The Indian side also made suggestions on steps that could facilitate aid and assistance that we are currently providing to Afghanistan.

In the context of other global and regional issues , Secretary Rumsfeld also shared his assessment of the situation in Iraq expressing his optimism that the holding of elections would lead to an improvement. "From our side our stakes in the Gulf region and traditional friendship for the people of Iraq were highlighted," said the spokesman.



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