Protests erupt as India executes convict for Parliament attack

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Updated 10 February 2013
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Protests erupt as India executes convict for Parliament attack

NEW DELHI: India hanged a Kashmiri man yesterday for an attack on the country’s Parliament in 2001, sparking clashes in Kashmir between protesters and police who wielded batons and fired teargas. Dozens of people were injured.
President Pranab Mukherjee rejected a mercy petition from Mohammad Afzal Guru and he was hanged at 8 a.m. (0230 GMT) in Tihar jail in the capital, New Delhi. Security forces anticipating unrest had imposed a curfew in parts of insurgency-torn Kashmir and ordered people off the streets.
Guru, from the Indian part of divided Kashmir, was convicted of helping organize arms for the gunmen who made the attack and a place for them to stay. He always maintained his innocence.
India blamed the attack on the Parliament of the world’s largest democracy on militants backed by Pakistan, targeting the prime minister, interior minister and legislators in one of the country’s worst ever militant attacks.
Pakistan denied any involvement and condemned the attack but tension rose sharply and brought the nuclear-armed rivals dangerously close to their fourth war. Nearly a million soldiers were mobilized on both sides of the border and fears of war only dissipated months later, in June 2002.
The hanging was ordered less than three months after India executed the lone surviving gunman of a 2008 attack in the city of Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.
Yesterday’s execution could help the ruling Congress party deflect opposition criticism of being soft on militancy as it gears up for a series of state elections this year and a general election due by 2014, while grappling with an economic slowdown.
“Congress has decided to be more proactive in view of the elections, not only in terms of economic policy but also matters like the hanging,” said political analyst Amulya Ganguli.
“The Congress has now deprived the BJP of a propaganda plank,” he said, referring to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
Government officials dismissed suggestions that electoral politics played a role in the decision to execute Guru.
In major towns of Indian Kashmir, where security forces have battled separatist insurgency for decades, barricades were erected and hundreds of police and paramilitary force members were deployed.
“The hanging of Afzal Guru is a declaration of war by India,” said Hilal Ahmad War, leader of a separatist faction.
Thirty-six people including 23 policemen were injured in protests, said police spokesman Manoj Sheeri, with most of the violence in Guru’s home district.
Authorities shut down Internet services to try to stop news of the hanging and unrest spreading. The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Omar Abdullah, made a televised appeal for calm.
Scuffles also broke out in New Delhi between Hindu activists and demonstrators who gathered at a city-center protest site to condemn the execution, witness said.
Five militants stormed the parliament complex in New Delhi on Dec. 13, 2001, armed with grenades, guns and explosives, but security forces killed them before they could enter the main chamber. Ten other people, most of them security officers, were killed.
Guru said he never got a fair trial and his brother reiterated that yesterday, adding that authorities had not warned the family of his execution. “At least the government should have given the family a chance to meet him,” said the brother, Ajaz Ahmad Guru. “He didn’t get a fair trial. His wife is in deep shock.” India said the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group was responsible for the Parliament attack. The group fights Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
The hanging last year of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani militant involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, after a long lull in executions, prompted speculation that India would move quickly to execute Guru.



But unlike Kasab’s execution, which sparked celebrations in the streets, Guru’s case was seen as more divisive.
Some Kashmiri leaders warned that hanging Afzal would fuel the revolt in India’s part of the Himalayan region in which tens of thousands of people have been killed since 1989.
Curfews were imposed in Srinagar, the region’s summer capital in the Kashmir valley, and major towns including Baramulla, Guru’s home town.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, both of which claim the region in full and rule it in part. They have fought two of their three wars over the region.
In Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, more than 250 people took to the streets to protest against the hanging, shouting “Down with India” and burning an Indian flag.
India has long accused Muslim Pakistan of arming and funding militants to fight Indian forces in Kashmir. Pakistan says it only provides moral support to the fellow-Muslim people of Kashmir, who, Pakistan says, face harsh Indian rule.
The dispute, a legacy of the division of the sub-continent at the end of British rule, is the main factor souring relations between the neighbors.


France’s Macron at White House, Mount Vernon as state visit begins

Updated 54 min 3 sec ago
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France’s Macron at White House, Mount Vernon as state visit begins

  • French President Emmanuel Macron received the full red carpet treatment at the White House as he begins his state visit to the US
  • Macron is set to address a joint session of Congress

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday kicked off a pomp-filled three-day state visit to the US at the White House — a test of whether his studied bonhomie with President Donald Trump can save the Iran nuclear deal and avoid a trans-Atlantic trade war.
Before getting the full red carpet treatment at the White House — payback for wooing Trump with military parades and a dazzling Eiffel Tower dinner in Paris last July — Macron took an impromptu stroll to the Lincoln Memorial with his wife Brigitte.
Hailing the “very important” visit, Macron then rolled into the West Wing from Lafayette Square — named after the storied French general who fought in America’s war for independence — beneath dozens of fluttering tricolor French flags and before a full US military color guard.
Waiting at the door, the US president smiled and held out his hand for Macron to shake, and the French leader kissed him on both cheeks.
The pageantry — designed to underscore Trump and Macron’s “friendship” — comes in stark contrast to the bare-bones one-day working visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel later in the week.
But beyond the 21-gun salutes and dinners of lamb and “Burnt Cipollini Soubise” lurks high political danger for the 40-year-old French leader.
Trump is deeply unpopular in France and Macron, like other world leaders — from Japan’s Shinzo Abe to Britain’s Theresa May — is under growing pressure to show voters the benefits of his courtship with the 71-year-old Republican.
Looming over a joint outing to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate on Monday evening, and working meetings and a state dinner on Tuesday, are two May deadlines that have the potential to wreck already fragile trans-Atlantic relations.
Biting trade sanctions on European steel and aluminum will enter into force on May 1 unless Trump agrees to sign a waiver. If he refuses, there are fears of a full-fledged trade war.
Meanwhile, France and other European nations are battling to save a complex nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump will scuttle if he refuses to waive sanctions against Tehran by a May 12 deadline.
Iran says it is ready to relaunch its nuclear program — which the West suspects is designed to produce a bomb — if Trump kills the deal.
European officials say Trump’s demand to reopen the deal are impossible, and are scrambling to address his concerns on Tehran’s missile testing, inspections and the regime’s behavior in the region.
There is growing frustration in European capitals that Trump’s stubbornness over the Obama-era agreement is diverting attention away from other pressing issues.
In an interview broadcast on the eve of his arrival, Macron went on Trump’s favorite television channel, Fox News, to make his pitch.
“If you make war against everybody,” Macron said, “trade war against Europe, war in Syria, war against Iran — come on — it doesn’t work. You need allies. We are the allies.”
Macron will also be keen to temper Trump’s instinct to precipitously pull the US military out of Syria, amid cooperation in fighting the Daesh group and coordinated strikes on chemical weapons installations operated by Damascus.
“I think the US role is very important to play,” he said.
“Why? I will be very blunt. The day we will have finished this war against ISIS — another name for Daesh — if we leave, definitely and totally, even from a political point of view, we will leave the floor to the Iranian regime, Bashar Assad and these guys.”
In public, both countries are keen to emphasize their historic relationship — recalling that France was the first ally of American revolutionaries fighting for independence.
Macron brought with him an oak sapling that he and Trump planted at the White House on Monday as a symbol of friendship.
It comes from near the site of the Battle of Belleau Woods in northern France, where 2,000 US Marines perished at the end of World War I.
The pair, clearly relaxed, also briefly visited the Oval Office before heading to Mount Vernon.
On a personal level, despite sharp differences in political background, age and lifestyle, the presidents seem to have struck up a bond as fellow outsiders who outwitted the establishment to gain power.
“We have a very special relationship because both of us are probably the maverick of the systems on both sides,” Macron told Fox News.
Trump himself told Macron their “friendship” was “unbreakable” during his trip to Paris last year.
When asked about their first encounter — a much-scrutinized six-second handshake during a NATO summit in May — Macron acknowledged it had was a “very direct, lucid moment” that had set the tone between them.
“And a very friendly moment,” he added. “It was to say now, we will work together.”
On Wednesday, the centrist leader will demonstrate his English-language skills — a rarity for a French president — in an address to a joint session of Congress.