8th July 2001
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The Sunday Times Editor's appeal re-fixed for support

By Laila Nasry
The Special Leave to Appeal application filed in the Supreme Court by The Sunday Times Editor against his conviction for criminal defamation of President Chandrika Kumaratunga was once again re-fixed for support as the presiding judge declined to hear the case. 

Justice S.W.B.Wadugod-apitiya presiding together with Justices P. Edussuriya and C. V. Wigneswaran, declined to hear the case as it had come up before him previously. 

The case was listed for support on August 21 and 22 with Counsel agreeing that it may be prudent to list the case for two days consecutively. 

On a previous occasion Justice A.R.B Amerasinghe citing personal reasons stated the Editor's brother was very well known to him and Justice Ameer Ismail stating he had heard the case in the Appeal Court when it came up for determination whether the trial judge should have called for a defence in the High Court, declined to hear the matter. It was directed to be fixed before a Bench of which Justice D.P.S. Gunesekera and themselves were not members. 

The accused-appellant petitioner is seeking for the granting of Special Leave to appeal against the December 5, 2000 order of the Court of Appeal which dismissed his appeal and upheld the conviction delivered in the High Court. 

He further prays court to set aside the Court of Appeal order, quash the findings of the High Court which convicted and sentenced him and acquit him of the charges contained in the indictment filed in the High Court.

The Editor was indicted before the High Court on two counts. 

The first count was that he did by publication in The Sunday Times of February 19, 1995 of words that were intended to read "Anura: sootin says courting days are here".

The second count framed in the alternative to the first was that the above imputation was published by some person in the Sunday Times and that person had committed an offence punishable under section 479 of the Penal Code read with Section 15 of the Press Council Law. Thereby as Editor of the newspaper responsible for publishing the said imputation, he had committed an offence punishable under Section 14 read with Section 15 of the Press Council Law. 

High Court Judge Upali de Z. Gunawardene convicted the Editor of criminal defamation on both counts. In the first count a fine of Rs. 7,500 and in default of the payment of the fine a sentence of four months simple imprisonment. In addition the petitioner was sentenced to twelve months simple imprisonment suspended for a period of seven years. 

In the second count a fine of Rs. 2,500 and in default of the payment of the fine a sentence of three months simple imprisonment. 

In addition the petitioner was sentenced to six months simple imprisonment suspended for a period of seven years. The suspended sentences were to run concurrently. 

Hard-pressed farmers a disenchanted lot

By Sunil Jayatillake
The problems faced by farmers including high prices of fertilizer, getting a low price for their crops and the poor economic benefits derived from farming has driven them to poverty, declared a farmer leader.

The farmer community which was a potent force in PA politics way back in 1994, at the height of the hustings is today a disenchanted lot, D.G. Haramanis alias 'Goviraja' claimed.

Mr. Haramanis was one of those who pledged his support to the UNP this week expressing the hope that the farmers' grievances would be redressed.

Speaking to The Sunday Times after a press conference at the Opposition Leader's office in Colombo, Mr. Haramanis said his group will not only back the UNP in the future, but even seek membership of the party stating that it was the UNP that took an interest in agriculture during the last 50 years.

He said PA candidates spread the canard that it was under the UNP that farmers even went to the extent of committing suicide. This helped to win over farmers to the PA fold in the hope the PA would take a greater interest in them. 

He said the PA, however, destroyed their future importing paddy, onions, potatoes and other foodstuffs that farmers cultivated for their living, thus allowing rich businessmen to become richer. 

Mr. Haramanis said the cost of production of a kilo of paddy is Rs. 14 today, but the private buyers pay only Rs. 6 or 7 per kilo and this has made them rich while the richest today in Polonnaruwa are those backing the PA or relatives of PA politicos. 

'As many as 36 farmers committed suicide in the six years under the PA regime though they talked of suicide during the UNP regime. Our jewellery is now pawned to banks. Cost of inputs for cultivation is sky-high as the PA dances to the World Bank tune', he said.

Adding to these sentiments, the president of the Govi Peramuna R.Gamage said today agriculture had gone to the dogs, and he had to stage a fast-unto-death outside the World Bank Headquarters to impress on the officials there the plight of the local farmer. 

He said that after discussions with the UNP for over six months on as many as 14 issues relating to their livelihood, they had decided to support the UNP.

Shuts down sans notice

A private fertilizer company has been shut down without prior notification to its employees.

The Rajarata Agro Fertilizer Company Limited (RAFCL) based in Puliyankulama, Anuradhapura was closed for a " special holiday" on June 29 with the employees being instructed to report back to work on July 4. When the employees reported back to work they had received at the factory gate, letters terminating their services, from employees of a security firm unknown to them. 

They said there was no mention of compensation in the letters. 

"They didn't have the decency to enclose the letters in envelopes" they added. 

Due to the sudden closure, 18 in the permanent cadre and 15 contract labourers lost their jobs. The staff has been denied their gratuity, since the closure has taken place a few days before the completion of five years. 

The employees, especially the previous private security firm employed by the company and the labourers have been denied their salary for the last month. Likewise the management had failed to settle fuel, electricity, water and newspaper bills for four months, which indirectly affect the employees, they complained.

However, the management declined to comment on the whole issue.

Labour Minister Alavi Moulana said what had been done was not acceptable.

"It's a serious thing if they can act on their own. The termination act is still in force. They have to contact the Labour Commissioner first," he said.

Labour Commissioner Mahinda Madihahewa told The Sunday Times "We have not given permission. The management had not sent an application for an inquiry to be held. According to the normal procedure, there should be an inquiry to obtain permission to close down the company and the employees should be paid till the inquiry is over. We will take action" he said. 

The Rajarata Agro Fertilizer Company commenced operations on July 18, 1996 after it was sold to the Anglo Asian Group, through the Public Enterprises Reform Commission (PERC). 

UNP makes trumpet call to professionals

With the parliamentary battle for political power the main opposition UNP yesterday met the country's top professionals to seek their support . 

The UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who addressed top members of the Organization of professional Associations (OPA) at the Mayor's official residence in Colombo yesterday, said the party required professional support not just to strengthen agitation campaigns, but also to help formulate policies. 

Addressing lawyers, doctors, accountants, academics, bankers and industrialists he said the UNP wanted to tap the full potential in the professionals for the benefit of the country.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said a historic consensus had been reached in Parliament where all 115 members of the opposition would be sending a joint request to the Speaker urging that the motion of no confidence in the government be taken up for debate on July 18 with a vote within two days..

He said the party with a working majority in parliament should govern the country and should have a majority stake in all parliamentary committees.

The UNP leader cited the Washington example where the crossover of a Republican senator gave the Democrats a one seat majority in the senate and thereby they gained control of all senate committees.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the move to bypass Parliament and re-impose tough regulations through other means showed that the government had been defeated at heart.

He again challenged the government to show the majority that often boasted of, as the opposition had done by sending a document signed by 115 MPs.

He called upon the government to initiate a dialogue with all parties urgently, and try to come out of the mud hole without wallowing deeper in it. 

"We have a constitutional crisis due to the PA's inability to operate the system. If we are unable to resolve the crisis, then we should go before the final arbitrators- the people whose sovereignty we exercise as legislators. It should be their decision," he stressed.

Census to exclude some war areas

Certain areas of the north and east will be excluded from the final headcount of the national census on July 17, Census chief A.G.W. Nanayakkara said yesterday.

He said that due to unavoidable circumstances they would not be able to have the actual head count in some areas but would go ahead with the census in all other areas .

He said that until the end of May when they carried out the preliminary work for the census they did not encounter too many problems and had been able to do most of the work even in uncleared areas of the north and east.

Thus the first national census in more than two decades will not give a complete picture because some areas are being left out in view of alleged threats by the LTTE and protest by some Tamil parties.

The Tamil parties had complained that a proper census could not be made while several lakhs of people were still displaced here. In addition the UNHCR has estimated that more than 800,000 Tamils are living abroad.

Only small bite on flights

In a further effort to cut costs amidst serious financial problems, the national carrier SriLankan Airlines has stopped serving food on its short haul flights.

Accordingly passengers to Chennai and Male will not be served the customary shorteats- instead they will get a little packet of mixture with a soft drink. Those who were used to a stiff of a hard drink would have to be satisfied with a glass of beer.

An official said the national carrier was following the practice of most international airlines which did not serve food on short flights.

No end to the aesthetic students' house drama

By Marisa de Silva and Jodie Jenkins
With students from the Institute of Aestheitic Studies refusing to quit their illegal occupation of the offical residence of the Colombo Municipal Commissioner, the city council is contemplating legal measures to evict the students.

Municipal Commissioner Jayantha Liyanage said that his job demanded his presence in the city and he saw the students occupation of his residence as an obstacle to his official work.

He said he was disappointed with the lack of police action in this regard and urged the Educational Ministry to intervene and settle the matter.

Colombo's Senior Police Superintendent Lionel Gunatilleka in a statement said the police were awaiting a word from university authorities who were having discussions with the students. He said if the matter was not settled by the university authorities, the polcie would have to step in and take necessary action.

The crisis began after students moved into the Municipal Commissioners residence, adjoining the university premises at Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha. They said they had to resort to this move since they were facing severe accommodation problems. However, they claimed that they were occupying a building that had not been used for several years.

Student leader Nalin Siyabalapitiya told the Sunday Times that the institute had not expanded the present building since its inception though the number of students had increased by many folds.

"My village school is better than this. I'm ashamed to say that I'm gaining my higher education in an institute like this," he said.

Agencies blast job bureau

By Nilika de Silva 
Foreign job agencies are accusing the Foreign Employment Bureau of not doing its job properly and trying to blame others for its own mismanagement and inefficiencies.

Suraj Dandeniya who heads the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies said the FEB was responsible for the safeguarding of Sri Lankan workers abroad but the board had done little during the past 15 years.

He said the law required that persons appointed by the bureau as its representatives in a foreign country were responsible for safeguarding the interests of Sri Lankans employed in that country including the settlement of disputes with employers.

They were also obliged to undertake the welfare and protection of Sri Lankans employed outside Sri Lanka.

Mr. Dandeniya said that in contrast when problems arose regarding migrant workers, fingers were often pointed at the recruiting agencies and seldom at the officials of the bureau.

As for the work being done he pointed out that the bureau despite all its boasts was finding jobs abroad only for about 3450 Lankans every year while the licensed agencies had sent as many as 125,000 a year.

Instead of solving problems the bureau had often made the problems worse Mr. Dandeniya charged.

He expressed the hope that the future would be better under the new FEB chief Jayasena Perera.

SLMC homebase cracking up

By Chris Kamalendran
The battle between the SLMC and NUA has spilled onto to the streets of the east with buses being stoned and other acts of violence setting the scene for a show of strength and battle of attrition.

Hundreds of supporters of SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem have been burning effigies and otherwise protesting against his rival Ferial Ashraff who on Tuesday took command of the National Unity Alliance, threw her weight fully behind the crisis ridden PA government and proclaimed she would lead the Muslim community into a new path of national unity.

Protest campaigns were held on Friday in several parts of the eastern province and Hakeem loyalists said they were planning a massive show of strength by bringing upto 100,000 people for a rally.

The rivalry in the East was so intensively hostile that STF commandos had to provide special security for Ms. Ashraff and her loyalists including M.L.M.A. Hisbullah when they came to attend the special delegates' conference at the Amparai Town Hall. This meeting was called by Ms. Ashraff after a Colombo District Court rejected a challenge to her leadership in the NUA. 

She aslo reassumed her ministerial portfolios and was sworn in again by President Kumaratunga after Ms. Ashraff reiterated full support for the government. This grew an angry reaction from Mr. Hakeem who charged that Ms. Ashraff's leadership of the NUA and the delegates conference called by her were illegal. He also accused her of being a pawn in the East for President Kumaratunga.

Mr. Hakeem himself did not attend the NUA conference in Amparai but loyalists said some of his supporters were prevented from attending and in some instances the STF had fired in the air when the situation became unruly.

Eye witnesses said that in one stoning incident in Samanthurai about 15 people were injured and treated in hospital. At the Amparai town hall itself we saw about 2000 delegates while tough security measures in force and body checks being carried out on invitees.

The tone of the conference was largely anti Hakeem. Speaker after speaker hammered out at the SLMC leader accusing him of putting personal interests before the larger interests of the Muslim community and the country as a whole.

"Mr. Hakeem's approach to the whole issue was wrong. President Kumaratunga never refused to give into the demand of the Kalmunai coastal district," Ms Ashraff said marking a complete turn in the situation a fortnight ago when she resigned from the cabinet in solidarity with Mr. Hakeem after he was suddenly sacked by the President.

The rivalry in the Muslim community is not only at the top but also at grassroots as we saw when speaking to ordinary Muslims in Eastern villages.

"Our party will remain strong only as long as we are united ," said a villager expressing the feelings of thousands like him.Ms. Ashraff apparently went to the East largely to show her strength there after she showed it in Colombo on Tuesday. Soon after winning the court battle Ms. 

Ashraff called a news conference to confidently proclaim her role but more significant was the venue she chose- the party headquarters Darussalam. She was obviously trying to say she had a role not only in the NUA but also in the SLMC.

Not to be out played Mr. Hakeem's faction also called a special meeting at party headquarters on Thursday while his rival was in the east.

The only saving grace was the work of some groups which were trying to unite the factions or at least do some temporary patchwork.

Ampara District Muslim Citizens' Committee President, U.M. Nizar had separate meetings with Mr. Hakeem and Ms. Ashraff, but there were few signs of a compromise.

"Both the leaders are showing little sign of wanting to settle the crisis but we are continuing our efforts said a hopeful Mr. Nizar.

Pre-dawn horror at doctor's house

It was about 3 a.m. on Friday when Niroshan Shri Devan, a brilliant medical student, woke up in the family's Alfred House residence after hearing some disturbing noises.

Two robbers had entered the house in a high security zone through a rear window. As the 27-year-old Niroshan moved to alert his father about the intruders upstairs, the robbers also acted fast and furiously.

As the father, Dr. Walter Shri Devan, a well known medical practitioner at Dehiwela, came out to help his son, the robbers attacked both of them. The boy was killed and the father injured. 

A colleague at medical college said that by killing the brilliant medical student who was to sit his final exam within a few weeks, the robbers had killed not one person, but hundreds of people whose lives the doctor would have saved. 

The father who was taken to the national hospital recovered fast and was back home yesterday, but the funeral of his precious son today might be as terrible an agony as death itself.When we visited the horror-struck residence yesterday evening, Niroshan's uncle Dayala Devan pieced together the events that led to the tragedy. 

He said there was evidence that the two robbers had broken in from the window on the rear side. They had broken open a drawer apparently looking for valuables, but left it half open when Niroshan sounded the alert, which brought about a cruel end to a life of great potential. 

While one of the robbers attacked the son, the other blocked the father. 

Special police detectives were investigating yesterday but no arrest were made upto last night.

Death of media officer: who killed report?

By Faraza Farook
Three months after official inquiries into the death of Finance Ministry Media Secretary Prabath Manawasinghe were completed, his family has not received any redress nor has the Health Ministry taken action against the hospital concerned amidst fresh allegations that VIP intervention had led to the shelving of the inquiry report.

An official committee appointed by the Health Ministry to probe alleged medical negligence in the death of the journalist, had recommended that the after care system in the private Asiri hospital should be improved, but the hospital claimed the inquiry was partial.

The inquiry was held after Mr. Manawasinghe's widow Nirmalee petitioned President Kumaratunga and Health Minister John Seneviratne.

Health Ministry Secretary Tilak Ranaviraja told The Sunday Times that a fresh inquiry would be appointed for a new inquiry as in view of the objections by Asiri Hospital to the earlier report.

Minister Seneviratne told The Sunday Times that the ministry could do little by way of legal action and he believed such action should be taken by the family members.

Mr. Manawasinghe had been warded to remove an obstruction in his urinal tract, but died due to internal haemorrhage when a tube inserted to remove the stones broke in the process causing injury to his internal organs. 

His wife alleged that the tube was inserted despite being aware that the stones were too big to be removed without surgically cutting open. 

Though the Health Ministry is trying to get a Bill passed in Parliament to regulate the work of private hospitals, little action has been taken not only in the Manawasinghe case but also in other recent cases of alleged medical negligence.

The case of Lt. Col. Mahinda Ratwatte, on which inquiry began in April has now come to a standstill with the hospital involved refusing to make any statement. 

Lt. Col. Ratwatte's case was that of wrong prescription where a doctor in Nawaloka hospital had prescribed Tofranil, a psychiatric drug, instead of Totomal given for hypertension. 

The Health Secretary said failure on the part of the hospital to cooperate with the inquiring officer had resulted in the closure of the inquiry .

Thus, Lt. Col. Ratwatte is proceeding with legal action on his own against the hospital.

The latest allegation was on the death of Kulasena Fonseka, Chief News Editor of the SLBC.His wife giving evidence alleged medical negligence at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital . The Coroner gave an open verdict and put off the case.

Cuts go on but slots change

By Shelani de Silva
Despite heavy rain and an increase in water levels at Hydro power reservoirs, the Ceylon Electricity Board will continue its 90 minute power cuts, an official said yesterday.

The times of the power cut will however be changed- the areas from where it was imposed from 6.45 p.m. to 8.15 p.m. will be switched to the second slot of 8.15 p.m. to 9.45 p.m. while there will be no change for those in the 9.45.p.m. to 11.15 p.m slot.

The official said water levels had gone up from about 20% to 23% with the current rains and the country was saving upto two million units a day through the power cuts but the CEB had decided to continue with the power cuts until the situation improved substantially. He said the power cuts in some areas sometimes went on longer than 90 minutes largely because of some technical reasons.

Family members cry out for justice

Following news reports that Italian fishermen had found the identity card of a Sri Lankan believed to have drowned in the Malta boat tragedy in 1996 where 289 were feared dead, family members have appealed to the Foreign Minister to intervene on their behalf.

In a letter to Lakshaman Kadirgamar family members who have formed a group- Forum For Human Dignity - have requested the minister to contact the Italian Government and get a final list of those feared drowned and survivors if any. 

"We shall be grateful if those who were responsible for the mass murder be accosted and made to pay compensation to the next of kin of the victims," the letter said.

The forum while urging the authorities to take immediate action says the government's failure to investigate the matter so far had caused great distress and anxiety to the relatives.

PM's cry for babes of war

Make love, not war says the old slogan. But Ratnasiri Wikremanayake has a dif ferent approach: make love, to make war. Our tough talking septuagenarian Prime Minister says that Sri Lankans- no, he doesn't say Sinhalese, though you would expect him to- should make more babies for two purposes: to make more manpower available first, to fight the war in the North and East and second to bolster the Buddha Saasana as monks. Now, wait a minute- babies born now will enter the war zone in a minimum of 18 years which means that the war has to go on for that long and Wickre-manayake himself says that the war 'finished off' quicker than that. Then, isn't the Buddha Saasana against the concept of war, anyway? But this is RW speaking, so never mind. 

But to come back to basics, over the past three decades after much hard work, Sri Lanka emerged as a role model in Asia for population control. Its population growth was just over one percent whereas its neighbours averaged two per cent or more. This was one of the significant reasons why the country was able to sustain itself despite the state providing health and education free and economic growth being far from spectacular. 

Those were the days when birth control was a dirty word and sex education was unheard of. It was left to the ingenuity of Anandatissa de Alwis- then in advertising before plunging into full time politics- to coin the word 'Preethi' to try and market a condom to a population which spoke of such things only in hush-hush tones. 

Since then, the 'tikai,hondai' concept caught on and the average Sri Lankan family size was more often than not, two. We did not have to resort to forced sterilizations like Sanjay Gandhi did in India in the seventies but the government did offer a monetary incentive for both males and females opting for permanent methods of sterilization and after a few years, vasectomy was an accepted word in the Lankan lexicon, no longer spoken only in whispers. And now, our PM wants to change all that. He is thinking of offering incentives for larger families. No, there has no official announcement yet about the incentives for sterilization being scrapped and theoretically the state will be offering bonuses for both smaller and larger families- a little silly, to say the least. The question is, do we take the PM seriously? The PM's problem is that until recently, no one took him seriously. Why, unlike most of our former PMs, there isn't even a 'pet name'- like 'Methini', JR, Preme, Dee Bee or CBK to identify to him in a hurry; even his beloved wife Kusum must be calling him 'Babaalage thaaththa', we guess. This can only mean that he is yet to become a political icon of our times. So, is the 'make more babies' call his attempt at procuring a place in the history books? We must suspect it could be, even if it is at the expense of the efforts of meticulous health policy planners. That is if we take our PM seriously. Or else, there is an easier, possibly more realistic option: just ignore him, for he does not know what he is saying. 

A US offer Sri Lanka might just refuse 

Green groups are stridently opposing a United States proposal to swap debt with a program to conserve Sri Lanka's rainforest, accusing the West of trying to control and then spirit away the country's resources. 

"You touch a rainforest and you destroy it," Nihal Fernando, a longtime wildlife photographer and conservationist complained as government politicians were at pains to explain that no deal has been signed with US authorities despite the tempting offer to write off debts. 

At issue is a US government offer, revealed in June, to swap debt owed by Sri Lanka in return for an ongoing global program which supports the country by diverting debt cash to tropical rainforest conservation. 

Under the offer, Sri Lanka would divert the money it owes the US to rainforest protection in a joint US-Sri Lanka project. Sri Lanka's debt was around 1 trillion rupees (US$11 billion) as of March, the bulk of it owed to the US. No estimates were given about the amount that may be involved in the debt swap scheme. 

US embassy officials in Colombo have denied any hidden motives in the proposal, but green groups are not buying the explanation. Mr. Fernando expressed concern about the dangers the proposed debt swap poses to the rich biodiversity of Sinharaja, Sri Lanka's main rainforest in the southern region, if all kinds of "dubious" organizations began implementing projects there. 

Environment Minister Mahinda Wijesekera concedes the government has received a debt swap offer from the US, but says the ministry has no intention of selling or leasing out the country's forests to any other country or institution. 

"There is no such move," he told a meeting of forest officers last week. At the same time, he said, "The decision is a difficult one for Sri Lanka given the country's staggering debt and the opportunity to redeem these liabilities. But on the other hand, we cannot compromise our rich resources without giving due consideration to the possible repercussions these agreements have," he noted. 

For once, environmentalists agree with the minister's view. "To me there are good points and bad points in the proposal," says Hemantha Withanage, an environmental scientist. Mr. Withanage says the proposal could generate much-needed financial resources to protect rainforests. But he is also worried outside agencies will control the forests and steal valuable data on plants, especially medicinal plants that are much sought after by Western drug firms. "Some of the contents of the proposal to the government from the United States has information extracted from a private research study undertaken by a multinational drugs firm in the Sinharaja forest some months ago on medicinal plants," says Withanage. "This shows the connection and this is where I have my doubts. In the long run it would not be beneficial to the country," he adds. 

The US offer was revealed in parliament in June when JVP's Bimal Ratnayake said he had information that the environment ministry has received a letter from the US government recommending the debt swap under a 1998 US Tropical Forest and Conservation Act. 

This law allows nations to convert outstanding debt to funding for local forest programs, explained US Ambassador Ashley Wills, who pooh-poohed any hidden agenda by Washington in it. Wills said the law is beneficial to the host country in many ways, like paying in local currency and not draining foreign reserves, making available scarce funds and employing local people. The host country can also pull out of the program at any time in which case the remaining debt would be transferred back as outstanding debt, he said. 

According to other officials, under this program part of Sri Lanka's natural reserve would come under a management board consisting of the US ambassador and representatives from the government and NGOs. This is one of the issues that worries local environmentalists. Suranjan Kodituwakku, chief organizer of Sri Lanka's Green Movement, says many international NGOs toe the US line in environmental issues. This means they may be of little help since there is no guarantee that they will take into consideration the national interest. EFL's Withanage sees the US debt swap as redemption for being the biggest offender of carbon dioxide emissions. "The US wants to tell the world that it cares for other forests now that it has destroyed forests on its home turf." 

(Inter Press Service)

Imran Khan: Starting democracy on a fresh pitch 

The charismatic cricketer-turned-politician is confident that he is Pakistan's next choice for prime ministership, with more than a little help from a friendly General Pervez Musharraf. 
By Manish Chand
New Delhi: Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is all set to author the destiny of Pakistan, or so he would like to believe. The legendary Pakistani cricketer is more than convinced that "nothing can stop" him from becoming the next prime minister of Pakistan, and a duly elected one at that. "The people of Pakistan want a change, and they see me and my party as the voice of that change," the flamboyant Khan told over telephone from Lahore today. "And nothing, absolutely nothing, can stop me from reaching my goal." 

He is not taking any chances, this time round. With both "pretenders", he says, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, having played out their innings, the time could not have been more propitious for his shot at the top job, and that too on a fresh wicket. As he says wryly, "Well, even in a cricket Test match, you don't get to play more than two innings, and they have had theirs." With a friendly President General Pervez Musharraf looking for a credible civilian as his prime minister, Khan couldn't have asked for a better potential proposition. 

What makes Imran Ahmed Kahn Niazi so sure of his chosen destiny? "The youth of Pakistan," he said laconically, and then went on to elaborate his gut feeling, which, he said, is firmly grounded in electoral arithmetic. "There is a huge churning of support for us, although it's not visible on the surface. But most importantly, what will tilt the balance in our favour is the fresh injection of 15 million young voters (those below 18 years who will be entitled to vote in the October 2002 elections if Musharraf sticks to his deadline) in the next election," said the charismatic cricketer who joined politics as a personal crusade in 1996. "It's this young revolutionary vote that will shake and transform Pakistan's politics for ever," he added.

For his part, Imran Khan is convinced that he is the only credible alternative left in the Pakistani political spectrum. "The people of Pakistan have tried Benazir Bhutto of the PPP and Nawaz Sharif of the PML, but both have turned out to be such disasters that the people's confidence in democracy has been shaken. They are restless for a change and they want to give us that mandate for a change." Unlike professional doomsayers who have written off democracy in Pakistan, Khan is surprisingly upbeat about a fresh run of democracy in the country.

Rape stirs call for US-Japan pact review

TOKYO, Saturday (AFP) - Japanese newspapers today called for a review of an accord governing the presence of US soldiers on Japanese soil after an American airman was arrested on rape charges in Okinawa.

The calls for a review of the Status of Forces Agreement came the day after the US bowed to intense pressure from Japan and agreed to hand over the suspect, Staff Sergeant Timothy Woodland, 24, to Japanese police.

He denies the rape charges.

The strong press reaction to the case underlined the potential for the issue to further strain relations between the two allies."

Civilian Americans would be arrested by Japanese police if they commit serious crimes in Tokyo's entertainment districts, and it is not acceptable that US military personnel would come under the American justice system first," said the influential Asahi Shimbun newspaper in an editorial."

If we were to make the Japan-US alliance truly fruitful, we must not hesitate to review the Status of Forces Agreement, which is a product of the Cold War era," the newspaper said.

Under the Status of Forces Agreement, US commanders do not have to hand over servicemen suspected of crimes until they are indicted by Japanese prosecutors.

However, after the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three US servicemen, Washington agreed to give "sympathetic consideration" to any request by Tokyo for an immediate handover of military personnel suspected of serious crimes such as rape or murder.

Okinawa police obtained an arrest warrant for Woodland on Monday but it took until Friday for the US to comply with the Japanese request, a delay that reflected concern that Woodland's rights would be protected while he was in police custody."

The US government had taken too long to reach its internal consensus" over the issue, said Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily."

It was only natural that calls increased for the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement to clearly include handovers of criminal suspects even before they are indicted," it said in an editorial.

Okinawan newspapers said the United States stance on the issue had angered the local population and reiterated their long-standing demands for a reduction of the US military presence on the island. Okinawa reluctantly hosts 25,200 of the 51,500 US troops in Japan."

We the Okinawans do not think the case is over with the hand over of the suspect," said Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper."

The nearest road to solving Okinawa's problems with US military bases is to hold US-Japan talks on drastically reducing ... the presence of the US military here," it said. "

Unless it happens, similar crimes will be repeated," it said.

Another local paper, the Okinawa Times, agreed."

The Okinawan people were uneased by a lingering question of why criminal suspects receive special treatments if they were US soldiers even when Japanese civilians were victimized in Japanese civilian communities," it said. "

It is only a dream to expect the reduction of crimes and accidents under the 'good neighbor policy' (of the United States military in Okinawa) without solving the (problem of the) concentration of US military forces in Okinawa," it said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka Friday suggested revising the Status of Forces Agreement "to prevent such a crime from happening again."

Tanaka said she had discussed revising the pact with the US Ambassador in Tokyo on Thursday.

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