Operation on to flush out militants

Kashmir gunbattle

Security personnel point to the place where terrorists are hiding.

Operation by security forces to flush out two militants holed up in a hotel here intensified this morning, even as the death toll in the major terror attack in the heart of the city rose to two with a civilian succumbing to injuries.

The operation launched by police and paramilitary CRPF to neutralise the militants in Hotel Panjab in Lal Chowk which was suspended at around 11 PM yesterday, resumed at 0700 hours today, officials said.

Intermittent firing between the security forces and the militants is continuing, they said.

Meanwhile, one of the eight civilians injured in the incident yesterday succumbed to his wounds this morning at the SHMS hospital, the officials said. One policemen was killed when militants hurled grenades at security forces in Lal Chowk area before they entering the hotel.

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Cold waves in northern India claim 195 lives

The cold waves have disturbed normal life for the sixth consecutive day and the death toll due to the extreme harsh weather is now reported to be over 195.

Around 31 more deaths were reported from the various districts in Uttar Pradesh with Agra recording a temperature of 5.4 degree Celsius, the coldest in the state.

A foggy Thursday morning brought bad news for air travelers in Delhi as round 35 flights have been hit with runway visibility dropping down to barely 50 meters.

The national flights affected are Delhi-Amritsar, Delhi-Leh, Delhi- Bangalore, Jaipur-Mumbai, Delhi-Lucknow, Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Ahmedabad, and Guwahati-Imphal.

Several international flights have also been affected. The international flights coming from Singapore, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, London, Istanbul, Tehran and Beijing along with eight outgoing international flights have been delayed.

Several trains have also been hit due to the foggy weather. Six trains have been cancelled and 46 others have been delayed.

The office of the Meteorological department has warned of a thick fog in the capital from mid-week and there are reports that the foggy weather will continue to cover Delhi for at least four hours on Thursday morning.

Seven more deaths were reported from Bihar taking the death toll in the state to 21.

Earlier on Wednesday, around 157 deaths were reported from across the country.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had on Tuesday ordered all schools to be closed for three days in view of the cold.

Visibility was reduced to a few meters in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi on Thursday morning.

Basu on ventilator, PM going to Kolkata

Former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu was described as “critical” on Wednesday evening. The 96-year-old CPM patriarch who was admitted to AMRI hospital in Salt Lake on New Year’s Day with pneumonia and breathlessness, was put on a ventilator early on Wednesday after his condition worsened.

A medical bulletin released by the hospital at 6 pm said, “Shri Jyoti Basu… was diagnosed with pneumonia. His condition deteriorated today morning and he had to be put upon ventillation. His present condition continued to be critical though he has shown some positive changes since the last bulletin at 11.30 am. The doctors of the medical board are constantly monitoring him. The medical board members will review his condition tomorrow at 11 am and the next medical bulletin will be issued tomorrow at 11.30 am.”

D N Agarwal, executive director of the hospital, however, said Basu was better in the evening than he was in the morning: “He has been on antibiotics. He is still critical… his condition was very serious in the morning but now it is somewhat better,” Agarwal said while releasing the medical bulletin.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to enquire about Basu’s health. The PM is travelling to Kolkata to see Basu tomorrow.

CPM state committee secretary Biman Bose, Bengal ministers Nirupam Sen, Partha Dey and Naren Dey, Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee visited the hospital. Football legend Chuni Goswamy and Bangladesh Deputy High Commissiner Maksud Alam too turned up.

Basu’s son, Chandan Bose, was at the hospital for four hours. A large crowd thronged the hospital gates all day as rumours floated around.

Emerging from the hospital, Biman Bose asked people not to believe anything other than the hospital bulletin. “Nothing has happened… Web sites are coming out with wrong information. Please go by what the doctors say. Do not listen to any rumour,” Bose said.

Mamata Banerjee made a similar appeal: “His medicines have been changed and new antibiotics have been given. Please do not listen to any rumour.”

Intense firing in Lal Chowk as standoff continues

Srinagar, Jan 7 (IANS) An exchange of firing at dawn on Thursday broke the brief lull in Lal Chowk as security forces prepared to launch an assault on the hotel building in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar where two terrorists are holed up.

Firing intensified at the break of dawn as police and CRPF troopers were preparing to launch an assault on the hotel building to neutralize the two holed up militants of the Jamiat-ul-Mujaheedin outfit which claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack in the city centre, the commercial hub of Srinagar started when two terrorists hurled grenades and opened heavy fire from their automatic weapons at paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers guarding a camp Wednesday afternoon.

At least one policeman and one civilian died and nine people were injured.

“We have fully encircled the hotel building to take out the holed up militants,” a senior police officer said.

The security forces suspended the operation as darkness enveloped the area Wednesday evening.

“This is a highly congested area and we don’t want any collateral damage,” the officer added.

Lal Chowk has witnessed several such attacks in the over 20-year-long militancy. It is thronged by thousands of people everyday.

Authorities had a difficult time on Wednesday evacuating the wounded and those trapped in the area.

“The final assault on the hotel building will be launched any time,” the police officer said.

This is the first terrorist attack after two years in the Kashmir valley and has come at a time when the state government has been claiming a sharp decline in violence here.

HC slaps notices on govt on law and order

State High Court on Wednesday slapped notices on the Central and the state governments, besides various political parties on breakdown of law and order situation in the state in the wake of continuous disruptions to public life due to shutdowns.

Ironically, the state remained by and large peaceful on Wednesday. A division bench of the High Court comprising Justice NV Ramana and Justice Ramesh Ranganathan admitted a Public Interest Litigation seeking the court’s intervention into the breakdown of law and order in the state on the Telangana issue. The bench issued notices to the union cabinet secretary, home secretary, state chief secretary, Director General of Police, political parties and Joint Action Committees in the Telangana and coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema region.

The court asked them to reply within two weeks after which the hearing would begin. The petitioner P V Krishnaiah alleged that the law and order in the state had deteriorated and common man was being put to severe inconvenience following frequent bandhs by political parties.

The PIL also sought court’s direction to the union government to constitute a high-power committee to go into the demand for bifurcation of the state.

Chiranjeevi meets Chidambaram

The PRP chief Chiranjeevi met union home minister P Chidambaram this morning. His meeting assumes significance as there have been several attacks on theaters exhibiting films of some heroes and also on unit members of some films.

Chiranjeevi is reported to have sough protection and also explained the apprehensions of the film industry. Chiranjeevi agrees with the statement of chief minister K Rosaiah that if the attacks continue then the film industry may go back to Chennai.

KCR wants statement from Chidambaram

KCR is now put up in Delhi. He is waiting for a statement from Chidambaram on a specific timeframe for the consultation process. While Chidambaram is not willing to commit to a timeframe KCR wants at least some statement from Chidambaram on the issue.

KCR is hoping that Chidambaram will come up with a statement tonight or tomorrow and only then will he come to Hyderabad. Will Chidambaram oblige KCR and come up with some face saving statement?