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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK

World: South Asia

Congress pledges no nuclear conflict

Congress wants to ensure there is no first use of nuclear weapons

Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi has promised to make South Asia safe from nuclear conflict if her party wins the general election in India.

The BBC's David Chazan reports: "Sonia Gandhi called for greater political stability"
Launching the party's election manifesto at a news conference, she accused the Hindu nationalist BJP of beginning a dangerous nuclear arms race with Pakistan.

Congress says it will agree to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty provided there is progress towards global nuclear disarmament.

"Concrete steps have to be taken to make sure that the nuclear weapons available to India and Pakistan are never used," the party says in its manifesto.

Nuclear concerns

Many countries protested when India and Pakistan carried out nuclear tests last year.

International concern grew when the two countries appeared to be on the brink of war a few months ago over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Congress says it will consider negotiating an agreement with Pakistan that neither country will be the first to use nuclear weapons.

On economic policy, Congress says in its manifesto that it will reduce the fiscal deficit, draft new laws to regulate the capital market and foreign exchange transactions, and introduce financial sector reforms.

It also promised to support a measure setting aside one third of the seats in the national and state legislatures for women, create 10 million jobs each year and stop child labour.

Sonia's brief appearance

Appearing nervous and hesitant, Sonia Gandhi declined to say whether she would become prime minister if the party won.

There has been controversy over her Italian origins.

Several senior Congress members broke away from the party because they said a foreign-born person should be disqualified from becoming prime minister.

She spoke only briefly at the news conference, and appeared irritated by some questions.

Responding to a question about the Bofors arms scandal, she snapped that her late husband, Rajiv, had been "crucified" over the issue.

BBC correspondent David Chazan, reporting from Delhi, says that support for the Hindu nationalist BJP has increased since the confrontation in Kashmir.

The latest polls indicate that India's third election in three years is likely to result in another coalition led by the BJP.

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