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Monday, 27 December, 1999, 12:38 GMT
Relatives' fury over hijack 'fiasco'

Relatives of passengers protest outside the prime minister's home

Distraught relatives of the hostages being held on a hijacked Indian Airlines plane have clashed with riot police as they accused the Indian Government of major bungling.

About 70 relatives stormed the crisis management centre in New Delhi.

Relatives in New Delhi Relatives weep after a briefing in New Delhi
Some organised a sit-down protest outside Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's residence.

Mr Vajpayee reportedly invited a group inside for talks.

The hijackers have threatened to start killing the hostages unless India releases an Islamic cleric from jail.

Most of the 160 or so passengers and crew on board the jet are Indian. One man has already been stabbed to death.

We are all like you and the entire nation is with you. The plane is in Kandahar and you know the limitations. We can understand your anger
Civil aviation official Sunil Chopra
Angry relatives shouted down helpless looking officials at a briefing in New Delhi on Monday.

They demanded the government release the Islamic cleric, Maulana Masood Azhar, who has been jailed for supporting Kashmiri separatism.

"Sixty-seven hours have passed and the passengers are almost dead. What more can the terrorists do before the government decides to take any action?" asked Anil Kumar, whose brother is on the plane.

Another anguished relative said: "I wish some of the senior ministers' sons and daughters were in the plane. Then they would probably have taken some action."

In 1989 the kidnapped daughter of then Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was freed in exchange for the release of four Kashmiri militants.


The hijackers seized the Airbus A-300 between Kathmandu and Delhi on Friday.

The All India Anti-Terrorist Front The All India Anti-Terrorist Front blames Nepalese security
The plane subsequently stopped in Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai before landing in Afghanistan on Saturday.

India has now despatched a negotiating team. But relatives are furious it has taken four days for Delhi to act.

"What are they waiting for?'' said one relative. ''We are almost on the point of breaking down. Our people are in the middle of terrorists and we can't still take any decision."


The Indian press also heavily criticised the government for allowing the plane to leave Amritsar on Friday without making any attempt to rescue the hostages during the time the aircraft was on the tarmac.

Rachna Katyal Rachna Katyal's husband was killed by the hijackers
"Not once in all those 39 minutes was any attempt made to try and open a channel of communication with the hijackers,'' the Indian Express said in an editorial.

''Not once in all those 39 minutes was any attempt made to utilise the services of the country's exclusive Special Action Group.''

Analyst Brahma Chellaney wrote in The Hindustan Times that "one bungle led to several stumbles''.

''The Amritsar fiasco compelled India to communicate with two regimes it has conscientiously stayed away from - the military junta in Islamabad and the thuggish, Pakistan-backed Taleban in Afghanistan," he added.

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See also:
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Profile: Maulana Masood Azhar
26 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Despair and delight in Delhi
26 Dec 99 |  South Asia
In pictures: The Indian Airlines hijack
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Chronology of a hijack
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hijacked plane lands in Afghanistan
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Airport ordeal for relatives

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