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F-16s arrive for joint Indo-US exercise
November 04, 2005 21:00 IST
The stage is all set for the joint Indo-US air exercise from Monday with the arrival of F-16 aircraft at Kalaikunda airbase in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal amid demonstrations by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) activists against the event.
The Indian Air Force, undeterred by the demonstrations, remained busy with its preparations for holding joint exercise with the Americans, titled COPE- 05, from November seven.
"The 250-strong American Air Force contingent, led by Colonel Cobat Nelson, with an F-16 fighter aircraft squadron has reached Kalaikunda from Miswa Air Base in Japan. The custom clearance of the US contingent has been completed," an IAF spokesman said on Friday.
A US Air Force spokesman also confirmed in Kolkata that 12 F-16 aircraft had already reached the Kalaikunda airbase.
The CPI(M) has reiterated its decision to go ahead with the agitational programmes against the joint air exercise.
"What is happening is wrong and we will continue to protest," West Bengal Chief Minister and politburo member Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said.
Party's state unit secretary Anil Biswas described the joint exercise as a "threat to the country's security and sovereignty" and said that the party would go ahead with its peaceful agitational programmes in front of the airports, besides the Kalaikunda airbase and the American Centre on November seven.
In New Delhi, the Union Cabinet decided to go ahead with joint exercise despite the protest by the Left parties.
Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who had a telephonic discussions with Buddhadeb and other CPI(M) leaders, said the problems had been resolved.
The Left parties had the right to organise peaceful demonstration, Mukherjee observed.
Biswas, however, denied that the matter had been resolved.
"How can the matter be resolved? We will continue to protest if UPA does not change its policy of appeasing the US," he said.
As per the agitational programme, Biswas will lead the demonstration in front of the American Centre in Kolkata, while Left Front Chairman Biman Bose would be present during the agitation in front of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport on November seven.
Meanwhile, two US Air Force aircraft landed at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport with engineers and pilots for the Kalaikunda joint exercise.
The airport was turned into a virtual fortress as two mammoth DC-10 aircraft from Misawa, Japan, with US pilots, engineers and various equipment landed.
Airport sources said, while the first plane landed at around 01:30 PM, the second one landed at 01:40 PM.
Soon after the arrival of the two aircraft, CPI(M) activists, led by party's MP from Dum Dum Amitava Nandy, staged a demonstration in front of the international terminal.
The demonstration was peaceful with the agitators carrying placards and shouting slogans against the joint exercise.
The CITU, the trade union wing of the CPI(M), had also decided to organise protest rallies in front of NSCBI and Bagdogra airports and the Kalaikunda airbase against the joint air exercise to be held between November 7 and 19.
"The joint exercise is dangerous for our country as it will hamper the country's independent defence mechanism," Centre of Indian Trade Unions general Secretary Kali Ghosh said.