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Indian trucker charged in plane hijacking

By AJAY BHARADWAJ

AMRITSAR, India -- An unemployed trucker was charged Sunday with hijacking a domestic airliner carrying 203 people to protest what he called the 'crimes' of Indian politicians.

Hari Singh, 37, forced an Indian Airlines Airbus 300 to fly Saturday to neighboring Pakistan in an incident that ended peacefully after Pakistan refused to admit him and Indian police allowed him to address the news media.

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Singh was charged with sedition, plotting a hijacking conspiracy and attempted murder, said a police spokesman in this Sikh holy city of Amritsar, where Singh surrendered after several hours of negotiations.

The hijacker, claiming he had strapped explosives to his body, had threatened during the negotiations to blow up the Airbus if the commandos surrounding the aircraft in Amritsar tried to storm it.

'I am a live human bomb,' he reportedly told the Amritsar airport control tower.

Police said, however, they found no explosives or guns when Singh surrendered.

Singh also had demanded before he surrendered that he be given a 40- day period of political asylum in Muslim-dominated Pakistan and also demanded the right to hold a news conference in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

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He instead was allowed to hold an impromptu news conference on the Amritsar airport runway as part of his surrender deal with police.

The hijacker, a Hindu with two children, said he commandeered the plane to protest corruption in India's ruling Congress party and rising sectarian violence in India.

Singh, described as an unemployed trucker, was wearing an Indian- style dress, with portraits of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and other Indian politicians sketched on his long flowing shirt.

'He was carrying a 31-page manuscript that expressed his disenchantment with Indian politics and his political philosophy,' said Punjab police chief K.P.S. Gill, to whom Singh surrendered.

All the freed passengers, including five foreigners, were flown from Amritsar to New Delhi aboard two special aircraft.

'It was quite frightening to undergo this kind of ordeal,' said a British passenger who gave his name only as Frinckley.

The plane, with 189 other passengers and 13 crew members, was hijacked while on a morning flight from New Delhi to the southern Indian cities of Hyderabad and Madras.

The pilot was forced to reverse course and fly northwest to Pakistan. After hovering over Lahore airport for more than 20 minutes, the plane was ordered to leave Pakistani airspace, the Indian civil aviation ministry said.

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The jetliner then landed in nearby Amritsar without assistance from the local airport control tower because it was running low on fuel, a ministry spokesman said.

The airport at Amritsar, seat of the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, is operated by the Indian Air Force.

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