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Panday leads from jail

By Sasha Mohammed

Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday, said to be in high spirits, yesterday asked his wife Oma to bring the Ramayan, Qur'an and Bible for him to read while in jail at the Maximum Security Prison, Golden Grove, Arouca.

He was again insistent that no one, under any circumstances whatsoever, should take his bail.

"His main concern is someone will take the bail secretly, and we gave him the assurance that we will not do so," said Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday, after a visit to the Opposition Leader in prison.

Panday was also adamant that while in prison, he would eat the same food that the prisoners ate.

Yesterday, he had wholewheat bread and vegetables for breakfast, while the MPs took him "a lot of water and fruit juices," Persad-Bissessar said.

And, insisting he would be vindicated from "trumped up charges" that were "politically motivated," he sent a message for his supportersó "Tell the people that God does not place a cross on your shoulders which you cannot bear, and to have hope."

Persad-Bissessar, accompanied by Oma Panday and Caroni East MP Ganga Singh, were among the first group of UNC MPs to visit Panday in jail yesterday.

The Opposition Leader was charged on Tuesday with corruptly receiving £25,000 (approximately TT$290,000) as a reward from former UNC Works Minister Carlos John and UNC financier Ish Galbaransingh in December, 1998, for favouring Northern Construction Limited to get the Construction Package 3 in relation to the Piarco Airport Project.

His wife Oma was jointly charged with him, as were John and Galbaransingh, for allegedly paying the bribe.

John and Oma are out on $750,000 bail. Galbaransingh, who is already before the courts on other charges relating to the Airport project, is out on $1 million bail. But Panday, who was arrested at his Charles Street office, has refused bail, which was also set at $750,000.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said she and Singh met with the Opposition Leader yesterday at around 10.15 am, in a room in front of the prison where attorneys met their clients.

This after not being able to see the UNC leader on Tuesday night, when they went to take him personal effects like toiletries and pyjamas, since visiting hours at the jail were from 8 am to 4 pm, she said.

No reason was given to the UNC MPs for transferring Panday from the Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, jail to which he had been originally sent, she said.

Sources said the UNC leader was being kept alone in a cell and was being attended to by senior prison officials only.

"He looked well. He was in good spirits and said he was being treated kindly by the authorities. The prison officials also assured us that they would do their best to ensure his safety," said Persad-Bissessar.

"He asked Mrs Panday to bring him a copy of the Bible, Qur'an and Ramayan and was adamant that he did not want his bail to be taken," she said.

Panday, a heart patient, also takes daily medication for diabetes and hypertension, which is being administered to him by prison officials said Persad-Bissessar. As a diabetic, he also is on a special diet.

"We asked the officers about bringing food but Mr Panday insisted he will eat the food that the prisoners eat," she said.

"The authorities said they cater specially for diabetics, and he will be eating that food,"she said.

She said Panday, who was a lawyer, remained adamant that he would be representing himself before the Magistrates Court when his matter came up on Tuesday.

Apart from reading religious books, Panday is also holding fast to his public promise (made two weeks ago on the platform) that he will run his party from jail.

Sources said that just before being arrested, he quietly told Singh to take charge of the party's operations in his absence.

As Chief Whip, the Caroni East MP normally assumes charge of the party's parliamentary arms while Senator Wade Mark leads the party as chairman in Panday's absence.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Singh said Panday also gave members instructions on how to run the UNC.

"He said to keep up the attack on the PNM, to stay focused on addressing the concerns of the citizenry on the key issues affecting the country, especially healthcare, murders, kidnapping, poverty, unemployment and poverty," said Singh.

These were expected to be addressed on the platform at the UNC's mass political meeting in Gasparillo last night.

Panday was also visited by Fyzabad MP Chandresh Sharma and Senators Robin Montano and Sadiq Baksh in the afternoon.

They were accompanied by a handful of UNC supporters, mostly women, who sat outside the prison while the MPs visited their leader.

Sharma took a wad of letters to Panday, which he said were from UNC supporters.

The party's Rienzi Complex headquarters and Web site have been flooded with telephone calls and e-mails from supporters throughout the region and in New York and the UK since Panday's arrest, he said.

Sharma also claimed:

"We have been told the phone system has been sabotaged by the Government to minimise the UNC supporters from networking but that will not prevent us."

TSTT has said a software upgrade was responsible for its GSM network being down yesterday.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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