Indian prime minister on defensive over WikiLeaks

AP News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2011 8:57 AM
Indian prime minister on defensive over WikiLeaks

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took to the floor of both houses of Parliament on Wednesday to defend himself and his party from a growing furor over a WikiLeaks cable alleging government corruption.

Opposition politicians spent hours in Parliament harshly criticizing Singh on Wednesday, a week after publication of the cable accusing the ruling Congress party of bribing lawmakers $2.5 million each for their support of a crucial 2008 nuclear deal with the United States.

The cable said a party functionary showed a U.S. Embassy official two cases full of cash to be used to bribe lawmakers.

"It's a case of parliamentary piracy because some members were hijacked. The suspicion is that an organized group of political gangsters were at work," said Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta.

Singh told the upper house of Parliament that no one from the government or the ruling party bribed lawmakers during the vote.

"We have not been involved in any such transactions, and we have not authorized anyone to indulge in such transactions," he told the raucous lawmakers.

Earlier, he chastised the lower house for lending credence to the leaked cable.

"The nation and the country and this august Parliament should reflect as to what we are doing to ourselves," he said.

Singh's government has been hit by a series of corruption scandals in recent months related to the selling of mobile phone spectrum and the conduct of last year's Commonwealth Games.

While there is little danger Singh's government could collapse, the scandals have tarnished India's image and dominated the campaign for upcoming state elections.

The 2008 nuclear deal ended the country's nuclear isolation following its development of nuclear weapons. The agreement calls for opening India's civilian reactors to international inspections in exchange for nuclear fuel and technology that India had been denied for its refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.