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 Hostages swapped for three militants
The week-long hostage crisis ended today when the Vajpayee Government agreed to release (at least) three hardcore ``Kashmiri'' terrorists in exchange for the freedom of 155 Indian passengers and the crew members of the hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft. All the hostages returned home late tonight from Kandahar to freedom and the new millennium - and, to an emotional reunion with their loved ones at the Palam airport.

 Hijackers headed for Kashmir?
As the terrorists-for-hostages deal was implemented without an apparent hitch this evening at the Kandahar airport, the hijackers of the Indian Airlines airbus, along with the released militants, were expected to ``go to Kashmir'' via Pakistan. ``They (the hijackers) claim to be Kashmiris. Let them go to Kashmir,'' Mullah Omar, Taliban Amir-ul-Momineen, was quoted as telling Mr. Rahimullah Yusufzai, Peshawar-based correspondent of The News.

'Setback to India'
``It is a major defeat for the Government of India,'' the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, told TheHindu in response to the information that New Delhi had decided to release three militants in exchange for the freedom of hostages. The Maulana, who ``condemned'' the hijacking incident, however, said the Indian Government had suffered a major ``setback''. Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the militants released in exchange for the hostages, was linked to the Harkat-ul-Ansar, previous identity of the Harkat-ul- Mujahideen.

Hijackers kill colleague
Hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane, killed one of their colleagues during the week-long drama, diplomats quoted freed passengers as saying today.

Yeltsin resigns, Putin takes over
In a bombshell decision, Russia's President, Mr. Boris Yeltsin, resigned today, six months ahead of his Constitutional term, appointing the Prime Minister, Mr. Vladimir Putin, as Acting President and urging Russians to vote for him in early presidential elections. ``Today, on the last day of outgoing century, I am resigning,'' Mr. Yeltsin said in a televised address to the nation. The Kremlin press service said Mr. Yeltsin had signed the resignation decree, effective 12-00 Moscow time on Dec. 31, in the presence of the Russian Patriarch, who blessed Mr. Putin to take over the reigns of power.

New millennium ushered in
This tiny uninhabited place in the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean nation of Kiribati became the first land mass to usher in the new millennium. A colourful pageant marked the event with visitors singing and dancing in skirts and headgears.

BJP's 'hard state' line takes a beating
The biggest casualty in the hijack crisis has perhaps been the boast of the Vajpayee Government that it would never compromise national interests no matter where the pressure came from. In fact, the Bharatiya Janata Party has over the years been very careful to build its image around the keyword - ``nationalism'' - and has projected itself as a proponent of a hard state.

Hijackers threatened to kill, also cracked jokes
The hijackers threatened the passengers with death sometimes and at times cracked jokes. As the ordeal ended for the 155 passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane, some of them, exhausted from the mental and physical trauma, reminisced the agonising eight days in captivity.

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