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Sonia Gandhi irked by criticism of Indian PM

- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NEW DELHI (AP) - The leader of India's ruling Congress Party accused the opposition of unfairly targeting the prime minister in a telecoms scandal that cost the country billions and has paralyzed Parliament.

Sonia Gandhi described Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as being "100 percent above board" and said it was shameful that his integrity was being targeted.

Singh _ an economist widely seen as India's most honest politician _ was pulled into the scandal last week when the Supreme Court criticized him as being slow to investigate irregularities in the issuing of cellular licenses in 2008.

The court held proceedings for a second day Wednesday to hear Singh's explanation for his delayed reaction and opposition demands for prosecuting former Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja.

The Central Bureau of Investigation is probing the sale two years ago of second-generation, or 2G, cellular licenses in a bewildering process that raised eyebrows even at the time. India netted 124 billion rupees ($2.7 billion), an amount that seemed absurdly low after an auction of 3G licenses this May raised 677 billion rupees ($14.6 billion).

The state auditor said last week the sale was arbitrarily and unfairly run and cost the government as much as $36 billion. Raja resigned this month but denies wrongdoing.

There has been no suggestion that Singh benefited personally from the scandal, but the Hindu nationalist opposition has since paralyzed Parliament with demands for independent inquiries.

Gandhi, in a rare news conference given outside her home in New Delhi, lambasted the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party for turning the corruption case into an opportunity to trash Singh's reputation.

She said the opposition also went after Singh during the 2009 election campaign. "What happened, they lost," she said. "The prime minister won. That should be a lesson for the opposition."

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