Millions vote in test for India’s Hindu hard-liner
Millions vote in test for India’s Hindu hard-liner
Crowds ignored the December chill to head to polling stations in the first of two rounds of voting in the western coastal state, one of the fastest developing regions of India that has been run by chief minister Modi since 2001.
“A vote is foundation of a strong and vibrant democracy,” the 62-year-old wrote on his Twitter account.
Election watchdog officials said almost 3.5 million people out of the 38-million-strong electorate had cast their ballots in the first three hours.
Modi, who has secured thumping victories in the last two polls, is looking to secure another sizeable majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to bolster his reputation, which was stained by religious riots in Gujarat in 2002.
Though he has never declared his ambition to be prime minister, his desire for the top spot in his party is an open secret and he is widely thought to be angling to lead the BJP into national elections due in 2014.
His main rival in Gujarat is the left-leaning Congress party, which runs the federal government and is dominated by the Gandhi dynasty which has run India for most of its post-independence history.
Rahul Gandhi, the next-in-line who might face Modi in the 2014 national polls, has campaigned locally where he accused his rival of being autocratic and ignoring the poor in the home state of late independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.
“He wants to hear only his own voice. He has his dream and he thinks only about his own dream,” Gandhi told supporters on Tuesday.
The final phase of the balloting is scheduled for December 17 with counting to take place three days later.
Some 100,000 security personnel including federal troopers are on duty at around 45,000 polling stations — some 17,000 of them labelled “vulnerable” to violence, the state home department said.
Modi’s links to some of the worst sectarian violence in post-independence India make him a hate-figure for many Muslims and secularists and his rise to the top of the BJP would be controversial.
On Wednesday, he was back in the headlines after claiming the federal government was set to “hand over” a disputed strip of water in Gujarat to neighbor Pakistan.
“I would earnestly request you to stop this dialogue with Pakistan at once and Sir Creek should not be handed over to Pakistan,” Modi wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, released by his party.
Singh, who has pushed a peace dialogue with Pakistan as a means to reduce tension in nuclear-armed South Asia, countered that the letter was a “mischievous” and “baseless” stunt ahead of the election.
Modi is blamed by rights groups for turning a blind eye to the violence in Gujarat in 2002 which saw as many as 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, killed.
The son of a foodstall owner, who rose through the ranks of hard-line grassroots Hindu groups, Modi has always denied any wrongdoing in the riots and has never been convicted over the violence.
“Gujarat is progressing because we have peace, unity and compassion here,” Modi told AFP in an interview in October.
On the campaign trail, he has targeted the corruption-plagued federal government Delhi and the heads of the ruling Congress party, particularly the Italian-born leader Sonia Gandhi, who he portrays as out-of-touch and foreign.
A string of interviews with the foreign media has helped raise chief minister Modi’s profile abroad, while his embrace of Twitter and YouTube has widened his appeal to Gujarat’s overwhelmingly young electorate.
Protests across Spain as sexual abuse gang released on bail
- All five, aged between 27 and 29, were convicted of sexual abuse in April but were acquitted of the more serious crime of sexual assault
- Thousands of people had already protested in Pamplona, Bilbao, Barcelona and other cities on Thursday after the court issued its ruling
MADRID: Protesters hit the streets across Spain for the second day running on Friday, after five men sentenced to nine years in prison for sexually abusing a young woman at Pamplona’s bull-running festival were released on bail.
The men, who called themselves “The Pack” in a WhatsApp messaging group, had been accused of raping a woman, then 18, on July 7, 2016, at the start of the week-long San Fermin festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors.
All five, aged between 27 and 29, were convicted of sexual abuse in April but were acquitted of the more serious crime of sexual assault — which includes rape — as the court did not consider the victim to have been subjected to intimidation or violence.
The men appealed their jail terms and a Pamplona court on Thursday ordered the five to be released on bail of 6,000 euros ($7,000) pending the outcome of the appeal.
Thousands of people of all ages demonstrated outside the justice ministry in central Madrid on Friday evening, shortly after the five men left jail after spending nearly two years in custody.
“I was stunned” by the court ruling, Aratz Beranoaguirre, a geologist, told AFP at the Madrid protest.
“Men have been educated with the idea that we can do anything, and with this ruling we have seen that you can rape and nothing happens.”
The crowd chanted: “They don’t believe us if they don’t kill us.”
Other protests were held in the southern city of Seville, the hometown of the five men, Pamplona — where the crowd held a large banner that read: “No is no. Justice!” outside of city hall — Granada, and elsewhere.
Thousands of people had already protested in Pamplona, Bilbao, Barcelona and other cities on Thursday after the court issued its ruling.
Women’s groups took to social media to call the protests with the slogan: “If the pack hits the streets, we will as well.”
Marches after the verdict in April brought tens of thousands of protesters out on to the streets.
“It is not fair that they are released with a sentence of nine years, and just a few days before San Fermin, they can even go there,” said Lucia Rodriguez, a 60-year-old protester in Madrid, referring to the upcoming running of the bulls festival which gets underway on July 6.
In its decision on Friday, the Navarre court said the five had been allowed out on bail because the social pressure on them made it “practically unthinkable” they would risk re-offending.
The men will remain under judicial monitoring. They have had their passports withdrawn and must report to court three times a week.
They are also banned from traveling to Madrid, where the victim lives.
One of the men is a policeman with the Guardia Civil — who is currently suspended — and another was once in the army. Several are “ultras” or hardcore fans of FC Sevilla.
The fact that the men videoed the attack on their smartphones and bragged about it within their WhatsApp group added to the outrage over the case.
The mayor of Pamplona, Joseba Asiron, said Friday his office would appeal the decision to release them, saying there was “a growing distance... between society itself and certain decisions taken by the courts.”
An online petition calling for the five to be kept behind bars had garnered 657,000 names by Friday night.
New socialist Justice Minister Dolores Delgado has not commented on the court decision, speaking only of a need to “change mentalities.”
The first step announced by the government of Pedro Sanchez, who took office earlier this month at the head of cabinet that includes 11 women, was to train magistrates in awareness about violence against women.
Noelia Garcia, 41, said she did not trust that the situation would change with a new government dominated by women.
“That is not enough. There needs to be a reform of the judicial system. Judges from another era need to be replaced,” she added at the Madrid protest.