Millions vote in test for India’s Hindu hard-liner

Updated 13 December 2012
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Millions vote in test for India’s Hindu hard-liner

AHMEDABAD, India: Millions voted Thursday in India’s Gujarat state where Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi is seeking a big win to spur his prime ministerial ambitions, 10 years after religious riots on his watch.
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.


More than 70 countries commit to combat terror financing

Updated 24 min 40 sec ago
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More than 70 countries commit to combat terror financing

  • Participants at an international conference in Paris agreed to “fully criminalize” terror financing
  • The two-day event was convened by French President Emmanuel Macron

PARIS: More than 70 countries committed Thursday to bolster efforts in the fight against terrorism financing associated with Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
Participants at an international conference in Paris agreed to “fully criminalize” terror financing through effective and proportionate sanctions “even in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.”
The two-day event was convened by French President Emmanuel Macron to coordinate efforts to reduce the terror threat in the long-term.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, IMF chief Christine Lagarde, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Abdel Al-Jubeir and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani were all present.
Macron, who has returned to France from a state visit to the United States, is expected to close the conference later with a call for the necessity for multilateral action.
Daniel Lewis, executive secretary of the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force, said he is hoping that words will be put into action.
“When we have information — for example the UN list of individuals and entities financing terrorism — we need to make sure measures like asset freezing are implemented fully and quickly,” Lewis told The Associated Press.
Participants called for better information-sharing between intelligence services, law enforcement, financial businesses and the technology industry. They also agreed to improve the traceability of funds going to non-governmental organizations and charity associations.
Participants included countries that have accused each other of funding terrorism, notably in the Arabian Gulf.
France has pushed for international coordination and more transparency in financial transactions. But it has recognized how sensitive the issue is, and saw the conference as a first step for coordinated action.
The French organizers noted that Daesh military defeats on the ground have not prevented the group from pursuing its terrorist activities, along with Al-Qaeda — especially in unstable regions of Afghanistan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa.
Terror groups don’t only rely on the cash economy — they’re using increasingly hard-to-track tools like prepaid cards, online wallets and crowdfunding operations.
Daesh has also invested in businesses and real estate to ensure its financing. Daesh revenues alone were estimated at $2.5 billion between 2014 and 2016, according to the French president’s office.
Though most of the attacks in Western countries do not cost a lot of money, a French official said terror groups “behave like big organizations” in that it “costs a lot to recruit, train, equip people and spread propaganda.” The official was speaking anonymously under the presidency’s customary practice.
The French counterterrorism prosecutor Francois Molins told FranceInfo radio that Daesh uses micro-financing techniques to collect a great number of small amounts of money.
Work with the financial intelligence unit helped identify 416 people in France who have donated money to Daesh over the last two years, he said.
Money, he said, went to “320 collectors mostly based in Turkey and Lebanon from whom jihadis in Iraq and Syria could receive funds.”
In recent years, the US and other Western nations have encouraged Middle Eastern nations to close off such sources.
However, allegations over extremist funding in part sparked a near-yearlong boycott of Qatar by four Arab states.
Qatar denies funding extremists, though it has faced Western criticism about being lax in enforcing rules.
Participants agreed to hold a similar conference next year in Australia.