Modi seeks another win in Gujarat elections

Updated 13 December 2012
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Modi seeks another win in Gujarat elections

AHMEDABAD, India: Millions voted yesterday in India’s Gujarat state where Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi is expecting another win, 10 years after anti-Muslim riots on his watch.
Crowds thronged polling stations in the first of two rounds of voting in the western state, one of India’s fastest developing regions that has been run since 2001 by Chief Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Polling officials said over 10 million people out of the 38-million-strong electorate had cast their ballots in the first seven hours, amid reports that many more were still queuing up at voting centers.
“It is a BJP storm in Gujarat,” Modi announced at an election rally in the state’s Siddhpur region. “Wherever there is voting, records of all previous polls have been broken,” he told cheering supporters.
Modi, who has secured thumping victories in the last two polls, is looking to secure another sizeable majority for the BJP to bolster his reputation.
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.
Modi’s links to some of the worst sectarian violence in post-independence India make him a hate-figure for many Muslims and secularists.
He is blamed by some rights groups for turning a blind eye to the unrest in which as many as 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
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 Dec. 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 which are labeled “vulnerable” to violence — the state home department said.
On Wednesday, Modi 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.


Teary-eyed, hundreds search through rubble in devastated Philippines city

Updated 25 min 27 sec ago
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Teary-eyed, hundreds search through rubble in devastated Philippines city

  • Daesh militants seized parts of the Muslim city of 200,000 people in May 2017, prompting massive evacuations
  • Damage to property was estimated at $211 million after government troops fought for five months to retake the city

MARAWI, Philippines: Surrounded by the ruins of homes they fled nearly a year ago, many residents of war-torn Marawi City in the Philippines were in tears when they briefly returned this week and sifted through rubble to salvage any possessions they could find.
The Muslim-majority city of 200,000 was over-run by militants loyal to the Daesh group last May, who fought the military for five months before they were ousted. After almost daily aerial bombardments and artillery fire, large parts of the picturesque, lakeside city have been devastated.
Hundreds of residents who had fled to refugee camps or to relatives’ homes in nearby towns were briefly allowed back by authorities to the ruins of the central business district on Thursday.
Calim Ali, 50, stepped out of her vehicle to find a ruined, empty plot where her home had stood in the bustling heart of the city. The only possession she could recover was a charred weighing scale that she said her family used in their fruit and rice business.
“I brought empty sacks. I thought we would still find something, like pots, and our money box,” Ali said, while her husband searched through the thick vegetation growing in the rubble.
Ali’s family is among about 27,000 others that lived in the main battle area, straddling over 24 barangays, or municipal districts. The area has remained off limits until this month, when the military said it had cleared it of hazards like booby traps and unexploded ordnance.
No civilian was permitted to stay in the area after 3 p.m. on Thursday, and the rule will remain in place on other days when visits are permitted, officials said.
There are 20 other barangays in the city which were not affected, and 50 others which were spared heavy shelling. Families have moved back to these areas.
There seems no chance of any early return for the residents of the city center.
Most buildings are in ruins and there is no food, electricity or any sewage facilities. Authorities say the area will take years to rebuild.
Meanwhile, posters showing residents how to recognize live mortar shells, grenades, aircraft rockets and improvised explosive devices were put up on every street, to remind the people to be careful as they sifted through the ruins.
Soldiers manning the area on Thursday ordered a group of residents scouring debris to quickly leave one of the streets after they found an unexploded bomb, which they detonated.

“Hurts so much"
“I’m at a loss for words,” Aisah Riga, 54, told Reuters, wiping away tears as she and her family rummaged through debris to find anything of use from what used to be their glass and aluminum supply store.
“This is our only source of livelihood and now it’s gone. I don’t know how we will survive. I have nine children,” she said.
Sobaidah Moner, 43, was waiting for the military to let the long line of vehicles into the main battle area as she recounted the day she and her family hurriedly left the city a day after fighting broke out on May 23.
“We were not able to bring anything except for the clothes we were wearing that day. All the clothes we are wearing right now were given to us by relatives,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Like Moner, several residents who spoke to Reuters said they abandoned their belongings and only brought clothes for a few days when they sought safety in nearby towns, thinking that the gunbattle, which was not uncommon in Marawi, would soon be over.
“I thought the fighting would be over in three days. We didn’t expect this. It hurts so much,” Moner said.
Residents said they are pinning their hopes on the government’s promise to rehabilitate and rebuild the city. But the extent of damage, estimated at 11 billion pesos ($211 million) means it would take years of work to reconstruct Marawi.
“The most affected area has its own development plan which is expected to be finished by 2021,” said Felix Castro, housing assistant secretary, and field office manager of an inter-agency government task force named “Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi).”
A Chinese-led consortium, also called Bangon Marawi, has been chosen for the reconstruction, but other bidders would be asked to compete and it will be allowed to match the best proposal, Castro said.
Rehabilitation work is scheduled to start in June, he said.
For now however, the once-bustling center of the city is lifeless.
“Before you could hear the sound of cars, and anything you wanted to buy was available. But now that we are here, there’s only silence,” said Jalil Solaiman, a 39-year-old resident.