Pressure on Kenyan opposition to concede defeat

Opposition leader Raila Odinga speaks during a rally in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 13 August 2017
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Pressure on Kenyan opposition to concede defeat

NAIROBI: Kenya remained largely quiet on Sunday following violence in the aftermath of elections, as opposition leader Raila Odinga came under growing international pressure to concede defeat.
The election commission on Friday declared incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta winner of the presidential poll by 1.4 million votes. International observers said Tuesday’s election was largely fair but Odinga disputes the results, saying it was rigged. He has not provided documentary evidence.
There have been at least 24 deaths in election-related unrest, a rights group said on Saturday. But by Sunday the violence appeared to have largely abated, to the relief of Kenyans who feared a repeat of the violence that followed 2007’s disputed election.
Around 1,200 people were killed then and 600,000 displaced after Odinga called for political protests that sparked ethnic violence. Regional trade was paralyzed and Kenya’s economy — the region’s biggest — took years to recover.
This time, diplomats and regional leaders are urging Odinga, a former political prisoner, to concede. Their united stance leaves the 72-year-old opposition leader isolated if he chooses to maintain the allegations of election fraud and proclaim himself president.
He has not issued a public statement since Thursday but is due to address supporters in Nairobi’s biggest slum on Sunday afternoon. Party leaders speaking on his behalf continue to accuse the government of vote-rigging and covering up the murder of their supporters. Kenya’s allies say the election was largely fair.
“I want to congratulate Uhuru Kenyatta,” said a Sunday statement by Federica Mogherini, foreign minister for the EU, which did over $3 billion worth of trade with Kenya last year.
“In line with the African Union, the EU expects the opposition to respect the results and to use legal means available for appeals and complaints.”
A Western diplomat said allies were not interested in revisiting the type of power-sharing deals that ended the post-election violence a decade ago. That avenue was “not an option,” he said.
“If you have evidence that the election was rigged, produce it ... NASA has been changing its position in quite significant ways in the past week,” he said, referring to Odinga’s opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance.
“Most of the stuff they are alleging is not accurate.”
Initially, the coalition alleged the electoral server had been hacked, and produced 50 pages of computer logs that security experts said were inconclusive at best.
They later said a secret source within the electoral board had passed them the true election results. That two-page document was debunked by the election commission, who pointed out basic mathematical errors.
Later, Odinga said paper forms from each polling station scanned and uploaded to the election commission website to support its electronic tally were fake. He has not produced alternative forms.
Regional leaders have already congratulated Kenyatta, the 55-year-old son of the country’s first president, on winning a second term.
“Congratulations my brother @UKenyatta for a successful election and the trust Kenyans have placed in you!” tweeted Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda have also sent congratulations.
There were some clashes between Odinga supporters and police on Saturday. Hospitals and morgues reported no new deaths.
In Kisumu, the western city that is Odinga’s heartland of support, some shops opened on Sunday and traffic was moving normally.
“Kisumu is calm ... for now the whole region is calm and we are happy,” Leonard Katana, assistant inspector general of police for the western Nyanza region.


India scraps tax on sanitary pads in boost for girls’ education

Updated 21 July 2018
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India scraps tax on sanitary pads in boost for girls’ education

  • Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in India where 80% of women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
  • Sanitary pads were taxed at 12 percent under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was launched in July 2017.

NEW DELHI: India scrapped a controversial tax on sanitary pads on Saturday, a move hailed by campaigners who say it will help more girls to go to school during their periods and boost their job prospects.
Activists say removing the tax on pads tackles one of the biggest barriers to education for girls, who are often forced to stay at home due to a lack of access to clean hygiene products, while also facing stigma and a lack of toilets in schools.
Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in a country where four out of five women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
“I am sure all mothers and sisters will be very happy to hear that sanitary pads are now 100 percent exempt from tax,” India’s interim finance minister, Piyush Goyal, told reporters at a news conference in New Delhi.
Sanitary pads were taxed at 12 percent under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was launched in July 2017.
The decision triggered protests, petitions and court cases that questioned why the government taxed pads as a luxury rather than an essential item, such as condoms, which are tax-free.
Last year, lawmaker Sushmita Dev launched a petition to demand a reduction or total removal of taxes on pads, citing that about 70 percent of women in India could not afford them.
The online petition gained more than 400,000 signatures.
“This was a most-awaited and necessary step to help girls and women to stay in school, their jobs, to practice proper menstrual hygiene,” said Surbhi Singh, founder of Sachhi Saheli, a charity that raises awareness on menstrual health.
“This will help them to grow, to show their true potential,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Indian girls and women face many challenges when they have their periods, especially in rural areas where a lack of awareness and the cost of pads mean many instead use unsanitary cloth or rags, increasing the risk of infections and disease.
Bollywood’s first film on menstrual hygiene “Padman,” starring Akshay Kumar — one of Hindi cinema’s most popular action heroes — triggered debate over the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene in India after its release earlier this year.
Kumar is at the forefront of a campaign by Niine Movement, an initiative promoting menstrual hygiene, to help increase the number of women using pads.
Amar Tulsiyan, founder of Niine Movement, called Saturday’s decision “a big win for everyone” in India, where, he said, 82 percent women and girls have no access to sanitary pads.
“The tax exemption is a massive boost,” he said.
More than a third of girls in South Asia miss school during their periods, as they lack access to toilets or pads, and many receive no education about menstruation before reaching puberty, according to a recent report by charity WaterAid and UNICEF.