India goes on high security alert ahead of mega polls

There are 900 million eligible voters in India. (AFP)
Updated 10 April 2019
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India goes on high security alert ahead of mega polls

  • Around 80,000 soldiers, police and paramilitaries will be patrolling Chhattisgarh state
  • Indian Election Commission organizes one of the world’s biggest democratic elections

NEW DELHI: India went on high security alert Wednesday ahead of the start of its marathon election, after a campaign dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership that has focused on keeping the country safe from attack.
A bomb blast Tuesday blamed on Maoist rebels killed five people, including a lawmaker campaigning for Modi, heightened fears of election bloodshed.
Some 80,000 troops, police and paramilitaries will be deployed in troubled Chhattisgarh state — where the attack was carried out — when voting starts Thursday, state police chief D.M Awasthi said.
Maoist rebels are behind many of the long-simmering insurgencies in at least nine Indian states.
But the Election Commission, which organizes the world’s biggest democratic election with 900 million eligible voters choosing 543 MPs, insisted the attack would not change its schedule.
Seats in 20 states will be decided on the first of seven days of voting spread over six weeks.
Modi’s right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a second term, defending a landslide win over the opposition Congress party in 2014. The result is predicted to be close however.
Chhattisgarh is among sensitive states where polling is staggered over several weeks so security and administrative staff can be moved around.
The killing of a local leader of a Hindu nationalist group in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday reinforced fears of trouble during voting. Parts of Kashmir will also vote on Thursday.
Gunmen burst into a Jammu hospital and shot dead the regional leader of the right wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is closely linked to Modi’s party.
Tensions also simmered in the eastern state of Odisha where two land mines were recovered by patrols, and in nearby Bihar where two roadside bombs were detonated.
Kashmir hit the headlines ahead of the election after 40 paramilitaries were killed in a suicide attack in February.
India blamed the attack on a Pakistan-based group and launched a cross-border air raid, which sparked a retaliatory strike by Pakistan that briefly brought the rivals close to a new war.
Modi has used India’s action against Pakistan to bolster his strongman image and divert attention from criticism over a lack of jobs across the country and a farmers’ debt crisis.
At a rally on Tuesday, Modi urged first-time voters to dedicate their ballot to the military who staged the air strike inside Pakistan.
Congress said the speech breached an Election Commission order that political parties should not use the armed forces for propaganda.
A biopic of the prime minister has also caused controversy, with the opposition Congress party waging a legal battle to prevent the showing of what it has called unfair propaganda.
The film however was given a censors’ certificate earlier in the week after the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal, and will be released on Thursday.
“We are very happy that we got the ‘U’ (universal) certificate from the Censor Board,” producer Sandeep Ssingh said in a statement.
Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, said the flattering portrayal of Modi would give an unfair advantage to his Hindu nationalist BJP.
The producers of two TV series were given warning notices by the Election Commission for promoting Modi’s pet schemes through their shows, PTI reported.
Under Indian election law, during the 48 hours before a state votes, the publication of any content deemed as campaigning — including adverts, films and even social media — requires Election Commission approval.
Gandhi, scion of India’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, filed his nomination papers Wednesday following a roadshow in his home constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
Amethi goes to the polls on May 6. The last vote is on May 19 and the results will be announced on May 23.
Various opinion polls have indicated an alliance led by Modi’s BJP will win up to 273 of the 543 parliament seats at stake, just one more than the required majority.


4 shot, 2 arrested at Raptors rally in Toronto: Police

Updated 21 min 4 sec ago
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4 shot, 2 arrested at Raptors rally in Toronto: Police

TORONTO: Four people were shot and wounded at a rally Monday for the NBA champion Raptors, and two people were arrested “with firearms,” police said.
Droves of Raptors fans ran from the shooting in a stampede from the City Hall square, which was packed with tens of thousands of people. A million or more fans earlier packed downtown Toronto for a parade for the Raptors, raising concerns about safety and overcrowding.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said four people suffered gunshot wounds but said none of the injuries were life-threatening. Others suffered minor injuries as they tried to get away from the shooting, said Saunders, who asked for witnesses and people who might have video to come forward and help investigators.
“We do have people arrested with firearms and that’s the start of the investigation,” Saunders said.
Asked if it was a targeted shooting or terrorism-related, police spokeswoman Allison Sparkes said the investigation was ongoing.
During a speech from one of the team owners, the host of the rally interrupted the proceedings to alert the crowd to an emergency and asked for calm. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Toronto Mayor John Tory, NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and other players were among those on stage at the time.
“I want to make sure everyone stays calm,” said the host, sportscaster Matt Devlin. “This is serious. Everyone stay calm ... There is an emergency being dealt with.”
Those on stage remained in place and speeches resumed shortly after.
Andrew Singh said he heard what appeared to be gunshots and that a woman was wounded before people started scrambling.
“We just saw the girl drop to the floor and the guy running off,” the 29-year-old said. “All I heard was, ‘bop bop bop.’“
Mike Mudidi said he was enjoying the celebrations when he heard screams behind him that someone had pulled out a gun. He said he froze as people started running in all directions.
“I just grabbed my buddies’ hands and ran,” he said.
Raptors fan Phil D’Souza said the violence left a bad taste in his mouth, and he questioned whether he would attend a similar event in the future.
“You couldn’t see the shooter but it was that kind of chaos where you’re just expecting to see somebody coming around the corner. It was that kind of vibe,” D’Souza said.
Another fan said the stampede was scary.
“When you see a bunch of people coming at you, you don’t know what to do, whether to run or not. You don’t want to get stampeded over,” Sam Sunday said.
Trudeau’s spokeswoman declined to comment on the shooting near the prime minister.
“We never comment on matters relating to the PM’s security,” Eleanore Catenaro said.
Tory, the mayor, thanked police for their quick response and said he was angered by the shooting.
“It is disappointing and I’m sure a source of anger for more than just me that anyone would carry a gun and discharge it at what was otherwise a joyous celebration,” Tory said in a statement. “I hope those found responsible will be held to account to the full extent that the law permits. I want to commend and thank the millions of other people who happily and peacefully celebrated our beloved Toronto Raptors.”
Tory previously urged every city resident to come celebrate the Raptors’ first championship and declared Monday as “We The North Day,” after the franchise’s slogan.
“Toronto, more than a million of us flooded the streets today to celebrate our Raptors,” city councilman Joe Cressy tweeted. “People of all every age, every race, every religion — our City. As awful as the shooting was and terrifying for many in the crowd afterwards, don’t let it take away from our moment.”
Some 1.5 million fans withstood packed conditions to attend the parade. Nicolas Caramanna, 21, said the crowd started to get rowdy shortly after he arrived at 9 a.m.
Many others chose to miss school or work. Cypher Sabanal, 15, said his mom let him skip class to attend the celebration.
John Moreira called in sick to work so he could be part of Toronto’s first celebration of this magnitude since the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.
“I told my boss I wanted to be at the parade and he said there wasn’t much he could do if I called in sick, so that’s exactly what I did,” the 31-year-old said.
As the parade inched forward — discernibly behind schedule — a number of Raptors could not help but marvel at the fan response.
“It’s been amazing,” Leonard said. “Thank you Toronto, thank you Canada for the support. We did it.”
Several fans were seen carrying signs imploring Leonard to re-sign with the Raptors. He will be a free agent this summer.
Kyle Lowry, the team’s longest-tenured player, hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy while his teammates smoked cigars.
“This is unbelievable,” he said.