India’s diaspora may get online ballot

India’s diaspora may get online ballot
Updated 08 April 2014

India’s diaspora may get online ballot

India’s diaspora may get online ballot

India’s elections authority has assured the country’s highest court to explore possibility of introducing online voting facility for its diaspora during the ongoing elections, a lawyer said Monday.
The assurance came before the bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen hearing a petition moved by a prominent NRI or nonresident Indian against the exclusion of a large section of citizens from elections in the world’s largest democracy.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) also informed the Supreme Court that it was planning to set up a panel to study absentee voting system.
“The ECI assured the court that the government and the lawmakers are totally in favor of allowing the diaspora to vote and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had made an assurance to parliament in this regard,” said Haris Beeran, one of the petitioner’s counsels.
The Gujarat state of Narendra Modi, the frontrunner for the premier, had introduced the e-voting system in the 2010 civic polls, allowing all citizens to vote from the comforts of their homes or abroad but the response was poor.
However, the petitioner says it would be a huge hit in politically-charged states like Kerala where every third house has a member working in the Gulf.
One of the groups working among them chartered a flight from Dubai both this time and during the 2011 assembly polls.
The ECI’s website says there are 11,844 enrollments so far and 11,448 of them are from Kerala whose diaspora population is estimated to be more than two million in the Gulf alone pumping billions rupees every year into its economy.
Punjab has 138 NRI voters followed by Tamil Nadu (112), Pondicherry (56), Goa (27), Delhi and Maharashtra (13 each), Gujarat (7), Madhya Pradesh (6) and West Bengal (5) while half of the states drew a blank.
“This is a historic day for us. We are just a step away from enjoying the right to exercise our franchise,” said Dubai-based Dr. Shamseer VP, a recipient of highest civilian honor for the diaspora, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, who moved the court with the plea last month. “The court was wondering why it took so long to reach the court”.
As per the official data, 10,037,761 Indians live abroad and they are entitled to register online and vote only if they were present in their constituencies at the time of elections.
They were also allowed to register online and send their documents for verification by post to be able to vote here. But most of them abstain as they were not sure of voting due to the restrictions.


Philippine president drops plan to scrap key military agreement with US

Philippine president drops plan to scrap key military agreement with US
Updated 18 min 39 sec ago

Philippine president drops plan to scrap key military agreement with US

Philippine president drops plan to scrap key military agreement with US
  • Decision follows Rodrigo Duterte’s meeting with US Defense Secretary Austin
  • Duterte notified the US government in February 2020 that the Philippines intended to abrogate the agreement

MANILA: A key pact allowing the presence of US forces in the Philippines for military drills and joint exercises has been restored to “full force,” American and Filipino defense chiefs revealed on Friday.

The announcement followed President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to backtrack on plans to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Signed in 1998, the VFA provides rules for the entry of US troops, ships, and aircraft into the Philippines for military exercises. Under the terms of the deal, it can be terminated through written notice by either party, taking effect within 180 days.
Duterte threatened to tear up the accord in February last year after the US Department of State canceled a visa for one of his political allies and he has suspended the termination letter on several occasions since then.
The Filipino president’s decision to keep the agreement followed his meeting on Thursday with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who was in Manila on a two-day visit during his first Southeast Asia tour to fortify regional alliances.
During a joint press conference with Austin at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: “The VFA is in full force again. There is no termination letter pending and we are back on track. The president (Duterte) decided to recall or retract the termination letter.”
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president decided to continue with the VFA for the sake of his country’s strategic interests under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin handed Austin a letter recalling the termination of the treaty. “As such, upon the instructions of President Duterte, today I handed over to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin the diplomatic note recalling the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said, adding that the Americans had addressed issues over the bilateral security relationship “with good faith.”
The VFA, and all other bilateral military agreements and activities between the US and the Philippines are supplemental to the 1951 MDT, which serves as the foundation for the security relationship between the two countries and requires each to come to the other’s aid if attacked by a third party.
A report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in March last year noted that, “while the termination of the VFA would not abrogate the MDT, it would complicate the US defense department’s ability to fulfill its obligations under the treaty.”
During the press conference, Austin said: “On behalf of the US, let me thank President Duterte for his decision to fully restore the Visiting Forces Agreement. A strong, resilient US-Philippines alliance will remain vital to the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.”
Austin was the first member of US President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to visit the Philippines, arriving in the country on Thursday wearing a face mask and full-face shield. Although ridiculed by some politicians in America, where coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions have been lifted, Austin’s precautions were welcomed in the Philippines, a nation still struggling to deal with the pandemic and recently forced to reimpose strict new rules to help stop the spread of the virus.
“It clearly shows that Secretary Austin is very much aware of and is abiding by stringent Philippine health protocols,” Department of National Defense spokesman, Arsenio Andolong, told Arab News.

 


Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe
Updated 31 July 2021

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe
  • Clothing manufacturers export nearly 40 percent of their annual output during July and August, as the West prepares for winter collections
  • Authorities in the country ordered all business activity to shut down between July 23 and Aug. 5 in an attempt to halt a surge in COVID-19 cases

DHAKA: Clothing manufacturers in Bangladesh are calling on the government to accelerate vaccination programs for factory workers to save the country’s textile sector. It is suffering because a COVID-19 lockdown has halted production during the peak season for orders from Western countries.

A recent surge in cases of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus forced the government to impose strict health precautions, including a halt to all business activity between July 23 and Aug. 5. As a result, thousands of garment factories had to close — and the timing could not be worse.

This is the time of year when the factories are working on multimillion-dollar orders from major Western clothing brands such as H&M, Inditex and Marks and Spencer for their upcoming winter collections. July and August are the peak months for the Bangladeshi garment sector, during which it exports nearly 40 percent of its annual production.

Industry representatives met Cabinet Secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam on Thursday to appeal to the government to lift the restrictions on garment factories during this crucial period. They also called on authorities speed up the vaccination of factory workers.

Last week, nearly 30,000 workers from factories that supply H&M and Marks and Spencer received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine. But they represent less than 1 percent of the total industry workforce, and the country’s vaccination effort is one of the slowest in the world; only 4.3 million of the country’s 170 million population have been fully vaccinated.

“Once the factories open, we can vaccinate the workers in bulk,” Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association told Arab News on Friday. “And it’s very easy, as we noticed during a pilot program that saw the successful inoculation of about 30,000 factory workers in two days.”

Garment manufacturers fear that if they fail to deliver, big brands might turn to factories in other countries. This would deal a major blow to an industry that is the largest in Bangladesh. It employs more than 4 million people, contributes more than 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and accounts for 80 percent of its exports.

“Our industry is completely export-oriented and we produce time-bound products,” said Hassan. “Currently, our factories are working on the next winter and fall season for the Western market. If we fail to export on time our credibility and future business relations will be at stake. Already buyers have stated putting future orders on hold, but they didn’t cancel them.

“If we are allowed to open the factories from the first week of August, we still can recover the losses — otherwise things will be difficult for us.”

The lockdown in Bangladesh comes as many Western countries ease their pandemic restrictions. Apparel sales are rebounding as life begins to return to normal, people order more clothes and big brands prepare for their winter and Christmas seasons.

When Bangladesh went into its first coronavirus lockdown last year, the industry was not too concerned because Western buyers had put their orders on hold because of their own lockdowns. Now, things are different.

“This year, the Western market is fully open,” Hassan said. “People in Europe and America are now keen to buy clothing since they couldn’t do much in the past year.”

Before the pandemic, Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest garment manufacturer after China, earned $34 billion from exports of apparel. In the 2019-20 fiscal year the value of exports dropped to $28 billion as the pandemic took hold. They recovered to $31 billion during the 2020-21 fiscal year, which ended in June, raising hopes of a major rebound this year.

It was unclear on Friday whether the factories will be allowed to reopen sooner than planned. The cabinet secretary told the factory owners during Thursday’s meeting that “further decisions would be announced after consulting with the prime minister.”

Criticism of the lockdown is growing, as the strict rules do not appear to be succeeding in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The number of coronavirus-related fatalities continues to hit record highs, with more than 200 deaths since the start of this week alone. The infection rate stood at nearly 31 percent on Friday, higher that it was before the lockdown.

“Our economy has been severely disrupted due to the lockdown,” Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist at the World Bank in Dhaka, told Arab News. “If we are failing to reap the benefits of this lockdown, there is no point in closing the factory operations.”


First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US
Updated 30 July 2021

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US
  • US President Joe Biden said he was proud to welcome them home
  • Evacuation flights highlights American uncertainty about how Afghanistan’s government and military will fare after U.S. combat forces leave

WASHINGTON: The first flight evacuating Afghans who worked alongside Americans in Afghanistan brought more than 200 people, including scores of children and babies in arms, to new lives in the United States on Friday.
US President Joe Biden said he was proud to welcome them home.
The launch of the evacuation flights, bringing out former interpreters and others who fear retaliation from Afghanistan’s Taliban for having worked with American troops and civilians, highlights American uncertainty about how Afghanistan’s government and military will fare after the last US combat forces leave that country in the coming weeks.
Family members are accompanying the interpreters, translators and others on the flights out. The first evacuation flight, an airliner, carried 221 Afghans under the special visa program, including 57 children and 15 infants, according to an internal US government document obtained by The Associated Press.
It touched down in Dulles, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., after midnight, according to the FlightAware tracking service.
Friday’s flight was “an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan,” Biden said. He said he wanted to honor the military veterans, diplomats and others in the US who have advocated for the Afghans.
“Most of all,” Biden said in a statement, “I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the United States, and today, I am proud to say to them: ‘Welcome home.’“
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin lauded the Afghans for their work alongside Americans and said their arrival demonstrates the US government’s commitment to them.
Friday’s flight was all about “keeping promises,” said Will Fischer, an Iraq war veteran and an advocate on veteran’s issues.
But a refugee agency said the Biden administration appeared to be still scrambling to work out the resettlement of thousands more of the Afghans, and it urged Biden to bring them quickly to the US or a US territory, such as Guam.
“To date, there is simply no clear plan as to how the vast majority of our allies will be brought to safety,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service resettlement agency, said of the Afghan interpreters.
“We cannot in good conscience put them at risk in third countries with unreliable human rights records, or where the Taliban may be able to reach them,” the resettlement official said.
The Biden administration calls the effort Operation Allies Refuge. The operation has broad backing from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and from veterans groups. Supporters cite repeated instances of Taliban forces targeting Afghans who worked with Americans or with the Afghan government.
Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow an additional 8,000 visas and $500 million in funding for the Afghan visa program.
The United States has been talking with Qatar and Kuwait about temporarily hosting thousands of other Afghan interpreters who are much further behind in their visa application process than Friday’s arrivals.
But US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations, said Friday that no deal had been closed with those two countries. Concerns about housing Afghans who have not completed their security screenings and uncertainty on the American side about finding funding for the massive relocation effort have remained obstacles, the US officials said.
Biden announced earlier this year the US would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, honoring a withdrawal agreement struck by former President Donald Trump. He later said the US military operation would end on Aug. 31, calling it “overdue.” Some administration officials have expressed surprise at the extent and speed of Taliban gains of territory in the countryside since then.
Biden said that although US troops are leaving Afghanistan, the US will keep supporting Afghanistan through security assistance to Afghan forces and humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people.
The newly arrived Afghan people will join 70,000 others who have resettled in the United States since 2008 under the special visa program.
Subsequent flights are due to bring more of the roughly 700 applicants who are furthest along in the process of getting visas, having already won approval and cleared security screening.
The first arrivals were screened for the coronavirus and received vaccines if they wanted them, said Tracey Jacobson, the US diplomat running the effort. They were expected to stay at a hotel on a base in Fort Lee, Virginia, for about seven days, completing medical exams and other final steps, Jacobson said. Resettlement organizations will help them as they travel to communities around the United States, with some bound for family members already here, she said.


British Muslim MP weeps in dock as she is cleared of fraud charges

Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
Updated 30 July 2021

British Muslim MP weeps in dock as she is cleared of fraud charges

Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
  • Apsana Begum was accused of housing fraud that her local council said had cost it almost £64,000 ($89,000)
  • She said she is a ‘survivor of domestic abuse’ and had faced Islamophobia, sexism and racism as a result of the case

LONDON: A jury in London has cleared a Muslim member of parliament of fraud charges. Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application between 2013 and 2016.

Tower Hamlets council accused her of costing it almost £64,000 ($89,000) by failing to notify officials that she was no longer living in overcrowded housing.

Begum, 31, collapsed in the dock and wept when the jurors found her not guilty on all three counts.

During the trial, she said she fled her home in 2013 during an argument in which her brother said she was “possessed,” causing her to fear she would fall victim to honor-based violence.

She moved in with her then-partner, Tower Hamlets Councillor Ehtasham Haque, but said he subsequently became “controlling and coercive” and took over her affairs.

Helen Law, defending, said that the complaint that triggered the investigation into Begum — made in 2019 by Sayed Nahid Uddin, Haque’s brother-in-law, after the couple split — was false.

According to the prosecution, documents submitted by Begum’s mother and aunt revealed that there were four bedrooms in her property and she had failed to inform the council that by January 2013, after her father died and her aunt moved out, only four people were living there.

Begum said that at the time she was struggling to come to terms with her father’s death and her family’s disapproval of her relationship with Haque, who had been married and divorced several times.

After her acquittal, Begum said: “As a survivor of domestic abuse facing these vexatious charges, the last 18 months of false accusations, online sexist, racist and Islamophobic abuse, and threats to my safety have been exceedingly difficult.

“I would like to say a sincere thank you to all my legal team and all those who have shown me solidarity, support and kindness.

“I will be consulting and considering how to follow up so that something like this doesn’t happen again to anyone else.”


EU to get 40 mn more Moderna jabs in Q3: medicines agency

EU to get 40 mn more Moderna jabs in Q3: medicines agency
Updated 30 July 2021

EU to get 40 mn more Moderna jabs in Q3: medicines agency

EU to get 40 mn more Moderna jabs in Q3: medicines agency
  • European Medicines Agency said it had approved a production boost at the US sites
  • About 70 percent of adults in the European Union have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine

THE HAGUE: The EU's medicines watchdog said on Friday that the bloc was likely to get 40 million more Moderna vaccine doses by October, after an output boost at two new US sites.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) in June gave the green light for the US sites in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to produce ingredients needed for the vaccine in Europe.
At the time, it estimated the sites would "allow the production of an additional one to two million vials of ready-to-use vaccine for the European Union market every month."
On Friday, the EMA said it had approved a production boost at the US sites that "is expected to have significant impact on the supply of Spikevax," it said in a statement, using the Moderna vaccine's brand name.
"It is estimated that in the third quarter of 2021, the US supply chain will provide 40 million doses of vaccine for the European market."
About 70 percent of adults in the European Union have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said earlier this week.
Overall, 57 percent of over-18s are now fully vaccinated across the 27 nations, she said in a statement.
But she sounded a warning over the "very dangerous" Delta variant of the virus that has increasingly taken hold on the continent and seen infection rates begin to tick up again.
"I therefore call on everyone -- who has the opportunity -- to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others," she said.
The EMA also last week approved the use of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for children aged 12 to 17, making it the second jab for adolescents for use on the continent.