Running in the Indian election? Get an armored car

Running in the Indian election? Get an armored car
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Sunchit Sobti’s factory in Jalandhar has already retrofitted four SUVs for political bigwigs since the upcoming poll was announced a few weeks ago. (AFP)
Running in the Indian election? Get an armored car
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The outlay is considerable for reinforcing a vehicle, costing anywhere between $7,000 and $70,000. (AFP)
Running in the Indian election? Get an armored car
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Mechanics fit an SUV with blast-resistant doors and bulletproof windshields in a Punjab garage. (AFP)
Updated 02 April 2019

Running in the Indian election? Get an armored car

Running in the Indian election? Get an armored car
  • It is a pattern that repeats itself every election season in India
  • ‘You can’t even trust your friends, forget about enemies. I can’t compromise on my safety’

JALANDHAR, India: The mechanics retrofitting cars with blast-resistant doors and bulletproof windshields in a Punjab garage have been flat out of late — elections are looming, and politics can be a dangerous game in India.
In the past, prime ministers were assassinated, political motorcades ambushed and party officials attacked, and some candidates aren’t taking any chances.
Orders for specialized armored cars have been piling up at Sunchit Sobti’s factory in Jalandhar, where his crew have already retrofitted four SUVs for political bigwigs since the upcoming poll — the biggest election in history — was announced a few weeks ago.
It’s a pattern that repeats itself every election season, said Sobti, whose father started supplying armored cars for politicians and other VIP clients in the 1980s when an armed insurgency was raging in Punjab.
“This one is the mother of all elections,” he said, as sparks flew from welding equipment on the factory floor.
“Like all big events, there are bigger risks involved and leaders want to ensure they are safe. We have been working on orders for months.”
It was not just political candidates keen to bullet and blast-proof their cars but party bookkeepers and backroom heavyweights too, he added.
At least seven rival companies contacted by AFP, in northern Punjab, neighboring Haryana and also Maharashtra state in the west, have also experienced a spike in election-related orders for armor-plated vehicles.
The market for such cars in India is worth $150 million a year and growing by double digits, industry representatives said. Companies like Mahindra & Mahindra, and Tata Motors, also offer a small range of pre-made armored vehicles for civilian use.
The outlay is considerable for reinforcing a private vehicle, costing anywhere between $7,000 and $70,000.
It can take weeks to bolster a car with imported ballistic glass and steel plates able to withstand grenade fragments and gunfire, and even longer for the permission needed to put the car on the road.

But for some, it is a price worth paying.
“Success and jealousy knock at you together,” said one Punjabi state lawmaker who last year had his SUV armor plated. He declined to be named.
“You can’t even trust your friends, forget about enemies. I can’t compromise on my safety.”
India has a history of political violence, with particular bloodshed around election time as competition intensifies between the country’s hundreds of registered parties, who field thousands of candidates at state and national polls.
More than 100 politicians or party officials were murdered in 2016 alone, the latest figures from India’s National Crime Records Bureau show.
Armed insurgencies simmer in at least nine Indian states, from Kashmir in the snowy north to the jungles of the country’s interior, creating risky conditions for party officials and their candidates on the hustings.
Twenty-five Congress politicians were murdered in an ambush on their convoy in 2013 by Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh, as the restive central state prepared for regional elections.
Even in regions free of rebel uprisings, feuds between political rivals can turn deadly.
In February a regional lawmaker in West Bengal was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the country’s east.
More than two dozen political figures from warring parties have been killed in Kerala, a southern state and one of India’s most developed, in the past three years.
Sometimes politicians themselves have violent records, with two dozen winning candidates in the last general election in 2014 possessing murder or attempted murder charges.
As campaigning gets under way for the 2019 contest — voting starts April 11 and spans nearly six weeks, with 900 million Indians eligible to cast ballots — security is again a central concern for the monumental poll.
In trouble spots, candidates are escorted by police as they drum up support.
But former Delhi police chief Maxwell Pereira said the overwhelming majority of politicians never faced any danger, and it was the state’s responsibility to ensure protection for at-risk officials.
“Only police should make a call on whether they require personal protection or armored cars, after assessing if there is a credible threat,” Pereria said.
That is not stopping candidates from taking matters into their own hands and turning their cars into tanks as polling day draws near.
“We want our customers and leaders to be safe,” said Narinder Singh, a mechanic at Sobti’s workshop in Punjab.


Jill Biden, Duchess of Cambridge learn bunny care on tour

Jill Biden, Duchess of Cambridge learn bunny care on tour
Updated 11 June 2021

Jill Biden, Duchess of Cambridge learn bunny care on tour

Jill Biden, Duchess of Cambridge learn bunny care on tour
  • Biden and the former Kate Middleton visited with 4- and 5-year-olds who attend Connor Downs Academy in Hayle
  • “It’s a huge honor to have you in the United Kingdom,” the duchess said just before the discussion

HAYLE, England: US first lady Jill Biden and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, learned about bunny care Friday as they toured a preschool during a joint outing in southwest England.
They also took part in a talk about early childhood education with experts from the UK and some from the United States who joined the discussion via Zoom.
“It’s a huge honor to have you in the United Kingdom,” the duchess said just before the discussion. She thanked Biden — a longtime English teacher — for her interest in early education, also a topic of interest for the duchess, who has three young children with husband Prince William.


Biden, 70, and the former Kate Middleton, 39, visited with 4- and 5-year-olds who attend Connor Downs Academy in Hayle. The school works with children who have experienced trauma. It also has outdoor classrooms where children plant vegetables and flowers and tend to rabbits.
Biden carried a bowl of carrots when the women went outside to see Storm, one of several bunnies housed in pens, and handed the bowl to a group of kids so they could feed him.
Before the indoor roundtable, Biden said she was glad to visit the school.
“I met some wonderful teachers and principals and most of all the children, who were so inspiring and well behaved,” the first lady said. “I couldn’t get over it.”
She is traveling with her husband, President Joe Biden, who is attending a Group of Seven summit of leaders from the world’s largest economies that opened Friday in Carbis Bay.
She thanked the news media for covering the appearance “because early childhood education is so important to lay the foundation for all of our students.”


Both women took notes during the discussion, which centered on child mental health and the importance of early education in childhood development.
As they departed, reporters asked Biden if she had sought advice from the duchess on meeting Queen Elizabeth II, which the Bidens are set to do at a summit reception later Friday, followed by tea with the monarch on Sunday at Windsor Castle.
“No, I didn’t,” the first lady replied. “We’ve been busy. Were you not in that room. We were talking education.”
Jill Biden is scheduled to head back to Washington after meeting the queen, while the president continues on to Brussels for a NATO summit and to Switzerland for a highly anticipated one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Top Swiss court rejects climate activists’ appeal over tennis stunt

Top Swiss court rejects climate activists’ appeal over tennis stunt
Updated 11 June 2021

Top Swiss court rejects climate activists’ appeal over tennis stunt

Top Swiss court rejects climate activists’ appeal over tennis stunt
  • ‘At the time of their action, there was no current and immediate danger’ under Swiss law, the court said
  • In September appeals court found them guilty of "trespassing", a ruling upheld by Federal Court on Friday

GENEVA: Switzerland’s highest court on Friday rejected an appeal by environmental activists who were sentenced for trespassing after invading a bank to play tennis dressed as Roger Federer.
The Federal Court dismissed the activists’ argument that their playful demonstration two and a half years ago was an emergency action justified by the climate crisis.
“At the time of their action, there was no current and immediate danger,” according to the definition under Swiss law, the court said in a statement.
In November 2018, the 12 activists entered a Credit Suisse branch in Lausanne to denounce Swiss tennis star Federer over his sponsorship deals with Switzerland’s second-biggest bank and its financing of fossil fuels.
In January last year, a lower court acquitted the 12 defendants, accepting their “state of necessity” legal argument, finding that they had acted legitimately in the face of the climate emergency.
But an appeals court reversed that verdict last September, heeding the view of the public prosecutor who urged judges to “practice law, not emotion,” according to Swiss news agency Keystone-ATS.
It found them guilty of “trespassing” — a ruling upheld by the Federal Court on Friday.
The activists immediately announced that they intended to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, in defense of their “fundamental rights,” including the right to free expression and to demonstrate peacefully.
Laila Batou, a defense lawyer for one of the activists, slammed the decision and the court’s “lack of ambition,” according to Keystone-ATS.
“The Federal Court could have given a clear signal recognizing that global warming constitutes an imminent danger, but also that, in some situations, civil disobedience is necessary,” she told the news agency.
Instead, she said, the court “has ruled in favor of the powerful, the big corporations who can continue business as usual to the detriment of young people.”


Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism

Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism
Updated 10 June 2021

Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism

Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism
  • In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time
  • Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound

PETRA, Jordan: Herds of hard-working donkeys once carried hordes of tourists on the rocky paths of Jordan’s Petra, but visitor numbers crashed amid the pandemic and the loyal animals are left without a job.
“Before coronavirus, we all had work,” said Abdulrahman Ali, a 15-year-old donkey owner at the ancient rock-carved desert city, where the sure-footed animals carry tourists up steep paths in the blazing sun.
“The Bedouins of Petra made a living and fed their animals,” he said, sitting waiting for a handout of fodder from a charity, explaining that many owners today are struggling to meet the cost of feeding them.
In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time.
But in March 2020, the famous tourist destination was closed, and the crucial income from the tourists dried up.
“When tourism stopped, nobody could buy fodder or medicine anymore,” said Ali, who could earn as much as $280 on a good day, supporting his mother and two brothers.
“Anyone who has a little amount of money now spends it on his own food, not his animal.”
Before the pandemic, tourism made up more than a tenth of Jordan’s GDP, but revenues slumped from $5.8 billion in 2019 to $1 billion last year, according to government figures.
Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound.
Only some 200 visitors a day come to Petra, compared to more than 3,000 before the pandemic hit, said Suleiman Farajat, heading the Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority.
Farajat said some 200 guides used as many as 800 animals — including horses, camels and mules as well as donkeys — for tourist rides across the desert site.
The economic ripple effect of tourism was widespread.
“Before the crisis, 80 percent of the inhabitants of the region depended directly or indirectly on tourism,” Farajat said.
“With the pandemic, not only working animal owners were affected, but also hotels, restaurants, those with souvenir shops or stores, and hundreds of employees have lost their jobs.”
Many donkey owners are turning to a clinic supported by the animal rights group PETA, where vets treat maltreated and malnourished donkeys for free.
“Before coronavirus, my family and I owned seven donkeys working in Petra,” said Mohammad Al-Badoul, 23, waiting with four other donkey owners to fill a sack with animal feed.
“We had to sell them for lack of income. Now we only have one, and I can barely feed it.”
Egyptian vet Hassan Shatta, an equine surgery specialist who runs the PETA clinic, said he launched a donkey-feeding program late last year.
“During the Covid-19 lockdown, and with the lack of tourism, people could not afford to feed their animals anymore,” Shatta said.
“Some of them ended up starving and we picked them up brought them here,” he added, noting some 250 animals had been treated, with some 10-15 cases arriving a day.
In the past, PETA had treated animals with deep cuts from being beaten or abused, but Farajat, from Petra’s tourism authority, says the working conditions of the donkeys is now “not that bad.”
But there are plans to replace some of the traditional donkeys with a new system of 20 electric cars introduced by the tourism board next month.
The cars will be “driven by the animal owners,” Farajat said.
Switching to electric cars will, Farajat hopes, put an end to the criticisms against the mistreatment inflicted on animals.


McDonald’s BTS-meal frenzy sparks virus closures in Indonesia

McDonald’s BTS-meal frenzy sparks virus closures in Indonesia
Updated 09 June 2021

McDonald’s BTS-meal frenzy sparks virus closures in Indonesia

McDonald’s BTS-meal frenzy sparks virus closures in Indonesia
  • At least 13 outlets that were deluged with online food-delivery drivers picking up the meal set were closed
  • The meal set of chicken nuggets, fries and a drink, first made available in Indonesia Wednesday

JAKARTA: More than a dozen Indonesian McDonald’s outlets were temporarily shuttered Wednesday over virus fears as the chain’s new BTS meal deal sparked frenzied buying from fans in the K-pop mad country.
Jakarta and several other cities slapped closure stickers on at least 13 outlets that were deluged with online food-delivery drivers picking up a meal set named after the hugely popular Korean boy band.
“We temporarily closed four of six McDonald’s stores here in Semarang for a couple of days,” said Fajar Purwoto, the city’s public order agency head.


“I don’t want Semarang to be in the Covid-19 red zone again.”
Indonesia is one of the hardest-hit nations in Asia.
Jakarta authorities did not respond to requests for comment. But local media said five stores in the capital were shut over BTS-meal orders.
The meal set of chicken nuggets, fries and a drink, first made available in Indonesia Wednesday, has been on offer in dozens of countries since May.
BTS have become global superstars with millions of fans around the world since their debut in 2013.


The Russian prison beauties hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year

The Russian prison beauties hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year
Updated 09 June 2021

The Russian prison beauties hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year

The Russian prison beauties hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year
  • The contestants are genuine prison officers who lock-up cell-bound inmates
  • Other government institutions to run beauty pageants have included the National Guard

DUBAI: Meet the Russian prison wardens cell-bound inmates don’t mind being locked up by

Voting is underway to find Russia’s most beautiful prison guard in the all-new Miss Penal System contest.

The 12 finalists, each hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year, were chosen from 100 contestants who each won their local competitions, Russia Today reported.

The Russian prison service is not the first government agency to use a beauty pageant to promote its work.

In 2019 police officer Anna Khramtsova won a similar competition when the National Guard held the ‘Beauty of Rosgvardia’ pageant.

Although all did not go according to plan for Khramtsova – and after a brief flirtation with social media fame, she was eventually fired after apparently breaching security by posting a photograph taken inside a facility.

The Miss Penal System contest is the latest initiative from the Federal Penitentiary Service – others included the instillation of British-style red phone boxes to decorate the room inmates used to make calls to the outside world.

Voting closes on June 11 when the world finds out which of the 12 finalists who let down their locks, leaving inmates a little happier about being cell-bound, is crowned the winner.