India PM Modi holds first election rally since COVID-19 outbreak

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses his supporters during an election campaign meeting ahead of state assembly election in Dehri, eastern state of Bihar, India, October 23, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 October 2020

India PM Modi holds first election rally since COVID-19 outbreak

  • Thousands of supporters standing shoulder to shoulder and ignoring social distancing rules attended the rally
  • India has been among the worst hit by the coronavirus, with the second-highest amount of cases globally

MUMBAI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first election rally on Friday since the coronavirus took hold in the country in March, drawing thousands of cheering supporters standing shoulder to shoulder and ignoring social distancing rules.
Other politicians including Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi also attended big rallies in the eastern state of Bihar, where local elections start in phases from next week, with many unmasked participants trying to get a glimpse of the leaders.
India has been among the worst hit by the coronavirus, with the second-highest amount of cases globally, and experts worry big gatherings like the political rallies could trigger a fresh spike in cases.
“I want to congratulate the people of Bihar for fighting a disaster like corona so well... the situation in some of the richest countries in the world is not hidden from anyone,” Modi said at the first of the three rallies scheduled in the state.
The 70-year-old, who has himself highlighted the importance of social distancing, took off his mask before addressing a crowd from a high platform.
Bihar, India’s third-most populous state and one of its poorest, has recorded more than 200,000 coronavirus infections, fewer than richer states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
India reported 54,366 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 7.8 million. It has the highest number of reported infections after the United States but the rise in cases has slowed since reaching a peak on Sept. 17.
A government panel has warned, however, that if precautions like wearing masks and social distancing are not followed around India, cases could spike by up to 2.6 million in just a month.
“There is some evidence that large gatherings cause rapid spread,” the government-appointed panel of scientists, virologists and other experts said earlier this week.
As various states head to elections over the coming months, political groups including Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have started promising free COVID-19 vaccines.


14 dead as twin blasts rock historic Afghan city Bamiyan

Updated 6 min 40 sec ago

14 dead as twin blasts rock historic Afghan city Bamiyan

  • Blast brings end to years of calm in the isolated town — famous for ancient Buddhist heritage
  • Violence has surged in recent months in Afghanistan despite peace talks

KABUL: At least 14 people were killed in central Afghanistan on Tuesday when two blasts ripped through the historic city of Bamiyan, home to many members of the mainly Shiite Hazara ethnic minority, officials said.
The carnage brought to an end years of calm in the isolated town — famous for its ancient Buddhist heritage — that has avoided the sort of large-scale attacks commonplace elsewhere in the war-torn country.
The twin bombing marked the latest big attack in Afghanistan, where violence has surged in recent months even as Taliban and Afghan government negotiators are meeting for peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha.
“Fourteen people have been killed and 45 more wounded in two (bomb) explosions,” Bamiyan police chief Zabardast Safi told AFP, adding that a traffic policeman was among those killed.
The explosives were placed in two separate locations, Bamiyan police spokesman Reza Yosufi said, adding that two suspects had been arrested.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed the toll.
“We are investigating the deadly explosions in Bamiyan,” he said.
“This is an unforgivable crime.”
No group immediately claimed the blasts, and the Taliban denied involvement.
The explosions occurred in front of a market and near a hospital in Bamiyan, locals resident Anwar Saadatyar told AFP.
“When I reached the market... there was still blood and body parts everywhere. The blast occurred when people were busy shopping,” he said in a phone interview.
At the second site of the blast near the hospital, most of the casualties were university students, Saadatyar said.
“I visited the hospital later and saw people crying for their relatives who were killed or wounded in the explosions,” he said.
“There were so many wounded people that doctors didn’t know who to treat first. I will never forget that scene.”
Bamiyan is perhaps best known for the giant Buddha statues that once were carved into walls outside the city.
In 2001, the Taliban drew international revulsion when they blew up the centuries-old figures as they went on a rampage against Afghanistan’s rich pre-Islamic cultural heritage.
With its snowy backdrop and frequent blue skies, Bamiyan is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs keen to explore a network of ancient caves housing temples, monasteries and Buddhist paintings.
The province is home mainly to the Hazara community, which over the years has been targeted by Sunni extremists such as the Daesh group and the Taliban in the 1990s.
In cities such as Kabul, Hazaras have seen repeated attacks in their neighborhoods, including a brutal daylight assault in the capital in May on a hospital maternity ward that left several mothers dead.
In the past six months the Taliban have carried out 53 suicide attacks and detonated 1,250 explosive devices that have left 1,210 civilians dead and 2,500 wounded, the interior ministry said last week.