Two dead as violence mars election in Indian battleground state

Two dead as violence mars election in Indian battleground state
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Voters stand in a line to cast their vote outside a polling station in Nandigram on April 1, 2021. (AFP)
Two dead as violence mars election in Indian battleground state
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Voters stand in a line to cast their vote outside a polling station in Nandigram on April 1, 2021. (AFP)
Two dead as violence mars election in Indian battleground state
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Voters stand in a line to cast their vote at a polling station in Nandigram on April 1, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2021

Two dead as violence mars election in Indian battleground state

Two dead as violence mars election in Indian battleground state
  • West Bengal is the Indian state with the highest levels of political killings, according to police records
  • Modi’s Hindu-nationalist BJP is seeking to end a decade of rule by the state’s firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee

NANDIGRAM: Two people died as an Indian state notorious for political violence went to the polls Thursday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi battling to oust a bitter rival from power.
Clashes were reported across West Bengal and election officials said that voters were being “intimidated” on the second day of polling in the key state.
Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking to end a decade of rule by the state’s firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee.
West Bengal is the Indian state with the highest levels of political killings, according to police records which showed there were about 50 political murders last year.
A worker for Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress party (TMC) was “hacked to death” early Thursday and three BJP supporters were detained, police said.
A BJP worker allegedly killed himself after he was threatened by TMC supporters, police added, citing a complaint filed by his family.
Defying a ban on gatherings of more than four people, hundreds of Banerjee supporters clashed with BJP rivals outside polling stations in Nandigram, where Bannerjee is contesting her seat.
Both parties accused each other of staging raids on local offices and the homes of party officials and supporters.
One group attacked a television channel truck, raining down bricks, rocks and iron bars on the vehicle before the journalists escaped.
“Voters are being intimidated,” one national Election Commission official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Many are too scared to leave their homes.”
Police staged baton charges to disperse gatherings outside polling stations in several towns, the official added.
Despite the violence, thousands still queued outside polling stations to cast votes.
The West Bengal polls are being held over eight days until April 29, with Thursday’s second phase involving 30 constituencies.
The results will be announced on May 2, alongside several other polls in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
The BJP has spent years preparing to mount its biggest challenge yet in West Bengal, home to 90 million people, and expand its state-level power beyond its Hindi-speaking northern heartlands.
The party won landslides in national elections in 2014 and 2019, but much of the southern half of India remains outside its local control.
Modi has condemned corruption in West Bengal while Banerjee, who has campaigned in a wheelchair after an accident in her car last month, has accused the prime minister of seeking to impose a hostile rule by “outsiders.”
The second of three phases of polling in the northeastern state of Assam — where the BJP is looking to hold on to power — was also held on Thursday.


Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
Updated 7 min 2 sec ago

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
  • Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality

LONDON: Britain on Monday was set to announce a further easing of its coronavirus lockdown, joining several European nations in gradually reopening their economies, but India remained in the grip of a devastating outbreak.
Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality, but the virus is still surging in many countries and concerns are growing about global vaccine inequality.
The pandemic has claimed close to 3.3 million lives worldwide and Britain has the highest death toll in Europe, but its successful vaccination program has allowed the authorities to start relaxing curbs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to announce the latest measures – effective May 17 – in a press conference on Monday, including the reopening of indoor seating in pubs and restaurants.
When asked during a BBC interview Sunday if hugging would be allowed, senior minister Michael Gove said: “Without prejudice to a broader review of social distancing... friendly contact, intimate contact between friends and family is something that we want to see restored.”
Cinemas are also expected to reopen, as well as some large indoor venues after the government held several pilot events – including a rock concert – to test safety measures.
This follows Spain’s lifting of a state of emergency in place since October, allowing people to travel between regions.
“It’s like New Year’s,” said 28-year-old Oriol Corbella in Barcelona, where the end of the curfew was met with shouts, applause and music.
In Germany, people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were exempt from many restrictions from Sunday after the government passed new legislation.
And Cyprus on Monday will exit a third partial lockdown with a new coronavirus “safety pass” system to allow people to move freely.


Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
Updated 7 min 50 sec ago

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
  • The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday
  • The Afghan government has not yet responded to the Taliban announcement

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban Monday announced a three-day cease-fire for the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday this week marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday. The Muslim calendar follows lunar cycles and the Eid holiday depends on the sighting of the new moon.
Justs hours after the pending cease-fire was announced, a bus in southern Zabul province struck a roadside mine killing 11 people, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aeian. At least 24 more people on the bus were injured. Improvised explosive devices litter the countryside and have been used extensively by the Taliban.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Taliban fighters have been ordered to stop all offensives, “to provide a peaceful and secure atmosphere to our compatriots … so that they may celebrate this joyous occasion with a greater peace of mind.”
The cease-fire announcement comes amid heightened violence in the country and follows a brutal attack on a girls’ school on Saturday that killed as many 60 people, most of them students between 11-15 years old. The death toll from the three explosions continues to climb.
The Taliban denied any responsibility and condemned the attack, which occurred in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in the west of the capital.
Attacks in the area are most often claimed by the Afghan Islamic State affiliate, but no group yet has claimed the attack on the school.
The cease-fire announcement also comes as the US and NATO are withdrawing the last of their military forces. The final 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces will leave by Sept. 11 at the latest.
The Afghan government has not yet responded to the cease-fire announcement.


US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party
Updated 10 May 2021

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party
  • Gunman fortunately did not fire on children who were present inside a trailer at a mobile home park
  • The massacre was the latest in a resurgence of mass shootings in the US

COLORADO SPRINGS, US: A man fatally shot six people including his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself early on Sunday at a birthday party in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but did not fire on traumatized children who were present inside a trailer at a mobile home park.
Police arrived to find six people dead plus a seventh who was seriously wounded and died after being taken to a hospital, a police statement said.
“The suspect, a boyfriend of one of the female victims, drove to the residence, walked inside and began shooting people at the party before taking his own life,” said the statement released by the Colorado Springs Police Department.
“Friends, family, and children were gathered inside the trailer to celebrate when the shooting occurred,” the statement said.
A motive has yet to be determined.
The shooting happened within the Canterbury Manufactured Home Community, a mobile home park of some 470 trailers and largely Latino residents on the southeast side of town, near the Colorado Springs airport, about 70 miles (110 km) south of Denver.
Police blocked off the area, where a mobile crime lab was parked near the home. A small group of adults stood nearby, some of them audibly sobbing, along with a small child.
Freddie Marquez, 33, said his mother-in-law was one of the victims and that he was at the party but left around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Some time after midnight, he received a call from the son of one of the women at the party, who was crying on the phone.
“Somebody came in and shot everybody,” Marquez said, relating what he had been told on the phone.
The Denver Post quoted neighbor Yenifer Reyes as saying she was awakened by the sound of gunfire.
“I thought it was a thunderstorm. Then I started hearing sirens,” Reyes told the newspaper.
She said she saw police take children out of the trailer and put them into a squad car.
“They were crying hysterically,” Reyes said.

Spate of mass shootings
The massacre was the latest in a resurgence of mass shootings in the United States after such occurrences seemed to recede during the height of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Among the incidents this year was one in Boulder, Colorado, where a 21-year-old man has been charged with killing 10 people in a March 22 shooting spree at a supermarket about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Denver. That came less than a week after another 21-year-old gunman was accused of killing eight people at three Atlanta-area day spas.
Colorado was also the state where two other deadly rampages took place, both in the Denver area: the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School that killed 15 people including the two perpetrators, and the 2012 shooting in an Aurora movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded about 70. The Aurora shooter is serving a life sentence.
The recent shootings have revived the gun control debate, with Democratic President Joe Biden calling them a “national embarrassment” and calling for new legislation from Congress.
But he faces serious opposition from gun rights advocates including Republicans and some Democrats who cite the US Constitution’s protection of gun ownership rights.
Police said they withheld releasing details of the shooting for several hours “in order to properly and respectfully notify family members of the deceased and ensure support was in place.”
The names of the victims will be released later, the statement said.


South Sudan president dissolves parliament

South Sudan president dissolves parliament
Updated 10 May 2021

South Sudan president dissolves parliament

South Sudan president dissolves parliament
  • Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust

JUBA: South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, opening the way for lawmakers from opposing sides of the country’s civil war to be appointed under a 2018 peace accord. Kiir’s decision was announced on public television but no date was given as to when the new parliament will begin working.

The setting up of a new legislative body was part of an accord signed in September 2018 between Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, for years on opposition sides during the five-year civil war that left 380,000 people dead and four million displaced.

Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust.

“It is a welcome development and we hope that the dissolution (will not) also open the way to a lengthy process toward reconstituting the parliament,” Jame David Kolock, chairman of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum.

“The civil society is getting frustrated and no longer believes that even if the parliament is reconstituted it will be a very viable parliament.”

In accordance with the 2018 accord, the new assembly will number 550 lawmakers, the majority — 332 — from Kiir’s governing SPLM party. The parliamentarians will not be elected but nominated by the different parties.

The dissolution of parliament came on the eve of a visit to the capital Juba by US special envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth.

“Of particular concern to the United States is the slow implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, ongoing violence, and deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Kiir and Machar formed a coalition government on February 22, 2020 after nearly a year of delays.

However few provisions of the truce have been honored, and analysts have warned of a return to war.

The oil-rich country remains severely underdeveloped and poorly managed.

Despite the peace deal, brutal communal conflicts — often over cattle raiding — continue, with more than 1,000 killed in violence between rival communities in the last six months of 2020.


After outcry, BJP denies setting up COVID-19 help desks for cows

After outcry, BJP denies setting up COVID-19 help desks for cows
Updated 09 May 2021

After outcry, BJP denies setting up COVID-19 help desks for cows

After outcry, BJP denies setting up COVID-19 help desks for cows
  • Last week, Uttar Pradesh announced the establishment of 700 help desks ‘for the welfare of cows’
  • Uttar Pradesh is one of the worst-affected states amid surge in virus cases

NEW DELHI: Facing a wave of criticism following an announcement to set up help desks to protect cows in the wake of a pandemic crisis, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was on Sunday forced to deny the plan.  

The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, known as a hardline Hindu politician of the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been promoting cow protection since the beginning of his term in 2017. The state already had 4,500 shelters and some 170 sanctuaries for the bovines, which are sacred in Hinduism.

With the country facing a drastic surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and its hospitals enduring a shortage of beds and oxygen, many were shocked to read in a circular widely quoted by the Indian media last week that Adityanath’s administration had announced the establishment of 700 help desks “for the welfare of cows.” 

The centers, the notice said, would be equipped with “51 oximeters and 341 thermal scanners” in order to “ensure better animal care and testing.”

Following an outcry prompted by the cow help desk plan, Navneet Sehgal, the state’s additional chief secretary for information, told Arab News the reports were “false, slanderous and nonsense.”

The administration, however, has not denied issuing the circular.

India recorded over 400,000 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday and 4,000 related deaths. With Uttar Pradesh suffering as one of the worst-affected states with more than 26,500 new cases and 300 deaths in the past 24 hours, the focus on cows has dumbfounded the state’s residents.

“I feel very angry as a resident of Uttar Pradesh with the way we are being treated and our lives are being compromised,” Kulsum Mustafa, a journalist and activist based in the state’s capital of Lucknow, told Arab News.

“India is asking for support to tide over the crisis posed by COVID-19 ... People are dying without hospital beds and oxygen and our focus is different,” Mustafa said.

Lucknow-based former bureaucrat and political analyst Surya Pratap Singh said the cow help desk plan was a “political tactic to divert the attention from COVID-19 mismanagement.”

He described the situation in the state as “terrible, with people dying in large numbers in villages which are not being reflected in the official figure. Cremation grounds are full.”

Ram Dutt Tripathi, another political analyst in Lucknow, said: “Maybe the government’s feedback channel is choked, and their communication is only one way. The BJP regime is not connected with the grassroot sentiments.”

He added that the move might be related to next year’s elections in Uttar Pradesh — the country’s most-populous state — where winning the vote traditionally spells victory in national polls.

“The BJP thinks that communal polarization will work again and again,” he said, adding: “That’s why they are not focusing on governance and people are suffering.”