Indian farmers observe ‘black day’ in fight over new agricultural laws

Farmers burned an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday while observing a “black day” to mark six months of protests against controversial new agricultural laws. (Supplied)
Farmers burned an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday while observing a “black day” to mark six months of protests against controversial new agricultural laws. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 May 2021

Indian farmers observe ‘black day’ in fight over new agricultural laws

Farmers burned an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday while observing a “black day” to mark six months of protests against controversial new agricultural laws. (Supplied)
  • Effigies of PM Narendra Modi were burned during demonstrations marking six months of protests against deregulation of farming sector

NEW DELHI: Farmers in the Indian capital New Delhi and surrounding areas observed a “black day” on Wednesday to mark six months of protests against agricultural laws they say favor private businesses at the expense of the growers they buy from.

Thousands of farmers from the mostly rural states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have set up camp in the outskirts of the capital to protest against three laws that were passed in September.

A few weeks into the protests, which began in late November, their numbers rose to about 300,000 and peaked in January, when nearly a million arrived from across the country, braving scorching heat and fears of coronavirus.

Farmers say the new laws will hit their incomes and leave them at the mercy of corporations because the legislation clears the way for the unregulated entry of private companies into the farming sector, which provides employment for more than 50 percent of the country’s population.

Despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks as a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic rages across the country, hundreds converged on Delhi and its surrounding areas on Wednesday to take part in the “black day” demonstrations. Some chanted slogans and burned effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a show of anger, amid complaints that their concerns have been ignored.

“For six months we have been sitting at the protest site but the government has not been listening to us,” Anil Kasana, a leader of the Indian Farmers’ Union in Greater Noida, in the suburbs of Delhi, told Arab News. “We will continue agitating against the three farm laws until they are withdrawn.”

Farmers fear the laws will usher in the privatization of traditional agricultural markets, leading to market-driven pricing of produce and the elimination of the minimum support prices the government sets each year for certain produce.

The government held 10 rounds of talks with farmers and offered to postpone the implementation of the new laws for 15 months in an effort to reach an agreement. However the protesters rejected the offer and continue to demand the laws be revoked. Farmers said that if they continue to put pressure on the authorities, the government will be forced to given in to their demands.

“This is our way to tell the government that despite the pandemic, the farmers’ movement is alive and it has the widespread support of the people,” said Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, a farmers’ group in Punjab.

At least 40 groups and unions that represent farmers across the country are protesting under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or the Joint Farmers’ Forum. On Friday, the group wrote to Modi demanding his “intervention to resume talks” and warning that the failure of the government to give a “constructive response” would lead to “intensified” protests.

Pandher told Arab News: “We knew there wouldn’t be any response from the government. We expressed our intention for talks and if the government does not respond, then it will have to answer to the people. They will have to go to the people sooner or later. Agitation is the only option left to us.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government continues to stand firm on the new laws and said it is up to the farmers to find a way to move forward in the negotiations.

“The unions should either be positive to our offer or provide us with an alternative,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said on Saturday, the day after the farmers delivered their renewed offer of talks to Modi.

Political analysts described the government reaction as “unpragmatic.”

“Farmers are in for a long haul,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst in New Delhi, told Arab News. “The government of India has made this a matter of the prestige of the prime minister. I don’t think there has been any government that has been so unpragmatic.”

Devinder Sharma, a Punjab-based expert on agriculture, echoed this view and urged the government to be more “magnanimous” and understand the “pain of the farmers.”

“The government should withdraw the laws so that farmers can go home,” he told Arab News. “What is so sacrosanct about these laws?

“If the farmers have put their lives at stake and are protesting for six months, that shows they have a pain that is severe, they have a pain we need to understand, which the nation needs to understand.”

Wednesday’s protests coincided with the seventh anniversary of Modi becoming prime minister.

However Mukhopadhyay said that Modi’s “shortsightedness” in his handling the protests could prove to be “politically costly for him even if he manages to send the farmer back home.”

He explained: “Modi might win the battle against the farmers but he has lost the war to regain their support. The farming communities in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan hold sway over 100 parliamentary constituencies, and the BJP will feel the impact in the next elections.”


Explosion of WWII bomb in Munich injures 3, disrupts trains

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Updated 5 min 58 sec ago

Explosion of WWII bomb in Munich injures 3, disrupts trains

Explosion of WWII bomb in Munich injures 3, disrupts trains
  • Rail travel to and from the main train station has been suspended, according to rail operator Deutsche Bahn

BERLIN: An old aircraft bomb exploded at a bridge near Munich’s busy main train station on Wednesday, injuring three people, police said on Twitter.
The explosion happened during construction work, police said.
Due to the explosion, rail travel to and from the main train station has been suspended, according to rail operator Deutsche Bahn.


Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks

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Updated 01 December 2021

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Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks
  • BioNTech/Pfizer, will have jabs available for children in the bloc in two weeks’ time

BRUSSELS: The EU’s main Covid vaccine provider, BioNTech/Pfizer, will have jabs available for children in the bloc in two weeks’ time, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.
She said she had spoken with the German-US joint venture about the issue the day before, and they said “they are able to accelerate — in other words children’s vaccines will be available as of December 13.”


Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success
Updated 01 December 2021

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success
  • Under the new rules, most arriving passengers must show negative test results at Portugal’s airports, seaports and land borders
  • Authorities in Portugal have confirmed an outbreak of the new coronavirus variant, omicron, among members of a professional soccer club and a medical worker

LISBON: Portugal tightened passenger entry requirements and mandated masks indoors to curb an upward trend in coronavirus infections as the country with one of the strongest vaccination records in Europe entered a “state of calamity” Wednesday.
The crisis declaration, Portugal’s second this year, is one step below a state of emergency and gives the government the legal authority to impose stricter measures without parliamentary approval.
Masks now are required in enclosed public spaces, and individuals must show proof of vaccination, having recovered from COVID-19 or a negative virus tests to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels. Nightclubs, hospitals, nursing homes and sports venues also must require negative virus tests from visitors and patrons, including vaccinated ones.
“With the test, we feel more comfortable. We don’t leave the club thinking, ‘Do I have COVID or not?’” Sara Lopes, a 21-year-old shop worker, said as she lined up at a central Lisbon nightclub as the new requirements took effect at midnight.
“It’s a bit of a hassle to have to make appointment after appointment at the pharmacy, but it’s fine,” Lopes said.
Under the new rules, most arriving passengers must show negative test results at Portugal’s airports, seaports and land borders.
Experts believe that Portugal’s vaccination rate, which at 87 percent of over 10 million residents is one of the highest globally, has shielded the country from the infection spikes recently experienced by some other European countries.
Still, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has been rising since September. Portuguese authorities on Tuesday recorded 2,907 new cases and 15 deaths.
Authorities in Portugal have confirmed an outbreak of the new coronavirus variant, omicron, among members of a professional soccer club and a medical worker who had contact with them.


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Updated 01 December 2021

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Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks
  • A new agreement on pandemic preparedness and response will come into force in 2024

GENEVA: World Health Organization member states agreed Wednesday to start work on building a new international accord setting out how to handle the next global pandemic.
Countries adopted a resolution at a special meeting in Geneva, launching the process that should result in a new agreement on pandemic preparedness and response coming into force in 2024.


China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks
Updated 01 December 2021

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks
  • A number of Chinese citizens had been attacked and kidnapped over the past month in the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri

BEIJING: China on Wednesday urged its citizens to leave three provinces in eastern Congo as violence intensifies in the mineral-rich region.
A posting from the Chinese Embassy in Kinshasa on the WeChat online messaging said a number of Chinese citizens had been attacked and kidnapped over the past month in the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri, where several anti-government rebel groups have a presence.
It said Chinese residing in the three provinces should provide their personal details by Dec. 10 and make plans to leave for safer parts of Congo. Those in the districts of Bunia, Djugu, Beni, Rutshuru, Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga should leave immediately, it said, adding that any who do not do so “will have to bear the consequences themselves.”
“We ask that all Chinese citizens and Chinese-invested businesses in Congo please pay close attention to local conditions, increase their safety awareness and emergency preparedness, and avoid unnecessary outside travel,” the embassy said.
No details of the incidents were given, although the embassy last month reported five Chinese citizens were abducted from a mining operation in South Kivu, which borders Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
It warned a the time that the security situation in the area was “extremely complex and grim” and that there was little possibility of sending help in the event of an attack or kidnapping.
No details were given about those kidnapped, who they worked for or who was suspected of taking them.
Several armed groups including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym FDLR, the Mai-Mai and the M23 regularly vie for control of eastern Congo’s natural resources.
Despite the danger, Chinese businesses have moved into Congo and other unstable African states in a quest for cobalt and other rare minerals and resources. Chinese workers have also been subject to kidnappings and attacks in Pakistan and other countries with active insurgencies.
Security was a key topic at a meeting Monday in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on Monday, between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Congolese counterpart Christophe Lutundula, according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.
China’s government and ruling Communist Party “attach great importance to the safety and security of Chinese enterprises and Chinese nationals overseas and the Chinese side has been extremely concerned with the recent serious crimes of kidnappings and killings of its citizens in the DRC,” Wang said, using the acronym for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Wang urged Congo to secure the release of those kidnapped and create a “safe, secure and stable environment for bilateral cooperation.”
Xinhua quoted Lutundula as saying Congo would take “forceful measures” to investigate the crimes, free the hostages, punish the culprits severely and safeguard national security and restore stability to the country’s east.
Earlier this week, Uganda said it launched joint air and artillery strikes with Congolese forces against camps of the extremist Allied Democratic Forces rebel group in eastern Congo.
The ADF was established in the early 1990s in Uganda and later driven out by the Ugandan military into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to operate because the central government has limited control there.
At least four civilians were killed less than two weeks ago in Uganda’s capital when suicide bombers detonated their explosives at two locations.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were carried out by Ugandans. Ugandan authorities blamed the ADF, which has been allied with the Daesh group since 2019.