India at a standstill as thousands hold nationwide strike against farm laws

India at a standstill as thousands hold nationwide strike against farm laws
Farmers shout slogans during a demonstration in Gazipur Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border during a nationwide strike on Sept. 27, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2021

India at a standstill as thousands hold nationwide strike against farm laws

India at a standstill as thousands hold nationwide strike against farm laws
  • Farmers to continue resistance until year-old legislations repealed; govt cries ‘vested interests’

NEW DELHI: Hundreds of thousands of farmers gathered across India on Monday as part of a nationwide strike to press Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to repeal three controversial agricultural laws introduced a year ago.

The government says that the new measures introduced last September will help farmers to fetch better prices for their produce as they will be able to sell directly to private buyers, outside government-regulated wholesale markets.

But farmers say that the legislation will leave the sector, which employs more than 50 percent of the country’s population, with little bargaining power and at the mercy of private industrial players.

The tussle has prompted nearly ten months of farmer protests against the government, leading to the third nationwide strike on Monday, paralysing traffic and daily life in different parts of the country of 1.36 billion people.

“Through the all-India strike, I want to tell the government that not only farmers but all sections of society are with us,” Jagmohan Singh, leader of the Indian Farmers Union based in the northern state of Punjab, told Arab News.

“The government is hell-bent on selling this nation to the corporate sector, and we are not going to let this happen,” he said.

Thousands of protesters spilled onto the streets of the capital New Delhi on Monday, occupying roads and causing massive traffic jams with vehicles stuck for hours on the outskirts of the city as police officers kept guard on streets leading to the protest sites.

Neighbouring Rajasthan, too, saw life come to a standstill, with several farmers’ representatives saying that they would not back down until the laws were repealed.

“We want to tell the government — be it farmers, traders or common people — everyone is not happy with the government,” Himmat Singh Gurjar, leader of the Kisan Morcha (Farmers’ Front), told Arab News.

“We want to tell Prime Minister Modi that the whole nation is with us, and the attempt to divide farmers is not going to succeed,” he said.

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

“We want to tell an authoritarian government that this is not only a farmers’ agitation but a movement where common people are the stakeholders,” Suresh Koth, who heads the Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Union (Indian Farmers and Workers Union) in the northern state of Haryana, told Arab News.

He added that farm unions would “continue to campaign” against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government in the upcoming regional polls.

Key elections will be held in the five crucial states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Gujarat and Goa next year. Protesters said that their rallies were a warning to Modi, whose BJP governs all states except Punjab.

“The government cannot rent out the fate of the masses to corporate houses who will enslave common people. That’s why we have called for a nationwide protest,” Koth said.

Meanwhile, the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, a conglomeration of at least 40 farm unions leading the nationwide protests, said in a statement on Monday that a “complete shutdown” had been reported in several places with “extensive support” from other states in India.

“This response nails the lie of the government’s propaganda and shows how solidly the people of India stand with the farmers in their historic struggle,” it said.

The BJP, however, said that “vested interests” were at play in leading the protests.

“The agitation is being carried on by vested interests, and by weaving false narratives and creating fear they are able to garner some support,” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma told Arab News. “The government is not taking away anything from farmers but giving them an alternative route.”

Meanwhile, leader of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, said on Monday that the “farmers’ nonviolent resistance is still resolute, but the exploitative government does not like this, and that is why an India shutdown has been called.”

The government has held ten rounds of talks with farmers and offered to postpone the implementation of the new laws for 15 months to reach an agreement. However, the protesters have rejected the offer and continued to demand that the laws be revoked.

On Sunday, the authorities reiterated their willingness to talk with farmers, asking them “not to protest.”

“I urge farmers to adopt the path of discussion by leaving the path of protests,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the media on Sunday.

“Central government is ready to discuss any issues raised by farmers,” he said.

Political experts said that while the farmers’ agitation was initially launched to repeal the agricultural laws, it had, in turn, unified people.

“I think this is the first mass movement of farmers since India’s independence in 1947 . . . which is the longest and sustained,” Urmilesh Singh, a Delhi-based senior journalist and political analyst, told Arab News.

“The rallies are uniting people and bringing them on a single platform, thereby parting religious faultlines that the BJP tried to accentuate through its politics,” he said.

The BJP government has often been accused of causing a rise in polarization across the country by introducing discriminatory laws for non-Hindus, mainly Muslims, since assuming power in 2014.

Singh said that the farmers’ protests could impact the BJP in the upcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh, which is electorally and politically crucial for its survival, sending 80 out of 543  lawmakers to the lower house of parliament.

“I cannot say with certainty, but the agitation might impact the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh, the hub of the farmers’ movement,” Singh said.


Ethiopia PM Abiy says military will ‘destroy’ Tigray rebels

Updated 8 sec ago

Ethiopia PM Abiy says military will ‘destroy’ Tigray rebels

Ethiopia PM Abiy says military will ‘destroy’ Tigray rebels
ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his soldiers would “destroy” rebels from the northern Tigray region, in the latest instalment of footage which state media said shows him at the war front.
“You are comprehensively destroying the enemy, there is no going back without winning,” Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said in the 34-minute clip posted Saturday to his office’s Twitter page, which AFP could not independently verify.
“We will win, the enemy is dispersing, there are areas we have to control,” he added.
“Until we destroy the enemy there is no rest.”
Abiy announced this week he would start leading operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which once dominated national politics but has been locked in a war with his government for the past year.
The announcement has spurred new recruitment in Addis Ababa.
The country’s most famous distance runner, Haile Gebreselassie, told AFP he was determined to “sacrifice and stand for Ethiopia.”
The TPLF, he added, “is destabilising our country beyond its region.”
On Wednesday state-affiliated media announced Abiy had handed over regular duties to his deputy.
His move came after the TPLF reported major territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 220 kilometers (135 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa.
The TPLF has aligned itself with other armed groups including the Oromo Liberation Army, which is active in the Oromia region surrounding the city.


On Friday, state media showed what it described as the first footage of Abiy, a former lieutenant-colonel, in uniform at the front, including an interview in which he vowed to “bury the enemy.”
He also said the military had secured control of Kassagita and planned to recapture Chifra district and Burka town in Afar region, which neighbors Tigray, the TPLF’s stronghold.
The World Food Programme tweeted that 79 trucks carrying food and other lifesaving humanitarian supplies had arrived in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region this week.
“More are on the way,” the WFP added.
Independent media have largely been denied access to war-affected regions in recent weeks.
On Saturday officials in Addis Ababa held a ceremony for athletes and artists heading north to visit troops.
Among those pledging to fight is Feyisa Lilesa, a distance runner and Olympic silver medallist.
The war erupted in early November 2020 when Abiy deployed troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
Though he promised a swift victory, by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of Tigray, and it has since pushed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.


The African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, is leading a diplomatic push for a cease-fire, but there have been few signs of progress so far.
International alarm is growing over a possible rebel assault on the capital, with the US, the UK, Germany and Italy among countries urging their citizens to leave Ethiopia.
France joined the group this week and on Sunday plans to ferry some citizens out on a charter flight.
The government insists rebel gains are overstated, blaming what it describes as sensational media coverage and alarmist security adviseries from embassies for creating panic.

7.5-magnitude earthquake strikes northern Peru: USGS

7.5-magnitude earthquake strikes northern Peru: USGS
Updated 16 min 45 sec ago

7.5-magnitude earthquake strikes northern Peru: USGS

7.5-magnitude earthquake strikes northern Peru: USGS

LIMA: A 7.5-magnitude quake struck northern Peru on Sunday, the United States Geological Survey said, but there was no tsunami warning issued.
The offshore quake hit at at 5:52 am (1052 GMT) at a depth of 112.5 kilometers (70 miles), about 42 kilometers northwest of Barranca, USGS said.


Travel curbs aimed at COVID-19 variant tighten across the world

Travel curbs aimed at COVID-19 variant tighten across the world
Updated 20 min 57 sec ago

Travel curbs aimed at COVID-19 variant tighten across the world

Travel curbs aimed at COVID-19 variant tighten across the world
  • The tighter restrictions in the Asia-Pacific region echoed steps rapidly taken by countries around the world to limit the spread of the omicron
  • The United States’ top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he would not be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the US, too

HONG KONG: Australian officials were racing Sunday to conduct further tests on passengers arriving from southern Africa who tested positive for COVID-19 to determine if they were carrying the omicron variant as nations around the world tightened controls against the worrying new strain.
Neighboring New Zealand announced it was restricting travel from nine southern African countries because of the threat posed by the variant, and Japan widened its border controls to include more countries from the region. Tourist-dependent Thailand, which only recently began loosening its tight border restrictions to leisure travelers from certain countries, announced a ban of its own on visitors from eight African counties. Similar restrictions took effect in the business hub of Singapore, which is barring entry and transit to anyone with a recent history of travel to seven southern African nations.
The tighter restrictions in the Asia-Pacific region echoed steps rapidly taken by countries around the world to limit the spread of the omicron variant just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa. The act first, ask questions later approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant nearly two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, upended lives and disrupted economies across the globe.
While much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to the protection provided by vaccines and could mean that the pandemic lasts for longer than anticipated.
Cases involving the omicron variant have already been confirmed on multiple continents, with Germany, Italy, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong all reporting cases in recent days.
The United States’ top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he would not be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the US, too.
“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility ... it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said on NBC television.
In Australia, the New South Wales health department said Sunday that urgent genomic testing was being done on samples taken from two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa the day before and tested positive on arrival.
The department said the travelers were from one of nine African countries that are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in Sydney. The countries are South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi and the Seychelles.
New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the island nation was taking a precautionary approach. From late Sunday, only New Zealand citizens from nine African countries will be allowed entry to New Zealand, and they will be required to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel run by the military.
Hipkins said officials were confident the variant hadn’t entered New Zealand and they were well placed to keep it out.
Many countries have slapped restrictions on various southern African countries over the past couple of days, including the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran and the US, in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant. This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied.

 


Omicron variant likely to be circulating in France — health minister

Omicron variant likely to be circulating in France — health minister
Updated 28 November 2021

Omicron variant likely to be circulating in France — health minister

Omicron variant likely to be circulating in France — health minister
  • The government was tightening restrictions to contain the spread of the virus

PARIS: The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is probably already circulating in France, its health minister said on Sunday, adding that the government was tightening restrictions to contain its spread.
“There is no identification yet, but it’s a matter of hours,” Olivier Veran told reporters at a vaccination center in Paris.


Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him
Updated 28 November 2021

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him
  • The prime minister said violence that swept the capital had been orchestrated by a few people to topple him

SYDNEY: The prime minister of the Solomon Islands defied pressure to resign Sunday, saying violent rioting that swept the capital had been orchestrated by a few people with “evil intention” to topple him.
“It is very clear that the recent events were well planned and orchestrated to remove me as the prime minister for unsubstantiated reasons,” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in an address broadcast to the Pacific island nation.
“I want to show the nation that the government is fully intent and nothing will move us. We must and will never bow down to the evil intention of a few people,” Sogavare said.
Many residents of the Pacific island nation of 800,000 people believe their government is corrupt and beholden to Beijing and other foreign interests.
Protesters have channelled their anger directly at Sogavare and his government, with mobs attempting to torch parliament and the prime minister’s private residence as police fired tear gas and warning shots.
Sogavare has previously blamed the three days of violence — during which rioters incinerated swathes of the capital before the unrest died down at the weekend — on an unscrupulous few leading others astray with false information.
“We must and will never bow down to the evil intention of a few people. We must stand up to intimidation, bullying and violence. We owe this to our children and the majority of our people who cannot defend themselves,” the Solomon Islands leader said.
He said the violence, centered on the capital’s Chinatown, had caused 200 million Solomon Islander dollars ($25 million) in damage and destroyed 1,000 jobs in an economy already squeezed by the impact of the pandemic.
Sogavare said the government was working on a recovery package to help damaged businesses recover.
The prime minister repeated a promise to hold the unidentified “instigators” responsible.
“Rest assured that they will face the full brunt of the law and arrests are already being made as investigations continue, with more arrests to follow,” he said.