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  • Farmers to continue resistance until year-old legislations repealed; govt cries ‘vested interests’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come to a standstill, with several farmers’ representatives saying that they would not back down until the laws were repealed.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.


Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack
Updated 55 min 19 sec ago

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack
  • Espen Andersen Brathen is believed to have acted alone when he killed four women and a man, aged between 50 and 70, in several locations in Kongsberg where he lived
  • While authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of an act of terror, they seemed to be leaning toward the theory that it was the act of a mentally unstable person

KONGSBERG, Norway: A bow-and-arrow attack in Norway that left five people dead this week appears to have been motivated by mental illness, authorities indicated Friday, as the perpetrator was ordered to be kept in a medical facility.
Espen Andersen Brathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen who converted to Islam and is believed to have been radicalized, has confessed to the Wednesday killings in police questioning.
He was in custody in a medical facility on Friday pending a psychiatric evaluation.
“The strongest hypothesis after the first days of the investigation is that illness is in the background,” police inspector Per Thomas Omholt told reporters on Friday.
Police were however keeping other possibilities open, and have investigated a range of motives including “anger, revenge, impulse, extremism, illness and provocation,” Omholt said.
The psychiatric evaluation, which could take several months, is necessary to determine whether Brathen can be held legally responsible for his actions.
“This indicates that things are not exactly as they should be,” his lawyer Fredrik Neumann said, referring to his client’s mental health.
“A complete judicial assessment will clarify that,” he told the Norwegian newspaper VG.
Omholt said Friday that Brathen had admitted to the acts but did not admit guilt.
While authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of an act of terror, they seemed to be leaning toward the theory that it was the act of a mentally unstable person.
“There is no doubt that (it) appears as if it could be an act of terror, but it’s important that the investigation continues and that we establish the motive of the suspect,” the head of Norway’s intelligence service PST, Hans Sverre Sjovold, said Thursday.
“This is a person who has been in and out of the health system for some time.”
Four women and one man were killed and three people injured in the attack in the town of Kongsberg, and police said a bow and arrows and two other undisclosed weapons were used before he was arrested.
Brathan was known to PST, which is in charge of Norway’s anti-terrorism efforts, but few details have emerged about why. According to public broadcaster NRK, the first warning was in 2015.
“There were fears linked to radicalization previously,” police official Ole Bredrup Saeverud told reporters.
Those reports dated to last year or earlier, and police said they had followed up at the time.
Norwegian media reported that in 2018 the PST had warned that he could commit “a small-scale attack.”
It also said that Brathen was subject to two prior court rulings, including a restraining order against him regarding his parents after threatening to kill his father, and a conviction for burglary and purchasing narcotics in 2012.
Local media also unearthed a video Brathen allegedly posted on social media in 2017, in which he issued a “warning” and declared his Muslim faith.
Speaking anonymously, one of Brathen’s neighbors described him as a big person with a crew cut and a serious demeanour, who was always seen “alone.”
“No smile, nothing in the face. He was just staring,” the neighbor told AFP.
Brathen is believed to have acted alone when he killed four women and a man, aged between 50 and 70, in several locations in Kongsberg where he lived.
Flowers and candles were placed in front of the various crime scenes in Kongsberg, a town of 25,000 people still reeling from the attack.
Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who took office on Thursday following elections last month, visited the town on Friday.
“We stand together when crisis strikes. For those of who have political responsibility, the safety of our citizens is the most important thing,” he said in a speech.
Svein Westad, a 75-year-old pensioner wandered aimlessly on Hyttegata street, where two of his neighbors and close friends were killed in their homes.
“I’m totally broken into pieces, I cannot say anything more than that. I will never get over this,” he told AFP.
“They should have caught him immediately,” he said, referring to criticism against the police for arresting Brathen more than 30 minutes after the first reports came in.
Norway rarely experiences such violence, but 10 years ago Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in the country’s worst massacre since World War II.


UK PM Johnson visits church where lawmaker was stabbed to death

UK PM Johnson visits church where lawmaker was stabbed to death
Updated 16 October 2021

UK PM Johnson visits church where lawmaker was stabbed to death

UK PM Johnson visits church where lawmaker was stabbed to death
LEIGH-ON-SEA: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday visited the church where lawmaker David Amess was stabbed to death a day earlier in what police say they are treating as a terrorist attack.
Amess, 69, from Johnson's Conservative Party, was knifed repeatedly in the attack at about midday on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, during a meeting with constituents.
Johnson, interior minister Priti Patel, and leader of the opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer were among those to lay flowers in tribute to Amess at the scene of the murder.
Johnson and Starmer stood side by side in a moment of silence before leaving. On Friday, Johnson said Britain had lost a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague.
In a statement early on Saturday, police said the early investigation had revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamic extremism.
Police arrested a 25-year-old British man at the scene on suspicion of murder, adding it is believed he acted alone.
Amess in the second lawmaker in little over five years to be murdered while out meeting constituents, after Jo Cox was shot and stabbed in June 2016, a few days before Britain voted to leave the European Union.

China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
Updated 16 October 2021

China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
  • Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022
  • With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit

JIUQUAN, China: China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts — two men and one woman — to the core module of a future space station where they will live and work for six months, the longest orbit for Chinese astronauts.
A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which means “Divine Vessel,” blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at 12:23 a.m. (1623 GMT on Friday).
The vessel successfully docked to the port of the space station on at 6:56 a.m. (2156 GMT), and the astronauts entered the space station’s core module at 10:03 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said.
China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe — the first and largest of the station’s three modules. Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station.
Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. During the first crewed mission https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/chinese-astronauts-return-after-90-day-mission-space-station-2021-09-17 that concluded in September, three other astronauts stayed on Tianhe for 90 days.
In the latest mission, astronauts will carry out tests of the key technologies and robotics on Tianhe needed to assemble the space station, verify onboard life support systems and conduct a host of scientific experiments.
The mission commander is Zhai Zhigang, 55, from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. Born to a rural family with six children, Zhai carried out China’s first spacewalk in 2008. Shenzhou-13 was his second space mission.
“The most challenging task will be the long-term stay in orbit for six months,” Zhai told a news conference on Thursday. “It will exact higher demands (on us), both physically and psychologically.”
He was accompanied by Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, both 41.
Wang, also born to a rural family, is known among colleagues for her tenacity. The former air force pilot first traveled to space in 2013, to Tiangong-1, a prototype space lab.
She is China’s second female astronaut in space, following Liu Yang in 2012.
Shenzhou-13 is the first space mission for the third astronaut, Ye.
After the crew returns to Earth in April, China plans to deploy six more missions, including deliveries of the second and third space station modules and two final crewed missions.
China, barred by US law from working with NASA and by extension on the International Space Station (ISS), has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own.
With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit.
China’s space program has come far since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space. China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, in October 2003, following the former Soviet Union and the United States. (Reporting by Carlos Garcia and Xihao Jiang; additional reporting by Josh Horwitz; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie and William Mallard)


Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns
Updated 16 October 2021

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns
  • Presidential and vice-presidential election is scheduled to be held on May 9, 2022

MANILA: Foreigners involved in political campaigning in the Philippines could face deportation, especially if their activity involves electioneering, immigration authorities have said, as the Southeast Asian nation prepares for next year’s presidential election.
The presidential and vice-presidential polls are scheduled to be held on May 9, 2022. Registration for candidates closed on Oct. 8, but the list of presidential hopefuls is not yet final as substitutions may take place until Nov. 15.
Among those seeking to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte, whose term will end in June, are the current vice president, and Duterte critic, Leni Robredo, former boxing champion Sen. Manny Pacquiao, former actor and now Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa — who was the chief implementor of Duterte’s controversial “war on drugs” campaign — and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“Foreigners joining mass actions and protests including election campaigns is disrespectful to our prescribed laws and is considered a violation of their stay in the Philippines,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said earlier this week. “Those foreigners … found guilty of such acts, especially electioneering, shall be deported and blacklisted, perpetually barring them from returning to the Philippines.”
Morente said the authorities have zero tolerance for non-citizens “meddling in the internal affairs of the Philippines as a sovereign nation.
“We are sending this early reminder as we have encountered so many deportation cases of foreigners who have engaged in political activities in the past,” he added.

Political activities
In 2018, four foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country on charges of participating in political activities. Among them was Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who had lived in the Philippines for nearly three decades and who had publicly denounced Duterte’s deadly anti-drug campaign.
In 2013, Dutch activist Thomas van Beersum was deported after he was photographed shouting at a Filipino police officer as he joined a protest held during the annual presidential state of the nation address.
Another foreign national, Canadian student Kim Chatillon-Miller, was deported the same year, also for joining an anti-SONA demonstration.
Around 62 million Filipinos over the age of 18 are expected to take part in next year’s presidential vote, which will coincide with general elections.
Politicians from across the country will vie for more than 18,000 positions — at the Senate, House of Representatives, party-list groups, and the national and sub-national administration.


Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program
Updated 16 October 2021

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

ISLAMABAD: An animal sanctuary in the Pakistani capital claims to be the first in the country to introduce a dedicated trap-neuter-vaccinate-return program to deal with
stray dogs.
The initiative is aimed at using humane methods to manage thousands of free-roaming dogs in Islamabad often seen by authorities and the public as a threat due to their aggressive behavior and them carrying diseases such as rabies.
The Comprehensive Disaster Response Services Benji Project Animal Sanctuary in the city has estimated there are at least 3 million stray dogs in Pakistan, with upward of 50,000 culled each year.
The Global Alliance for Rabies Control has said that more than 80,500 cases of dog bites are reported by basic health units across Pakistan annually, and the World Health Organization estimates that up to 5,000 people die of rabies in the country
every year.
The solution adopted by authorities in most major Pakistani cities is culling of the animals either by shooting them or feeding them poisonous food.
But animal rights groups have advocated vaccination and spaying methods as a better, more humane alternative.
The CDRS Benji Project is testing out one such solution with Pakistan’s first dedicated TNVR program, aimed at reducing both the number of stray dogs and the suffering they have been subjected to for decades, while also making them safer through vaccination, and training to be less aggressive.
“We realized that TNVR is the only way that we can help in reducing, humanely, the number of dogs that roam the streets,” project director Quatrina Hosain told Arab News.
“We have no idea what kind of level of poisoning takes place or shooting takes place ... but one estimate is that it’s upward of 50,000 dogs being killed every year. And that is not the solution,” she said.
She pointed out that the sanctuary’s latest arrivals were 15 puppies brought in from Rawalpindi after their mothers were poisoned.
“It (culling) is cruel and inhumane, because they don’t differentiate between nursing mothers, pregnant dogs, and it is just a terrible thing to do. I believe that nobody wants to kill dogs, but they don’t want the dogs to multiply at the level that they are. So TNVR is the only humane way,” Hosain added.
A single female dog can deliver more than a dozen puppies a year, or more than 80 over her lifetime, according to animal rights NGO Four Paws International. Without loving homes to provide adequate shelter, food, and medical care, puppies and kittens — in Pakistan and countries around the world without adequate care for strays — are frequently left to fend for themselves.
Born under less-than-ideal conditions, most of the pups do not survive their first weeks of life — during the winter months many freeze to death, starve when their mothers are killed by traffic, are attacked and eaten by other animals, and sometimes deliberately killed by humans.
CDRS wants to change this, which is why it set up a dedicated facility just a short drive away from Islamabad’s Gulberg Greens neighborhood.
Staff at the facility said that strays were an integral part of the larger ecosystem, particularly for their scavenger roles in removing leftover food such as carcasses and agricultural and city waste. They also help reduce rat populations.
The project is so far a humble beginning, but sanctuary workers are hopeful for more support from authorities and the public. They noted that Turkey was a good example to follow.
CDRS veterinarian, Dr. Hasnain Raza, said: “TNVR was implemented in Turkey some 20 years back, and it has shown very positive results in the country, so we are trying to implement that model in Pakistan. This is a model facility for showing people that it can work, and it is worth trying.
“But we can’t do it alone. In collaboration with the public sector and the private sector, together, we can make sure that animals are cared for in Pakistan.”