India to repeal controversial farm laws after year of protests

India to repeal controversial farm laws after year of protests
Farmers shout slogans as they celebrate news of the repeal of farm laws they were protesting against in Singhu on the outskirts of New Delhi Friday. (AP)
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Updated 21 November 2021

India to repeal controversial farm laws after year of protests

India to repeal controversial farm laws after year of protests
  • Farmers have been demanding that laws opening agricultural trade to private companies must be scrapped
  • Announcement came as the Sikh community in the agricultural state of Punjab celebrated the 552nd birth of their religion’s founder

NEW DELHI: The Indian government will repeal three controversial farm laws that resulted in year-long protests by hundreds of thousands of farmers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Friday.

Farmers from the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where most of the country’s agriculture is concentrated and yields are high, have been protesting since September 2020, holding firm on their demand that the farm laws must be scrapped.

They said the laws would leave them at the mercy of corporations by allowing an unregulated entry of private players into the farm sector and eliminating the minimum support prices the government sets for agricultural produce every year.

Modi made the announcement during a televised address to the nation, saying the process to withdraw the laws will begin in December when parliament sits for the winter session.

“Today, I want to tell the country that we have decided to repeal the three farm laws,” the prime minister said, requesting the protesting farmers camped out in the outskirts of New Delhi to return to their homes and fields.

“Let us move forward afresh. In the parliament session starting at the end of this month, we will complete the process of repealing the three laws.”

Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (Joint Farmers Front), which represents more than 40 farm unions, welcomed Modi’s announcement and demanded a guarantee on the minimum support prices for all produce. The group said that the repeal of the laws “will be a historic victory of the one year-long farmers’ struggle in India.”

Rakesh Tikait, the leader of the Indian Farmers’ Union, addressed the farmers in Delhi on Friday saying, “We will wait for the day when the farm laws are repealed in parliament.”

The announcement came on the day the Sikh community celebrated the 552nd birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Sikhs constitute a majority in Punjab and dominate the state’s agriculture.

Farmers are the most influential voting group in India as the agricultural sector employs more than 50 percent of the country’s population. Punjab and Uttar Pradesh — the most populous agricultural state — will go to the polls early next year, and the protests were seen as posing an electoral challenge to Modi’s administration. Local polls in the populous agricultural states are considered crucial in Indian politics and if the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) loses them, it may lose the next general election.

“I think this is a last-ditch effort to salvage the situation and recover the ground for the general election in 2024,” Delhi-based political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.

“The question is, has the decision come too late? Elections are just a couple of months away, and I don’t think the government can win back farmers now.”

Friday’s victory may even prompt the farmers to demand more.

“I think this is a serious crisis for the Modi government,” Mukhopadhyay said. “If the winners take the first bout, they would like to have the second bout too.”


Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents
Updated 57 min 11 sec ago

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents

Austria to lift lockdown for unvaccinated residents
  • Once the mandate goes into effect, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules

BERLIN: Austria will end its lockdown for unvaccinated residents next Monday — one day before a COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect in the country, the government announced Wednesday, according to Austrian news agency APA.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said the measure, which was introduced in November, was no longer needed because there was no threat of hospital intensive care units being overstretched, APA reported.
For weeks, the lockdown for the unvaccinated has been “a measure that many people complained about, but that was unavoidable for health policy reasons,” Nehammer said.
On Feb. 1, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults — the first of its kind in Europe — will take effect in the small Alpine country. Officials have said the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low. They say it will ensure that Austria’s hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. So far, 75.4 percent of the country’s residents have been fully vaccinated.
Once the mandate goes into effect, authorities will write to every household to inform them of the new rules.
From mid-March, police will start checking people’s vaccination status during routine checks; people who can’t produce proof of vaccination will be asked to do so in writing, and will be fined up to 600 euros ($676) if they don’t.
If authorities judge the country’s vaccination progress still to be insufficient, Nehammer said earlier this month, they would then send reminders to people who remain unvaccinated. If even that doesn’t work, people would be sent a vaccination appointment and fined if they don’t keep it. Officials hope they won’t need to use the last measure. Fines could reach 3,600 euros if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.


Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack
Updated 26 January 2022

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack

Ukraine says Russian troop build-up ‘insufficient’ for major attack
  • ‘At the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border’
KIEV: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday that the number of Russian troops deployed along his country’s border was not enough for a major attack.
“The number of Russian troops amassed along the border of Ukraine and occupied territories of Ukraine is large, it poses a threat to Ukraine, a direct threat to Ukraine,” Kuleba told reporters.
“However, at the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive against Ukraine along the entire Ukrainian border.”

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue attack

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue attack
Updated 26 January 2022

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue attack

UK police arrest two more men over Texas synagogue attack
  • The day-long siege occurred on Jan. 15 when a British man took four people hostage at a synagogue in Colleyville

LONDON: British police said on Wednesday they had arrested two men in the northern English city of Manchester as part of a US investigation into a hostage taking at a synagogue in Texas earlier in January.
British police had previously said they had arrested four people over the incident: two teenagers in Manchester plus one man in Birmingham and another man in Manchester. The teenagers have been released without charge.
The day-long siege occurred on Jan. 15 when a British man took four people hostage at a synagogue in Colleyville, about 16 miles northeast of Fort Worth, Texas. The gunman died as federal agents stormed the temple while the four hostages were released unharmed.


Denmark aims to scrap all COVID-19 curbs by February

Denmark aims to scrap all COVID-19 curbs by February
Updated 26 January 2022

Denmark aims to scrap all COVID-19 curbs by February

Denmark aims to scrap all COVID-19 curbs by February
  • The move is the most far-reaching easing of curbs yet seen among the Nordic countries

COPENHAGEN: Denmark aims to scrap all remaining COVID-19 restrictions next week, the most far-reaching easing of curbs yet seen among the Nordic countries.
In a letter addressed to parliament, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said the government intends to follow recommendations issued by an expert panel on Tuesday to scrap all restrictions.
The proposal is still subject to parliamentary approval.


Russia puts jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s brother on wanted list

Russia puts jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s brother on wanted list
Updated 26 January 2022

Russia puts jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s brother on wanted list

Russia puts jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s brother on wanted list
  • Oleg Navalny, whose whereabouts are unknown, was last year held under house arrest between January and April
  • He was handed a one-year suspended sentence for violating safety regulations linked to the COVID-19 pandemic

MOSCOW: Russia has put the brother of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on a wanted list, according to interior ministry records, as he faces a summons for a court hearing that could convert a suspended sentence against him into a prison term.
Oleg Navalny, whose whereabouts are unknown, was last year held under house arrest between January and April and handed a one-year suspended sentence for violating safety regulations linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those charges were filed after he took part in a Moscow rally against his brother Alexei’s arrest.
The Federal Penitentiary Service will petition a Moscow court on Feb. 18 to sentence Oleg Navalny to jail time for failing to comply with restrictions imposed against him for violating safety regulations, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
The 38-year-old was released from prison in 2018 after serving three-and-a-half years for an embezzlement conviction that critics say was designed to pressure his brother and smother dissent.
Alexei Navalny was given a suspended sentence in the same case, converted into a prison term last year because of alleged parole violations. He says the charges against him are politically motivated.
An anti-corruption campaigner and high-profile critic of President Vladimir Putin for the past decade, he survived being poisoned with a nerve agent in 2020 and his political network was banned as “extremist” last year.