India’s parliament adjourned after protests over Gandhi expulsion

India's Congress party activists and supporters protest against conviction of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case, in New Delhi on March 26, 2023. (AFP)
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India's Congress party activists and supporters protest against conviction of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case, in New Delhi on March 26, 2023. (AFP)
India's Congress party activists and supporters protest against conviction of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case, in New Delhi on March 27, 2023. (AFP)
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India's Congress party activists and supporters protest against conviction of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case, in New Delhi on March 27, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 28 March 2023

India’s parliament adjourned after protests over Gandhi expulsion

India’s parliament adjourned after protests over Gandhi expulsion
  • The conviction stemmed from a remark made during the 2019 election campaign when Gandhi had asked why “all thieves have Modi as (their) common surname”

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament was adjourned twice on Monday after lawmakers held rowdy protests and threw paper at the speaker following the expulsion from the house of top opposition figure Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi lost his parliamentary seat on Friday after being convicted in a case that critics say shows how the rule of law is under threat in the world’s largest democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The speaker called off proceedings less than a minute after opposition MPs wearing black erupted in shouting, some of them throwing bits of paper at him.
“I want to run the House with dignity,” Speaker Om Birla said.
The session resumed several hours later only to be abandoned again after about 10 minutes as opposition MPs chanted anti-Modi slogans and waved “Democracy in danger” placards.
It was the latest in a string of stoppages in recent weeks in India’s often raucous parliament among lawmakers representing India’s 1.4 billion people.
Opposition MPs have been demanding a probe into potential links between Modi and the business empire of tycoon Gautam Adani, which has been hit by allegations of accounting fraud.
Debates have also descended into shouting matches over comments made by Gandhi in Britain in early March that Indian democracy is “under attack.”
Opposition lawmakers from different parties also staged protests in New Delhi on Monday, the latest in a series of recent demonstrations.
Piyush Goyal, trade minister and a member of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Monday accused the opposition of “cheap politics” and “trying to mislead people.”
Gandhi “has no right to consider himself above the law of the country,” Goyal told reporters.

Despite facing criticism from human rights groups, Modi has largely been courted by Western governments which see India, this year’s host of the Group of 20 economies, as a bulwark against China and potential player on the Ukraine war.
“Respect for the rule of law and judicial independence is a cornerstone of any democracy, and we’re watching Mr.Gandhi’s case in Indian courts,” US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said, steering clear of condemning the opposition leader’s expulsion.
“We engage with the government of India on our shared commitment to democratic values, including, of course, freedom of expression,” Patel told reporters in Washington.
Gandhi, 52, is the leading face of the opposition Congress party, once the dominant force of Indian politics, and is the scion of India’s most famous political dynasty.
But Congress has for years been repeatedly crushed in elections by Modi’s BJP and its nationalist appeals to India’s Hindu majority.
The lower house of parliament ruled Gandhi ineligible to sit as an MP on Friday, a day after he was sentenced to two years for defamation. He is appealing.
The conviction stemmed from a remark made during the 2019 election campaign when Gandhi had asked why “all thieves have Modi as (their) common surname.”
His comments were portrayed as a slur against the prime minister and against all those with the same surname, which is associated with the lower rungs of India’s caste hierarchy.
A BJP spokesman said Thursday the court acted with “due judicial process” in arriving at its ruling in the case, one of several Gandhi is facing.
Legal action has been widely deployed against opposition party figures and institutions seen as critical of the Modi government during its nine years in power.
Domestic and international media have also come under growing pressure. Last month, tax inspectors raided the local offices of Britain’s BBC.
The Editors Guild of India said the raids demonstrated a “trend of using government agencies to intimidate or harass press organizations that are critical of government policies.”
On Saturday, Gandhi, who recently completed a walk across India that was hailed as a success by commentators, said he would “do whatever I have to do to defend the democratic nature of this country.”

 


Turkiye to send commando unit to help quell unrest in Kosovo

Turkiye to send commando unit to help quell unrest in Kosovo
Updated 15 sec ago

Turkiye to send commando unit to help quell unrest in Kosovo

Turkiye to send commando unit to help quell unrest in Kosovo
ANKARA: The Turkish defense ministry announced Saturday it will be sending a commando battalion to northern Kosovo in response to a NATO request for troops to help quell violent unrest.
The request came from NATO’s Joint Force Command Naples, the ministry said in a press statement posted on its official Twitter account, and the battalion will join the alliance’s peacekeeping mission in the region, known as KFOR, as a reserve unit.
A defense ministry official said around 500 Turkish troops would be going to Kosovo. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with ministry regulations.
NATO announced on Tuesday that it would be sending 700 troops to bolster the force in the area. KFOR currently consists of almost 3,800 troops, including some 350 from Turkiye.
Violent clashes with ethnic Serbs on Monday left 30 international soldiers — 11 Italians and 19 Hungarians — wounded, including fractures and burns from improvised explosive incendiary devices.
The clashes grew out of a confrontation that unfolded earlier after ethnic Albanian officials elected in votes overwhelmingly boycotted by Serbs entered municipal buildings to take office and were blocked by Serbs.
“We urge restraint and dialogue to resolve these developments in northern Kosovo which endanger regional security and stability,” the Turkish statement read. The Turkish commando battalion will be deploying to the Sultan Murat Barracks in Kosovo on Sunday and Monday.

Moscow ally Kyrgyzstan says ready to work with EU

Moscow ally Kyrgyzstan says ready to work with EU
Updated 23 min 46 sec ago

Moscow ally Kyrgyzstan says ready to work with EU

Moscow ally Kyrgyzstan says ready to work with EU
  • Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has prompted global powers such as China and the European Union to seek a greater role in Central Asia
  • "Kyrgyzstan is ready to work hand in hand with the European Union to resolve shared problems, encourage dialogue and find lasting solutions," said President Sadyr Japarov

CHOLPON-ATA, Kyrgyzstan: The president of Kyrgyzstan said on Saturday his ex-Soviet republic was ready to work with the EU, which hopes to tighten ties with a region Russia sees as its sphere of influence.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted global powers such as China and the European Union to seek a greater role in Central Asia.
This comes at a time when many in the region are questioning their long-standing ties with Russia and are seeking economic, diplomatic and strategic assurances elsewhere.
“Kyrgyzstan is ready to work hand in hand with the European Union to resolve shared problems, encourage dialogue and find lasting solutions,” said President Sadyr Japarov, whose country is an ally of Moscow.
He was speaking during a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel.
Michel on Friday took part in a summit attended by the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The high-profile gathering in the resort of Cholpon-Ata on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul was the second summit between the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the EU, the top donor to the region and its main investment partner.
“We offer a sincere partnership” to the region’s five former Soviet republics, Michel told AFP in an interview Friday.
Japarov stressed the potential for solar and hydroelectric power in Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country of six million inhabitants where Central Asia’s main rivers rise.
Japarov also defended the planned Kambarata-1 dam, a huge project on the Naryn river, which flows through both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
The dam and other hydroelectric projects have sparked tensions between states in Central Asia, where water shortages are increasingly frequent.
Russia remains the main power in the unstable and tightly controlled region, whose leaders have been criticized for helping Moscow circumvent Western sanctions over the war on Ukraine.
Neighbouring Afghanistan, under control of the Taliban, is also a source of instability.
Japarov and Michel issued a joint statement stressing their commitment to ensuring the Central Asian states remained independent.
On Friday, the Kyrgyz president openly called for the end to the war in Ukraine, another former Soviet republic.
It was a rare declaration from the leader of a country which refrains from publicly criticizing Moscow, on which it is still economically and military dependent.


Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September

Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September
Updated 03 June 2023

Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September

Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September
  • Pontiff will tour the vast nation from August 31 to September 4 at the invitation of the country’s president and church authorities

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will go to Mongolia in early September in the first visit by a pontiff to the Buddhist-majority Asian nation, the Vatican announced Saturday.
The 86-year-old pontiff will tour the vast nation, sandwiched between Russia and China, from August 31 to September 4 at the invitation of the country’s president and church authorities, the head of the Vatican’s press service Matteo Bruni said.
The announcement of the trip comes just two months after Francis was hospitalized for three nights with bronchitis, after which he returned to his busy schedule.
Mongolia has one of the world’s smallest Catholic communities, estimated at just 1,500 people among the more than three million residents.
But Francis has long championed trips to smaller or more far-flung nations.
Last August, he made a cardinal Italian missionary Giorgio Marengo, who as apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar is the most senior Catholic official in Mongolia.
China will likely loom large over the visit, given its close economic ties with Mongolia.
Francis led a years-long effort to build ties with Communist Beijing and in 2018 the Holy See reached a two-year agreement on the thorny issue of the appointment of bishops.
The accord was renewed for two years in October, against a backdrop of tensions over the place of the country’s estimated 10 million or so Catholics.
“Mongolia is a peripheral state for China,” said Antoine Maire, a Mongolia specialist at France’s Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique.
But he said he did not see the country playing a mediating role between the Vatican and Beijing, saying it was balanced between its two giant neighbors.
“They are caught in a vice between Russia and China” Maire told AFP, suggesting with the pope’s visit Mongolia allows them to “diversify their external relations.”
Mongolia has struggled with political instability since its first democratic constitution in 1992, when it emerged from the Soviet orbit.
It has been the subject of growing interest in recent years from the United States as part of a strategy to thwart the rise of China.
The Vatican established formal diplomatic relations with Mongolia in 1992.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has conducted 41 overseas trips and visited around 60 different countries.
Despite an increasing number of health issues, notably a knee problem that has required him to use a wheelchair for the past year, he continues to travel.
Earlier this year he visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, and Hungary, and has trips planned later this year to Portugal and to Marseille.
He has talked about potentially going to India in 2024, while other Asian visits in the past have included trips to Kazakhstan, Japan and South Korea.


US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait

US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait
Updated 03 June 2023

US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait

US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait
  • While US warships transit the strait around once a month, it is unusual for them to do so with those of other US allies

TAIPEI: A US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday, the US Navy said, in a rare joint mission in the sensitive waterway at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington over Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and Canada’s HMCS Montreal conducted a “routine” transit of the strait “through waters where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law.”
“Chung-Hoon and Montreal’s bilateral transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it said in a statement.
While US warships transit the strait around once a month, it is unusual for them to do so with those of other US allies.
The mission took place as the US and Chinese defense chiefs were attending a major regional security summit in Singapore.
At that event, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rebuked China for refusing to hold military talks, leaving the superpowers deadlocked over Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate response to the sailing from China’s military, which routinely denounces them as a US effort to stir up tensions.
The last such publicly revealed US-Canadian mission in the narrow strait took place in September.
China has been ramping up military and political pressure in an attempt to force Taiwan to accept Beijing’s sovereignty claims, which the government in Taipei strongly rejects.


US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data

US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data
Updated 03 June 2023

US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data

US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data
  • Pyongyang has doubled down on military development since diplomatic efforts collapsed in 2019

The United States, Japan and South Korea aim to share North Korean missile warning data before the end of 2023, the three countries said in a statement following a Saturday meeting of their defense chiefs in Singapore.

The three sides “recognized trilateral efforts to activate a data sharing mechanism to exchange real-time missile warning data before the end of the year in order to improve each country’s ability to detect and assess missiles launched” by North Korea, the statement said.

The announcement followed a failed North Korean attempt to launch a spy satellite on Wednesday, which crashed into the sea after a rocket failure.

South Korea’s military said it had managed to locate and salvage a portion of the suspected debris.

Seoul, Tokyo and Washington all slammed the launch, which they said violated a raft of UN resolutions barring Pyongyang from any tests using ballistic missile technology.

Pyongyang has doubled down on military development since diplomatic efforts collapsed in 2019, conducting a string of banned weapons tests, including test-firing multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last year declared his country an “irreversible” nuclear power and called for an “exponential” increase in weapons production, including tactical nuclear weapons.