Indian Prime Minister Modi showcases yoga and his country’s cultural diplomacy on the UN lawn

Indian Prime Minister Modi showcases yoga and his country’s cultural diplomacy on the UN lawn
India’s PM Narendra Modi, known for his reputation of an ascetic, is participating in a yoga session at the UN during his three-day visit to the United States. (AP/File)
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Updated 21 June 2023
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Indian Prime Minister Modi showcases yoga and his country’s cultural diplomacy on the UN lawn

Indian Prime Minister Modi showcases yoga and his country’s cultural diplomacy on the UN lawn
  • “When we do yoga, we feel physically fit, mentally calm and emotionally content. But it is not just about doing exercise on a mat,” Modi said
  • The event honors the International Day of Yoga, which Modi persuaded the UN to designate in 2014 as an annual observance

UNITED NATIONS: Praising yoga as “truly universal,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined a crowd of diplomats and dignitaries for a morning yoga session on Wednesday at the United Nations and kicked off the public portion of his US visit by calmly flexing India’s cultural reach.
With a checkerboard of made-in-India yoga mats covering the UN headquarters’ spacious north lawn, Modi stopped and bowed at a statue of the assassinated Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. Then, in brief remarks, Modi turned to the topic at hand, portraying yoga as an all-ages, try-it-anywhere practice accessible to all faiths and cultures.
“When we do yoga, we feel physically fit, mentally calm and emotionally content. But it is not just about doing exercise on a mat,” Modi said. “Yoga is a way of life.”
Then the leader of the world’s most populous nation took his spot on a mat amid the throng, hands folded, as a yoga instructor led the opening chants and a cloud-filtered sun glinted off the adjacent East River and the flags of the world body’s member nations rippled in the breeze.
The event honors the International Day of Yoga, which Modi persuaded the UN to designate in 2014 as an annual observance.
Modi arrived in New York on Tuesday for a trip that will offer plenty of time to discuss global tensions. But starting out by highlighting an ancient pursuit of inner tranquility is a savvy and symbolic choice for a premier who has made yoga a personal practice and a diplomatic tool.
Modi, a Hindu nationalist, casts himself as an ascetic who adheres to his religion’s strictures on vegetarianism and yoga. He has posted social media videos over the years of himself practicing yoga poses (to say nothing of providing live visuals of him meditating in a Himalayan mountain cave after national elections in 2019).
Modi last visited the UN during the 2021 General Assembly, where he said that “all kinds of questions have been raised about the UN” and its effectiveness on matters including climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and terrorism.
He also made a point of staking out his country’s place in the international community, noting that “every sixth person in the world is Indian.” In the years since his speech, India has surpassed China to claim the world’s largest population, at 1.425 billion.
India has long sought a permanent seat on the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful organ. India has been elected to a two-year seat several times, most recently for 2021-22.
Modi planned to head to Washington later Wednesday for a three-day visit that includes an Oval Office meeting with President Joe Biden, an address to a joint meeting of Congress, a White House state dinner and more. Among the plans: a State Department luncheon hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was born in India, and by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The visit comes as both countries are interested in strengthening ties.
The US has been looking to India, also the world’s biggest democracy, as a key partner on matters that include checking China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. India, meanwhile, wants to bolster military and trade connections with the US
However, human rights advocates are urging Biden to press Modi on human rights issues, both international and within India. Modi has faced criticism over legislation that fast-tracks citizenship for some migrants but excludes Muslims; a rise in violence against Muslims and other religious minorities by Hindu nationalists; and the recent conviction of India’s top opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, for mocking Modi’s surname. (Gandhi recently visited the US himself, speaking to private organizations and university students.)
The Indian government defends its human rights record and insists that the nation’s democratic principles remain rock-solid.
On Tuesday evening, Modi met with a range of prominent US academics and health experts, scientists and business leaders, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Speaking to media afterwards, Musk said he was excited about India’s future and the opportunities it presented.
“I think India has more promise than any large country in the world,” Musk said, adding that he was confident Tesla “will be in India … as soon as humanly possible.” The tech billionaire last month said his company may pick a location for a new factory by the end of this year and that India was an interesting place for it.


Here’s what you should know about Donald Trump’s conviction in his hush money trial

Here’s what you should know about Donald Trump’s conviction in his hush money trial
Updated 19 sec ago
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Here’s what you should know about Donald Trump’s conviction in his hush money trial

Here’s what you should know about Donald Trump’s conviction in his hush money trial
  • Judge Juan M. Merchan set sentencing for July 11, just days before Republicans are set to formally nominate him for president
  • After Trump is sentenced, he can challenge his conviction in an appellate division of the state’s trial court and possibly, the state’s highest court

NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts marks the end of the former president’s historic hush money trial but the fight over the case is far from over.
Now comes the sentencing and the prospect of a prison sentence. A lengthy appellate process. And all the while, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee still has to deal with three more criminal cases and a campaign that could see him return to the White House.
The Manhattan jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business records after more than nine hours of deliberations over two days in the case stemming from a hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump angrily denounced the trial as a “disgrace,” telling reporters he’s an “innocent man.”
Some key takeaways from the jury’s decision:
Prison time?
The big question now is whether Trump could go to prison. The answer is uncertain. Judge Juan M. Merchan set sentencing for July 11, just days before Republicans are set to formally nominate him for president.
The charge of falsifying business records is a Class E felony in New York, the lowest tier of felony charges in the state. It is punishable by up to four years in prison, though the punishment would ultimately be up to the judge and there’s no guarantee he would give Trump time bars.
It’s unclear to what extent the judge may factor in the political and logistical complexities of jailing a former president who is running to reclaim the White House. Other punishments could include a fine or probation. And it’s possible the judge would allow Trump to avoid serving any punishment until after he exhausts his appeals.
The conviction doesn’t also bar Trump from continuing his campaign. Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who serves as co-chair of the Republican National Committee, said in a Fox News Channel interview on Thursday that if Trump is convicted and sentenced to home confinement, he would do virtual rallies and campaign events.
“We’ll have to play the hand that we’re dealt,” she said, according to an interview transcript.
Avenues for appeal

After Trump is sentenced, he can challenge his conviction in an appellate division of the state’s trial court and possibly, the state’s highest court. Trump’s lawyers have already been laying the groundwork for appeals with objections to the charges and rulings at trial.
The defense has accused the judge of bias, citing his daughter’s work heading a firm whose clients have included President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Democrats. The judge refused the defense’s request to remove himself from the case, saying he was certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial.”
Trump’s lawyers may also raise on appeal the judge’s ruling limiting the testimony of a potential defense expert witness. The defense wanted to call Bradley Smith, a Republican law professor who served on the Federal Election Commission, to rebut the prosecution’s contention that the hush money payments amounted to campaign-finance violations.
But the defense ended up not having him testify after the judge ruled he could give general background on the FEC but can’t interpret how federal campaign finance laws apply to the facts of Trump’s case or opine on whether Trump’s alleged actions violate those laws. There are often guardrails around expert testimony on legal matters, on the basis that it’s up to a judge — not an expert hired by one side or the other — to instruct jurors on applicable laws.
The defense may also argue that jurors were improperly allowed to hear sometimes graphic testimony from porn actor Stormy Daniels about her alleged sexual encounter with him in 2006. The defense unsuccessfully pushed for a mistrial over the tawdry details prosecutors elicited from Daniels. Defense lawyer Todd Blanche argued Daniels’ description of a power imbalance with the older, taller Trump, was a “dog whistle for rape,” irrelevant to the charges at hand, and “the kind of testimony that makes it impossible to come back from.”
A sparse defense
The former president’s lawyers called just two witnesses in a sparse defense case, including attorney and former federal prosecutor Robert Costello. The defense sought to use Costello to discredit prosecutors’ star witness, Michael Cohen, the Trump attorney-turned-adversary who directly implicated Trump in the hush money scheme. But the move may have backfired in devastating fashion because it opened the door for prosecutors to question Costello about a purported pressure campaign aimed at keeping Cohen loyal to Trump after the FBI raided Cohen’s property in April 2018.
While Costello buoyed the defense by testifying that Cohen denied to him that Trump knew anything about the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels, Costello had few answers when prosecutor Susan Hoffinger confronted him with emails he sent to Cohen in which he repeatedly dangled his close ties to Trump-ally Rudy Giuliani. In one email, Costello told Cohen: “Sleep well tonight. you have friends in high places,” and relayed that there were “some very positive comments about you from the White House.”
Cohen largely kept his cool on the witness stand in the face of heated cross-examination by the defense, who tried to paint him as a liar with a vendetta against his former boss. The curt, pugnacious Costello, on the other hand, aggravated the judge — at times in view of the jury — but continuing to speak after objections and rolling his eyes. At one point, after sending the jury out of the room, the judge became enraged when he said Costello was staring him down. Merchan then briefly cleared the courtroom of reporters and scolded Costello, warning that if he acted out again, he’d be removed from the courtroom and his testimony would be stricken.
Laying the groundwork for a loss
While projecting confidence, Trump and his campaign also spent weeks trying to undermine the case ahead of a potential conviction. He repeatedly called the whole system “rigged” — a term he used to similarly used to falsely describe the election he lost to President Joe Biden in 2020.
“Mother Teresa could not beat these charge,” he said Wednesday, invoking the Catholic nun and saint as jury deliberations began.
Trump has lambasted the judge, insulted Bragg, and complained about members of the prosecution team. He has tried to paint the case as nothing more than a politically-motivated witch hunt.
Trump’s criticism also extended to choices seemingly made by his own legal team. He railed that “a lot of key witnesses were not called” by the prosecution — even though his side chose to call only two witnesses.
He has also complained about being restricted from speaking about aspects of the case by a gag order, but chose not to take the stand. Instead of testifying in the case — and subjecting himself to the inherent risks of perjury and cross examination, Trump has focused on the court of public opinion and the voters who will ultimately decide his fate.
What it means for the election
In a deeply divided America, it’s unclear whether Trump’s once-imaginable status as a person convicted of a felony will have any impact at all on the election.
Leading strategists in both parties believe that Trump still remains well-positioned to defeat Biden, even as he now faces the prospect of a prison sentence and three separate criminal cases still outstanding. In the short term, at least, there were immediate signs that the guilty verdict was helping to unify the Republican Party’s disparate factions as GOP officials across the political spectrum rallied behind their embattled presumptive presidential nominee and his campaign expected to benefit from a flood of fundraising dollars.
There has been some polling conducted on the prospect of a guilty verdict, although such hypothetical scenarios are notoriously difficult to predict. A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll found that only 4 percent of Trump’s supporters said they would withdraw their support if he’s convicted of a felony, though another 16 percent said they would reconsider it.


Hundreds protest Netanyahu interview broadcast in France

Hundreds protest Netanyahu interview broadcast in France
Updated 47 min 57 sec ago
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Hundreds protest Netanyahu interview broadcast in France

Hundreds protest Netanyahu interview broadcast in France

PARIS: Hundreds of demonstrators rallied late Thursday outside a top French television station to protest the broadcast of an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Gaza war.

Wearing black and white keffiyeh scarves and waving Palestinian flags, protesters gathered peacefully outside the offices of private broadcaster TF1 in the western Paris suburbs.

Kept away from the building by a heavy police presence, the protesters chanted: “Gaza, Paris is with you,” “Immediate ceasefire!” and “Israel, murderer.”

In the interview broadcast on TF1’s news channel LCI, Netanyahu defended his country’s devastating offensive in Gaza.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,224 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

In the interview, Netanyahu told LCI “the number of civilian losses compared to losses of (Palestinian) combatants is the lowest rate we have seen in an urban war.”

He rejected claims that Israel was targeting civilians or deliberately trying to cause a famine as “anti-Semitic slander.”

The interview came amid international indignation over an Israeli strike and resulting fire at a displacement camp in the Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday, which killed 45 people, according to Gaza officials.

Members of parliament from French far-left party France Unbowed had called for the demonstration when they heard the interview was planned.


Muslim nurse in New York fired after calling Israel’s war in Gaza ‘genocide’

Muslim nurse in New York fired after calling Israel’s war in Gaza ‘genocide’
Updated 57 min 40 sec ago
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Muslim nurse in New York fired after calling Israel’s war in Gaza ‘genocide’

Muslim nurse in New York fired after calling Israel’s war in Gaza ‘genocide’

WASHINGTON: A New York City hospital fired a Palestinian American Muslim nurse after she called Israel’s war in Gaza a “genocide” during an acceptance speech for an award for her work with bereaved mothers who lost their children during pregnancy and childbirth.

A spokesperson of the hospital, NYU Langone Health, said on Thursday that labor and delivery nurse Hesen Jabr had previously been warned not to bring her views “on this divisive and charged issue into the workplace.”

Jabr posted on Instagram that she was awarded on May 7, when she made her remarks, adding that she was handed a termination letter later in the month.

In a portion of her acceptance speech, she spoke about mothers who had lost babies during the war in Gaza, saying the award was “deeply personal” to her.

“It pains me to see the women from my country going through unimaginable losses themselves during the current genocide in Gaza,” Jabr said in the video of her speech that she posted online.

The hospital’s spokesperson in an email said Jabr had been warned in December, “following a previous incident, not to bring her views on this divisive and charged issue into the workplace.

“She instead chose not to heed that at a recent employee recognition event that was widely attended by her colleagues, some of whom were upset after her comments,” the spokesperson said without providing details about the earlier incident.

“As a result, Jabr is no longer an NYU Langone employee.”

Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza has left over 36,000 dead in the past eight months, the local health ministry says. The war has also caused widespread hunger in the narrow coastal enclave and displaced nearly its entire 2.3 million population.

The conflict, which has led to rising Islamophobia and antisemitism and widespread demonstrations in the US and elsewhere, began when the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which governs Gaza, attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 and taking more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.


What guilty verdict? Unfazed Republican donors focus on Trump’s polling

What guilty verdict? Unfazed Republican donors focus on Trump’s polling
Updated 31 May 2024
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What guilty verdict? Unfazed Republican donors focus on Trump’s polling

What guilty verdict? Unfazed Republican donors focus on Trump’s polling
  • Republican donors are mostly eyeing a growing number of public opinion polls that put Trump ahead against Biden in some battleground states

Major Republican donors say they are likely to keep pumping cash into supporting Donald Trump’s presidential run, excited by polls showing him in the lead and undeterred by his unprecedented criminal conviction, according to interviews with around a dozen donors and fundraisers.
Many conservative donors already viewed the New York hush money cash as political persecution, echoing the Republican presidential candidate’s claim that Democrats are trying to weaken him ahead of the Nov. 5 election against President Joe Biden. Prosecutors have dismissed those claims as untrue. A New York jury found Trump guilty on Thursday of falsifying documents to cover up a payment to silence a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.
Republican donors are mostly eyeing a growing number of public opinion polls that put Trump ahead against Biden in some battleground states.
“I think that big donors are paying attention to the polls, not the verdict,” said oil businessman Dan Eberhart, a Trump donor who also helps raise money for the former president’s campaign. “The polls are motivating this latest round of businessmen,” Eberhart added, saying that calls from donors had picked up “considerably.”
Robert Bigelow, who is one of Trump’s top supporters having given over $9 million to an outside group supporting him, said the verdict had no impact on him. “All of the charges are contrived,” Bigelow told Reuters.
The interviews show the depth of Trump’s donor support despite his legal woes, suggesting he will retain significant financial firepower against Biden including from Wall Street, tech and the oil sector.
The donors interviewed by Reuters were upbeat about Trump winning in November and felt the New York case against Trump was weak and designed to ensnare him.
After setting out with a major fundraising disadvantage against Biden, Trump for the first time in April outraised his Democratic rival, aided by a flurry of major fundraising events across the country. Several major donors, including casino billionaire Miriam Adelson, recently pledged support for Trump.
Andy Sabin, a metals businessman and Republican donor who supported three different candidates in the Republican presidential before settling on voting for Trump but has not donated to him so far, does not see the verdict having an impact.
“I haven’t met one donor yet that gives a shit about the trial. No matter how much they hate Trump, they think he’s getting screwed,” said Sabin, who regularly attends fundraisers and is donating to congressional candidates.
Trump can absolutely win the election, Sabin added, “as long as he keeps his mouth shut.”
In the last few weeks, Trump has hit the fundraising trail hard, hosting high-end events from Texas to New York. He is due to host three fundraisers in California next month, according to invitations seen by Reuters, including one in left-wing San Francisco hosted by tech venture capitalists.
“Every event that I’m involved with is exceeding budget,” said George Glass, a major Trump campaign fundraiser and his former ambassador to Portugal. “Most donors feel like the ‘fix’ is in,” Glass said about legal proceedings against Trump.
Some Republican donors do remain holdouts, put off by the Jan. 6, 2021 capitol riot or Trump’s brash attitude. “I’m on the sidelines,” said one donor unsure about whether to donate, mostly because of the “drama” around Trump.


US State Department official resigns, says US report on Gaza inaccurate

US State Department official resigns, says US report on Gaza inaccurate
Updated 31 May 2024
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US State Department official resigns, says US report on Gaza inaccurate

US State Department official resigns, says US report on Gaza inaccurate

WASHINGTON: A US State Department official who quit this week said on Thursday her resignation was precipitated by an administration report to Congress that she said falsely stated Israel was not blocking humanitarian aid to Gaza, prompting her to resign in protest of President Joe Biden’s Israel policy.

Stacy Gilbert, who served in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, was a subject matter expert working on the report.

“There is so clearly a right and wrong, and what is in that report is wrong,” Gilbert said in an interview.

The United Nations and aid groups have long complained of the dangers and obstacles to getting aid in and distributing it throughout Gaza.

As the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has exceeded 36,000 and a humanitarian crisis has engulfed the enclave, human rights groups and other critics have faulted the US for providing weapons to Israel and largely defending Israel’s conduct.

The State Department submitted the 46-page unclassified report earlier this month to Congress as required under a new National Security Memorandum that Biden issued in early February.

Among other conclusions, the report said that in the period after Oct. 7 Israel “did not fully cooperate” with US and other efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza.

But it said this did not amount to a breach of a US law that blocks the provision of arms to countries that restrict US humanitarian aid.

Gilbert, who worked for the State Department for over 20 years, said she notified her office the day the State Department report was released that she would resign. Her last day was Tuesday.

US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters on Thursday that he would not comment on personnel issues but that the department welcomes diverse points of view.

He said the administration stood by the report and continued to press the government of Israel to avoid harming civilians and urgently expand humanitarian access to Gaza.

“We are not an administration that twists the facts, and allegations that we have are unfounded,” Patel said.

The Israeli embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gilbert’s accusations.

Gilbert’s bureau was one of the four that contributed to a classified initial options memo, reported exclusively by Reuters in late April, that informed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Israel might be violating international humanitarian law.

Gilbert said the State Department removed subject matter experts from working on the report to Congress when the document was a rough draft about 10 days before it was due. She said the report was then edited by more senior officials.

In contrast to the published version, the last draft she saw stated that Israel was blocking humanitarian assistance, Gilbert said.

Officials who resigned prior to Gilbert include Arabic language spokesperson Hala Rharrit and Annelle Sheline of the human rights bureau.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s air and land war in Gaza. Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fighters crossed from Gaza into southern Israel on Oct. 7 last year, killed 1,200 people and abducted more than 250, according to Israeli tallies.