India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term

India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks after releasing the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) manifesto ahead of country's upcoming general elections, at the party headquarters in New Delhi on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2024
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India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term

India’s Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term
  • India’s general election, which begins April 19, will be held in seven stages till June 1
  • Modi is widely tipped to win record-equaling third term on the back of his 10-year record

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised on Sunday to create jobs, boost infrastructure and expand welfare programs if it wins a third term, seeking to address key voter concerns ahead of next week’s elections.

The general election, which begins on April 19, will be held in seven stages until June 1. Votes are due to be counted on June 4 and results are expected the same day.

Modi, 73, is widely tipped to win a record-equalling third term on the back of his 10-year record, which includes strong economic growth, infrastructure projects, welfare handouts and aggressive Hindu nationalism.

Surveys, however, suggest unemployment, inflation and rural distress remain issues of concern in the world’s most populous country despite its strong economy, and addressing these will be Modi’s biggest challenge.

“Our focus is on dignity of life ... on quality of life, our focus is also on creating jobs through investment,” Modi said after releasing the manifesto, titled Modi’s Guarantee, at the party headquarters in the capital.

Modi said the manifesto is focused on creating jobs in sectors such as infrastructure, aviation, railways, electric vehicles, green energy, semiconductors and pharmaceuticals, among others, in a bid to address discontent at unemployment levels that are rising despite strong economic growth.

“India’s youth will not have even imagined the number of opportunities that will come their way,” he told cheering BJP members, including top federal ministers who sat in the audience wearing stoles featuring the BJP’s lotus symbol.

CONGRESS CLAIMS EMPTY PROMISES

Congress, the main opposition party, which has been struggling to revive its fortunes, said it was not impressed by a manifesto that is filled with “empty promises.”

“Today, people want to ask what happened in the last 10 years,” Congress lawmaker Manish Tewari said. “Unemployment is rampant and inflation has broken the back of common people.

The people of the country will hold him (Modi) to account for what’s happened in the last 10 years.”

Modi also vowed to expand welfare programs, including bringing all Indians above the age of 70 under an existing free health insurance program and pushing piped cooking gas connections to all houses to follow up on a subsidized cooking gas cylinder program launched in 2016.

Other BJP promises include raising the cap on loans for non-farming small and micro borrowers, offering free housing for another 30 million poor and keeping up a free grains program for 800 million Indians until 2029.

The manifesto said the BJP government would continue to focus on a path of low inflation and fiscal prudence to achieve high economic growth.

“The ambition of the 1.4 billion people of the country is Modi’s mission,” Modi said. “I am placing this manifesto before the people to seek their blessings. Please bless us ... to increase our strength ... implement this manifesto and ensure a developed India.”

Unemployment was the primary concern of 27 percent of the 10,000 voters surveyed by Lokniti-CSDS across 19 of India’s 28 states, with rising prices coming second at 23 percent, the Hindu newspaper reported last week.

The unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent in 2022/23, from 4.9 percent in 2013/14 just before Modi swept to power, and nearly 16 percent of urban youth in the 15-29 years age group remained unemployed in 2022/23 due to poor skills and a lack of quality jobs, official data shows.

“BJP does not even want to discuss the most important issues related to people’s lives,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi posted on X. 

“This time the youth is not going to fall into Modi’s trap, now they will strengthen the hands of Congress and bring an ‘employment revolution’ in the country.” 


Arab-American leaders meet with Blinken over Gaza

Arab-American leaders meet with Blinken over Gaza
Updated 10 sec ago
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Arab-American leaders meet with Blinken over Gaza

Arab-American leaders meet with Blinken over Gaza
  • Demands include immediate ceasefire, Israeli withdrawal, unimpeded humanitarian aid, halt to arms deliveries
  • Arab American Institute president: US efforts to restrain Israel ‘feeble,’ image across Arab world ‘tattered’

CHICAGO: A group of Arab-American leaders met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington D.C. on Friday night, demanding that the US “stop the genocide” in Gaza and define a clear path to “Palestinian liberation.”

The group was led by Arab American Institute President James Zogby and included several key organizations such as the American Federation of Ramallah, the Arab American Chamber of Commerce, Arab America, and the US Palestinian Council.

In a statement sent to Arab News, organizers said they demanded that the Biden administration endorse an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza; call for the “return of all hostages,” including Israelis taken on Oct. 7 and Palestinians being held without judicial process; support the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza; ensure “unimpeded” humanitarian assistance to its civilian population; and cease weapons deliveries to Israel.

Israel has received more than $40 billion in aid from the Biden administration.  

“When we met with Secretary Blinken in October of 2023, I noted that Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza had killed 5,000 Palestinians. I urged an immediate ceasefire to save lives. I also noted that Israel and the US were operating under the mistaken belief that the war could be won, with the likely outcome being the emergence of Hamas 2.0,” Zogby said.

“We come back seven months later with over 36,000 dead, most of Gaza’s homes and infrastructure destroyed, millions of Palestinian lives shattered, and Gaza on the verge of starvation.”

After the meeting, Zogby called US efforts to urge Israeli restraint “feeble,” adding: “Once again, we are calling on the Biden administration to demand an immediate ceasefire to end the unfolding genocide, to save Palestinian lives, and salvage whatever remains of the United States’ tattered image across the Arab world.”

Arab and Muslim leaders who met with US President Joe Biden last month in Washington D.C. left disappointed by his failure to enforce a ceasefire.

Several attendees walked out in disgust, including Dr. Thaer Ahmad, who told reporters after the April 2 meeting that he was leaving “out of respect for my community.”

After Friday’s meeting, USPC President John Dabeet said attendees “asked Secretary Blinken and the administration to subject any military assistance to Israel to strict oversight to ensure that it is fully compliant with US law, international law and human rights conventions.”

Bilal Hammoud, director of the AACC, said the Biden administration “has failed to act urgently and within its values to take meaningful measures that ensure the freedom, equality and prosperity of the Palestinian people, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives.

“There must be a full stop of US military funding that is threatening the security and stability of the whole region, including the cessation of attacks on sovereign Arab nations.”


Three Spanish, three Afghans killed in shooting in Afghanistan

Three Spanish, three Afghans killed in shooting in Afghanistan
Updated 27 min 35 sec ago
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Three Spanish, three Afghans killed in shooting in Afghanistan

Three Spanish, three Afghans killed in shooting in Afghanistan
  • The group were fired on while walking through a market in the mountainous city of Bamiyan
  • Among eight others wounded, four were foreigners from Norway, Australia, Lithuania and Spain

KABUL: The bodies of three Spanish tourists and three Afghans shot dead while on a tour in Afghanistan were transported to the capital along with multiple wounded, the Taliban government said Saturday.
The group were fired on while walking through a market in the mountainous city of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan, around 180 kilometers (100 miles) from the capital Kabul, on Friday evening.
“All dead bodies have been shifted to Kabul and are in the forensic department and the wounded are also in Kabul. Both dead and wounded include women,” the government’s interior ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani told AFP.
“Among the eight wounded, of whom four are foreigners, only one elderly foreign woman is not in a very stable situation.”
Qani said the death toll had risen to six, including two Afghan civilians and one Taliban member.
Spain’s foreign ministry on Friday announced that three of the dead were Spanish tourists, adding that at least one other Spanish national was wounded.
According to preliminary information provided by hospital sources, the wounded were from Norway, Australia, Lithuania and Spain.
“They were roaming in the bazaar when they were attacked,” Qani added.
“Seven suspects have been arrested of which one is wounded, the investigation is still going on and the Islamic Emirate is seriously looking into the matter.”
He did not say if there had been multiple shooters.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez posted on X, formerly Twitter: “Overwhelmed by the news of the murder of Spanish tourists in Afghanistan.”
The European Union condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.”
“Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims who lost their lives and those injured in the attack,” the bloc said in a statement.
The Taliban government, which took power in 2021 after a decade-long insurgency against foreign forces, has yet to be officially recognized by any government.
It has, however, supported a fledgling tourism sector, with more than 5,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan in 2023, according to official figures.
Tourists holiday without consular support, after most embassies were evacuated, and many Western nations advise against all travel to the country, warning of kidnap and attack risks.
Alongside security concerns, the country has limited road infrastructure and a dilapidated health service.
Bamiyan is Afghanistan’s top tourist destination, known for turquoise lakes and striking mountains, and once home to the giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban in 2001 during their previous rule.
The number of bombings and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has reduced dramatically since the Taliban authorities took power and deadly attacks on foreigners are rare.
However, a number of armed groups, including the Daesh group, remain a threat.
The jihadist group has waged a campaign of attacks on foreign interests in a bid to weaken the Taliban government, targeting Pakistan and Russian embassies as well as Chinese businessmen.


Austria to resume aid to UN agency for Palestinians

Austria to resume aid to UN agency for Palestinians
Updated 18 May 2024
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Austria to resume aid to UN agency for Palestinians

Austria to resume aid to UN agency for Palestinians
  • Many countries, including Germany, Sweden, Canada and Japan, had resumed funding
  • A total of 3.4 million euros ($3.7 million) in funds have been budgeted for 2024

VIENNA: Austria said Saturday it will restore its funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees after suspending it over allegations that staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks.
Israel alleged in January that some United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) employees may have participated in the Hamas attacks on October 7 that triggered the war in the Gaza Strip.
In the weeks that followed, numerous donor states, including Austria, suspended or paused some $450 million in funding.
Many, including Germany, Sweden, Canada and Japan, had since resumed funding, while others have continued to hold out.
“After analizing the action plan in detail” submitted by UNRWA “to improve the functioning of the organization,” Austria has decided to “release the funds,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.
A total of 3.4 million euros ($3.7 million) in funds have been budgeted for 2024, and the first payment is expected to be made in the summer, the statement said.
“Some of the Austrian funds will be used in the future to improve internal control mechanisms at UNRWA,” it added.
Austria said it will “closely monitor” the implementation of the action plan with other international partners, noting that “a lot of trust had been squandered.”
The Alpine country said it has substantially increased support for the suffering Palestinian population in Gaza and the region since 7 October, making 32 million euros ($34.8 million) in humanitarian aid available to other international aid organizations.
The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the death of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel’s campaign in Gaza has since killed at least 35,303 people, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Flash floods kill at least 50 people in western Afghanistan

Flash floods kill at least 50 people in western Afghanistan
Updated 18 May 2024
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Flash floods kill at least 50 people in western Afghanistan

Flash floods kill at least 50 people in western Afghanistan
  • Death toll was based on preliminary reports and might rise
  • Hard-hit province of Ghor has suffered significant financial losses

ISLAMABAD: Flash floods from heavy seasonal rains in western Afghanistan have killed at least 50 people and dozens remain missing, a Taliban official said on Saturday, adding the death toll was based on preliminary reports and might rise.
Afghanistan has been witnessing unusually heavy seasonal rains.
The hard-hit province of Ghor has suffered significant financial losses, said Abdul Wahid Hamas, spokesman for the provincial governor, after thousands of homes and properties were damaged and hundreds of hectares of agricultural land destroyed following Friday’s floods, including the capital city Feroz Koh.
The Taliban’s government chief spokesman posted on social platform X, mourning “the loss of our fellow Afghans,” and urged ” responsible authorities ... to provide all necessary support to alleviate the suffering.” He also called on “our benevolent donors” to help and humanitarian organizations to provide the affected communities with aid.
Last week, the UN food agency said the exceptionally heavy rains in Afghanistan have killed more than 300 people and destroyed thousands of houses, mostly in the northern province of Baghlan, which bore the brunt of floods on May 10th.
Survivors have been left with no home, no land, and no source of livelihood, the World Food Organization said. Most of Baghlan is “inaccessible by trucks,” said WFP, adding that it is resorting to every alternative it can think of to deliver food to the survivors.
The latest disaster came on the heels of devastating floods that killed at least 70 people in April. The waters also destroyed about 2,000 homes, three mosques and four schools in western Farah and Herat, and southern Zabul and Kandahar provinces.


Nearly 10,000 evacuated in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region: governor

Nearly 10,000 evacuated in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region: governor
Updated 18 May 2024
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Nearly 10,000 evacuated in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region: governor

Nearly 10,000 evacuated in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region: governor
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky plays down Russia’s gains in the offensive
  • Moscow has been attacking several settlements including Vovchansk, just five kilometers from the border

KYIV: Nearly 10,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region since a ground attack launched by Russian forces on May 10, the regional governor said.
The assault may only be the first wave of a wider offensive, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
Over a week after its launch, “a total of 9,907 people have been evacuated,” governor Oleg Synegubov said.
They were fleeing Russian soldiers who managed to advance between five to 10 kilometers (three to six miles) along the northeastern border before being stopped by Ukrainian forces.
Synegubov said Ukraine’s armed forces had repelled two attempts to break through defenses overnight.
The situation was “under control” with “defenders in certain areas conducting assault... and combing operations.”
Moscow has been attacking several settlements including Vovchansk, just five kilometers from the border.
“In the area of the city of Vovchansk, Ukrainian troops are reinforcing their defense,” Synegubov said.
A day earlier, he said Russian forces have started to destroy Vovchansk and all but 200 of its residents have fled due to fighting.
Russian forces have taken 278 square kilometers (107 square miles) between May 9 and 15, their biggest gains since the end of 2022, AFP calculated using data from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Russia’s offensive “could consist in several waves. There was the first wave” in the Kharkiv region, Zelensky said journalists.
Zelensky played down Russia’s gains in the offensive but added: “We have to be sober and understand that they are going deeper into our territory. Not vice versa. And that’s still their advantage.”
Speaking about the offensive during a visit to China on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was a response to Ukraine shelling border regions.