India begins voting in fifth phase as Mumbai, Gandhi family boroughs head to polls

India begins voting in fifth phase as Mumbai, Gandhi family boroughs head to polls
Leaders of India's main opposition Congress party Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the regional Samajwadi Party, join their hands together during an election campaign rally in Raebareli in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, on May 17, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 20 May 2024
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India begins voting in fifth phase as Mumbai, Gandhi family boroughs head to polls

India begins voting in fifth phase as Mumbai, Gandhi family boroughs head to polls
  • World’s largest election began on April 19 and will conclude on June 1
  • Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Raebareli, Wayanad seats 

MUMBAI: India began voting in the fifth phase of its mammoth general elections on Monday, with seats in the financial capital Mumbai and the opposition’s Gandhi family bastions set to be sealed in the last few legs of the seven-phase vote.

The world’s largest election began on April 19 and will conclude on June 1, with votes set to be counted on June 4.

Monday’s phase has the least number of seats being contested, with 89.5 million voters set to choose representatives for 49 seats.

Several high-profile candidates are in the fray on Monday — including defense minister Rajnath Singh from Lucknow and trade minister Piyush Goyal from Mumbai — cities which have suffered from a dismal voter turnout in the past.

The Election Commission on Sunday specifically called upon residents of those cities “to erase the stigma” of urban apathy.

“At the core of our vision for Mumbai is – better infrastructure and more ‘ease of living,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while campaigning in the city last week, just days after at least 14 people were killed when a massive billboard fell during a rainstorm.

Two boroughs of the Congress party’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in the politically-crucial Uttar Pradesh are also going to polls, with scion Rahul Gandhi contesting the seat of Raebareli, in addition to Wayanad in the south which has already voted. India allows candidates to contest multiple constituencies but represent only one.

Sonia Gandhi, Congress party chief and former lawmaker from Raebareli, made an emotional appeal to voters asking them to vote for her son in a region that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has dominated in the last 10 years.

Smriti Irani, minister for women and child development, is contesting from Amethi. In 2019, she defeated Rahul Gandhi in a seat his family held continuously for the last four decades.

Among other keenly watched electorates in the state is Kaiserganj, where the BJP is fielding a former wrestling federation chief’s son, despite his father being charged with sexually harassing female wrestlers.

Poor voter turnout became a concern for the ruling BJP initially, and analysts believe the low numbers cast doubts on the landslide victory the party and its allies sought.

After an initial poor performance, more people started casting their vote with an average turnout of 66.95 percent in four phases, and 69 percent in the fourth one on May 13.

Modi, widely expected to return as prime minister for a third consecutive term, has been accused by opponents of targeting minority Muslims to please hard-line voters.

Modi has repeatedly accused the Congress party of planning to extend welfare benefits to Muslims at the expense of disadvantaged tribal groups and Hindu castes, a claim the Congress has denied.

In a recent television interview aired after the fourth phase, Modi said it was his resolve to “not do Hindu-Muslim (in politics).”

The opposition INDIA alliance, consisting of Congress and a dozen political parties, got a major boost after fierce Modi critic and Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal was given temporary relief by the court and allowed to campaign in the elections.


Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin

Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin
Updated 12 sec ago
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Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin

Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin
“What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front,” said Austin

BRUSSELS: Russia’s advance in the Kharkiv area is slowing and the frontline is stabilizing after some allies lifted restrictions on Kyiv’s use of donated weapons on Russian territory, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday.
“What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front. Now, I think we’ll see incremental gains — and we’ll see puts and takes — going forward,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
“But again, a couple of weeks ago, there was concern that we would see a significant breakthrough on the part of the Russians. I don’t think we’ll see that going forward.”

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns
Updated 24 min 51 sec ago
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Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns
  • The UN has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya
  • The weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks

ISLAMABAD: An estimated 200,000 people in Pakistan could be affected by the upcoming monsoon season, which is expected to bring heavier rains than usual, a top UN official warned on Thursday.
The United Nations, with help from local authorities, has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya, the newly appointed Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan.
Yahya told journalists in Islamabad that the weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks. However, the rains would not be as heavy as in 2022 when devastating floods killed 1,739 people, destroyed 2 million homes, and covered as much as one-third of the country at one point.
Pakistan is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, in part because of its immense northern glaciers, which are now melting as air temperatures rise. Warmer air can also hold more moisture, intensifying the rains of the monsoon.
Until recently, public opinion and even some government officials took little account of the possible negative impact from climate change on daily life. Pakistan’s weather patterns have changed in recent years, forcing cities to strengthen their infrastructure and farmers to adapt their practices.
The 2022 floods caused more than $30 billion in damage to Pakistan’s already cash-strapped economy.
Analysts and government officials say Pakistan in recent years failed to achieve goals for economic growth because of man-made disasters, which have repeatedly hit the country in the form of droughts, heatwaves and heavy rains, which badly damaged the road network, bridges, power system and other infrastructure.
Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1 percent to carbon emissions worldwide, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters. This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall.
Yahya said he was in contact with officials at Pakistan’s ministry of climate change, who were preparing their contingency own plans for monsoon season, which in Pakistan runs from July to October.
Earlier this week, weather forecasters in Pakistan urged people to stay indoors as the third heatwave in a month began. A recent study by the United Nations children’s agency said that Pakistan could avert 175,000 deaths by 2030 by developing resilient energy systems to power its health facilities.
On Thursday, temperatures in various parts of Pakistan soared as high as 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), forcing many people to stay indoors. Authorities are asking people to hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel.


UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power
Updated 13 June 2024
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UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power
  • Starmer said a Labour government would “stop the chaos, turn the page and start to rebuild our country”

MANCHESTER: The left-of-center politician aiming to become Britain’s prime minister in three weeks’ time said Thursday he will lead a government that’s both “pro-business and pro-worker” and restore stability after years of economic and political turmoil.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said that if he’s elected on July 4, he will end the “desperate era of gestures and gimmicks” of the Conservative Party’s turbulent tenure.
Launching Labour’s election manifesto in the northwest England city of Manchester, Starmer said a Labour government would “stop the chaos, turn the page and start to rebuild our country.”
Next month British voters will elect lawmakers to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons, and the leader of the party that can command a majority — either alone or in coalition — will become prime minister. Labour currently has a double-digit lead in opinion polls over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s governing Conservatives, who have been in power for 14 years under five different prime ministers.
The Conservatives jettisoned two prime ministers without an election in quick succession in 2022: first Boris Johnson, felled by scandals, then Liz Truss, who rocked the economy with drastic tax-slashing plans and lasted just seven weeks in office.
Starmer, a former chief prosecutor who is widely seen as competent but dull, is trying to turn his stolid image into an asset. His core message is that he has transformed Labour from its high-taxing, big-spending days under former leader Jeremy Corbyn into a party of the stable center.
Starmer said his platform was “a manifesto for wealth creation,” and acknowledged that a Labour government would face “hard choices” about public spending.
“We cannot play fast and loose with the public finances,” he said. He said he rejected the idea that “the only levers are tax and spend,” and would get the economy expanding after years of sluggish growth.
Starmer’s cautious economic approach dismays some in his party, who want bolder change, but has won the support of many business leaders.
Starmer called the party’s platform a manifesto for “wealth creation,” and its ambitious goals were largely long-term ones: establishing a new industrial policy, developing a 10-year infrastructure strategy, building 1.5 million new homes.
Labour pledged to improve ties with Britain’s former partners in the European Union, but ruled out a return to the bloc’s frictionless single market and customs union.
The plan’s spending commitments were modest. The manifesto forecasts that taxes will rise by 7.4 billion pounds ($9.25 billion) by 2028-29, through measures including a windfall tax on energy companies.
Starmer said personal taxes would not rise under a Labour government, but that did not stop the Conservatives casting Labour as the high-tax party.
“If you think they’ll win, start saving,” Sunak wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Starmer spoke at the headquarters of the Co-op, a Manchester-founded cooperative society that has grown into a large retail and services empire. He introduced several voters, including a father whose family of four live in a one-bedroom apartment, and Nathaniel Dye, a man with terminal cancer campaigning for faster treatment.
The only unscripted moment came from a demonstrator calling for Labour to have tougher climate change policies, who was swiftly removed.
Sunak released the Conservative manifesto — the party’s key handbook of promises — on Tuesday, pledging to cut taxes and reduce immigration if the Conservative Party is reelected.
Labour’s 131-page manifesto included previously announced plans, with little in the way of last-minute treats to woo voters.
“It’s not about rabbits out of a hat, it’s not about pantomime,” Starmer said. “I’m running as a candidate to be prime minister, not a candidate to run the circus.”


NATO says over 300,000 troops now on high readiness

NATO says over 300,000 troops now on high readiness
Updated 13 June 2024
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NATO says over 300,000 troops now on high readiness

NATO says over 300,000 troops now on high readiness
  • “The offers on the table from allies comfortably exceed the 300,000 that we set,” the official said
  • The push to have more troops ready to respond quickly is part of a broader overhaul of NATO’s plans to stave off any potential Russian attack

BRUSSELS: NATO countries have “comfortably exceeded” a target of placing 300,000 troops on high-readiness as the alliance grapples with the threat from Russia, a senior alliance official said Thursday.
NATO leaders agreed in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 to massively ramp up the number of forces that alliance commanders can deploy within 30 days.
“The offers on the table from allies comfortably exceed the 300,000 that we set,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“Those are forces which allies have said to us, ‘They are available to you as of now at that level of readiness’.”
The push to have more troops ready to respond quickly is part of a broader overhaul of NATO’s plans to stave off any potential Russian attack that was signed off at a summit last year.
Those plans laid out for the first time since the end of the Cold War what each member of the US-led alliance would be expected to do in case of an invasion by Moscow.
NATO commanders are currently trying to make sure they have the capabilities to execute those plans if needed.
But the alliance faces shortfalls in key weaponry such as air defenses and longer-range missiles.
“There are capability gaps. There are things that we don’t have enough of as an alliance at the moment and we need to tackle,” the official said.


Migrant shipwreck victims pursue case against Greek coast guard

Migrant shipwreck victims pursue case against Greek coast guard
Updated 13 June 2024
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Migrant shipwreck victims pursue case against Greek coast guard

Migrant shipwreck victims pursue case against Greek coast guard
  • 53 have filed a group criminal complaint, alleging the coast guard took hours to mount a response despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone
  • The case is still under preliminary investigation by the naval court of Piraeus

ATHENS: A year after one of the Mediterranean’s worst migrant shipwrecks killed more than 600 people, lawyers for survivors pursuing a criminal case against the Greek coast guard gave fresh details on the case Thursday.
The rusty and overloaded trawler Adriana sank on the night of June 13-14 last year. It was carrying more than 750 people, according to the United Nations, but only 82 bodies were found.
Lawyers representing dozens of survivors held a news conference after a court in Kalamata last month dropped charges against nine Egyptian men accused of being part of the criminal gang operating the trawler.
Among the 104 survivors, 53 have filed a group criminal complaint, alleging the coast guard took hours to mount a response despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.
“This was a crime committed over a 15-hour period,” Eleni Spathana, a lawyer with the Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) group, told journalists.
The case is still under preliminary investigation by the naval court of Piraeus, but the survivors’ lawyers say they have found many irregularities in the Greek coast guard’s actions before and after the incident.
The boat was sailing from Tobruk, Libya to Italy. In addition to Syrians and Palestinians, it was carrying nearly 350 Pakistanis, according to the Pakistani government.
Survivors said the coast guard was towing the vessel when it capsized and sank 47 nautical miles off the coast of Pylos.
The coast guard has insisted it communicated with people on board who “refused any help,” rendering any rescue operation in high seas risky.
But on Thursday Maria Papamina, legal coordinator for the Greek Council for Refugees, said the coast guard chose to dispatch a patrol boat from Crete — and not a larger rescue tugboat stationed closer by at the Peloponnese port of Gythio.
The patrol boat’s voyage data recorder was damaged and was only repaired two months after the accident, Papamina added. Nor was there any video footage from the patrol boat.
“There are reasonable concerns of an attempted cover-up,” she said.
Spathana of the RSA added: “There was clearly no intent to rescue before the boat sank. Not only is this terrifying, it is criminally liable.”
Eighteen of the victims remain unburied, including eight still to be identified.
The independent Greek ombudsman’s office has launched a disciplinary investigation into the case, after the coast guard saw no grounds to do so, the lawyers said Thursday.
On Friday, victims’ relatives in Pakistan plan to gather in the city of Lala Musa to protest the lack of response from the Greek authorities to the tragedy, organizers in Athens said.