Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai
Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, second from left, along with his family leaves a polling booth after casting his vote in Mumbai on May 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 20 May 2024
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Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

NEW DELHI: A-list actors in India called on voters to cast their ballots on Monday, as the country’s massive general election reaches Bollywood capital Mumbai, entering its fifth phase. 

More than 968 million people are eligible to vote in India, as the world’s largest electoral exercise began on April 19 in a seven-phase election spread out over over six weeks, with ballots set to be counted on June 4. 

Voter numbers have slumped compared to previous polls, with the first four phases of the election held on April 19, April 26, May 7 and May 13 seeing a turnout of 66.95 percent, 66.7 percent, 65.7 percent and 69.1 percent, respectively. 

In India’s financial capital Mumbai, located in Maharashtra state, Bollywood stars were among the voters queuing since early morning to cast their ballots on Monday, as millions vote in the fifth phase of the election, where 49 seats are up for grabs across six states and two federally administered territories. 

“I came here at 7 o’clock in the morning when the polling booth opened,” actor Akshay Kumar told reporters after casting his vote. 

“I want my India to be developed and strong. I voted, keeping that in mind. (Indians) should vote according to what they think is best for them.” 

Actor Rajkummar Rao said that voting was a “big responsibility” for the nation. 

“It’s very, very important. If, through us, people can get influenced, it’s the best we can do to make people aware of the importance of voting. It’s our moral responsibility toward the nation. I appeal to all of you to come out and vote,” he said. 

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan had also urged Indians to use their right to vote over the weekend, taking to X — where he has more than 44 million followers — to make the public call. 

“As responsible Indian citizens we must exercise our right to vote this Monday in Maharashtra. Let’s carry out our duty as Indians and vote keeping our country’s best interests in mind,” Khan said. 

This election sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi chasing a rare third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 out of the 543 parliamentary seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014. 

Analysts say Maharashtra will likely be a swing state as it sends the second-highest number of representatives to the lower house of parliament after Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers. It may affect the BJP’s initial strong projections in the polls. 

“There are many social issues that are going to be crucial in the state. For instance there is an agrarian distress, the issue of  reservation for the local Maratha community, the general issues like price rise and unemployment that are going against the  establishment,” said Shailendra R Kharat, political science professor at Pune University. 

Though the BJP swept 42 seats in the state in the 2019 elections, Kharat said he expects the ruling party alliance to get only 30 at most. 

Ashok Wankhede, a political analyst based in Maharashtra, said the BJP has not been able “to carry the trust” of the people.

“Maharashtra is the state where the BJP-led alliance is losing the most. This is going to be a major swing state,” he told Arab News. 

“To talk about 400 seats is a war cry. The fight in this election is open and it’s not going to be easy for the BJP to form the government. The last four phases of the election have not been very promising for the BJP.”


How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life

How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life
Updated 25 min 12 sec ago
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How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life

How Arab innovators like ‘pictogram’ creator Rajie Suleiman have contributed to American life
  • The Palestinian-American graphic designer, professionally known as Roger Cook, left a profound legacy with his ubiquitous icons
  • Arab-American inventions in everything from food and drink to medicine and technology have dramatically improved the American lifestyle

CHICAGO: Despite an apparent surge in anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiments in the US driven by the war in Gaza, Americans live in an environment heavily influenced by the innovations of Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians.

Indeed, Arab-American inventions in everything from food and drink to medicine and technology have dramatically improved the American lifestyle. And yet the community seldom gets the recognition it is due.

One striking example involves the work of Palestinian-American graphic designer Rajie Suleiman, professionally known as Roger Cook, who died in February 2021 at the age of 90 having left a profound legacy.

Rajie Suleiman, also known as Roger Cook. (Supplied)

Cook was a graphic designer who created the ubiquitous “pictograms” that ease the everyday lives of Americans across industries, professions, transport, amenities, and public safety.

Among them are the icons of a man and a woman used to identify public restrooms, symbols for non-smoking areas, public telephones, emergency medical services, parking, no entry signs, and for public transportation including airports and transit stops.

Because they are so ubiquitous, the pictograms Cook designed are often overlooked, yet they serve as efficient identifiers in nearly every aspect of American life — concise graphic depictions that convey meaning across languages, cultures and levels of literacy.

Cook and his business partner Don Shanosky won a government contract in 1974 to design a series of pictograms of small, easily identifiable images that could efficiently inform and direct the public to the services they require.

Roger Cook's works are memorialized in a display at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (Supplied)

The Manhattan-based graphic designers created 34 pictograms that conveyed meaning through their resemblance to physical objects, according to Cook’s obituary in the New York Times.

These images are especially helpful in airports and other environments where people may not be familiar with the local language. Indeed, they have become known as a “universal language of wayfinding.”

Beyond municipal spaces, pictograms have been adopted by IBM, Container Corporation of America, Montgomery Ward, Bristol Myers Squibb, Volvo, Subaru, AT&T, the New York Times, Bell Atlantic and BASF, among other major companies. 

For their “outstanding achievement in design for the government of the United States,” Cook and Shanosky received an award from then President Ronald Reagan.

Roger Cook (right) accepts an award from President Ronald Reagan on Jan. 30, 1985, as Elizabeth Dole, the Secretary of Transportation, looks on. (Courtesy of the family)

“We held firm to the principle that design communicates to its maximum efficacy without frills, contrivances and other extraneous material that if the core idea is a good one, it will shout loudest when it is not overshadowed by ornamentation,” Cook wrote in his 2017 book, “A vision for my father.”

Somewhat ironically, the designer himself underwent a process of cross-cultural simplification when his name was changed from Rajie Suleiman to the anglicized moniker Roger Cook.

Cook’s paternal grandfather’s surname was Suleiman. However, according to Cook’s obituary, his grandfather “was given the nickname Kucuk, the Turkish word for small, by Turkish occupiers because of his small stature.

“Later, when the British occupied Palestine, they turned that into Cook.”

Many years later, his grandson also had a new name foisted upon him. Rajie’s elementary school teachers found his name too difficult to pronounce, and so chose to Americanize it to Roger. Thus, Rajie Suleiman became Roger Cook.

Roger Cook's sculptures featured items he had collected at flea markets and elsewhere.
(Courtesy of the family)

Despite this imposed identity, Cook and his family never lost sight of their Arab-Palestinian heritage. Cook told the New York Times in a 2004 interview that his own father had died at the age of 94 while listening to the radio in the hope of hearing news of peace in Palestine.

His father’s passion for Palestine and the many family trips they made to the region during Cook’s childhood later inspired him to expand his graphic representations, creating images that reflected the tragedy of the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948. 

Many of his photos, paintings, and graphics are publicly displayed at the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, Connecticut, and are currently memorialized in a display at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

“His Symbol Signs’ graphic design work was created in collaboration with his business partner Don Shanosky for the Department of Transportation to standardize way-finding symbols used in public spaces,” Elizabeth Barrett Sullivan, the museum’s collections curator, told Arab News.

“While they didn’t invent pictographs as a mechanism, they were the firm chosen to create this system that has been widely used and replicated.

“As graphic designers, they understood the need for signs that could be recognized without the need for text. The majority of the symbols created in the ‘70s are still in use today, which is a testament to their universality.”

All Flights Cancelled, sculptural assemblage, 2006 by Rajie Cook. (Supplied)

Sullivan said the items in the museum display were donated by Cook’s family two years ago. The display will be a “semi-temporary” exhibit, with plans for it to travel to other institutions in the years ahead.

“We are excited to have his work in our collections and be able to share his story with our visitors,” said Sullivan.

“He was a prolific artist, especially in the last 20 years of his life, with a significant focus on Palestine. He used his art to bring more awareness to the cruelty of the occupation, as well as honoring his own heritage.”

Of course, Arab-Americans have contributed far more than mere signage. Many iconic brands were started as small businesses run by Arab-Americans, among them Haggar, Philz Coffee, Kinko’s, BioSilk hair products, and Joy Ice Cream Cones, to name but a few.

The development of television transmission and liquid-crystal display screens was spearheaded by Lebanese-American Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbagh for General Electric.

Other Arab Americans who have dramatically improved global lifestyle include pop-top tab designer Nick Khoury; coronary bypass surgery pioneer Dr. Michael DeBakey; TV technology developer Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbagh; and iPod and iPhone design leader Tony Fadell. (Getty Images/ Supplied)

In medicine, surgical techniques in heart surgery were pioneered by Dr. Michael DeBakey, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who developed coronary bypass surgery in 1963 that has saved millions of lives.

The popular waffle ice cream cone is claimed by no fewer than four Arab-Americans — Ernest Hamwi, Nick Kabbaz, Abe Doumar and Leon B. Holwey.

Working at Apple Computers under Steve Jobs, himself an Arab-American orphan adopted as a baby, fellow Arab-American Tony Fadell oversaw the 2001 design of the iPod and the iPhone.

And Nick Khoury, a Palestinian-American born in Jifna, led the team at the Continental Can Company in the 1950s that designed and developed the pop top tab that allowed Americans to shift from glass bottled drinks to easy-open aluminum cans.

At a time when conflict is raging in the Middle East, stoking fear, anger and mistrust among communities across the globe, it is easy to forget the many positive contributions made by those who trace their origins to the region.

By acknowledging the many ways in which Arab-Americans like Rajie Suleiman have bettered public life, perhaps a recognition of common humanity will prevail, offering a potential way-finder to peace.
 

 


Ukrainian drones strike town near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russia-installed official says

Ukrainian drones strike town near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russia-installed official says
Updated 22 June 2024
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Ukrainian drones strike town near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russia-installed official says

Ukrainian drones strike town near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Russia-installed official says
  • Two drones exploded on Saturday in a residential area and a resident was hurt
  • An official at the occupied Zaporizhzhia station had initially reported that it was unaffected by those military actions

MOSCOW: A Russian-installed official said on Saturday that Ukrainian attack drones again struck Enerhodar, a town near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, after drones earlier in the week hit two of the town’s electric substations.
Eduard Senovoz, the top official in Enerhodar, said on Telegram that two drones exploded on Saturday in a residential area and a resident was hurt. Another drone was downed.
In attacks on Wednesday and Friday on Enerhodar, a few km (miles) from the nuclear plant, he previously said one of Enerhodar’s substations was destroyed, while the other was damaged. Power was cut to most residents.
An official at the occupied Zaporizhzhia station, Europe’s largest nuclear plant with six reactors, had initially reported that it was unaffected by those military actions.
But the Russian management of the station said on Telegram on Saturday, before the latest drone strikes, that some “infrastructure facilities” including the transport department and print shop experienced disruptions following the attacks earlier in the week.
Nuclear safety measures remained fully operational, it said.
Ukrainian officials have made no comment on the incidents and Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the attacks exposed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s disregard for nuclear safety.
“In view of the Zelensky regime’s total inability to negotiate anything, our country will take all necessary measures to deny the Kyiv regime all means of carrying out such strikes,” Zakharova said on the ministry’s website.
Russian troops seized the Zaporizhzhia plant in the early days of the February 2022 invasion, and Moscow and Kyiv have since routinely accused each other of endangering safety around it. It produces no electricity at the moment.
Russian news agencies quoted Yevgeny Yashin, director of communications at the Zaporizhzhia station, as saying the damaged substation in Enerhodar could be repaired.
Russia launched mass attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in the first winter of the conflict and resumed a long series of attacks in March.
Kyiv says the renewed attacks have knocked out half of Ukraine’s energy-generating capacity and forced blackouts.
Russian missiles and drones damaged energy facilities in southeastern and western Ukraine on Saturday, wounding at least two energy workers and forcing record electricity imports, officials said.
Ukraine has stepped up its use of drones this year to attack Russian oil facilities.


Three missing after heavy Swiss flooding

Three missing after heavy Swiss flooding
Updated 22 June 2024
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Three missing after heavy Swiss flooding

Three missing after heavy Swiss flooding
  • A woman feared to have been swept away had been found alive after being caught in torrential rain and thunderstorms
  • “Intensive searches are under way for the three people still listed as missing,” police said

GENEVA: Swiss authorities in the southeastern canton of Grisons said Saturday that they were searching for three people missing after heavy flooding the previous day in the region.
Police said a woman feared to have been swept away had been found alive after being caught in torrential rain and thunderstorms that caused landslides and flooding in the Mesolcina valley and forces dozens of residents to be briefly evacuated.
“Intensive searches are under way for the three people still listed as missing,” police said in a statement, adding they were likely at home when floodwaters swept away three houses along with three vehicles.
Local media reports said the missing included an elderly woman and a couple.
One police rescue vehicle was also swept away by the floodwaters but police said two colleagues inside were able to get out and swim to safety.
Police urged people to stay away from the worst-hit areas and not attempt their own rescue searches.
Several villages were left without electricity and drinking water following the storm, local reports said.
Recent days have seen other areas of Switzerland, including the ski resort of Zermatt, affected by heavy rainfall with several roads cut off and rail services hit.
President Viola Amherd posted on X that her thoughts were with those people affected.


As US-supplied weapons show impact inside Russia, Ukrainian soldiers hope for deeper strikes

As US-supplied weapons show impact inside Russia, Ukrainian soldiers hope for deeper strikes
Updated 22 June 2024
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As US-supplied weapons show impact inside Russia, Ukrainian soldiers hope for deeper strikes

As US-supplied weapons show impact inside Russia, Ukrainian soldiers hope for deeper strikes
  • Deteriorating battlefield conditions forced the US to permit Ukraine to use Western-supplied artillery and rocket systems to defend the eastern city of Kharkiv
  • The impact was swift: Ukrainian forces pushed Russian positions back, won time to better fortify their own positions and even mounted small offensive actions

KHARKIV, Ukraine: Weeks after the decision allowing Ukraine to use US-supplied weapons for limited strikes in Russian territory, the country is having some success in halting Russia’s new push along the northeast front, but military commanders are clamoring for restrictions on long-range missiles to be lifted.
Deteriorating battlefield conditions forced the US to permit Ukraine to use Western-supplied artillery and rocket systems to defend the eastern city of Kharkiv by targeting border regions where the Kremlin’s forces assemble and launch attacks.
The impact was swift: Ukrainian forces pushed Russian positions back, won time to better fortify their own positions and even mounted small offensive actions.
But commanders said that without the ability to use long-range guided missiles, such as ATACMS, their hands are tied.
“We could target (Russian) brigade command points and the entire northern grouping, because they are located 100 to 150 kilometers from the front line,” said Hefastus, an artillery commander in the Kharkiv region who goes by his callsign. “Normal ammunition can’t get at them. With this kind, we can do a lot to destroy their centers of command.”
The Ukrainian commanders interviewed spoke on condition that their callsigns be used, in line with brigade rules.
The US expanded the scope of its policy to allow counterstrikes across a wider region Friday. But the Biden administration has not lifted restrictions on Ukraine that prohibit the use of US-provided ATACMS to strike inside Russian territory, according to three US officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. The US began providing Ukraine with long-range ATACMS earlier this year, but with rules, including that they cannot be used to strike inside Russia and must be used within sovereign territory, which includes land seized by the Russians.
That prevents attacks on airfields and military infrastructure in Russia’s deep rear, underscoring a common Ukrainian complaint that Western allies anxious about potentially provoking Russia are undermining Ukraine's ability to fight effectively.
Ukrainian officials are pushing US allies to be able to strike particular high-value targets inside Russia using ATACMS, which can reach over 100 kilometers (62 miles).
“Unfortunately, we still cannot reach, for example, airfields and their aircraft. This is the problem,” Yehor Cherniev, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, defense and intelligence, said earlier this month. “That’s why we are asking (allies) to lift the restrictions to use long-range missiles against limited military targets in the territory of Russia.”
Since late May, Ukraine has been able to target Russian troops and air defense systems 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border in the Kharkiv region. Moscow opened a new front in the region on May 10, capturing village after village in a sweeping advance that caught Ukrainian troops unprepared.
Though not a panacea, the move has greatly slowed Russia’s momentum, even allowing Ukrainian troops to make advances along the northeast border, including recently recapturing areas southwest of Vovchansk, according to local reports. Brigades there said high mobility army rocket systems, or HIMARS, were fired hours after permission was granted, destroying an air defense complex outfitted to launch the deadly missiles.
At the time, the stakes were high as Ukrainian military leaders anticipated another assault designed to divert troops from other intense battlegrounds in the Donetsk region. First Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Havryliuk told The Associated Press that at least 90,000 Russian troops deep in Russian territory were gearing up for a new assault.
“The HIMARS were not silent for the whole day,” Hefastus said, recalling the first hours when permission was granted to use the rocket systems. “From the first days, Ukrainian forces managed to destroy whole columns of troops along the border waiting for the order to enter Ukraine.”
“Before, we couldn’t target them. It was quite complicated. All warehouses with ammunition and other resources were located a 20-kilometer distance beyond what we could hit,” he said.
The dynamics shifted almost immediately, allowing Ukrainian forces to stabilize that part of the front line. Soldiers near a strategic area north of Kharkiv where fighting to push Russian troops back is ongoing said enemy troops had moved positions several kilometers back. Such claims could not be independently verified.
“Tactics have changed" as a result of Ukraine’s improved striking ability, said Kalina, a platoon commander for the Khartia Brigade. Before, they were only able to hit incoming infantry assaults; now, they can employ more artillery against Russian firing points.
The US decision came in the 11th hour, after much lobbying by Ukrainian officials and right as troops were preparing for combat in anticipation of Russia opening a new front in the northeast.
Ukrainian officials are hoping to convince American allies to allow the use of ATACMS against specific targets.
“It seems pretty absurd when the enemy is so actively advancing on our territory and striking with all types of missiles and calibers at Ukrainian territory and we cannot strike back inside the enemy’s territory where they hold logistics and supplies,” said Lys Mykyta, the commander of a drone company in the 103rd Territorial Defense Brigade.
But Ukrainian officials said only desperate battlefield conditions are likely to convince American officials to walk back the restriction.
The renewed invasion of the Kharkiv region, which drew in precious Ukrainian reserves, pushed the US to have a change of heart on allowing self-defense strikes in Russian territory, Cherniev said.
“Probably, the decision about the ATACMS will also be changed based on the situation on the ground,” he said. “I hope the decision will be made as soon as possible.”


Former French president Hollande says Macron ascendency ‘is over’

Former French president Hollande says Macron ascendency ‘is over’
Updated 22 June 2024
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Former French president Hollande says Macron ascendency ‘is over’

Former French president Hollande says Macron ascendency ‘is over’
  • “I have no scores to settle at all. That’s all in the past,” Hollande said
  • Now just two years into the younger man’s second term, “Macronism is over, if indeed it ever existed. But it’s over, I say it with no special hostility,” Hollande said

USSEL, France: French President Emmanuel Macron’s ascendancy is “over,” former head of state Francois Hollande told AFP Saturday, after his former protege called a snap election likely to hand massive gains to the far right.
“I have no scores to settle at all. That’s all in the past,” Hollande said on the campaign trail in his native Correze department in central France, where he is standing to be an MP.
Suffering at the time from abysmal poll ratings, Socialist Hollande did not himself stand for a second term at the 2017 election.
Running as a pro-business centrist, his former economy minister Macron pulled off a surprise win that shattered traditional governing parties on the left and the right.
Now just two years into the younger man’s second term, “Macronism is over, if indeed it ever existed. But it’s over, I say it with no special hostility,” Hollande said.
“I don’t mean that his presidential term is coming to an end, that’s something different. But what he may have represented for a time is over,” he added.
Re-elected in 2022 for a second five-year term, Macron lost his absolute majority in parliament in legislative polls the same year.
His party has limped on in minority government, passing hard-fought and controversial reforms including raising the pension age and toughening immigration law.
But a heavy defeat at June 9’s European Parliament election prompted Macron to dissolve parliament in hopes of breaking the deadlock.
A new chamber will be elected on June 30 and July 7 with the far-right National Rally (RN) looking set to win the most seats.
France’s two-round electoral system makes predicting outcomes tricky, but it is highly unlikely that Macron’s gamble will pay off by winning a new majority.
Instead, he could find himself presiding over a government run by an ideological opponent.
Macron’s rule has “had a heavy political cost,” Hollande said.
“The parties were heavily damaged and public morale was too. The far right has never been so strong.”
Hollande’s Socialist party has formed an electoral alliance with other left parties including Greens, Communists and hard-left France Unbowed (LFI).
Their New Popular Front (NFP) is currently running second to the RN in the polls, both well ahead of Macron’s Renaissance outfit.
“It’s time for a political realignment,” Hollande said.
“I didn’t plan to stand for any election in my position, something very serious had to happen” in the shape of the RN’s more than 31 percent in the European election, he added.
Some Socialist voters have struggled with the idea of backing an alliance with LFI and its fiery leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, with some party figures accused of anti-Semitism and a history of Euroskeptic statements.
“I’m in the framework of an alliance because it has to be done, but there’s no kind of confusion” between his positions and Melenchon’s, Hollande said.
If elected, “I’ll be an MP who will call for responsibility whatever happens... vigilant and committed to finding solutions,” he added.