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.”


China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit

China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit
Updated 59 min 6 sec ago
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China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit

China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit
  • Li Qiang, China’s second-highest ranked official and the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years
  • The pandas at Adelaide’s zoo would return to China in November and it would get to select two new giant pandas

China Premier Li Qiang made a low-key start on Sunday to a four-day trip to Australia with visits to a South Australian winery and Adelaide Zoo, where he announced Beijing would provide two new pandas after the current pair go home later this year.
Li, China’s second-highest ranked official and the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years, is due to meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday. He arrived in the South Australia state capital late on Saturday, saying bilateral relations were “back on track.”
China, Australia’s largest trade partner, imposed restrictions on a raft of Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020 during a diplomatic dispute that has now largely eased.
On Sunday, Li’s first official stop was to visit a pair of pandas on loan from China to Adelaide’s zoo, where Australian Broadcasting Corp. television showed crowds gathered, some waving Chinese flags, while others held signs that read “No more panda propaganda.”
At the zoo, Li announced the pandas would return to China in November and the zoo would get to select two new giant pandas, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
The pandas had “become envoys of friendship between China and Australia, and a symbol of the profound friendship between the two peoples,” Li said, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy.
“China is ready to continue with the cooperative research with Australia on the conservation of giant pandas, and hopes that Australia will continue to be an amicable home for giant pandas,” Li added.
The pandas, Fu Ni and Wang Wang, have been at the zoo since 2009 but have not successfully bred, the ABC reported.
Li later attended an event with South Australia wine exporters, who until recently have been shut out of the Chinese market in a dispute that suspended A$20 billion ($13 billion) in Australian agriculture and mineral exports last year.
Speaking at the winery in the Adelaide suburb of Magill, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the venue was chosen “because of course one of the impediments that has been removed is the export of Australian wine and we welcome that.”
Earlier on Sunday, Wong said Li’s visit was “really important” in showing stabilized ties between the two major trading partners.
“It comes after two years of very deliberate, very patient work by this government to bring about a stabilization of the relationship,” Wong told the ABC.
On the pandas, Wong, who lives in Adelaide, said the animals “have been a great part of the lives of many Adelaide families.”
On Monday, Li will visit the capital Canberra for a meeting with Albanese.
During the talks, the prime minister is expected to bring up the case of Australian writer Yang Hengjun who was given a suspended death sentence on espionage charges in February, as well as an incident last month where a Chinese military jet dropped flares near an Australian defense helicopter.
Li’s final stop on Tuesday will be in resource-rich mining state Western Australia. Australia is the biggest supplier of iron ore to China, which has been an investor in Australian mining projects, though some recent Chinese investment in critical minerals has been blocked by Australia on national interest grounds.
Li arrived from New Zealand, where he highlighted Chinese demand for its agricultural products.
Canberra and Wellington are seeking to balance trade with regional security concerns over China’s ambitions in the Pacific Islands and on issues including human rights the contested South China Sea.


Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders

Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders
Updated 16 June 2024
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Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders

Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders
  • The blaze that is being called the Post Fire burned more than 14.5 square kilometers near the Interstate 5 freeway in Gorman

GORMAN, California: Authorities issued evacuation orders Saturday as a wildfire in Los Angeles County spread thousands of acres close to a major highway and threatened nearby structures, officials said.
The blaze that is being called the Post Fire burned more than 14.5 square kilometers near the Interstate 5 freeway in Gorman, which is about 100 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The flames broke out at around 1:45 p.m., authorities said.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the evacuations, whether there were injuries reported and the latest size of the blaze. An investigation is ongoing.


Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts
Updated 16 June 2024
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Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts
  • US President Joe Biden: ‘The Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today’
  • ‘The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step’

LOS ANGELES: President Joe Biden slammed the US Supreme Court as “out of kilter” at a glitzy fundraiser in Los Angeles on Saturday with former President Barack Obama and top Hollywood celebrities that has raised $28 million.

Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel began by showing a video montage contrasting Biden’s record with that of his predecessor and current Republican challenger Donald Trump. He drew cheers from the audience at a packed Peacock Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where Hollywood celebrities George Clooney and Julia Roberts were among the guests.

Biden, a Democrat who has frequently denounced specific decisions but resisted a full-throated attack on the court itself, said on Saturday “the Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today.”

“The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step,” Biden said. He noted that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas had said the court, which overturned the half-century-old federal right to abortion, should reconsider such things as in vitro fertilization and contraception.

Trump nominated three of the six conservatives who control the nine-member court. He and Biden are in a tight rematch race for the Nov. 5 election.

If Trump is elected again, Biden said, he “is likely to have two new Supreme Court nominees.”

“The idea that if he’s reelected, he’s going to appoint two more who are flying flags upside down... I think it is one of the scariest parts,” Biden said.

He was referring to a recent controversy involving Justice Samuel Alito, who allowed flags associated with the movement to reverse Trump’s 2020 loss to Biden — including an upside-down American flag — to fly outside his homes in Virginia and New Jersey.

Democratic lawmakers, citing the flag displays, have said Alito should recuse himself from a case involving Trump’s claim of presidential immunity from prosecution on federal criminal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 results.

Since Biden took office, the court’s conservative majority has also restricted affirmative action, gay rights, gun control and environmental regulation. It has blocked the president’s agenda on immigration, student loans, vaccine mandates and climate change.

Obama said “the power of the Supreme Court is determined by elections. What we’re seeing now is a byproduct of 2016” when Trump was elected. “Hopefully we have learned our lesson. Because these elections matter.”

‘LARGEST DEMOCRATIC FUNDRAISER’

The Biden campaign hoped the star-studded event would display strength and momentum despite Biden’s low approval ratings and concerns about the age of the president, who is 81.

“This will be one of the biggest fundraisers we’ve had,” said Ajay Jain Bhutoria, deputy finance chair at the Democratic National Committee. A Biden campaign spokeswoman said “$28 million heading into President Biden’s LA fundraiser — and counting. This is the largest Democratic fundraiser in history.”

The Biden campaign outraised the $26 million a March fundraiser in New York City generated where comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert hosted Biden, Obama and former President Bill Clinton. The top-ticket package for the LA event costs $500,000, campaign officials said.

Other celebrities who took the stage at the Saturday event included Jack Black, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn and Sheryl Lee Ralph.

In recent weeks, Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame made a White House briefing room appearance to praise the president, Robert De Niro showed up in lower Manhattan for a press conference at the Biden campaign’s behest and Steven Spielberg has been helping the Biden campaign with storytelling.

Actor Michael Douglas held a fundraiser for the president and artists Queen Latifah, Lenny Kravitz, Lizzo, James Taylor, Christina Aguilera and Barbra Streisand have all performed to help Biden raise money.

Biden campaign’s fundraising in April lagged Trump’s for the first time, after the former president ramped up his joint operation with the Republican National Committee and headlined high-dollar fundraisers.

Democrats still maintained an overall cash advantage over Trump and the Biden campaign continues to have a considerably larger war chest.

Biden and Trump are tied in national polls with less than five months to go before the election, while Trump has the edge in the battleground states that will decide the election, recent polls show. On economic issues like inflation, Trump scores higher with voters overall than Biden.

Democrats have long counted on the liberal Los Angeles area as a rich source of financial backing. Republicans often decry Democrats nationwide as funded by Hollywood elites and California liberals.

But the state’s donors bankroll presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Biden and Trump have both raised more in the state for their reelection bids than anywhere else, according to fundraising disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Biden raised $24 million through April 30 in California, and Trump $11.7 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The president was largely unable to host high-dollar Hollywood fundraisers for much of 2023 because of industry strikes. But since they were resolved, Biden has headlined several fundraisers in the state, including one in December where top tickets approached $1 million.


Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him

Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him
Updated 16 June 2024
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Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him

Trump challenges Biden to a cognitive test but confuses the name of the doctor who tested him
  • "Does everyone know Ronny Johnson, congressman from Texas?" asked Trump, referring to former White House doctor Ronny Jackson
  • Trump went on to make fun of a tampered video showing Biden stepping away from G7 leaders, turning his back and walking in the other direction

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump on Saturday night suggested President Joe Biden “should have to take a cognitive test,” only to confuse who administered the test to him in the next sentence.

The former president and presumptive Republican nominee referred to Texas Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, who was the White House physician for part of his presidency, as “Ronny Johnson.” The moment came as Trump was questioning Biden’s mental acuity, something he often does on the campaign trail and social media.
“He doesn’t even know what the word ‘inflation’ means. I think he should take a cognitive test like I did,” the former president said of Biden during a speech at a convention of Turning Point Action in Detroit.
Seconds later, he continued, “Doc Ronny Johnson. Does everyone know Ronny Johnson, congressman from Texas? He was the White House doctor, and he said I was the healthiest president, he feels, in history, so I liked him very much indeed immediately.”
Jackson was elected to Congress in 2021 and is one of Trump’s most vociferous defenders on Capitol Hill.
Trump, who turned 78 on Friday, has made questioning whether the 81-year-old Biden is up for a second term a centerpiece of his campaign. But online critics quickly seized on his Saturday night gaffe, with the Biden campaign — which has long fought off criticism about the Democratic president’s verbal missteps — posting a clip of the moment minutes later.
Trump took the cognitive test in 2018 at his own request, Jackson told reporters at the time. The exam is designed to detect early signs of memory loss and other mild cognitive impairment.
The Montreal Cognitive Assessment that Trump took includes remembering a list of spoken words; listening to a list of random numbers and repeating them backward; naming as many words that begin with, say, the letter F as possible within a minute; accurately drawing a cube; and describing concrete ways that two objects — like a train and a bicycle — are alike.
Trump later said that he had to remember and accurately recite a list of words in order: “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.”
During the same speech in Detroit, Trump also referenced a video clip widely circulated online in Republican circles where Biden is seen during the recently concluded Group of Seven summit in Italy watching skydivers land with flags from different nations.
A cropped version of the video shows Biden stepping away from the leaders, turning his back and walking in the other direction. He flashes a thumbs-up but it’s not clear who he is gesturing to. A more complete angle of the same scene, however, shows that the president had turned to face a skydiver who has landed.
Trump nonetheless seized on the video clip, falsely describing Biden turning around “to look at trees,” drawing laughter and hoots from the crowd.
The Biden campaign issued a statement dismissing the clip as misleadingly cropped and accusing those disseminating it as “tampering with the video to make up lies.”


Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine

Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine
Updated 16 June 2024
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Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine

Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine
  • Absence of China, Russia seen limiting potential impact
  • Putin outlines conditions to end war on eve of gathering

BUERGENSTOCK, Switzerland: A draft communique for a summit of world leaders convened to pursue a pathway for peace in Ukraine makes reference to Russia’s “war” against Kyiv and urges that Ukraine’s territorial integrity be respected, according to a copy of the document seen by Reuters.
The final communique is due to be issued on Sunday at the conclusion of the two-day conference at the Buergenstock resort in central Switzerland. The draft was dated June 13.
The Swiss government has said it hopes the final summit declaration will be supported unanimously by participants. The document tracked certain changes made to the draft.
The document also calls for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to be restored to Ukrainian control and for Kyiv’s access to its Azov sea ports to be safeguarded.

More than 90 countries are taking part in the conference, but China’s absence in particular dimmed hopes the summit would show Russia as globally isolated, while recent military reverses have put Kyiv on the back foot.

China has shunned the summit and it was dismissed as a waste of time by Russia, which pushed its own rival ceasefire plans from afar.

The war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has also diverted the world’s attention from Ukraine.
The talks focused on broader concerns triggered by the war, such as food and nuclear security. But Turkiye and Saudi Arabia, both mooted hosts for another such event, said meaningful progress required Russia’s participation.
A draft of a final summit declaration, seen by Reuters, blames Russia’s “war” in Ukraine for causing “large-scale human suffering and destruction” and urges Ukraine’s territorial integrity to be respected.
The document, dated June 13, also calls for Kyiv to regain control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and access to its sea ports. The draft had deleted an earlier reference to Russian “aggression” where “war” is cited.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky trumpeted the summit’s attendance as a success and predicted “history being made.”
“Today is the day when the world begins to bring a just peace closer,” he told leaders assembled around a giant rectangular table.
US President Joe Biden sent his deputy Kamala Harris to represent him — a decision that had riled Kyiv.
Harris announced more than $1.5 billion in energy and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, where infrastructure has been pounded by Russian airstrikes since the 2022 full-scale invasion.
On the eve of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would end the war if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over four provinces claimed by Moscow. The conditions apparently reflected Moscow’s growing confidence its forces have the upper hand.
But they were swiftly rejected by Ukraine and its allies.
“He’s calling for surrender,” Harris said, adding: “Let nothing about the end of this war be decided without Ukraine.”
“Freezing the conflict today, with foreign troops occupying Ukrainian land, is not the answer. It is a recipe for future wars of aggression,” added European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

China and Russia
China said it would boycott the event after Russia was frozen out of the process, with the US suggesting Beijing’s decision was taken at Moscow’s behest.
“Putin has no interest in a genuine peace,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“He has launched a sustained diplomatic campaign against this summit ordering countries to stay away, spinning a phoney narrative about his willingness to negotiate.”
Avoiding some of the most difficult issues, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz compared the summit to “a small plant that needs watering, nurturing and delicate care” that would yield results further down the line.
But countries including Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Kenya noted Russia’s absence as a hurdle.
“I must also note that this summit could have been more result-oriented if the other party to the conflict, Russia, was present in the room,” said Turkiye’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said credible talks would involve “difficult compromise.”
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer saw an opportunity to start building a broader global consensus to pressure Russia.
“It’s like we’re in a Western echo chamber. That is: all Western European countries, the USA, we agree on what we want to happen with Ukraine,” Nehammer said. “But that alone is not enough.”
Calls for Russia to be at the table will only get stronger over time, said Bob Deen, senior research fellow at the Netherlands-based Clingendael Institute think-tank.
“There is a risk that if Ukraine waits too long, it might end up with rival formats popping up. It may risk losing the initiative,” Deen told a forum on the summit’s sidelines.
Supporters of Ukraine marked the talks with a series of events in the nearby city of Lucerne to draw attention to the war’s humanitarian costs.
Dozens of Ukrainian refugees from choirs around Switzerland converged in a public square to sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
Earlier about 250 people gathered in the center of the city, many wrapped in Ukrainian flags, wearing traditional clothes and carrying pictures of missing brothers, husbands or sons as they shared their stories.
“I’m clinging to the idea that my husband is still alive,” said Svitlana Bilous, the wife of a soldier who has been missing for more than 14 months. “That’s what keeps me going.”