Millions vote in India’s grueling election with Modi’s party likely to win a third term

Update Millions vote in India’s grueling election with Modi’s party likely to win a third term
More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote in the general election’s sixth phase. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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Millions vote in India’s grueling election with Modi’s party likely to win a third term

Millions vote in India’s grueling election with Modi’s party likely to win a third term
  • Next-to-last phase of voting with temperatures forecast to surge to 47° Celsius in the capital New Delhi
  • More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote

NEW DELHI: Millions of Indians are voting Saturday in the next-to-last round of a grueling national election with a combined opposition trying to rattle Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign for a third-consecutive term for himself and his Hindu nationalist party.
Many people lined polling stations before the start of voting at 7 a.m. to avoid the blazing sun later in the day at the peak of Indian summer. The temperature soared to 43 Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheit) in the afternoon in the Indian capital.
Lakshmi Bansal, a housewife, said while the weather was hot, people usually went out to shop and even attend festivals is such heat.
“This (election) is also like a festival, so I don’t have a problem voting in the heat,” Bansal said.
Saturday’s voting in 58 constituencies, including seven in New Delhi, will complete polling for 89.5 percent of 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament.
The voting for the remaining 57 seats on June 1 will wrap up a six-week election. The votes will be counted on June 4.
President Droupadi Murmu and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar were among the early voters. Opposition Congress party leaders, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, also voted in New Delhi.
Mehbooba Mufti, a former top elected official of Indian-controlled Kashmir, held a protest with her supporters Saturday claiming that scores of her party workers were detained by the police to prevent them from voting. Mufti, the chief of the People’s Democratic Party who is contesting the parliamentary election in the Anantnag-Rajouri district, said she complained to election officials.
In West Bengal state, workers belonging to the All India Trinamool Congress party, blocked the car of Agnimitra Paul, one of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party candidates, as she proceeded to vote in Medinipur constituency. The two parties are rivals in the state and their workers often clash on the streets.
This election is considered one of the most consequential in India’s history and will test Modi’s political dominance. If Modi wins, he’ll be only the second Indian leader to retain power for a third term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.
A less-than-expected voter turnout in the previous five rounds of voting seems to have left both sides guessing about the outcome of the election.
Election authorities said they are taking steps to ensure voters’ comfort, such as setting up fans and tents and providing drinking water.
Most polls predict a win for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is up against a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties.
Modi was involved in a highly acrimonious and mudslinging campaign with the opposition, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has produced three prime ministers.
“When the polls began it felt like a one-horse race, with Modi leading from the front. But now we are seeing some kind of shift,” political analyst Rasheed Kidwai said. “The opposition is doing better than expected and it appears that Modi’s party is rattled. That’s the reason you see Modi ramping up anti-Muslim rhetoric to polarize voters.”
Kidwai said the opposition has challenged Modi by centering its campaign narrative on social justice and rising unemployment, making the contest closer than expected.
Modi ran his campaign like a presidential race, a referendum on his 10 years of rule. He claimed to help the poorest with charity, free health care, providing toilets in their homes, and helping women get free or cheap cooking gas cylinders.
But he changed tack after a poor turnout of voters in the first round of the election and began stirring Hindu nationalism by accusing the Congress party of pandering to minority Muslims for votes.
Hindus account for 80 percent, and Muslims nearly 14 percent, of India’s over 1.4 billion people.
Manish Bhatia, a New Delhi voter, said that “politics on the basis of caste and religion is dangerous for the country,” adding that voting should be based on how candidates perform.
Nearly 970 million voters — more than 10 percent of the world’s population — were eligible to elect 543 members to the lower house of Parliament for five years.
Voters’ relative apathy has surprised some political analysts. In the five rounds of polling the voter turnout ranged between 62.2 percent to 69.16 percent — averaging 65.9 percent. By comparison, India’s 2019 national election registered the highest-ever voter turnout — 67.11 percent. Modi’s BJP won 303 seats in parliament in 2019.
Modi’s inauguration of a massive Hindu temple for the most revered Lord Rama, his massive roadshows, and big public rallies raised the BJP’s hopes of a massive a surge of voters in its favor.
The current prim minister came to power in 2014, dislodging the Congress party that governed the country for nearly 55 years after India won independence from British colonialists in 1947.
Before the election, the opposition INDIA alliance was seen bickering, but it has since held together, particularly after two chief ministers of two opposition-controlled states were sent to jail on corruption charges. Both deny the accusations.
One of them — New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal — has since been released on bail and returned to the campaign trail.
In March, Gandhi completed a 6,713-kilometer (4,171-mile) walk across the country, starting in the violence-hit northeastern state of Manipur, to raise awareness on issues of poverty, unemployment, and democracy with voters.
“The walk helped Gandhi boost his image as a serious politician among the voters, and that is helping the opposition,” Kidwai, the political anaylast, said.
 


US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons
Updated 3 sec ago
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US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons
  • The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters

WASHINGTON: The United States expressed deep concern Thursday over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to supply North Korea with weapons, warning such a move would “destabilize” the Korean peninsula.
Putin, during a rare visit to Pyongyang, signed a mutual defense pact on Wednesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who pledged his country’s “full support” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on Thursday in Vietnam, Putin said Moscow would not rule out sending weapons to Pyongyang, calling it repercussions for the West supplying Ukraine.
The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“It would destabilize the Korean peninsula, potentially, depending on the type of weapons, and might violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself has supported,” Miller said.
Washington and its allies have previously accused North Korea of supplying Russia with missiles and artillery that it has used to attack Ukraine.
Putin warned Seoul on Thursday not to supply Ukraine with weapons, after South Korea said it was reconsidering its current ban.
Seoul has a longstanding policy that bars it from selling weapons into active conflict zones, which it has stuck to despite calls from Washington and Kyiv to reconsider.
Miller said such a decision was “for every country to make in terms of whether they’re going to supply weapons to Ukraine.”
“We welcome any support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he added.
 

 


Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

Young Sikh migrant workers walk on a street in the Agro Pontino area, south of Rome. Picture taken May 19, 2019 (REUTERS)
Young Sikh migrant workers walk on a street in the Agro Pontino area, south of Rome. Picture taken May 19, 2019 (REUTERS)
Updated 41 sec ago
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Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

Young Sikh migrant workers walk on a street in the Agro Pontino area, south of Rome. Picture taken May 19, 2019 (REUTERS)
  • “These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said, in comments relayed by her office

ROME: The death of an Indian farm laborer in a gruesome accident in which his right arm was severed by machinery has put a spotlight the conditions of migrant agricultural workers in Italy, whom trade unions say are often employed illegally and exploited.
Satnam Singh, 31, died in a hospital in Rome on Wednesday, two days after being injured while working in a melon greenhouse in the Agro Pontino, a rural area south of the capital.
According to media reports, Singh was left outside his home after suffering injuries to his arm and legs, with his severed limb placed in a fruit crate.
“We heard shouting outside, the guy’s wife threw herself at me saying, ‘call an ambulance, call an ambulance’,” a neighbor told RAI public television.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni deplored the tragedy as she chaired a cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” she said, in comments relayed by her office.
The owner of the farm, Renzo Lovato, expressed his sorrow over the accident, but said Singh had been warned not to get close to the machine that injured him.
“The worker did it his own way. It was carelessness, unfortunately,” Lovato told RAI.
An investigation into Lovato’s son, who allegedly left Singh outside his home, has been opened over potential charges of manslaughter and failure to assist a person in danger, the lead prosecutor in the case, Giuseppe De Falco, said in an email.
“He spontaneously went to the judicial police an hour after the events, as any decent person would do,” Lovato’s family lawyer told Reuters. He added that his client was waiting for the charges to be formalized to defend himself.
Responding to the allegation that Singh had been abandoned without calling an ambulance, the lawyer, Valerio Righi, said: “You will see during the proceedings that maybe help was called sooner than people think.”
Some politicians and trade unions said the tragedy highlighted the broader issue of “caporalato,” the illegal gangmaster system of hiring migrant workers common in the Agro Pontino and other parts of Italy.
Righi declined to comment on reports that Singh and his wife were employed illegally. Other details of the conditions in which he worked were unclear.
Maria Grazia Gabrielli, from Italy’s largest trade union Cgil, decried an “event of unprecedented brutality,” linking it to what she said were slave-like conditions endured by many farm hands.
“Exploitation in the fields very often results in starvation wages, unsafe and inhuman working rhythms and conditions, psychological and physical violence,” she said in a statement.
According to 2021 data from national statistics office Istat, about 11 percent of Italian workers were employed illegally, rising to more than 23 percent in agriculture.
The Lazio region, which includes the Agro Pontino, offered to cover Singh’s funeral costs.
Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, responding to the furor over Singh’s death, said the government was “first in line on all fronts to counter any form of exploitation at work.” 

 


Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest
Updated 29 min 31 sec ago
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Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest
  • Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months
  • Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have formally dismissed a deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and accused by Kremlin critics of living a lavish lifestyle, Russian media reported Thursday. A court ordered that his pre-trial detention be extended for three more months.
Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months. He was a close associate of Sergei Shoigu, whom President Vladimir Putin replaced as defense minister last month.
Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe. His lawyers said he maintains his innocence. The Basmanny District Court in Moscow on Thursday extended his detention pending investigation and trial until at least Sept. 23. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Russian media, citing an online registry of government officials, said Thursday that Ivanov was dismissed from his post. His lawyer Denis Baluyev confirmed the dismissal in comments to Russian business news site RBK. It wasn’t immediately clear from the reports when exactly Ivanov was fired.
Other top military officials arrested in recent months include deputy chief of the Russian military general staff Lt. Gen. Vadim Shamarin; Gen. Ivan Popov, a former top commander in Russia’s offensive in Ukraine; and Lt. Gen. Yury Kuznetsov, head of the Defense Ministry’s personnel directorate. All three have been accused of bribery.
According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.
Ivanov’s arrest came nearly a month after Putin called on the Federal Security Service to “keep up a systemic anti-corruption effort” and pay special attention to state defense procurement.
Russian media reported that Ivanov oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war. Ivanov has been sanctioned by both the United States and European Union.
Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.
That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate.
The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.


Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea
Updated 20 June 2024
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Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea
  • The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year

MILAN: The Italian coast guard on Thursday recovered 12 more bodies from a weekend shipwreck in the Ionian Sea off the southern Italian coastline, bringing to 20 the number of known victims from the sinking. Dozens more are missing and presumed dead.
The bodies, including women and children, were being transferred to a port in Calabria. Two more coast guard ships were on their way to join the air-and-sea search, some 190 kilometers (120 miles) from shore.
Survivors reported that the boat motor had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast overnight Sunday about eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. Eleven survivors were being treated on shore.
The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy.


Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system

Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system
Updated 20 June 2024
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Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system

Zelensky calls for measures to preserve Ukraine’s energy system
  • “Life in Ukraine must be preserved and that includes in particular energy security,” Zelensky said
  • Drone and missile strikes have knocked out half of energy generating capacity since March

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Thursday a set of measures to protect Ukraine’s energy system, including protection for plants coming under Russian fire and the development of alternative renewable energy sources.
“Life in Ukraine must be preserved and that includes in particular energy security,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.
Russia pounded Ukraine’s energy system in the first winter of the war, launched in February 2022, and renewed its assault on energy targets last March as Ukraine was running low on stocks of Western air defense missiles.
Drone and missile strikes have knocked out half of energy generating capacity since March, according to official accounts.
Attacks overnight on Thursday hit four regions and cut power to more than 218,000 consumers, the Energy Ministry said.
Zelensky outlined plans to minimize the effects of such attacks, including a program of developing solar energy and energy storage facilities and a schedule for critical infrastructure sites to come up with alternative energy sources.
The work, he said, must be completed before winter and the increased energy demand associated with the change in seasons.
Zelensky said the government would “continue to work on creating new energy generation and new decentralized energy capacities.” Also planned was “the construction of new balanced and manoeuvrable capacities for energy.”
“This process is quite challenging in wartime conditions, but we must implement it just as we have already implemented many difficulty projects,” he said.
And work was proceeding, Zelensky said, on measures to protect existing energy sites.
Russia says energy infrastructure is a legitimate military target and denies targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure.