India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

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A young Indian National Congress supporter waves the National Congress party flag during a political rally of National Congress president Rahul Gandhi at Asarana village, in Bhavnagar district, some 300 kms from Ahmedabad on April 15, 2019, ahead of the second phase of India's general election. (AFP)
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Indian National Congress supporters cheer during a political rally of National Congress president Rahul Gandhi at Asarana village, in Bhavnagar district, some 300 kms from Ahmedabad on April 15, 2019, ahead of the second phase of India's general election. (AFP)
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This combination of file pictures created on April 8, 2019 shows (L) India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaving from 10 Downing Street in central London on April 18, 2018; and (R) India's Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi at a rally in Mumbai on March 1, 2019. (AFP)
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Indian electoral officials carrying Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) leave a distribution centre to get the machines in Ahmedabad on April 22, 2019, the day before the third phase of India's general election. (AFP)
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Indian National Congress party president Rahul Gandhi (C) gestures after laying a wreath to pay tribute on the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs memorial in Amritsar on April 13, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 23 April 2019
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India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

  • Rahul Gandhi is standing in Wayanad in Kerala state, taking a risk as south India is considered a stronghold of regional parties
  • This election is seen as a referendum on his five-year rule — which has seen impressive economic growth but not the jobs that the BJP promised

NEW DELHI: Indians are voting Tuesday in the third phase of the general elections with campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party and the opposition marred by bitter accusations and acrimony.
People lined up outside voting station at several places even before the polling started at 7 a.m.
The voting for 117 parliamentary seats in 13 states and two Union Territories on Tuesday means polls are half done for 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The voting over seven phases ends May 19, with counting scheduled for May 23.
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. He has adopted a nationalist pitch trying to win the majority Hindu votes by projecting a tough stance against Islamic neighbor Pakistan.
The opposition is challenging him for a high unemployment rate of 6.1% and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices.
Modi is scheduled to vote on Tuesday in his western home state of Gujarat, though he is contesting for a parliamentary seat from Varanasi, a city in northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The voting also is taking place in Wayanad constituency in southern Kerala state, one of the two seats from where opposition Congress party president, Rahul Gandhi, is contesting. His home bastion, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh state will have polling on May 6. He will give up one seat if he wins from both places.
The voting is staggered to facilitate movement of security forces to oversee an orderly election and avoid vote fraud.
India’s autonomous Election Commission intervened last week to block hate speeches by imposing a temporary ban on campaigning by some top politicians across political parties.
Uttar Pradesh state chief minister Yogi Adityanath of Modi’s BJP was barred from campaigning, in the form of public meetings, road shows or media interviews, for three days for making anti-Muslim speeches. He said a Hindu god will ensure the BJP victory in elections, while the opposition was betting on Muslim votes.
Mayawati, a leader of Bahujan Samaj Party, was punished for 48 hours for appealing to Muslims to vote only for her party. India’s top court ordered strict action against politicians for religion and caste-based remarks.
Hindus comprise 80% and Muslims 16% of India’s 1.3 billion people. The opposition accuses the BJP of trying to polarize the Hindu votes in its favor.
Meenakshi Lekhi, a BJP leader, filed a contempt of court petition against Rahul Gandhi in the Supreme Court for misrepresenting a court order while accusing Modi of corruption in a deal to buy 36 French Rafale fighter aircraft. Modi denies the charge.
Modi has used Kashmir to pivot away from his economic record, playing up the threat of rival Pakistan, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 soldiers, in a bid to appear a strong, uncompromising leader on national security. The bombing brought nuclear rivals India and Pakistan close to the brink of war.
Opposition parties have consistently said that Modi and his party leaders are digressing from the main issues such as youth employment and farmers’ suicides.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.


Desperate migrants jump off rescue ship, seeking Italy

Updated 20 August 2019
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Desperate migrants jump off rescue ship, seeking Italy

  • The migrantsl were seeking the shores of Lampedusa, a short distance away from the anchored ship
  • Live video showed people wearing life vests floating in the sea

MILAN: At least 15 more migrants jumped into the sea Tuesday from the Open Arms rescue ship in desperate bids to reach the shores of Italy after 19 days on the boat in deteriorating conditions as Italy refuses to open its ports.
With the situation on board described by Open Arms as “out of control” and “desperate” over Italy’s repeated refusal to allow the migrants into the southern island of Lampedusa, Spain said it was dispatching a naval ship to escort the aid group’s boat and its passengers to a port in the Spanish island of Mallorca.
“After analyzing all the options, this is the most adequate and the one that would allow resolving within this week the humanitarian emergency on board the Open Arms,” the statement said.
But the journey of the Audaz warship from its base in southern Spain to Lampedusa is expected to last three days, adding to the ordeal of the migrants.
Dozens of them have been evacuated in recent days because they were underage or ill, but 83 remain on board.
That was after one migrant jumped off the ship early on Tuesday and was rescued by the Italian coast guard, followed by two groups of nine and five more who launched themselves into the sea wearing orange life vests.
All were seeking the shores of Lampedusa, a short distance away from the anchored ship.
A reporter with the Spanish public broadcaster TVE said the first jumper refused to return to the Open Arms and was brought to Lampedusa instead, prompting others to follow his lead. The reporter said those jumping were “desperate and going mad” after 19 days trapped on board.
Live video showed people wearing life vests floating in the sea, some in groups and some individually, with a coast guard vessel nearby and rubber dinghies trying to reach them.
Open Arms said the Italian coast guard rescued all 15 jumpers and brought them to Lampedusa.
A spokeswoman for the charity, Laura Lanuza, said she heard from Open Arms crew members that “those who remain aboard are threatening to jump as well.” The Open Arms captain previously informed Italian authorities that the crew of 17 can no longer control the situation on board, as frustrated migrants resort to fighting.
Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has refused port access to the ship, even though six other European countries have agreed to take in the migrants, who were rescued at sea in early August off the coast of Libya.
Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, said on social media that he has been in touch with Spanish officials to demand that “they do everything to stop the NGO.” He did not specify what he expects Spain to do, and Spain said it was awaiting clarification.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced last week that six nations — Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Romania and Luxembourg — had offered to take the migrants aboard Open Arms.
But in his post, Toninelli complained those countries were waiting until the migrants were on land “and then they will see.”
Impasses involving Italy’s refusal to allow migrant ships to dock started immediately after the populist coalition of the League and the 5-Star Movement took office last June. In the first, a ship made the long trip to Spain with 630 migrants after Madrid opened its ports.
But Spain has changed its approach since then, saying that international marine laws and EU regulations require that rescued people need to be taken to the closest and safest port. It also says that EU members need to find a long-lasting solution for dealing with migration that doesn’t rely so much on just the Mediterranean countries.
Open Arms sailed within a few hundred meters of Lampedusa last week after Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s ban on private rescue boats entering Italy’s waters was overturned by a court. Salvini has appealed that ruling and warned that his ban on docking still holds.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which is operated by two French humanitarian groups and has 356 rescued migrants aboard, has been sailing between Malta and the Italian island of Linosa as it waits for a port of safety to be assigned.
Italy’s standoff with Open Arms has further raised tensions in the country’s failing ruling coalition, as Cabinet members from the 5-Star Movement, including the defense and transport ministers, increasingly question the handling of the rescue ship by Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party.
Toninelli said other European countries were turning their backs on Italy “and there is one person responsible: Matteo Salvini, who has weakened the government and as a consequence our position in Europe.”