Nepal strengthens laws against dowry, menstrual exile

It is often the village shamans - who fill a void left by woefully poor medical services in rural Nepal - and the elderly who are the guardians of the ritual. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2017

Nepal strengthens laws against dowry, menstrual exile

Katmandu, NEPAL: Nepal’s parliament has passed a bill toward making women safer by strengthening laws against acid attacks along with the ancient Hindu customs of demanding dowry payments for marriage and exiling women who are menstruating.
The new law goes into effect in August 2018, with violators who force women into exile facing punishments of up to three months in jail or a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees, or about $29.
Many menstruating women are still forced to leave their homes and take shelter in unhygienic or insecure huts or cow sheds until their cycle ends, though the practice — called Chhaupadi — was actually outlawed a decade ago. But without any assigned penalties, the custom continued in many parts of the majority Hindu Himalayan country, especially in the western hills.
While exiled in isolation, some women face bitter cold or attacks by wild animals. Unclean conditions can also cause infections.
“People will be discouraged to follow this discriminatory custom due to fear of punishment” now that the new bill is passed, said lawmaker Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel from the committee that drafted the bill.
But a female parliamentarian from the far-western district of Doti, where menstrual exile is still practiced, said the legislation passed Wednesday alone would not be enough, and the government should also invest in educating women on good hygiene.
“Fear of punishment will not stop people from following this custom who think women are impure during menstruation,” Gauri Kumari Oli told the Associated Press on Thursday. “The government and non-governmental agencies should start to do more to raise awareness.”
She herself was made to observe the custom, albeit not so strictly, she said.
“Like it happens elsewhere in Nepal, I was asked not to enter inside the temple or the kitchen,” she said. “But I never had to go to sleep in shed.”
The legislation was part of an ongoing effort to improve the country’s laws, and also criminalizes other deep-rooted customs that harm women, including slavery, acid attacks and the dowry system, by which a woman’s family must secure her marriage prospects by paying the groom and his family.


Australians vote to determine conservative government future

Updated 14 sec ago

Australians vote to determine conservative government future

  • Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labour Party is a favorite to win its first election since 2007
CANBERRA: Vote counting started in Australia’s election on Saturday that will decide whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government can defy odds and rule for a fourth three-year term.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labour Party is a favorite to win its first election since 2007. But Morrison defied the opinion polls in 2019 by leading his coalition to a narrow victory.
His coalition holds the narrowest of majorities — 76 seats in the 151-member House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government.
Both leaders campaigned in Melbourne on Saturday morning before voting in their hometown of Sydney.
Labor is promising more spending on care for children and the elderly. The coalition is promising better economic management as Australia’s deficit soars because of the pandemic.
Morrison said if reelected, his government would deliver lower taxes as well as downward pressure on interest rates and costs of living.
“It’s a choice about who can best manage our economy and our finances because a strong economy is what guarantees your future,” Morrison said.
A federal judge ordered the removal of mostly green-colored campaign signs near Melbourne polling stations that urged voters to “Put Labor Last.” The signs were designed to look like they were authorized by the Australian Greens, an environmental party that prefers the policies of Labor to Morrison’s coalition. But a business group was responsible for them.
Albanese went with his partner Jodie Haydon, his 21-year-old son Nathan Albanese and his cavoodle Toto to vote at the Marrickville Town Hall in his inner-Sydney electorate.
Albanese would not be drawn into saying whether Toto would move into the prime minister’s official residence in Sydney or Canberra if Labor wins.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Albanese said. “I’m very positive and hopeful about a good outcome tonight.”
He referred to his humble upbringing as the only child of a single mother who became a disabled pensioner and lived in government housing.
“When you come from where I’ve come from, one of the advantages that you have is that you don’t get ahead of yourself. Everything in life’s a bonus,” Albanese said.
Morrison voted with his wife Jenny at the Lilli Pilli Public School in his southern Sydney electorate.
He later used the rare interception of a suspected asylum seeker boat attempting to enter Australian waters as a reason why voters should reelect his government.
Australian Border Force said in a statement the boat had been intercepted in a “likely attempt to illegally enter Australia from Sri Lanka.”
The Australian policy was to return those on board to their point of departure, the statement said.
Morrison argues Labor would be weaker on preventing people smugglers from trafficking asylum seekers.
“I’ve been here to stop this boat, but in order for me to be there to stop those that may come from here, you need to vote Liberal and Nationals today,” Morrison told reporters, referring to his coalition.
The boat carrying 15 passengers was intercepted near the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island on Saturday morning, The Weekend Australian newspaper reported.
The number of asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters by boat peaked at 20,000 in 2013, the year Morrison’s coalition was first elected.
Morrison’s first government role was overseeing a military-led operation that turned back asylum seeker boats and virtually ended the people trafficking trade from Asia.
The first polling stations closed on the country’s east coast at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT). The west coast is two hours behind.
Due to the pandemic, around half of Australia’s 17 million electors have voted early or applied for postal votes, which will likely slow the count.
Voting is compulsory for adult citizens and 92 percent of registered voters cast ballots at the last election.
Early polling for reasons of travel or work began two weeks ago and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue collecting postal votes for another two weeks.
The government changed regulations on Friday to enable people recently infected with COVID-19 to vote over the phone.
Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said more than 7,000 polling stations opened as planned and on time across Australia despite 15 percent of polling staff falling sick this week with COVID-19 and flu.
Albanese said he had thought Morrison would have called the election last weekend because Australia’s prime minister is expected at a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“If we get a clear outcome today then whoever is prime minister will be on a plane to Tokyo on Monday, which isn’t ideal, I’ve got to say, immediately after a campaign,” Albanese said.
Analysts have said that Morrison left the election until the latest date available to him to give himself more time to reduce Labor’s lead in opinion polls.
The closely watched Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Saturday put Labor ahead with 53 percent of voter support.
The poll surveyed 2,188 voters across Australia from May 13 to 19 and had a 2.9 percentage points margin of error.
At the last election in 2019, the split of votes between the government and Labor was 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent — the exact opposite of the result that Australia’s five most prominent polls including Newspoll had predicted.
As well as campaigning against Labor, Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party is fighting off a new challenge from so-called teal independent candidates to key government lawmakers’ reelection in party strongholds.
The teal independents are marketed as a greener shade than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color and want stronger government action on reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than either the government or Labor are proposing.
The government aims to reduce Australia’s emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised a 43 percent reduction.

Russia says destroyed 'large' shipment of Western weapons to Ukraine

Updated 20 min 24 sec ago

Russia says destroyed 'large' shipment of Western weapons to Ukraine

MOSCOW: Moscow's forces destroyed a large shipment of Western-supplied weapons in northwestern Ukraine with long-range missiles, the Russian defence ministry said Saturday.
"High-precision long-range sea-based Kalibr missiles destroyed a large batch of weapons and military equipment near the Malin railway station in Zhytomyr region delivered from the United States and European countries," it said.


US, others walk out of APEC talks over Russia’s Ukraine invasion – officials

Updated 21 May 2022

US, others walk out of APEC talks over Russia’s Ukraine invasion – officials

  • Representatives from Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia joined the Americans

BANGKOK: Representatives of the United States and several other nations walked out of an Asia-Pacific trade ministers meeting in Bangkok on Saturday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials said.
The walkout was “an expression of disapproval at Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine and its economic impact in the APEC region,” one diplomat said.
Representatives from Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia joined the Americans, led by Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in walking out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, two Thai officials and two international diplomats said.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, saying it aimed to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and the West say President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression, which has claimed thousands of civilian lives, sent millions of Ukrainians fleeing and caused economic fallout around the world.
Another diplomat said the five countries that staged the protest wanted “stronger language on Russia’s war” in the group’s final statement to be issued on Sunday.
“The meeting will not be a failure if (a joint statement) cannot be issued,” Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit told reporters, adding that the meeting was “progressing well” despite the walk out.
The walkout took place while Russian Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov was delivering remarks at the opening of the two-day meeting from the group of 21 economies.
The delegations from five countries that staged the protest returned to the meeting after Reshetnikov finished speaking, a Thai official said.


Britain wants to arm Moldova to protect it from Russian threat — The Telegraph

Updated 21 May 2022

Britain wants to arm Moldova to protect it from Russian threat — The Telegraph

Britain wants to send modern weaponry to Moldova to protect it from the threat of invasion by Russia, The Telegraph reported, citing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
She told the newspaper that Russian President Vladimir Putin was determined to create a “greater Russia” even though his invasion of Ukraine had failed to achieve quick success.
Russia has called the invasion it launched on Feb. 24 a “special military operation” aimed at disarming Ukraine and ridding it off radical anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.
Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the south west, is not a member of the NATO alliance.
Truss said talks were taking place to make sure that Moldova’s defenses could deter any future attack.
“I would want to see Moldova equipped to NATO standard. This is a discussion we’re having with our allies,” she told The Telegraph.
“Putin has been absolutely clear about his ambitions to create a greater Russia. And just because his attempts to take Kyiv weren’t successful doesn’t mean he’s abandoned those ambitions,” she said.
If Truss’s plans are adopted, NATO members would provide modern weaponry to Moldova, replacing its Soviet-era equipment, and will train soldiers on how to use it.


Shanghai inches toward COVID-19 lockdown exit, Beijing plays defense

Updated 21 May 2022

Shanghai inches toward COVID-19 lockdown exit, Beijing plays defense

  • Shanghai’s lockdown since the beginning of April has dealt a heavy economic blow to China’s most populous city

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Shanghai cautiously pushed ahead on Saturday with plans to restore part of its transport network in a major step toward exiting a weeks-long COVID-19 lockdown, while Beijing kept up its defenses in an outbreak that has persisted for a month.
Shanghai’s lockdown since the beginning of April has dealt a heavy economic blow to China’s most populous city, stirred debate over the sustainability of the nation’s zero COVID-19 policy and stoked fears of future lockdowns and disruptions.
Unlike the financial hub, Beijing has refrained from imposing a city-wide lockdown, reporting dozens of new cases a day, versus tens of thousands in Shanghai at its peak. Still, the curbs and endless mass testing imposed on China’s capital have unsettled its economy and upended the lives of its people.
As Beijing remained in COVID-19 angst, workers in Shanghai were disinfecting subway stations and trains before planned restoration of four metro lines on Sunday.
While service will be for limited hours, it will allow residents to move between districts and meet the need for connections to railway stations and one of the city’s two airports. More than 200 bus routes will also reopen.
Underlining the level of caution, Shanghai officials said commuters would be scanned for abnormally high body temperatures and would need to show negative results of PCR tests taken within 48 hours.
Shanghai found 868 new local cases on Friday, compared with 858 a day earlier, municipal health authorities said on Saturday, a far cry from the peak in daily caseloads last month.
No new cases were found outside quarantined areas, down from three a day earlier, health authorities added.
The city of 25 million has gradually reopened shopping malls, convenience stores and wholesale markets and allowed more people to walk out of their homes, with community transmissions largely eliminated in recent days.
Still, Shanghai tightened stringent curbs on two of its 16 districts on Friday.
The authorities “urge enterprises to strictly implement safe production, which is their responsibility, especially in meeting some epidemic prevention and control requirements,” an official from the city’s emergency bureau told a news conference on Saturday.
Delta Airlines said on Friday it would resume one daily flight to Detroit from Shanghai via Seoul on Wednesday.
Most of Beijing’s recent cases have been in areas already sealed up, but authorities remained on edge and quick to act under China’s ultra-strict policy.
In Fengtai, a district of 2 million people at the center of Beijing’s counter-COVID-19 efforts, bus and metro stations have been mostly shut since Friday and residents told to stay home.
A Fengtai resident was stocking up on groceries at a nearby Carrefour on Saturday, uncertain whether restrictions would continue.
“I’m not sure if I can do more shopping over the next week or so, so I’ve bought a lot of stuff today and even bought some dumplings for the Dragon Boat holiday” in early June, she said, asking not to be identified.
On Friday, thousands of residents from a neighborhood in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populous district, were moved to hotel quarantine after some cases were detected, according to state-run China Youth Daily.
Social media users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo were swift to draw parallels with Shanghai, where entire residential buildings were taken to centralized quarantine facilities in response to a single positive COVID-19 case in some instances.