India’s Modi backs down on farm reforms in surprise victory for protesters

Farmers celebrate after India's Prime Minister announced to repeal three agricultural reform laws that sparked almost a year of huge protests by farmers across the country in Singhu, India, on November 19, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 19 November 2021

India’s Modi backs down on farm reforms in surprise victory for protesters

  • The legislation, introduced in September last year, was aimed at deregulating agriculture sector
  • Development comes ahead of elections early next year in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state

GHAZIABAD: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday he would repeal three agriculture laws that farmers have been protesting against for more than a year, a significant climb-down for the combative leader as important elections loom. 
The legislation, introduced in September last year, was aimed at deregulating the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price. 
Farmers, fearing the reform would cut the prices they get for their crops, staged nationwide protests that drew in activists and celebrities from India and beyond, including climate activist Greta Thunberg and pop singer Rihanna. 
“Today I have come to tell you, the whole country, that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws,” Modi said in an address to the nation. 
“I urge farmers to return to their homes, their farms and their families, and I also request them to start afresh.” 
The government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament, starting this month, he said. 
The surprise concession on laws the government had said were essential to tackle chronic wastage and inefficiencies, comes ahead of elections early next year in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous state, and two other northern states with large rural populations. 
Nevertheless, Modi’s capitulation leaves unresolved a complex system of farm subsidies and price supports that critics say the government cannot afford. 
It could also raise questions for investors about how economic reforms risk being undermined by political pressures. 
Protesting farmers, who have been camped out in their thousands by main roads around the capital, New Delhi, celebrated Modi’s back-track. 
“Despite a lot of difficulties, we have been here for nearly a year and today our sacrifice finally paid off,” said Ranjit Kumar, a 36-year-old farmer at Ghazipur, a major protest site in Uttar Pradesh. 
Jubilant farmers handed out sweets in celebration and chanted “hail the farmer” and “long live farmers’ movement.” 
Rakesh Tikait, a farmers’ group leader, said the protests were not being called off. 
“We will wait for parliament to repeal the laws,” he said on Twitter. 
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government said last year that there was no question of repealing the laws. It attempted to break the impasse by offering to dilute the legislation but protracted negotiations failed. 
The protests took a violent turn on Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, when thousands of farmers overwhelmed police and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks. 
One protester was killed and scores of farmers and policemen were injured. 
Small farmers say the changes make them vulnerable to competition from big business and they could eventually lose price support for staples such as wheat and rice. 
The government says reform of the sector, which accounts for about 15 percent of the $2.7 trillion economy, means new opportunities and better prices for farmers. 
Modi announced the scrapping of the laws in a speech marking the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Many of the protesting farmers are Sikh. 
Modi acknowledged that the government had failed to win the argument with small farmers. 
The farmers are also demanding minimum support prices for all of their crops, not just for rice and wheat. 
“We need to know the government’s stand on our other key demand,” Darshan Pal, another farmers’ leader, said of the new demand, which has gained traction among farmers across the country, not just in the northern grain belt. 
Rahul Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party, said the “arrogant” government had been forced to concede. 
“Whether it was fear of losing UP or finally facing up to conscience BJP govt rolls back farm laws. Just the beginning of many more victories for people’s voices,” Mahua Moitra, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress Party and one of Modi’s staunchest critics, said on Twitter. 
But some food experts said Modi’s back-track was unfortunate because the reforms would have brought new technology and investment. 
“It’s a blow to India’s agriculture,” said Sandip Das, a New Delhi-based researcher and agricultural policy analyst. 
“The laws would have helped attract a lot of investment in agricultural and food processing — two sectors that need a lot of money for modernization.” 


Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

Updated 8 sec ago

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

BERLIN: Tens of thousands of migrants, who have been living in Germany for years without long-lasting permission to remain in the country, will be eligible for permanent residency after the government approved a new migration bill Wednesday.
The new regulation, endorsed by the Cabinet, applies to about 136,000 people who have lived in Germany for at least five years by Jan. 1, 2022.
Those who qualify can first apply for a one-year residency status and subsequently apply for permanent residency in Germany.
They must earn enough money to make an independent living in the country, speak German and prove that they are “well integrated” into society.
Those under the age of 27 can already apply for a path to permanent residency in Germany after having lived in the country for three years.
“We want people who are well integrated to have good opportunities in our country," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters. “In this way, we also put an end to bureaucracy and uncertainty for people who have already become part of our society.”
The new migration regulation will also make it easier for asylum-seekers to learn German — so far only those with a realistic chance of receiving asylum in the country were eligible for language classes — with all asylum applicants getting the chance to enroll in classes.
For skilled laborers, such as information technology specialists and others that hold professions that are desperately needed in Germany, the new regulation will allow that they can move to Germany together with their families right away, which wasn’t possible before. Family members don't need to have any language skills before moving to the country.
“We need to attract skilled workers more quickly. We urgently need them in many sectors,” Faeser said. “We want skilled workers to come to Germany very quickly and gain a foothold here.”
The bill will also make it easier to deport criminals, includes extending detention pending deportation for certain offenders from three months to a maximum of six months. The extension is intended to give authorities more time to prepare for deportation, such as clarifying identity, obtaining missing papers and organizing a seat on an airplane, German news agency dpa reported.
“In the future, it will be easier to revoke the right of residence of criminals,” Faeser said. "For offenders, we will make it easier to order detention pending deportation, thus preventing offenders who are obliged to leave the country from going into hiding before being deported.”

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

Updated 47 min 55 sec ago

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

  • The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes
  • Since then police had been carrying out "a full search" of the area around Jaca

MADRID: Spanish police were hunting the central Pyrenees on Wednesday for a man suspected of killing two teachers in a French village across the border, a spokeswoman said.
The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes, where they both worked, with the suspected gunman fleeing on a motorcycle, a source close to the French inquiry told AFP.
His motorcycle was found abandoned on the Spanish side of the border in the northeastern Aragon region, prompting Spanish police to pick up the search on Tuesday, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.
Since then police had been carrying out “a full search” of the area around Jaca, a town that lies about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Tarbes, a police spokeswoman told AFP.
The search continued through the night and “is ongoing,” she said, without giving further details.
Neither French nor Spanish police gave any details about the suspect’s identity.
The teachers were shot dead in Pouyastruc village on Monday, prosecutors said.
The first victim, a 32-year-old woman, was found lying in the street by neighbors, while other, a man of 55, was found dead in his home, just meters away, the prosecutor said.
The suspect, who is in his 30s, was the woman’s former partner, a source close to the inquiry said.
They had two children together and were in the process of separating, suggesting the murders may have been a crime of passion.
The woman, identified as Aurelie Pardon, taught French at the school in Tarbes while the man, Gabriel Fourmigue, was a sports teacher at the same establishment who was known for representing France in bobsleigh at international level in the early 1990s.


British PM Johnson: My job is to ‘keep going’

Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2022

British PM Johnson: My job is to ‘keep going’

  • Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defied growing calls for him to step down on Wednesday, telling lawmakers he would “keep going” following a wave of resignations from his government including those of two key ministers.
Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party who asked if the prime minister thought there were any circumstances in which he should resign.
“Clearly, if there were circumstances in which I felt it was impossible for the government to go on and discharge the mandate that we’ve been given, or if I felt, for instance, that we were being frustrated in our desire to support the Ukrainian people ... then I would,” Johnson told parliament.
“But frankly, the job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when you’ve been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going,” Johnson said. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”


Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Updated 06 July 2022

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

  • Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries

ISLAMABAD: Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against other countries, and he asked the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 — before retaking power — in which they promised to fight terrorists. Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries.
“We assure our neighbors, the region and the world that we will not allow anyone to use our territory to threaten the security of other countries. We also want other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs,” Akhundzada said in an address ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday.
The Taliban were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The religious group captured power again in mid-August, during the chaotic last weeks of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The international community has been wary of any recognition or cooperation with the Taliban, especially after they restricted the rights of women and minorities — measures that harken back to their harsh rule when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
Akhundzada, the spiritual chief of the Taliban, has remained a reclusive figure. He rose to leader of the Islamist movement in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
After taking over, Akhundzada secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who showered the cleric with praise, calling him “the emir of the faithful.” The endorsement by bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s longtime allies.
However, in his Eid message Akhundzada said: “Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good, diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all sides.”
A three-day assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders in the Afghan capital that concluded Saturday included pledges of support for the Taliban and calls on the international community to recognize the country’s Taliban-led government.
In a surprise development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the gathering Friday. It was believed to be his first visit to the Afghan capital since the Taliban seized power.
In an hour-long speech at the assembly carried by state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”
A powerful earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan, igniting yet another crisis for the economically struggling country. Overstretched aid groups already keeping millions of Afghans alive rushed supplies to the quake victims, but most countries responded tepidly to Taliban calls for international help.
The international cut-off of Afghanistan’s financing has deepened the country’s economic collapse and fueled its humanitarian crises.


China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

Updated 06 July 2022

China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

  • Many analysts saw the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr as more favorable to China than the US

MANILA: China’s foreign minister said on Wednesday Beijing was ready to work with new Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to help usher in what he called a “new golden era” in the countries’ relationship.
That relationship “turned a new page” with the election of Marcos, said Wang Yi, who is visiting Southeast Asia at a time when Philippines ally the United States is seeking to boost its influence in the region.
“We highly appreciate President Marcos’ recent commitment to pursuing friendly policy toward China and we speak highly of these recent statements that have sent out a very positive signal to the outside world,” Wang said in a meeting with his Philippines counterpart, Enrique Manalo. Many analysts saw the election of Marcos, the son of the late strongman ousted in a 1986 uprising, as more favorable to China than the United States, but the new president has been clear in public statements that close ties with Beijing will not be at the expense of sovereignty.
China’s assertiveness and conduct in waters off the Philippines has long been a source of diplomatic tension, but Marcos on Tuesday said he wanted their relationship to be about more than a maritime dispute.
Wang said China was one with Marcos in his desire to deepen and strengthen ties.
“We are ready to work toward that same direction with the Philippines and to plan for our cooperation going forward in all areas,” Wang said.
“I’m confident that with the two sides working together, we can surely open a new golden era for the bilateral relationship.”
Marcos has a tricky balancing act in boosting business ties with China while maintaining a close relationship with defense ally the United States, a former colonial power that still holds considerable sway among the military and the public.