India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

The controversial laws saw tens of thousands of farmers brave extreme weather and a severe second wave of coronavirus infections to camp out on the outskirts of New Delhi over the past year. (AP)
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Updated 29 November 2021

India’s parliament passes bill to repeal controversial farm laws

  • Narendra Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament on Monday passed a bill to repeal three laws aiming at deregulating agricultural markets, bowing to pressure from farmers who have protested for over a year to demand that the laws be rolled back.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration introduced the farm bills last year through an executive order, traditionally reserved for emergency legislation, triggering India’s longest-running farmers’ protest. Parliament then passed the legislation via a voice vote, drawing widespread criticism that it had rushed through the laws without proper debate.
In a bid to end the protests ahead of the state assembly election in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state early next year, Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament.
As parliament reconvened for its winter session on Monday, both the lower and upper houses passed the bill to withdraw the laws meant to deregulate and open up agricultural markets to companies. Farmers have said the laws would leave them with scant bargaining power against big private purchasers.
The controversial laws saw tens of thousands of people, including many elderly growers and women farmers, brave extreme weather and a severe second wave of coronavirus infections to camp out on the outskirts of New Delhi over the past year.
In addition to their repeal demand, protesting farmers are also asking that Modi’s administration introduce a law to secure government prices for produces beyond just rice and wheat.
The government currently buys rice and wheat at state-set Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), but the subsidies only benefit about 6 percent of India’s millions of farmers.
Protesters are demanding MSPs for all crops – a move that has galvanized growers across the country and taken the protest beyond India’s grain-growing states of Punjab and Haryana.
The government has not yet made any comment on the protesters’ demand for MSPs.
Farmers celebrated the development but said the protest would only be called off when the government promised legislation on MSPs for all produce.


Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters

Updated 7 sec ago

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Taliban stormed an apartment in Kabul, smashing the door in and arresting a woman rights activist and her three sisters, an eyewitness said Thursday.
A Taliban statement appeared to blame the incident on a recent women’s protest, saying insulting Afghan values will no longer be tolerated.
The activist, Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, was among about 25 women who took part in an anti-Taliban protest on Sunday against the compulsory Islamic headscarf, or hijab, for women. A person from the neighborhood who witnessed the arrest said about 10 armed men, claiming to be from the Taliban intelligence department, carried out the raid on Wednesday night.
Shortly before she and her sisters were taken away, footage of Paryani was posted on social media, showing her frightened and breathless and screaming for help, saying the Taliban were banging on her door.
“Help please, the Taliban have come to our home . . . only my sisters are home,” she is heard saying in the footage. There are other female voices in the background, crying. “I can’t open the door. Please . . . help!”
Associated Press footage from the scene on Thursday showed the apartment’s front door, made of metal and painted reddish brown, dented and left slightly ajar. The occupants of a neighboring apartment ran inside their home, not wanting to talk to reporters. An outer security door of steel slats was shut and padlocked, making it impossible to enter Paryani’s apartment.
The witness said the raid took place around 8 p.m. The armed men went up to the third floor of the Kabul apartment complex where Paryani lives and began pounding on the front door ordering her to open the door.
When she refused, they kicked the door repeatedly until it opened, the witness said. “They took four females away, all of them were sisters,” the witness said, adding that one of the four was Paryani, the activist.
The witness spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing Taliban reprisal.
The spokesman for the Taliban-appointed police in Kabul, Gen. Mobin Khan, tweeted that Paryani’s social video post was a manufactured drama. A spokesman for the Taliban intelligence, Khalid Hamraz, would neither confirm nor deny the arrest.
However, he tweeted that “insulting the religious and national values of the Afghan people is not tolerated anymore” — a reference to Sunday’s protest during which the protesters appeared to burn a white burqa, the all-encompassing traditional head-to-toe female garment that only leaves a mesh opening for the eyes.
Hamraz accused rights activists of maligning Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers and their security forces to gain asylum in the West.
Since sweeping to power in mid-August, the Taliban have imposed widespread restrictions, many of them directed at women. Women have been banned from many jobs, outside the health and education field, their access to education has been restricted beyond sixth grade and they have been ordered to wear the hijab. The Taliban have, however, stopped short of imposing the burqa, which was compulsory when they previously ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
At Sunday’s demonstration in Kabul, women carried placards demanding equal rights and shouted: “Justice!” They burned a white burqa and said they cannot be forced to wear the hijab. Organizers of the demonstration said Paryani attended the protest, which was dispersed after the Taliban fired tear gas into the crowd of women.
Paryani belongs to a rights group known as “Seekers of Justice,” which organized several demonstrations in Kabul, including Sunday’s. The group’s members have not spoken publicly of her arrest but have been sharing the video of Paryani.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the crackdown, saying that since taking over Afghanistan five months ago, the Taliban “have rolled back the rights of women and girls, including blocking access to education and employment for many.”
“Women’s rights activists have staged a series of protests; the Taliban has responded by banning unauthorized protests,” the watchdog said in a statement after Sunday’s protest.
The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghanistan’s beleaguered rights groups, as well as journalists, with local and international television crews covering demonstration often detained and sometimes beaten.
Also Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement asking the Taliban to investigate a recent attack on a documentary film maker Zaki Qais who said two armed men, who identified themselves as Kabul police officials, entered his home and beat him. One tried to stab him, according to Steven Butler, the CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
“Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers must immediately launch an investigation to identify and bring to justice those who attacked journalist Zaki Qais,” said Butler. “The Taliban’s continued silence on these repeated attacks on journalists undermines any remaining credibility of pledges to allow independent media to continue operating.”
Last week the CPJ sought information on an attack on another Kabul-based journalist, Noor Mohammad Hashemi, deputy director for the nonprofit Salam Afghanistan Media Organization, who was beaten up by three unidentified men.

Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study

Updated 20 January 2022

Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study

  • The joint Russian-Italian study compared the blood serum of people who had received the different vaccines
  • "Today the necessity of third booster vaccination is obvious," the preliminary study published on Jan. 19 said

MOSCOW: A small preliminary laboratory study has shown that levels of omicron-neutralising antibodies of people vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine did not decline as much as of those who had Pfizer shots.
The joint Russian-Italian study — funded by the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which markets Sputnik V abroad — compared the blood serum of people who had received the different vaccines.
Researchers said samples taken three to six months after the second dose of a vaccine have shown that the levels of antibodies in recipients of two doses of Sputnik V were more resistant to omicron than in those vaccinated with Pfizer.
It included 51 people vaccinated with Sputnik V and 17 after two shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
“Today the necessity of third booster vaccination is obvious,” the preliminary study published on Jan. 19 said.
The preliminary study, that will seek certification by peer review, showed that omicron-specific neutralizing antibodies were detected in the blood serum of 74.2 percent of the people vaccinated with Sputnik and in 56.9 percent of those vaccinated with Pfizer/BioNtech.
An earlier preliminary study by the Gamaleya Institute, the developer of Sputnik V, showed that a booster shot of Sputnik Light vaccine provided a stronger antibody response against omicron than the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine alone.
omicron has pushed COVID-19 case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the United States. But the variant has only now began to hit Russia, where the daily nationwide new infections spiked to 38,850 on Tuesday from 33,899 the day before.
Russia has so far officially recorded more than 1,600 cases of the variant and has mobilized its health system to tackle an increase in cases but authorities said they realized that there are many more cases related to omicron.


French parliament denounces China's Uyghur 'genocide'

Updated 20 January 2022

French parliament denounces China's Uyghur 'genocide'

  • The non-binding resolution was proposed by the opposition Socialists in the lower house of parliament
  • It reads that the National Assembly "officially recognises the violence perpetrated by the People's Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide"

PARIS: France's parliament on Thursday denounced a "genocide" by China against its Uyghur Muslim population, in a resolution that risks straining ties between Paris and Beijing two weeks before the Winter Olympics.
The non-binding resolution, adopted with 169 votes in favour and just one against, was proposed by the opposition Socialists in the lower house of parliament but also backed by President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party.
It reads that the National Assembly "officially recognises the violence perpetrated by the People's Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide".
It also calls on the French government to undertake "the necessary measures within the international community and in its foreign policy towards the People's Republic of China" to protect the minority group in the Xinjiang region.
"China is a great power. We love the Chinese people. But we refuse to submit to propaganda from a regime that is banking on our cowardice and our avarice to perpetrate a genocide in plain sight," Socialist party chief Olivier Faure said.
He recounted testimony to parliament from Uyghur survivors who told of conditions inside internment camps where men and women were unable to lie down in cells, subjected to rape and torture, as well as forced organ transplants.
French MPs were also called to applaud Uyghurs refugees who had been invited to observe the parliamentary session.
The resolution follows a similar move in Britain in April last year which led to condemnation from China.
The Netherlands and Canadian parliaments both called Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs "genocide" in February 2021, while the US government also called it genocide under former president Donald Trump.
United States, Britain, Australia and Canada have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which start on February 4.
China denies genocide or the existence of forced labour camps in Xinjiang and has accused Uyghurs testifying overseas about conditions inside the northwestern region of being paid liars.
The French parliamentary resolution comes at a time when the European Union is weighing how to respond to a Chinese blockade of Lithuania's exports, as well as Beijing's crushing of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has sought to avoid being dragged into increasingly confrontational ties between China and the United States, was asked about the Uyghurs during an appearance before the European parliament on Wednesday.
"You were right to remind us of massacres, massive deportations and forced labour," he told campaigning MEP Raphael Glucksmann.
"France raises this in a very clear fashion in all of our bilateral talks (with Beijing)."
He said he was in favour of an EU regulation that would "ban the import of goods that result from forced labour."
Speaking in parliament on Thursday to represent the government, Trade Minister Franck Riester referred to "systematic violence" and "overwhelming testimonies" from Uyghurs, but said that terming their treatment genocide was a formal decision taken by international institutions.
Beijing has turned down repeated requests from the UN High Commission for Human Rights to visit the region to investigate.
Human rights groups say they have found evidence of mass detentions, forced labour, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilisation in Xinjiang.
After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.
The United States has slapped sanctions on a growing list of Chinese politicians and companies over the treatment of the Uyghurs, leading to tit-for-tat measures from Beijing.
China has also sanctioned European, British and US lawmakers, as well as academics who study Xinjiang and a London law firm.
The only French MP to vote against Thursday's resolution was Buon Tan from Macron's LREM, the chairman of a Franco-Chinese "friendship group".


At least two dead, 22 wounded by bomb in Pakistan’s Lahore

Updated 20 January 2022

At least two dead, 22 wounded by bomb in Pakistan’s Lahore

  • The attack was claimed on Twitter by a spokesman for the Baloch Nationalist Army
  • Officials said a nine-year-old child was one of those killed

LAHORE: At least two people were killed and 22 wounded Thursday by a bomb blast in a busy shopping district of the Pakistani megacity of Lahore, police and officials said.
The attack was claimed on Twitter by a spokesman for the Baloch Nationalist Army, one of several ethnic separatist groups that have been waging an insurgency for years in southwest Pakistan.
“Initial investigations show that it was a time-controlled device on a motorbike which was the cause of the blast,” Rana Arif, spokesman for Lahore police, told AFP.
Thursday’s blast happened in old Lahore’s busy Anarkali shopping district, damaging several motorbikes and upturning market stalls.
Officials said a nine-year-old child was one of those killed.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed regret over the “loss of precious human lives,” a spokesman for his office said.
On Twitter, a spokesman for the Baloch Nationalist Army said it was responsible.
“This attack targeted bank employees. A detailed statement will be issued soon,” the tweet said.
Mineral-rich Balochistan, bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, but its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth.
China is investing in the area under a $54-billion project known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), upgrading infrastructure, power and transport links between its far-western Xinjiang region and Pakistan’s Gwadar port.
Baloch separatists previously claimed several attacks on CPEC projects, and thousands of Pakistani security personnel are deployed in the region to counter the violence.
Pakistan has suffered a string of blasts and attacks against police since December, when a truce between the government and Pakistan’s Taliban lapsed.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — a home-grown movement that shares common roots with the Afghan Taliban — has claimed responsibility for most recent attacks.
The TTP said earlier this week it was responsible for a deadly shootout in Islamabad on Monday night — a rare attack by the militants in the heavily guarded capital.
A police officer was killed and two others injured when two TTP gunmen opened fire from a motorbike on a police checkpoint.
Police said both attackers were killed, and Pakistan’s interior minister warned afterwards of the potential for further violence.
Pakistan’s government announced late last year it had entered a month-long truce with the TTP, facilitated by Afghanistan’s Taliban, but that expired on December 9 after peace talks failed to make progress.
The TTP has been blamed for hundreds of suicide bomb attacks and kidnappings across the country, and for a while held sway over vast tracts of the nation’s rugged tribal belt, imposing a radical version of Islamic law.
But after the 2014 massacre of nearly 150 children at a Peshawar school, the Pakistan military sent huge numbers of troops into TTP strongholds and crushed the movement, forcing its fighters to retreat to Afghanistan.


UK police arrest 2 men over Texas synagogue hostage-taking

Updated 20 January 2022

UK police arrest 2 men over Texas synagogue hostage-taking

LONDON: British police said Thursday they have arrested two people in connection with a hostage-taking at a synagogue in Texas.
Counter Terrorism Police North West said one man was arrested Thursday in Birmingham, central England, and another in the northern English city of Manchester. They are being held for questioning and have not yet been charged.
The force said it was continuing to support US authorities with their investigation into Saturday’s hostage incident. Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue in a 10-hour standoff that ended in his death. All four hostages were unharmed.
Police did not disclose details about the two people detained Thursday. British police do not release names and details of detainees until they are charged.
On Sunday, police arrested British teenagers in Manchester as part of the investigation. They were later released without charge.
Akram was from Blackburn, an industrial city in northwest England. His family said he had been “suffering from mental health issues.”
Akram entered the United States on a tourist visa about two weeks earlier and spent time in Dallas-area homeless shelters before the attack at Congregation Beth Israel, in the suburb of Colleyville.
The FBI has called the incident “a terrorism-related matter” targeting the Jewish community.
British media, including the Guardian and the BBC, have reported that Akram was investigated by the domestic intelligence service MI5 as a possible “terrorist threat” in 2020, but authorities concluded he posed no danger, and the investigation was closed.
The White House said Tuesday that Akram had been checked against US law enforcement databases before entering the country but raised no red flags.