India’s Gandhi bailed in defamation case over ‘murder’ remarks against home minister

India's opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi waves during his month-long cross-country march, in Lucknow, capital of northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 20 February 2024
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India’s Gandhi bailed in defamation case over ‘murder’ remarks against home minister

  • Critics have accused India’s government of using the justice system to target political rivals
  • Rahul Gandhi faces at least 10 other cases, was briefly disqualified from parliament last year

LUCKNOW: An Indian court Tuesday bailed senior opposition leader Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case brought against him for referring to the home minister as an accused murderer — his latest legal travails ahead of national elections.

Critics have accused India’s government of using the justice system to target political rivals, with several opposition figures the subject of active criminal investigations.

Gandhi, 53, faces at least 10 other defamation cases and was briefly disqualified from parliament last year after being convicted of criminal libel in an unrelated case.

He appeared in court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where his bail application was accepted, lawyer Santosh Pandey told reporters outside court.

Tuesday’s case stems from 2018 remarks in which he referred to home minister Amit Shah, a key confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a “murder accused.”

Shah was accused of ordering police to carry out the extrajudicial killing of a gangster in 2005 and two others while serving as home minister in Gujarat state.

He was jailed briefly before being acquitted of murder, extortion and kidnapping charges in 2014 after Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won that year’s elections in a landslide.

The case against Gandhi was first lodged in 2018 by a ruling party official and has slowly been snaking its way through India’s glacial criminal justice system since.

Gandhi is the son, grandson and great-grandson of a dynasty of former Indian prime ministers, beginning with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

He is one of the leading faces of an opposition alliance seeking to challenge Modi in this year’s general election, expected to begin in April.

Gandhi has struggled to challenge the electoral juggernaut of Modi and his nationalist appeals to the country’s Hindu majority, losing the past two elections.

He was convicted last year of criminal libel and handed a two-year sentence, which was suspended by a higher court but raised concerns over democratic backsliding in the world’s most populous country.

Last week Gandhi’s Congress party said authorities had frozen its bank accounts after an investigation over its 2018-19 tax returns and issued a payment demand for 2.1 billion rupees ($25.3 million) in relation to its probe.

India’s main financial investigation agency, the Enforcement Directorate, has ongoing investigations into several other leading opposition politicians.


Nepal latest to ban Indian spice brands over safety concerns

Updated 8 sec ago
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Nepal latest to ban Indian spice brands over safety concerns

  • Hong Kong, Singapore last month banned products from Everest and MDH after tests detected presence of ethylene oxide
  • Besides its use as a pesticide, ethylene oxide is used to sterilize medical equipment and as a sterilising agent in spices

KATMANDU: Nepal has become the latest jurisdiction to ban the import and sale of two popular Indian spice brands after reports that some of their products contained a cancer-causing pesticide, officials said Friday.
Hong Kong and Singapore last month banned products from Everest and MDH — two brands popular in India and exported worldwide — after tests detected the presence of ethylene oxide, according to media reports.
Besides its use as a pesticide, ethylene oxide is used to sterilize medical equipment and as a sterilising agent in spices to prevent illnesses caused by salmonella and E. Coli bacteria.
Regular exposure to the colorless and odourless compound increases the “risk of cancers of the white blood cells,” according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Matina Joshi Vaidya, chief of Nepal’s Department of Food Technology and Quality Control, told AFP that the Himalayan country had also decided to halt the sale of the spice blends.
“It is an issue of public health,” she said. “We have its banned import and sale from Thursday.”
Nepal has banned four products — three variants produced by MDH and one by Everest.
“We do not have the lab resources to run the tests in the country. The ban will be lifted when Indian authorities declare it safe,” Vaidya said.
Everest and MDH are India’s top two spice brands with a market share of 16 and 10 percent respectively in 2022, according to consumer research monitor Statista.
Both companies have put out statements denying their products pose a health hazard to consumers after the Singapore and Hong Kong import bans.
“We clarify and state unequivocally that these claims are untrue and lack any substantiating evidence,” MDH said last month on social media platform X.
India’s food regulation agency has asked for state authorities to carry out random testing of spice products, broadcaster NDTV reported.


Argentine president begins unusual visit to Spain, snubbing officials and courting the far-right

Updated 18 May 2024
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Argentine president begins unusual visit to Spain, snubbing officials and courting the far-right

  • The brash President Javier Milei has no plans to meet Spain's PM — nor any other government official
  • He will instead attend a far-right summit Sunday hosted by Sánchez’s fiercest political opponent, the Vox party

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: Even before kicking off a three-day visit to Madrid on Friday, Argentina’s libertarian President Javier Milei stirred controversy, accusing the socialist government of bringing “poverty and death” to Spain and weighing in on corruption allegations against the prime minister’s wife.

In such circumstances, a typical visiting head of state may strive to mend fences with diplomacy.
Not Milei. The brash economist has no plans to meet Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during his three days in the Spanish capital — nor the Spanish king, nor any other government official. Instead, he’ll attend a far-right summit Sunday hosted by Sánchez’s fiercest political opponent, the Vox party.
The unorthodox visit was business as usual for Milei, a darling of the global far right who has bonded with tech billionaire Elon Musk and praised former US President Donald Trump. Earlier this year on a trip to the United States, Milei steered clear of the White House and took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, where he railed against abortion and socialism and shared a bear hug with Trump.
Milei presented his 2022 book, “The Way of the Libertarian,” in Madrid Friday at a literary event organized by La Razón, a conservative Spanish newspaper.
The book — withdrawn from circulation in Spain earlier this month because the back-flap biography erroneously said Milei had earned a doctorate — traces his meteoric rise in politics from eccentric TV personality to national lawmaker and outlines his radical free-market economic ideas.
To thunderous applause, Milei condemned socialism as “an intellectual fraud and a horror in human terms.”
“The good thing is that the spotlight is shining on us everywhere and we are making the reds (leftists) uncomfortable all over the world,” Milei said.
He took the opportunity to promote the results of his harsh austerity campaign in Argentina, celebrating a decline in monthly inflation in April though making no mention of the Buenos Aires subway fares that more than tripled overnight.
Repeating a campaign pledge to eliminate Argentina’s central bank — without giving further details — Milei promised to make Argentina “the country with the most economic freedom in the world.”
At the event Milei gave a huge hug to his ideological ally Santiago Abascal, the leader of the hard-right Vox party and the only politician with whom Milei has actual plans to meet in Madrid.
The Vox summit Sunday seeks to bring together far-right figures from across Europe in a bid to rally the party’s base ahead of European parliamentary elections in June. Milei described his attendance a “moral imperative.” He also has plans to meet Spanish business executives Saturday.
Tensions between Milei and Sánchez have simmered since the moment the Spanish prime minister declined to congratulate the libertarian economist on his shock election victory last November.
But hostility exploded earlier this month when one of Sánchez’s ministers suggested Milei had taken narcotics. The Argentine presidency responded with an unusually harsh official statement accusing Sánchez’s government of “endangering the middle class with its socialist policies that bring nothing but poverty and death.”
The lengthy government statement also accused Sánchez of having “more important problems to deal with, such as the corruption accusations against his wife.”
The allegations of influence peddling and corruption brought by a right-wing group against Sánchez’s wife, Begoña Gómez, had prompted Sánchez, one of Europe’s longest serving Socialist leaders, to consider stepping down.
 


Senegal’s new president welcomes challenge to help reconcile ECOWAS with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger

Updated 18 May 2024
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Senegal’s new president welcomes challenge to help reconcile ECOWAS with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger

  • Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo sought Bassirou Diomaye Faye's help during their meeting in Accra on Friday
  • Faye said that he hoped to convince the countries to “come back and share our common democratic values and what we stand for”

ACCRA: Ghana’s president Friday urged his visiting Senegalese counterpart to use his goodwill within the Economic Community of West African States to help resolve disputes with Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

President Bassirou Diomaye Faye arrived in the capital Accra early in the morning after visiting Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in January 2024 announced they were leaving ECOWAS after they were suspended by the group over military coups in all three nations.
“We are lucky to have a new leader in place because I think he is also going to help us to try and resolve the big problem that we have in the ECOWAS community,” Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said after meeting Faye.
“President Faye is very committed to seeing what he and the rest of us can do to reach out and revive the dialogue.”
Speaking to reporters after bilateral talks, Akufo-Addo said Faye had demonstrated commitment to ECOWAS efforts to bring the three countries to the table for further talks and back to the bloc.
Faye, 44, won a resounding victory as an anti-establishment candidate promising major reforms to become Senegal’s youngest-ever president.
His election has been seen as an inspiration for change in contrast to some of the continent’s aging leaders who have been in power for years and to other countries now run by military governments.
He welcomed the challenge to help reconcile ECOWAS with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
ECOWAS “is going through difficult times but we are going to do all we can to consolidate the gains made in integration, in a spirit of common, fraternal solidarity,” Faye told reporters.
Unity was “primordial” in the region, he added.
Earlier in Nigeria, Faye said that alongside Nigeria, which currently chairs ECOWAS, he hoped to convince the countries to “come back and share our common democratic values and what we stand for.”
 


Nancy Pelosi’s husband’s attacker jailed for 30 years

Updated 18 May 2024
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Nancy Pelosi’s husband’s attacker jailed for 30 years

SAN FRANCISCO: A man who attacked the elderly husband of former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hammer was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison.
David DePape was convicted last year of breaking into the couple’s San Francisco home and bludgeoning Paul Pelosi in a horrifying attack captured on police bodycam.
At the time of the October 2022 assault, Democrat Nancy Pelosi was second in line to the presidency and a regular target of outlandish far-right conspiracy theories.
Jurors in his trial last year heard how DePape — a Canadian former nudist activist who supported himself with occasional carpentry work — had initially planned to target Nancy Pelosi, planning to smash her kneecaps if she did not admit to her party’s “lies.”
On arriving at their home armed with rope, gloves and duct tape, DePape instead encountered her then-82-year-old husband, and kept asking, “Where’s Nancy?“
During what DePape told officers was a “pretty amicable” conversation with Paul Pelosi, the husband managed to call for help from law enforcement officers.
Moments later when police arrived DePape hit Pelosi with a hammer before officers rushed at him and took the weapon away.
Pelosi was knocked unconscious and had his skull fractured. He spent almost a week in a hospital, where he underwent surgery.
Nancy Pelosi was not at home the night of the attack.
Prosecutors had asked the federal court in San Francisco to sentence DePape to 40 years in prison.
In the lead up to Friday’s sentencing, Nancy Pelosi had asked the judge to impose a “very long” sentence for an attack that “has had a devastating effect on three generations of our family.”
“Even now, eighteen months after the home invasion and assault, the signs of blood and break-in are impossible to avoid.
“Our home remains a heartbreaking crime scene,” she wrote, according to court documents cited by the San Francisco Chronicle.
On Friday her office said the family was proud of Paul Pelosi “and his tremendous courage in saving his own life on the night of the attack and in testifying in this case.”
DePape had pleaded not guilty to charges that included assault on a family member of a US official, and attempted kidnapping of a US official.
While not denying the attack, his defense rested on contesting federal prosecutors’ claims that he had targeted Nancy Pelosi in her official capacity.
Instead, his lawyers argued that DePape was driven to target a number of prominent liberal figures, due to his exposure to a web of obscure conspiracy theories.
In social media posts, DePape shared QAnon theories and false claims that the last US election was stolen.
The trial heard how DePape did not intend to stop his supposed anti-corruption crusade with Pelosi, and had drawn up a list of other targets including a feminist academic whom he accused of turning US schools into “pedophile molestation factories.”
Other personalities the defendant admitted wanting to attack included California Governor Gavin Newsom, President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and actor Tom Hanks.
Jurors took less than 10 hours to reject DePape’s explanation of the attack, which took place just a few days before the US midterm elections.
The attack itself became politicized in the weeks after it occurred, with some members of the Republican Party mocking the incident and suggesting lurid and unsubstantiated explanations for why there was a man in Pelosi’s house late at night.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday that DePape’s sentence should serve as a warning that attacks on political figures and their families were unacceptable.
“In a democracy, people vote, argue, and debate to achieve the policy outcome they desire,” he said.
“But the promise of democracy is that people will not employ violence to affect that outcome.
“The Justice Department will aggressively prosecute those who target public servants and their families with violence.”


Burkina loyalists rally after gunfire near presidency

Updated 18 May 2024
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Burkina loyalists rally after gunfire near presidency

  • Burkina Faso news agency AIB reported that an individual had tried to attack a guard at the palace but there were no injuries or damage
  • Junta leader Traore seized power in a coup on September 30, 2022, deposing a military regime that earlier ousted the elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso: Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in Burkina Faso’s capital Friday in support of the country’s military rulers after gunfire was reported near the presidency, AFP reporters said.
Demonstrators gathered at a roundabout in central Ouagadougou, vowing to protect the rule of President Ibrahim Traore.
Earlier in the afternoon, “there were shots fired near the presidential palace,” said one demonstrator, Moussa Sawadogo.
“We do not know what is going on but we are there to stop anything from happening.”
Burkina Faso news agency AIB reported that an individual had tried to attack a guard at the palace but there were no injuries or damage.
Security forces closed off access to the area around the palace, AFP reporters saw.
The landlocked West African nation has been run by a military regime since mutinying soldiers deposed elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore in 2022.
Junta leader Traore then seized power in another coup on September 30, 2022.
He established a transitional government and legislative assembly for 21 months, a period set to expire on July 1.
National consultations on the next steps in the transition to civilian rule are scheduled for May 25 to 26.
Since 2015, Burkina’s forces have been struggling to combat jihadist insurgencies that have killed thousands of people and forced around two million from their homes — violence that the army’s leaders used to justify their coups.