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.


Spain recalls ambassador after Argentina’s Milei calls PM’s wife ‘corrupt’

Argentina's President Javier Milei. (AFP file photo)
Updated 9 sec ago
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Spain recalls ambassador after Argentina’s Milei calls PM’s wife ‘corrupt’

  • Spain’s main opposition party, the conservative People’s Party (PP), refused to support Madrid’s stance, with party sources saying that Sanchez should have provided explanations about the alleged corruption case weeks ago

MADRID: Spain recalled its ambassador to Buenos Aires for consultations on Sunday after Argentina’s President Javier Milei made derogatory comments about Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s wife during a far-right rally in Madrid.
Milei had called Sanchez’s wife Begona Gomez “corrupt” during a rally in Madrid organized by the far-right Vox party and attended by many of its international allies.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said he expected an apology from Milei.
Other ministers also condemned Milei’s speech, in which he described socialism as “cursed and carcinogenic.” Sanchez leads Spain’s Socialist Party.
“With his behavior, Milei has brought the relationship between Spain and Argentina to its most serious state in recent history,” Albares said in a video statement.
Milei would not apologize, his spokesperson said in an interview with an Argentine TV channel later Sunday. Spanish officials should retract insults they have made against him, he added.
Milei’s visit broke with diplomatic protocol as he refused to meet Spain’s King Felipe and Sanchez, instead preferring to promote his book alongside Vox leader Santiago Abascal at the party rally.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a post on social messaging app X that “attacks against family members of political leaders have no place in our culture.”
Spain’s main opposition party, the conservative People’s Party (PP), refused to support Madrid’s stance, with party sources saying that Sanchez should have provided explanations about the alleged corruption case weeks ago.
“His silence generates internal doubts, but also distrust abroad,” a PP source said, adding that the party’s job was to oppose the Spanish government and not Milei.
A city court said in April it was looking into accusations of influence peddling and business corruption against Sanchez’s wife, brought in a private complaint by Manos Limpias, or Clean Hands, an anti-corruption activist group.
However, Madrid’s prosecuting authority later said it was appealing to have the case thrown out for lack of evidence.
Sanchez decided to stay in office after five days of weighing his future once the probe against his wife was announced.

 


DR Congo military says it thwarted ‘coup attempt’, arresting 40 attackers and killing leader

Updated 52 min 9 sec ago
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DR Congo military says it thwarted ‘coup attempt’, arresting 40 attackers and killing leader

  • Army spokesman said some of the arrested attackers were foreigners and four — including their leader — were killed
  • The coup plotters reportedly carried flags of Zaire, the DRC's name under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997

KINSHASA: The DR Congo military on Sunday said it had thwarted an “attempted coup” near the offices of President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa involving “foreigners and Congolese.”

It happened in the early hours of the morning outside the residence of Economy Minister Vital Kamerhe, in the Gombe area in the north of the capital, near the Palais de la Nation that houses the president’s offices, a spokesman said.
“An attempted coup d’etat has been stopped by the defense and security forces,” said General Sylvain Ekenge in a message broadcast on national television.
Shots were also heard near the Palais de la Nation at the time of the coup attempt, according to a number of sources.
Later on Sunday, army spokesman General Sylvain Ekenge said several Americans and a British man were part of the group involved in the operation.
The coup bid was led by Christian Malanga, a Congolese man who was a “naturalized American” and had been “definitively neutralized” — killed — by the security forces, Ekenge said in a broadcast on Sunday evening.
The group was made up of “several nationalities,” Ekenge said, adding that around 40 of the attackers had been arrested, and four — including Malanga — killed.
“We also have a naturalized British subject, the number two of the group,” the spokesman added. Malanga’s son, Marcel Malanga, was also among the attackers, he said.

Links to deposed dictator

Kamerhe and his family were not harmed in the attack but two police officers looking after them were killed, said a source close to the minister.
The group had planned to attack the home of the new Prime Minister Judith Suminwa, and the residence of Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba.
But they “could not identify the home” of Suminwa and had not been able to find Bemba at his residence.
After the attack at Kamerhe’s home, the group then went to the Palais de la Nation, brandishing flags of Zaire, the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997.
“I am shocked by the events this morning and very worried by the reports of American citizens allegedly being involved,” Lucy Tamlyn, the US ambassador to the DRC, posted on X, formerly Twitter.
“Rest assured that we are cooperating with authorities in DRC to the fullest extent possible, as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any American citizen involved.”
France’s ambassador had reported automatic weapon fire in the area, urging nationals to avoid it.

During the day, certain streets near the Palais de la Nation remained closed to traffic, but the situation appeared calm, AFP journalists reported.
“I’m a little afraid to move around like that in Gombe, there aren’t many people... But I have to sell my goods,” bread-seller Jean-Mbuta said.

Videos on social media showed men in fatigues at the Palais de la Nation, brandishing flags of Zaire.

The Zaire flag was mostly green while the DRC one is largely blue.
“The time has arrived, long live Zaire, long live the children of Mobutu,” a man who appeared to be the head of the group said in Lingala, a language spoken in parts of the DRC.
“Felix has fallen... we are victorious,” he added.
AFP was also unable to verify the videos.
Tshisekedi was re-elected at the end of December when he received more than 70 percent of votes in the first round.
The parties backing him won around 90 percent of seats in the parliamentary elections held the same day.
But he is yet to form a government some five months after the elections.
Kamerhe on April 23 was named as a candidate for president of the National Assembly, the DRC’s main legislative body.
 


Daesh group claims deadly Afghanistan attack on tourists

A Taliban security personnel stands guard in Nangarhar province. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 May 2024
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Daesh group claims deadly Afghanistan attack on tourists

  • The attack is believed to be the first deadly assault on foreign tourists since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 in a country where few nations have a diplomatic presence

KABUL: The Daesh group on Sunday claimed responsibility for an attack targeting tourists in Afghanistan that killed three Spaniards and three Afghans.
The terrorist group said in a statement on its Telegram channels that “fighters shot at Christian tourists and their Shiite companions with machine guns” in the mountainous city of Bamiyan on Friday.
The tour group was fired on while shopping in a market in Bamiyan, around 180 kilometers (110 miles) west of the capital Kabul.
The terrorists said they attacked a “bus of tourists who are citizens of coalition countries,” referring to a US-led coalition that has battled Daesh in the Middle East.
“The attack comes in line with the directives of the leaders of the Daesh to target nationals of coalition countries wherever they may be,” the statement added.
Taliban officials said on Saturday they had arrested seven suspects in the aftermath of the attack.
The number of bombings and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has reduced dramatically since the Taliban authorities took power.
However, a number of armed groups, including IS, remain a threat.
The terrorists have repeatedly targeted the historically persecuted Shiite Hazara community, considering them heretics.
Hazaras make up the majority of the population in Bamiyan province, Afghanistan’s top tourist destination.
The attack is believed to be the first deadly assault on foreign tourists since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 in a country where few nations have a diplomatic presence.
Increasing numbers of visitors have traveled to Afghanistan as security has improved since the Taliban ended their insurgency after ousting the Western-backed government.
The Taliban government has yet to be officially recognized by any foreign government.
It has, however, supported a fledgling tourism sector, with more than 5,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan in 2023, according to official figures.
Western nations advise against all travel to the country, warning of elevated risks of kidnappings and attacks.
The group targeted in Friday’s attack was made up of 13 travelers from various countries, including six Spanish nationals.
Spanish officials said Sunday that all three Spaniards killed in the attack were from Catalonia.
They included a mother and a daughter and a 63-year-old man who worked as an engineer.
An 82-year-old Spanish retiree was seriously wounded and was evacuated to a Kabul hospital operated by the Italian NGO Emergency, where she and others injured in the attack were stabilized.
“She is progressing favorably from her injuries, but her prognosis is uncertain,” the Spanish foreign ministry said Sunday.
Spanish diplomats had traveled to Afghanistan and had been working to repatriate the bodies of the dead and transfer the wounded, in coordination with a European Union delegation in Kabul.
The Spanish embassy in Kabul was evacuated in 2021, along with other Western missions, after the Taliban took back control of the Afghan capital.

 


Elon Musk launches Starlink service in Indonesia

Updated 19 May 2024
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Elon Musk launches Starlink service in Indonesia

  • Indonesia is the third Southeast Asian country where Starlink will operate
  • Starlink expected to improve internet access for thousands of Indonesian health centers 

JAKARTA: Elon Musk and Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin launched SpaceX’s satellite internet service on Sunday, aiming to boost connectivity in the world’s largest archipelago.

Musk, the billionaire head of SpaceX and Tesla, arrived in Bali by private jet on Sunday morning, before attending Starlink’s launch at a community health center in the provincial capital Denpasar. 

Wearing a green batik shirt, he inaugurated Starlink together with Sadikin, Communications Minister Budi Arie Setiadi and Maritime, and Fisheries Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, and said that the satellite service would help millions in Indonesia to access the internet. 

“We’re focusing this event on Starlink and the benefits that high-bandwidth connectivity can bring to a rural island and to remote communities,” Musk told reporters in Denpasar. 

“I think it’s really important to emphasize the importance of internet connectivity and how much of a life-changer that could be.” 

Indonesia, an archipelagic state comprising over 17,000 islands, is home to more than 270 million people and three different time zones. Following the launch, Musk said that internet connectivity was also integral for learning and business. 

“You can learn anything if you’re connected to the internet, but if you’re not connected, it’s very difficult to learn,” Musk said. “And then if you have some virtual services that you wish to sell to the world, even if you’re in a remote village, you can now do so with an internet connection. So, it can bring a lot of prosperity, I think, to rural communities.”

Indonesia is the third Southeast Asian country where Starlink will operate. Neighboring Malaysia issued the firm a license to provide internet services last year, while a Philippine-based firm signed a deal with SpaceX in 2022. 

On Sunday, Starlink was launched at three Indonesian health centers, two of which are located in Bali and one on the remote island of Aru in Maluku. Officials say the services will be prioritized for health and education, and in outer and underdeveloped regions. 

Starlink is expected to bring high-speed connectivity to thousands of health centers across the country, Sadikin said, allowing Indonesians in remote areas to access services that were previously not available to them. 

“With Starlink … 2,700 community health centers that had difficulties getting internet access and another 700 that didn’t have internet access, now can have them. So, the services will not differ with health centers … that are located in the cities,” the health minister said. 

The arrival of Starlink in Indonesia is expected to boost equal internet access across Southeast Asia’s largest economy. 

“A satellite-based internet service like Starlink will certainly be very beneficial for the country because there are still many regions which don’t have internet access,” said Pratama Persadha, chairman of the Communication and Information System Security Research Center. 

Other sectors in Indonesia, such as education and the digital economy, will also get a boost from Starlink, he added. 

“Wherever the location that requires good internet connection, whether on top of the mountain, in the middle of the forest, or in the middle of the sea, they can still enjoy the internet through satellite-based services like this.” 


Suspected rebels kill political activist in Indian-administered Kashmir

Updated 19 May 2024
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Suspected rebels kill political activist in Indian-administered Kashmir

  • Two Indian tourists visiting the Himalayan territory were also wounded in a separate attack in Anantnag
  • Rebel groups opposed to Indian rule have for decades waged an insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Suspected rebels shot dead an activist from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in Indian-administered Kashmir, local authorities said Sunday after the latest violent attack in the disputed region.

Police named the victim as Aijaz Ahmad, a local leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was fired upon in Shopian district on Saturday evening, days after the region began voting in India’s six-week national elections.

The BJP’s local office in Kashmir confirmed Sunday that Ahmad had died and announced plans to stage a protest against the attack.

Two Indian tourists visiting the Himalayan territory were also wounded in a separate attack by suspected rebels in nearby Anantnag on the same day, police said, adding that both had been hospitalized.

Security forces had cordoned off the surrounding area to find those responsible for separate incidents, police said.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947, with both claiming the Himalayan territory in full.

Rebel groups opposed to Indian rule have for decades waged an insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir, demanding either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of backing the militants — charges Islamabad denies.

The conflict has left tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and militants dead.

Violence has drastically reduced since 2019, when Modi’s government canceled the Muslim-majority region’s limited autonomy and brought it under direct rule from New Delhi.

Security forces have reported a spate of clashes in Kashmir since voting began last month in ongoing general election.

Earlier this month suspected rebels killed an Indian air force member and injured four others in an ambush on a military convoy.