India begins voting in fifth phase as Mumbai, Gandhi family boroughs head to polls

Leaders of India's main opposition Congress party Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the regional Samajwadi Party, join their hands together during an election campaign rally in Raebareli in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, on May 17, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 20 May 2024
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India begins voting in fifth phase as Mumbai, Gandhi family boroughs head to polls

  • World’s largest election began on April 19 and will conclude on June 1
  • Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Raebareli, Wayanad seats 

MUMBAI: India began voting in the fifth phase of its mammoth general elections on Monday, with seats in the financial capital Mumbai and the opposition’s Gandhi family bastions set to be sealed in the last few legs of the seven-phase vote.

The world’s largest election began on April 19 and will conclude on June 1, with votes set to be counted on June 4.

Monday’s phase has the least number of seats being contested, with 89.5 million voters set to choose representatives for 49 seats.

Several high-profile candidates are in the fray on Monday — including defense minister Rajnath Singh from Lucknow and trade minister Piyush Goyal from Mumbai — cities which have suffered from a dismal voter turnout in the past.

The Election Commission on Sunday specifically called upon residents of those cities “to erase the stigma” of urban apathy.

“At the core of our vision for Mumbai is – better infrastructure and more ‘ease of living,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while campaigning in the city last week, just days after at least 14 people were killed when a massive billboard fell during a rainstorm.

Two boroughs of the Congress party’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in the politically-crucial Uttar Pradesh are also going to polls, with scion Rahul Gandhi contesting the seat of Raebareli, in addition to Wayanad in the south which has already voted. India allows candidates to contest multiple constituencies but represent only one.

Sonia Gandhi, Congress party chief and former lawmaker from Raebareli, made an emotional appeal to voters asking them to vote for her son in a region that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has dominated in the last 10 years.

Smriti Irani, minister for women and child development, is contesting from Amethi. In 2019, she defeated Rahul Gandhi in a seat his family held continuously for the last four decades.

Among other keenly watched electorates in the state is Kaiserganj, where the BJP is fielding a former wrestling federation chief’s son, despite his father being charged with sexually harassing female wrestlers.

Poor voter turnout became a concern for the ruling BJP initially, and analysts believe the low numbers cast doubts on the landslide victory the party and its allies sought.

After an initial poor performance, more people started casting their vote with an average turnout of 66.95 percent in four phases, and 69 percent in the fourth one on May 13.

Modi, widely expected to return as prime minister for a third consecutive term, has been accused by opponents of targeting minority Muslims to please hard-line voters.

Modi has repeatedly accused the Congress party of planning to extend welfare benefits to Muslims at the expense of disadvantaged tribal groups and Hindu castes, a claim the Congress has denied.

In a recent television interview aired after the fourth phase, Modi said it was his resolve to “not do Hindu-Muslim (in politics).”

The opposition INDIA alliance, consisting of Congress and a dozen political parties, got a major boost after fierce Modi critic and Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal was given temporary relief by the court and allowed to campaign in the elections.


Treason trial of Russian American woman opens as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow

Updated 57 min 25 sec ago
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Treason trial of Russian American woman opens as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow

  • The defendant was identified by Russian authorities as Los Angeles resident Ksenia Karelina
  • Russia's main domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service, charges that Karelina raised money for a Ukrainian organization

MOSCOW: The trial of a Russian American dual citizen whom Russia accuses of treason opened on Thursday as tensions rise between Washington and Moscow, including over the arrests of two American journalists.
The trial is being held behind closed doors in Yekaterinburg, in the same court that next week is to begin hearing the case of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was arrested in March 2023 and charged with espionage.
The defendant was identified by Russian authorities as Los Angeles resident Ksenia Karelina, although U.S. media reports frequently use the surname Khavana, the name of her ex-husband.
Karelina was born in Yekaterinburg and was arrested in February while visiting her family.
Russia's main domestic security agency, the Federal Security Service, charges that Karelina raised money for a Ukrainian organization that was providing weapons, ammunition and other supplies to the Ukrainian military. Her boyfriend has said she made a single donation of about $50 to a Ukrainian organization, according to media reports.
Karelina faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Almost all Russian criminal cases that make it to court end in convictions. The trial was adjourned in the afternoon and the next session was set for Aug. 7, Russian news agencies said.
Gershkovich, the highest-profile American behind bars in Russia, is accused of gathering secret information from a tank factory in Nizhny Tagil, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Yekaterinburg. His employers deny the allegation, and the U.S. State Department has declared him to be wrongfully detained.
Gershkovich's trial, also closed, is to begin next Wednesday.
A journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe with U.S. and Russian dual citizenship has been held since October on charges of gathering military information and failing to register as a foreign agent.
Since sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has sharply cracked down on dissent and has passed laws that criminalize criticism of the operation in Ukraine and remarks considered to discredit the Russian military. Concern has risen since then that Russia could be targeting U.S. nationals for arrest.


WHO issues warnings on fake diabetes and weight-loss drugs

Updated 20 June 2024
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WHO issues warnings on fake diabetes and weight-loss drugs

  • WHO has also noted increased demand for these medicines
  • Falsified products could be harmful

DUBAI: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday issued warnings on falsified semaglutides used in diabetes and weight-loss drugs in light of three altered batches of products detected in Brazil, the UK and the United States.
Semaglutide is the active ingredient used in Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Ozempic and weight-loss treatment Wegovy.
The WHO has been observing increased reports of falsified semaglutide products in Brazil, the UK and the United States since 2022, it said, though Thursday’s was the first official notice issued by the agency after confirmation of some reports.
It has also noted increased demand for these medicines.
Falsified products could be harmful and if they do not have the necessary raw components, they can lead to health complications resulting from unmanaged blood glucose levels or weight, the WHO said.


Russian attack kills three, injures four in Ukraine’s eastern region

Updated 20 June 2024
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Russian attack kills three, injures four in Ukraine’s eastern region

  • The village of Rozkishne, about 25 km from the front line, was targeted by the strike

KYIV: Russia attacked a village in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Thursday, killing three people and injuring four more, including a child, prosecutors said.
The village of Rozkishne, about 25 km from the front line, was targeted by the strike, regional prosecutors said on Telegram.
According to preliminary data, Russian troops used the Smerch system to launch cluster munitions, prosecutors said.
Among the injured was a 14-year-old boy who was hospitalized. Four households, cars, and a gas pipeline were damaged in the attack, prosecutors added.


Cruise ship rescues 68 migrants heading for Spain’s Canaries, five dead

Updated 20 June 2024
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Cruise ship rescues 68 migrants heading for Spain’s Canaries, five dead

  • Bulk carrier Philipp Oldendorff sighted the boat adrift 440 nautical miles (815 km) south of the island of Tenerife
  • Insignia cruise ship was diverted to the area to pick up the survivors, the Coast Guard said

MADRID: A luxury cruise ship has rescued dozens of migrants who were trying to reach the Spanish Canary Islands in a fishing boat that had stalled in rough seas killing five people, Spanish authorities and the cruise operator said on Thursday.
The archipelago has become the main point of entry to Spain for illegal migrants from Africa in recent years, and the route is also the deadliest. Migration rights group Walking Borders said last week that nearly 5,000 migrants died at sea on that route in the first five months of 2024.
Bulk carrier Philipp Oldendorff sighted the boat adrift 440 nautical miles (815 km) south of the island of Tenerife on Wednesday and provided first assistance to the migrants, while the Insignia cruise ship was diverted to the area to pick up the survivors, the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The Insignia, which is owned by Miami-based Oceania Cruises, also managed to recover three bodies from the boat, but bad weather prevented the recovery of another two bodies so the ship left a locating device to facilitate the search.
The small luxury cruise ship with a 670-passenger capacity is undertaking a 180— day trip around the world that started in January. It was expected to reach Tenerife at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) on Friday.
“Safety of life at sea is of paramount importance for all seafarers,” said a spokesperson for Oceania Cruises, which is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.
“We can confirm that the Insignia rescued 68 people from a vessel in distress between Cape Verde and Tenerife, brought them onboard for medical assistance and provided food, drinks, clothing and a safe place to rest,” the spokesperson added.
A Spanish coast guard vessel was en route from the Canary Islands on Thursday to meet the Insignia and then locate the shipwreck.


Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India

Updated 20 June 2024
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Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India

  • People died after consuming alcohol tainted with methanol in Tamil Nadu, says chief minister
  • District official says number of those in critical condition keeps changing, death toll could rise

NEW DELHI: At least 34 people have died and dozens hospitalized after drinking illegally brewed liquor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, local media reported on Thursday.

The state’s chief minister M K Stalin said the 34 died after consuming liquor that was tainted with methanol, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The incident occurred in the state’s Kallakurichi district, where more than 100 people are being treated in various hospitals, top district official M S Prasanth said. He added that the number of those who are in critical condition keeps changing, suggesting that the death toll could rise.

Ambulances, doctors and specialists from nearby areas were deployed to the district.

Government officials earlier said several people who were vomiting and had stomach pain were admitted to hospitals Wednesday, triggering a police investigation.

Later that day, Stalin, the chief minister, said in a post on social media platform X that those involved in the crime have been arrested, and action has also been taken against officials who failed to prevent it. “Such crimes that ruin the society will be suppressed with an iron fist,” he added.

Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops. The illicit liquor, which is often spiked with chemicals such as pesticides to increase potency, has also become a hugely profitable industry as bootleggers pay no taxes and sell enormous quantities of their product to the poor at a cheap rate.

In 2022, more than 30 people died in eastern India’s Bihar state after allegedly drinking tainted liquor sold without authorization. Earlier that same year, at least 28 died from drinking altered liquor in Gujarat state. And in 2020, at least 120 people died after drinking tainted liquor in India’s northern Punjab state.