India PM Modi to take oath for third term on Sunday

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows a letter by President Droupadi Murmu requesting him to form the country's new government as he was elected for his third term following the nation's general election, in New Delhi on June 7, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 10 June 2024
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India PM Modi to take oath for third term on Sunday

  • Composition of Modi’s Cabinet to be revealed during swearing-in ceremony
  • Modi was formally elected leader of India’s winning coalition on Friday

NEW DELHI: India’s incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet will take an oath of office for a third term on Sunday, after he was elected leader of the coalition that won the most seats in the recent general vote.

Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has governed India as part of the National Democratic Alliance over the past decade. While the coalition won the election last week, for the first time since 2014, the BJP has lost its absolute majority in parliament, making it dependent on allies to form a government.

The composition of the Cabinet will be revealed when Modi and his ministers are sworn in.

“The swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the Council of Ministers following the General Elections 2024 is scheduled on 09 June 2024,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

“On the occasion, leaders from India’s neighbourhood and Indian Ocean region have been cordially invited as distinguished guests.”

Among the guests were listed the presidents of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, the vice president of Seychelles, and the prime ministers of Bangladesh, Mauritius, Nepal, and Bhutan.

“The visit of the leaders to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for his third consecutive term is in keeping with the highest priority accorded by India to its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and ‘SAGAR’ vision,” the statement said, referring to Security and Growth for All in the Region — Modi’s geopolitical framework of maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.

The statement did not mention India’s rivals — China and Pakistan.

While Beijing had congratulated Modi, Islamabad said on Friday that congratulations would be “premature” as his government has not been formed yet.

On Friday, Modi was formally elected leader of the NDA, after securing support from two key allies — the Telugu Desam Party in southern Andhra Pradesh state and Janata Dal (United) in eastern Bihar state.

“NDA has become synonymous with good governance in the past 10 years, and we have worked to make the country touch new heights of success. This is the most successful alliance in India’s history,” Modi said after coalition members backed him as prime ministerial candidate.

“We were neither defeated nor are we defeated.”

The final results from India’s marathon, six-week election, which began on April 19, were released on Wednesday. The BJP won 240 seats, while 272 were needed for a majority.

The NDA coalition bagged 293 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament.

It was challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Congress Party-led Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, which has 232 seats.


Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims

Updated 8 sec ago
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Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims

  • Rajapaksa halted his forced cremations policy in Feb 2021 after an appeal from then Pakistan PM Imran Khan during a visit to Sri Lanka
  • The government then allowed burials at the remote Oddamavadi area in the island’s east, but without participation of the bereaved family

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s government Tuesday formally apologized to the island’s Muslim minority for forcing cremations on Covid victims, disregarding WHO assurances that burials in line with Islamic rites were safe.
The cabinet issued an “apology regarding the compulsory cremation policy during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the government said in a statement.
It said a new law would guarantee the right to burial or cremation to ensure the funeral customs of Muslims or any other community were not violated in future.
Traditionally, Muslims bury their dead. Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists are typically cremated, as are Hindus.
Muslim representatives in Sri Lanka welcomed the apology, but said their entire community, accounting for about 10 percent of the island’s 22 million population, was still traumatized.
“We will now sue two academics — Meththika Vithanage and Channa Jayasumana — who were behind the forced cremation policy of the government,” Hilmy Ahamed, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told AFP.
“We will also seek compensation.”
Ahamed said a young Muslim couple suffered untold anguish when their 40-day-old infant was cremated by the state against their wishes.
Then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned burials despite his administration facing international condemnation at the UN Human Rights Council and other forums for violating Muslim funeral norms.
In a book published earlier this month, he defended his action saying he was only carrying out “expert advice” from Vithanage, a professor of natural resources, not to let Covid victims be interred.
She has no medical background.
Rajapaksa halted his forced cremations policy in February 2021 following an appeal from then Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan during a visit to Sri Lanka.
The government then allowed burials at the remote Oddamavadi area in the island’s east under strict military supervision — but without the participation of the bereaved family.
Rajapaksa was forced out of office two years ago following months of protests over an unprecedented economic crisis, which had led to shortages of food, fuel and medicines.


Philippine police deny man inhaling white powder in video is president Marcos

Updated 34 min 28 sec ago
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Philippine police deny man inhaling white powder in video is president Marcos

  • Police forensic experts present photos of Marcos and the unidentified man to compare their facial features

MANILA: A video allegedly showing Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos inhaling a white powder has been denounced as “fake” and “malicious,” with investigators on Tuesday presenting close-up images of his ear to prove it was not him.
The clip featuring a dark-haired man was part of a video shown at a rally in Los Angeles that was organized by a political group linked to Marcos’s predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
The rally was livestreamed on the Facebook page of pro-Duterte broadcaster SMNI in the Philippines early Monday local time, hours before Marcos was due to deliver his annual State of the Nation address to Congress.
“It is obvious from the video that that is not our president. Their video is fake and obviously not real,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said Monday, after the video went viral on social media.
Teodoro said it was part of a “serious plan to destabilize our government.”
The video spread rapidly on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. One Facebook post was viewed at least eight million times.
Duterte’s former spokesman Harry Roque shared it on his Facebook page with a caption in Tagalog reading: “You be the judge.”
It was viewed 17,000 times.
Police forensic experts held a news conference on Tuesday to prove the man in the video was not the president, presenting photos of Marcos and the unidentified man to compare their facial features.
Enlarged images of their faces and right ears were placed side by side to demonstrate that Marcos’s ear was larger in proportion to his face and had a different shape to those of the other man, whose ear curled over at the top.
“Be it AI (artificial intelligence) or imposter or whatever it was, as far as the (police) is concerned that is not the president,” Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos said Tuesday.
“That is a different person based on the ear. That’s not even considering the jawline and the entire facial structure,” Abalos said, describing the video as “malicious.”
The Marcos and Duterte families have had a bitter, public falling out as they attempt to shore up their rival support bases and secure key positions ahead of the 2025 mid-term elections.
Duterte and Marcos have accused each other of being drug addicts, although neither man has offered proof of their allegations.


Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims

Updated 23 July 2024
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Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims

  • The cabinet issued an “apology regarding the compulsory cremation policy during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the government said in a statement

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s government Tuesday formally apologized to the island’s Muslim minority for forcing cremations on Covid victims, disregarding WHO assurances that burials in line with Islamic rites were safe.
The cabinet issued an “apology regarding the compulsory cremation policy during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the government said in a statement.
It said a new law would guarantee the right to burial or cremation to ensure the funeral customs of Muslims or any other community were not violated in future.
Traditionally, Muslims bury their dead facing Makkah. Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists are typically cremated, as are Hindus.
Muslim representatives in Sri Lanka welcomed the apology, but said their entire community, accounting for about 10 percent of the island’s 22 million population, was still traumatized.
“We will now sue two academics — Meththika Vithanage and Channa Jayasumana — who were behind the forced cremation policy of the government,” Hilmy Ahamed, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told AFP.
“We will also seek compensation.”
Ahamed said a young Muslim couple suffered untold anguish when their 40-day-old infant was cremated by the state against their wishes.
Then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned burials despite his administration facing international condemnation at the UN Human Rights Council and other forums for violating Muslim funeral norms.
In a book published earlier this month, he defended his action saying he was only carrying out “expert advice” from Vithanage, a professor of natural resources, not to let Covid victims be interred.
She has no medical background.
Rajapaksa halted his forced cremations policy in February 2021 following an appeal from then Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan during a visit to Sri Lanka.
The government then allowed burials at the remote Oddamavadi area in the island’s east under strict military supervision — but without the participation of the bereaved family.
Rajapaksa was forced out of office two years ago following months of protests over an unprecedented economic crisis, which had led to shortages of food, fuel and medicines.


India’s Modi focuses on jobs creation in first budget after winning polls

Updated 23 July 2024
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India’s Modi focuses on jobs creation in first budget after winning polls

  • India’s finance minister says economy grew at sizzling 8.2 percent rate duirng last fiscal year
  • Modi remains under pressure to generate jobs to sustain India’s economic growth

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s newly formed government presented an annual budget to Parliament that raises spending to generate more jobs and spur economic growth, while aiming to appease coalition partners it needs to stay in power.

In her budget speech Tuesday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government is focused on driving domestic growth through jobs, training and small businesses.

India’s inflation rate is stable and moving toward the government’s 4 percent target, she said, while the economy grew at a sizzling 8.2 percent rate in the last fiscal year.

“India’s economic growth continues to be the shining exception and will remain so in the years ahead,” Sitharaman said.

More than a decade after he first took office as prime minister, Modi is under pressure to generate more jobs to help sustain growth.

The proposed budget includes a $24 billion package for job creation over the next five years and raises spending on loans for small and medium-size businesses. It allocates $18 billion to support agriculture and farm technology, such as climate-resilient seed varieties.

It also would raise spending, to $133 billion, on construction of thirty million homes for the poor, schools, airports, highways and other infrastructure. The budget would cut taxes on big corporations and allocate more funds to two states, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, that are governed by the Modi government’s biggest coalition partners.

The government plans to build new airports, medical colleges and sports and tourism facilities in eastern India’s Bihar state, which is ruled by the Janata Dal (United) party.

Sitharaman also announced special financial support for southern India’s Andhra Pradesh state, ruled by the Telugu Desam party.

Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party is relying on those two regional parties to keep its coalition government in power after it failed to win a majority on its own in recent national elections.

India’s economy — the fifth largest in the world — is projected to grow at an annual rate of between 6.5 percent to 7 percent in the fiscal year ending in March 2025. But experts say the benefits of its rapid growth are shared unequally, as wealth of already affluent Indians has risen steadily without reaching the the majority of Indians who toil in the country’s large informal sector, where the quality of jobs is poor and precarious.

Billions of dollars worth of subsidies to manufacturing have not led to creation of enough jobs. To mitigate rising unemployment, the government said it will provide 12-month paid internship opportunities to 10 million young people in India’s top 500 companies for a five-year period. Sitharaman said the training cost will be borne by the companies.

According to the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy, youth unemployment was at 9.2 percent in early July, underscoring the challenge of delivering jobs in the world’s most populous country, where millions graduate every year.

Inequality has surged in India in the last decade. According to a report by World Inequality Lab, wealth concentrated in the richest 1 percent of India’s population is at its highest in six decades.

The government is aiming for a fiscal deficit of 4.9 percent of India’s gross domestic product for the 2024-25 financial year, lower than the 5.1 percent figure in February’s short-term budget, Sitharaman said.

India is one of the highest current sources of emissions that lead to global warming, but the government announced plans Tuesday to set up a new 800-megawatt coal-fired thermal power plant. Sitharaman said the government will also support development of small and modular nuclear reactors to help meet India’s future energy demand.

The budget also allocates $1.37 billion to address damage from floods. India, which is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts, has suffered an increase in flooding due to extreme rains and glacier melt in the last few years.

The budget requires approval from both houses of Parliament, but it is bound to be enacted as Modi’s coalition government holds a majority.


Netanyahu visit risks US exposure to war crimes allegations: HRW

Updated 23 July 2024
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Netanyahu visit risks US exposure to war crimes allegations: HRW

  • Israeli prime minister to appear before joint Congress session on July 24
  • Lawmakers should be ‘seriously concerned about liability risks’: Human Rights Watch director

LONDON: US lawmakers risk exposure to war crimes allegations amid Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance before a joint Congress session on July 24, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Netanyahu’s visit “highlights the continued and significant US supply of weapons to Israel’s military despite credible allegations of ongoing war crimes in Gaza,” HRW added.

Late last year, the Biden administration increased the threshold for delivering weapons exports to foreign countries, in an apparent attempt to reduce the likelihood of international law violations.

Washington is also mandated by domestic laws to carry out a risk assessment before providing arms exports.

But despite HRW and Oxfam warning in March that Israeli assurances to the US over the legal requirements were “not credible,” the Biden administration reported to Congress in May that Tel Aviv was “complying” with the new US threshold and domestic laws.

Tirana Hassan, HRW’s executive director, said: “US officials are well aware of the mounting evidence that Israeli forces have committed war crimes in Gaza, including most likely with US weapons.

“US lawmakers should be seriously concerned about the liability risks of continuing to provide arms and intelligence based on Israel’s flimsy assurances that it’s abiding by the laws of war.”

HRW and Oxfam filed a dossier to the US State Department that highlighted Israel’s numerous violations of international law in Gaza.

The Israel Defense Forces have “unlawfully attacked residential buildings, medical facilities and aid workers, restricted medical evacuations and used starvation as a weapon of war,” HRW said.

“Israeli authorities have detained and mistreated thousands of Palestinians, with persistent reports of torture.

“In the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have killed over 500 Palestinians since Oct. 7, settlers and soldiers have displaced entire Palestinian communities, destroying every home, with the apparent backing of higher Israeli authorities and effectively confiscating Palestinians’ lands.”

US weapons have been used by Israeli forces throughout the period, HRW warned, citing reports by CNN, National Public Radio, the New York Times and Agence France-Presse.

Under international law, a state assisting another state or non-state actor can be complicit in war crimes if prior knowledge and contribution to the partner’s intentions is found. Individuals can also be prosecuted under this guideline.

HRW called on the US and other weapons suppliers to immediately suspend military assistance to Israel.

By using its leverage, including through targeted sanctions, the Biden administration can “save lives,” the organization added.