Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said on Saturday he had been disqualified from parliament because he has been asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi tough questions about his relationship with Gautam Adani, founder of the Adani conglomerate.Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party responded saying Gandhi had been punished under the law for a defamatory comment he made in 2019 and it had nothing to do with the Adani issue.Gandhi, a former president of India’s main opposition Congress Party who is still its main leader, lost his parliamentary seat on Friday, a day after a court in the western state of Gujarat convicted him in a defamation case and sentenced him to two years in jail.The court granted him bail and suspended his jail sentence for 30 days, allowing him to appeal. The defamation case was filed in connection with comments Gandhi made in a speech that many deemed insulting to Modi.Gandhi’s party and its allies have criticised the court ruling as politically motivated. “I have been disqualified because the prime minister is scared of my next speech, he is scared of the next speech that is going to come on Adani,” Gandhi told a news conference at the Congress Party headquarters in New Delhi.“They don’t want that speech to be in parliament, that’s the issue,” Gandhi said in his first public comments since the conviction and disqualification.Gandhi, 52, the scion of a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers, did not elaborate on why Modi might not like his next speech.Gandhi’s once-dominant Congress controls less than 10% of the elected seats in parliament’s lower house and has been decimated by the BJP in two successive general elections, most recently in 2019.India’s next general election is due by mid-2024 and Gandhi has recently been trying to revive the party’s fortunes.“I am not scared of this disqualification...I will continue to ask the question, ‘what is the prime minister’s relationship with Mr Adani?’,” Gandhi said yesterday.Modi’s rivals say the prime minister and the BJP have longstanding ties with the Adani group, going back nearly two decades when Modi was chief minister of the western state of Gujarat. Gautam Adani is also from Gujarat. The Congress Party has questioned investments made by state-run firms in Adani companies and the handover of the management of six airports to the group in recent years, even though it had no experience in the sector.The Adani group has denied receiving any special favours from the government and government ministers have dismissed such opposition suggestions as “wild allegations”, saying regulators would look into any wrongdoing.Congress, and its opposition allies have called for a parliamentary investigation.“The life of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an open book of honesty,” BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad told a news conference called in response to Gandhi’s statements yesterday.“We don’t have to defend Adani, BJP never defends Adani, but BJP doesn’t target anyone either,” Prasad said, accusing Gandhi of habitually lying. A former federal minister, Prasad listed international business deals the Adani group had signed when a Congress-led coalition government ruled India from 2004-2014 and its investments in Indian states ruled by Congress.
Fiercely outspoken Rwandan government critic Paul Rusesabagina, whose efforts to save people during the 1994 genocide inspired the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, has been freed from prison after more than 900 days behind bars.Rusesabagina was released late Friday away from the media glare and will return to the United States after the Kigali government commuted his 25-year sentence on terrorism charges.Rusesabagina was convicted in September 2021 of backing an armed rebel group after a trial that his supporters denounced as a sham.The 68-year-old, who is also a Belgian citizen with US permanent residency, has been in failing health and his family said he was tortured during his 939 days in detention.Shortly before midnight Friday, Rusesabagina arrived at the Qatari ambassador’s residence in Kigali, a US official said.He will likely stay there for “a couple of days” before flying to Qatar, which helped broker his release, and then to the United States, another US official said.His sentence was commuted by presidential order, Justice Minister Emmanuel Ugirashebuja said in a statement, while 19 co-defendants also saw their sentences commuted.But the minister warned: “Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction.”US President Joe Biden welcomed Rusesabagina’s release, calling it a “happy outcome”.“Paul’s family is eager to welcome him back to the United States, and I share their joy at today’s good news,” he said in a statement.Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday that the United States was “grateful” to Rwanda for the release, while Belgium also said it welcomed the move.Rwanda praised the role of both the United States and Qatar in resolving the case.“This is the result of a shared desire to reset (the) US-Rwanda relationship,” President Paul Kagame’s press secretary Stephanie Nyombayire tweeted Friday, adding the close relationship between Rwanda and Qatar was “key”.Rusesabagina was accused of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group blamed for attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.He denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.He was arrested after a plane en route to Burundi was diverted to Rwanda in August 2020 in what the United Nations has described as an “abduction”. Rusesabagina had left Rwanda in 1996 and relocated to Belgium with his wife and children.
French police again clashed with protesters yesterday as campaigners sought to stop the construction of reservoirs in the southwest, the latest in a series of violent standoffs as social tensions erupt nationwide.The violent scenes in Sainte-Soline in western France came after days of violent protests nationwide over President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform that prompted the cancellation of a visit by King Charles III of the UK.The protest movement against the pension reform have turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron’s second mandate, with daily clashes in the streets of Paris and other cities between police and protesters.Several protesters and members of security forces were wounded in the clashes around Saite-Soline as campaigners sought to stop the construction of reservoirs for the agricultural industry, according to the authorities.A long procession set off late morning, comprising at least 6,000 people according to local authorities and around 25,000 according to the organisers.More than 3,000 members of the security forces were deployed, with “at least 1,000” potentially violent activists, including some from Italy, present, officials said.Around the construction site, defended by the police, violent clashes quickly broke out between the security forces and radical militants, AFP correspondents said.Multiple projectiles and improvised explosives were thrown by protesters, with police responding with tear gas and water cannon.Two protesters were seriously wounded, including one who was hospitalised with a brain injury, the authorities said.Sixteen members of the security forces were wounded, six of whom were hospitalised regionally and one of whose injuries were so serious he was evacuated by helicopter.“While the country is rising up to defend pensions, we will simultaneously stand up to defend water,” said the organisers gathering under the banner of “Bassines non merci” (“No to reservoirs, thank you”).Eleven people were detained after police seized cold weapons, including petanque balls and meat knives, as well as explosives.While not directly related to the anti-pensions reform campaign, the clashes over the water reservoir construction have added to tensions in an increasingly challenging situation for the government.The cancellation of Charles’ state visit — which was to be his very first abroad as monarch — was a major embarrassment for Macron and acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation.After the worst clashes yet of the three-month movement on Thursday night, protest activity has been less intense in the last 24 hours.But the government is bracing for another torrid day on Tuesday when unions are due to hold another day of strikes and protests.This would have been the second full day of Charles’ visit, which now must find a new date in his packed calendar. Instead, Germany will be his first foreign destination as monarch.
Gordon Moore, a pioneer in the microprocessor industry and a co-founder of Intel, which at one time was the world’s largest semiconductor maker, died on Friday at the age of 94, Intel said.Moore was a giant in the technological transformation of the modern age, helping companies bring ever more powerful chips to smaller and smaller computers.An engineer by training, he co-founded Intel in July 1968, eventually serving as president, chief executive and chairman of the board.Intel, based in Santa Clara, California, said Moore died “surrounded by family at his home in Hawaii.” In its early days, Intel was known for continuous innovation, growing to become one of the biggest, most important companies in technology.In an article in 1965, Moore first coined a theory that later became known as “Moore’s Law.” It stated that integrated circuits would essentially double in power every year. He later revised the law to say the doubling would occur every two years.The axiom held true for decades and became synonymous with the rapid rate of technological change in the modern world.“All I was trying to do was get that message across, that by putting more and more stuff on a chip we were going to make all electronics cheaper,” Moore said in a 2008 interview. After earning his PhD from CalTech, Moore and a colleague in 1957 joined Fairchild Semiconductor Laboratory, one of the earliest firms to manufacture commercially viable transistors and integrated circuits. As the company grew, the seeds were planted for the transformation of the peninsula of land south of San Francisco into what is now known as Silicon Valley. Moore and long-time colleague Robert Noyce struck out on their own in 1968, bringing along a third, Andy Grove, who would become a future Intel CEO. Moore retired from Intel in 2006.Over his lifetime, Moore donated more than $5.1bn to charitable causes through the foundation he set up with his wife of 72 years, Betty. “Though he never aspired to be a household name, Gordon’s vision and his life’s work enabled the phenomenal innovation and technological developments that shape our everyday lives,” said Harvey Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
At least 23 people were killed and dozens injured after thunderstorms spawning high straight-line winds and tornados ripped across Mississippi late on Friday, leaving hundreds without shelter, state officials said yesterday.Four people were missing following the storms, which left a trail of damage for more than 100 miles. The tornados struck Silver City, a town of 200 people in western Mississippi, as well as Rolling Fork, with a population of 1,700, which was hardest hit. Parts of the state remain under tornado warning.“At least twenty three Mississippians were killed by last night’s violent tornados,” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves wrote on Twitter. “We know that many more are injured. Search and rescue teams are still active. The loss will be felt in these towns forever.”Reeves declared a state of emergency in the affected areas, which he said would remain in effect “until such time as this threat to public safety shall cease to exist.”President Joe Biden described the images from Mississippi as “heartbreaking,” and said in a statement that he had spoken with Reeves and offered his condolences and full federal support for the recovery.“To those impacted by these devastating storms, and to the first responders and emergency personnel working to help their fellow Americans, we will do everything we can to help,” Biden said. “We will be there as long as it takes. We will work together to deliver the support you need to recover.”Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Deanne Criswell told CNN that she would be travelling to Mississippi today. Criswell pledged to process quickly an anticipated request from Mississippi for a major disaster declaration to enable full federal support now and over the long term.FEMA was already on the ground, she said, adding that the American Red Cross was setting up shelters.Search and rescue teams combed through the destruction looking for survivors in Silver City and Rolling Fork.“My city is gone, but we are resilient,” Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge Walker said on CNN. “We are going to come back strong.”Walker said several people were trapped in their homes, adding that rescue efforts were under way. He said 12 of the people who died were in Rolling Fork. Television images showed uprooted trees, houses ripped apart and damaged motor vehicles. Many areas were without electricity.Humphreys County Sheriff Bruce Williams told CNN that “this town has been destroyed like a bomb hit it.”Williams said there were no missing persons reported, but three deaths had been confirmed in the county.Yazoo Constable Jeremy McCoy, who had gone to Rolling Fork to assist with rescue efforts told CNN of the grim situation on the ground and stepping on nails.“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said McCoy. “You hope to hear somebody call, a baby crying, a dog barking or something, but hear nothing.”Tracy Harden, owner of Chuck’s Dairy Barn, told the network that she and her husband sought shelter in a cooler. Others hunkered down in their homes, finding refuge in bathtubs.The organisation Volunteer Mississippi, through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, asked citizens not to self-deploy, but welcomed donations of water, canned food and other resources.It said unaffiliated volunteers would be matched with affiliated groups on the ground when the time was right.A Rolling Fork resident, Brandy Showah, also told CNN that the town was gone. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, adding that her grandmother’s house suffered damage.“My friend was trapped in her home a few houses down, but we got her out,” Showah said, adding that people who lived next to her grandmother were still trapped in their houses. Todd Terrell, who heads a volunteer rescuers group called United Cajun Navy, told ABC News that Rolling Fork was “pretty much devastated” and many people remained trapped in their homes. Terrell compared the destruction to a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, that killed 161 people in 2011.At least 24 reports of tornadoes were issued to the National Weather Service on Friday night and into yesterday morning by storm chasers and observers.The reports stretched from the western edge of Mississippi north through the centre of the state and into Alabama. Unconfirmed reports said one person had died in Alabama.Photographs of the destruction published by news networks showed entire buildings left in rubble and cars turned over on their sides as people climbed through the debris in darkness.“Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God’s protection tonight,” the governor, Reeves, said late on Friday in a tweet. “We have activated medical support — surging more ambulances and other emergency assets for those affected.”
An anonymous emergency telephone call on Friday led authorities to halt a train that contained a group of "suffocating" migrants, two of whom were dead, police in Texas said.The US Border Patrol stopped the train east of Knippa, a small community in southern Texas near the city of San Antonio, police said."Approximately 15 migrants were discovered to be in need of immediate medical attention, five of the immigrants were flown out to San Antonio area hospitals, five were transported to area hospitals, and their conditions are unknown," the statement by the Uvalde Police Department said."Two of the immigrants were pronounced deceased."Police said that Union Pacific, a freight-hauling railroad company, "will lead the investigation."Temperatures near where the train was stopped reached 87 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in the late afternoon, according to KSAT.com, an affiliate of ABC TV in San Antonio.
An explosion at a chocolate factory in the US state of Pennsylvania has killed two people and left nine others missing, according to local media.The explosion at the RM Palmer Company plant in the West Reading borough of Pennsylvania occurred before 5 pm local time (2100 GMT) on Friday, local TV network WFMZ reported.Besides the dead and missing, six people were transported to medical facilities, Pennsylvania's Emergency Management Agency told WFMZ."(The factory) is pretty leveled, unfortunately. There's not much they can salvage from the building," said West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag in a televised press conference."In the front, with the church and the apartments, the explosion was so big it moved that building four feet forward," she added.TV footage showed a fire blazing in the debris after the explosion, with firefighters trying to extinguish it.The cause of the blast was still under investigation, authorities said.According to its website, RM Palmer has been producing seasonal chocolate novelties -- like Easter bunnies and heart-shaped Valentine's Day sweets -- since 1948.
A large asteroid will safely zoom between Earth and the Moon on Saturday, a once-in-a-decade event that will be used as a training exercise for planetary defence efforts, according to the European Space Agency.The asteroid, named 2023 DZ2, is estimated to be 40 to 70 metres (130 to 230 feet) wide, roughly the size of the Parthenon, and big enough to wipe out a large city if it hit our planet.At 19:49 GMT on Saturday it will come within a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, said Richard Moissl, the head of the ESA's planetary defence office.Though that is "very close", there is nothing to worry about, he told AFP.Small asteroids fly past every day, but one of this size coming so close to Earth only happens around once every 10 years, he added.The asteroid will pass 175,000 kilometres (109,000 miles) from Earth at a speed of 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,400 miles per hour). The moon is roughly 385,000 kilometres away.An observatory in La Palma, one of Spain's Canary Islands, first spotted the asteroid on February 27.Last week, the UN-endorsed International Asteroid Warning Network decided it would take advantage of the close look, carrying out a "rapid characterisation" of 2023 DZ2, Moissl said.That means astronomers around the world will analyse the asteroid with a range of instruments such as spectrometers and radars.The goal is to find out just how much we can learn about such an asteroid in only a week, Moissl said.It will also serve as training for how the network "would react to a threat" possibly heading our way in the future, he added.'Scientifically interesting'Moissl said preliminary data suggests 2023 DZ2 is "a scientifically interesting object", indicating it could be a somewhat unusual type of asteroid. But he added that more data was needed to determine the asteroid's composition.The asteroid will again swing past Earth in 2026, but poses no threat of impact for at least the next 100 years -- which is how far out its trajectory has been calculated.Earlier this month a similarly sized asteroid, 2023 DW, was briefly given a one-in-432 chance of hitting Earth on Valentine's Day 2046.But further calculations ruled out any chance of an impact, which is what normally happens with newly discovered asteroids. Moissl said 2023 DW was now expected to miss Earth by some 4.3 million kilometres.Even if such an asteroid was determined to be heading our way, Earth is no longer defenceless.Last year, NASA's DART spacecraft deliberately slammed into the pyramid-sized asteroid Dimorphos, significantly knocking it off course in the first such test of our planetary defences.
Nigerian artist Adebayo Ayodeji is targeting children to play traditional instruments like drums, which he worries could become extinct and erase an important aspect of the culture in Africa’s most populous country.In the megacity of Lagos, parents bring children to his twice-a-month drumming workshops to learn how to play drums and understand their traditional significance.In Nigeria, the drum is not only a musical instrument, but is also used in ceremonial events and rituals like communicating with deities and summoning meetings in villages.“We are using this to revive our cultural values,” Ayodeji said, noting that most children had not seen the drums before. “They’ve not played it before and this is an opportunity to introduce them to it, so we are using it to at least do a kind of evangelism — evangelism of art,” Ayodeji said.
US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a deal aimed at stopping asylum-seekers from traversing the shared US-Canada land border via unofficial crossings, an official US document showed yesterday.The two leaders met yesterday morning in Ottawa and were expected to discuss migration, how to address the worsening security and humanitarian situation in Haiti, the war in Ukraine, trade and fighting climate change, officials said.The migration deal, according to a final rule set to be published in the US Federal Register, will allow Canada to turn back immigrants at Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing point from New York State for a growing number of migrants.Border crossings between the two countries are governed by the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which allows US and Canadian officials to turn back asylum-seekers in both directions at formal points of entry, but does not apply to unofficial crossings like Quebec’s Roxham Road.The new deal extends the STCA to the entire border, the longest undefended frontier in the world, for people who claim asylum within 14 days of crossing, according to the notice.It will go into effect at midnight, according to officials from both Canada and the US.The issue had been a growing political headache for Trudeau, whose parliamentary seat is in Quebec.Sceptics point to the difficulty and cost in monitoring such a long border, and the additional harm it may cause to migrants.“It’s unworkable. How is a border this length monitored? People will cross undetected. People will cross in a more dangerous way,” said refugee lawyer Maureen Silcoff. “It’s a losing proposition to seal the border.”As part of the agreement, Canada will take in an additional 15,000 migrants over the next year on a humanitarian basis from the Western Hemisphere, a US official said on Thursday.“There are more people on the move in the Western Hemisphere (since) World War II, it’s really staggering, and it’s historic,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC yesterday.Roxham Road, a dirt path that has become a route of choice for asylum-seekers, made international headlines in 2017 soon after then-US president Donald Trump started cracking down on migrants, resulting in a rise in the inflow of asylum-seekers into Canada.Canada has been pushing the US to extend the deal for a while.In recent months, there has been a sharp increase in asylum-seekers entering Canada through unofficial border crossings.
Former US president Donald Trump warned of potential “death & destruction” if he faces criminal charges, hours after New York prosecutors probing his hush-money payment to adult entertainer Stormy Daniels said they would not be intimidated.The post early yesterday on Trump’s Truth Social media site was the latest in a string of verbal attacks on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg since last Saturday when Trump wrongly predicted that he would be arrested three days later.Trump falsely claims his defeat in 2020 was the result of fraud – a claim that inspired his followers to launch a deadly January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol in a failed bid to stop Congress from certifying the election of Democratic President Joe Biden, who bested the Republican Trump by more than 7mn votes.“What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former President of the United States, who got more votes than any sitting President in history, and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a Crime, when it is known by all that NO Crime has been committed, & also known that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country?” wrote Trump, who is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.Bragg’s office, in a letter to Republican committee chairmen in Congress on Thursday, challenged their standing to investigate his office and said that Trump had “created a false expectation that he would be arrested” in his Saturday post.The letter called the chairmen’s request for communications, documents and testimony an “unlawful incursion into New York’s sovereignty”.Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she received the money in exchange for keeping silent about an encounter she had with Trump in 2006.Trump has denied ever having such an encounter with Daniels, and has called the payment a “simple private transaction”.He has said he did not commit a crime and has called the investigation politically motivated.The Manhattan grand jury probing Trump is not due to reconvene until next week.In other cases, Georgia prosecutors are looking into Trump’s attempts to overturn his election defeat there, and a federal special counsel is investigating both his attempts to overturn his loss and the removal of classified documents from the White House after Trump left office.Today Trump will hold a campaign rally in Waco, Texas, 30 years after a raid on the Branch Davidians religious sect there by federal agents resulted in 86 deaths, including four law-enforcement officers.The event has become a symbol of government overreach for some and is a seminal moment for some right-wing extremist groups.In an e-mail, a Trump campaign spokesperson said Waco was chosen because it is situated between several major population centres and has the infrastructure needed to host a large event. – Reuters
Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro will return to Brazil on March 30, his party confirmed via social media yesterday, following more than three months of self-imposed exile in the United States after losing his re-election bid.His return to Brazil is eagerly awaited by his conservative Liberal Party (PL), which became the largest in the Brazilian Congress after the election last October.“Our national president, Valdemar Costa Neto, confirms to everyone that Jair Bolsonaro will return to Brazil on March 30. Bolsonaro will disembark in Brasilia at 7.30am,” the Liberal Party said on social media.Bolsonaro travelled to the United States on December 30, just two days before the inauguration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, skipping the traditional ritual of passing the presidential sash to his successor.Costa Neto has said he expects Bolsonaro to become the leader of the right-wing opposition to leftist President Lula and lead his party into municipal elections next year, where the PL hopes to triple the number of its mayors across Brazil.Bolsonaro was losing his political capital by staying in self-imposed exile in Florida and should come back to lead the 58mn Brazilians who voted for him in an election narrowly won by Lula, Costa Neto had suggested.An effective opposition could lay the ground for a right-wing comeback in the 2026 presidential election, PL officials have told Reuters.Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s entourage said that the former president had handed over to authorities, through his lawyers, some expensive jewels given to him by the government of Saudi Arabia.The 68-year-old far-right leader has been embroiled in a scandal over the issue and is accused of having brought the jewels into Brazil illegally.“I will resume a normal life, I will work for the PL, travel around Brazil and take part in politics,” Bolsonaro said in an interview with TV Record broadcast on Thursday.Bolsonaro denies wrongdoing but has been accused of illegally trying to bring gifts into the country.The scandal erupted when newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo reported that customs officers intercepted an aide to Bolsonaro’s then-mines and energy minister trying to enter Brazil with a backpack containing diamond jewellery from Swiss luxury firm Chopard after an official trip to Saudi Arabia in October 2021.It later emerged Bolsonaro had kept a second set of jewels, also from Chopard, that entered Brazil undetected after the same trip.Travelers entering Brazil with goods worth over $1,000 are required to declare them and pay hefty import taxes.Media reports have placed the value of the jewels, some of which were believed to be a gift for the former president’s wife, at $3.2mn for the first set, and at least $75,000 for the second.“I found out about this story a year later and my wife found out about it through the press,” Bolsonaro told TV Record. “She has nothing to do with this, the box that was for her is with customs.”
The making of the hugely popular BBC car show Top Gear has been halted following a crash during filming in December that left co-presenter Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff with serious injuries, the broadcaster said.The BBC said it had concluded its investigation into the crash — which had initially led to filming being suspended — and that it would now halt filming.It was unclear when or if at all filming would resume and the broadcaster said it would make a decision later this year.“We have sincerely apologised to Freddie and will continue to support him with his recovery. Under the circumstances, we feel it would be inappropriate to resume making series 34 of Top Gear at this time,” BBC Studios said in a statement.“We understand this will be disappointing for fans, but it is the right thing to do, and we’ll make a judgement about how best to continue later this year.”The BBC also said it would carry out a health and safety review of Top Gear, one of its most successful programmes that has been running since 2002 in its current format, a revival of a 1977-2001 eponymous BBC motoring programme.Flintoff, 45, a former England cricketer who became a Top Gear host in 2019, was said to be “lucky to be alive” following the accident at Top Gear’s test track in Surrey in southern England. The Times newspaper reported, citing insiders, that Flintoff was quitting as the show’s co-presenter.He hosted the show along with Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris.Flintoff is revered by England cricket fans for his heroics in the 2005 Ashes series against Australia, a career highlight that earned him cult status.After retiring from cricket, he had one professional bout as a boxer in 2012.
India’s opposition Congress Party suffered a major blow yesterday when parliament disqualified its leader, Rahul Gandhi, a day after a court convicted him of defamation for comments that many deemed insulting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Gandhi “stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction”, the lower house of parliament said in a notice.Gandhi, 52, was convicted and sentenced to prison for two years in the western state of Gujarat on Thursday after he was found guilty of defamation in connection with a 2019 speech in which he referred to thieves as having the surname Modi.He is due to appeal against the verdict in a district court in Gujarat, also Modi’s home state.“I am fighting for the voice of India, I am ready to pay any cost,” Gandhi tweeted hours after his disqualification.Gandhi made the thieves comment while campaigning ahead of the last general election in which Modi and his ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept back to power.The court case was filed by BJP member Purnesh Modi, who focused on a comment Gandhi made in the 2019 speech when referring to two fugitive businessmen, both surnamed Modi.“How come all thieves have the name Modi?,” Gandhi had asked.The magistrate said a two-year jail term was justified because “awarding a lighter sentence to the accused would send a wrong message to people”.The same court also immediately granted Gandhi bail and suspended the sentence by a month.But under the constitution and election laws, a lawmaker convicted by a court loses their place in parliament.Gandhi, the scion of a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers, marched across India this year to revive the political fortunes of Congress.Some of Gandhi’s allies said the court ruling was politically motivated.A close aide said the leader would abide by the order and did not enter parliament yesterday during house proceedings.Gandhi was at the official residence of his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who is the longest serving president of the Congress Party, at the time the parliament notice became public, said two Congress lawmakers.“He will have to vacate his official residence but every MP gets 30 days to relocate,” said one Congress lawmaker, adding that legal experts in the party were preparing to file an appeal in a higher court.Several Congress lawmakers and leaders of regional opposition parties said Gandhi was being punished for speaking the truth and safeguarding democracy.“We will fight against the injustice legally and politically,” said Jairam Ramesh, a Congress lawmaker.Party members staged protests against Gandhi’s disqualification in the eastern and northern parts of the country and plan to continue their demonstrations across India.
The Council of Europe – the continent’s leading human rights watchdog – has criticised French police’s “excessive use of force” during demonstrations against an unpopular pension reform.“Violent incidents have occurred, including some that have targeted the forces of law and order,” its commissioner for human rights Dunja Mijatovic said.“However, the sporadic acts of violence of some protesters or other reprehensible acts committed by other persons during a protest cannot justify excessive use of force by agents of the state,” she said. “These acts are also not enough to deprive peaceful protesters of their right to freedom of assembly.”“It is up to the authorities to allow the actual exercise of these freedoms by protecting peaceful demonstrators and journalists covering these protests against police brutality and against violent individuals acting within or on the sidelines of marches,” Mijatovic added.Rights groups, magistrates, and left-wing politicians have in recent days raised the alarm over what they have described as arbitrary arrests and apparent abusive police practices during protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.Anger has boiled over since his government last week invoked a controversial executive power to force through the bill without a parliamentary vote.French authorities arrested more than 450 people on Thursday in the most violent day of demonstrations since the start of the year.Security officials have defended their actions, saying that they are responding to violent rioters and anarchist groups which frequently infiltrate French demonstrations to provoke clashes.The French Human Rights League has accused the authorities of “undermining the right of citizens to protest by making disproportionate and dangerous use of public force”.“The authoritarian shift of the French state, the brutalisation of social relations through its police, violence of all kinds and impunity are a major scandal,” the league’s president Patrick Baudouin said yesterday.Rights groups have raised concerns over the police’s repeated use of “kettling”, also called “trap and detain” in the United States, a crowd-control tactic consisting of cordoning off protesters in a small area.Reports have emerged that police have detained foreign schoolchildren and other innocent bystanders, fired tear gas at protesters in closed-off areas, and even hurt a man so badly he had to have a testicle amputated.Videos have appeared on social media appearing to show police knocking over or hitting demonstrators.Human Rights Watch (HRW) told AFP that it was very concerned about “what appears to be abusive police practices”.It said they echoed similar “abusive crowd control and anti-riot tactics” during the anti-government “Yellow Vest” movement in 2018-2019 during Macron’s previous term in office.“The French authorities have apparently not drawn lessons from this or reviewed their police crowd control policies and practices,” HRW’s France director Benedicte Jeannerod said.Critics have denounced police carrying out sweeping “preventative” detentions, saying even blameless passersby have been caught up in their dragnet.In one instance on Thursday night last week, two 15-year-old Austrians on a school trip were among those “kettled” by police, Liberation newspaper reported.The two teenagers, who had been trying to find their host families, spent the night in jail before their embassy intervened.A man out jogging was detained the same night.He told France Inter radio that he was booked on allegations ticked at random on the charge sheet, and was not released until the following afternoon.Security forces detained 292 people that night, but 283 of them were freed without charge.Yesterday Macron condemned the violence overnight and said security forces had worked “in an exemplary manner”.Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the police had responded to “troublemakers, often from the far left”, who had caused 441 police to be injured.AFP saw suspected anarchists and other protesters setting fire to rubbish, smashing shop windows and launching stones and fireworks at security forces.Darmanin said that 11 internal inquiries had been opened into alleged police brutality in the past week.“It is possible that, individually, police, often because they are tired, commit acts inconsistent with what they were taught,” he said.In one such case, a woman had complained that a member of a motorbike unit beat her with a truncheon while she was caught against a wall in Paris on Monday, a source following the file told AFP.In another, earlier this year, police on January 19 beat a man so hard with a truncheon that he had to have a testicle amputated, his lawyer told AFP.Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said earlier this week said there were “no unjustified arrests”, and that security forces detained people from “gatherings with a view to commit violence”.He defended the police’s motorbike unit, known as BRAV-M, which critics have called to be disbanded, as being one “particularly well adapted to dispersing” groups.Right groups have long accused French police of brutality and racism in the force, but say internal investigations seem to result in few sanctions.
An earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale struck on Thursday Cagayan Province, in the northern Philippines.The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported that the epicentre of the quake occurred 17 km from Dalupiri Island in the province, at a depth of 15 km.So far, there have been no reports of human or material losses due to the earthquake.On Feb 15, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Masbate Island in the central Philippines, at a depth of 20 km.The Philippines is experiencing increased volcanic and seismic activity due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates intersect.
An earthquake measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale rocked the Yesilyurt town of Malatya province in central Turkiye.A statement issued by the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) said that the tremor occurred at a depth of 7 km.On Feb. 6, two earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northern Syria with a magnitude of 7.7 and 7.6, followed by thousands of violent aftershocks, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving huge material damage.
The future of humanity’s “lifeblood” — water — is under threat across the planet, the UN secretary-general warned yesterday at the opening of the first major UN meeting on water resources in nearly half a century.“We’ve broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater,” Antonio Guterres said at the three-day summit in New York, which gathers some 6,500 participants, including a dozen heads of state and government.“We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and evaporating it through global heating,” Guterres told the conference.A report by UN-Water and Unesco released Tuesday warned of too little or too much water in some places and contaminated water in others — conditions that it said highlight the imminent risk of a global water crisis.“If nothing is done, it will be a business-as-usual scenario — it will keep on being between 40% and 50% of the population of the world that does not have access to sanitation and roughly 20-25% of the world will not have access to safe water supply,” report lead author Richard Connor told AFP.With the global population increasing every day, “in absolute numbers, there’ll be more and more people that don’t have access to these services,” he said.At the UN conference, governments and actors in the public and private sectors are invited to present proposals to reverse that trend and help meet the development goal, set in 2015, of ensuring “access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.”The last conference at this high level on the issue, which lacks a global treaty or a dedicated UN agency, was held in 1977 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Some observers have already voiced concerns about the scope of commitments and the availability of funding to implement them.“There is much to do and time is not on our side,” said Gilbert Houngbo, chair of UN-Water, a forum for coordinating work on the topic.The report also warned that water “scarcity is becoming endemic” due to overconsumption and pollution, while global warming will increase seasonal water shortages in both areas with abundant water as well as those already strained.“About 10% of the world’s population lives in a country where water stress has reached a high or critical level,” the report says.According to the most recent UN climate study, published Monday by the IPCC expert panel, “roughly half of the world’s population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least part of the year.”Those shortages have the most significant impact on the poor, Connor told AFP.“No matter where you are, if you are rich enough, you will manage to get water,” he said.The report noted the impact of existing water supplies becoming contaminated due to underperforming or non-existent sanitation systems.“At least 2bn people (globally) use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio,” it said.That high number does not take into account pollution from pharmaceuticals, chemicals, pesticides, microplastics and nanomaterials.To ensure access to safe drinking water for all by 2030, levels of investment would have to be tripled, the report said.Freshwater ecosystems — which in addition to water, provide life-sustaining economic resources and help combat global warming — “are among the most threatened in the world,” the report warned.“We have to act now because water insecurity is undermining food security, health security, energy security or urban development and societal issues,” Henk Ovink, the Dutch special envoy for water, told AFP.“It’s now or never as we say – a once in a generation opportunity.”
At least 13 people were killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by a strong earthquake felt across thousands of kilometres, but the region appeared yesterday to have dodged the mass casualties usually associated with a tremor of such scale.The United States Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.5 quake was centred near Jurm in northeastern Afghanistan, but the depth of 187km mitigated extensive damage. The quake, which struck around 9:30pm Kabul time on Tuesday and lasted more than 30 seconds, was felt from central Asia to New Delhi in India — more than 2,000km away.“It was a powerful earthquake and we feared maximum damage due to the intensity — that’s why we issued an alert,” Bilal Faizi, a spokesman for Pakistan’s emergency Rescue 1122 service in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told AFP. “But fortunately our fears proved wrong. Residents panicked due to the magnitude of the earthquake, but the damage was minimal.”The region is frequently hit by quakes — especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. In Jurm district, near the epicentre, a resident of one village reported no casualties despite the proximity. “We are about 2,000 to 3,000 people in our village and we all spent the night outside under the sky,” said Inamullah, reached by telephone.“We were all scared and stayed awake the entire night.” Some 50 houses had collapsed in the village located in the snow-capped mountains, an AFP correspondent who arrived in the area reported.Panicked residents of cities and towns in Afghanistan and Pakistan also fled their homes to seek safety away from buildings — with many too scared to return. “We stayed the night in our courtyard... it was cold outside, but we preferred to stay out rather than go back,” 24-year-old student Neda Raihan told AFP in Kabul.Khudadad Heights, a vast multi-storey residential block in the Pakistan capital, was evacuated after huge cracks appeared in the building.More than 55,000 people were killed by an earthquake that struck southeastern Turkiye and parts of Syria last month, heightening fears across the region.“The children started shouting that there is an earthquake. We all ran out. The horrors of the earthquake in Turkiye and neighbouring countries had a strong effect on our nerves,” said Ikhlaq Kazmi, a retired professor in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. Officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, north of Islamabad, said nine people had been killed in the quake, including two women and two children.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said yesterday that he visited military positions near the frontline town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, as a Russian strike battered a residential building leaving dozens injured.At least one person was killed and 32 more injured in the block of flats in Zaporizhzhia, a city near the frontline, just before Zelensky announced his visit to the front, the mayor said.And officials announced the death toll from a separate overnight drone attack by Russia on a school south of the capital Kyiv had risen to seven, with another nine injured.During the visit to the front near Bakhmut — the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s invasion — Zelensky recognised the troops had a “difficult” task.“I am honoured to be here today to award our heroes. To shake hands and thank them for protecting the sovereignty of our country.”Video released by Zelensky’s office showed him meeting servicemen in a warehouse and handing out state decorations.Russian and Ukrainian forces have invested heavily in the battle for Bakhmut, even though analysts say the city carries little strategic value.Kyiv says the battle for the industrial town, which had a pre-war population of around 80,000 people, is key to holding back Russian forces along the entire eastern front.In a separate post, Zelensky said he also visited troops being treated for frontline injuries, and video showed him touring a hospital with doctors and greeting recovering soldiers.The Ukrainian leader visited Bakhmut late last year, just ahead of a historic trip to the United States, his first trip abroad since the start of Russia’s invasion last February.But Russian forces have posted steady gains towards capturing Bakhmut in the months since.An aide to the Russian-appointed head of the eastern Donetsk region in Ukraine said Wednesday that Russian forces were close to cutting off Ukraine road links to the city.“We can say that the city is practically blocked,” the aide, Yan Gagin, said in comments carried by Russian news agencies.Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which claims to be spearheading Moscow’s offensive for the town, said this week that his forces control some 70% of Bakhmut.Zelensky also distributed images of the strike on Zaporizhzhia, showing a projectile smashing into the residential building and a large plume of black smoke rising over a building.