Archive for ‘Pakistan’

24/05/2019

Indian forces kill leader of al Qaeda affiliate in Kashmir – police

SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Indian forces have killed the leader of an al Qaeda affiliated militant group in Kashmir, police said on Friday, triggering protests in parts of the disputed region.

Zakir Rashid Bhat, 25, was trapped by security forces in a three-storey house in southern Kashmir late on Thursday, said a senior police officer, adding that the house was set ablaze during the operation.

“As we were clearing debris from the house, he tried to get up. Our troops fired at him and he was killed,” said the officer, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.

For decades, separatists have fought an armed conflict against Indian rule in Kashmir, with the majority of them wanting independence for the Himalayan region, or to join New Delhi’s arch rival Pakistan.

India has stepped up an offensive against militants in the Muslim-majority region since a suicide attack in February killed 40 Indian troopers in Kashmir and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

Pakistan denies giving material support to militants in Kashmir but says it provides moral and diplomatic backing for the self-determination of Kashmiri people.

Protests by supporters of Bhat broke out in parts of Kashmir on Thursday and there were reports of demonstrations early on Friday, the police officer said.

Fearing more unrest, authorities said schools were closed and railway services suspended in the affected areas.

Any large scale unrest in the region would be a challenge for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he prepares for a second term after winning a general election on Thursday.

Bhat, a former commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest of the militant groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, founded his own group and declared its association with al Qaeda in 2017.

Also known as Zakir Musa, he was seen as a successor to Burhan Wani, a popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander whose death in 2016 sparked clashes that left 90 civilians dead.

Source: Reuters

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12/05/2019

Indians vote in penultimate phase of seven-round general election

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Voters in north India lined up early on Sunday to cast their ballots in the second-to-last round of a seven-phase general election, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing a diverse group of opposition parties seeking to deny him a second term.

More than 100 million people across seven states are eligible to vote in the sixth phase of the 39-day-long poll, which Modi began on April 11 as front-runner after an escalation of tension with neighbouring Pakistan.

But opposition parties have recently taken heart at what they see as signs Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be losing ground and have begun negotiations over a post-election alliance even before polling ends on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.

The president of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, said the main issues in the election were unemployment, distress in the countryside, the demonetisation of bank notes and a new sales tax.

“It was a good fight,” Gandhi said after he cast his vote.

“Narendra Modi used hatred, we used love. And I think love is going to win.”

A lack of new jobs – despite annual economic growth of about 7% – and the plight of farmers struggling with falling crop prices have been major worries for voters.

A new good and services tax (GST), as well as Modi’s shock ban on all high-value currency notes in 2016, hurt small and medium businesses.

Some voters in the capital, New Delhi, said they were backing Modi because they were won over by his tough stand on security.

Indian warplanes attacked what the government said was a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in February, soon after a suicide car bomb attack in the disputed Kashmir region killed 40 police officers.

BIG CHANCE FOR SMALL PARTIES?

The aggressive response stirred nationalist passions that pollsters said could favour Modi in the election.

“I have voted for Modi’s sound foreign policy and national security,” said a 36-year-old first-time voter who declined to be identified.

“The demonetisation has affected jobs growth but over time, the positive effects of GST and demonetisation would take care of jobs,” he said.

But concern about unemployment and crop prices have put the BJP on the back foot, and the opposition has in recent days felt more upbeat about its chances.

Political analysts say state-based and caste-driven parties could be decisive in determining the make-up of the next government.

“Regional parties will play a bigger role compared to the previous 5 years or even 15 years,” said K.C. Suri, a political science professor at the University of Hyderabad. “They will regain their importance in national politics.”

Recent weeks have also been marked by personal attacks between leaders, including comments from Modi about the family of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty.

At a recent rally Modi called Gandhi’s late father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, “corrupt no. 1”. The BJP says Modi was reacting to Rahul Gandhi calling him a thief.

“The political vitriolic has become intense, and negatively intense,” said Ashok Acharya, a political science professor at the University of Delhi.

“It seems as if this particular election is all about a few political personalities. It is not about issues, any kind of an agenda.”

Source: Reuters

29/04/2019

Canadian soybeans, peas and pork face new delays at China’s ports

  • Are increasing diplomatic tensions behind tighter inspections and cancelled orders?
  • Farmers switch to other crops in bid to beat barriers
Canadian exporters of pork, soybeans and peas say they are facing delays and increased inspections at Chinese ports. Photo: Reuters
Canadian exporters of pork, soybeans and peas say they are facing delays and increased inspections at Chinese ports. Photo: Reuters
A growing list of Canadian farm exports is facing obstacles at Chinese ports, raising concerns that a bitter diplomatic dispute between the two countries may be to blame.
Sellers of Canadian soybeans and peas say they are experiencing unusual obstacles and Ottawa also warned last week that China was holding up pork shipments over paperwork issues.
China has already blocked Canadian canola from Richardson International and Viterra, two of Canada’s biggest farm exporters, saying that shipments had pests. Other China-bound canola cargoes have been cancelled, forcing exporters to re-sell elsewhere at discount.

Canadian politicians have said the concerns are baseless, and noted that China detained two Canadians after Canada arrested an executive of Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd in December at the United States’ request. China has used non-tariff barriers before during diplomatic tensions, most recently against Australian coal.

China has already blocked canola from two of Canada’s biggest farm exporters, while other China-bound canola cargoes have been cancelled. Photo: AP
China has already blocked canola from two of Canada’s biggest farm exporters, while other China-bound canola cargoes have been cancelled. Photo: AP

Increasing tensions with China, a top buyer for most Canadian farm commodities, have forced farmers to plant other crops, such as wheat, that they hope will not face barriers.

China bought US$2.01 billion worth of Canada’s canola and $381 million worth of its pork last year.

The spread of African swine fever through China’s pig herd has reduced China’s need for canola and soybeans to process into feed ingredients but, since January, port soybean inspections that routinely take a few days now require three weeks, causing Chinese buyers to avoid Canadian products, according to Dwight Gerling, president of Canadian exporter DG Global.

“They’re basically sending out the signal, ‘You buy from Canada, we’re going to make your life difficult,’” Gerling said.

Earlier this year, a Chinese buyer told Gerling that a government inspector had found ants in 34 containers (roughly 680 tonnes) of the Canadian soybeans he shipped there.

Such a finding would be rare, since the soybeans were stored in concrete silos in Canada and shipped in sealed containers in late autumn, said Gerling, who concluded the buyer was trying to avoid the new hassles of buying from Canada.

“It’s just them playing games. (Beijing) is just going to keep putting the screws to us,” he said.

China’s General Administration of Customs did not reply to a request for comment. Government officials have said their canola ban is a regular inspection and quarantine measure to protect China’s farm production and ecological safety.

In a statement, the Canadian agriculture department said it could not confirm that China had imposed stricter measures against farm goods other than canola. Ottawa said this month it hoped to send a delegation to China to discuss the issue.

Gerling’s company has halted soybean sales to China and found other buyers in Southeast Asia.

An official at a state-owned crusher in southern China confirmed that port inspections had tightened on Canadian soybean cargoes.

“We don’t have Canadian cargoes coming in as we can’t blatantly commit such wrongdoing when the atmosphere is so intense,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Soybeans from Canada are facing delays when they reach Chinese ports, according to traders. Photo: Reuters
Soybeans from Canada are facing delays when they reach Chinese ports, according to traders. Photo: Reuters

Another official in northern China said his crushing plant scrapped plans to buy Canadian soybeans when the trade dispute flared.

Canada shipped $1.2 billion worth of soybeans to China in 2018, up sharply year over year, according to the Soy Canada industry group, as China and the United States fought a trade war. But sales have now slowed to a trickle.

Canola has taken the brunt of China’s measures.

Chinese buyers have cancelled at least 10 cargoes of Canadian canola in the past few weeks, according to a Singapore-based trader at a company that runs crushing facilities in China. Some cargoes, around 60,000 tonnes each, have been resold to buyers in Pakistan and Bangladesh at deep discounts, the trader said.

“It is devastating for exporters,” the trader said.

Canada gets tough with China on canola ban, demands contamination proof

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) canola futures fell to a more than four-year low on Tuesday as supplies piled up. Growers intend to sow the smallest crop in three years.

On Monday last week, Ottawa said some Canadian pork exporters used an outdated form to certify shipments to China, causing delays. Such issues arise regularly in commodity trading, but rarely with damaging consequences, said Canadian Pork Council spokesman Gary Stordy.

Canadian pea exporters fear they could be next. China imported C$533 million worth of Canadian peas in 2018, according to industry group Pulse Canada, but the pace has slowed.

Chinese authorities have begun scrutinising import documents and product samples more closely, according to Taimy Cruz, director of logistics at Toronto-based BroadGrain Commodities.

China Inspection and Quarantine Authorities now tests samples of each pea shipment before authorising it for import. They also restrict in some cases the number of soybean shipments allowed under one licence, slowing the flow, she said.

Similarly, import authorities now require soybean shipments that change vessels in Singapore and Shanghai – a routine practice called trans-shipping – to reach their destination on a single ship, she said.

While BroadGrain has not seen its cargoes turned back, it has reduced sales to China to avoid risk, concentrating on the Indian subcontinent and South America, she said.

“We have to be extra careful,” Cruz said. “They are very strict now.”

Source: SCMP

29/04/2019

Police break up clashes in West Bengal, Mumbai votes in fourth phase of massive poll

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police broke up clashes between rival groups of voters in West Bengal on Monday as some of India’s richest families and Bollywood stars also cast their ballots in Mumbai during the fourth phase of a massive, staggered general election.

In West Bengal, a populous eastern state crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid, supporters of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clashed with others from the regional Trinamool Congress, police said.

TV footage showed armed security forces chasing away people wielding sticks, although it was initially difficult to determine the scale of the clashes.

There were no immediate reports of any poll-related injuries in West Bengal, where at least one person was killed and three injured during the third phase of voting last week.

The BJP is in a direct, and sometimes bloody, fight in West Bengal with Trinamool, whose chief Mamata Banerjee is one of Modi’s biggest critics and a potential prime ministerial candidate.

More than 127 million people are eligible to vote in this round of the seven-phase election held across 71 seats in nine states. Modi’s coalition won more than 75 percent of the seats in the previous election in 2014.

Many of the constituencies are in Uttar Pradesh in the north and western India’s Maharashtra, where the financial capital Mumbai is located. Uttar Pradesh elects the most lawmakers, with Maharashtra next. Both states are ruled by the BJP and its allies.
However, political analysts say the BJP may struggle to repeat its strong showing this time due mainly to a jobs shortage and weak farm prices, issues upon which the main opposition Congress party has seized.

‘SOME PROGRESS’

First-time voter Ankita Bhavke, a college student in Mumbai, said she voted for economic development.

“I want the country to be at par with the best in the world,” she said. “There’s been some progress in the last five years.”

India’s financial markets were closed on Monday for the election.

Mumbai is home to the massive Hindi film industry, as well as Asia’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s richest banker, Uday Kotak.
Ambani, who heads Reliance Industries, and Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, created a stir this month by publicly endorsing an opposition Congress party candidate from their upscale South Mumbai constituency.
Mumbai, which has six seats, is India’s wealthiest city but ageing and insufficient infrastructure is a major concern. Six people were killed last month when part of a pedestrian bridge collapsed, recalling memories of a 2017 rush-hour stampede that killed at least 22 people on a narrow pedestrian bridge.
The election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million voters, started on April 11 with Modi in the lead amid heightened tension with long-time enemy Pakistan.
The last phase of voting is on May 19, with results released four days later.
There are a total of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Modi sent warplanes into Pakistan in late February in response to a suicide attack by an Islamist militant group based there that killed 40 Indian police in the disputed Kashmir region.
Modi has sought votes on his tough response towards militancy and in recent days has evoked the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in nearby Sri Lanka.
Maidul Islam, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, said long queues outside polling stations would indicate whether Modi’s national security pitch was working.
“Whenever there is a BJP kind of a wave, you see a higher voter turnout,” he said.
Source: Reuters
28/04/2019

A really simple guide to India’s general election

Indian electionsImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

It is an election like no other. Those eligible to vote in India’s upcoming polls represent more than 10% of the world’s population and they will take part in the largest democratic exercise in history.

Voters will choose representatives for the Indian parliament, and in turn decide if Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi will run the country for another five years.

What is at stake?

Whoever wins these elections and forms a government will control the destiny of the world’s largest democracy.

While they are in charge,  is likely to overtake the UK’s and become the world’s fifth-largest.

Its population meanwhile – at more than 1.34bn people – is predicted to soon surpass China’s 1.39bn.

Hundreds of millions of Indians have escaped  since the turn of the millennium but huge challenges remain.

 is a major concern and is especially high among young people.

Millions of  about low crop prices.

How the nuclear-armed country engages with the outside world – and manages a tricky  – is also of immense importance to international security.

Graphic: The immense scale of India's elections

Who is being elected?

Indians are voting for members of parliament and the job of prime minister tends to go to the leader of the party or coalition with most seats. The current PM is .

His main rival is opposition leader .

Parliament has two houses: the Lok Sabha and the .

The lower house –  – is the one to watch.

It has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

At the last election in 2014, Mr Modi’s  won 282 seats.

Mr Gandhi’s  only took 44 seats in 2014 – down from 206 in 2009.

Graphic: The battle for the Lower House of the Indian Parliament

Why does voting take so long?

Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

Different states will vote at different times.

Votes will be counted on 23 May and results are expected on the same day.

Who will win?

This election is being seen as a referendum on Mr Modi, a polarising figure adored by many but also accused of stoking divisions between  and the country’s 200 million Muslims.

Until a few months ago, Mr Modi and his BJP party were seen as the overwhelming favourites. But the  in December’s regional elections injected a sense of serious competition into the national vote.

Analysts are divided on whether Mr Modi will be able to win a simple majority again.

A recent escalation of tensions with Pakistan has given the BJP a new and popular issue to campaign on.

It will be hoping that a focus on patriotism will help the party to get past the serious challenge mounted by powerful regional parties and Congress.

Source: The BBC

25/04/2019

China to promote space cooperation for UN sustainable development

CHANGSHA, April 24 (Xinhua) — China will promote international space cooperation to contribute to sustainable development goals set by the United Nations, a senior official with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said here Wednesday.

“China is to build a new type of cooperative and win-win relationship with other space agencies and international organizations around the world, to jointly enhance the role of space industries in facilitating sustainable development,” said CNSA deputy director Wu Yanhua at the United Nations/China Forum on Space Solutions: Realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Over the years, the use of space has been recognized as one of the key components to successfully achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN, according to Simonetta Di Pippo, director of United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

In order to quantify the impact, a dedicated study was published in early 2018 and shows that around 40 percent of the 169 targets underpinning the 17 SDGs benefit from the use of geo-location and earth observation satellites, said Simonetta at the forum.

Committed to better service for countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, especially developing countries, China is constructing a space information corridor and sharing satellite resources, according to Wu.

“China’s earth observation satellites have actively supported the construction of the Belt and Road spatial information corridor, vigorously developed space international cooperation,” said Wang Cheng, a researcher from the CNSA.

FY-2H, the meteorological satellite located over the Indian Ocean, can fill the observation gap and provide weather monitoring service to countries along the Belt and Road, said Tang Shihao from China Meteorological Administration.

The unique strength of satellites in supporting telemedicine, epidemic prevention and control, and distance education, social security services can be improved, Wu said.

Independently constructed and operated by China, the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System has been widely used in many countries and regions. “The system started to provide RNSS (Radio Navigation Satellite System) services worldwide last December,” said Gao Weiguang from China Satellite Navigation Project Center.

Wu Yanhua said that China was developing a space economy and supporting commercial space development by pushing forward the commercialization of space technologies.

As the provider of Long March launch services, the China Great Wall Industry corporation (CGWIC) has performed 48 dedicated launch services and 17 piggyback launch services for international clients with high successful rate and competitive pricing, according to Zhou Yuanying from CGWIC.

Wu said that China would undertake monitoring and research of global climate change by taking advantage of satellites, to achieve the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.

By pushing forward international space cooperation, China is also committed to joint efforts to tackle contemporary issues with global impact including poverty, hunger, natural disasters and environmental pollution, Wu added.

Many countries, in particular developing countries, need to make the best possible use of space assets to support the SDGs. At the same time, a lot of space agencies and companies are struggling to find partners/users to which they can offer their particular space solutions, Simonetta said.

“This Forum will build on previous UN workshops and symposiums to provide a unique platform for users and space solution providers to forge partnerships and thus contribute concretely to the achievement of the SDGs.” Simonetta said.

Also on Wednesday, the CNSA inked agreements on space cooperation separately with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, Turkey, Ethiopia and Pakistan.

Since 2016, China has set April 24 as the country’s Space Day. Activities on Space Day have become a window for the Chinese public and the world to gain a better understanding of China’s aerospace progress.

The theme this year is to “pursue space dreams for win-win cooperation.”

Source: Xinhua

25/04/2019

Belt and Road: China showcases initiative to world leaders

Aerial view of flower beds reading 'Chinese Dream' at Zhouji Green Expo Garden to welcome the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on April 24, 2019 in Nantong, Jiangsu Province of China.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Flower beds reading ‘Chinese Dream’ welcome delegates to the Belt and Road forum in Beijing

World leaders are gathering in Beijing from Thursday for a summit on China’s Belt and Road initiative amid growing criticism of the project.

The sweeping infrastructure project aims to expand global trade links.

The initiative has funded trains, roads, and ports in many countries, but has left some saddled with debt.

Some see it as a bold bid for geopolitical influence, with the US particularly critical of China’s so-called “debt diplomacy”.

Chinese officials have tried to address concerns surrounding President Xi Jinping’s project, which is expected to involve more than $1 trillion (£774.9bn) in investments.

At the first day of the forum in Beijing, Chinese Finance Minister Liu Kun said China aims to make the Belt and Road initiative sustainable and to prevent debt risks.

Last year, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a speech Belt and Road was not a “geostrategic concept” but was part of efforts to build “a community with a shared future for mankind together with countries around the globe.”

Leaders from 37 countries and dozens of officials are due to attend the three-day summit, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Italy recently became the first developed economy to sign up to China’s Belt and Road programme, raising concerns among its allies.

Western governments, and particularly the US, are increasingly wary of China’s growing influence.

The US, which has fought a trade war with China over the past year, has been particularly critical of the project.

Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech last year China was using “debt diplomacy” to expand its influence around the world.

Debt trap?

Other countries that are set to benefit from the project also seem to be growing more cautious.

Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan have all expressed concerns about the programme. Recipient countries worry about debt accumulation and increased Chinese influence.

Sri Lanka has been particularly affected – it had to hand over control over of a port to China in 2017 to help repay foreign loans.

Tom Rafferty, China economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said China is using this week’s summit to “reposition and, it hopes, revive the initiative after it lost its way in 2018 amid project delays and a slowdown in associated lending.”

Mr Rafferty said the Chinese government “wants to convince the international community that the Belt and Road Initiative is inclusive and policy concessions in areas such as debt sustainability” are likely.

Source: The BBC

21/04/2019

Indian, Australian warships arrive in China for naval parade

QINGDAO, China (Reuters) – Warships from India, Australia and several other nations arrived in the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao on Sunday to attend a naval parade, part of a goodwill visit as China extends the hand of friendship despite regional tensions and suspicions.

China on Tuesday will mark 70 years since the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, where it will show off new warships including nuclear submarines and destroyers at a major review in the waters off Qingdao.

China says warships from about a dozen nations are also taking part – one diplomatic source with direct knowledge said it was 13 countries in total – and the PLA is putting its best foot forward to welcome them.

India, which has been at odds with China over their disputed land border and Beijing’s support for India’s regional rival Pakistan, has sent stealth guided-missile destroyer the “INS Kolkata” to take part, along with a supply ship.

“We bring to you one of the best ships that we have made. It is the pride of the nation and the navy, and we are very happy to be here,” Captain Aditya Hara told reporters on the dockside after disembarking from the ship in Qingdao.

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters the “Kolkata” had sailed through the Taiwan Strait to get to Qingdao, a sensitive waterway that separates China from self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as sacred Chinese territory.

“We headed on a direct route and we are very happy that we were facilitated by the PLA Navy and they ensured that we had a safe passage to Qingdao,” Hara said, when asked if they had sailed via the Taiwan Strait.

Australia, a close U.S. ally, has sent the “HMAS Melbourne” guided-missile frigate to Qingdao, though officials declined to make the captain available for interview.

China and Australia have sparred over Australian suspicions of Chinese interference in the country’s politics and Australia’s banning of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from supplying equipment for its planned 5G broadband network.

Japan has also sent a destroyer to Qingdao, in the first visit of a Japanese navy ship to China since 2011, according to Japanese media.

Ties between China and Japan, the world’s second and third-largest economies, have been plagued by a long-running territorial dispute over a cluster of East China Sea islets and suspicion in China about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution.

But they have sought to improve relations more recently, with Abe visiting Beijing in October, when both countries pledged to forge closer ties and signed a broad range of agreements including a $30 billion currency swap pact.

The other countries taking part include China’s close friend Russia, and three countries which have sparred with China over competing claims in the disputed South China Sea: Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Pakistan, a very close Chinese ally, is not on the list of countries officials have provided which are sending ships to the parade.
Source: Reuters
20/04/2019

Xi to address Belt and Road forum next week: FM

CHINA-BEIJING-BRF-PRESS BRIEFING (CN)

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (C) speaks during a press briefing for the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing, capital of China, April 19, 2019. The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held from April 25 to 27 in Beijing, Wang Yi announced Friday. (Xinhua/Zhai Jianlan)

BEIJING, April 19 (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver a keynote speech at the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) to be held from April 25 to 27 in Beijing, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced Friday.

Leaders including heads of state and government from 37 countries will attend the forum’s roundtable summit, Wang told a press briefing.

Wang said 12 thematic forums and a CEO conference would be held on April 25, the opening ceremony and a high-level meeting on April 26, and the leaders’ roundtable on April 27.

Xi will attend the opening ceremony and deliver a keynote speech. He will also chair the leaders’ roundtable and brief media from home and abroad about the outcomes after the roundtable, Wang said, adding that Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan will also hold a welcoming banquet for the leaders and representatives.

According to Wang, the 37 countries are Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Brunei, Cambodia, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The secretary-general of the United Nations and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund will attend the forum, Wang said, adding that senior representatives of France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the European Union will also participate.

Noting that the BRF is the top-level platform for international cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, Wang said the conference next week would be of landmark significance.

The theme of the second BRF is “Belt and Road Cooperation, Shaping a Brighter Shared Future.” Wang said the main purpose is to promote the high-quality development of Belt and Road cooperation, which is the common aspiration of countries participating in the initiative.

Speaking highly of the fruitful results yielded since the initiative was launched in 2013, Wang said the second BRF was greatly welcomed worldwide with some 5,000 participants from more than 150 countries and 90 international organizations having confirmed their attendance, covering areas from five continents and different walks of life such as government, civil society, business and academia.

According to Wang, this year’s forum will have 12 thematic forums, twice of that during the first forum in 2017, and the CEO conference will be held for the first time. A joint communique will be released after the leaders’ roundtable and other consensus reached during the forum will be issued in a report.

The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by Xi in 2013, aims at enhancing all-around connectivity through infrastructure construction, exploring new driving force for the world economic growth, and building a new platform for world economic cooperation, according to Wang.

Stressing that Xi and leaders from other countries blueprinted the initiative in 2017, Wang said the progress in the past two years shows that the initiative conforms to the trend of the times featuring peace, development, cooperation and win-win and accords with the common aspiration of openness and joint development of all countries.

“As the host country, we will maintain close communication and coordination with all parties to prepare for the forum with openness, inclusiveness and transparency, upholding the principle of consultation and cooperation for shared benefits,” Wang said.

He said the forum would voice the firm support for multilateralism and an open world economy, enrich the principles of cooperation of the Belt and Road Initiative, build a network of partnership, and establish more mechanisms for high-quality development.

Bilateral, trilateral and multilateral cooperation has been reinforcing each other under the initiative, laying a solid foundation for a closer and more wide-ranging partnership, he said.

Wang said China will showcase the outcomes and introduce the measures of its reform and opening-up to the world, adding that this will allow China to share the dividends of its economic growth, promote the Belt and Road Initiative, and bring more opportunities to the development of all countries as well as the building of the Belt and Road.

“I believe that the forum will inject stronger impetus into the world economy, open even broader horizon for the development of the countries, and contribute to the building of a community with a shared future for humanity, ” said Wang.

Source: Xinhua

18/04/2019

India election 2019: Can West Bengal’s female candidates win?

A supporter throws marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
Presentational white space

Women make up nearly half of India’s 900 million voters, but they are still poorly represented in the country’s law-making bodies. One political party is trying to correct the balance by nominating 41% female candidates. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey travelled to the state of West Bengal to see how they are faring.

On a bright sunny morning, as an open jeep decorated with bright yellow and orange flowers hurtles along the dirt track from one village to the next, women in colourful saris and men rush to greet Mahua Moitra.

They shower bright orange marigold petals on her, place garlands around her neck and many reach out to shake and kiss her hands. She waves at them, greeting them with her palms joined: “Give me your blessings.”

Young men and women whip out their smartphones to take photos and selfies. On the way, she’s offered coconut water and sweets.

Ms Moitra, who is contesting the general election as a candidate of the state’s governing Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), is campaigning in her constituency Krishnanagar.

Women offer sweets to Mahua Moitra
Image caption On the campaign trail, women offer coconut water and sweets
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Women throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
Image caption Supporters throw marigold petals at Mahua Moitra
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In one village, party workers tell her about an old man who’s too ill to come to meet her, so she walks to his home to greet him.

Her jeep is followed by dozens of bikes and their riders, all young men, chanting slogans like “Long live Trinamool Congress, Long live Mamata Banerjee.”

The loud, colourful procession is led by a small truck, fitted with loudspeakers, from which announcements asking people to vote for Ms Moitra are played on a loop.

With the election season well under way in India and political leaders criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, addressing rallies, I’m travelling across the country to see if the high-decibel campaigns are addressing the real issues that actually affect millions of people. One of them is getting more women into parliament.

In India, only 11% of members of parliament are women, and in state assemblies it’s 9%. In a list of 193 countries this year, India was ranked 149th for female representation in parliament – below Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

A bill to reserve 33% of seats for women in parliament and regional assemblies has been pending since 1996, so the decision by the TMC – led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee – to give 41% of her party nominations to women has created a huge buzz.

Mahua Moitra during her road show
Image caption Ms Moitra quit her banker’s job in London to return to India and enter politics
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Ms Banerjee, who set up the TMC in 1998 after falling out with the Congress party, is a feisty politician who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012.

Her female candidates, says my BBC Bengali colleague Subhajyoti Ghosh, are an “interesting mix” of career politicians and first-timers. They include actors, doctors, a tribal activist and the 25-year-old widow of a recently-murdered politician.

Ms Moitra, the TMC’s national spokesperson and a member of the state assembly since 2016, is among 17 women who have made it to the party’s list of 42 general election nominees.

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A former investment banker with JP Morgan, she gave up a well-paying job in London in 2009 to return to the heat and dust of Indian politics.

Her decision left her family aghast. Her parents, she told me, thought she was “insane”. Some party workers too had their doubts – “she’s a memsahib”, they said at the time, “she won’t survive”.

A poster of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal
Image caption Mamata Banerjee was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012
Presentational white spaceBut she has survived – and thrived. In 2016, she won the Karimpur assembly seat that no non-Left party had won since 1972 and has now set her eyes on the national parliament.

She’s agreed to let me follow her on the campaign trail, so for two days I’ve been a “fly on the wall” – standing behind her in her jeep, travelling in her car, watching her strategise with party workers, aides and confidants.

The previous evening, I had watched her be the chief guest at a college cricket match and address a gathering at the local market in Plassey.

A four-hour drive from Kolkata, Plassey is the site of the famous 1757 battle between the British East India Company and the local ruler supported by the French.

Ms Moitra takes her spot to speak and clearly takes aim at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as she talks about a deadly suicide attack in Kashmir and India’s subsequent air raid in Pakistan.

The bike riders
Image caption Her jeep is followed by dozens of supporters on bikes
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Women shaking hands
Image caption Many women reach out to shake hands with Ms Moitra

“What’s the point of saying you killed all those terrorists in Pakistan? It’s not important who you killed in Pakistan or how many. What’s important is you failed to protect our soldiers.”

She talks about how the government has failed to create jobs and accuses the BJP of trying to divide Hindus and Muslims.

“You have taken away our livelihoods and you’re trying to teach us about [the Hindu god] Ram and [Muslim saint] Rahim? I don’t have to write my religion on my forehead,” she declares to loud claps from her supporters.

Elections in the past were to change the government, she says, but this election is to save the constitution of India. “It is no ordinary vote.”

Her main rival is the BJP’s Kalyan Chaubey, a former footballer who played in goal for India. So drawing a football analogy, she declares: “I’m an A-league centre-forward player, stop my goal if you can. I am here to win.”

Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, a founder member of the TMC and two-term MP, says to nominate so many women is part of a “continuous process” followed by Mamata Banerjee because “you can’t develop a society without uplifting the status of its women”.

In the last general election in 2014, she points out that the party nominated 33% women and 12 of their 34 MPs in the outgoing lower house were women.

Ms Banerjee, she says, believes that gender sensitive laws will come only if more women are in power.

At a campaign rally that Dr Ghosh Dastidar addresses in Kumhra Kashipur village in her constituency Barasat, women are seated in the front rows.

Their opinion though is divided over whether having more women in parliament will actually benefit other women.

Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar being welcomed in her constituency
Image caption Dr Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar is among the founder members of the TMC and a two-term MP
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Supriya Biswas says it’s easier if their MP is a woman because then it’s easier to approach her. “For, who can understand a woman better than a woman?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli, who live just across from the rally ground, point to the broken roads near their homes and complain about poor medical facilities in their village. They say that the candidate’s gender is “inconsequential” and what’s important is “who works for our benefit”.

Studies, however, show that female representatives bring economic growth to their constituencies because they are more concerned than men about issues such as water supply, electricity, road connectivity and health facilities.

Saswati Ghosh, professor of economics at Kolkata’s City College, says that politics in India is “still very patriarchal” and it’s “absolutely necessary” to elect more women MPs.

“It is important to have more women in lawmaking bodies because I think after a certain number, you’ll reach the threshold level and that will lead to change. I don’t know if 33% is the magic number that will change the quality of discourse, maybe 25% can do the trick?”

Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate's gender is "inconsequential"
Image caption Archana Mallick and Meena Mouli say a candidate’s gender is “inconsequential”

Critics, however, question whether celebrities are the right candidates to bring about that change.

Prof Ghosh says actors and celebrities make for “winnable candidates” and that’s why all parties choose them even though sometimes they may not be the right candidates to reach that threshold.

But, she says that Ms Banerjee is a strong leader who’s regarded by many women as “a role model who inspires more women to come into politics”.

And that’s something that many Indians think the country sorely needs.

In their manifestos, the main opposition Congress party has promised to pass the women’s reservation bill, if elected to power. So has the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, although it had made similar promises in its last manifesto and did nothing about it.

By allotting 41% seats to women, Ms Banerjee has shown that one doesn’t need to set artificial quotas to elect more women.

Source: The BBC

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