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India elects first president from tribal community

Lawmakers chose India’s first president from the country’s tribal communities on Thursday (21), which could boost the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party among marginalised groups ahead of the 2024 general election.

Droupadi Murmu, a 64-year-old teacher turned politician, will be the second woman to hold the largely ceremonial role as head of the republic when she takes office on 25 July at the start of a five-year term.

More than 4,500 state and federal lawmakers voted in the presidential election on Monday and ballots were counted on Thursday. Murmu’s victory was assured as she was backed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which dominates federal and state politics.

“A daughter of India hailing from a tribal community born in a remote part of eastern India has been elected our President!” Modi said on Twitter.

Born into a family of the Santhal tribe from the state of Odisha, Murmu started her career as a school teacher and actively participated in community issues.

She later joined mainstream politics and served as a BJP state lawmaker in Odisha before becoming governor of the eastern state of Jharkhand.

Her election is seen as the BJP’s outreach to India’s tribal communities, which comprise more than 8% of its 1.4 billion people.

“The BJP will want to offset any anti-incumbency of the last 10 years in 2024, and one of the ways to do that is to go for a new vote-base,” political columnist Neerja Choudhary told Reuters.

Murmu beat the opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha, a former BJP finance minister and now a fierce critic of Modi, winning nearly twice as many votes.

The Indian president acts as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces but the prime minister holds executive powers. Murmu will take over from Ram Nath Kovind.

The president, nevertheless, has a key role during political crises, such as when a general election is inconclusive, by deciding which party is in the best position to form a government.

Source: Reuters

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Ukraine tells citizens: Leave Russia now

Ukraine has told its citizens not to visit Russia and warned any Ukrainians already there to leave immediately.

"The foreign ministry recommends that citizens of Ukraine refrain from any trips to the Russian Federation, and those who are in this country to leave its territory immediately," a statement says (in Russian).

It says the "intensification of Russian aggression against Ukraine" means it won't be able to offer consular assistance to Ukrainians in Russia.

The move could affect several million Ukrainian nationals who are estimated to live in Russia.

(BBC)

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U.S envoy encourages peaceful protesting

U.S Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung has reiterated the necessity to maintain peace during protests.

“Violence is not an answer. If you are going to protest, please do so peacefully,” the Ambassador tweeted.

She also requested military and police personnel to grant peaceful protesters the space and security to do so.

Ambassador Chung further stressed that chaos and force will not fix the economy nor would it bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now.

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India court sentences 38 to death over 2008 blasts

A court in India has sentenced 38 people to death for their role in a series of bomb blasts in 2008 in the western state of Gujarat.

Fifty-seven people were killed and hundreds injured in the bombings, which took place in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat.

The court in Ahmedabad also sentenced 11 other convicts to life in prison until death.

The accused can challenge their sentences in a higher court.

On 26 July 2008, around 20 bombs exploded in the space of an hour across residential areas, market places, public transport and hospitals in Ahmedabad. Several unexploded bombs were also found.

The Indian Mujahideen - then an unknown Islamic militant group - had claimed responsibility for the attacks in an email sent to some media outlets.

The Indian government declared the group a terrorist organisation and banned it in 2010 after it was accused of an attack on a German bakery in Pune in which 17 people were killed and scores injured.

In the Ahmedabad blasts, 78 people had faced trial - one of the accused, Ayaz Saiyed, later helped investigating agencies.

The remaining 28 have been acquitted.

The prosecution examined 1,163 witnesses over the course of the trial, according to The Indian Express.

Special Judge AR Patel also ordered to give compensation of 100,000 rupees (£982; $1,337) each to families of the victims.

In 2013, authorities had said they foiled an attempt by some of the accused to tunnel their way out of jail.

(BBC)

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Japanese former Prime Minister Abe dies after being shot

Japanese former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died, public broadcaster NHK said today (08).

Abe, 67, had been delivering a stump speech near a train station in the western city of Nara when he was shot by an assailant.

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At least 13 dead after falling into well in India

At least 13 people have died after falling into a well during a wedding ceremony in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Police said the victims - all women and children - were sitting on a metal slab covering the well when it collapsed under their weight.

Two more people have been injured in the accident, which took place in Kushinagar district.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the deaths "heart-wrenching".

The tragedy took place on Wednesday evening during the traditional "haldi" ceremony, in which relatives apply turmeric paste to the faces of the bride and groom as a marker of prosperity.

When the slab broke, other guests ran to rescue the victims and took them to a nearby hospital.

While 11 people were declared dead immediately, two others died later during treatment, police said.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has asked district authorities to assist the families of the victims.

(BBC)

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Nepal’s Tara Air flight missing, 22 onboard

A small passenger plane operated by a private airline in Nepal went missing today (29) with 22 people on board, including four Indians, airline officials said.

The Tara Air 9 NAET twin-engine aircraft lost contact while flying from the tourist town of Pokhara, some 200 km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, to Jomsom, about 80 km to the northwest. The aircraft, which was on a 15-minute scheduled flight, lost contact shortly after take-off at 9:55 am local time.

“The aircraft was seen over the sky of Jomsom in Mustang district and then had diverted to Mt. Dhaulagiri after which it hadn’t come into contact,” Chief District Officer Netra Prasad Sharma said.

The aircraft was hosting four Indians and three Japanese nationals. The remaining were Nepali citizens and the aircraft had 22 passengers including the crew, according to the State Television.

As per the police officials, the aircraft has been suspected to have crashed in the “Titi” area of Lete in the mountainous Mustang district, which is the fifth-largest district of the Himalayan nation and hosts the pilgrimage of Muktinath Temple.

“Locals from Titi have called and informed us that they have heard an unusual sound as if there was some bang. We are deploying a helicopter to the area for the search operation,” Ram Kumar Dani, DSP of District Police Office, Mustang said.

The Nepal government has deployed two private helicopters from Mustang and Pokhara for the search for missing aircraft. Nepal Army chopper is also being prepared to be deployed for the search, said Phadindra Mani Pokharel, spokesperson at Home Ministry said.

Tara Air boasts of having the “widest domestic flights network” in Nepal. “No other airlines in Nepal flies to the remote STOL (short takeoff and landing) sectors as extensively and frequently as we do. We transport essential supplies to the hinterlands, including food grains, medicines, relief materials and operate flights for rescue purposes,” the airline website says.

Nepal, home to the world’s highest mountain, does have a record of accidents on its extensive domestic air network, with changeable weather and airstrips in difficult mountain locations.

Source: NDTV

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U.S. commando raid in Syria targets senior Jihadist figure

U.S. Special Operations forces carried out what the Pentagon called a “successful” counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria early Thursday.

The risky commando assault targeted someone believed to be a senior jihadist leader, but rescue workers said women and children were among at least 13 people killed during the raid.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official said the target of the raid was the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, but U.S. officials did not confirm that and have not said who the target was.

The helicopter-borne commando assault resembled the raid in October 2019 that culminated in the death of Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, the previous leader of the Islamic State.

That raid took place not far from the one on Thursday.

“Last night at my direction, U.S. military forces in northwest Syria successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation to protect the American people and our Allies, and make the world a safer place,” President Biden said in a statement. “Thanks to the skill and bravery of our Armed Forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi—the leader of ISIS.”

(Source: The New York Times)

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Myanmar’s Suu Kyi handed 5 year jail term for corruption

A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi to five years in jail on Wednesday (27) after finding her guilty in the first of 11 corruption cases against her, according to a source with knowledge of proceedings.

The Nobel laureate, who led Myanmar for five years before being forced from power in a coup in early 2021, has been charged with at least 18 offences, which carry combined maximum jail terms of nearly 190 years if found guilty.

The judge in the capital Naypyitaw handed down the verdict within moments of the court convening, said the source, who declined to be identified because the trial is being held behind closed doors, with information restricted.

The case centred on allegations that Suu Kyi, 76, accepted 11.4 kg (402 oz) of gold and cash payments totalling $600,000 from her protege-turned-accuser, former Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein.

Suu Kyi had denied the charges and called the allegations “absurd”.

It was not immediately clear if Suu Kyi would be transferred to a prison. She has been held in an undisclosed location, where junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said she could remain after earlier guilty verdicts in other cases.

The international community has dismissed the trials as farcical and has demanded her immediate release.

The military says Suu Kyi is on trial because she committed crimes and is being given due process by an independent judiciary. A spokesman for the junta was not immediately available for comment.

Since her arrest on the morning of the Feb. 1 coup last year, Suu Kyi has been charged with multiple crimes from violations of electoral and state secrets laws to incitement and corruption, accusations her supporters say are trumped up to kill off any chance of a political comeback.

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New Zealand PM cancels her wedding amid Omicron wave

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has cancelled her wedding after announcing new Covid restrictions.

The entire country is set to be placed under the highest level of Covid restrictions after an outbreak of the Omicron variant.

The restrictions include a cap of 100 vaccinated people at events and mask wearing in shops and on public transport.

New Zealand has recorded 15,104 Covid cases and 52 deaths.

Ms Ardern confirmed to reporters on Sunday that her wedding to television host Clarke Gayford would not be going ahead.

"I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic, the most gutting of which is the inability to be with a loved one sometimes when they are gravely ill," she said.

"That will far, far outstrip any sadness I experience," she added.

The new restrictions come into force at midnight on Sunday local time (11:00 GMT).

It comes after a cluster of nine Omicron cases were confirmed.

A family who had attended a wedding in Auckland tested positive after returning home to the South Island. A flight attendant also contracted the virus. Officials say the level of community transmission from the group is expected to be high.

Indoor hospitality venues and events will have their capacity capped to 100 vaccinated people or 25 if vaccine passes are not being used. This also includes gyms and weddings, the New Zealand Herald reports.

Students including year four and above will be required to wear masks in school.

New Zealand has operated under strict Covid rules since the start of the pandemic, allowing it to keep deaths to a minimum. It was one of the first countries in the world to close its borders and quashed earlier outbreaks with lockdowns.

But since the emergence of the Delta variant, Ms Ardern has switched from a total Covid elimination strategy to pushing for higher vaccination rates and treating the virus as endemic.

It's thought that about 94% of the country's population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated and 56% of those have had their boosters.

Last year, the country announced plans to reopen borders as part of a staged reopening. Foreign travellers will be the last group to be granted entry into the country, from 30 April.

(BBC)

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Russia declares a partial ceasefire

Russia declared a partial ceasefire on Saturday to allow humanitarian corridors out of the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, Russia’s Defence Ministry said.

“From 1000 am Moscow time (0700 GMT), the Russian side declares a ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave Mariupol and Volnovakha,” Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying.

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Almost entire town leveled after explosives truck crash in Ghana

At least 17 people were killed in a blast in western Ghana today (21) after a motorcycle collided with a vehicle carrying explosives, according to officials.

"The reports that I'm getting from the bureaus, hospitals, is that [there are] roughly about 17 people that have passed away," Isaac Dasmani, the municipal chief executive for the Prestea Huni-Valley Municipal Assembly, told local media.

An additional 59 people were injured in the explosion, according to AFP.

The blast appeared to have completely leveled Apiate, a small town in western Ghana.

Kwadwo Bempah, who works in the area and heard the explosion, told CNN that nearly every building there had collapsed, trapping people and animals under rubble.

The dead, he said, were "all around."

"It is a real tragedy for Ghana," Bempah said.

Police said most of the victims have been rescued and admitted to various hospitals and clinics. No more details were released on their condition.

"The police and other emergency service providers have activated a full emergency recovery exercise," a police statement said. "We urge all to remain calm as we manage this unfortunate situation."

"The police have taken charge of the situation providing security to enable the emergency workers including the Ghana National Fire Service, NADMO and the Ambulance Service to manage the situation," another statement read.

"The public has been advised to move out of the area to nearby towns for their safety while recovery efforts are underway," it added.

The police statement urged nearby towns to open classrooms, churches and other buildings to accommodate surviving victims.

Apiate, Bempah said, is small and residential, with a population of no more than 10,000. "Most of the people are farmers and miners," he said.

In the initial aftermath of the accident, Bempah said the local community stepped in as first responders, pulling people and animals from collapsed debris and rushing the wounded to hospitals before ambulances arrived.

The explosives were being delivered to a nearby mine run by Chirano Gold Mines, according to a press officer for the company, Kwabena Owusu-Ampratwum.

"We are closely monitoring the situation and the rescue efforts," Owusu-Ampratwum said.

Rescue workers arrive at the scene of the explosion in Apiate on Thursday.

Ghana has witnessed a series of gas explosions in recent years, with one of the worst blasts killing more than 150 people in the capital Accra in 2015. The explosion occurred as hundreds of residents sought shelter at a gas station from heavy rains.

Last October, at least one person was killed and another injured in a gas-related explosion in Accra, local media reported.

In the same month, three people died in another blaze in the country's Ashanti region.

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