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Narendra Modi rides nationalist fervor ahead of India election

NEW DELHI: India’s prime minister is rallying his nationalist base as the world’s biggest democracy begins a general election on Thursday, but it has become tighter than anticipated, thanks to dwindling incomes for farmers and scarce jobs.Polls predict Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) alliance will just win a parliamentary majority, a sharp drop from…

Narendra Modi rides nationalist fervor ahead of India election

NEW DELHI: India’s prime minister is rallying his nationalist base as the world’s biggest democracy begins a general election on Thursday, but it has become tighter than anticipated, thanks to dwindling incomes for farmers and scarce jobs.Polls predict Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) alliance will just win a parliamentary majority, a sharp drop from his commanding mandate five years ago, when he vowed to turn India into an economic and military power.But his government’s inability to create a million jobs every month, and ease farmers’ distress over low product prices, has taken the shine off what is still the world’s fastest growing major economy.From sugar farmers in northern Uttar Pradesh going unpaid for produce, to small businesses in the south shut because they are unable to meet the requirements of a new, unifying national tax, discontent has brewed for months.“The election has become a lot closer than we think, sitting in Delhi,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of a Modi biography and books on Hindu nationalist groups. “There is anger and disillusionment in the countryside.”In December, alarm bells rang for Modi’s Hindu nationalists after it lost three key states to the main opposition Congress and its allies, led by Rahul Gandhi.But a surge in tension with traditional foe Pakistan in February has pushed Modi ahead, as he projects himself as a defender of national security and paints his rivals as weak-kneed, sometimes even questioning their patriotism.“People were very unhappy, angry that Modi makes tall promises and doesn’t deliver,” said Shiv Chandra Rai, an Uber driver in the commercial capital of Mumbai.“Everyone said there are no jobs, everywhere farmers are struggling. But on this issue of Pakistan we are confused now. Some people feel we have to vote for Modi on this issue, it is a national problem.”Modi ordered air strikes on a suspected camp of a militant group in Pakistan after it claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing in Indian Kashmir, launching the first such raid since the neighbors’ last war in 1971.The nuclear-armed foes engaged in a dogfight after Pakistan sent warplanes into India the next day. They also threatened each other with missile strikes, before Western powers, led by the United States, pulled them back.Modi claimed victory, vowing more similar action if militant attacks continue in Kashmir. He dismissed concerns over the effectiveness of the strikes and the risk of stirring tension with Pakistan.“Why do these people get so disturbed when India acts strongly against the forces of terror?” he asked tens of thousands of cheering supporters wearing saffron headbands at a rally this week in western India, referring to the opposition.A regional leader of a Hindu group linked to the BJP and his bodyguard were killed by gunmen who burst into a hospital in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, police said, underscoring the BJP’s concern over security in the region.Militants fighting Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir have warned people not to vote on Thursday.The BJP was also targeted in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh, when a bomb set off by left-wing militants killed a regional party legislator and four people with him.The Congress, led by Gandhi, and his charismatic sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who took up a party post in January, wants to steer the campaign back to Modi’s broken promises on the economy.Gandhi has pledged a monthly payment of 6,000 rupees for the poorest families, about 250 million of a population of 1.3 billion, in a bid to stamp out poverty.“Congress is trying to pitch in the election with regard to farm distress, rural crisis, unemployment,” said Sanjay Kumar of new Delhi think tank the Center for the Study of Developing Societies.About 900 million people are eligible to vote in the election, spread over seven phases into next month so that security forces can ensure a free and fair ballot at about a million polling stations.Results will follow vote-counting on May 23.Congress has said Modi’s party presents a threat to every opposition group by pursuing its vision of a Hindu-first India, stoking fear among the Muslim minority, a bias the BJP denies.

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India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

PORAC, Philippines: Rescuers found more bodies overnight in the rubble of a supermarket that crashed down in a powerful earthquake that damaged buildings and an airport in the northern Philippines, raising the death toll to 11, officials said Tuesday.The bodies of four victims were pulled from Chuzon Supermarket and three other villagers died due to…

India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

PORAC, Philippines: Rescuers found more bodies overnight in the rubble of a supermarket that crashed down in a powerful earthquake that damaged buildings and an airport in the northern Philippines, raising the death toll to 11, officials said Tuesday.The bodies of four victims were pulled from Chuzon Supermarket and three other villagers died due to collapsed house walls, said Mayor Condralito dela Cruz of Porac town in Pampanga province, north of Manila.An Associated Press photographer saw seven people, including at least one dead, being pulled out by rescuers from the pile of concrete, twisted metal and wood overnight. Red Cross volunteers, army troops, police and villagers used four cranes, crow bars and sniffer dogs to look for the missing, some of whom were still yelling for help Monday night.Authorities inserted a large orange tube into the rubble to blow in oxygen in the hope of helping people still pinned there to breathe. On Tuesday morning, rescuers pulled out a man alive, sparking cheers and applause.“We’re all very happy, many clapped their hands in relief because we’re still finding survivors after several hours,” Porac Councilor Maynard Lapid told The Associated Press by telephone from the scene, adding another victim was expected to be pulled out alive soon.Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda said at least 10 people died in her province, including those who perished in hard-hit Porac town. The 6.1-magnitude quake damaged many houses, concrete roads, bridges, Roman Catholic churches and an international airport terminal at Clark Freeport, a former American air base, in Pampanga. Another child died in nearby Zambales province, officials said.At least 24 people remained missing in the rice-growing agricultural region, mostly in the rubble of the collapsed supermarket in Porac, while 81 others were injured, according to the government’s disaster-response agency.The four-story building housing the supermarket crashed down when the quake shook Pampanga as well as several other provinces and the capital, Manila, on the main northern island of Luzon. The quake was caused by movement in a local fault at a depth of 12 kilometers (8 miles) near the northwestern town of Castillejos in Zambales province, said Renato Solidum, who heads the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.More than 400 aftershocks have been recorded, mostly unfelt.The US Geological Survey’s preliminary estimate is that more than 49 million people were exposed to some shaking from the earthquake, with more than 14 million people likely to feel moderate shaking or more.Clark airport was closed temporarily because of damaged check-in counters, ceilings and parts of the departure area, airport official Jaime Melo said, adding that seven people were slightly injured and more than 100 flights were canceled.In Manila, thousands of office workers dashed out of buildings in panic, some wearing hard hats, and residents ran out of houses as the ground shook. Many described the ground movement like sea waves.One of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, the Philippines has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because it lies on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a seismically active arc of volcanos and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.A magnitude 7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people in the northern Philippines in 1990. 

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Sri Lanka military gets special powers after deadly bombings

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s president gave the military sweeping police powers starting Tuesday in the wake of the Easter bombings that killed nearly 300 people, while officials disclosed that intelligence agencies had warned weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by the radical Muslim group blamed for the bloodshed.The suicide bombings struck three…

Sri Lanka military gets special powers after deadly bombings

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s president gave the military sweeping police powers starting Tuesday in the wake of the Easter bombings that killed nearly 300 people, while officials disclosed that intelligence agencies had warned weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by the radical Muslim group blamed for the bloodshed.The suicide bombings struck three churches and three luxury hotels Sunday in the island nation’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war ended in 2009. The government shut down some social media, armed security forces patrolled the largely deserted, central streets in the capital of Colombo, and a curfew went into effect.The military was given a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects — powers that were used during the civil war but withdrawn when it ended.Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could unleash instability and he vowed to “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to act against those responsible.Adding to the tension, three unexploded bombs blew up Monday inside a van parked near one of the stricken churches as police were trying to defuse them, sending pedestrians fleeing in panic. No injuries were reported. Dozens of detonators were discovered near Colombo’s main bus depot, but officials declined to say whether they were linked to the attacks.The government blocked access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram after the blasts, creating confusion and doing little to reassure residents and visitors that the danger had passed.A nationwide state of emergency was scheduled to begin at midnight Monday (0630 GMT; 2:30 p.m. EDT) the president’s office said, following the attacks that killed at least 290 people, with more than 500 wounded, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. The three stricken hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony’s Shrine, are frequented by tourists, and dozens of foreigners were among the dead.Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said 39 foreigners were killed, although the foreign ministry put out a different figure, saying the number of dead was 31.The US State Department confirmed that at least four Americans were among the dead and several others were seriously wounded, but it did not release any identities. The Sri Lankan government said other foreigners killed were from the UK, Bangladesh, China, India, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and Australia.A national day of mourning was declared for Tuesday.International intelligence agencies had warned that the little-known group, National Thowfeek Jamaath, was planning attacks, but word apparently didn’t reach the prime minister’s office until after the massacre, exposing the continuing political turmoil in the highest levels of the Sri Lankan government.Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the intelligence agencies began issuing the warnings on April 4; the defense ministry wrote to the police chief with information that included the group’s name; and police wrote April 11 to the heads of security of the judiciary and diplomatic security division.President Maithripala Sirisena, who was out of the country Sunday, had ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in October and dissolved the Cabinet. The Supreme Court later reversed his actions, but the prime minister has not been allowed into meetings of the Security Council since October, which meant he and his government were in the dark about the intelligence.It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken after the threats. Authorities said they knew where the group trained and had safe houses, but did not identify any of the suicide bombers, whose bodies were recovered, or the two dozen other suspects taken into custody.All the bombers were Sri Lankans, but authorities said they strongly suspected foreign links, Senaratne said.Also unclear was a motive. The history of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, a country of 21 million including large Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities, is rife with ethnic and sectarian conflict.In the civil war, the Tamil Tigers, a powerful rebel army known for using suicide bombers, was crushed by the government and had little history of targeting Christians. While anti-Muslim bigotry fed by Buddhist nationalists has swept the country recently, there is no history of Islamic militancy. Its small Christian community has seen only scattered incidents of harassment.Two other government ministers also alluded to advance knowledge. Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted: “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.” He said his father had heard of a possible attack as well and had warned him not to enter popular churches.Mano Ganeshan, the minister for national integration, said his security officers had been warned by their division about the possibility that two suicide bombers would target politicians.Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, said the attacks could have been thwarted.“We placed our hands on our heads when we came to know that these deaths could have been avoided. Why this was not prevented?” he said.The coordinated blasts took place in the morning at St. Anthony’s and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo, as well as the two churches outside Colombo. They collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests, and leaving behind scenes of smoke, soot, blood, broken glass, screams and wailing alarms.A few hours later, two more blasts occurred just outside Colombo, one at a guesthouse where two people were killed, the other near an overpass, said Brig. Sumith Atapattu, a military spokesman.Also, three police officers were killed while searching a suspected safe house on the outskirts of Colombo when its occupants apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest, authorities said.A pipe bomb with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives was found and defused late Sunday on a road to the international airport, said air force Group Capt. Gihan Seneviratne. It was powerful enough to have caused damage in a 400-meter (400-yard) radius, he said.A morgue worker in Negombo, outside Colombo, where St. Sebastian’s Church was targeted, said many bodies were hard to identify because of the blasts. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.Nilantha Lakmal, a 41-year-old businessman who took his family to St. Sebastian’s for Mass, said they all escaped unharmed, but he remained haunted by images of bodies being taken from the sanctuary.At the Shangri-La Hotel, one witness said “people were being dragged out” after the blast.“There was blood everywhere,” said Bhanuka Harischandra, 24, of Colombo, a founder of a tech marketing company who was going to the hotel for a meeting. “People didn’t know what was going on. It was panic mode.”The scale of the violence recalled the worst days of the civil war, when the Tamil Tigers, from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from the Sinhalese-dominated country. The Sinhalese are largely Buddhist. The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India, is about 70% Buddhist. In recent years, tensions have soared between hard-line Buddhist monks and Muslims.Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks, and Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end of his traditional Easter blessing in Rome. The United Nations’ most powerful body, the Security Council, also denounced the “heinous and cowardly terrorist attacks.”US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Washington that he spoke to the prime minister and offered assistance. Later, the FBI said it was helping with the investigation.“This is America’s fight, too,” he said. “We also stand with millions of Sri Lankans who support the freedom of their fellow citizens to worship as they please. We take confidence in knowing that not even atrocities like this one will deter them from respecting religious freedom.”

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Mexico breaks violence record in first quarter of 2019

COLOMBO: Bhanuka Harischandra was running a little late for his meeting Sunday.As a car carrying him pulled into the back entrance of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo, he realized something was wrong.People were telling him not to come in, it wasn’t safe. Still, the car pulled around to the front…

Mexico breaks violence record in first quarter of 2019

COLOMBO: Bhanuka Harischandra was running a little late for his meeting Sunday.As a car carrying him pulled into the back entrance of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo, he realized something was wrong.People were telling him not to come in, it wasn’t safe. Still, the car pulled around to the front of the hotel and Harischandra saw the aftermath of a bombing. People were being evacuated, others were being dragged. Blood and ambulances were everywhere.“It was panic mode,” Harischandra, a 24-year-old founder of a tech marketing company, said by telephone later in the day. “I didn’t process it for a while.”He decided to go to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, where he thought it would be safe. But just after he was dropped at the luxury hotel and about to enter the building, he heard another bomb go off.Now he was being evacuated. Soot and ash fell on his white sweat shirt.His car had left, so he hailed a motorized rickshaw and went to meet friends at a coffee shop. They contacted other friends, trying to make sure everyone they knew was safe.It was too soon to think about what it might mean.Over the course of the day, eight bombs exploded at churches and luxury hotels, killing more than 200 people. The Easter Sunday violence was the deadliest the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.Many Sri Lankans remember well the terror of the 26-year war. But not Harischandra, who was just a teenager when it officially ended. Toward the end, the conflict was not in Colombo. Growing up, he was mostly aware of his parents’ anxiety about safety, not of actual fighting.Now their anxiety is back.“For them, it’s a bit of a different situation,” he said. “They’re afraid this might start racial violence.”On Sunday night, he was with his family, observing a curfew. He said there was “a lot of tension” in the air, but he was also hoping that the worst might be over: It had been a few hours since the last blast.Harischandra was heartened by the fact that his social media feed was flooded with photos of the lines of people waiting to give blood. Lines so long “you can’t see the end.”

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