Argentina’s ex-President Kirchner faces first corruption trial | Argentina News


Buenos Aires – All eyes in Argentina will be on a courtroom in Buenos Aires on Tuesday, as the first corruption trial begins against former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who remains one of the most polarising figures in the country.

Days after announcing that she will run as a vice-presidential candidate in the upcoming election, Kirchner will stare down allegations that she headed up an illicit association that awarded 51 public works projects at inflated prices to friend and businessman, Lazaro Baez, in her home province of Santa Cruz.

It is the first of 11 court cases against Kirchner, which include allegations of bribery and coverup.

In a statement released hours before the trial is expected to kick off, Kirchner called it a “new act of persecution” orchestrated by current President Mauricio Macri.

“Trials should seek the truth. But it doesn’t look like that is going to happen here,” she wrote on Twitter. “They only create a new smoke screen that aims to distract Argentines and Argentina – each time with less success – from the dramatic situation that our country and our people are living.”

The Macri government, for its part, rejected Kirchner’s characterisation of the trial. Justice Minister German Garavano told a radio station that the trial is the appropriate venue to “explain to the public why a businessman received so many public works projects worth millions”.

Allegations

More than three years after her two terms came to an end, Kirchner, who currently sits as a senator, is the most talked about politician in Argentina. On the weekend, she sent a jolt through the political class by announcing a vice-presidential bid, not a presidential bid, as most had been speculating. 

Her running mate will be Alberto Fernandez (no relation), who served as chief of cabinet in the government of Nestor Kirchner, Cristina Kirchner’s predecessor and late husband. Fernandez parted ways with Cristina Kirchner during her first term amid a political conflict with the country’s powerful agricultural sector.

Tuesday’s trial is expected to stretch out for more than a year, extending beyond the election campaign.

The offences are alleged to have started during Nestor Kirchner’s presidency, but Cristina Kirchner is accused of having “damaged the interests entrusted to her by violating her duty to administer and faithfully take care of the assets of the state that were under her responsibility, as the head of government and the political person responsible for the general administration of the country” between December 10, 2007 and December 9, 2015. She has denied taking any action related to the contracts, all related to road infrastructure.

Twelve other people are accused in the case, including Baez, Julio De Vido, a former minister, and Jose Lopez, a former secretary in her government.

“It’s an important trial because there are allegations of corruption that could involve her, at least as the political person responsible, regardless of if she is the intellectual author of the deeds,” said Carlos Fara, a Buenos Aires-based political strategist.

‘They steal, but they do’

Fara predicted, however, that the trial will do little to change what the electorate thinks of Kirchner. 

“Cristina is not going to lose votes because of the trials. What is true is that the cases put a ceiling on her popularity, that’s without a doubt,” he said. In terms of a ballot question, Fara says Argentina’s crippled economy, which saw inflation jump by nearly 50 percent last year, has usurped any allegations of corruption levied against Kirchner.

“That’s why Macri is doing worse than she is in so far as public opinion, and Cristina, both in terms of her public image and electoral chances, is in the strongest position she’s been in since leaving the government in December 2015.”

Ana Paola Zumba, a political analyst with Argentine polling firm Gustavo Cordoba & Asociados, said that while allegations of corruption mattered at the end of Kirchner’s tenure, they “don’t have any kind of impact” on public opinion now.

“It’s not that it doesn’t matter. It’s just that Argentines have other priorities,” said Zumba. “There is an old phrase, that is overused, in Argentine politics that goes something like, ‘they steal, but they do'”.

Not only are Argentines more concerned about solving their immediate economic needs, but the credibility of key institutions like the judiciary has deteriorated so much that people either do not know what to believe, or do not think the system is capable of rendering justice, she said.

“I really don’t think [Kirchner is] worried about the trial,” added Zumba. “Of course, it’s not the photo that she wants to have, but I think her main concern was to take the offensive and dictate the political context from here [in the campaign]… She is taking the lead and forcing other actors to make decisions.”



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Saudi diplomat rejects activist’s allegation he’s a target | Saudi Arabia News


A senior Saudi official says the kingdom has no information about an Arab activist living in Norway who says the CIA tipped off Norwegian security about a threat against him emanating from Saudi Arabia.

Responding to a question during a press conference in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Adel al-Jubeir, the minister of state for foreign affairs, claimed he had never heard of Iyad el-Baghdadi.

Al-Jubeir, however, then said el-Baghdadi’s motivation for speaking out publicly could be “to obtain permanent residency in some country”.

“But with regards to us, we don’t have any information about him,” al-Jubeir added.

El-Baghdadi, who won prominence during the 2011 Arab uprisings and has written critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has lived in political asylum in Oslo since 2015.

He said that on April 25 the Norwegian security services took him to a secure location and told him of the possible threat against him.

Much of el-Baghdadi’s work over the past two years has focused on human rights in Saudi Arabia, particularly after the killing last October of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Palestinian-born activist says his work investigating possible Saudi crimes have made him a target.

El-Baghdadi responded on Twitter, where he has more than 130,000 followers, saying that for the record, “I have no immigration struggles (anymore), I was granted asylum by Norway four years ago.”

He also questioned the credibility of al-Jubeir, whose explanation of Khashoggi’s disappearance changed at least three times. El-Baghdadi also said al-Jubeir “may be a liar, but he’s no idiot. He’s just following orders here”, referring to Saudi Arabia.


SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies





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India concludes marathon seven-phase election, results on May 23 | India elections 2019 News


India has concluded its marathon seven-phase national elections, the country’s Election Commission has announced. The vote count is scheduled four days later on May 23.

The voting on Sunday wrapped up the six-week-long campaign in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a re-election for another five years.

Nearly 100 million people were eligible to vote on Sunday in 59 constituencies across seven states – including politically-critical Uttar Pradesh in the north and West Bengal in the east.

Up for grabs on Sunday were 13 seats in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, four in Himachal Pradesh and three in Jharkhand and Chandigarh.

Sunday’s voting also covered Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, a temple town where he was elected in 2014.

Pre-election poll surveys by the media indicate that no party is likely to win anything close to a majority in parliament, which has 543 seats up for grabs.

To stay in power, the BJP, which won a majority of 282 seats in 2014, may need to ally itself with some regional parties.

An opposition Indian National Congress-led government would require a major electoral upset.

Referendum on Modi rule

The general election is widely seen as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. He adopted a nationalist pitch in trying to win votes from the country’s Hindu majority by projecting a tough stance against Pakistan, India’s Muslim-majority neighbour and regional rival.

Modi played up the threat of Pakistan, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on February 14 that killed 40 Indian soldiers.

Reporting from Varanasi, Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman said while the BJP positioned national security as its main poll agenda, the opposition attempted to corner Modi by focusing on issues of development.

“The discourse certainly changed after the Pulwama attacks and national security became the issue. However, people and experts that I talked to said actual issues haven’t come out, issues like health, education, sanitation and infrastructure, which the opposition used to target the government.”

“The incumbent BJP government has been very reluctant to talk about what they have achieved in the last five years,” he said.

The Indian National Congress and other opposition parties challenged Modi over a high unemployment rate of 6.1 percent and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices.

Some of Modi’s boldest policy steps, such as the demonetisation of high-denomination currency notes to curb black-market money and bring a large number of people into the tax net, proved to be economically damaging.

A haphazard implementation of “one nation, one tax” – the Goods and Services Tax – also hit small and medium businesses.

Voter turnout on Sunday was 61 percent, the Election Commission said, while the average for the first six phases was 66 percent.

The election took place in a charged atmosphere as Modi’s BJP pushed policies some say increased religious tensions and undermined multiculturalism.

The campaigning was marred by accusations and insults, as well as an unprecedented increase in the use of social media.



Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal and chief of the TMC, at a roadshow ahead of the last phase of general election in Kolkata [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

The Sunday voting was marred by sporadic incidents of violence in the eastern state of West Bengal, where crude bombs were hurled and rival parties claimed they were attacked and voters intimidated, news agency dpa citing Indian media reports said.

The BJP is trying to wrest seats in West Bengal from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), a powerful regional party that is currently governing the state

In a drastic and unprecedented action, the Election Commission cut campaigning off early in West Bengal on Thursday after days of clashes in the final stretch of the election.



 


SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies





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Austrian far-right leader quits over sting, coalition teeters | Austria News


Austria‘s Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party has said he is stepping down and would be replaced by Transport Minister Norbert Hofer after an embarrassing video of him was published by two German newspapers.

The far-right leader announced his resignation on Saturday, plunging the country into a political crisis just days before key European Union (EU) elections are held from May 23 to 26.

“I tendered my resignation as vice-chancellor of Austria to Chancellor Kurz, and he accepted this decision,” Strache said in a televised statement.

Freedom Party (FPO) leader Strache was shown in the footage published on Friday by two German newspapers meeting a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch in 2017, shortly before the election that brought him to power.

“It was dumb, it was irresponsible and it was a mistake,” Strache later told a press conference, fighting back tears as he asked his wife and others to forgive him.

He maintained, however, that he had done nothing illegal and that it was a “targeted political assassination”.

“In the cold light of day, my remarks were catastrophic and exceedingly embarrassing,” he said about the video, in which he also referred to party financing rules and how to work around them, but also insisted on having to act legally.

In the hidden camera sting, aired by German daily, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and the weekly, Der Spiegel, Strache appeared to offer state contracts in exchange for political and financial support.

The newspapers said the hidden-camera recordings took place in a luxury villa on the island of Ibiza a few months before 2017’s parliamentary elections in Austria.

Both the newspapers that published the footage said they didn’t have any firm information over who set up the elaborate sting.

Strache has already admitted the meeting took place but denies any wrongdoing. He told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that “a lot of alcohol was consumed as the evening progressed” and that there was a “high language barrier” during the conversation.

Governing coalition under pressure

The scandal has led to speculation about the future of Austria’s governing coalition between Strache’s anti-immigration FPO and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party.

Chancellor Kurz is expected to make a statement later on Saturday as speculation swirled about whether the damage would be limited to Strache or if Kurz would call a snap election only a year and a half after the coalition was formed.

Opposition parties including the Social Democrats, the liberal Neos party and the Greens called for an immediate ballot in the wake of the scandal.

“I do not in any circumstances want my wrong behaviour to provide a pretext for the government to collapse,” Strache said at the press conference.

Strache said he would be replaced by Transport Minister Norbert Hofer, his deputy within the party.

Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from London, said there was “no other option” but for the FPO leader to step down given the scale of the scandal.

“It is an incredibly inglorious moment for him and his political career,” Gallego said.

“This has been quite an extraordinary downfall for the leader of the Freedom Party … just only a week to go until the European elections,” she added.

Gallego also described the timing of the incident as “very bad” for the Freedom Party, and cautioned that it had raised “a lot of questions” about how it “finances its own coffers”.


SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies



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Taiwan’s parliament approves same-sex marriage legislation | Taiwan News


Taiwan‘s parliament has legalised same-sex marriage in a landmark vote that made the self-ruled island the first in Asia to adopt such legislation.

The lawmakers comfortably passed a law on Friday, allowing same-sex couples to form “exclusive permanent unions” and a second clause that would let them apply for a “marriage registration” with government agencies.

The vote is a major victory for the island’s LGBT community who have campaigned for years to have similar of equal marriage rights as heterosexual couples and places the island at the vanguard of Asia’s burgeoning gay rights movement.

In recent months conservatives had mobilised to rid the law of any reference to marriage, instead putting forward rival bills that offered something closer to limited same-sex unions. But those bills struggled to receive enough votes.

Hundreds of gay rights supporters on Friday gathered despite heavy rain near the parliament building in the capital, Taipei, as legislators were set to vote on a series of bills that could offer same-sex couples similar legal protections for marriage as heterosexuals.

The vote came after Taiwan’s top court ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to marry violates the constitution. Judges gave the government until May 24 this year to make the changes or see marriage equality enacted automatically. But they gave no guidance on how to do that.

Bitter divisions

In a Facebook post, President Tsai Ing-wen said ahead of the vote that she recognised the issue had divided “families, generations and even inside religious groups”.

“Today, we have a chance to make history and show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society,” she added in a Twitter post.

Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) holds the majority in parliament, occupying 68 out of 113 seats.

Taiwan’s LGBT community has been left in limbo the last two years, with many couples planning weddings before the May 24 deadline but unsure of what marriage equality would look like.

“The world is watching to see if Taiwan’s parliament will write a new page in gender equality or deal another blow to Taiwan’s hard-fought democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” said Jennifer Lu, a spokeswoman for Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.

“For the gay communities what matters the most is whether we can legally get married on May 24 and be listed as the spouse in ID cards, to be treated and respected as the ‘spouse’ in the whole legal system … and whether same-sex families can obtain legal parental rights for their children.”

Cindy Su was one of the thousands of gay marriage supporters gathered outside parliament on Friday in the run-up to the debate.

“We are just a group of people who want to live well on this land and who love each other,” she told the crowd.


SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies



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The Wombat Whisperer | Australia


They call Donna Stepan the Wombat Whisperer.

At her unique animal sanctuary in Australia, she works around the clock to save injured and orphaned wombats.

She has a dire warning about her much-loved wombats: “They’ll be on the critically endangered list within 20 years. No doubt in my mind.”

Donna wants the world to know about the fatal and contagious parasitic disease plaguing Australia’s wombats – sarcoptic mange.

READ MORE: Saving Australia’s Wombats

“In the last decade, it has escalated every single year. The amount of areas with manged wombats just continually increases,” she says.

In the southern state of Tasmania, mange has wiped out 94 percent of the wombat population in one national park.

“We’ve seen them disappear in their hundreds – just in this area,” says Bea Mayne, a volunteer who helps treat diseased wombats with Cydectine, a chemical used to treat sheep lice.

“If we see one that’s died – and we often do that – it’s just heartbreaking.”

While the government and scientists insist that the overall wombat population is stable, wildlife campaigners are convinced it poses a catastrophic risk to Australia’s loved marsupial.

At her sanctuary, “Sleepy Burrows”, in the state of New South Wales, Donna is working on a new way to treat wombats with mange – by giving them a pill and building “burrow hospitals”.

101 East investigates the fight to save one of Australia’s most loved native animals.

Source: Al Jazeera



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US orders ‘non-emergency government employees’ to leave Iraq | USA News


All non-essential American government staff were ordered out of Iraq on Wednesday as tensions between the United States and Iran continue to rise. 

Germany and the Netherlands also suspended military training in Iraq, Iran’s neighbour to the west, citing escalating security risks in the Gulf.

The US State Department ordered the departure of “non-emergency government employees” from Iraq, it said in a statement. The US Embassy in Baghdad advised those employees to leave Iraq by commercial transportation “as soon as possible.”

“Normal visa services at both posts will be temporarily suspended. The US government has limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens in Iraq,” the State Department said, referring to the embassy and the US consulate in Erbil.

The alert comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. The US military has deployed forces – including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers – to the Middle East in a move American officials said was to counter “clear indications” of threats from Iran to its troops in the region.




‘Maximum restraint’: Europe allies reject US escalation with Iran

On Sunday, the embassy advised Americans to avoid travel to Iraq, citing “heightened tensions”.

Washington has applied new sanctions pressure on Tehran after pulling out the landmark nuclear deal involving Iran and world powers, which curbed the Islamic Republic’s atomic weapons programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

The US last month also blacklisted Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a ‘terrorist group’.

The fast-moving developments have raised concerns that a conflict could break out between US and Iranian forces. However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday there would be no war with the US despite mounting tensions. 

More tense

The German government said its military suspended training of Iraqi soldiers because of the security situation in the region between the US and Iran.

German Defence Ministry spokesperson Jens Flosdorff told reporters in Berlin that Germany is “orienting itself toward our partner countries, which have taken this step”.

But he stressed “there is no concrete threat” and the decision is down to the security situation in general being viewed as more tense.




Iran denies US accusation of attacks on oil tankers off UAE coast

Germany currently has about 160 German soldiers in Iraq as part of the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS), about 60 of them at a base north of Baghdad where Iraqi forces are being trained.

The Dutch government also suspended a mission in Iraq that provides assistance to local authorities, Dutch news agency ANP reported on Wednesday.

Dutch military personal help train Iraqi forces in Erbil, northern Iraq, along with other foreign troops. The report gave no details about the nature of the threat.

The US administration reimposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports in November after President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran, Washington and major world powers.

On Wednesday, Iran said it would officially stop fulfilling some commitments under the 2015 deal following an order from its national security council, ISNA news agency reported.

An official in the country’s atomic energy body told ISNA that Iran now would not limit its production of enriched uranium and heavy water.



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Rashida Tlaib: Policing my words and twisting them won’t work | Palestine News


US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib this week accused Republicans and other critics of purposefully “policing” her words and “twisting [and] turning them to ignite vile attacks” after they criticised her over recent comments on Israel and the Holocaust.

During an interview with Yahoo’s Skullduggery podcast that was released on Friday, Tlaib was asked about her support for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There’s kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust,” she answered.

“….And the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity. Their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports.

“I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post the Holocaust, post the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time, and I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways.” 

“But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right, and it was forced on them. And so when I think about a one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn’t we do it in a better way?”

The congresswoman also stressed she wanted a place for both Jews and Palestinians. 

“I’m coming from a place of love, for equality and justice, I truly am,” she said. 

“I am humbled by the fact that it was my ancestors that had to suffer for that to happen, but I will not turn my back and allow others to hijack it and say that it’s some extremist approach because they’re coming from a place of… whatever it is… of division, inequality,” Tlaib added. 

Republicans and conservative commentators and politicians quickly jumped on the first part of Tlaib’s response to the question. 

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, accused Tlaib of anti-Semitism and of trying to rewrite history with her comments, while President Donald Trump called Tlaib’s remarks “horrible and highly insensitive”.

House Republican Steve Scalise also labelled her comments anti-Semitic, saying: “More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact.” 

Tlaib accused her critics of advancing a “racist and hateful agenda”.

“The Congresswoman did not in any way praise the Holocaust, nor did she say the Holocaust itself brought a calming feeling to her,” her team said in a statement .

The statement added that the criticism was “dangerous, and increases hateful rhetoric from those who want to cause harm to oppressed people”.

“The Republican Party has reached a new low,” it added. 

‘Stop attacks against Muslim women’

Democratic leaders rallied behind Tlaib with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer accusing Republicans of taking Tlaib’s words out of context.

Tlaib, a Democrat of Palestinian heritage, has previously come under fire or her comments and position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Alongside Ilhan Omar, Tlaib is one of the first two Muslim legislators in US history to sit in Congress. She has criticised Israel and the US approach to the issue before, and has called for one state for both. 

Omar has also faced criticism from Republicans over her comments on Israel. She apologised in February for using what many considered an anti-Semitic trope when criticising a pro-Israel lobbying group. 

Tlaib’s supporters said the criticism had more to do with the fact that the congresswoman is Muslim woman than it did about her comments. 

Omar, responding to Trump’s tweet criticising Tlaib said, “You praised people at a neo-Nazi rally. We don’t have to imagine. This is another transparent attempt to sow division b/t minority communities and distract from your own criminal behavior by smearing a Muslim woman. No one should fall for it this time.” She was referring to the August 2017 United the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. During that rally, a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. 

Bernie Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender, also directed his comments at Trump, tweeting, “Mr. President: Stop dividing the American people up by their religion, their race or their country of origin — and stop your ugly attacks against Muslim women in Congress. You are taking Rep. @RashidaTlaib’s comments out of context and should apologize.” 

Trump rhetoric

Many analysts have pointed to the US president’s heated rhetoric as the catalyst for a far-right attacks and threats in the country – an accusation the White House has rejected.   

Last month, police arrested a 49-year-old man on suspicion of leaving racist, homophobic and Islamophobic messages filled with death threats on the voicemails of Tlaib, Democrat Eric Swalwell and Democrat Cory Booker. 

The man, who reportedly defended President Donald Trump in the messages and warned the politicians to stop criticising the president, has been charged with making threatening communications.

Last year, the Anti-Defamation League said all perpetrators who carried out at least 50 “extremism-related murders” were linked to the far right.

That total marked the largest number of people killed by the far right since 1995, the watchdog said.

Trump last month tweeted out a video of Omar featuring footage of the World Trade Center burning juxtaposed with her comments, taken out of context to portray her attitude to the 9/11 attacks as glib. Omar said she experienced an increased number of death threats after the video was shared. At least one other man was arrested. 

The president’s language was also criticised following an anti-Semitic massacre in Pittsburgh last year – and during a week-long mail bombing spree that saw another Florida man target high-profile liberal political figures, Trump critics and the news outlet CNN.





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China to hike tariffs on $60bn worth of US goods | USA News


Deepening a trade battle and sending financial markets into a tailspin, China announced Monday it was raising tariffs on $60bn of US goods in retaliation for the latest hike in US tariffs on its exports.

The move comes after the United States escalated the bitter trade war with a tariff hike on $200bn of Chinese products on Friday.

China will impose tariffs on a total of 5,140 US products from June 1, the finance ministry said in a statement.

“China’s adjustment on additional tariffs is a response to US unilateralism and protectionism,” the ministry said. “China hopes the US will get back to the right track of bilateral trade and economic consultations and meet with China halfway.”

The retaliatory measures were announced about an hour after US President Donald Trump tweeted directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping saying: “China will be hurt very badly if you don’t make a deal because companies will be forced to leave China for other countries.

Markets immediately slumped with the Dow Jones Industrial and the S&P down about 1.8 percent. The tech heavy Nasdaq dropped 2.3 percent.

Technology, industrial and consumer-focused companies beared the brunt of the losses. Apple was down 4.4 percent while Caterpillar is off by 4 percent.

China’s finance ministry said the new penalty duties of 5 percent to 25 percent will affect thousands of US products – including batteries, spinach and coffee.

That followed Trump’s increase on Friday of duties on $200bn of Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent after alleging that China backtracked on commitments it made in earlier negotiations in a dispute over Beijing’s technology ambitions and perennial trade surplus.

On Monday, the US president tweeted to Xi that China “had a great deal, almost completed, & you backed out!”

Trump started raising tariffs last July over complaints China steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

Washington wants Beijing to roll back government support for Chinese companies striving to become global leaders in robotics and other technology. The US and other trading partners say such efforts violate Beijing’s free-trade commitments.




China vows not to compromise on principles as US trade talks end

Shockwaves

The editor of the Communist Party-owned Chinese newspaper Global Times said on Twitter that Beijing was considering additional actions, including dumping US treasuries, ending US agricultural purchases, and reducing orders for Boeing airplanes.

Boeing shares fell 2.4 percent.

The new tariffs are likely to hurt exporters on both sides, as well as European and Asian companies that trade between the United States and China or supply components and raw materials to their manufacturers.

The increases already in place have disrupted trade in goods from soybeans to medical equipment and sent shockwaves through other Asian economies that supply Chinese factories.

Forecasters have warned the US tariff hikes could disrupt a Chinese recovery that had appeared to be gaining traction. Growth in the world’s second-largest economy held steady at 6.4 percent over a year earlier in January-March, supported by higher government spending and bank lending.

The tensions “raise fresh doubts about this recovery path”, Morgan Stanley economists Robin Xing, Jenny Zheng and Zhipeng Cai said in a report.

The latest US charges could knock 0.5 percentage points off annual Chinese economic growth and that loss could widen to 1 percentage point if both sides extend penalties to all of each other’s exports, economists say. That would pull annual growth below 6 percent, raising the risk of politically dangerous job losses.

The latest China-US talks ended with no word of progress on Friday.

Trump might meet Xi during next month’s meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in Osaka, Japan, his economic adviser said on Sunday.





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Bollywood and the politics of hate | India elections 2019


On April 23, just as India was commencing the third phase of its general elections, all major Indian TV channels aired an exclusive interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The interviewеr, Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar, followed a familiar script: He immediately made it clear that he will not be asking “political questions”.

So as the country was voting in one of the most important elections of its history, embroiled in increasing political polarisation, growing social discontent and serious economic problems, the Indian prime minister was being interrogated about his penchant for mangoes, movies and jokes.

Of course, it was expected that Kumar would be asking only the questions Modi wanted to answer. After all, he is not only an ardent supporter of his but in recent years has also made a number of films focusing on “patriotic” themes very much in line with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) hyper-nationalistic ideology. That he gave up his Indian citizenship in favour of a Canadian one a few years back appeared not to bother his interviewee.

That was perhaps because Kumar’s latest nationalistic film, released just a month before the elections began in April, reflected so well the BJP’s main electoral strategy: the demonisation of Muslims.

In the two-hour feature called Kesari, meaning saffron – a colour associated with the ruling party and the right wing in India – Kumar plays Havildar Ishar Singh, the commander of a Sikh regiment within the British imperial army which fought to death against rebelling Pashtun tribesmen from Afghanistan. Based on the historical battle of Saragarhi in 1897, the film portrays the Sikh soldiers as brave patriots and the Muslim Pashtun as fanatic jihadis, all as the context of colonial oppression is almost completely erased.

Kumar is not the only Bollywood star to have so ardently supported Modi and the BJP. Over the past five years, the Indian film industry has grown increasingly compliant with the political agenda of the ruling party, while many of its best-known actors have come out in full support of its members. Those few who have dared speak out against the threat that Hindu nationalism poses to the cohesion of Indian society have faced severe public harassment and little support within the industry.

Making films the BJP likes 

Another recent blockbuster which served BJP’s nationalism-themed electoral campaign quite well was Uri: The Surgical Strike released in mid-January this year. The film is based on events that took place in 2016, when India launched a “surgical strike” against Pakistan in response to a deadly attack on the Indian army base in Jammu and Kashmir state the same year.

The motion picture of course portrayed Modi in a positive light, as a patriotic strongman bound on pursing revenge against the enemy state (Pakistan) for harbouring anti-Indian terror groups. With its nationalistic narrative and feel-good revenge theme, it became so popular that it topped the box office with spectacular earnings of 2.4 billion rupees ($34m). Cinemas across the country reverberated with chants like “Bharat mata ki jai!” (Glory to the motherland!) during screenings.

A short exchange between a commander and a soldier in one of the scenes even coined a now widely used patriotic phrase – “How’s the josh [energy/enthusiasm for defending the country]?” In the weeks following the release of the film, the prime minister, the defence minister and almost every other member of the Indian cabinet used the popular phrase in official tweets and government events to boost its image of a resolute leadership.

A month after the film was released, the public josh for revenge was re-ignited once again after a rebel group attacked an Indian military convoy killing dozens of soldiers. Staying true to his cinematic image, Modi immediately ordered another “surgical strike” against Pakistan, targeting a military camp allegedly belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) armed group. “How’s the josh” filled Indian social media yet again, as Indians celebrated the valour of their prime minister who “saved” the country and its pride.

Apart from Uri, a number of other recent films have pandered to BJP’s political agenda, particularly its smearing of the opposition. Both The Tashkent Files and The Accidental Prime Minister, released just ahead of the elections, portrayed the Congress party as weak and divisive and unable to lead the country in the right direction.

But Bollywood’s increasingly noticeable political bias is not limited to writing scripts that propagate certain political ideologies. In January, just three months before the elections, the BJP released a photo of Modi surrounded by leading lights from the film industry including Karan Johar, Ranbir Kapoor, and Ranveer Singh, which, according to the Huffington Post, was an image-building exercise for the prime minister ahead of the vote and was widely shared by BJP-controlled social media accounts.

Other Bollywood luminaries have gotten directly involved in BJP’s campaigns. Actor Anupam Kher, for example, who plays the lead role in The Accidental Prime Minister and is married to Kirron Kher, a member of Parliament from the BJP, has been actively endorsing the candidature of the Indian prime minister and quite busy campaigning for his wife in Chandigarh in the state of Punjab.

Another superstar, Sunny Deol, who joined the BJP in April this year, is contesting the election in the province of Gurdaspur, Punjab. Unsurprisingly, Deol also released a film ahead of the elections which appeared to support BJP’s political agenda. His feature Blank focuses on Islamic terrorism and the threat of jihadis roaming around the country as “normal Muslims” plotting deadly bombings.     

Speaking truth to power?

Under the leadership of the BJP, India has witnessed a systematic campaign of othering Indian Muslims, frequent lynching, communal riots, farmers’ protests, growing impoverishment due to failed fiscal policies, etc. Yet those in Bollywood who have not openly endorsed the BJP have remained remarkably silent on these issues. 

In fact, leading lights of the Indian film industry who have expressed admiration for Hollywood stars speaking truth to power (specifically against the Trump administration) in the United States have had nothing to say about the hate crimes and bigotry raging in their own country.

There has also been a conspicuous silence in Bollywood when some brave actors have been hounded for expressing views critical of the government. When Naseeruddin Shah, one of India’s most prolific actors, spoke about a culture of hate being propagated in the country in a video for Amnesty India, he was trolled and attacked, and none of his colleagues came to his rescue. When Indian superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan criticised intolerance in the country, no one defended them within the industry, as they faced harassment and were accused by BJP leaders of being “anti-national”.

That Bollywood has swayed between silence and praise of the BJP is perhaps not surprising. After all, the Indian film industry has historically had a rather compliant relationship with politics. Actor Amitabh Bachchan, for example, who helped Modi whitewash his image while he was still being accused of complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, also campaigned in the past for Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of the Congress party. Another Congress prime minister, Indira Gandhi, who imposed a state of emergency on the country in the 1970s, ruling by decree and curbing civil liberties, was a favourite of the film industry which would clamour around her for group photo-ops.

The important difference is that today India is at a crucial juncture where the multiculturalism and secular nature of the state is being put to the test. The Indian film industry plays a significant role in shaping young minds and propagating certain political narratives. By throwing its weight behind the BJP and its ideology, it contributes heavily to the normalisation of hate politics and the promotion of Hindu nationalism. 

If Bollywood does not stop and reconsider, it risks not only losing whatever creative independence it has so far enjoyed, but also going down in history as an industry that displayed remarkable sycophancy and cowardice in supporting a destructive ideology.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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