Modi hails ‘landmark’ election win

Narendra Modi has hailed a ‘landmark’ election victory by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after winning a landslide result on May 16 to become India’s new Prime Minister.

Mr Modi thanked supporters in his own constituency in his home state of Gujarat, saying they had written a new chapter in the country’s history. His Hindu nationalist BJP swept to power with the first majority in 30 years, trouncing the ruling Congress Party, who slumped to its worst-ever defeat, claiming just 44 seats in the 543-member parliament. The BJP and its former partners garnered 316 seats.

Modi assailed the dynastic rule of the Gandhis and tapped into widespread hunger for jobs and development, while offering a message of aspiration and ambition to the young electorate. According to leading historian Ramachandra Guha, writing in Kolkata-based The Telegraph newspaper: ‘Economic growth and social mobility have radically transformed how younger Indians think and behave.’

The desire for change has been so strong that voters put aside concerns about Modi’s Hindu-centric politics. Many Indians still have profound concerns because of claims he did

 little to stop communal riots in Gujarat in 2002 when he was first minister in the state. At least 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims. Mr Modi has always denied the allegations, over which he was never charged.

Modi’s win ends an era of shaky coalition governments, giving him ample room to advance the economic modernisation which was started 23 years ago by Manmohan Singh, the outgoing prime minister, but which has stalled in recent years.

Political horse- trading grips Afghanistan before election run-off

Old-style power-broking dom

inated the first week of campaigning for the run-off round of Afghanistan’s presidential election, with the two candidates vying for support from former warlords and powerful tribal leaders ahead of the June 14 vote.

In a departure from the first round, which saw elaborate rallies around the country by a crowded field of presidential hopefuls, the last men standing have hunkered down in Kabul to focus on building alliances.

Knowing little of what is being negotiated behind closed doors, many voters regard the process with cynical disdain.
‘There is a game of positioning going on. Corrupt personalities with very dark backgrounds are supporting candidates whose slogans are to fight against corruption,’ said Mohammad Asif Hottak, a doctor in Kabul.

As no candidate won more than 50 per cent of the votes in the first round, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani went into a run-off. Although Ghani trailed Abdullah by almost 14 percentage points in the initial vote, he stands to gain a portion of the ethnic Pashtun vote that splintered in the first round.

Abu Hamza convicted on terror charges after NYC verdict

Extradited British cleric Abu Hamza has been found guilty of terrorism charges in the United States.

The radical preacher faced 11 charges in total, including conspiring to set up a terror training camp in Oregon, conspiring to kidnap Americans in Yemen and providing support to terrorist organisations. At a federal court in New York, the jury convicted him on all counts. He could face life in prison when he is sentenced.

Hamza, whose real name is M

iew in which Hamza celebrated the 9/11 attacks and the hijackers. The court also heard how Hamza conspired to set up an al-Qaeda-style training camp in Bly, Oregon, without ever setting foot in America.ustafa Kamel Mustafa, has already served a UK prison sentence for using his sermons at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London to incite murder and racial hatred. He was extradited to the US in 2012 after a protracted legal battle and had been awaiting trial since then.

Home Secretary Theresa May has welcomed the guilty verdict, saying it proves Britain was right to extradite him to the US to face the charges. Mrs May said: ‘I am pleased that Abu Hamza has finally faced justice. He used every opportunity, over many years, to frustrate and delay the extradition process.’

The prosecution said Hamza used the cover of religion to export terror and violence across the world. In a courtroom just blocks from Ground Zero, the jury watched an interv

Hamza’s lawyers said their client was guilty only of holding offensive views, and revealed in court that during his time in London Hamza had acted as a kind of consultant to the British intelligence services. He was often called upon, they said, to use his contacts and ease tensions to ‘keep the streets of London safe’. Hamza’s lawyers say they will appeal against the guilty verdict.

Fears abound for Thailand‘s future 

The last time Thailand’s army seized power, in 2006, some called it ‘the smiling coup’. Residents of Bangkok who supported the overthrow of an elected government they accused of corruption poured into the streets, handing out flowers to soldiers who had deployed tanks across the city. The coup was bloodless and, for a time, calm.

On Thursday 22 May, Thailand’s army seized power again without firing a shot, overthrowing a popularly elected administration that won a landslide vote three years earlier. The army says it had to act to restore order after seven months of increasingly violent political turbulence. But the aftermath feels much different this time.

Most of the country’s ousted governm

ent has been detained or is in hiding. Journalists, scholars and politicians are being ordered to surrender to army bases. Activists have fled. A night-time curfew has been imposed. And protests, though small, have come almost immediately. The junta chief has issued ominous warnings not to criticise the takeover, but political movements spawned in the aftermath of the 2006 coup have vowed to resist.

So far, there has been no bloodshed. But as ousted Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang put it, shortly before being taken into custody by soldiers at a news conference in Bangkok, ‘If anyone thinks that the coup will stop all the conflict and the turmoil or violence, they would be wrong.’
The coup led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha ‘will create more conflict’, said Chaturon, the only member of the deposed government who has spoken freely in public since the military took over. ‘From now on, there will be more and more resistance,’ he said, adding that if violence erupts, ‘it will be a disaster for this country.’

The junta is trying to silence the critics it has detained by releasing them only if they sign a form agreeing not to do anything ‘provocative’. Violators could face two years in jail.

Iran welcomes Saudi invitation to Islamic bloc meeting

Saudi Arabia has invited Iran to attend a meeting of Islamic bloc foreign ministers in Jeddah next month, an Iranian official has said. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian welcomed the ‘friendly’ gesture by Iran’s regional rival, with which relations have been strained by the Syrian conflict and the fallout from unrest in Bahrain.

An exchange of visits by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif was high on Tehran’s agenda, he told the Etemad newspaper.

The two-day meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation opens in Jeddah on June 18.

Earlier this month, Prince Saud said Zarif had been invited to visit the kingdom in a bid to negotiate better relations after three years of enmity over the war in Syria, in which Iran has backed the Damascus government and Saudi Arabia has supported the rebels.

‘We will talk with them in the hope that if there are any differences, they will be settled to the satisfaction of both countries,’ he told reporters in Riyadh on May 13.

Shiite Muslim Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have also been at odds over Bahrain, where the Sunni ruling family received Saudi military support in its suppression of Arab Sp

ring-inspired protests among its Shiite-majority population in 2011.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said after his election last June that he wanted to reach out to Gulf Arab governments as part of efforts to end his country’s international isolation.

Saudi Arabia and its neighbours have been deeply suspicious of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and wary of the talks underway between the major powers and Tehran, aimed at striking a long-term compromise.

Japan seeks bigger security role amid Asian feuds

China’s moves to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea are giving fresh impetus to Japanese plans to play a bigger role in regional security, adding to the growing strains between the two Asian rivals.

Japan recently said it is exploring whether it can accelerate a proposal to supply patrol boats for Vietnam, which is embroiled in a tense standoff at sea with China after Beijing moved an oil rig into disputed waters. In a similar deal, Japan agreed in December to lend 18.7 billion yen ($183 million) to the Philippines to purchase ten Japanese-made boats.

The vessels are a tangible sign of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s effort to deepen ties with Southeast Asia in the face of China’s expanding maritime ambitions. He is likely to stress Japan’s commitment to regional stability in a forthcoming speech to Asia-Pacific defence ministers in Singapore.

‘China’s recent behaviour has enabled Abe to push cooperation in a much more conspicuous way,’ said Corey Wallace, a Japan and maritime security expert at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, bringing it into conflict with others in the region. The Philippines accused China in May of reclaiming land around a reef that both countries say is their own. The feuds mirror the dispute in the East China Sea over a group of uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

PM demands prompt report on ‘honour killing’ of pregnant woman

Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif has demanded to know why police apparently stood by while a pregnant woman was stoned and beaten to death by her family in front of one of the country’s top courts.

Farzana Iqbal, 25, was attacked on Tuesday 27 May, police said, because she had married the man she loved. Her husband, Muhammed Iqbal, said that police did nothing during the 15 minutes the violence lasted outside Lahore High Court.

‘I begged them to help us but they said, this is not our duty,’ Iqbal said.

In parts of Pakistan, a largely Muslim nation of 180 million people, women are expected to agree to arranged marriages and refusal can mean an ‘honour killing’. Police said her father, two brothers and a former fiancé were among the attackers.

Sharif had taken notice of the ‘brutal killing’ in the presence of police, his press office said in a statement, adding that a ‘totally unacceptable’ crime had to be dealt with promptly by law.

But Lahore police chief Shafiq Ahmad said no police were present.

Honour killings are common in Pakistan, and most national media outlets gave little attention to the story. Women have been mutilated and killed for wearing jeans, looking out of windows, singing or giving birth to girls.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said there were 869 such attacks reported in the media last year — several a day. But the true figure is probably much higher since many cases are never reported.

Russia urges West to press Kiev to avert Ukraine ‘catastrophe’

Russia has demanded that the Ukrai

nian government stop its military operation against pro-Russian separatists and urged the United States and European Union to press Kiev to avert a ‘catastrophe’ in the former Soviet republic.

‘We once again demand that the Kiev authorities stop the fratricidal war and start a real national dialogue with all political forces and representatives of the country’s regions,’ the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Ukrainian government and President-elect Petro Poroshenko have defied Moscow’s calls for an end to the operation against the rebels in eastern Ukraine, where casualties on both sides have been heavy in recent days.

Russia voiced deep concern about the ‘escalation’ and said proposals stemming from an agreement reached by the European Union, Russia,

UKIP’s Farage meets Italy’s 5-Star leader

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), has met with Beppe Grillo, who heads Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, in Brussels to discuss a potential alliance between Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament.

Both groups performed strongly in the recent European Parliament vote, with UKIP topping all rivals in Britain and 5-Star coming in second to the ruling Democratic Party.

‘Grillo and Nigel did indeed have lunch together and discussed a potential alliance,’ a source close to UKIP said. ‘Relations are good but… nothing is set in stone yet.’

A UKIP spokesman declined to comment.

Anti-establishment parties across the continent more than doubled their representation in the election, tapping into voters’ anger with Brussels over austerity, mass unemployment and immigration.

UKIP wants an immediate referendum and for Britain to withdraw from the European Union, arguing that the country will be more democratic and prosperous outside it. Italy’s 5-Star wants a referendum over Italy’s membership of the euro, which Grillo says is ruining the economy.

The possibility of 5-Star joining an alliance with another political party — albeit in Brussels — is something of a novelty. In Italy, Grillo has refused to negotiate with political parties in parliament, where 5-Star is a member of the opposition, saying they lack credibility.

To form a political group

 in the 751-seat Strasbourg-based parliament, 25 members of parliament from seven states are needed. In the new legislature, UKIP will have 24 seats and 5-Star 17.

Separately, Matteo Salvini — leader of Italy’s anti-euro, anti-immigrant Northern League party, whose party has five seats in the new parliament — said he would meet in Brussels with French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who topped the vote in France. Le Pen’s far-right party won 24 seats.

Kenya: suspected al Shabaab militants kill 12 in ambush

Suspected Somali al Shabaab militants killed at least 12 people in an ambush in northern Kenya on May 19, a day after Kenyan jets pounded the Islamists’ bases over the border, disaster and police officials said.

The east African nation, which sent its troops into Somalia in October 2011 to pursue the militants, has suffered a string of gun, bomb and grenade attacks that it blames on al Shabaab, including an attack in the capital Nairobi on May 16.

Britain, the United States and other Western governments have warned holidaymakers against visiting Kenya.

The government-run National Disaster Operations Centre said on its Twitter feed that two police vehicles had been destroyed.
Mandera County, near the border with Ethiopia and Somalia, has seen a marked escalation in tension, with low-key clan clashes displacing hundreds of people in the past year. The region is awash with guns due to its proximity to Somalia, where al Shabaab has been fighting to topple the government, and Ethiopia, where the armed Oromo Liberation Front has made incursions into the country.

News in Brief

Pakistan: critical fracture among Taliban
The Mehsud faction of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) has split from the main organisation, levying accusations of un-Islamic behaviour, according to reports. Disagreements allegedly formed over the activities of some members of the Taliban alliance who took part in criminal activities, including extortion. This new rift creates problems for Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his attempts to broker peace: any agreement reached with the Mehsud faction will likely be viewed as not binding by the other groups.

India: new PM announces Cabinet
New Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced his full list of Cabinet ministers, appointing leader of Bharatiya Janata Party Arun Jaitley as defence and finance minister, Sushma Swaraj as minister of external affairs and Rajnath Singh as home affairs minister, the Times of India reported. Modi and his ministers were sworn into their posts on Monday May 26 in New Delhi.

US President announces enduring Afghanistan force levels
US President Barack Obama said that 9,800 American troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 drawdown of forces. The enduring commitment represents slightly less than a third of the forces currently deployed in Afghanistan, and will be reduced further by the end of 2015. By 2016, the United States intends to return to a normal embassy presence, bolstered by a security assistance office in Kabul. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Taliban will find it difficult to exploit the drawdown of NATO forces from Afghanistan. This is partly due to the fact that the Afghan government has made progress consolidating itself in recent years, while the Taliban movement has suffered setbacks.

Al-Sisi is Egypt’s new president
Former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has achieved a landslide victory over his main opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, securing 96 per cent of the popular vote in Egypt’s presidential elections. Over 23 million voters cast their ballots for al-Sisi, with less than 800,000, or 3.5 per cent, voting for Sabahi. Although the results have been announced by judges at polling centres, they remain unofficial until verified by the Presidential Election Commission, which is expected to officially announce the winner on June 1 or 2.

Announcement of unity government delayed
The official declaration of the Palestinian unity government has been delayed a week to allow for further consultations between Hamas and Fatah. A possible disagreement between Hamas and Fatah over the foreign ministry portfolio was reported to have led to the postponement. Iran has been supportive of a Fatah-Hamas rapprochement because it provides Tehran with greater influence over the Palestinian issue and another pressure point against Israel. It can also use this influence in its ongoing bargaining with the US and, by providing enhanced soft power projection capabilities, the Islamic republic will gain leverage in any negotiations over Syria.