New Delhi, Aug 29 (AP/UNB) — Indian police on Tuesday arrested five rights activists for suspected links to Maoist rebels in raids on their homes and offices in several places in the country.
Police also accused the five of delivering speeches that triggered protests and violence between low-caste Dalits and right-wing groups near the western city of Pune in December. The government says Maoist rebels, who are active in several states, are India's biggest internal security threat.
The rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting the Indian government for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for tenant farmers, the poor and indigenous communities.
Those arrested Tuesday were Telugu-language poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira in Mumbai, and Gautam Navalakha and Sudha Bhardwaj in New Delhi and a neighbouring town, the Press Trust of India news agency said.
The government crackdown was condemned by Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India, who said the arrests threatened core human rights values.
"All these people have a history of working to protect the rights of some of India's most poor and marginalized people. Their arrests raise disturbing questions about whether they are being targeted for their activism," Patel said.
Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India, said the government should protect people's rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear.
Police said the five activists arrested on Tuesday incited Dalits, members of Hinduism's lowest caste, to counter right-wing groups at a rally on Dec. 31, leading to violent clashes that left one person dead.
In June, police arrested five other activists on suspicion of also inciting the Dalits, who have been marginalized for centuries and forced to perform jobs considered unacceptable by other castes.
Caste prejudice is endemic in Hindu-majority India, even though the constitution outlaws the practice and has made it a crime punishable by up to a year in prison.
Washington, Aug 29 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused Google and other U.S. tech companies of rigging search results about him "so that almost all stories & news is BAD." He offered no evidence of bias, but a top adviser said the White House is "taking a look" at whether Google should face federal regulation.
Google pushed back sharply, saying Trump's claim simply wasn't so: "We never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment."
The president's tweets echoed his familiar attacks on the news media — and a conservative talking point that California-based tech companies run by CEOs with liberal leanings don't give equal weight to opposing political viewpoints. They also revealed anew his deep-seated frustration he doesn't get the credit he believes he deserves.
The president, who has said he runs on little sleep, jumped onto Twitter before dawn Tuesday to rehash his recent complaints about alleged suppression of conservative voices and positive news about him.
He followed that up with vague threats in Oval Office comments.
"I think Google has really taken advantage of a lot of people, and I think that's a very serious thing. That's a very serious charge," Trump said, adding that Google, Twitter, Facebook and others "better be careful, because you can't do that to people."
Trump claimed that "we have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in. ... So I think that Google and Twitter and Facebook, they're really treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful."
Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic adviser, told reporters later that the White House is "taking a look" at whether Google searches should be subject to some government regulation. That would be a noteworthy development since Trump often points proudly to his cutting of government regulations as a spur for economic gains.
In his tweets, Trump said — without offering evidence — that "Google search results for 'Trump News' shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal?" He added, again with no evidence, that "96% of results on "Trump News" are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous."
A search query Tuesday morning, several hours after the president tweeted, showed stories from CNN, ABC News, Fox News and the MarketWatch business site, among others. A similar search later in the day for "Trump" had Fox News, the president's favored cable network, among the top results.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, said its aim is to make sure its search engine users quickly get the most relevant answers.
"Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don't bias our results toward any political ideology," the company said in a statement. "Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users' queries. We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment."
Experts suggested that Trump's comments showed a misunderstanding of how search engines work.
Google searches aim to surface the most relevant pages in response to a user's query, even before he or she finishes typing. The answers that appear first are the ones Google's formulas, with some help from human content reviewers, deem to be the most authoritative, informative and relevant. Many factors help decide the initial results, including how much time people spend on a page, how many other pages link to it, how well it's designed and more.
Trump and some supporters have long accused Silicon Valley companies of being biased against them. While some company executives may lean liberal, they have long asserted that their products are without political bias.
Media analyst Ken Doctor said it doesn't make sense for mass-market businesses like Google to lean either way politically. He characterized the complaints as a "sign of our times," adding that, years ago, if the head of General Electric was supporting a Republican candidate, people who disagreed wouldn't then go out and boycott GE products.
"The temperature has risen on this," Doctor said.
Steven Andres, who teaches about management information systems at San Diego State University, said people often assume that if you give a computer the same inputs no matter where you are that you "get the same outputs."
But it doesn't work that way, he said. "You're seeing different things every moment of the day and the algorithms are always trying to change the results."
Trump didn't say what he based his tweets on. But conservative activist Paula Boylard had said in a weekend blog post that she found "blatant prioritization of left-leaning and anti-Trump media outlets" in search results.
Boylard based her judgments on the political leanings of media outlets on a list by Sharyl Attkisson, host of Sinclair Television's "Full Measure" and author of "The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, Think, and How You Vote." Sinclair is a significant outlet for conservative views.
Trump began complaining about the issue earlier this month as social media companies moved to ban right-wing "Infowars" conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from their platforms. The president also argues regularly — and falsely — that the news media avoid writing positive stories about him and his administration.
Jones is being sued for saying the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was staged. Jones has since said he believes the shooting did occur and has argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because he was acting as a journalist.
Trump has praised Jones' "amazing" reputation.
The issue is also of concern on Capitol Hill, where the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., recently announced that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is scheduled to testify before the panel on Sept. 5 about the platform's algorithms and content monitoring.
Tallahassee, Aug 29 (AP/UNB) — A liberal Florida Democrat pulled off an upset victory while President Donald Trump's favored candidate cruised to an easy win Tuesday, setting up a fierce showdown for the governor's mansion in the nation's largest political battleground.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, an unabashed progressive, won the Democratic primary, moving him a step away from becoming the state's first black governor. He'll face off against Trump-backed Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis gave Trump credit for his victory, saying that with one supportive tweet, the president "kind of put me on the map." Gillum is his party's third black gubernatorial nominee this year, along with Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland.
The results immediately transformed the Florida race into one of the most closely watched gubernatorial campaigns in the country. Gillum's primary victory could help Democrats boost enthusiasm among minorities who often don't vote in large numbers in years when a presidential candidate isn't on the ballot. Meanwhile, DeSantis will test Trump's grip on a crucial state he won in 2016 and wants to keep in his column in 2020.
DeSantis was one of several Republicans running in contests Tuesday in Florida and Arizona — another closely watched political battleground — who hoped that cozying up to the president would be rewarded by voters. Trump has thrust himself into the forefront of the midterm campaign in hopes of motivating his supporters and offsetting Democratic enthusiasm.
In Arizona, primary contests were shadowed by the death of Sen. John McCain. Though McCain was a towering figure who was elected to the Senate by Arizonans six times, the three Republican candidates running to replace his retiring seat-mate, Sen. Jeff Flake — including establishment favorite Rep. Martha McSally — aligned themselves more with the president than the longtime senator.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey planned to name a replacement to fill McCain's seat after his funeral.
Polls closed in Arizona at the end of a day that began with delayed openings at dozens of polling locations in the state's largest county. Leaders in Maricopa County rejected calls to try to keep polls open later, saying it may confuse voters and delay returns. No problems were reported elsewhere in the state.
Elsewhere Tuesday, GOP voters in reliably Republican Oklahoma backed mortgage company owner Kevin Stitt in a runoff for the gubernatorial nomination. Stitt won in part by criticizing his opponent as insufficiently supportive of Trump.
Trump surprised Florida Republicans late last year with his endorsement of DeSantis, and frequently tweeted about the lawmaker, one of his staunchest supporters in Washington. His backing helped push DeSantis past Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has held elected office in Florida since 1996, quickly built up establishment support and raised millions of dollars.
Gillum came from behind in a crowded and diverse Democratic field. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, whose father, Bob Graham, served as governor, had hoped to position herself to become the state's first female governor.
Gillum, a favorite of progressives, spent the least of the five major Democratic candidates and had the smallest television presence. He often said he was the only candidate in the race who wasn't a millionaire or billionaire, and won the endorsement of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
At a victory party in Tallahassee, Gillum thanked supporters who "took hold of our vision and our mission and our plan for a state that makes room for all of us, not just the well-heeled and the well-connected, but all of us."
The winner of the Florida governor's race will give his or her party an advantage in a key political battleground heading into the 2020 presidential campaign.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is vacating the governor's mansion to run for Senate. He easily won his primary, setting up a showdown with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson that is expected to be one of the nation's most competitive races.
Democrats also eyed pickup opportunities in Florida as they try to flip control of the U.S. House. One of their best chances is in South Florida, where Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring in a district that should favor Democrats.
Donna Shalala, who served as President Bill Clinton's Health and Human Services secretary, claimed the Democratic nomination in Ros-Lehtinen's district.
The contests in both Florida and Arizona were being closely watched for signs of how the political battlegrounds might tilt in the 2020 presidential election.
McCain's death has highlighted anew the shift in the Republican Party since he captured the GOP nomination for president in 2008. With his consistently conservative voting record, Arizonans elected McCain to the Senate six times, including in 2016. But his more moderate stance on immigration and his deciding vote last year against Trump's efforts to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law turned off many GOP voters.
A CNN survey in June found that 67 percent of Democrats had a favorable opinion of McCain, while just 33 percent of Republicans did.
Among those on the Arizona ballot was former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat McCain in 2016. When McCain's family said last week that he was discontinuing medical treatment, Ward speculated in a later-deleted Facebook post that the announcement was intended to hurt her campaign for Flake's seat.
Ward apologized Monday, saying she was bemoaning media coverage rather than the family's announcement.
"I do understand how many could have misconstrued my comments as insensitive, and for this I apologize," Ward said.
Also running for the Senate nomination was former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial immigration hardliner. Trump spared Arpaio a possible jail sentence last year by pardoning his federal conviction stemming from immigration patrols.
McSally, a fighter pilot turned congresswoman in the McCain mold, was hoping Ward and Arpaio split Arizona's anti-establishment vote.
The winner of the GOP primary is likely to face Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who had only token primary opposition. Sinema announced that she was pausing her campaign Wednesday and Thursday, when McCain's body will lie in Arizona's Capitol.
Sinema's and McSally's Senate runs also have created House openings in Arizona, a fast-growing and increasingly diverse state where Democrats are eager to gain a foothold. McSally's district in particular is expected to be one of the most competitive House races in November's general election.
Kuala Lumpur, Aug 29 (AP/UNB) — Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Malaysia to quash a caning sentence for a lesbian couple, calling the punishment cruel and unjust.
Two unidentified ethnic Malay women, aged 22 and 32, had pleaded guilty for attempting to have sexual intercourse and were sentenced to six strokes of a cane and fined by a Shariah court earlier this month.
The caning in northeast Terengganu state was due Tuesday but reportedly postponed to Sept. 3 due to technical reasons. Court officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
Amnesty's Malaysian director Gwen Lee welcomed the deferment but said a delay was insufficient.
"We are pleased that the cruel and unjust punishment that was handed down to these two women did not take place as scheduled," Lee said in a statement. "However, a delay is obviously not enough. Both women must now have their sentences quashed immediately and unconditionally to reverse this injustice once and for all."
Amnesty urged Malaysia to "end the use of caning and repeal the laws that impose these torturous punishments completely."
Nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 31 million people are Muslims, who are governed by Islamic courts in family, marriage and personal issues.
The international rights group also said the court's decision occurred amid growing concern of a climate of fear and discrimination against people in Malaysia's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.
It said a few weeks ago, authorities removed the portraits of two LGBT rights activists from a public exhibition. Malaysia's religious minister Mujahid Yusuf later said the government doesn't support the promotion of LGBT culture in the country. A transgender woman was also beaten up by a group of people in a southern state this month.
Tallahassee, Aug 29 (AP/UNB) — Florida's race for governor comes down to a conservative congressman backed by President Donald Trump and a once little-known liberal who hopes to become the state's first black governor.
The race between U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who both defeated better known rivals in their primaries Tuesday, gives voters a stark contrast as both parties chose nominees from their fringes.
DeSantis came from behind with the help of Trump to beat Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who campaigned longer, raised more money and built the support of the party establishment. Gillum stunned a field of five that included former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who was hoping to become the state's first female governor and win the office once held by her father, Bob Graham.
Gillum spent the least of the major candidates and barely mounted a television campaign, but he won the hearts of groups that call themselves progressives and was given a late boost by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Gillum and DeSantis will compete for the office held by Rick Scott, who can't run for re-election because of term limits and is instead challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott had an easy win in Tuesday's GOP primary, and now he heads into an increasingly bitter — and expensive — showdown with Nelson that could play a decisive role in which party controls the Senate.
The governor's race, in a state sure to be a battleground in the 2020 presidential election, will essentially be a referendum on Trump.
"We're going to make clear to the rest of the world that the dark days that we've been under coming out of Washington, that the derision and the division that have been coming out of our White House, that right here in the state of Florida that we are going to remind this nation of what is truly the American way," he told his cheering supporters.
DeSantis came out fighting after his victory, criticizing Gillum as "way, way, way too liberal for the state of Florida."
"That is not what Floridians want," DeSantis told reporters. "I think it's going to be a great contrast and we will make sure we take it to him."
DeSantis based nearly his entire campaign around the president.
DeSantis entered the race a month after Trump's December tweet that he would make "a GREAT governor." Later Trump held a rally for him in Tampa. Suddenly, he was considered the favorite over Putnam, who seemingly spent his entire adult life building toward the run for governor.
DeSantis' television ads were Trump-focused, including one where his toddler stacks bricks while DeSantis exclaims, "Build the wall!"
Jo-Ann Walker, a supporter at DeSantis' party in Orlando, expressed enthusiasm for the candidate.
"People are starting to wake up and realize what we need for America, and that is people who care and who have served and that want to make a better America where we work for it and it's not just handed to us," she said.
DeSantis, who turns 40 next month, is a former Navy lawyer who won his seat in 2012 running as a Washington outsider. He ran for Senate in 2016 but dropped out when Republican Sen. Marco Rubio shut down his presidential campaign and ran for re-election.
Gillum relied on a grassroots campaign and the support of the left wing of the party.
"I think it's what Florida's been needing," said supporter Lauren Durchslag, 34, of Orlando. "Everyone kept trying to vote for someone middle of the ground, someone who they thought would win. But I don't think middle of the ground wins anymore. I think being a progressive and being on the right side of history is going to make a difference."
In addition to Graham, Gillum beat former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who poured $29 million of his personal wealth into the race and saturated the state with 30 different campaign ads. Also in the race was billionaire Jeff Greene, who spent about $38 million of his own money on the race. Orlando-area businessman Chris King finished last.
Gillum was a 23-year-old Florida A&M student when he became the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003. He was elected mayor in 2014.
Gillum did well in debates, often receiving the most applause, but the FBI is investigating Tallahassee city hall for corruption. Gillum has said he's not a target.
The differences between the candidates are pronounced.
DeSantis is pro-gun, and anti-tax; Gillum boasts about beating the National Rifle Association in a lawsuit and is calling for an increase in corporate taxes.
While he didn't make race an issue, Gillum said during a recent interview that it would be "big" to be Florida's first black governor.
"I have been really slow to try to think on it because it's too big," he said. "There will absolutely be a part of this that I can't even put words to around what it might mean for my children and other people's kids. Especially growing up for them in the age of Donald Trump."