New Delhi, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — M.J. Akbar, India's junior external affairs minister, resigned Wednesday amid accusations by 20 women of sexual harassment during his previous career as one of the country's most prominent news editors, becoming the most powerful man to fall in India's burgeoning #MeToo movement.
Akbar said in a statement that he would "challenge false accusations" in a personal capacity, referring to a criminal case he filed Monday against the first woman to accuse him.
Akbar, 67, first served as a lawmaker for India's then-ruling India National Congress party between 1989 and 1991. He then edited The Telegraph, The Asian Age and other newspapers and wrote several books of nonfiction, becoming one of the most influential people in the Indian news media.
He returned to public life in March 2014, when he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and was appointed national spokesman during the 2014 election that brought the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power.
Akbar maintained a low profile after joining India's Ministry of External Affairs in July 2016 as its junior minister, representing India overseas at multinational conferences.
On Wednesday he thanked Modi, who had remained silent about the allegations, for the opportunity to serve in public office.
In India's deeply conservative society, the #MeToo movement began belatedly but has picked up steam in recent weeks. Since September, Indian actresses and writers have flooded social media with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by their superiors and colleagues.
The string of accusations against Akbar began when journalist Priya Ramani identified him on Twitter on Oct. 8 as the unnamed editor that she had described in a story about newsroom sexual harassment published in Vogue last year.
Other women in media have alleged that Akbar interviewed job candidates in hotel rooms at night; groped, massaged and forcibly kissed young interns and employees; and offered young women choice out-of-town postings so that he could go visit them there.
On Sunday, returning from an official visit to West Africa, Akbar denied the allegations as "false, baseless and wild."
The following day, dozens of members of the Congress Party's youth wing clashed with police outside Akbar's New Delhi home, demanding his resignation.
Akbar then filed a criminal case against Ramani and released a statement in which he questioned his accusers' motives.
"Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election," he asked.
Modi is hoping to remain in power in elections due early next year.
On Tuesday, 20 women signed a statement asking the court hearing Akbar's case against Ramani to allow them to give their own testimonies against him.
Ramini wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: "As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar's resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court #MeToo"
Arti Jerath, a journalist and political commentator who is not among Akbar's accusers, said his resignation should have come earlier.
"The fact that he chose to brazen it out, he became an embarrassment to himself and an embarrassment to the government," she said. "I am glad that he is finally gone."
Dubbo, Oct 17 (AP/UB) — The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were jokingly thanked for bringing England's notoriously inclement weather to a drought-stricken Outback town on Wednesday in a rain-drenched visit to Dubbo during their Australian royal tour.
The former Meghan Markle brought banana bread that she baked in Sydney on Tuesday as a gift to a farming family outside Dubbo who were struggling to feed their cattle and sheep through two years of below-average rain.
"When she heard she was coming to a family home, she had to bring a plate, so it was lovely," farmer Elaine Woodley said, referring to a dish to be shared.
The pregnant American former actress and her husband, Prince Harry, got their hands dirty throwing cotton seed onto hay used to feed the cows because of a lack of pasture.
Heavy rain started falling when the royal couple arrived later at a Dubbo park for a community picnic, but thousands of cheering well-wishers remained enthusiastic.
"As your royal highnesses are aware, our region has been hit by a terrible drought," Mayor Ben Shields told the drenched crowd draped with waterproof ponchos and holding umbrellas, who erupted in laughter.
"So we're very pleased that you can bring some of that English weather with you today, and hopefully it will bring some relief to the farming families," Shields added.
While rain in recent weeks has been welcome, much more is needed to repair the economic and environmental ravages of the extended dry spell.
Drought conditions in New South Wales state this year have been the most widespread since 1965.
Meghan held an umbrella over Harry as he gave a speech, acknowledging the hardships the drought brought to the rural community and urging drought victims not to suffer in silence.
The crowd applauded when Harry touched on his own mental health struggles following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997. He was 12 at the time. Harry, now 34, revealed in an interview last year that he did not seek counseling until he was in his late 20s.
"You are all in this together and, if I may speak personally, we are all in this together," Harry said. "Because asking for help was one of the best decisions that I ever made. You will be continually amazed how life changes for the better."
The prince ended by thanking Dubbo for its invitation and for sharing its stories, adding, "And the rain was a gift."
Drought relief charity Drought Angels director Natasha Johnston commended the couple for their empathy.
"To have them recognize that our farmers are hurting, and show up here, it's an honor," Johnston said.
"It's been unbelievably tough. We've had families who can't put food on the table, who can't afford everyday basics, who can't afford water to fill their tanks," she added.
On arrival at Dubbo airport, the couple appeared delighted when 5-year-old Luke Vincent, who has Down Syndrome, hugged them both and ruffled Harry's hair and beard.
Luke's school principal Anne van Dartel said she had told the students that they were not to reach out to the royals. She suspected Harry's beard reminded Luke of his favorite celebrity, Santa Claus.
"I was very concerned once he started rubbing Prince Harry's face and his hair, but Prince Harry was completely gracious and was so polite and realized what was happening and (Luke's) infatuation with his beard," van Dartel told Seven Network television.
Luke told later told Nine Network television that Harry had surpassed Santa in his estimation.
Harry and Meghan are on a 16-day tour of Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.
The main focus of the tour is the Invictus Games, which start in Sydney on Saturday. The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball.
Yangon, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Three detained journalists appeared in a Myanmar court on Wednesday to face charges filed against them by the Yangon city government, which alleges a story they published was false.
An increasing number of journalists have been arrested and jailed for their work under Myanmar's civilian government, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner.
The senior journalists for local Eleven Media Group were arrested Oct. 9 after publishing a story alleging fund mismanagement by Yangon government officials.
A director in the Yangon city government filed a complaint saying the journalists — editor in chief Kyaw Zaw Lin, managing editor Nari Min and chief reporter Phyo Wai Win — violated a law banning publication of "incorrect information" that could cause "fear or alarm to the public." Punishment under the law can include two years' imprisonment and a fine.
Human Rights Watch called for the charges to be withdrawn.
"By arresting these three journalists for simply doing their job to investigate and report on possible Yangon municipal malfeasance, the Myanmar government shows how little it respects freedom of the press," said Phil Robertson, the human rights group's deputy Asia director. "Democracy is in deep trouble in Myanmar if officials can get reporters tossed in prison any time they ask a tough question. The government should order the prosecutor to withdraw the charges, and cease its harassment of the media."
Journalists from Eleven Media have been arrested in the past for investigating corruption by high-ranking politicians. In 2016, its chief executive and chief editor were detained after publishing an opinion piece on corrupt officials. Those charges were eventually dropped.
Recent jailings of journalists in Myanmar include Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year. They had been reporting on the military's operations against minority Rohingya Muslims and were accused of possessing secret documents.
"The decline of press freedom in Myanmar is alarming," said Matthew Smith, the head of human rights group Fortify Rights. "With each imprisoned journalist, the authorities dig the country deeper into an authoritarian pit."
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay could not be reached for comment.
The next court appearance for the three Eleven Media journalists is expected on Oct. 26, when the Yangon government complainant, Kyaw Aung Khaing, is required to produce the original government documents that were written about in the Eleven Media story.
Lahore, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — A man convicted of killing eight children was executed at a Pakistani prison early Wednesday after the country's top court rejected a request for his public hanging, officials said.
Mohammad Imran was hanged in the eastern city of Lahore in the presence of the father of 7-year-old Zainab Ansari, whose rape and murder in January ignited nationwide outrage. Imran was arrested two weeks after he threw the body into a garbage dump in the city of Kasur in Punjab province.
After his arrest, Imran confessed to the other slayings and was convicted by a court. Other courts later upheld his death sentence.
In this Jan. 23, 2018, file photo, Chief Minister of Pakistan's Punjab province Shahbaz Sharif, second from right, addresses a news conference with Mohammed Amin Ansari, third from right, father of 7-year-old Zainab Ansari, who was raped and killed, in Lahore, Pakistan.
"Imran was taken to the gallows just before dawn and he has been hanged with a rope in the presence of magistrate and a doctor," local police official Mohammad Afzal said. Zainab's father, Mohammed Amin Ansari, was allowed to witness the execution.
Ansari had demanded that Imran should be hanged at some public place in order to deter others, but the judges rejected his plea this week. Shortly after witnessing Imran's execution, Ansari thanked the judiciary, government and investigators for giving them speedy justice.
"My daughter will not come back, but I am satisfied that we got justice," he said.
Authorities handed over the body of Imran to his family and he was expected to be buried later Wednesday.
In this Feb. 7, 2018, file photo, Pakistani police commandos escort a police van carrying Mohammad Imran, who is accused of the brutal killings of eight children in the eastern city of Kasur, as it arrives at an anti-terrorist court, in Lahore, Pakistan.
Zainab's rape and murder shocked the nation after a photo of her went viral on social media, showing the smiling girl in her favorite bright pink coat, with a pink barrette in her hair. Pakistanis rallied across the country, demanding the immediate arrest of the killer.
Ansari was on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia with his wife at the time of his daughter's disappearance.
His daughter disappeared while going to a nearby home for Quranic studies.
Dhaka, Oct 17 (UNB) - One of the largest cut diamonds in the world, the Kohinoor weighing 21.12 grams, was not forcibly taken by the British but was instead surrendered by the erstwhile Maharaja of Lahore to the Queen of England.
The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) said the Kohinoor was gifted to the East India Company by the successors of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who ruled Punjab at the time, reports the Times of India.
The information was provided by the ASI in response to an RTI application filed by a resident of Punjab’s Ludhiana.
The ASI, however, has contradicted the government’s stand by stating in RTI reply that the diamond was in fact “surrendered” by the Maharaja of Lahore to Queen Victoria of England.
In its response to a PIL, the government had said that Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kin had given the Kohinoor to the British as “voluntary compensation” to cover the expenses of the Anglo-Sikh War.
Activist Rohit Sabharwal had filed a RTI query seeking information showing the grounds on which the Kohinoor was transferred to the UK.
In the RTI query, he also asked if it was a gift to the UK by the Indian authorities or if there was any other reason for the transfer.
The ASI replied, “As per the records, the Lahore Treaty held between Lord Dalhousie and Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849, the Kohinoor diamond was surrendered by the Maharaja of Lahore to the Queen of England.
"As per the records kept in the National Archives of India, New Delhi... the Lahore treaty held between Lord Dalhousie and Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1849, Kohinoor diamond was surrendered by the Maharaja of Lahore to the Queen of England," according to the reply.
Kohinoor, which means 'Mountain of Light', is a large, colourless diamond that was found in Southern India in early 14th century. The precious gem, which came into British hands during the colonial era, is the subject of a historic ownership dispute and claimed by at least four countries, including India.