Dhaka, May 21 (UNB) - A day after exit polls predicted a sweeping victory for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Lok Sabha elections, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi on Monday released an audio message advising party workers to not fall for "rumours" intended to make them drop their guard ahead of the counting of votes on May 23.
"My dear Congress workers, sisters and brothers... Don't let rumours and exit polls discourage you. This is being done just to break your determination. It is very important that you remain alert amid all this. Please continue to keep vigil outside strongrooms and counting centres. We are confident that our combined efforts will bear fruit," she was heard saying in the clip, reports NDTV.
The poll of polls, an aggregate of exit polls released just after voting concluded at 6 pm on Sunday, predicted that the NDA would sweep over 300 of the country's 543 parliamentary seats while the Congress and its allies manage around 120. It also showed the BJP making deep inroads in West Bengal, winning 13 of its 42 seats, and making big gains in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh despite surprise losses in last year's assembly elections.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had expressed a similar sentiment on Sunday, hours after the exit polls were released. "I don't trust Exit Poll gossip. The game plan is to manipulate or replace thousands of EVMs through this gossip. I appeal to all opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together," she tweeted. The Trinamool chief has long supported unity among diverse political parties to defeat the BJP.
Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal, which was also shown to be trailing behind the ruling BJP-Janata Dal (United) combine in Bihar by most exit polls, also made light of the post-election predictions. "Exit polls happen. It is a business decision made by news channels to show exit polls that favour the party liked by their target audiences. They don't want people to turn their teleivison sets off in disappointment because then the TRPs (television rating points) will plummet. This is also why they are so excited by the exit polls," it said in a tweet on Sunday evening.
Kathmandu, May 21 (AP/UNB) — A Sherpa mountaineer extended his record for successful climbs of Mount Everest with his 24th ascent of the world's highest peak on Tuesday.
Kami Rita reached the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak Tuesday, which was his second time on the summit in a week. He climbed to the top on May 15 then returned to base camp before climbing again this week.
Nepal Department of Tourism official Mira Acharya said Rita reached the summit on Tuesday along with several other climbers taking advantage of favorable weather.
There are 41 teams with a total of 378 climbers permitted to scale Everest during the spring climbing season. An equal number of Nepalese guides are helping them to get to the summit.
Several climbers have already, while dozens are expected to make their attempt this week.
Only a few windows of good weather each May allow climbers the best chance of summiting Everest.
Tuesday's climb brings Rita, 49, closer to his target of 25 ascents of Everest before he retires from high mountain climbing.
Rita's two closest peers have climbed the peak 21 times each, but both of them have retired from mountain climbing.
Rita first scaled Everest in 1994 and has been making the trip nearly every year since.
His father was among the first Sherpa guides employed to help climbers reach the summit, and Rita followed in his footsteps and then some. In addition to his nearly two dozen summits of Everest, Rita has scaled some of the other highest mountains, K-2, Cho-Oyu, Manaslu and Lhotse.
Sherpa tribespeople were mostly yak herders and traders living deep within the Himalayas until Nepal opened its borders in the 1950s. Their stamina and familiarity with the mountains quickly made them sought-after guides and porters.
Washington, May 21 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is threatening to meet provocations by Iran with "great force," but says he's also willing to negotiate.
Trump spoke to reporters as he left the White House Monday evening en route to a rally in Pennsylvania.
He says, "If they do something it will be met great force."
But he adds, "We have no indication that they will."
Still, he is not mincing his words, calling Iran "hostile" and the "No. 1 provocateur of terror."
The administration recently sent an aircraft carrier and other military resources to the Persian Gulf region, and withdrew nonessential personnel from Iraq, raising alarms over the possibility of a confrontation with Iran.
Trump had been downplaying the chances of potential conflict in recent days.
Washington, May 21 (AP/UNB)— As questions mount over President Donald Trump's tough talk on Iran, top national security officials are heading to Capitol Hill to brief Congress. But skeptical Democrats have asked for a second opinion.
The competing closed-door sessions Tuesday, unusual and potentially polarizing, come after weeks of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf that have raised alarms over a possible military confrontation with Iran. Lawmakers are warning the Trump administration it cannot take the country into war without approval from Congress, and the back-to-back briefings show the wariness among Democrats, and some Republicans, over the White House's sudden policy shifts in the Middle East.
Trump, veering between bombast and conciliation in his quest to contain Iran, threatened Monday to meet provocations by Iran with "great force," but also said he's willing to negotiate.
"We'll see what happens," Trump told reporters Monday as he left the White House for a campaign rally. He said Iran has been "very hostile."
"We have no indication that anything's happened or will happened, but if it does, it will be met, obviously, with great force," Trump said. "We'll have no choice."
Trump said while there are no talks with Iran he still wants to hear from them, "if they're ready."
Over the past several weeks the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier and other resources to the Persian Gulf region, and evacuated non-essential personnel from Iraq, amid unspecified threats the administration says are linked to Iran.
The administration is sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other top brass, including Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, for closed-door briefings Tuesday with both the House and Senate.
But House Democrats, deeply skeptical of the information from the Trump officials — and mindful of the drumbeat of claims during the run-up to the Iraq War — invited former CIA Director John Brennan and former State Department official Wendy Sherman, who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal.
Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic, does not have a formal briefing planned but is prepared to answer questions on Iran — and is willing to do the same for Republicans, said a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. The intent, the person said, is to provide information and not to be partisan.
Top Democrats say Trump escalated problems by abruptly withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, a complex accord negotiated during the Obama administration to prevent the country from nuclear weapons production.
Trump's allies in Congress, including GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, say the threats from Iran are real. Graham urged Trump to "stand firm" and said he received his own briefing over the weekend from John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser.
"It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq," Graham tweeted. "If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response."
But Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, an Iraq War veteran, tweeted that after having received "the same" intelligence briefing, that was not his conclusion.
"That is not what is being said. This is total information bias to draw the conclusion he wants for himself and the media," Gallego tweeted.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said it's important to more fully understand the situation. "I think Iranians think that our moves are offensive, we think their moves are offensive, that's how you get into wars by mistake," he said.
Graham's reference to Iran having attacked ships appeared to be a further indication that the U.S. military has concluded that Iran was behind the reported attack May 12 on four commercial vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
At the outset of an investigation into those apparent attacks, which damaged vessels of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Norway but caused no injuries, U.S. officials had said they appeared to be carried out by Iran.
A U.S. official said Monday the probe was finished and evidence still pointed at Iran, although the official did not provide details. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq's capital of Baghdad, days after nonessential U.S. staff were ordered to evacuate from diplomatic posts in the country. No one was reported injured. Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from eastern Baghdad, an area home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
Defense officials said no additional Iranian threats or incidents had emerged in the days since the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group arrived in the Arabian Sea late last week.
Iran, meanwhile, announced that it has quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity. Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what's needed for an atomic weapon.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as acknowledging that capacity had been quadrupled. He said Iran took this step because the U.S. had ended a program allowing it to exchange enriched uranium to Russia for unprocessed yellowcake uranium, as well as ending the sale of heavy water to Oman. Heavy water helps cool reactors producing plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.
Trump's remarks reflect what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk with more conciliatory statements, which he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the administration's intentions.
He described his approach in a speech Friday, saying, "It's probably a good thing because they're saying, 'Man, I don't know where these people are coming from,' right?"
Tehran, May 21 (AP/UNB) — Iran quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity amid tensions with the U.S. over Tehran's atomic program, nuclear officials said Monday, just after President Donald Trump and Iran's foreign minister traded threats and taunts on Twitter.
Iranian officials made a point to stress that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67% limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what's needed for an atomic weapon.
But by increasing production, Iran soon will exceed the stockpile limitations set by the accord. Tehran has set a July 7 deadline for Europe to set new terms for the deal, or it will enrich closer to weapons-grade levels in a Middle East already on edge. The Trump administration has deployed bombers and an aircraft carrier to the region over still-unspecified threats from Iran.
Already this month, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers were sabotaged; Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia; and U.S. diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran.
A rocket landed Sunday near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq's capital of Baghdad, days after nonessential U.S. staff were ordered to evacuate from diplomatic posts in the country. No one was reported injured. Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that the rocket was believed to have been fired from eastern Baghdad, an area home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
The Iranian enrichment announcement came after local journalists traveled to Natanz in central Iran, the country's underground enrichment facility. There, an unidentified nuclear scientist gave a statement with a surgical cap and a mask covering most of his face. No one explained his choice of outfit, although Israel is suspected of targeting Iranian nuclear scientists.
The state-run IRNA news agency later quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as acknowledging that capacity had been quadrupled. He said Iran took this step because the U.S. had ended a program allowing it to exchange enriched uranium to Russia for unprocessed yellowcake uranium, as well as ending the sale of heavy water to Oman. Heavy water helps cool reactors producing plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Kamalvandi said Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of the development. The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog did not respond to a request for comment. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.
Before Iran's announcement, Trump tweeted: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!"
Trump's remarks reflect what has been a strategy of alternating tough talk with more conciliatory statements he says is aimed at keeping Iran guessing at the administration's intentions. He also has said he hopes Iran calls him and engages in negotiations.
He described his approach in a speech Friday, saying, "It's probably a good thing because they're saying, 'Man, I don't know where these people are coming from,' right?"
But while Trump's approach of flattery and threats has become a hallmark of his foreign policy, the risks have only grown in dealing with Iran, where mistrust between Tehran and Washington stretch four decades. While both sides say they don't seek war, many worry any miscalculation could spiral out of control.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif soon responded by tweeting that Trump had been "goaded" into "genocidal taunts." Zarif referenced both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan as two historical leaders that Persia outlasted.
"Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone," he wrote. "Try respect - it works!"
Zarif also used the hashtag #NeverThreatenAnIranian, a reference to a comment he made during intense negotiations for the 2016 nuclear accord.
Trump campaigned on pulling the U.S. from the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since Trump withdrew America a year ago from the pact, the U.S. has re-imposed previous sanctions and come up with new ones, as well as warning other nations they would be subject to sanctions as well if they import Iranian oil.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told journalists in Geneva that Iran should not doubt the U.S. resolve, warning that "if American interests are attacked, they will retaliate."
"We want the situation to de-escalate because this is a part of the world where things can get triggered accidentally," Hunt said.
Meanwhile, Oman's minister of state for foreign affairs made a previously unannounced visit Monday to Tehran, seeing Zarif, the state-run IRNA news agency said. The visit by Yusuf bin Alawi comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said last week. Oman long has served as a Western backchannel to Tehran and the sultanate hosted the secret talks between the U.S. and Iran that laid the groundwork for the nuclear deal negotiations.
In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom's military intercepted two missiles fired by the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. The missiles were intercepted over the city of Taif and the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, the Saudi-owned satellite channel Al-Arabiya reported, citing witnesses. The Saudi Embassy in Washington later confirmed the interceptions.
Hundreds of rockets, mortar rounds and ballistic missiles have been fired into the kingdom by the rebels since a Saudi-led coalition declared war on the Houthis in March 2015 to support Yemen's internationally recognized government.
The Houthis' Al-Masirah satellite news channel denied the rebels had any involvement with this round of rocket fire.
Between the two targeted cities is Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba toward which Muslims pray. Many pilgrims are in the holy city for Ramadan.
Early Tuesday, Saudi Arabia said the Houthis targeted civilian infrastructure in the kingdom's border city of Najran, without elaborating. The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge such an attack.