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.
Jakarta, May 21 (AP/UNB) — Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has been elected for a second term, official results showed Tuesday, in a victory over a would-be strongman who aligned himself with Islamic hardliners.
Official counting was completed just before midnight and the Election Commission announced the formal result early Tuesday. It said Widodo won 55.5% of the vote in the April 17 election to 45.5% for his challenger, ultra-nationalist former general Prabowo Subianto.
Thousands of police and soldiers are on high alert in the capital Jakarta, anticipating protests from supporters of Subianto, who refuses to concede defeat. The Election Commission's headquarters in central Jakarta are barricaded with razor wire and heavily guarded.
Subianto, who also lost to Widodo in 2014, has alleged massive election fraud in the world's third-largest democracy but hasn't provided any credible evidence. Votes are counted publicly and the commission posts the tabulation form from each polling station on its website, allowing for independent verification.The formal result was almost the same as the preliminary "quick count" results drawn from a sample of polling stations on election day.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, is an outpost of democracy in a Southeast Asian neighborhood of authoritarian governments and is forecast to be among the world's biggest economies by 2030. A second term for Widodo, the first Indonesian president from outside the Jakarta elite, could further cement the country's two decades of democratization.
Widodo's campaign highlighted his progress in poverty reduction and improving Indonesia's inadequate infrastructure with new ports, toll roads, airports and mass rapid transit. Subianto ran a fear-based campaign, emphasizing what he sees as Indonesia's weakness and the risk of exploitation by foreign powers or disintegration. He aligned himself with hardline Muslim groups and won massive majorities in conservative provinces but was defeated by Widodo in his populous East Java and Central Java strongholds.
Subianto declared himself the winner last month and in a video released after results were announced Tuesday again refused to concede defeat but called on supporters to refrain from violence.
Under Indonesia's election law, Subianto can dispute the results at the Constitutional Court.
He and members of his campaign team have said they will mobilize "people power" for days of street protests rather than appeal to the court because they don't believe it will provide justice.
"We reject the results of the presidential election," said Azis Subekti, one of the witnesses for Subianto at the official declaration of results. "This refusal is a moral responsibility for us to not give up the fight against injustice, fraud, arbitrariness, lies, and any actions that will harm democracy."
Police this month have arrested 31 Islamic militants they say planned to set off bombs during expected street protests against the election result.
The Election Commission said Widodo won in 21 of 34 provinces and got 85.6 million votes compared with about 68.5 million for Subianto.
Beijing, May 20 (AP/UNB) — At least three people were killed and four others buried in the collapse of a building in southern China on Monday, authorities said.
Framework surrounding a bar in the city of Baise in Guangxi province gave way at around 1 a.m., trapping or injuring almost 100 people.
The local government said in a statement on its microblog that 87 people were injured. Rescuers were using search dogs and electronic monitors to try to find other survivors.
The bar was located on the top of a three-story, steel-framed building.
China has recently suffered a spate of building collapses and other industrial accidents largely blamed on the skirting of safety requirements amid a slowing economy.
On Thursday, a building being refurbished collapsed in Shanghai, and in March, 78 people were killed in a blast at a chemical plant in the country's east.
In November, at least 22 were killed in an explosion outside a chemical plant in the northeastern city of Zhangjiakou, which will host competitions in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
India, May 20 (AP/UNB) — Voting in India's mammoth national election ended Sunday with the seventh and final phase of a grueling poll that lasted more than five weeks, as exit polls predicted a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party and its allies.
Vote counting begins on Thursday, and the election result will likely be known the same day.
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP's main opposition is the Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has produced three prime ministers.
Exit polls by four leading television news channels - Republic, TimesNow, New Delhi Television and India today- projected a victory for the BJP and its allies with 287 to 339 seats out of 543 - far ahead of the 272 seats needed to form the next government.
The Congress party and its allies are likely to win 122 to 128 seats, the TV channels said. Indian television channels have had a mixed record in the past in predicting election results.
Total voter turnout in the national election was 64.9%, the election commission said, lower than 66.40% in the last national vote in 2014.
Gandhi questioned the way the election was conducted by the autonomous Election Commission, saying the election schedule was manipulated to help Modi's party.
"The EC used to be feared & respected. Not anymore," Gandhi tweeted Sunday evening, without giving any details.
Sunday's voting covered Modi's constituency of Varanasi, a holy Hindu city where he was elected in 2014 with an impressive margin of over 200,000 votes. Modi spent Saturday night at Kedarnath, a temple of the Hindu god Shiva nestled in the Himalayas in northern India.
The final election round included 59 constituencies in eight states. Up for grabs 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.
In Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, voters lined up outside polling stations early Sunday morning to avoid the scorching heat, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit). Armed security officials stood guard in and outside the centers amid fear of violence.
While the election, which began April 11, was largely peaceful, West Bengal, located in eastern India, was an exception. Modi is challenged there by the state's chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, who heads the more inclusive Trinamool Congress party and is eyeing a chance to go to New Delhi as the opposition's candidate for prime minister.
Modi visited West Bengal 17 times in an effort to make inroads with his Hindu nationalist agenda, provoking sporadic violence and prompting the Election Commission to cut off campaigning there.
On Sunday, Nirmala Sitharaman, a BJP leader and the country's defense minister, accused Banerjee's supporters of attacking her party members and preventing them from voting at several places in six of the nine constituencies in West Bengal. She did not provide details.
Banerjee denied the accusation and said Modi's government used security forces to intimidate her party's supporters.
Prodeep Chakrabarty, a retired teacher in Kolkata, said Modi's BJP was desperate to win some seats against Banerjee's influential regional party.
"People are divided for many reasons. We have to wait for a final outcome to see who people are voting for. Things are not predictable like before," he said.
Minorities in India, especially Muslims, who comprise about 14 percent of the country's 1.3 billion people, criticize Modi for his Hindu nationalist agenda. Modi's party backed a bill that would make it easier to deport millions of Bangladeshis who have migrated to India since Bangladesh's independence in 1971. The bill, however, eases a path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees and Jains - non-Muslims - who came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan over decades.
Voters were also up early Sunday in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state, where election workers arranged for drinking water, shade and fans to cool them down.
"I straightaway came from my morning walk to cast my vote and was surprised to see enthusiasm among the voters," said Ramesh Kumar Singh, who was among the first to vote. "There were long queues of people waiting patiently to cast their votes, which is a good sign for democracy."
During the election campaign, Modi played up the threat of Pakistan, India's Muslim-majority neighbor and archrival, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir on Feb. 14 that killed 40 Indian soldiers.
Congress and other opposition parties have challenged Modi over a high unemployment rate of 6.1% and farmers' distress aggravated by low crop prices.
Some of Modi's boldest policy steps, such as the demonetization of high currency notes to curb black-market money, proved to be economically damaging. A haphazard implementation of "one nation, one tax" - a goods and services tax - also hit small and medium businesses.