New Delhi/Kolkata, May 29 (UNB) - Mamata Banerjee, after claiming she would try to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi's oath ceremony in Delhi on Thursday as a constitutional duty, pulled a 180-degree today saying: "Please excuse me". The Bengal Chief Minister, in a curt letter posted on Twitter, referred to the BJP's allegation that 54 of its workers had been killed in political violence in the state and called it "completely untrue", reports NDTV.
"The ceremony is an august occasion to celebrate democracy, not one that should be devalued by any political party that uses it as an opportunity to score political points," Mamata Banerjee wrote in her RSVP, referring to the BJP's move to invite the family of the workers.
The BJP said following a decision taken by PM Modi and Amit Shah last night, it had decided to invite the families of workers allegedly killed in Bengal over the last six years. That the families were special invitees was seen as a blunt message for the Bengal Chief Minister. The BJP alleges its workers were killed by Trinamool members during Panchayat or local body polls and the national election. With the invitation, the party said, it wants to convey to its cadre in Bengal that the central leadership cares and stands by them against "violence by Trinamool Congress workers".
Hours after the BJP's move came Mamata Banerjee's acrid response.
"Congratulations, new Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji. It was my plan to accept the 'constitutional invitation' and attend the oath-taking ceremony. However, in the last one hour, I am seeing media reports that the BJP are claiming 54 people have been murdered in political violence in Bengal. This is completely untrue. There have been no political murders in Bengal," said the Chief Minister, adding that the deaths may have taken place due to personal enmity, family quarrels and other disputes, "nothing related to politics".
"So, I am sorry, Narendra Modi Ji, this has compelled me not to attend the ceremony," she wrote.
On Tuesday, the Bengal Chief Minister had surprised many by saying she would try to attend PM Modi's swearing in, that too on a day the BJP flaunted a large flock of defectors from her Trinamool Congress and threatened more crossovers. She said she had consulted with her contemporaries in other states and believed "there are certain constitutional obligations that we try to fulfil."
After a bitterly fought national election in which the BJP ended up with 18 seats in 42-seat Bengal - only a few less than the state's ruling Trinamool that dropped from 34 in 2014 to 22 - the BJP has kept up its campaign for Bengal.
Kailash Vijayavargiya, the BJP leader in charge of Bengal, said: "Our workers' families wanted to come. If Mamata didi has a problem with that, we can't do anything."
Dhaka, May 29 (UNB) -On a day two TMC MLAs and 50 councillors joined the BJP, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday said she would attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 30 at Rashtrapati Bhawan. Despite fighting a bitter electoral campaign against Modi, Banerjee said she decided to attend the event as it was a ‘ceremonial program’.
“I have spoken to other Chief Ministers also. Since it is a ceremonial program we thought of attending it. Yes, I will go (to Modi’s oath-taking ceremony),” ANI quoted Banerjee as saying, reports The Indian Express.
In the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, BJP made massive inroads in Bengal, winning 18 of the 42 seats with a vote share of 40.5 per cent.
Among other opposition leaders who have been invited include Congress president Rahul Gandhi, JD(S) leader and Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and AAP supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The invitation to opposition leaders is seen as Modi’s move to reach out to them following the fiercely fought election in which the BJP registered a massive victory.
Besides, in a diplomatic move to reach out to neighbouring countries, Modi has invited leaders from Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries, Kyrgyz Republic and Mauritius for the May 30 ceremony.
While Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to miss the event as she is scheduled to go for a bilateral visit to Japan from May 29, President Abdul Hamid will attend on her behalf.
The leaders who have confirmed their presence are Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena, Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Myanmar President U Win Myint, Mauritius PM Pravind Jugnauth, Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli, Bhutan PM Lotay Tshering and Thailand’s special envoy Grisada Boonrach.
Earlier in the day, Tamil superstar Rajinikanth confirmed his presence at the swearing-in ceremony, which will also see President Ram Nath Kovind administering the oath of office and secrecy to the Union Council of Ministers.
Calling Modi a “charismatic leader”, Rajinikanth said, “In India after Jawahar Lal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi, Modi is now a charismatic leader. The election victory is a victory for Modi.” Besides him, an invitation has also been extended to actor and politician Kamal Haasan.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Andhra Pradesh CM-designate YS Jagan Mohan Reddy are also likely to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
Namche, May 29 (AP/UNB) — Scaling Mount Everest was a dream few realized before Nepal opened its side of the mountain to commercial climbing a half-century ago. This year the government issued a record number of permits, leading to traffic jams on the world's highest peak that likely contributed to the greatest death toll in four years.
As the allure of Everest grows, so have the crowds, with inexperienced climbers faltering on the narrow passageway to the peak and causing deadly delays, veteran climbers said.
After 11 people died this year, Nepal tourism officials have no intention of restricting the number of permits issued, instead encouraging even more tourists and climbers to come "for both pleasure and fame," said Mohan Krishna Sapkota, secretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation.
Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries, relies on the climbing industry to bring in $300 million each year. It doesn't cap the number of permits it issues or control the pace or timing of the expeditions, leaving that to tour operators and guides who take advantage of brief clear weather conditions whenever they come, leading to pileups near the peak.
On May 22, a climber snapped a photo from a line with dozens of hikers in colorful winter gear that snaked into the sky.
Climbers were crammed crampon-to-crampon along a sharp-edged ridge above South Col, with a 7,000-foot (2,000-meter) drop on either side, all clipped onto a single line of rope, trudging toward the top of the world and risking death as each minute ticked by.
"There were more people on Everest than there should be," said Kul Bahadur Gurung, general secretary of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, an umbrella group of all expedition operators in Nepal. "We lack the rules and regulations that say how many people can actually go up and when."
The death toll this season is the highest since 2015. Most of those who died are believed to have suffered from altitude sickness, which is caused by low amounts of oxygen at high elevation and can cause headaches, vomiting, shortness of breath and mental confusion.
Once only accessible to well-heeled elite mountaineers, Nepal's booming climbing market has driven down the cost of an expedition, opening Everest up to hobbyists and adventure-seekers. Nepal requires climbers to have a doctors' note deeming them physically fit, but not to prove their stamina at such extreme heights.
Because of the altitude, climbers have just hours to reach the top before they are at risk of a pulmonary edema, when the lungs fill with liquid. From Camp Four at 8,000 meters (26,240 feet) to the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak, the final push on Everest is known as the "death zone."
The conditions are so intense at such times that when a person dies, no one can afford to expend energy on carrying the body down from the mountain.
"Every minute counts there," said Eric Murphy, a mountain guide from Bellingham, Washington, who climbed Everest for a third time on May 23. He said what should have taken 12 hours took 17 hours because of struggling climbers who were clearly exhausted but had no one to guide or help them.
Just a handful of inexperienced climbers, he said, is "enough to have a profound effect."
The deaths this year on Nepal's side of the mountain included Don Cash, a sales executive from Utah, and Christopher Kulish, an attorney from Colorado, who both died on their way down from the peak.
Kulish, 62, had just reached the top with a small group after crowds of climbers congested the peak last week, according to his brother, Mark Kulish.
He described his brother as an attorney who was an "inveterate climber of peaks in Colorado, the West and the world over."
Just before he died, Kulish made it into the so-called "Seven Summit Club" of mountaineers who have reached the highest peaks on every continent, his brother said.
Cash, 55, collapsed at the summit and was given CPR and massages by his two Sherpa guides. He got up only to fall again in the same way at Hillary Step, the first cliff face down from the summit. His body was left near there.
Cash had said on his LinkedIn page that he left his job as a sales executive to try to join the seven summits club.
Nepal doesn't have any regulations to determine how many permits should be issued, so anyone with a doctor's note can obtain one for an $11,000 fee, Sapkota said.
This year, permits were issued to 381 people in 44 teams, the highest number ever, according to the government. They were accompanied by an equal number of guides from Nepal's ethnic Sherpa community. Some climbers were originally issued permits in 2014 that were revoked mid-season when 16 Sherpa guides died in an avalanche and other Sherpas, whose support as guides and porters is essential, effectively went on strike.
Another factor was China's limit on the number of permits it issued this year for routes in its territory on the north side of Everest for a clean-up. Both the north and south sides of the mountain are littered with empty oxygen canisters, food packaging and other debris.
Instead of the overcrowding, Sapkota blamed the weather, equipment and inadequate supplemental oxygen for this year's deaths.
"There has been concern about the number of climbers on Mount Everest but it is not because of the traffic jam that there were casualties," Sapkota said in Namche, the town that serves as the staging area for Everest trips.
Still, he said, "In the next season we will work to have double rope in the area below the summit so there is better management of the flow of climbers."
Mirza Ali, a Pakistani mountaineer and tour company owner who reached Everest's peak for the first time this month, on his fourth attempt, said such an approach was flawed.
"Everybody wants to stand on top of the world," but tourists unprepared for the extremes of Everest endanger the entire industry, he said.
"There is not a sufficient check on issuing the permits," Ali said. "The more people come, the more permits, more business. But on the other side it is a lot of risk because it is costing lives."
Indian climber Ameesha Chauhan, soaking her frostbitten toes in medicine at a hospital in Kathmandu, described the agony of turning away from the peak when she realized her supplemental oxygen supply was low.
Two of her team members died on the May 16 ascent.
She returned and scaled the peak a week later.
"If you look at it, the inexperienced climbers do not even know how to tie on the oxygen masks around their face," she said. "Many climbers are too focused on reaching the summit."
Bangkok, May 29 (AP/UNB) — Myanmar's military, accused of massive human rights violations against the Muslim Rohingya minority less than two years ago, is committing war crimes and other atrocities as it engages in new military operations in the western state of Rakhine, the human rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday.
Myanmar's army has "killed and injured civilians in indiscriminate attacks since January 2019" as it battles the Arakan Army, a well-trained guerrilla force from the Buddhist ethnic group seeking autonomy for Rakhine, Amnesty said in a report.
It accused the military of carrying out "extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill treatment, and enforced disappearances." But it also says the Arakan rebels have committed abuses against civilians, including kidnappings, though on a lesser scale.
"The new operations in Rakhine state show an unrepentant, unreformed and unaccountable military terrorizing civilians and committing widespread violations as a deliberate tactic," said Nicholas Bequelin, regional director for East and Southeast Asia at Amnesty International.
The group said it had written to top Myanmar government and military officials with specific questions about its findings and conclusions, but had not received any reply.
Rakhine is best known for a brutal counterinsurgency campaign launched by the military in 2017 against the Rohingya, which caused more than 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The army and other security forces were accused of major abuses, including organized rape, murder and the burning of villages.
Critics including U.N. experts have accused the Myanmar forces of ethnic cleansing, and possibly even genocide, but the government has insisted it was engaged in acceptable military operations after Rohingya guerrillas carried out attacks on police posts and bases.
While Rohingya insurgents have been largely inactive since late 2017, the Arakan Army has been engaged in increasingly fierce fighting with government forces since late last year. The group seeks autonomy for the region.
Amnesty International said it uncovered evidence of new abuses carried out by units implicated in previous atrocities.
The government declared the Arakan Army a terrorist organization after it killed 13 police officers and wounded nine in attacks on Jan. 4.
Last month, the main U.N. human rights agency expressed concern about the upsurge in fighting, especially attacks on civilians by both sides.
Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the agency had "credible reports of the killing of civilians, burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, abductions, indiscriminate fire in civilian areas, and damage to cultural property."
New Delhi, May 28 (AP/UNB) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a second term in office after responding to a suicide attack on Indian paramilitary forces in troubled Kashmir with an airstrike inside Pakistan, allowing him to turn voters' attention away from the country's highest unemployment rate in decades.
Now, after his swearing-in on Thursday, he will need to deftly navigate a trade war between the United States and China and rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, an important source of cheap oil for India's fast-growing economy. Modi will also face pressure to protect India's traditional sphere of influence in South Asia.
Many Modi supporters credit the 68-year-old leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party with India's growing status abroad, and messages from U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulating him on his party's victory even before all results were in seemed to bolster that belief.
Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to Washington, said foreign policy has been one of Modi's most pronounced achievements, as he pursued it with vigor "that we have not seen in any other prime minister so far."
As Modi returns to power for another five years, global leaders are looking to India to take on a larger burden of responsibility in the world, acting as a security buffer in the Indo-Pacific, opening its markets and responding to climate change, even though Modi struggled to manage many of India's domestic issues in his first term.
"Maneuvering in the current international situation will be quite a challenge for Modi," said Dilip Sinha, a retired Indian diplomat.
The U.S. wants India to act as a counterweight to Beijing to prevent the rise of Chinese hegemony in Asia, but it also wants the Modi administration to lower barriers to trade.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross complained to leaders in New Delhi earlier this month that American companies struggle to access India's markets because of tariffs and myriad regulations. To help reduce the trade imbalance, India has signed more than $15 billion in U.S. defense contracts.
According to the World Economic Forum, India is poised to become the world's third-largest consumer market, growing from $1.5 trillion this year to $6 trillion by 2030.
At the same time, with the Trump administration scaling up sanctions on Iran and ending waivers for countries including India that import Iranian goods, India must replace its third-largest source of imported oil.
The fear of a further conflagration in the Gulf region could make oil more expensive and threatens the security of 7 million Indians working as migrant laborers. "It's an extremely difficult and challenging position for India," Sinha said.
During the Cold War, India didn't have open relations with Israel, leaning heavily in favor of the Palestinians. But over the last 25 years, ties between the two countries have warmed.
Trade between them has skyrocketed from $200 million in 1992, when India and Israel established diplomatic ties, to $4.16 billion in 2016. The growing ties risk upsetting India's longstanding relationship with other Middle Eastern countries.
The U.S. weapons purchase agreements, coupled with Russia's improving ties with Pakistan and China, also pose a challenge to Russia-India relations, which date back to the Cold War.
"India's Russian ties are also beginning to fray. The recent fighter aircraft deals with France and other military hardware purchases from the USA have resulted in sidelining India's usual defense partner," the opposition Indian National Congress party said in a statement.
India faces perhaps its biggest challenge with China at its northeastern border, as Beijing invests billions in infrastructure development in South Asia.
India takes years to execute projects, whereas China delivers quickly on what it promises. India needs to maintain close ties with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives, its traditional sphere of influence. But delays by Indian companies have led to cost overruns, prompting India's neighbors to look toward China for speedy development.
Modi has carefully cultivated ties with President Xi after a 2017 border standoff over Chinese construction of a road in Doklam near a tri-border area with Bhutan. India and China fought a bloody war in 1962 over a border dispute that continues to simmer.
But their relations have thawed recently, with Beijing deciding against blocking the U.N. designation of Masood Azhar, the leader of the Pakistan-based militant group that claimed responsibility for the February suicide bombing in Kashmir, as a global terrorist.
Though Modi invited then-Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other South Asian leaders to attend his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, the neighbors were at the brink of nuclear war in February. Modi has refused an official dialogue with Islamabad until it ends support for what India calls terrorism emanating from its territory.
They have fought two of three wars over control of divided Kashmir since they won independence from Britain in 1947.
In Kashmir, the majority Muslims see Modi's reelection as causing more hardship. In the past five years, Modi's government gave the military a free hand to crush resistance to Indian rule, targeting not just armed militants but also civilians supporting their cause, to keep Kashmir a part of India at any cost.
Some in Kashmir see Modi's win as "a blessing in disguise," saying his tough approach could energize the movement for self-determination in the region.
"The fog around India's policies on Kashmir is increasingly getting removed thanks to Modi and Co.," said Sajjad Ahmed, a schoolteacher.