Srinagar, Apr 18 (AP/UNB) — Voting has begun in the second phase of India's general elections amid massive security and a lockdown in parts of the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The city of Srinagar is one of 97 constituencies across 13 Indian states where voting was scheduled Thursday.
The election is taking place in seven phases over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people.
Some 900 million people are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in India's lower house of Parliament.
Voting concludes on May 19 and counting is scheduled for May 23.
The election, the world's largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.
Modi has used Kashmir as one of the top issues of his campaign.
New Delhi, Apr 18 (AP/UNB) — A powerful storm bringing dust, lightning and unseasonal rain has killed at least 47 people in central and western India, officials said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anguish in a tweet over the loss of lives and announced relief for the victims' families.
Tuesday's storm had winds reaching 50 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour) and damaged homes and uprooted trees and power lines in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan states.
The worst hit was Rajasthan state, where at least 24 people died, relief officer Ashutosh Pednekar said.
Madhya Pradesh state's top elected official, Kamal Nath, said at least 10 deaths were reported there.
The Press Trust of India news agency said 13 other deaths were reported in Gujarat and Maharashtra states.
India's monsoon season starts in June and ends in September.
New Delhi, Apr 18 (AP/UNB) — Jet Airways, once India's largest airline, announced on Wednesday that it is suspending all operations after failing to raise enough money to run its services.
The company said it has been informed by its lenders, led by state-run State Bank of India, that they are unable to consider its request for funding to keep flying.
"Since no emergency funding from the lenders or any other source is forthcoming, the airline will not be able to pay for fuel or other critical services to keep the operations going," it said in a statement.
"It has decided to go ahead with temporary suspension of operations," the airline said.
Its last flight was scheduled to fly to New Delhi from the northern Indian city of Amritsar on Wednesday night.
On Tuesday, Jet Airways' former chairman, Naresh Goyal, reportedly withdrew plans to bid for a controlling stake in the company. Goyal founded Jet Airways in 1992 and saw it soar to become India's largest airline.
It was not immediately clear who else might bid for the company. Etihad Aviation Group purchased a 24% stake in 2013.
"Finding new investors was always going to be a tall order for Jet Airways," said Loizos Heracleous, an aviation expert at Warwick Business School in Britain. "Increases in industry profitability after 2011 were aided by lower fuel prices. With fuel prices on an upward trend since 2016, the performance of some airlines has taken a hit."
The airline had 119 planes on Dec. 31, when it first defaulted on some of its more than $1 billion in debt. This week, it reduced its operations to only seven aircraft flying domestic routes.
The airline reported a net loss in the quarter that ended in December of 5.8 billion rupees, about $83 million. Jet Airways pilots complained that they had not received a salary in four months.
The New Delhi Television news channel said 20,000 jobs at the airline were at stake.
Seoul, Apr 18 (AP/UNB) — North Korea said Thursday that it had test-fired a new type of "tactical guided weapon," in what may be an attempt to register displeasure with a deadlock in nuclear talks with the United States without causing those coveted negotiations to collapse.
Leader Kim Jong Un observed the unspecified weapon being fired Wednesday by the Academy of Defense Science, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim was reported to have said "the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People's Army."
The Associated Press could not independently verify North Korea's claim, and it wasn't immediately clear what had been tested.
It is likely not, however, a banned ballistic missile test, which would jeopardize the diplomatic talks meant to provide the North with concessions in return for disarmament. A South Korean analyst said that details in the North's media report indicate it could have been a new type of cruise missile. Another possible clue: one of the lower level officials mentioned in the North's report on the test — Pak Jong Chon — is known as an artillery official.
The test comes during an apparent deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks after the failed summit in Hanoi between Kim and President Donald Trump earlier this year. Some in Seoul worry that the North will turn back to actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its hardline negotiating stance and grant the North's demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions. A string of increasingly powerful weapons tests in 2017 and Trump's response of "fire and fury" had many fearing war before the North shifted to diplomacy.
Trump said last month that he "would be very disappointed if I saw testing."
As the diplomacy stalls, there have been fresh reports of new activity at a North Korean missile research center and long-range rocket site where Pyongyang is believed to build missiles targeting the U.S. mainland. North Korean media said Wednesday that Kim guided a flight drill of combat pilots from an air force and anti-aircraft unit tasked with defending the capital Pyongyang from an attack.
During a speech at his rubber-stamp parliament last week, Kim set the year's end as a deadline for Washington to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage diplomacy.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea's descriptions of the test show the weapon is possibly a newly developed cruise missile. The North's report said the "tactical guided weapon" successfully tested in a "peculiar mode of guiding flight" and demonstrated the ability to deliver a "powerful warhead."
The North said Thursday that Kim mounted an observation post to learn about and guide the test-fire of the weapon.
This is the first known time Kim has observed the testing of a newly developed weapon system since last November, when North Korean media said he watched the successful test of an unspecified "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon." Some observers have been expecting North Korea to orchestrate "low-level provocations," like artillery or short-range missile tests, to register its anger over the way nuclear negotiations were going.
The analyst in Seoul, Kim Dong-yub, who is a former South Korean military official, said it wasn't yet clear whether the North conducted an advanced test of the same weapon Kim Jong Un observed in November or tested something different.
The White House said it was aware of the report and had no comment. The Pentagon also said it was aware but had no information to provide at this point.
A U.S. official familiar with monitoring operations said that neither U.S. Strategic Command nor NORAD observed any weapons test. That rules out tests that go high into the atmosphere, such as a ballistic missile, but does not rule out tests at lower altitudes.
After the animosity of 2017, last year saw a stunning turn to diplomacy, culminating in the first-ever summit between Washington and Pyongyang in Singapore, and then the Hanoi talks this year. North Korea has suspended nuclear and long-range rocket tests, and the North and South Korean leaders have met three times. But there are growing worries that the progress could be killed by mismatched demands between Washington and Pyongyang over sanctions relief and disarmament.
Washington says it won't allow the North's desired sanctions relief until the nation commits to verifiably relinquishing his nuclear facilities, weapons and missiles. Kim has shown no signs that he's willing to give away an arsenal he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.
Ramallah, Apr 17 (AP/UNB) — The new Palestinian prime minister on Tuesday accused the United States of declaring "financial war" on his people and said an American peace plan purported to be in the works will be "born dead."
In his first interview with international media since taking office over the weekend, Mohammad Shtayyeh laid out plans to get through the financial crisis he has inherited and predicted that the international community, including U.S. allies in the Arab world, would join the Palestinians in rejecting President Donald Trump's expected peace plan.
"There are no partners in Palestine for Trump. There are no Arab partners for Trump and there are no European partners for Trump," Shtayyeh said during a wide-ranging hour-long interview.
Shtayyeh, a British-educated economist, takes office as the Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous zones in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is mired in a financial crisis.
The Trump administration has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars of aid, including all of its support for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.
Israel has meanwhile withheld tens of millions of dollars of tax transfers to punish the Palestinians for their "martyrs' fund," a program that provides stipends to the families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed as a result of fighting with Israel.
The Israelis say the fund rewards violence, while the Palestinians say the payments are a national duty to families affected by decades of violence. Furious about the withholding, the Palestinians have in turn refused to accept partial tax transfers from Israel.
Without its key sources of revenue, the Palestinian Authority has begun paying only half salaries to tens of thousands of civil servants, reduced services and increased borrowing. In a new report released Wednesday, the World Bank said the Palestinian deficit will grow from $400 million last year to over $1 billion this year.
"Israel is part of the financial war that has been declared upon us by the United States. The whole system is to try to push us to surrender" and agree to an unacceptable peace proposal, Shtayyeh said. "This a financial blackmail, which we reject."
Shtayyeh laid out a number of proposals for weathering the storm. He said he has imposed spending cuts by reducing perks for his Cabinet ministers.
He said he would seek to develop the Palestinian agricultural, economic and education sectors and seek ways to reduce the Palestinian economy's dependence on Israel. For example, he proposed importing fuel from neighboring Jordan, instead of from Israel, and even floating a Palestinian currency. He also said the Palestinians would seek financial backing from Arab and European donors.
Despite the tensions with Israel and the U.S., Shtayyeh said the Palestinians remain committed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war. That includes establishing a capital in east Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed and claims as part of its eternal capital.
The two-state solution has enjoyed overwhelming international support for the past two decades. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hard-line political allies reject Palestinian independence.
Netanyahu secured another term in office in elections last week and is expected to form a new coalition with religious and nationalist parties that oppose the two-state solution. On the campaign trail, Netanyahu even raised the possibility of annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a step that could extinguish any remaining hopes for an independent Palestine.
Netanyahu has received a boost from Trump, who has given Netanyahu a number of diplomatic gifts since taking office. Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the U.S. Embassy to the holy city, slashed aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.
In a departure from Republican and Democratic predecessors, Trump also has notably refused to endorse the two-state solution. His peace team, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, has repeatedly pushed back the release of a peace plan it says it is preparing, and it remains unclear if or when it will be released.
Kushner's team has said little about their proposal. But their limited public statements have indicated it will call for large amounts of economic investment for the Palestinians, but given no sign that it will include their demand for independence.
Shtayyeh said that after all of the U.S. moves in favor of Israel, particularly the recognition of Jerusalem, there is nothing left to negotiate.
He said any proposal that ignores key Palestinian demands will be rejected by the international community. The European Union this week reiterated its call for peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state.
"Where are we going to have the Palestinian state?" he asked. "We are not looking for an entity. We are looking for a sovereign state."
"Palestinians are not interested in economic peace. We are interested in ending occupation," he said. "Life cannot be enjoyed under occupation."