Jakarta, Sep 23 (AP/UNB) — Campaigning for Indonesia's presidential election officially began Sunday with the two contenders releasing white doves and vowing a peaceful race as concerns simmer the campaign will sharpen religious and ethnic divides.
The election due in April pits incumbent Joko "Jokowi" Widodo against former general and ultranationalist Prabowo Subianto, who lost to Jokowi in 2014.
Dressed in traditional clothing, the candidates and their running mates paraded through central Jakarta on Sunday and released doves at a ceremony after reading out a peaceful campaign declaration.
The 2014 presidential election was marred by dirty campaigning and wild internet rumors that Jokowi was a secret communist and of Chinese background, accusations often used in Indonesia to discredit or intimidate political opponents.
Jokowi, the first Indonesian president from outside the country's political and military elite, has picked conservative cleric Ma'ruf Amin as his running mate, aiming to neutralize criticism that he is insufficiently Muslim.
He has a big but not unassailable lead over Prabowo in polls and Indonesia's recent hosting of the Asian Games further burnished his image.
With a population of more than 260 million, Muslim majority Indonesia is the world's third-largest democracy after India and the U.S. The country's image as a moderate Muslim nation has been undermined by flaring intolerance in the past several years, from the imprisonment of Jakarta's Christian governor, who was a Jokowi ally, for blasphemy to the canings of gay men in Aceh, a province that practices Shariah law.
Most of Jokowi's five-year term has been spent balancing the demands of his moderate base, powerful Islamic conservatives, a complicated parliamentary coalition and the military, which has never completely accepted its diminished role following the end of the Suharto dictatorship two decades ago.
Upgrading Indonesia's creaking infrastructure has been his signature policy but progress is uneven and many Indonesians still yearn for the strong-man type leadership represented by Suharto era figures such as Prabowo.
La Guaira, Sep 23 (AP/UNB)— A Chinese navy hospital ship docked near Venezuela's capital on Saturday as the OPEC nation's deepening economic crisis garners the attention of the U.S. and other world powers.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino was on hand to greet the People's Liberation Army Navy's ship, the Peace Ark, on its latest stop as part of the 11-nation "Mission Harmony" tour announced in June.
"This is how you undertake diplomacy in the world," Padrino said, "with concrete actions of cooperation and not stoking the false voices of those who beat the drum of war."
Interest in the goodwill visit has been building since the Pentagon announced in August it was sending its own hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, to neighboring Colombia to provide free medical treatment for thousands of Venezuelan migrants fleeing their homes amid widespread food and medicine shortages.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in a visit to Colombia last month, called the ship's deployment a humanitarian mission to deal with the fallout of President Nicolas Maduro's mismanagement of the economy. The United Nations estimates that 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the crisis-torn country in recent years, mainly to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.
But top officials in Venezuela's socialist government saw the Comfort's deployment as a threat, part of an effort by the U.S. to pave the way for a military intervention on humanitarian grounds.
Padrino on Saturday said the Chinese boat's visit was part of the government's "strategic defense operation."
The Peace Ark's humanitarian tours around the world have become a sign of China's outreach efforts and Beijing's ambitions of gradually expanding its military influence abroad.
The ship, which has 300 beds, eight operation rooms and a medical helicopter, has carried out such missions to more than 40 countries provided free medical services for more than 180,000 people since it was commissioned in 2008.
Such goodwill visits have been the mainstay of U.S. diplomacy in Latin America for decades.
The Chinese ship has twice before visited Latin America, in 2011 and 2015, but never has stopped in Venezuela. It will also visit the Caribbean island of Grenada and Ecuador on its current deployment.
Maduro, who came back a week ago from a visit to China where he sought fresh investment and financing from one of Venezuela's top ally, said on Twitter that the boat will stay in Venezuela for about a week.
Beijing, Sep 23 (AP/UNB) — China summoned the American ambassador and the defense attache and recalled its navy commander from a U.S. trip to deliver a strong protest against economic sanctions Washington lodged over the purchase of Russian fighter jets and surface-to-air missile equipment.
The Defense Ministry said the U.S. had no right to interfere in Chinese military cooperation with Russia.
"We demand that the U.S. immediately correct the mistake and revoke the so-called sanctions, otherwise the U.S. must bear the consequences," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The Foreign Ministry said that it had summoned Ambassador Terry Branstad.
The Central Military Commission, which commands the People's Liberation Army, the world's largest standing military, said that Huang Xueping, the commission's deputy head for international military cooperation, had also summoned the acting U.S. defense attache on Saturday evening, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Huang said China would immediately recall Shen Jinlong, a Chinese navy commander currently in the U.S. attending a symposium, and would postpone a meeting scheduled for Sept. 25-27 in Beijing about a communication mechanism.
"The Chinese military reserves the right to take further countermeasures," Huang was quoted as saying.
Washington says China's purchase of the weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia's main arms exporter, violated a 2017 law intended to punish the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in U.S. elections and other activities.
The action triggers a visa ban on China's Equipment Development Department and director Li Shangfu, forbids conducting transactions with the U.S. financial system and blocks all property and interests in property involving the country within U.S. jurisdiction.
The U.S. State Department said Li's office made a "significant transaction" involving the purchase of Su-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment this year.
The sanctions were enacted "to further impose costs on the Russian government in response to its malign activities," it said. The U.S. will continue to "urge all countries to curtail relationships with Russia's defense and intelligence sectors, both of which are linked to malign activities worldwide," it said.
The Kremlin dismissed the sanctions as an "unfair" move to undercut Russia as a major arms exporter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that Russia views the new set of sanctions as an attempt to undermine the competitiveness of Russian arms exports and vowed to reciprocate.
Jaipur, Sept 22 (UNB) - BJP president Amit Shah today said Bangladeshi migrants are "termites" who would soon be struck off the country's electoral rolls, reports NDTV.
Mr Shah, who was addressing a public rally at Gangapur in Rajasthan's Sawai Madhopur district ahead of the state assembly elections, went on to credit the BJP government with publishing the National Register of Citizens in Assam and identifying "nearly 40 lakh" illegal immigrants. "It will now pick out each and every infiltrator," he said.
The BJP president went on to describe the Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan as an unshakeable "Angad ka Paon" that cannot be dislodged by the opposition. He was referring to a character in the Ramayana who possessed a foot that even demon king Ravana could not move.
The Congress cannot help the country because it has neither a leader nor a policy, Mr Shah said, adding that party president Rahul Gandhi should deliver an account of what his own family has done for the country in the last four generations before asking the BJP to list out its achievements over the last four years.
He claimed that Rajasthan had been a "sick state" before Ms Raje opened its doors to progress.
The BJP president later went on to attend another event in Kota. He had visited Rajasthan earlier this month to review preparations for the party's election campaign.
Tehran, Sep 22 (AP/UNB) — Gunmen attacked an annual Iranian military parade Saturday in the country's oil-rich southwest, killing at least 24 people and wounding 53 others, local media reported.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault in Ahvaz, which saw gunfire spray into a crowd of marching Guardsmen, bystanders and government officials watching from a nearby riser. However, Iran faced a bloody assault last year from the Islamic State group and Arab separatists in the region have attacked oil pipelines there in the past.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif immediately blamed the attack on regional countries and their "U.S. masters," further raising regional tensions as Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers is in jeopardy after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord.
"Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives," he wrote on Twitter.
State television aired footage of the aftermath of the assault on Ahvaz's Quds, or Jerusalem, Boulevard, which like many other places around the country saw an annual parade marking the start of Iran's long 1980s war with Iraq. The images included paramedics trying to help one person in military fatigues as other armed security personnel shouted at each other. The semi-official ISNA news agency published photographs of the attack's aftermath, with bloodied troops in dress uniforms helping each other walk away.
A local news agency in Khuzestan province, of which Ahvaz is the capital, aired grainy mobile phone footage showing parade goers fleeing as soldiers lay flat on the ground. Gunfire rang out in the background.
"Security forces have restored security in the area but the parade has totally been disrupted," a reporter on the scene for Iranian state television said by phone in a live broadcast. "People have been killed but we have no figures yet."
Zarif on Twitter said that the gunmen were "terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime." He did not immediately elaborate. However, Arab separatist groups in the region have launched attacks on oil pipelines there in the past and Iran. The separatists also accuse Iran's Shiite theocracy of discriminating against its Sunni Arab citizens. Iran has blamed its Mideast archrival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for funding their activity.
Reports of how the attack unfolded remained unclear immediately afterward. The state TV reporter said the gunfire came from a park behind a riser. The semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to the Guard, said two gunmen on a motorcycle wearing khaki uniforms carried out the attack.
The state-run IRNA news agency said the attack killed 24 people and wounded 53, citing "knowledgeable sources" without elaborating. It said gunmen were dressed in Guard uniforms and targeted a riser where military and police commanders were sitting.
Khuzestan Gov. Gholamreza Shariati told IRNA that two gunmen were killed and other two were arrested.
Who carried out the assault also remained in question. State television immediately described the assailants as "takfiri gunmen," a term previously used to describe the Islamic State group. Iran has been deeply involved in the fight against IS in Iraq and has aided embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country's long war.
Among those involved are members of the Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard also has vast holdings in Iran's economy.
Meanwhile, Guard spokesman Gen. Ramazan Sharif told ISNA that an Arab separatist group carried out the attack, without elaborating. However, those groups in the past previously have only attacked unguarded oil pipelines at night.
Saturday's attack comes after a coordinated June 7, 2017 Islamic State group assault on parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran. At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
Khomeini led the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah to become Iran's first supreme leader until his death in 1989. The assault shocked Tehran, which largely has avoided militant attacks in the decades after the tumult surrounding the Islamic Revolution.