New Delhi, Jun 20 (AP/UNB) — India's government has created a new ministry to respond to a growing water crisis, with more than 60% of the country's 1.3 billion people dependent on farming and favorable monsoon rains.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind told Parliament on Thursday that the new Ministry of Water Power will tackle water conservation and management.
Kovind said traditional water conservation practices are disappearing as ponds and lakes are filled to build houses and other developments, and that vanishing water sources have worsened the crisis for the poor.
Millions of people have been forced to rely on water from tank trucks in the southern Tamil Nadu state, which had a 62% shortfall in monsoon rains last year.
Kovind said water shortages are one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century and are likely to be worsened by climate change. He said the creation of the new ministry "is a decisive step in this direction, which will have far-reaching benefits."
The government is assessing the possibility of connecting rivers in various states to help with regional water shortages. Several Indian states have disputes over the sharing of water carried by rivers and have petitioned the Supreme Court to obtain larger shares.
Experts recommend the restoration of open areas to recharge groundwater, the prevention of polluted water from entering groundwater, and the collection of rainwater from roofs.
Kovind, whose position is largely ceremonial, addressed both houses of Parliament at the start of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second term after his party's massive victory in elections last month.
Putrajaya, Jun 20 (AP/UNB) — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday rejected the implication that Russia may have been involved in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, after international prosecutors charged with murder four men — three of them Russians with military or intelligence backgrounds — in the 2014 missile attack that killed all 298 people aboard.
Mahathir said he doesn't think the findings of the international investigative team "is true at all" as it was based on hearsay.
"We are very unhappy because from the very beginning, it became a political issue on how to accuse Russia of the wrongdoing," he told reporters. "Even before they examine (the debris), they already say Russia. So it is very difficult for us to accept that."
In announcing the charges Wednesday, prosecutors appealed for witnesses to help lead them even further up the chain of command in President Vladimir Putin's Russia.
The trial for the defendants, who also include a Ukrainian separatist fighter, was set for next March in the Netherlands, though it appeared unlikely any of them would be brought before the court, since Russia and Ukraine forbid the extradition of their citizens.
Russia's Foreign Ministry called the charges against its citizens "absolutely unfounded" and accused the investigators of using "dubious sources of information" and ignoring evidence provided by Moscow in order to discredit Russia.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down on July 17, 2014, over eastern Ukraine by what investigators said was a Buk missile from a Russian anti-aircraft unit. Investigators believe the Ukrainian rebels probably mistook the Boeing 777 passenger jet for a Ukrainian military plane.
Eastern Ukraine's pro-Moscow rebels have relied heavily on Russian military assistance during the separatist conflict that erupted in April 2014 and has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
"As far as we are concerned we want proof of guilt ... but so far, there is no proof. Only hearsay," Mahathir said. "I hope everybody will go for the truth."
Malaysia's Foreign Ministry said the country remained committed to the investigation to ensure it remains transparent, credible and effective. It urged all parties to cooperate with the process.
In Australia, Paul Guard, the son of MH17 passengers Roger and Jill Guard, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he's glad the investigation has progressed and nearing its end. But he said he doesn't hold out much hope that the four men charged will face court.
The parents of another victim, Jack O'Brien, who was one of 38 Australians on the plane, said it was hard for them to even look at the photos of the suspects.
"I also looked at the faces of the ... average soldiers from that brigade and wondered, you know, are any of them remorseful for what's happened if they played a role? Who knows. We don't know them, we don't know what their lives are."
One of those charged was Igor Girkin, a retired colonel in Russia's main intelligence agency, the FSB. He led Russian and separatist forces in Ukraine's Donetsk region in 2014.
Girkin dismissed the accusations in a telephone interview Wednesday, saying the "insurgents did not shoot down the Boeing." Girkin lives in Moscow.
The three others charged are Russian citizens Sergey Dubinskiy, identified as a former employee of Russia's military intelligence service, and Oleg Pulatov, described as a former soldier in military intelligence; and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian citizen who led a combat unit in the Donetsk.
Cairo, Jun 20 (AP/UNB) — A Libyan commander whose forces are fighting to take the country's capital of Tripoli from militias allied with a U.N.-backed government based there has dismissed an initiative by its prime minister for negotiations to end the crisis.
Khalifa Hifter also vowed to press his campaign and rid Tripoli of what he says are "terrorist militias."
Hifter spoke on Wednesday to a local news website, almarsad.co. He says "military operations will not stop" until Tripoli is taken.
In April, Hifter's self-styled Liberation National Army that's based in eastern Libya, launched the offensive. The campaign, criticized by the U.N. and aid agencies, has killed hundreds and displaced thousands of civilians.
It has also raised fears of another bout of violence after the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Moscow, Jun 20 (AP/UNB) — President Vladimir Putin is promising to boost spending on social programs as part of the government's modernization efforts.
Speaking in an annual live call-in show Thursday, Putin faced an array of complaints about low wages and pensions. Putin responded by spelling out plans to boost salaries for public sector workers.
More than 1.5 million people have sent their questions by phone, video calls or internet.
For the people across the vast country, the tightly-choreographed show provides a rare opportunity to take their grievances to the very top. The call-in is dominated by complaints about low wages, potholed roads, decrepit schools, overfilled hospitals and other social issues.
Putin noted that Russia has been hurt by a drop in energy prices and international sanctions, but added that the economy has improved.
London, Jun 20 (AP/UNB) — Britain's governing Conservatives were set to pick two candidates Thursday who will square off to become the country's next prime minister.
Tory lawmakers will vote to eliminate two contenders from a four-strong field that includes ex-foreign minister and London mayor Boris Johnson, current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Johnson has a commanding lead after three rounds of voting that cut the list from an initial 10 contenders. The three others are battling to join him in a runoff to be decided by 160,000 Conservative Party members nationwide.
All the candidates are vowing to lead Britain out of the European Union, a challenge that defeated outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May. She quit as Conservative leader earlier this month after failing to win Parliament's backing for her Brexit deal.
The winner of the contest, due to be announced the week of July 22, will become Conservative leader and prime minister.
Many in the party doubt that anyone can beat Johnson, a quick-witted, Latin-spouting extrovert admired for his ability to connect with voters, but mistrusted for his erratic performance, and record of inaccurate and sometimes offensive comments.
Hunt is considered an experienced and competent minister, but unexciting. Gove is the sharpest performer and could come out best in head-to-head debates with Johnson, his longstanding frenemy. The two men led the "leave" campaign Britain's 2016 EU membership referendum, but later fell out.
Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants, says he offers a common-man alternative to private school-educated rivals like Johnson and Hunt, although he was a highly paid investment banker before entering politics.
Brexit, originally scheduled to take place on March 29, has been postponed twice amid political deadlock in London. The candidates differ on how they plan to end the impasse.
Johnson has won backing from the party's die-hard Brexiteers by insisting the U.K. must leave the bloc on the rescheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal to smooth the way.
Javid, like Johnson, says he would try to leave the EU without an agreement rather than delay Brexit beyond Oct. 31. Gove and Hunt both say they would seek another postponement if needed to secure a deal, but only for a short time.
Critics say none of the candidates' plans is realistic.
The EU is adamant that it won't reopen the Brexit agreement it struck with May's government, which has been rejected three times by Britain's Parliament. Many economists and businesses warn that leaving without a deal on divorce terms and future relations would cause economic turmoil as tariffs and other disruptions are imposed on trade between Britain and the EU.
U.K. Treasury chief Philip Hammond warned Thursday that a no-deal Brexit would put Britain's prosperity at risk and leave the economy "permanently smaller."
"The question to the candidates is not 'What is your plan?' but 'What is your plan B?' Hammond said in extracts from a speech he is giving later in the day."