Spilling the beans


Spilling the beans

The extent to which the in house spilling of the beans will tarnish the standing of the omnipotent military and a generally tightlipped Suu Kyi can only be speculated upon.

When Myanmar’s putative icon of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, raised the flag of her party, the National League for Democracy, in Yangon on Tuesday, she at least theoretically flagged off the ruling party’s campaign for the election this November.

But the really unprecedented development of the day was the startling confession by two soldiers on the Rohingya persecution, notably executions, mass burials, rape and obliteration of villages. “Shoot all you see and all you hear,” was the stern directive of the commanding officer.

The extent to which the in house spilling of the beans will tarnish the standing of the omnipotent military and a generally tightlipped Suu Kyi can only be speculated upon. Suffice it to register that the video testimony from the two soldiers ~ which was shared with international prosecutors ~ is the first time that representatives of Tatmadaw (the Myanmarese military) have openly confessed to taking part in what UN officials say was a genocidal campaign against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

The statement by the soldiers coincides with the International Criminal Court opening a case to examine whether the Myanmarese military committed large-scale crimes against the Rohingyas. The soldiers have been sent to The Hague to be present during the trial.

This is a “monumental moment for Rohingyas and the people of Myanmar in their ongoing struggle for justice,” is the response of a human rights watchdog. Both soldiers could well be the first “insider witnesses” in the custody of the court.

While it is yet to be confirmed whether these two soldiers committed the crimes to which they confessed, details of their statement conform to descriptions provided by dozens of witnesses and observers, including Rohingya refugees, residents of Rakhine, soldiers and politicians. It is not clear what will happen to the two men, who are not under arrest but were effectively placed in the custody of the ICC on Monday.

The soldiers’ testimony will also add weight to the separate case at the International Court of Justice, where Myanmar has been accused of trying to “destroy the Rohingyas as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages”.

The regime in Naypidaw, if nominally helmed by Suu Kyi, could arguably have its back to the wall. It shall not be easy to airbrush, far less deny, the hideous narrative. Arguably, the soldiers’ confession will impinge on the proceedings of the International Criminal Court.

Their presence might lend a new dimension to the hearing. Myanmar’s Election Commission is yet to decide whether the vote will still go ahead as planned. In the interim, Suu Kyi has alleged that her campaign was disrupted because of travel restrictions in the wake of Covid19. The objective reflection of the soldiers reflects poorly on the military.




China passed ‘extraordinary, historic test’ with its handling of coronavirus: President Xi Jinping


China passed ‘extraordinary, historic test’ with its handling of coronavirus: President Xi Jinping

Statesman News Service | New Delh
China has passed “an extraordinary and historic test” with its handling of the coronavirus, President Xi Jinping said Tuesday at a triumphant awards ceremony for medical professionals decorated with bugle calls and applause.

The nation’s propaganda machine has churned out praise for China’s Covid-19 response, reframing the public health crisis as an example of the agility and organisation of the Communist leadership.

Xi doled out gold medals to four “heroes” from the medical field in front of hundreds of applauding delegates on Tuesday, all wearing face masks and strikingly large red flower pins.

“We have passed an extraordinary and historic test,” Xi said, praising the country for a “heroic struggle” against the disease.

“We quickly achieved initial success in the people’s war against the coronavirus. We are leading the world in economic recovery and in the fight against Covid-19.”

China has come under intense global scrutiny over its response to the virus, with the United States and Australia leading accusations against Beijing that it covered up the origins and severity of the virus.

Tuesday’s lavish ceremony in the Great Hall of the People began with a minute’s silence for those who lost their lives during the outbreak.

The four awardees included 83-year-old Zhong Nanshan — the country’s most famous medical expert who emerged as the face of China’s fight against the contagion.

He was awarded China’s top national medal by Xi, who placed it around Zhong’s neck.

“We will join hands with the… world’s medical workers to continue the fight in tracing the origins of the virus,” said Zhong.

Beijing has insisted the source of the virus — which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year — is still unknown.

Three others were given the honorary title of “The People’s Hero” — biochemical expert Chen Wei, the head of a hospital in Wuhan, and a 72-year-old expert in traditional Chinese medicine.

Some delegates were in tears during a series of speeches.

There was no mention however of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who was among the first to be silenced for raising the alarm about the outbreak and later died from the disease.

Before the ceremony, state broadcaster CCTV showed a video montage of Wuhan at the peak of the outbreak set to rousing music, including images of medical staff in hazmat suits and crowded hospitals.

According to official numbers there have been 4,634 deaths in China from Covid-19. The government has largely contained the outbreak through a serious of strict lockdowns and travel restrictions.




Debt-ridden Vodafone Idea aims to raise Rs 25,000 crore


Debt-ridden Vodafone Idea aims to raise Rs 25,000 crore

The fund-raising plans are subject to shareholders’ nod and other statutory approvals.

Vodafone Idea on Friday announced that the company plans to raise up to Rs 25,000 crore in fresh capital through a combination of equity and debt instruments to keep the company afloat.

The announcement comes days after the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) case and directed the telcos to pay 10 per cent of total AGR-related dues this year, and rest of the payments in 10 instalments, starting next fiscal year.

The fund raising will give a life-line to the loss-making company, which has suffered massive losses, as it has been losing subscribers and faces outstanding AGR dues of about Rs 50,000 crore.


 
“Issue of equity shares or securities convertible into equity shares, Global Depository Receipts, American Depository Receipts, foreign currency convertible bonds, convertible debentures, warrants, composite issue of non-convertible debentures and warrants entitling the warrant holder(s) to apply for equity shares or a combination thereof up to an aggregate amount of Rs. 15,000 crore by way a public issue, preferential allotment, private placement, qualified institutions placement or through any other permissible mode in one or more tranches,” the company said in a regulatory filing on Friday.

The fund-raising plans are subject to shareholders’ nod and other statutory approvals.

The filing further mentioned, “issuance of unsecured and / or secured, non-convertible debentures up to an aggregate amount of Rs. 15,000 crore, by way of public offering or private placement basis or otherwise, in one or more tranches.”

“However, the total raising of funds under (a) and (b) above shall not exceed Rs. 25,000 crore,” it added.

The proposals will be taken up at the company’s annual general meeting scheduled on September 30, 2020.

It is worth mentioning that Vodafone Idea on Thursday clarified that it had received no $ 4 billion investment proposal from Amazon.com or Verizon. However, it constantly evaluates various opportunities as part of corporate strategy, there is no such proposal currently before the Board at yet.

Fund infusion is critical for VIL, the third largest operator in the fiercely-competitive Indian telecom market, where Jio’s entry in 2016 with free calls and cheap data pushed some rivals to exit, acquire, or merge to stay afloat.

Notably, Vodafone Idea’s overall AGR dues stood at over Rs 58,000 crore, of which the company has paid Rs 7,854 crore to the Department of Telecom so far.

The statutory dues arose after the Supreme Court, in October last year, upheld the government’s position on including revenue from non-core businesses in calculating the annual AGR of telecom companies, a share of which is paid as licence and spectrum fee to the exchequer.

VIL has been under severe financial pressure, and analysts time and again have cautioned that the company’s longer-term viability remains under cloud.

In December, Vodafone Idea Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla had said VIL may have to shut if there is no relief on the statutory dues.

The company had reported a staggering Rs 73,878 crore of net loss in fiscal ended March 2020 – the highest ever by any Indian firm – after it provisioned for Supreme Court mandated statutory dues.

It reported a net loss of Rs 25,460 crore for the June quarter after making additional provisions to pay past statutory dues and had said its ability to continue as going concern hinges on the Supreme Court allowing more time to pay dues.




Trump declares Modi support, drags India into US electoral minefield


Trump declares Modi support, drags India into US electoral minefield

“We have great support from India, we have great support from Prime Minister Modi, and I would think that the people, the Indian people would be voting for Trump,” he said on Friday when asked about the Indian American vote.

President Donald Trump has dragged India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi into a possible minefield of US politics by asserting that India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi give him “great support” in the context of the US elections where foreign involvement is a sore point.

“We have great support from India, we have great support from Prime Minister Modi, and I would think that the people, the Indian people would be voting for Trump,” he said on Friday when asked about the Indian American vote.

A reporter referred to a video “Four More Years” targeting Indian Americans that was released during the Republican National Convention and was retweeted by his eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., and asked if the community would vote for him.

“I do,” Trump said. “We had an event in Houston, as you know, and it was a fantastic event. I was invited by Prime Minister Modi, this was massive, this was where they play football, Houston football team, It was incredible. It was actually incredible. The prime minister could not have been more generous.”

He then made the assertion about support from India and Modi, which could be controversial given the allegations of foreign interference in the November presidential elections.

Democrats have said that Russia was backing Trump and the Republicans have said that China was backing the Democratic Party’s candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The concept for the video, “Four More Years,” credited to Al Mason, the co-chair of the Trump Victory Indian American Finance Committee is subtle by using clips of Modi praising Trump at the “Howdy Modi” rally of about 50,000 Indian Americans in Houston last year and Trump praising Indian Americans and India, and saying the US will always be a “loyal and faithful friend to the Indian people” at the “Namaste Trump” rally in Ahmedabad in February.

However, Trump’s assertion at the Friday news conference of backing from Modi and India was more forthright and implies direct support from them for Trump in the elections which could complicate relations with the Democrats.

Indian Americans have traditionally been a bastion of the Democratic Party.

The Pew Research Centre has found that 65 per cent of Indian Americans are Democrats or lean towards the party.

According to Karthick Ramakrishnan, the director of the Asian American Pacific Islander Data which produces political research about those communities, 77 per cent of Indian Americans voted for the Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton and only 16 per cent for Trump in the 2016 election.

But Ramakrishnan told a National Public Radio interviewer in February, “My hunch is that there’s probably some movement towards President Trump but still overwhelming support for the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates as opposed to President Trump.”

Indian American voters could play a role in the battleground states — the swing states where neither party has an overwhelming majority and could go either way.

The reporter asked Trump if his eldest son and daughter Ivanka Trump would campaign for him among Indian Americans in the battleground states this year.

Trump replied, “They’re very good young people. And I know their relationship to India is very good and so is mine. And Prime Minister Modi is a friend of mine and he has done a very good job. Nothing easy, nothing easy, but he is doing a very good job.”

He added, “They think a lot of India and so do I, and I think a lot of your prime minister.”

He said, “What we saw (during the February India visit), the people are so incredible. It is really an incredible place and incredible country. And it is definitely big, it is definitely big. But you have got a great leader and he is a great person.”

While defending his response to the Covid-19 pandemic, he said that India has “done a good job” of testing for the disease, carrying out the second-highest number of tests in the world, ranking behind the US.

In 2016, the Trump campaign made special efforts to reach out to Hindu voters. Communal and religious appeals are legal in the US and both parties resort to them, although it was the first time a presidential candidate campaigned for Hindu votes.

Trump addressed a rally organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition and his son Eric visited a Hindu temple in Florida.

A video of Trump welcoming a sari-clad Indian software developer to the “great American family of citizens” during a citizenship ceremony at the White House was shown at last month’s Republican Convention to show his support for legal immigrants.

However, in his address to the convention he highlighted action against employing H1-B workers at a government-owned energy conglomerate. Indians get the majority H1-B visas, given to professionals and specialised workers and efforts to curtail them are met with criticism from India.

The convention also showed a video in which Trump presented as a “hostage” an American missionary caught by his own admission in India committing currency violations. Even though he was given due process with the Indian judiciary and released, Trump had him presented alongside victims of countries like Iran and Syria.




First ballots of 2020 US presidential election issued in North Carolina


First ballots of 2020 US presidential election issued in North Carolina

State data showed Democratic voters are requesting ballots at more than three times the rate of Republican voters, Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

More than half-million absentee ballots, the first ballots of the 2020 US presidential election, have left elections offices en route to voters who have requested them across the southern state of North Carolina, a spokesman for the North Carolina Board of Elections said.

Over 643,000 North Carolinians have requested ballots so far this year, and hundreds of thousands more are likely to do so in the 60 days remaining before the November 3 elections, according to a The Hill report. State data showed Democratic voters are requesting ballots at more than three times the rate of Republican voters, Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

The figure far exceeds the previous presidential contest. At this point in 2016, just 38,871 voters had asked for their absentee ballots, said the report.

The number of US voters who cast ballots by mail has roughly doubled this century, from about 10 per cent in the 2000 election to about 21 per cent in 2016, according to data compiled by University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald. That number is expected to explode this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Up to 44 million voters in nine states and the District of Columbia will have their ballots automatically mailed to their homes. Another 118 million voters live in 34 states that, like North Carolina, allow no-excuse absentee voting.




UP Police nabs accused in rape, murder of three-year-old girl in Lakhimpur Kheri


UP Police nabs accused in rape, murder of three-year-old girl in Lakhimpur Kheri

The district police chief, Satendra Kumar, had told that the police have formed four teams to look for the accused man.

In the latest development in the three-year-old girl’s rape and murder case in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri, the police have caught the accused man in an encounter on Friday.

The district police chief, Satendra Kumar, had told that the police have formed four teams to look for the accused man.

This is the third case of rape and murder in the state in the last 20 days. She was found missing since Wednesday and her body was found just half a kilometre from her home.

Yesterday, the police had called it murder. Sexual assault was confirmed by the autopsy, said the police.

In his complaint to the police, the girl’s father had accused a villager Lekhram. He alleged that the girl was kidnapped and killed in a rivalry.

“The body has been sent for post-mortem. We are investigating the matter and stringent action will be taken against accused,” he added.

Last week, a 17-year-old girl was raped and her mutilated body was found near a village in Lakhimpur Kheri district.

The police had initially said the girl appeared to have been killed with a sharp weapon and that she had sustained injuries to her neck. The body was found near a dried-up pond, around 200 metres from her village.

The post-mortem report has confirmed rape, said SP Satendar Kumar and added that all possible efforts are being made to identify and arrest the accused.

According to the relatives of the girl, she had left home on Monday to visit a neighbouring town to fill up a scholarship form. However, when she did not return, the family informed the police.

On August 15, a 13-year-old girl was raped and killed in Lakhimpur Kheri district and her body found in a sugarcane field. The girl’s family had claimed that their daughter’s body was found with her eyes gouged out, tongue cut and strangled with a ‘dupatta’, in a sugarcane field.

However, the UP Police denied that the girl’s eyes were gouged out or tongue being cut, as it was not mentioned in the post-mortem report. They said that the report states rape and strangulation.

On August 16, in yet another shocking incident emerging from Uttar Pradesh, a minor girl was allegedly raped and singed with cigarette butts by two men in the Gola area of Gorakhpur district.

Earlier, on August 6, a 6-year-old girl in Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh was kidnapped and raped. She was left to die in a nearby forest, from where a search and rescue team found her almost 12 hours later. The police later arrested the accused. The girl has been through at least one surgery following the attack.




Torrential rains in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa kill 23


Torrential rains in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa kill 23

The officials said that most of the casualties were reported on Wednesday from upper parts of Hazara division, where at least 19 people lost their lives while four others died in Buner district of Malakand division, reports Xinhua Dawn news.

At least 23 people were killed and many others suffered injuries after torrential rains lashed different parts of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, officials said.

The officials said that most of the casualties were reported on Wednesday from upper parts of Hazara division, where at least 19 people lost their lives while four others died in Buner district of Malakand division, reports Xinhua Dawn news.

The Hazara division also witnessed flash floods in Kunhar, Siren and Indus rivers and streams in Mansehra, Torghar, Upper Kohistan, Lower Kohistan and Kolai-Palas districts.

The Karakoram Highway and many key roads were blocked for vehicular traffic following heavy landslides and communication and electricity supply infrastructure was damaged.




UK-EU have ‘useful review’ on Brexit, but difficulties remain


UK-EU have ‘useful review’ on Brexit, but difficulties remain

David Frost, the UK government’s chief negotiator, and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier had a “useful review of the whole agenda before our talks” during informal Brexit discussions on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency quoted the spokesman as saying on Wednesday.

Negotiators from the UK and the European Union (EU) had “a useful review” of the Brexit agenda, but “major difficulties” still remained on the way to make a progress in resolving outstanding issues, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

David Frost, the UK government’s chief negotiator, and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier had a “useful review of the whole agenda before our talks” during informal Brexit discussions on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency quoted the spokesman as saying on Wednesday.

“But as I said, major difficulties remain and the EU’s instance on progress on state aid and fisheries is an obstacle to making progress overall but we remain in close contact with the EU side and we will look forward to the next round of talks next week in London,” he said.

On Wednesday, Barnier said in Dublin that he was “worried and disappointed” after Frost made no concessions to end the impasse during informal talks.

There will be no post-Brexit trade deal without UK-EU agreement on fisheries, Barnier said.

He warned the UK against using the issue as a “bargaining chip” in stalled talks.

“We did not see any change in the position of the UK,” Barnier said.

“This is why I express publicly that I am worried and I am disappointed. I’ve shown clearly openness to find compromise,” he said, adding that “it is the UK’s responsibility” to find a compromise and avoid crashing out of the EU.

Frost and Barnier met in London on Tuesday ahead of the eighth round of formal negotiations next week.

The EU negotiator reiterated that a deal must be brokered by the “strict deadline” of the end of next month ahead of the transition period on December 31.

“If they don’t move on the issues which are the key issues of the EU, the level playing field, fisheries and governance, the UK will take itself the risk of a no-deal,” he said.

The UK ended its EU membership on January 31 but is still following EU rules during a transition period until December 31 to enable a permanent future trade deal to be reached.

During this period, the UK would have to pay into EU funds but have no say in laws imposed by Brussels.

If both sides fail to secure a trade deal before the transitional period expires, they will trade under the World Trade Organization terms, under which new border controls and tariffs will mean extra cost for bilateral trade.




India ranks 48th in global innovation index


India ranks 48th in global innovation index

Switzerland, Sweden, the US, the UK and the Netherlands lead the innovation ranking, and the top 10 positions are dominated by high-income countries, WIPO said in a statement.

India has joined the group of top 50 countries in the global innovation index for the first time, moving up four places to the 48th rank and keeping the top position among the nations in central and southern Asia.

According to the Global Innovation Index (GII) list, 2020 released jointly by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Cornell University and INSEAD Business School on Wednesday, the rankings show stability at the top but a gradual “eastward shift in the locus of innovation” as Asian economies like China, India, the Philippines and Vietnam have advanced considerably in the innovation ranking over the years.

Switzerland, Sweden, the US, the UK and the Netherlands lead the innovation ranking, and the top 10 positions are dominated by high-income countries, WIPO said in a statement.

About India, the statement said it has become the third most innovative lower middle-income economy in the world, thanks to newly available indicators and improvements in various areas of the GII.

India ranks in the top 15 in indicators such as ICT (Information and Communication Technology) services exports, government online services, graduates in science and engineering, and R&D-intensive global companies.

“Thanks to universities such as the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and Delhi and the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, and its top scientific publications, India is the lower middle-income economy with the highest innovation quality,” it said.

A total of 131 countries were analysed under the GII before arriving at the rankings.

The metrics include institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market sophistication and business sophistication, knowledge and technology outputs and creative outputs.

Meanwhile, an official statement said WIPO had also accepted India as one of the leading innovation achievers of 2019 in the central and southern Asian region, as it has shown a consistent improvement in its innovation ranking for the last five years.

“The consistent improvement in the global innovation index rankings is owing to the immense knowledge capital, the vibrant startup ecosystem, and the amazing work done by the public & private research organization,” the statement said.

It further said bodies like the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology and Department of Space have played a pivotal role in enriching the national innovation ecosystem.

The statement noted that NITI Aayog has been working tirelessly to ensure optimisation of national efforts in this direction by bringing policy-led innovation in different areas such as electric vehicles, biotechnology, nanotechnology, space and alternative energy sources.

The India Innovation Index, which was released last year by NITI Aayog, has been widely accepted as a major step in the direction of decentralisation of innovation across all states of the country, it said.

“The call for Aatma Nirbhar Bharat by the Prime Minister could only be realized if India punches above its weight class and compete with global superpowers in developing scientific interventions.

“It is time that India brings a paradigm shift and aims to be in the top 25 countries in the next global innovation index rankings,” it added.




Eleven teams of Indo-US scientists selected to jointly scout for COVID19 solutions


Eleven teams of Indo-US scientists selected to jointly scout for COVID19 solutions

The teams have been selected to take up these initiatives through a rigorous binational review process of proposals received for an invitation under COVID-19 Ignition Grants in April 2020 issued by the US-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund (USISTEF).

Eleven teams of Indian and US scientists will soon start jointly scouting for out of the box solutions ranging from novel early diagnostic tests, antiviral therapy, drug repurposing, ventilator research, disinfection machines, and sensor-based symptom tracking for COVID 19.

The teams have been selected to take up these initiatives through a rigorous binational review process of proposals received for an invitation under COVID-19 Ignition Grants in April 2020 issued by the U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund (USISTEF).

The USISTEF announced the awards to 11 bilateral teams proposing out-of-the-box innovative ideas to address the COVID-19 challenge. The USISTEF has been established by the Government of India (through the Department of Science & Technology) and the governments of the United States of America (through the Department of State) for the promotion of joint activities that would lead to innovation and entrepreneurship through the application of science and technology.

The joint US-India S&T based entrepreneurial teams will work on initiatives that address the development and implementation of new technologies, tools, and systems to address COVID-19 related challenges including monitoring, diagnosis, health and safety, public outreach, information and communication.

As countries battle the COVID-19 pandemic, innovations in Science, Engineering, and Technology will play a critical role in finding solutions to this global challenge through the development of new vaccines, devices, diagnostic tools, and information systems, as well as strategies to help communities and nations manage and deploy resources to combat this pandemic.

In keeping with its’ mission and vision, the USISTEF announced the Call for Proposals under the category of COVID-19 Ignition Grants with the intent to support promising joint US-India S&T based entrepreneurial initiatives to address the COVID-19 challenge.

The mission of the United States–India Science & Technology Endowment Fund is to support and foster joint applied R&D to generate public good through the commercialization of technology developed through partnerships between U.S. and Indian researchers and entrepreneurs to help combat this pandemic.

The bilateral Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF) administers all activities of the USISTEF program. Details of the Awardee projects can be accessed at www.iusstf.org




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