May 272019

Pulack Ghatack: Abida Sultana (not her real name), daughter of a sex worker, was brought up in a safe home near the Daulatdia Brothel in Dhaka’s outskirt and she does not know her father’s name. Diagonozed as hepatitis-B positive patient, condition of Abida deteriorated in 2007 and she was badly in need of a passport to travel to India for better treatment.

But the authorities did not allow her to obtain a passport, as she could not disclose the name of her father in the petition. “I cannot help you. You can go to India through an underground tunnel,” the Security Branch (SB) official retorted with a rude sarcasm, as Abida repeatedly sought his assistance to get the passport.

“Many times I thought it would be better for me to commit suicide, as the society and the state are not accepting me as a human being. What is my fault? Is it a crime for me to be a child of a sex worker,” Abida told the Daily Observer.

Abida is an honors graduate and is now working with a foreign NGO to serve the distressed Rohingya refugees in the Cox’s Bazar coastal district in Southern Bangladesh. At last, she had to sacrifice her principle to apply for a passport and mentioned a false name as her father, for the existing law requires her to cite the name of her parents in all official works.

A number of victims like Abida narrated their plights to this correspondent. They face problems in obtaining birth certificates, getting admission in educational institutions, obtaining national IDs or voter cards and also to get a job for their survival.

Shahajadi Begum, a development worker, who researched on lives in the brothels in Bangladesh, said, “Woes of sex workers’ children are unspeakable. They do not inherit wealth from any father, who is unknown in reality. They face troubles in getting admission to schools and also in securing a job in the government or private offices.”

Not only for the children of sex workers, disclosures of father’s identity in official papers is an embarrassing question for many, including the street children, children of surrogate mothers, rape survivors, children abandoned by father and also children born through IVF (in vitro fertilization) technology.

The Daily Observer has examined the existing laws and talked to some legal experts to delve deep into the issue and found only plightful details of many victims, without finding any seamless solution in the existing legal system.

Article 27 of the Bangladesh Constitution says that “All  citizens  are  equal  before  law  and  are  entitled  to  equal protection of law.” The Article 28 of the supreme charter also unequivocally forbids any discrimination “against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”

But discrimination runs rampant making the lives of thousands vulnerable by denying them state facilities only due to their identities by birth.

Father is the legal guardian of a child, while a mother can be considered simply as a custodian in absence of the father according to Muslim Family Law. Mother has no role in guardianship of kids also as per customary Hindu laws prevalent in Bangladesh.

However, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs issued a gazette notification on August 27, 2000 making it mandatory to include mother’s name beside the name of father for all official purposes.

But no initiative has been taken to codify or amend the existing family laws to make the official procedures simple and implementable for all citizens, even if there are complicacies in disclosing parents’ identities.

“Rather than simplifying the mater, the government gazette has made the things complicated and tougher for many, who have problems over parental identity,” human rights activist Khusi Kabir has said.

A child was discovered from the bathroom of Shere-e-Banglanagar hospital in Dhaka on May 14. Her mother has fled living her in the bathroom, while the father is also trace-less. Is there any legal obligation for this child to acknowledge the mother or father, if found after many years?

“It is a humane question and true for both mother and father,” Khusi Kabir said as she was approached. “I have found a good number of cases, where the mothers left their children just after birth and the father reared the children up. So a person, if he or she is unwilling to bear the name of an irresponsible mother, cannot be forced to be identified by the mother’s name,” she added.

She demanded that the law be amended, so that the people in identity crisis can get the option to include the name of anybody or the state or an organization as their legal guardians, bypassing their biological father or mother.

Rahela (pseudonym), a rape victim, has got a child from the rapist. However, she wants her child to grow up with the identity of another man as father, whom she married later. But there is no legal provision to this effect and there are so many complications over it.

Firstly, adoption is forbidden in Muslim family law. If her husband agrees to adopt the son of the rapist, there will come the question of inheriting his wealth, as he has another child from her former wife.

Secondly, the alleged rapist has denied the allegation in the court. He cannot be held as the biological father, until the court declares it. If the court finds him guilty, then will come the question, whether the child will be eligible to inherit wealth of the rapist as a son.

A girl in Cumilla district was gang raped and later gave birth to a child, causing an identity mess over the baby’s father. Three persons confessed to have committed the offense before the court and it could not be determined, who the father of the child is.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said, “There is no specific provision of the state on these issues. As this reporter asked for a legal solution to the problems, he just said, “It is a matter of the state’s policy.”

Asked about the provisions and practices for issuing National ID Card and enrolling the adult children of sex workers and others who have identity problems, Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam said, “There is no clear cut law or rule in this regard. We provide them identity cards, on the basis of the information they provide.”

“During the training sessions of our staff, we instruct them not to deprive any adult person to become a voter or in getting ID card, even if they cannot disclose the name of their fathers. However, in most of the cases, the children of the sex workers name someone as their father,” she said.

“It could be better, if there was a specific law about it,” Kabita Khanam said.

Indian Supreme Court in a historic verdict in the Abc vs State (NCT of Delhi) case on July 6, 2015 ruled that an unwed mother is allowed to apply for sole guardianship of her child without having to send ‘the mandatory notice’ to the uninvolved father.

Moreover, she may not be forced to reveal the name of the father against her wish. At the same time, the identity of the father may also not be required for obtaining the child’s birth certificate.

The appellant of that case was a follower of Christian faith, who had raised her son without any assistance of his biological father. To appoint her son the nominee of her savings, she was asked to either to disclose the name of the father or get a guardianship/adoption certificate from the court. The Supreme Court came to her rescue.

The Madras High Court (HC) of India in a verdict on July 14, 2018 ruled that single mothers cannot be forced to disclose name of child’s father for birth certificate.

“There are also cases where women are constrained to raise children with their own sources in view of their unwilling and unconcerned partners. It would be totally unjustifiable to insist such single or unwed mothers to compel them to declare the name of the father of the child who has chosen to abandon the child,” the court said.

Mathumitha Ramesh was the petitioner. She had given birth to a child through intrauterine fertility treatment. Being a divorcee, she had resorted to insemination with the help of a semen donor.

The Delhi HC in a landmark verdict, earlier on May 21, 2016, held that only the mother’s name is sufficient to apply for a passport, which is regarded as a big boost for single mothers as well as unwed mothers in India.

Authorities cannot insist on mentioning the name of one’s biological father in passport in certain cases where she is a single parent, the court said.

In Bangladesh, the HC on August 3, 2009 issued a rule on the government authorities seeking explanation why the mandatory provision for mentioning father’s name for appearing for secondary or higher secondary examinations will not be annulled.

The court issued the rule upon a petition by Bangladesh Legal Aide and Services Trust (BLAST), Mahila Parishad and Naripokkho, as an SSC (Secondary School Certificate) examinee in Thakurgaon district was denied permission to appear for SSC examination due to her failure to disclose father’s name.

The girl was brought up by her mother alone after her father did not provide for or recognise either her or her mother. The Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board of Rajshahi refused to issue an admit card to her for not filling up the entry for ‘father’s name’ in the Student’s Information Form required prior to sitting for SSC examinations.

However, the ministries of Education, Civil Administration, Women and Children Affairs and the Directorates of the Education Boards have not given any reply to the rule so far, and the case has been remaining unresolved till now.

The HC issued another rule on May 20, the latest of its kind, asking the government to explain why it should not be directed to properly implement the gazette notification that mandated the use of mother’s name along with the father’s name in all identity documents.

Noted lawyer and human rights activist Dr Sara Hossain said, “A High Court order can resolve the complicacies over the issue. Hearings on both the cases can be conducted simultaneously for getting a better solution.”

Former law minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed said, “Law cannot make someone to do something, which is impossible to do. Sex workers’ children do not know the names of their fathers. So they cannot be forced to name someone. It would be unjust.”

“This is same to the children of rape victims. The state cannot make it mandatory for them to name the rapists as their father, if they are unwilling to do so,” the noted jurist added.

Activist Khusi Kabir said, “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, instructed all to mention him as the father of any child, who were born due to rapes by Pakistan army and their collaborators during the War of Liberation in 1971. As the head of the state, he took the responsibility of the war-children having identity crisis.”

“Now the state should come forward to take the responsibility of the rape victims and children of sex workers,” she said.

Pulack Ghatack is a Bangladeshi journalist working with the Daily Observer.

# The report was first published in the Daily Observer, Bangladesh.

May 192019

AFP, DOHA: The organisers of the 2022 Qatar World Cup said on Saturday that “there will be no decision imposed” on the country to extend the tournament to 48 teams.

Anticipation is mounting ahead of the final decision, due to be announced in Paris at the beginning of June, whether to retain a 32-team format or expand it.

“(The) decision will be made between FIFA and Qatar,” said Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.

“In case a decision is made it will be due to our willingness and belief in the benefits of the increase. If we find that there is no benefit to it, or that the negatives are more than the positives, our decision will be to remain on 32 teams.”

Expansion could mean FIFA seeking co-hosts in the region willing to support Qatar, a complicated proposition for Doha which is subject to an ongoing embargo by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies.

“In case it is increased, (the feasibility study) favours expansion to other countries,” said al-Thawadi.

“We are studying (it) in all seriousness and the decision will be next month and it will be final.”

Talks between FIFA and Qatari organisers are ongoing, he added during a media briefing in Doha.

“I will leave the period of suspense until we announce it next month,” said al-Thawadi.

Al-Thawadi said that following Thursday’s opening of the al-Janoub stadium, the first purpose-built for the tournament, “we have now six more stadiums to go”.

“By the end of this year (or) first quarter of next year we will be launching two stadiums as well,” he said.

The exact date would depend on the timing of events to launch the two venues, he added.

“By 2021 all our stadiums will be ready,” he said, adding that the remaining stations of the recently-launched metro system would be fully operational by 2020, linking stadiums and the airport.

“I’m very proud to say that infrastructure-wise, we are there.”

On Friday training site project manager Ahmed al-Obaidly said that the 41 training sites required for a 32-team World Cup were ready and that any increase in participants would be addressed.

FIFA recommended in March that the number of teams should be raised to 48 for 2022, ahead of the planned 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Al-Janoub, which was known as al-Wakrah stadium until the country’s emir announced the name change in a tweet ahead of the inaugural match, was the latest milestone in Qatar’s preparations.

Spectators were treated to a laser show, a military band and fireworks before the final of the domestic Emir Cup in which al-Sadd were beaten 1-4 by al-Duhail.

“It was a great success,” said al-Thawadi. “(But) there were definitely lessons learned in there.”

The 40,000-capacity stadium was designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid and cost an estimated $575 million.

May 192019

An Indian actress named Rakhi Sawant has recently landed in hot water after she posted a picture of herself on social media holding a Pakistani flag.

Described by India Today as a “controversy’s child”, Sawant captioned the Instagram photo with the following statement: “I love my India but it’s my character in the film Dhara 370”.

As the media outlet points out, the picture quickly triggered a barrage of criticism, with many netizens bashing her for posing with the flag, and one of them even calling her “Ms Rakhi ‘Pakistani’ Sawant” and saying that she is “suitable for Pakistani citizenship”.

In a video response which she also posted on her Instagram page, Sawant pointed out that her character in the movie is actually a Pakistani girl, and insisted that she respects the people of Pakistan.

Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated earlier this year when at least 40 Indian security personnel were killed in a terrorist attack in Pulwama.

After a Pakistan-based terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack, New Delhi accused Islamabad of harbouring and sponsoring the terrorist outfit, with Pakistan rejecting these accusations and tensions later culminating in a dogfight over Kashmir.

Indian Express writes:

Despite her clarification in the caption, many trolled the actor and advised her to go to Pakistan. One of the comments on her post read, “You are suitable for Pakistani citizenship, Ms Rakhi ‘Pakistani’ Sawant.” Another Instagram user wrote, “Time to unfollow you.”

After getting many hate comments on her photo post, Rakhi Sawant shared a video where she explained she is playing a Pakistani girl in the movie Dhara 370. She also added that the people of Pakistan are also kind-hearted and she respects them. Adding to it, she said there are a few bad elements in every society who go against ‘Allah’ and ‘Ishwar’.

Rakhi didn’t stop here. The actor shared a few more photos of herself with the Pakistani flag. She posted another video and wrote, “Wen I have sain this movie that time I got to know that so many Pakisani people helping indian and Kasmiri people thanks to dos Pakistani people i saw bajarngi bhai jaan that is allso thruth in Pakistan there is good people allso there hu helps indian.”

Dhara 370 also stars Hiten Tejwani and is being shot in various parts of Uttrakhand.

May 192019

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh on Sunday said Accord, a European agency for factory inspection and remediation, can continue its activities for 281 days from May 8, when a memorandum of understanding was signed between Accord and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) in this regard.

The BGMEA will form a cell in the Accord and they will jointly inspect and ensure safety and security of garments factories and workers in Bangladesh, the apex court said.

The SC also ruled that the Accord will leave the country after 281 days from the date of signing of the MoU between Accord and BGMEA, said Barrister Imtiaz Mainul Islam, the lawyer for BGMEA told journalists.

A four-member bench of the Appellate Division headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain passed the order after disposing of an appeal filed by Accord challenging a High Court verdict.

The HC last year directed the Accord to stop its activities in Bangladesh after November 30 last.

The decision came after Bangladesh’s garment makers and European retailers reached an agreement.

The Accord was signed in the immediate aftermath to the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, which killed 1,133 workers and critically injured thousands more.

Over 220 companies signed the five-year Accord, and by May 2018, the work of the Accord had contributed to significantly safer workplaces for millions of Bangladeshi garment workers.

Accord conducts inspection and remediation activities for more than 200 global clothing retailers and brands.

Additional Attorney General Sohrab Reza appeared for the government, while Advocate Salah Uddin Ahmed stood for the Accord.

May 192019

Xinhua, Manila: The Philippines gained “real and actual benefits” from joining the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Thursday, predicting the Philippines will continue to reap the benefits from China’s initiative.

Lopez told Xinhua during a press conference arranged by the Philippine Presidential Communications Operations Office that the Philippines’ active participation in the BRI has brought more investments and trade to the country.

“A lot of (Chinese) investments have come in. In terms of numbers what used to be a very minuscule level of investments of about 50 million U.S. dollars about two to three years ago, it’s now close to about a billion U.S. dollars,” Lopez said.

According to the data from the Philippine Board of Investments, China topped the list of foreign investors in the Philippines in 2018 with 48.7 billion pesos (about 936 million U.S. dollars) worth of investments.

The trade and industry secretary said the Philippines is expecting more investments from China.

“Chinese investors become an active participant in this current aggressive program of President (Rodrigo) Duterte with respect to infrastructure development called ‘Build, Build, Build’,” Lopez said, referring to the government’s goal of ushering in a “golden age of infrastructure” with a massive infrastructure program.

The Philippine government keeps receptive to China’s BRI given its congruence with the “Build, Build, Build” program.

Under the “Build, Build, Build” program, the Duterte administration intends to spend eight to nine trillion pesos, or roughly 160 to 180 billion U.S. dollars in the medium term. As a share of gross domestic product (GDP), the government estimates infrastructure spending to rise from 5.4 percent of GDP in 2017 to as high as 7.3 percent of GDP in 2022.

Moreover, Lopez said the Philippines also gained in the trading sector since it joined the BRI.

“China has become our number one trading partner,” he said, adding that efforts are underway to increase the volume of agricultural products exported to China like tropical fruits.

“They basically opened up more market access to allow our agriculture products. These are real and actual benefits, gains that continue to happen. So more trading, more exports to China,” he added.

Lopez said the Philippines is looking forward to its participation in the China International Import Expo again for the second time later this year. “That again would open up more Philippine products to enter the Chinese market,” he said.

May 192019

Bangladesh Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Sunday said that the government would restrict import of rice and try to export it abroad to give relief to farmers.

“From the government we’ll restrict import of rice and we’ll definitely take steps in this regard. Import of rice can’t be banned and it will not go to the banned items’ list. We’ll do that through fiscal and monetary measures and I believe our Prime Minister will actively consider this,” he said.

The Finance Minister said this when country’s renowned agriculture development and media personality Shykh Seraj placed a set of recommendations before the Finance Minister at his ERD office on agriculture and its sub-sectors for considering those in the national budget for FY20.

He said the government would have to save the farmers on the whole as they are the lifeline of the country since they supply food to the countrymen.

Kamal said the country unusually witnessed huge food grains production including paddy in this year side by side the neighboring countries also witnessed huge production. “That’s why there is no such demand of rice in the neighboring countries, but we’ll definitely try to go for export,” he said.

Citing that supply of paddy is now much higher compared to the demand, Kamal said for this, the farmers are not getting their proper price and in some cases, they are not getting the cost of production itself.

The Finance Minister said that the production of vegetables in the country has increased significantly due to the government’s steps to export vegetables through giving subsidy and now Bangladesh has became 4th in the world in vegetables production.

He also suggested that the government export rice through giving subsidy adding that steps would be taken in this regard after consultation with the Prime Minister.

Kamal said not only vegetables, the government could go for export of those food grains and items which would be in excess production as it will help reduce the mismatch between demand and supply and thus the farmers would get the just price of their produce.

About the use of agricultural machinery, the Finance Minister said massive awareness has to be created so that the farmers use modern agricultural machinery in their farming and harvesting which would ultimately reduce their production cost and enhance productivity.

He also spoke of introducing insurance in the poultry sector to help protect this sector from sudden collapse side by side with reducing import duty on agricultural machinery to reach them to farmers with ease, comfort and with less cost.

May 192019

Xinhua, Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian economists have maintained Malaysia’s full-year growth forecast at 4.7 percent as they foresee the government’s recent stimulus measures will support the country’s economy.

Maybank Investment Bank Research said on Friday that measures to stimulate the domestic economy have been rolled out with the central bank lowering the country’s interest rate and the government reviving some major infrastructure and development projects.

The local research house estimated the central bank’s 25 basis points overnight policy rate cut recently would boost 0.3 percentage point of the country’s private consumption, and 0.1 percentage point of its gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

With construction having a multiplier of 2.03 times, the highest among all economic sectors, it believed the revival of major infrastructure projects and 14 billion ringgit (3.35 billion U.S. dollars) worth of government development spending projects are positive for growth.

Malaysia’s central bank announced on Thursday that its GDP growth moderated to 4.5 percent in the first quarter from 4.7 percent in the fourth quarter last year, driven by domestic demand. The bank has maintained its full-year growth target at 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent this year.

CGS-CIMB Research believed there are sufficient catalysts for Malaysia to achieve GDP growth of 4.7 percent this year, as the transitory drag from public investments is expected to abate amid the conclusion of public sector project reviews and revival of megaprojects.

“The strong pipeline of investment approvals last year could still manifest as the domestic policy landscape settles down. In addition, a recovery in mining output remains on track for the second half,” said the local research house.

May 192019

Salt farming in the Vietnamese town of Hon Khoi is punishing work, and incomes are unstable AFP/Manan VATSYAYANA

AFP, HON KHOI: The salt farmers of Hon Khoi rise before dawn as they have for generations, fanning out across shallow seawater pools in southern Vietnam to harvest the precious mineral, hoping for a better season than the last.

The work is punishing and the incomes unstable, subject to seesawing demand swayed by foreign imports, and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.

Many people in the sleepy seaside town in Khanh Hoa province have worked much of their lives in the salt fields — an Instagram hotspot where workers wearing conical hats ferry mountains of the saline crystals in bamboo baskets along reflective ponds against a setting sun.

They shuffle carefully along narrow ledges separating the rectangular plots that are pumped full of salty seawater.

But the farmers say life is tough on the fields where they toil during the annual harvesting season from January to June.

“This job is no fun at all, we have to work so hard in the sun and then during the cool season we are off,” said Nguyen Thanh Lai, his tan skin weathered from nearly four decades working in the fields.

He sells his harvest to local traders who pass it up the value chain until it reaches dining tables or factories around Vietnam, where it is used to preserve fish, concoct Southeast Asia’s popular, pungent fish sauce, or make soda water.

Lai has long struggled to raise his five kids, but he says both demand and market price used to be more reliable.

“In the past we didn’t make losses in salt production, now there are losses,” the 60-year-old told AFP, wearing two hats to shield from the searing morning sun.

As technical supervisor, he typically earns around $360 a month during the harvesting season — more than double what most salt workers take home.

But his income zigzags depending on demand, which itself fluctuates based on imports from abroad.

Climate woes

Vietnam produced about one million tonnes of salt in 2015, according to the latest official data, and often clocks surpluses, but it still ships salt in, mostly from China and India.

The country imported 500,000 tonnes of the mineral in 2017 despite a 147,000-tonne surplus of domestic production.

The imported product is of a quality required for industrial use, something the local salt is not always suitable for.

Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment. But unpredictable demand is not all Vietnam’s salt farmers are up against.

In Hon Khoi — a popular tourist destination for throngs of visitors who pack its white sandy beaches — farmers are also contending with climate change.

Shifting weather patterns have upended work in an industry that depends on sunny, dry days for maximum production.

“If the weather is good, we can work for six months. If it rains, we all go hungry,” said Nguyen Quang Anh, who has laboured in the fields for two decades.

“Climate change really has had an impact because salt production needs stable weather,” the 57-year-old farmer told AFP.

The UN says climate change has “undermined” the lives of farmers in Vietnam, where the wet season has come earlier or brought in heavier rains in recent years.

“In Vietnam and elsewhere, climate change has put weather in flux. When you can no longer plan for the future, you can only hope,” said Dechen Tsering, UN Environment’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

Vietnamese authorities vowed to reform the sector in 2014, rolling out a 15-year plan to modernise the industry in a bid to help struggling farmers like Anh.

The blueprint called for production to triple by 2030, promised new technology, and called on local officials to support farmers hit by fluctuating weather patterns.

Few have felt the impact of the plan — or ever heard about it — in Hon Khoi, where the salt industry remains the main employer.

That means many are taking a gamble on the sector.

“Sometimes I’m nervous, but I’m in the business so I have to accept the risks,” said Nguyen Van Vinh, who just started working in the fields this season to supplement his income running a small stationery shop.

“If I don’t harvest salt, I won’t earn enough.”

May 192019

The High Court (HC) of Bangladesh has scrapped three government circulars imposing a minimum age of 12 and a half years to be eligible for the status of a freedom fighter.

An HC bench comrising Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif and Justice Razik-Al-Jalil issued the rule after hearing 15 writs challenging the age limit.

At the same time, the imposition of the age restriction on the definition of ‘Bir Muktijoddha’ under section 11 of Freedom Fighters’ Welfare Trust Act was also declared unconstitutional by the court.

The court also ordered the authorities to resume payment of the freedom fighters’ honorarium, including the arrears, to the petitioners. They must execute the order within 60 days of receiving a copy of the order.

The government in 2014 issued a circular fixing the minimum age of a freedom fighter 13 years as of March 26, 1971.

Later on, in January last year, the government amended the gazette notification re-fixing the minimum age of the freedom fighter as 12 years and six months as of November 30, 1971.

The HC on Sunday scrapped the gazette notification saying that the government has no authority to issue any circular or gazette notification fixing the age of freedom fighters.

The court also directed the government to give all due honourium within 60 days to the freedom fighters who were deprived due to the circular.

The HC delivered the verdict following 15 separate writ petitions filed by around 150 freedom fighters challenging the legality of the gazette notification.

One of the writ petitioners Mahmud Hasan, director of department of geological survey, said in the petition that he is a freedom fighter and he had joined the geological survey as a freedom fighter on June 26 of 1988.

He said the gazette notifications have affected him as he was 12 years, four months and 12 days of age on November 30, 1971 adding that the gazette notifications contradict the spirit of the Liberation War.

May 192019

Voting in one of India’s most acrimonious elections in decades entered its final day Sunday as Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrambled to hang on to his overall majority.

The seventh and final round of voting ended the world’s biggest election with 900 million eligible voters from Goa’s beaches to Mumbai’s slums and Ladakh’s Himalayan monasteries. Long queues formed outside polling stations in eight northern states electing the final 59 candidates to India’s 543-seat lower house.

Polls close at 1230 GMT with vote counting on Thursday. Heavy security was imposed in West Bengal, which has seen street battles between followers of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition groups.

An improvised bomb was thrown from a motorbike at one polling booth in the state capital Kolkata but no one was injured, officials said. One group attacked a makeshift BJP office in the city and police also cleared other activists blocking polling stations.

Modi’s constituency in Varanasi, the holy city in Uttar Pradesh state, was also among those to vote. The conservative BJP has campaigned aggressively on Modi’s strongman image and played up recent cross-border air strikes against Pakistan. The opposition, led by the Congress party and its leader, Rahul Gandhi, have accused him of pursuing divisive policies and neglecting the economy.

Modi and Gandhi have hurled insults at each other on a near daily basis with the prime minister calling his rival a “fool” while Gandhi derides Modi as a “thief”.

Jaded voters

The animosity has taken a toll on voters.

“All the abuse and misconduct claims suggest that standards in Indian politics have slipped badly,” Asit Banerjee, a history teacher in Kolkata, said as he queued to vote.

“Endless mudslinging and bitter comments pervaded the campaign. We are losing hope in democracy, it is time for a reset,” the 60-year-old told AFP. Writing in the Hindustan Times, political commentator Karan Thapar said Modi’s message “played on our insecurities and strummed upon our deep inner fears”.

He also criticised Gandhi’s campaign. Pollsters say Modi remains personally popular but his party’s overall majority is at risk from a backlash. The 68-year-old Modi has held 142 rallies across India during the campaign, sometimes five a day, but pollsters say the BJP could lose dozens of the 282 seats it won in its 2014 landslide.

Priciest polling

On Saturday Modi, dressed in a long robe and saffron sash, trekked to a Himalayan shrine to meditate. Indian media widely used images showing him seated on a bed inside a cave in the country’s north.

The Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies estimates that the outlay on this election could top $7 billion, making it one of the priciest contests globally — with the lion’s share of the spending by the BJP.

Much has been spent on social media advertising and messages, with the parties using armies of “cyber warriors” to bombard India’s hundreds of millions of Facebook and WhatsApp users.

Fake news and doctored images have abounded, including of Gandhi and Modi having lunch with Imran Khan, prime minister of arch rival Pakistan, or of a drunk Priyanka Gandhi, a politician and the sister of Rahul.

Violence has also broken out. Maoist rebels killed 15 troops and their driver in the western state of Maharashtra on May 1, the latest attack in a decades-long insurgency. Gandhi, 48, has tried several lines of attack against Modi, in particular over alleged corruption in a French defence deal and over the plight of farmers and on the economy.

Modi’s government has fallen short on creating jobs for the million Indians entering the labour market every month, the shock introduction of a cash ban in 2016 caused huge disruption to livelihoods, and Indian banks are gasping under bad debts. Lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits for eating beef, slaughtering and trading in cattle have risen during Modi’s tenure, leaving some of the country’s 170 million Muslims feeling threatened and anxious for their future.

-AFP report

May 192019

Saudi Arabia has called for urgent meetings of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League to discuss escalating tensions in the Gulf, the Saudi official news agency said on Saturday.

The Saudi Press Agency said King Salman had invited Gulf leaders and Arab states to two emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss recent “aggressions and their consequences” in the region.

Tensions have soared in the Gulf with the US deploying an aircraft carrier and bombers to the region over alleged threats from Iran.

Four ships including two Saudi oil tankers were damaged in mysterious sabotage attacks Sunday off Fujairah, an emirate located at the crucial entrance to the Gulf.

That incident was followed by drone strikes Tuesday by Yemen’s Huthi rebels on a major Saudi oil pipeline, which provided an alternative export route if the Strait of Hormuz closed.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to prevent shipping in Hormuz in case of a military confrontation with the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Tehran in recent months

Despite international scepticism, the US government has been pointing to increasing threats from Iran, a long-time enemy and also a rival of US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

CBS News says:

U.S. diplomats warned Saturday that commercial airliners flying over the wider Persian Gulf faced a risk of being “misidentified” amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

The warning relayed by U.S. diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the risks the tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel. It also came as Lloyd’s of London warned of increasing risks to maritime shipping in the region.

The order relayed Saturday by U.S. diplomats in Kuwait and the UAE came from an FAA Notice to Airmen published late Thursday in the U.S. It said all commercial aircraft flying over the waters of Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman needed to be aware of “heightened military activities and increased political tension.”

This presents “an increasing inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” the warning said. It also said aircraft could experience interference with its navigation instruments and communications jamming “with little to no warning.”

In this May 9, 2019, photo released by the US Navy, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its carrier group transit the Suez Canal. – The carrier group passed through the Suez Canal May 9, Egyptian authorities said, as the group heads towards the Gulf amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. (Photo by Dan Snow / Navy Office of Information / AFP)

The Persian Gulf has become a major gateway for East-West travel in the aviation industry. Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, home to Emirates, is the world’s busiest for international travel, while long-haul carriers Etihad and Qatar Airways also operate in the region.

Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways all said they were aware of the notice and their operations were unaffected.

The warning appeared rooted in what happened 30 years ago after Operation Praying Mantis, a daylong naval battle in the Persian Gulf between American forces and Iran during the country’s long 1980s war with Iraq. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes chased Iranian speedboats that allegedly opened fire on a helicopter into Iranian territorial waters, then mistook an Iran Air heading to Dubai for an Iranian F-14. The Vincennes fired two missiles at the airplane, killing all aboard the flight.

Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that has seen America order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.

Asked this week if the U.S. was going to war with Iran, President Trump said: “I hope not.”

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, told “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan on Thursday that he believes Mr. Trump “does not want war.” On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “There will be no war because neither we want a war, nor has anyone the idea or illusion that it can confront Iran in the region.” He spoke to Iran’s official IRNA news agency, the Reuters news agency reported.

The USS Abraham Lincoln and its carrier strike group have yet to reach the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes. A Revolutionary Guard deputy has warned that any armed conflict would affect the global energy market. Iran long has threatened to be able to shut off the strait.

On Saturday, the island nation of Bahrain ordered its citizens out of Iraq and Iran over regional tensions. Meanwhile, oil giant ExxonMobil began evacuating staff from Basra, Iraq, where the U.S. Consulate has been closed for months following a rocket attack the U.S. blamed on Shiite militias backed by Iran, local authorities said.

This all takes root in Mr. Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions. Iran just announced it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build atomic bombs.

May 192019

A project that pioneers floating houses in Bangladesh has won the prestigious RISK Award 2019.

It has beendesigned in a way so thatit can house a family of six, and they can survive flood and produce their own food, including vegetables, chickens and fish.

The €100,000-prize, sponsored by the Munich Re Foundation, was accepted by Nandan Mukherjee on behalf ofDundee University, Scotland, and Resilience Solution, Bangladesh.

The organisers, the Munich Re Foundation, Global Risk Forum (GRF) Davos, and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction received 109 applications from 48 countries in response to a call for applications focused on coastal resilience in theface of climate and environmental changes.

The award was presented by UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, said a media statement issued from Geneva.

Mizutori said: “This week, at the sixth Global Platform, we have heard time and again about the benefit of investing before a disaster strikes, rather than responding to its effects. This is a great example of the kind of investment that the world needs.”

On behalf of the Munich Re Foundation, chairman Thomas Loster, congratulated the winner and noted that around 40 percent of the world’s population live in coastal areas less than 100 kms from the sea.

“There are lots of challenges, including rising sea levels, heavy rainfall, intense storms. So, the RISK Award is very pleased to encourage innovations such as these floating homes which can be replicated in many parts of the world.”

In his acceptance speech, Mukherjee said the idea of disaster-resilient homes was prompted by a story he heard from a woman who lost a child in a flood and was then abandoned by her husband.

“She blames herself every single day, and she told me that she will never take another child or try for a family again in her life because she is unable to safeguard poor lives,” he said.

Mukherjee continued: “The area was protected by flood embankments and people living inside the area did not anticipate flooding, therefore they were living in a false sense of security that they are protected from flood. However, the reality was something else. They didn’t go to the emergency ‘safe’ shelter, because ‘safe’ shelters are not as safe as it sounds.

“Numerous literatures document the occurrences of rape, child abuse, inadequate space, poor water supply and sanitation access, inadequate food in the shelters. Most importantly, there is no provision for continuing the daily livelihood in the safe shelters.”

So, the idea of a disaster-resilient home was born and the prize money will be used to help bring the project to scale in the flood prone river basins and deltasof Bangladesh, he said.

Mukherjee explained a truly disaster-resilient home needs the following: It needs to robust enough to float above the flood water, providing safety. “It needs to generate enough food with proper nutritional balance. It needs access to water, electricity and all other basic amenities.”

The outside walls of the house can be used for vertical gardens, we can harvest rainwater for self-sufficiency in drinking water, they can utilise renewable energy solutions for electricity, and further utilise modern technologies like aquaponics and poultry rearing for livelihood and waste recycling.

May 192019

Buddha Purnima, the biggest religious festival of the Buddhist community, was celebrated on Saturday across the Bangladesh with due religious fervor and festivity.

Like elsewhere in the world, the Buddhist community in Bangladesh, chalked out different programmes, including colorful processions, puja, sanghadan, discussions and cultural functions, to mark the day.

Lord Buddha was born on this day of full moon in 563 BC, attained enlightenment and passed away on the same day.

Marking the day, Buddhist devotees offered various gift items, including fruits, flowers and candles, to statues of Lord Buddha throughout the day.

President M Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday issued separate messages greeting the members of the Buddhist community as well as the countrymen.

Leaders of different political and socio-cultural organisations also greeted members of Buddhist community on the occasion of Buddha Purnima.

As part of the day’s programme, Bangladesh Bauddha Kristi Prachar Sangha brought out a colorful “peace procession” with participation of a large number of devotees from Sabujbagh Dharmarajika Buddhist Monastery that paraded different city thoroughfares in the morning.

Bangladesh Buddhist Federation (BBF) organized a daylong programme including a discussion meeting at International Buddhist Monetary at Merul Badda here.

Besides, Buddha Purnima was also celebrated in Chattogram, Rangamati, Bandarban, Khagrachhari, Cox’s Bazar and Sylhet and other districts.

Our Rangamati Correspondent reports: Members of the Buddhist community celebrated Buddha Purnima in the city as elsewhere in the district with solemn devotion and enthusiasm.

Marking the day, peace procession, religious rituals and worshiping was held at Rajban Bihar.

In Bandarban, members of the Buddhist community celebrated their most sacred and largest festival Buddha Purnima amid different programmes. A colorful procession was bought out from city’s Rajbari area and it paraded different city streets.

The day was a public holiday.

On the occasion, newspapers published different articles while Bangladesh Betar, Bangladesh Television (BTV) and private TV channels broadcast special programmes highlighting the significance of the day.

May 192019

Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Zhang Zuo on Saturday said his country would like to push China-Bangladesh relations into a new era to bring more benefits to people of both the nations.

“We need to work together to create a congenial atmosphere for cooperation, and deepen our policy connectivity and people-to-people bond,” he said while addressing a launching ceremony of Bangladesh-China Silk Road Forum held at the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka.

Mentioning that next year will mark the 45th anniversary of China-Bangladesh diplomatic ties, the envoy said the forum has been launched at the right time when there is a lot of work to do.

The ambassador said Bangladesh’s diplomatic policy of “Friendship to all, malice to none”, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Thought on Diplomacy”, both have provided new opportunities for “win-win” cooperation for the two countries.

“Bangladesh is an important partner for China in its BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and in production capacity cooperation in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region from every angle, including its location, population size, market potential and cooperation scope,” he said.

The envoy said Bangladeshi people’s dream of a strong and wealthy nation, manifested in the dream of ‘Sonar Bangla’, and the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation pursued by the Chinese people is interconnected and share many common merits.

Zuo said Chinese president Xi Jinping stressed the main partner of the BRI are neighbours, and they will be the first to benefit from it. “We welcome all our neighbours to get engaged in the cooperation, and jointly contribute to the BRI,” he added.

Prime Minister’s International Affairs’ Adviser Dr Gowher Rizvi spoke as the chief guest, while Chairman of the Forum and former Industries’ Minister Dilip Barua presided over the function.

Dr Rizvi said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had taken various initiatives to increase connectivity and had laid emphasis on the Chinese BRI which will benefit Bangladesh in achieving its development goals.

Mentioning that Bangladesh was already involved in regional initiatives like Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) and Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) initiatives, he said Dhaka welcomes BRI as well.

The BRI is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations across the globe.

May 192019
Bangladesh's 2015 victory over England selected as best moment of WC

Bangladesh got a timely boost ahead of the World Cup journey, as they ended the final jinx, whacking West Indies past by five wickets, a victory that captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza cited as ‘confidence booster’ to chase any kind of total.

Having set a 210 runs to victory in 24 overs as per D/L method, Bangladesh reached 213-5 by making a mockery of West Indies bowling attack.

With the World Cup widely being believed to be a run-fest, Mashrafe said the chase of huge total would give them a confidence to hunt down any big target or set a gigantic total in the cricket’s biggest carnival.

Accumulating runs at almost 10 per over spoke a volume of sheer aggression, Mashrafe believed.

What was delighting for Bangladesh that two youngsters-Soumya Sarkar and Mosaddek Hossain Saikat were key in bringing up the watershed moment in the country’s history. While Soumya Sarkar set the platform upfront with 41 ball-66, Mosaddek gave the finishing touch in even more gorgeous fashion, smashing 24 ball-52 not out.

”Yes obviously it is a great feeling,” said Mashrafe after the match. “Hopefully it is just the start and we will continue in this manner in the future.”

”The world cup will be a really challenging one for us and the real challenge is waiting for everyone. This win will have really given us a big boost and the confidence of chasing any big total,” he added.

Having failed to triumph the final on six occasions in different formats in the last 10 years, starting with a heartbreaking two-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka in 2009 in Dhaka and finally the number 7, widely recognized as a lucky number in our country, proved to be preciously lucky for Bangladesh.

The Tigers had their first major heart break when they failed to cross the last hurdle during their appearance in the first tri-nation final in 2009 involving Sri-Lanka and Zimbabwe.

Bangladesh’s second heartbreak was against Pakistan in the 2012 Asia Cup while four years later Bangladesh lost to India in Asia Cup Twenty20 final.

2018 seemed to be the most disappointing year for them as they lost final on three occasions.

First, they lost the tri-nation series final against Sri-Lanka in January and followed that by losing to India in the Nidahas Trophy T20 final. Bangladesh lost in the Asia Cup final in 2018 which saw cricket pundits giving the Tigers as a choker tag.

While they removed chokers tag in a grand style as it also helped them to complete their last preparation for the World Cup with a huge amount of confidence under their belt.

The way Bangladesh batsman played throughout the tournament indicated that they won’t be shy away from trying to score heavily when they reach England for the upcoming ICC World Cup.

The major area for concern was that they are not used to score at a pace unlike some of the other cricketing nation. But chasing West Indies’ target should quell the uncertainty over their ability, said Mashrafe.

The victory sent the cricket crazy nation to the seventh heaven, especially considering as it looked at one stage proceeding toward another heartbreaking defeat in the final for Tigers as West Indies tightened the noose midway through the innings.

The good thing is Bangladesh got a new hero in Mosaddek just ahead of the World Cup. The replacement of real match-winner Shakib, who was ruled out of the match due to back spasm, didn’t give anyone chance to rue for the absence of the ace all-rounder, according to Mashrafe, the most successful captain of the country.

He also attributed the success down to the total team work.

”It’s been a long time we didn’t win but after the seventh attempt we overcame the hurdle. It’s totally team work,” Mashrafe said.

”The wicket was really good and when we bowled we understood it’s favoring the batsman. Tamim and Soumya gave us a really good start. They built the wining stage. Mushfiqur batted really well in the middle while Mosaddek and Riyad finished it really well,” the proud captain concluded.

May 192019

Commercial operation of Bangladesh’s first communication satellite Bangabandhu-I (BS-I) began on Sunday on the occasion of launching anniversary ceremony following the successful trial run.

Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company Limited (BCSCL), the assigned entity to manage the BS-I, will sign agreements with the local television (TV) channels and other firms to rent the transponders of the satellite, said officials.

Earlier on Saturday, BCSCL Chairman Dr Shahjahan Mahmood said commercial journey of BS-I will start tomorrow completing successful trial run for couple of months.

“We will sign agreements and hand over documents to the TV channels and others tomorrow,” he revealed.

TVs are not needed to install any earth station to get the service from BS-I. Installation of earth station requires a big cost for the TVs and that is why the BCSCL is providing connection to the TV channels with its ground station through the optical fiber for transmission.

The BS-I, launched to the orbit on May 12 last year, went to the trial transmission on September 4 last year through the broadcasting of South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship with the state-owned Bangladesh Television (BTV). Then it has been gradually connected with other local TV channels and provided feed on trial run basis.

Although the launching anniversary was May 12 but the BCSCL celebrates it today in a city hotel. In the ceremony, a commemorative postage stamp would be unveiled along with the display of road show (BS-I’s different services), audio visual and others to mark the historic day as the 57th nation of satellite owners’ club.

In addition, commercial service of country’s first local Direct-To-Home (DTH) television will also begin today. Beximco Communications Limited (BCL) has introduced the DTH brand “Akash”.

BCSCL Chairman said “BCL has taken five transponders of BS-I dedicatedly for its DTH brand Akash for smooth and quality service.”

Moreover, the BS-I is working to connect automated teller machines (ATM) of different banks to offer uninterrupted and secure banking services. Meanwhile, it has completed demonstration successfully for the job.

Dr Shahjahan Mahmood said, “Initially, Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited (DBBL) would launch the trial run of ATM using the bandwidth of BS-I and we have a plan to bring the maximum ATMs under its coverage gradually.”

French manufacturer Thales Alenia Space launched the BS-I in May 12 from Florida of America at a cost of Taka 2,765 crore and according to the plan, it will reach break-even within seven years of starting its commercial service.

Located at the 119.1 east geostationary slot, BS-I would cover the SAARC countries and Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkestan and a part of Kazakhstan.

The coverage is the strongest in Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, for which these six countries have initially been chosen for business.

BCSCL has hired international consultancy firm Thaicom for two years to run marketing and sale of the connectivity of BS-I in six countries, including four neighbours. The Thai firm is currently active in around 20 countries.

The satellite’s operations include “direct-to-home” service for TV channels, VSAT (very small aperture terminal), backhaul and network restoration, disaster preparedness and relief and many others.

Source: BSS