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From Demonetisation to Donald Trump: The biggest stories of 2016, as voted by our readers

2016 was a remarkable year for news.

Filled with stories painted in all sorts of hues, it’s unlikely there’s been a year that was as uplifting as it was saddening, as rewarding as it was frustrating, as exhilarating, as shocking.

Roughly 10 days ago, we began asking you what you thought was the biggest story of the year across a variety of sections.

Here’s what you thought:

Let’s start with Business, where your biggest story of the year — somewhat unsurprisingly — was demonetisation.

In a surprising move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on 8 November, and in the process, sucked out a major chunk of currency notes in the country. As there weren’t enough notes of smaller denominations to replace the banned ones, the move created an artificial cash crunch.

People queued up in front of banks and ATMs to withdraw cash and deposit old notes. As they are still struggling to come to terms with the situation, nobody has been able to fathom the real impact of the move on daily lives. Demonetisation will remain the biggest news story not only of 2016, but even in 2017.

Demonetisation, however, wasn’t just a business story. An all-encompassing story like that affected all walks of life.

Which is probably why you voted it the biggest story of the year in terms of General News too. But since that’s covered above, let’s look at the second biggest news story of the year: Donald Trump being elected President of the United States.

Reams of newsprint and hours of airtime have been devoted to just why this was such an earthshaking story. In fact, the very idea that a rank outsider — a joke candidate, if we’re being honest — at the start of the campaign trail could swat aside all opponents to become the (arguably) most powerful man in the world was laughable. And when it happened, it shook not just the US, but the world at large.

The road to the election was marked by mudslinging, insults, accusations, sexism and much more unpleasant stuff. Ever since it became official that Trump will take office in January 2017, the entire world has been wondering just what he will do when he enters the White House. It was both his journey to presidency and the concerns about what he will do next that made this such a massive story.

In Sports, it was the rise of PV Sindhu that found the most takers.

Sindhu became an overnight sensation after her stunning run at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she came away with the silver medal. Her incredible ability, combined with her perseverance, made her the nation’s next biggest sporting icon of 2016. After Rio, she went on to win the China Open, her first Super Series title, the Malaysia Masters, and finished as runner-up in the Hong Kong Open.

On her debut at the season-ending Dubai World Super Series Final, she reached the semis and even avenged her Olympic loss to Carolina Marin in the group stage. With these brilliant performances, she consolidated both her own and India’s position as a force to be reckoned with in international badminton. Her dominance also neatly plugged the gap left by an injured Saina Nehwal, and we hope she continues to shine even brighter in the years to come.

In the world of Technology, it was the exploding Samsung Note 7 that you picked.

The Note 7 was quite an interesting phone. In fact, we at Firstpost had a chance to use the smartphone for a short bit when it was announced in India and came away impressed. Soon after its announcement, the phablet had started selling in a few markets. Not even a month had passed and around 30 different reports of certain units catching fire began to trickle in. This turned into a deluge and the first stock for India was delayed.

Samsung even issued a statement confirming the battery malfunction issue. The company immediately began sending out replacement units to Note 7 consumers. Sadly, the second and even third replacement units were still catching fire. It was a complete disaster. The smartphone was banned from flights and announcements were made advising Note 7 users not to use the handset while travelling. Nothing screams bad PR like such public service announcements at the airport.

After numerous replacements, the company had no choice but to announce a global recall of the smartphone. One of the biggest in consumer electronics history. It sent out boxes to consumers asking them to return the handset, as it was a serious threat. It even announced and rolled out software updates to restrict battery charging. Eventually, the Note 7 had to be killed.

In the world of Entertainment, you voted for the ban on Pakistani artistes.

In the aftermath of the Uri terror attack, followed by the surgical strikes in September this year, various sections of the population demanded a ban on Pakistani artistes from the film industry. This meant that any impending film, concert or event featuring a Pakistani artiste or actor had no place in India. Some members of the Cinema Owners Exhibitors Association of India announced they wouldn’t release films featuring Pakistani artistes in four states — Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and Karnataka.

The Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association also said that it had effectively banned any Pakistani artiste from India. This lead to a conflict in the release of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. MNS chief Raj Thackeray took it upon himself to ensure this ban was followed. After much running around, and hush-hush conversations with the Maharashtra chief minister, the matter was finally resolved.

Which brings us to Social Media, where the most viral story of the year — as selected by you — was the visual of the Syrian boy covered in blood and dust.

Shared a million times over, this image of five-year old Omran Daqneesh emerged as the ultimate reminder of the horror and trauma thousands of people, especially children, face due to the Syrian civil war. Omran was one of five children wounded during a military strike.

Widely shared on social media, the photograph makes it impossible to forget little Omran in the ambulance, stunned by the bloody chaos. The video in which he is seen wiping dust and blood from his face is considered as one of the strongest visuals of the ravages of war in the past year.

And there you have it.

Those are the biggest stories of 2016, as voted by you.

Bring on 2017!

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 15:01 IST

Five men sentenced to death for 2013 Hyderabad bombings | Reuters

Five men sentenced to death for 2013 Hyderabad bombings | Reuters

Dec 19, 2016 20:48 IST

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NEW DELHI Five men were sentenced to death by a court on Monday for their role in two deadly bombings in 2013 in the city of Hyderabad, including the co-founder of an outlawed Islamist group accused of involvement in a series of attacks.The convictions last week of Yasin Bhatkal, founder of Indian Mujahideen, and the others marked the first time members of the group had been found guilty, the National Investigation Agency, India’s chief counterterrorism organisation, said after the sentences were handed down.Two bombs ripped through a busy market in Hyderabad, a major information technology centre in southern India, in February 2013, killing at least 17 people.

The man police accuse of masterminding the blasts remains on the run.The trial took place in a special court run by the NIA and the five convicted are expected to appeal against the judgment.

India sentences dozens of people to death each year but had been reluctant to carry out executions. An undeclared moratorium on capital punishment ended in 2012 when India executed a militant convicted for an attack in 2008 in Mumbai.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Alison Williams)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 20:48 IST

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IND vs ENG | Dec 16th, 2016

ENG 12 0 5.0

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AUS vs PAK | Dec 15th, 2016

PAK 450 10 145.0

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Punit Goenka receives Business Today Best CEO award

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Punit Goenka, Managing Director and CEO of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) was awarded on Saturday the Business Today Best CEO award in the media and entertainment category for 2016.The award was presented by Minister of Law & Justice and Electronics & Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad, India Today group Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie and Wave Group Vice Chairman Manpreet Chadha.Accepting the prestigious award on behalf of ZEEL Chairman Dr Subhash Chandra and the Zee team, Goenka said, “We have consistently grown ahead of market, expanded our network viewership share and experienced growth of our product bouquet, both in India and internationally. As we approach our Silver Jubilee, I am confident that driven by innovation and creativity, we will move one step closer towards achieving our ambition of becoming the world’s leading media company from the emerging markets.”The other prominent recipients of the BT Best CEO Awards for the current year were Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel, C P Gurnani, CEO & MD of Tech Mahindra and Sunil Duggal, CEO of Dabur.The methodology used for selection of the Best CEO Awards entailed an extensive study of a company’s operational performance and returns to its shareholders. This exercise was carried out by BT’s Knowledge partner PwC India. The business magazine first used the BT500 list of most valuable Indian companies as a base and then analysed three-year data, using parameters such as growth in total income, total shareholder returns and profit before interest and tax (PBIT).“Based on this analysis, an independent jury comprising renowned business leaders, Nimesh Kampani, Founder and Chairman, JM Financial Group; Kalpana Morparia, CEO of JP Morgan India; Haigreve Khaitan, Senior Partner, Khaitan & Co; and Sri Rajan, Chairman, Bain & Co. India. then chose the final winners for this year,” said the statement issued by the ZEEL.The company reported a 21.76 per cent increase in its consolidated net profit at Rs 216.96 crore for the quarter ended June 30 compared to net profit of Rs 178.18 crore in the same period of previous fiscal.

China upset as Dalai Lama meets President Pranab Mukherjee | Reuters

BEIJING China expressed dissatisfaction on Friday after exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama met President Pranab Mukherjee, saying it hoped India would recognise the Nobel Peace Prize winning monk as a separatist in religious guise.Mukherjee hosted the Dalai Lama and other Nobel Peace laureates at a conference on children’s rights at the presidential palace on Sunday.Those who attended, and spoke, included Princess Charlene of Monaco and the former president of East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta.The Indian government had ignored China’s “strong opposition and insisted” on arranging for the Dalai Lama to share the stage with Mukherjee, and meet him, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in the Chinese capital. “China is strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed to this,” he said, adding that the Dalai Lama used the guise of religion to engage in separatist activities and China opposed any form of official contacts with him.

China wanted India to recognise the “anti-China, separatist essence of the Dalai Lama clique and take steps to banish the negative impact of this incident” to avoid disrupting ties between the Asian giants, Geng said.While the Dalai Lama has had private meetings with Indian leaders, Sunday’s conference was the first public event, said the political head of the Tibetan government in exile based in the hill town of Dharamsala. “There are many European governments shying away from hosting His Holiness,” he told Reuters. “Here you have the president of India hosting His Holiness. I think is a powerful message to the world, and particularly to Beijing.”

China regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist, though he says he merely seeks genuine autonomy for his Himalayan homeland Tibet, which Communist Chinese troops “peacefully liberated” in 1950.The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

China also expressed displeasure with India this month over the visit to a sensitive border region of another senior Tibetan religious figure, the Karmapa Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s third-most-senior monk, who fled into exile in India in 2000.India is home to a large exiled Tibetan community. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 16:29 IST

India’s current account gap widens in Q3 as imports rise | Reuters

By Suvashree Choudhury and Abhirup Roy
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI India’s current account deficit widened in July-September from the previous quarter after an increase in imports but it remains well below levels posted in 2015, central bank data showed on Tuesday.India posted a current account deficit of $3.4 billion, or 0.6 percent of gross domestic product, in the July-September quarter, wider than the $300 million or 0.1 percent of GDP posted in the previous quarter.But it compares with a deficit of $8.5 billion, or 1.7 percent of GDP, posted in July-September last year, and is likely to comfort investors as emerging markets face a period of uncertainty due to expected rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve. India also said the balance of payments was at a surplus of $8.5 billion, compared with a deficit of $900 million a year ago.”Core imports increased sharply in July-September, pushing the deficit higher, to still comfortable levels,” said Abhishek Upadyay, economist at ICICI Securities Primary Dealership.”Current account deficit for the entire fiscal will be closer to 0.5 percent of GDP, which can be funded easily via stable flows such as foreign direct investments.”

Although India has not been immune to foreign investor selling since the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president sparked a shift of flows from emerging markets into the United States, analysts believe the country is among the better placed in emerging markets.BANK NOTE REFORM

Gross domestic product is also growing at the fastest pace among large economies, though analysts fear India will suffer from its unexpected move to ditch higher-valued bank notes.India’s improved standing contrasts with 2013, when fears of Fed tightening sparked a sell-off in emerging markets that hit the country hard, sparking its worst currency crisis in more than two decades.But risks remain to the current account deficit if the country’s demonetisation hits economic growth more than expected, sparking more potential foreign investor outflows, though that could be offset by reduced imports.

“If oil prices don’t rise sharply, imports will remain under control and that will help the current account deficit to also remain near zero percent of GDP,” said an analyst with a private bank who asked not to be named.Dollar outflows stood at $4.7 billion in November and this month so far total $2.3 billion.Outflows could also hit the rupee, which briefly touched a record low of 68.8650 last month, and is expected to weaken more as it remains about 11 percent over-valued in real effective exchange rate terms compared to its trading partners. (Writing by Rafael Nam; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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First Published On : Dec 13, 2016 20:36 IST

Exclusive – SWIFT confirms new cyber thefts, hacking tactics | Reuters

By Tom Bergin and Jim Finkle
| LONDON/BOSTON

LONDON/BOSTON Cyber attacks on the global banking system have continued – and succeeded – since February’s heist of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank, underscoring the continuing vulnerability of the SWIFT messaging network, a SWIFT official told Reuters.The network, which handles trillions of dollars in transfers daily, has warned banks of the escalating threat to their systems, according to a SWIFT letter obtained by Reuters. “The threat is very persistent, adaptive and sophisticated – and it is here to stay,” SWIFT said last month in a letter to client banks, which has not been previously reported.Client banks been have been hit with a “meaningful” number of attacks – about a fifth of them resulting in stolen funds, said Stephen Gilderdale, Head of SWIFT’s Customer Security Programme. Gilderdale’s comments are the first confirmation of new thefts involving the SWIFT network since the February heist.The revelations provide fresh evidence that SWIFT remains at risk of copycat attacks nearly a year after the massive theft from a Bangladesh Bank account at the New York Fed. The unprecedented cyber heist prompted regulators around the globe to tighten bank security requirements.

SWIFT’S letter to customers warned that hackers have refined their methods for compromising local bank systems. One new tactic, the letter said, involved using software that allows technicians to access computers to provide technical support. “We unfortunately continue to see cases in which some of our customers’ environments are being compromised” by thieves who then send fraudulent payment instructions through the SWIFT network – the same kind of messages used to steal Bangladesh Bank funds.

On Monday, a top investigator in Dhaka told Reuters that some Bangladesh central bank officials deliberately exposed its computer systems and enabled the theft. The comments by Mohammad Shah Alam of the Dhaka police are the first sign that investigators have got a firm lead in one of the world’s biggest cyber heists. Arrests are likely soon, he said.SWIFT’s Gilderdale declined to provide further details about more recent attacks or to name victims or amounts stolen. Asked how many heists had been attempted, he said only that it was “a meaningful number of cases.” The intrusions had been detected in a variety of ways, Gilderdale said. In some cases, anti-virus software had identified malware. In one case, a financial supervisory body had notified SWIFT of an attempted attack.

The additional attacks SWIFT disclosed to Reuters do not include others that have already come to light since the Bangladesh Bank heist.Thieves stole $250,000 from Bangladesh’s Sonali bank in 2013. More than $12 million was stolen from Ecuador’s Banco del Austro in 2015. Vietnam’s Tien Phong Bank said in May that it foiled an attempt to steal money via SWIFT. (Reporting by Tom Bergin and Jim Finkle; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

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First Published On : Dec 12, 2016 21:57 IST

Sri Lanka president cancels colonial-era order amid falling popularity | Reuters

COLOMBO Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena on Thursday rescinded a colonial-era British order naming 19 nationals as “traitors” for leading a rebellion nearly 200 years ago, his office said, as he strives to shore up his fading popularity.Sirisena hailed the ethnic Sinhalese men whole led the insurrection against the island’s British rulers as national heroes, a move some critics were swift to denounce as a political gimmick to bolster his support among the Sinhalese majority.Sirisena said he had “cancelled the gazette notice issued by then governor of Sri Lanka Robert Brownrigg in 1818 naming the … Sinhalese leaders as traitors.” Sirisena’s leadership of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has been weakened as grassroot supporters shift their loyalties back towards the Indian Ocean island state’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.Rajapaksa remains popular among the Sinhalese and some of his supporters have formed a new party in the expectation that he will lead it. Kusal Perera, a political columnist and outspoken government critic, said Thursday’s act was a clear indication Sirisena was now going to cater to the larger Sinhala majority”.

Even so, Perera said, Sirisena was unlikely to win back much support as a result of the announcement. “Sinhala leaders anyway have been treated as heroes in Sinhala society. This shows how desperate Sirisena is,” Perera told Reuters.Sirisena was a one-time ally of Rajapaksa before he challenged his leadership and won a surprise victory in last year’s presidential vote.

The president, who like Rajapaksa is from the majority Buddhist community, has reached out to ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims, upsetting Sinhala leaders.Sirisena’s government has postponed local council elections by more than a year citing the new electoral process is still not ready.

Sri Lanka was under colonial rule from 1815 to 1948.The 19 Sinhalese leaders launched their revolt in a bid to restore the ruling of Sinhalese kings who exercised power before Portugal’s invasion in 1505.The British governor ordered their execution. (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez)

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First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 22:24 IST

Ravindra Jadeja has no regrets about missed ton | Reuters

By Amlan Chakraborty
| MOHALI, India

MOHALI, India Ravindra Jadeja had no regrets after falling 10 runs short of a rare test century by a number eight batsman on Monday.The 27-year-old all-rounder had shown great restraint during a partnership with Ravichandran Ashwin that swung the third test against England India’s way, but he suddenly went on the attack and perished trying to hit Adil Rashid for six.”The shot that I got out to is my pet shot,” Jadeja told reporters.”I can hit six anytime with that shot. I had the confidence, but the ball came rather slow off the wicket and that’s why I didn’t get the required impact. I am not disappointed that I got out to a shot like that.” After 22 tests and constant speculation about whether he was worth a place in the team, Jadeja arrived at the crease with India in some trouble at 204-6.

England attacked with a heavily-packed off-side field and he was largely content to nudge the ball around until he got into the 70s when he suddenly went on the attack.He moved outside his wicket to smash Chris Woakes for the first of four boundaries in one over and charged down the pitch to try to launch Rashid over the ropes, only to be caught by Woakes in the deep.”They were bowling boring lines. It was only outside the off stump, off-stump, off-stump and off-stump,” said Jadeja who has never made a test hundred.

“I was not running out of time. In fact I had enough time. I just thought ‘let’s disturb the bowler by going outside off-stump’. There were only two fielders on the leg-side. That’s what I was trying and luckily I got four boundaries in that over.” Jadeja brought up his third test fifty in 104 balls, marking the achievement with his trademark bat-swirling celebration.”It’s a traditional Rajput style. I can’t bring a sword into the ground, so have to make do with the bat,” he said.

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly is among those who believe Jadeja is a better test batsman than his 23.5 average suggests and the all-rounder does not lack self-belief.”It’s not that I consider myself as a batsman, I am a proper batsman,” said Jadeja, the first Indian to hit three triple centuries in first-class cricket.”I’ve been scoring runs in first-class cricket….Of course this is my longest test knock but I knew I can play and pace my knock. I was not in a hurry. I knew once I settle, I can accelerate after 50-60-70 balls.” (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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First Published On : Nov 28, 2016 19:41 IST

India confirms H5N8 bird flu outbreak in Karnataka: OIE | Reuters

India confirms H5N8 bird flu outbreak in Karnataka: OIE | Reuters

Nov 25, 2016 21:39 IST

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PARIS India has reported an outbreak of a highly contagious bird flu virus in the southwestern state of Karnataka, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said on Friday, citing a report from the Indian agriculture ministry.The H5N8 virus was confirmed among birds in the village of Itagi, and all 1,593 of the birds at risk from the disease died or were culled, according to the report posted by the Paris-based OIE.No details were given on the type of birds or location involved.

The H5N8 bird flu strain has been found in several countries in Europe and the Middle East in recent weeks, leading some states to order poultry flocks to be kept indoors.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Bate Felix)

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First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 21:39 IST

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AUS vs SA | Nov 24th, 2016

AUS 307 6 102.0

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NZ vs PAK | Nov 25th, 2016

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ZIM vs WI | Nov 25th, 2016

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China says Dalai Lama’s Mongolia visit could harm ties | Reuters

BEIJING China urged Mongolia on Sunday to take steps to protect the two countries’ relations after the Dalai Lama visited the central Asian country at the weekend, despite Beijing repeatedly voicing its opposition.The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader arrived in Mongolia on Friday to meet Mongolian Buddhist leaders, according to his website.Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, in a statement, said Mongolia should “adopt effective measures to eliminate the negative effects of the Dalai Lama’s visit, in order to prevent the disruption of the healthy development of China-Mongolia relations.” Mongolia had repeatedly ignored China’s cautions against allowing the visit, much to Beijing’s dissatisfaction, the statement said.

Beijing frequently expresses its anger with countries that host the 81-year old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who fled to India in 1959 following a failed uprising against the Chinese. After the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia in 2006, China cancelled flights between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar. Flights later resumed.

China regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist, though he says he merely seeks genuine autonomy for his Himalayan homeland Tibet, which Communist Chinese troops “peacefully liberated” in 1950.

Rights groups and exiles accuse China of trampling on the religious and cultural rights of the Tibetan people, charges strongly denied by Beijing, which says its rule has brought prosperity to a once backward region. (Reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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First Published On : Nov 20, 2016 18:46 IST

Effects of demonetisation: Tea sales go up, but country’s sugar levels are in the dumps

Firstpostimage

Japan to supply India with nuclear power equipment, technology | Reuters

Japan to supply India with nuclear power equipment, technology | Reuters

Updated: Nov 11, 2016 20:24 IST

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By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies
| TOKYO

TOKYO Japan and India signed a civilian nuclear accord on Friday, opening the door for Tokyo to supply New Delhi with fuel, equipment and technology for nuclear power production, as India looks to atomic energy to sustain its rapid economic growth.(Narendra Modi in Japan, see pictures here)It was the first time Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, had concluded such a pact with a country that is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).”Today’s signing … marks a historic step in our engagement to build a clean energy partnership,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a joint news conference with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe. The accord stipulates that the nuclear fuel and equipment provided can only be used for peaceful purposes, and a separate document signed in parallel has a clause allowing Japan to terminate the pact if India conducts a nuclear test.”As a sole nation to have been nuclear-bombed, we bear the responsibility for leading the international community towards the realisation of a world without nuclear weapons,” Abe told the same news conference.

“The agreement is a legal framework to ensure that India will act responsibly for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It will also lead us to having India participate practically in the international non-proliferation regime.”India says the NPT is discriminatory and that it has concerns about its two nuclear-armed neighbours, China and Pakistan.India is already in advanced negotiations to have U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric, owned by Japan’s Toshiba Corp, build six nuclear reactors in southern India, part of New Delhi’s plan to ramp up nuclear capacity more than 10 times by 2032.

Japanese nuclear plant makers such as Toshiba and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd are desperate to expand their business overseas as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster chilled domestic demand for new nuclear plants.The agreement with Japan follows a similar one with the United States in 2008, which gave India access to nuclear technology after decades of isolation.That step was seen as the first big move to build India into a regional counterweight to China.

On India’s infrastructure development, Abe said that construction of a high-speed railway connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad, which will be based on Japan’s “Shinkansen” bullet train technology, was scheduled to start in 2018, with commercial operation slated for 2023.”In Japan, the era of high economic growth began when Shinkansen started its service in 1964. I hope the advent of high-speed railway will trigger fresh economic growth in India as well,” Abe said.Modi earlier on Friday praised the “growing convergence” of views between his nation and Japan, saying strong ties would enable them to play a stabilising role in Asia and the world. (Editing by Nick Macfie and Kevin Liffey)

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First Published On : Nov 11, 2016 20:24 IST

Financial services cheer India’s shock bank note curbs | Reuters

By Devidutta Tripathy and Sankalp Phartiyal
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI India’s abolition of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes with virtually no warning caused confusion and concern among ordinary people and in sectors of the economy where cash is king, but banks and electronic payment services are among those licking their lips.Among the biggest losers from the shock move, aimed at flushing out money hidden from the tax man in India’s huge shadow economy, is expected to be property, and the sharp drop in the sector’s stocks on India’s two main exchanges on Wednesday reflected that.It was better news for financial services companies involved in moving money around the formal economy, however, and among them was PayTM, India’s top mobile payment wallet services provider.It said it saw a 200 percent jump in app downloads and a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of money added to its wallets since Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s announcement of the curbs late on Tuesday.MobiKwik, which also offers mobile wallet services, said it saw a more than 40 percent increase in app downloads.”We’ll be a country with a lot more digital transactions and payments now,” said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, chief executive of PayTM, whose biggest shareholder is Alibaba Group.India’s shadow, or “black”, economy is estimated to be the size of about a fifth of its gross domestic product, with millions still having no access to formal financial services.Most financial transactions still happen in cash, although alternative payments and the use of cards have risen fast in recent years.Kotak Securities said it expected a large part of the shadow economy to become part of the formal economy, including the banking system, over time.Banks will benefit from higher savings deposits, while more financial savings also bodes well for insurance, mutual funds and wealth management companies, analysts said.

Shares in top lender State Bank of India rose 2.9 percent on Wednesday on a Mumbai market that closed 1.3 percent lower. The banking sector index edged up 0.1 percent.Global card network providers Visa and MasterCard welcomed the Indian decision, saying it would help cashless transactions. PayPal Holdings Inc called it a “master stroke” to make India a less cash-reliant economy.PAIN FOR PROPERTY, GOLD, FOOD
The crackdown on unaccounted wealth will put further pressure on the real estate sector, considered a safe haven for “black” money and already battling slower home sales.

The impact will likely be felt by smaller developers and in the secondary sales market, making the real estate sector more illiquid for some time, said Anshul Jain, managing director for India at consultant Cushman & Wakefield. “Working capital needs for small and medium developers and other businesses will be a lot higher,” said Jain, adding that prices will correct in markets where substantial speculative investments have been made using unregistered cash.DLF Ltd, India’s biggest listed property developer, slumped more than 17 percent in Mumbai trading on Wednesday, while the sector index fell 11.6 percent.A DLF spokesman, however, said the bank note move would not make “any big difference” for larger real estate companies who carried out transactions through banking channels. “It is only a popular perception that real estate spawns black money, which is actually not true.”

The crackdown is also seen as negative for jewellers, as it could lower the demand for gold despite a short-term rush for the precious metal late on Tuesday, analysts said.”Significant amounts of demand for gold used to get generated (by) unaccounted wealth,” said Surendra Mehta, Secretary at India Bullion and Jewellers Association.”Since such unaccounted money is set to lose value after the scrapping of 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee notes, demand for gold will also drop.”Mehta estimated India’s gold demand would fall by 100-150 tonnes next year from an annual average of about 800 tonnes.The central bank will launch a new series of 500 and 2,000 rupee notes later this week.Other sectors that could be impacted in the short term due to shifts in demand include consumer goods and automobiles, Edelweiss Securities said.Cement makers such as ACC and UltraTech will be hit, as 70 percent of demand comes from housing, HDFC Securities analysts said, adding that they expected cement companies to cut production.Food chain operators such as those run by Jubilant FoodWorks, which operates the Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts chains in India, will also be temporarily affected as students mostly buy in cash, the brokerage added. (Additional reporting by Aditi Shah and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Euan Rocha and Mike Collett-White)

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Ousted Tata chairman denies mishandling DoCoMo dispute | Reuters

By Aditi Shah and Abhirup Roy
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI Cyrus Mistry, who was ousted as chairman of Indian conglomerate Tata Sons last week, said “insinuations” that he mishandled a dispute with Japanese telecoms firm NTT DoCoMo Inc were baseless, ratcheting up a war of words with the Tata board.People close to the matter have said one of the reasons for Mistry’s dismissal was his handling of a long-running dispute with DoCoMo, Tata Sons’ partner in a telecoms joint venture in India.Mistry’s office said in a statement that all decisions related to the dispute were taken with the unanimous approval of the Tata Sons board, and that of Tata family patriarch Ratan Tata, and Tata trustee N.A. Soonawalla.”The insinuations are being imagined and this (DoCoMo) matter is sub-judice,” said a Tata Sons spokesman, adding the company would not comment further on the matter.Mistry has been embroiled in a bitter public spat with Tata since his removal as chairman of the $100 billion steel-to-software group. In a leaked letter to the Tata board last week, Mistry criticised corporate governance practices and blamed Ratan Tata, who ran the company for over two decades and is now back as interim chairman, for some of its costliest missteps.

Tata Teleservices and DoCoMo have been locked in a long tussle over the Japanese company’s move to exit a partnership formed in 2009. Under the terms of that deal, in the event of an exit, DoCoMo was guaranteed the higher of either half its original investment, or its fair value.When DoCoMo decided to get out in 2014, Tata was unable to find a buyer for the Japanese firm’s stake and offered to buy the stake itself for half DoCoMo’s $2.2 billion investment.India’s central bank blocked Tata’s offer, saying a rule change the previous year prevented foreign investors from selling stakes in Indian firms at a pre-determined price.

In an attempt to resolve the matter, Mistry said he asked DoCoMo to join the Tatas in seeking approval from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), he said in his statement, but DoCoMo refused, and initiated arbitration in a London court.DoCoMo won that arbitration, and Tata was asked to pay a penalty of $1.17 billion, which it has deposited with the Delhi High Court. The issue is still under litigation.Ratan Tata is likely to seek help from the Indian government to resolve the DoCoMo issue, including seeking relaxed norms for paying the Japanese company, TV channel ET NOW said on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Japan this month and meet his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in a bid to strengthen bilateral ties.Mistry said in his statement on Tuesday that Ratan Tata and Soonawalla had been kept informed throughout the DoCoMo proceedings, and had at all times approved what Tata Sons was doing.Asked to respond to Mistry’s statement, Tata’s lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi told CNBC-TV18: “It doesn’t serve much purpose … to keep making these allegations and counter allegations in the press.” (Reporting by Aditi Shah and Abhirup Roy; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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Bangladesh secure first test win over England | Reuters

Bangladesh secure first test win over England | Reuters

Updated: Oct 30, 2016 16:28 IST

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DHAKA Teenage sensation Mehedi Hasan took six wickets as Bangladesh secured their first ever test win over England with an 108-run victory on Sunday. England had won all previous nine matches against their South Asian rivals but were all out for 164 in their second innings while chasing 273 for victory on the third day of the second test at the Shere Bangla National Stadium.

Off-spinner Mehedi picked up his second five-wicket haul in the test for a match-haul of 12 wickets as the hosts tied up the two-match series at 1-1.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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Pakistan opposition party says more of its workers arrested, cancels rally | Reuters

Pakistan opposition party says more of its workers arrested, cancels rally | Reuters

Updated: Oct 29, 2016 16:31 IST

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By Asad Hashim
| ISLAMABAD

ISLAMABAD Pakistani police have arrested 30 workers from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party ahead of planned protests to shut down the capital on Wednesday, a PTI official said on Saturday, as the party cancelled a rally in the capital.On Friday, supporters of PTI leader Imran Khan, a former Pakistani cricket hero, clashed with police in Rawalpindi, 20 km (12 miles) from Islamabad, and Khan accused the government of placing him under virtual house arrest. Police on Thursday arrested 38 PTI workers at a youth rally, hours after local authorities imposed a two-month ban on all public gatherings in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The police and local authorities did not respond to requests for comment. Khan has vowed to ‘lock down’ Islamabad on Wednesday in a bid to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over allegations of corruption linked to the Panama Papers leaks. Police say they will block any such attempt.

Chaudhry Rizwan, a senior PTI official for Islamabad, said 30 people were arrested overnight from outside Khan’s home, where some supporters slept.A Reuters reporter saw more than 100 police officers, some in riot gear, posted near Khan’s residence.”Today’s rally has been cancelled. For now, whatever will happen will be at Khan’s Bani Gala residence,” added Rizwan.

PTI’s rally on Saturday was scheduled to act as a prelude for Wednesday’s attempt to lock down Islamabad.There were about 80 PTI supporters near Khan’s road, vowing to protect their leader and demanding that Sharif stand down.

“I came here because I think of Pakistan, and things are very bad here. There is too much corruption here,” said Dost Muhammad, 30, a tailor from Swat region who camped outside Khan’s home overnight.Khan’s latest challenge to Sharif’s government is based on leaked documents from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm that appear to show that his daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. Sharif’s family denies wrongdoing.Holding offshore companies is not illegal in Pakistan, but Khan has implied the money was gained by corruption. Khan admitted in May that he used an offshore company himself to legally avoid paying British tax on a London property sale. (Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Pakistan arrests ‘Afghan Girl’ from iconic photo, on ID fraud charge | Reuters

Pakistan arrests ‘Afghan Girl’ from iconic photo, on ID fraud charge | Reuters

Updated: Oct 26, 2016 23:17 IST

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By Sami Yousafzai
| ISLAMABAD

ISLAMABAD Pakistani authorities on Wednesday arrested the green-eyed Afghan woman who became a symbol of her country’s wars 30 years ago when her photo as a girl appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine, her family said.Sharbat Gula, who grew up in a refugee camp and is now in her 40s, is accused of having a forged Pakistani identity card.Gula is being held in jail in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar, said her brother-in-law Shahshad Khan, who added that Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) raided her home early on Wednesday morning.”FIA along with security forces came, entered her house, searched all belongings and took important papers including $2,800,” Khan said.Officials with the FIA and Pakistan’s national identity authority were not available for comment.Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on its website that Gula was arrested over alleged forgery of a Pakistani national identity card that allowed her to remain in the country.

She faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted of fraud.Gula was for years an unnamed celebrity after an image of her a teenage Afghan refugee was featured on National Geographic magazine’s cover in 1985, her striking green eyes peering out from a headscarf with a mixture of ferocity and pain.The image became a symbol of Afghanistan’s suffering during the 1980s Soviet occupation and U.S.-backed mujahadeen insurgency against it.

The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 led to the collapse of the Kabul government and years of civil war until the Islamist Taliban movement seized power in the mid-1990s.After the Taliban regime fell to the U.S.-backed military action in 2001, National Geographic sent photographer Steve McCurry to find the girl in the photo, eventually identified as Gula.At the time, she was living in Afghanistan but she later moved to Peshawar to be with her husband, her brother-in-law said.

Gula’s arrest comes amid new Pakistani pressure to send 2.5 million Afghan refugees back to their home country, despite offensives by Taliban insurgents that kill and maim thousands each year.Khan argued that Gula is not a refugee but a legal Pakistan resident because she was married to his brother, Rahmat Khan, who was born in Pakistan and died five years ago, leaving her with four children.”Her children are not sleeping since last night. She is a poor widow. Her children need her and she needs justice,” he said. (Writing by Kay Johnson; editing by Andrew Roche)

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Ban children from dangerous religious rituals, says child protection commission | Reuters

Ban children from dangerous religious rituals, says child protection commission | Reuters

Updated: Oct 26, 2016 20:57 IST

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By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – India’s child protection agency has appealed to parents not to let children take part in religious rituals that could be dangerous, following a teenager’s death after a 68-day fast.The appeal follows public outcry over the death of 13-year-old Aradhana Samdhariya from the minority Jain community in the southern city of Hyderabad.Samdhariya died due to cardiac arrest on Oct. 3, a day after her family held a procession in which she rode on a chariot dressed in bridal finery to celebrate the end of the ritual of surviving only on water.”We are appealing to all communities to ensure that they do not adopt customs and rituals like fasting or self flagellation that will harm their children,” Stuti Kacker, chair of the National Commission for the Protection of Child’s Rights, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”There is an urgent need to change mindsets.” The commission has drawn up a plan to raise awareness about religious rituals that it says children shouldn’t be involved in for their own safety. These range from self-flagellation and festivals in which tongues, cheeks and skin are pierced to walking on embers and child marriage.

Kacker said spiritual leaders would be called upon to help make sure such incidents don’t happen again.Child rights activists have called for the arrest of Samdhariya’s parents on charges of murder, saying they likely coerced her into participating in the fast.Her parents, devoted followers of Jainism, a religion that celebrates acts of renunciation, have denied they forced her to fast during the holy period of Chaumasa, observed from July.”The parents should have known better,” said Achyuta Rao of child rights charity Balala Hakkula Sangham, which filed a police complaint.

“In cases of hunger strike also, the police shift people to hospitals after a few days to make sure they don’t die. This was just a 13-year-old girl. How can parents get away by saying the fast was voluntary?”The Communist Party of India has also written to the Supreme Court, asking them to “take appropriate measures to stop this absurd orthodoxy”.Police have registered a case of culpable homicide against the parents. They are also seeking legal advice on whether to arrest them given that the body has been cremated without a postmortem.

“Her parents are in deep sorrow. No parent wishes this on their child,” said Lalit Gandhi, president of the All India Jain Minority Cell.”Many of our children go on short fasts of 10 to 20 days. It is a normal ritual. This incident was very unfortunate but certainly not intentional.”Gandhi added that the incident has started a debate within the community on whether children should be allowed to go on fasts at all. “We are discussing it with our spiritual leaders,” he said. (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj; editing by Timothy Large; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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India’s October gold imports to hit 9-month high on festive demand | Reuters

India’s October gold imports to hit 9-month high on festive demand | Reuters

Updated: Oct 20, 2016 22:43 IST

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By Rajendra Jadhav
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI India’s overseas purchases of gold likely hit a nine-month high in October, as a flip in domestic prices to a premium prompted banks and refiners to resume imports ahead of the festival season, industry officials told Reuters.While higher purchases could widen India’s trade deficit given bullion accounts for a major chunk of its imports, they would underpin global gold prices that have come off 7 percent from two-year highs hit in July as expectations of a U.S. interest rate hike by year-end strengthened the dollar.India is the world’s No.2 gold consumer after China.”Some (Indian) refiners and banks have resumed imports in the last few weeks as discounts came down and the market started trading in a premium,” said James Jose, secretary of the Mumbai-based Association of Gold Refineries and Mints.Jose expects India’s October gold imports to reach 60-70 tonnes, the highest since January and more than double an estimated 30 tonnes in September.

Last month, dealers offered gold at $32 an ounce below the official domestic price that include a 10 percent import tax – down from a record $100 discount in July – amid continued bleak demand and smuggling. But now they are charging a $2 premium ahead of a seasonal pickup in consumption.Demand for gold usually firms in the final quarter as India gears up for the wedding season and festivals such as Diwali and Dussehra, when buying the metal is considered auspicious.”Retail demand has already improved due to festivals,” said Ashok Jain, proprietor of Mumbai wholesaler Chenaji Narsinghji.

That has brought back banks and refiners who had been sidelined as growing entry of illicit gold, which avoids import duties, eroded their margins, Jain said.A correction in local gold futures is also attracting buyers, he added. In July, when Indian gold futures hit a near three-year top, scrap supply rose with people cashing in their old jewellery, denting demand for new gold.

India’s gold imports in the first nine months of 2016 are estimated to have slumped 59 percent from a year ago to 268.9 tonnes, according to consultancy GFMS. But the trend is changing with a near 8 percent drop in prices from July highs, said Bachhraj Bamalwa, director at All India Gems and Jewellery Trade Federation.Scotiabank expects arrivals in the second half of the fiscal year to March to be 25-50 percent more than the first half. (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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Thales hikes orders target after India fighter deal | Reuters

Thales hikes orders target after India fighter deal | Reuters

Updated: Oct 19, 2016 19:19 IST

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PARIS French defence firm Thales on Wednesday hiked its target for new orders after a long-awaited Indian fighter deal revived its hopes of boosting its order book this year.Europe’s largest defence electronics firm said it had won 10.216 billion euros in new orders in the first nine months of the year, up 1 percent on a like-for-like basis and pulling ahead of revenues which grew 10.8 percent to 10.033 billion.Orders were boosted by a deal for France to supply India with 36 Rafale combat jets, for which Thales builds the radar.The partially state-owned group upgraded its full-year target for fresh orders to 15.5-16.0 billion euros. It had previously forecast orders close to levels seen in 2013-14, when it said the order intake had averaged 13.6 billion euros.

Thales also nudged its full-year sales target higher.It said fourth-quarter sales would be dampened by a strong basis for comparison, but that the momentum seen in the first nine months, led by growth in emerging markets, would push full-year organic sales up by slightly more than 5 percent.

For 2016, it had previously targeted a “mid-single-digit” organic growth in sales, or a more specific numerical target of “around 5 percent” in the French version of its guidance.

Thales maintained its medium-target target for organic sales growth of around 5 percent, but averaged over 2016-18 instead of 2017-18 in its previous outlook. It maintained profit targets including 1.3-1.33 billion euros of operating income this year. (Reporting by Tim Hepher, Cyril Altmeyer; Editing by Andrew Callus)

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One in three people believe same-sex marriage should be legal – global survey | Reuters

One in three people believe same-sex marriage should be legal – global survey | Reuters

Updated: Oct 18, 2016 23:25 IST

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By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Almost one in three adults globally believe people of the same sex should be allowed to marry, a survey of almost 100,000 people in 65 countries showed on Tuesday.Some 32 percent said same-sex marriage should be legal, while 45 percent said it should not be, and the remaining 23 percent replied they did not know, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) survey said.The rights group said a breakdown of the results highlighted deep regional divisions.

Only 19 percent of respondents in Africa and 26 percent in Asia said they approved of same-sex marriage, against 35 percent in the Americas, 41 percent in Europe and 56 percent in Oceania the online survey found. These divisions reflect that rights advocates in Africa and Asia have focused on more pressing issues, such as fighting discrimination against gays rather than promoting acceptance of same-sex marriage, said study co-author Aengus Carroll.

“This is so far off the agenda for Africa and Asia,” Carroll told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.An ILGA survey published earlier this year found two-thirds of adults would be upset if their child told them they were in love with someone of the same sex.

Gay couples are legally recognised in more than 20 world countries, mostly in Europe and the Americas. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Astrid Zweynert)

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Amitabh Bachchan says it is time to express solidarity with our soldiers

Mumbai: Amid the demand for ban on Pakistani actors after the Uri terror attack, megastar Amitabh Bachchan on Tuesday said the nation is incensed and it is time to express solidarity with the Indian jawans.

Amitabh Bachchan. GettyImages

Amitabh Bachchan. GettyImages

To a question regarding the issue during a press conference in Mumbai on the occasion of his birthday on Tuesday, Bachchan also said he respects all artistes.

Following the Uri attack, the Raj Thackeray-led MNS had raised objection to Pakistani artistes working in India.

When asked if Bollywood is divided over supporting Pakistani artistes working in India, Bachchan said, “With folded hands, I request you that this is not the time and I don’t think it is right to put forward these questions.”

The megastar, who turned 74 on Tuesday, felt that considering the grave situation at the border one should express solidarity with Indian soldiers.

“Who said what and why, where and how, this is not the time for it. The nation is incensed, the people of this country are very angry by the incidents that are happening at our border,” he said.

“I think it is time to express solidarity with our jawans, armed forces who are sacrificing their life so that you and me can be safe now. That’s what needs to be put in question and nothing else.”

When asked if an artiste from a country should be banned or not, he said, “I have answered this question earlier. I respect all artistes.”

Bachchan refuted reports that he would be singing a song for Uri martyrs.

“This is not correct. I was in New Delhi where a Member of Parliament was acknowledging the Hanuman Chalisa, Ganpati aarti and he said I should sing for this (Uri martyrs). I said yes ok but I need some inputs. I think he went and said I should sing (for Uri martyrs), and from ‘should’ it became ‘will’, you (media) know better how it happens,” he said.

Alibaba Pictures, Amblin to co-produce films for global, Chinese audiences | Reuters

Alibaba Pictures, Amblin to co-produce films for global, Chinese audiences | Reuters

Updated: Oct 9, 2016 19:43 IST

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BEIJING Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners and Alibaba Pictures Group Ltd, the film unit of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, said on Sunday they will co-produce and finance films for global and Chinese audiences. They will also collaborate on the marketing, distribution and merchandising of Amblin Partner films in China, the companies said in a joint statement. Amblin Partners creates film, television and digital content under the Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media brands. Big Chinese companies including Dalian Wanda Group Co are looking to bring more Western films and movie-making prowess into China even as they seek to expand their footprint in Hollywood.China’s masses have the ability to keep Hollywood movies afloat, industry watchers say. They expect China to soon surpass the United States as the world’s biggest movie market.This year’s ‘Warcraft’, which was a box office flop in the United States, raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in China, making it one of the country’s highest-grossing films of the year.

“Some of the stories I’m hoping Jack and I can tell in this new partnership between Amblin Partners and Alibaba Pictures will be able to bring Chinese-themed stories to the American audience, and we can do co-productions between our company and your company,” Spielberg said at a briefing in Beijing. “And we can bring more of China to America, and bring some more of America to China.”Hong Kong-listed Alibaba Pictures has yet to release any films, although the company formerly known as ChinaVision Media Group Ltd has several projects in production.

Alibaba Pictures began investing in Hollywood films in 2015 with its stake in ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’. It was an investor in this year’s blockbusters ‘Star Trek Beyond’ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group paid about $800 million for a controlling stake in ChinaVision Media in 2014. Under the terms of the partnership, Alibaba Pictures will also acquire a minority stake in Amblin Partners, which is chaired by Spielberg, the award-winning U.S. movie director and producer.

Dalian Wanda, the conglomerate controlled by China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, is partnering with Sony Pictures under which Wanda will market Sony Pictures’ films and co-finance some upcoming movie releases of Sony Corp’s film unit in China.In January, Wanda paid $3.5 billion for a controlling stake in U.S. film studio Legendary Entertainment. The group has also since said it would start co-investing in global blockbusters next year.”I heard a lot of people say the movie industries are dead. I think that’s a lack of imagination,” Ma said at the briefing. “All the cinemas in the future are going to be changed because of technology. So people will definitely have all kinds of experiences watching movies.” (Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Paul Tait and Clelia Oziel)

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Police arrests 70 call centre workers in Mumbai for posing as US tax officials, duping Americans

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Om Puri should feel lucky that he is in India after taking freedom of speech to a whole new level

I watched Om Puri on a TV panel discussion with awe and admiration. Awe because never have I heard such gibberish in my life. Admiration because the man underscored the Indian madness over film stars. If he wasn’t a film actor, he would have been indicted for sedition with twenty times the evidence we flung at Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU Students’ Union leader.

Om Puri. News18

Om Puri. News18

Om Puri did not cross the LoC of common sense. He trampled it with contempt and derision for Indian soldiers and talked such utter nonsense that it was difficult to grasp at even a tendril of common sense.

There wasn’t even a hint of the threadbare ho hum stance of intellectual pretension like we see in Salman Khan and Karan Johar and their tribe…here is the Defence Minister of Pakistan saying he will fling nuclear bombs at you and a cricketer like Javed Miandad telling the world that every child in Pakistan will rise up against India and if we could just keep a dignified silence, that would be fine but no, we have to denigrate ourselves and babble on about our being nice guys and art being separate.

So is sport, Sport, and I do not see the Miandads playing by the rules.

But this is all small beer compared to the drivel spouted by Om Puri. It was so breathtakingly anti–Indian that only in democratic India could he be in a position to go home, have a drink, eat dinner and sleep peacefully without being accountable to the state.

Some years back, he acted as General Zia Ul Haq in a film called Charlie Wilson’s War. Clearly, he hasn’t stepped out of his role.

After this absurd display of hubris and conceit, I think it is time we told Bollywood and all its other ‘…woods’ to put a sock in it.

To an extent, their excesses and their pretensions to grand intellect are our fault. We put them on the pedestals, venerate them, come out into the heat of the night to pay obeisance, turn them into demi-gods, carry their photographs, want to touch them, make huge posters and cutouts and give them space to believe they are philosophers who eclipse Socrates and Plato.

No wonder then that they believe they can afford to be outrageous and still be loved.

Take this Om Puri guy. Great actor whose self-delusion borders on the ridiculous. He babbles on about the armed forces, repeats some nonsensical litany of turning the subcontinent into Palestine and Israel like he had discovered the cure to cancer and embarrasses himself beyond belief.

If Bollywood is truly the great free spirit and vat of grand thought it pretends to be, let’s have the Salman Khans and the Karan Johars come out into the open and tell us that Om Puri had egg on his face and made a laughing stock of himself while indicting the whole film industry.

Will they do it? I doubt that very much. We live in perilous times and our nation is under attack. Wake up and smell the coffee, bitter as it is.

We do not need opinion, we need solidarity.
We don’t need placid pacifism, we need alertness.
We don’t need to kneel, we need to walk tall.

And we also need the Om Puris of India to zip it.

Pakistan’s reaction after surgical strikes: Chief Justice skips India summit, theatres ban Indian films,

The Indian Army’s surgical strikes on Wednesday night along the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) has set-off a series of reactions from the Pakistani side, even as its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claimed that Islamabad is all for peace. After a series of soft push backs, New Delhi had upped its anti-Pakistan narrative following the Uri terror attack.

While the Indian government sought to isolate its neighbour on the international platform, with moves like pulling out of the Saarc Summit, the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPPA), an artists’ body, banned Pakistani artistes and technicians from working in India.

Representational image. News 18Representational image. News 18

Representational image. News 18

Now reports have surfaced that Pakistan’s theatre owners have decided to withdraw and ban screening of Indian movies until bilateral tensions between the two countries subside.

“We will suspend the screening of Indian films till normalcy. No Indian movies will play in my cinemas from Friday onwards,” said Nadeem Mandviwalla, owner of Mandviwalla Entertainment which runs Atrium Cinemas in Karachi and Centaurus in Islamabad, according to PTI.

In the past week, Bollywood films Pink and Banjo had released in Pakistan. Though MS Dhoni: The Untold Story too was supposed to release, Pakistan film distributor IMGC Global Entertainment withheld it, citing reasons like the movie could have anti-Pakistan elements in its narrative about cricket, the company’s head Amjad Rasheed told IANS over phone from Dubai.

Another cinema owner added that this ban should continue until the Indian government offers Pakistani films a level playing field and Pakistani artistes complete protection. However, the Pakistani government has not yet issued an official directive in this regard.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali also cancelled his visit to India next month, citing the “present conditions”, according to Pakistani media reports. Jamali has refused to attend the global conference slated to be held in India from 21-23 October, Radio Pakistan reported.

In July, Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale had personally invited Jamali to the conference on national initiative to strengthen arbitration and enforcement. In a letter to the Indian Supreme Court, Jamali said that in the “present conditions” he could not attend the meeting, the News International reported.

The decision was made due to tense situation between the two countries, the report said. A senior official of the Pakistan Supreme Court said that though the Pakistan Foreign Office recommended that the CJP may attend the conference, Jamali refused to visit India in light of the prevailing circumstances, the Express Tribune reported.

Jamali’s decision can be seen as a meltdown to the long-standing peace efforts between the two nations.

Trade relations could not remain untouched as Pakistan scuttled India’s participation in the Asian Trade Promotion Forum (ATPF) CEO meet held this week by withholding travel permission of an Indian High Commission official to Lahore. The 29th ATPF CEO meet was held in Lahore from 24 to 26 September and the trade counsellor of the Indian mission was scheduled to attend the event. However, he was denied permission to travel. The ATPF, comprising 24 member countries including Australia, Japan and China, aims to enhance trade in the region through information exchange, implementation of cooperative projects and strengthening networks among members.

Meanwhile, the usual political rhetoric also stayed in place as Sharif chaired a Cabinet meeting to “to put across collective response of the nation to the challenge thrown by the latest events,” Radio Pakistan reported.

According to PTI, Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said support to the “just struggle of the Kashmiri people would remain priority of Pakistan and it would not back down on this account” while he blamed India for indulging in “diversionary tactics” in a bid to deflect attention of the international community from its “brutalities” against Kashmiris. Pakistan’s Defence Minister also said that India is displaying “irresponsible attitude” and trying to play to the gallery in a bid to “hoodwink” its public opinion.

Also, retaliating on the diplomatic level, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi has said that she is due to meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday to discuss the existing situation between India and Pakistan. She also met New Zealand’s UN Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen, who is the current president of the 15-member UN Security Council, and urged him to informally brief the world body on the escalating tension along the border.

Pressing further the escalation ceiling between the two nuclear armed neighbours, India had carried out a surgical strikes at seven terrorist launch pads in PoK. The attack is being termed as New Delhi’s retaliation to the 18 September terror attack on Indian Army Base in Uri where 19 soldiers lost their lives. The attack is also being largely seen as an attempt to quell the handful incidents of cross-border skirmishes and crossfire violations from the Pakistani side. According to PTI, including Friday’s firing in Akhmoor district in Jammu, Pakistan has violated the ceasefire five times in September and three times in past 36 hours.

With inputs from agencies

Ryan Lochte loses all his major sponsors after Rio incident, apology | Reuters

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Oil jumps nearly 3 percent on U.S. crude draw, fading Brexit fears | Reuters

NEW YORK Oil prices jumped nearly 3 percent on Wednesday after the U.S. government reported a larger-than-expected weekly drawdown in crude inventories, adding fuel to an existing rally on fading concerns over Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The potential for an oil workers strike in Norway and a crisis in Venezuela’s energy sector also added support to crude futures.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said crude stockpiles fell 4.1 million barrels in the week to June 24, the sixth consecutive week of drawdowns.

That was more than the 2.4 million barrels expected by analysts in a Reuters poll. The American Petroleum Institute trade group reported a 3.9 million-barrel drawdown late Tuesday, boosting crude futures in post-settlement trade.

“The report is bullish with the large crude oil inventory decrease of over 4 million barrels,” said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital. “The stepped-up demand by refiners and a plunge in imports helped create the decline.”

Brent crude futures were up $1.29, or 2.7 percent, at $49.86 per barrel by 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT).

U.S. crude’s West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures rose $1.25, or 2.6 percent, to $49.10.

It was a second straight day of gains for Brent and WTI, which have risen about 5 percent each since Monday’s settlement, paring some of the 8 percent lost in the previous two sessions after the Brexit vote.

Heating oil futures, also known as ultra low sulfur diesel, rose 3.4 percent, leading the oil complex, after a 1.8 million barrels decline in stockpiles of distillates, which include ULSD. Analysts had expected 14,000-barrel build instead.

Despite that, some traders were bearish on their longer-term view of oil as the EIA also reported an unseasonably large rise of 1.4 million barrels in gasoline versus analysts’ expectations for a 58,000-barrel draw.

On the East Coast, gasoline stockpiles rose to record levels.

“I am still unimpressed with overall crude draws for June,” said Scott Shelton, energy futures broker with ICAP in Durham, North Carolina. “With 16.7 million barrels per day of crude runs and production declines, we should have larger drawdowns for Q2. That has simply not happened.”

Tariq Zahir, crude spreads trader and managing partner at Tyche Capital Advisors in New York, had a similar view.

“We firmly feel any rally will stall out near the $50 level, as we have seen unjustified gains in previous weeks for gasoline based on the build number we have now,” Zahir said.

(Additional reporting by Julia Payne in LONDON and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Marguerita Choy)

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Brexit makes government fix to Tata steel pension plan elusive | Reuters

LONDON/BRUSSELS A government overhaul of the British Steel Pension Scheme – crucial to convincing anyone to buy Tata’s British assets – is in jeopardy after Britons’ vote to leave the European Union deepened the fund’s debts and depleted its assets, analysts and industry sources said.

Pension trustees said they were in talks to assess the impact of last week’s decision, which sources said already raised the risk Tata Steel’s giant Port Talbot plant would be closed, destroying thousands of jobs.

Britain’s government has been trying to overhaul the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS), one of the nation’s largest defined benefit plans, with 130,000 members.

Even before last week’s referendum, its 14 billion pounds ($18.79 billion) of liabilities exceeded its assets by roughly 700 million pounds.

Tata Steel inherited the pension scheme when it bought Corus, formerly British Steel, for $12 billion in 2007.

“The trustee and its advisers are working with stakeholders to understand what, if any, impact the outcome of last week’s referendum might have on the discussions regarding the future of the scheme,” the trustees said in a statement.

Hymans Robertson, which advises firms that sponsor schemes such as BSPS, estimated British pension liabilities had gone up by about 5 percent — or several hundred million pounds in the case of the steel pension fund — since close of business on Thursday, because of the falls on stockmarkets and predicted fall in interest rates triggered by the British referendum.

A spokesman for Tata said he couldn’t comment on the latest funding for the BSPS, but like all pension funds, asset values moved up and down. The FTSE rose around 2 percent on Wednesday, partly recovering from heavy losses.

At least three of the seven bidders are still interested in buying Tata’s British operations, industrial sources said, but they have also said Tata might decide to shut its loss-making Port Talbot plant in Wales and focus resources on its more successful Dutch plant at IJmuiden.

On Tuesday, Dutch union leaders said Tata was investing between 200 million euros ($221.7 million) and 300 million euros in IJmuiden. Tata Steel has not disclosed financial details.

In an emailed statement, it said the Dutch spending was part of its long-term strategy drawn up several years ago to invest in equipment to supply, especially to car manufacturers, higher-strength steels with improved surface quality.

“This significant investment will further improve IJmuiden’s competitive position as a manufacturer of world-class products for our most demanding customers,” it said.

Tata Steel says it has invested 1.5 million pounds in Britain and a similar amount in the Netherlands since 2007.

But the climate for investment in Britain is now stormy, analysts say, and steel pension liabilities are the least of the government’s worries.

“The Port Talbot operation has never been further from viability. Due to current uncertainty, private investment in Port Talbot is unlikely,” Ben Orhan, senior economist at IHS Global Insight Pricing and Purchasing, said.

“The future of the steelworks is critical to those around Port Talbot and the wider UK steel industry. But the ‘Out’ result means it is at the bottom of the priorities of those, who were working hard to save it.”

($1 = 0.7451 pounds)

($1 = 0.9020 euros)

(Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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Poland sink Swiss on penalties after brilliant Shaqiri goal | Reuters

ST ETIENNE, France Poland beat Switzerland 5-4 in a shootout to reach their first European Championship quarter-final as a riveting clash ended 1-1 after extra time on Saturday following a brilliant late equaliser by Swiss Xherdan Shaqiri.

Grezgorz Krychowiak drilled in the winning spot-kick after Granit Xhaka had missed Switzerland’s second penalty to send the Polish fans at the Geoffroy Guichard stadium into raptures.

The Poles will meet Croatia or Portugal, who play later on Saturday, for a berth in the semis.

Jakub Blaszczykowski had given Poland a 39th-minute lead before Shaqiri levelled with a spectacular bicycle kick in the 82nd to send the contest into a dramatic climax.

“We were prepared for this kind of battle,” Poland coach Adam Nawalka said. “The Swiss are a world class side and it was no surprise that they came storming back in the second half.

“But the important thing is that my team showed potential after conceding the equaliser. We are mentally prepared for the quarter-final match in Marseille on Thursday.”

Man of the match Shaqiri, who was superb in the second half and extra time, said the goal meant little after a painful loss.

“It’s a great disappointment, we could have achieved something very big,” the 24-year old forward told a news conference.

“It was a beautiful goal and I am always proud to score for my country, but we are out.”

GAPING GOAL

Poland dominated the first half and should have gone ahead inside the first minute when Arkadiusz Milik sent his shot over a gaping goal following a calamitous defensive mix-up.

With striker Robert Lewandowski subdued, the Poles created had to rely on chances created by livewire left winger Kamil Grosicki and the impressive Blaszczykowski on the other flank.

Switzerland captain Stephan Lichsteiner could not keep up with Grosicki, who fired over the bar from 18 metres after a clever run through the middle.

Blaszczykowski broke the deadlock with a composed finish from 10 metres after a darting run by Grosicki and a dummy from Milik gave the winger time and space to pick his spot.

With Shaqiri and striker Haris Seferovic stifled by Poland’s rock-solid defence, the Swiss created little in the opening period despite roaring “Go Suisse” chants by their supporters.

They came out with renewed purpose in the second half and Shaqiri finally showed a glimpse of his talent with a dazzling solo run and a stinging shot which Lukasz Fabianski parried.

Blaszczykowski had Yann Sommer at full stretch as the pace increased with Switzerland throwing men forward.

Shaqiri produced a moment of magic with one of the best goals of the tournament in the 82nd minute, twisting his body in the air to unleash a fierce shot which gave Fabianski no chance as it went in off the post.

Galvanised by the goal, Switzerland took the upper hand and dominated extra time, forcing several desperate clearances by a defence which had conceded in only one other match in 2016.

Substitute Eren Derdiyok missed a sitter for the Swiss when Fabianski kept out his close-range header and they paid the price as a rattled Poland held on to force the shootout.

(Editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)

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Ibrahimovic to finish international career after Euro 2016 | Reuters

NICE, France Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic said on Tuesday that he would retire from international football at the end of Euro 2016, adding he would remember his international career with pride not disappointment.

Announcing his decision at a press conference on the eve of Sweden’s final group game against Belgium, the 34-year-old added that he would not be taking part in the Rio Olympic soccer tournament in August as an over-age player.

Sweden must beat Belgium in Group E on Wednesday to have a realistic chance of qualifying for the round of 16.

Ibrahimovic, who has scored 62 goals in 115 appearances, had been giving routine answers about Wednesday’s game when he suddenly switched to English and said he had a message to send.

“The last game (at Euro 2016) will be my last for Sweden, so I hope it will not be tomorrow,” he said. “To finish with a disappointment — never.”

“I am very proud of what I have achieved and, wherever I go, I will always bring the Swedish flag with me. Disappointment doesn’t exist, only pride. I’m very grateful to all the supporters.”

Ibrahimovic, who has been reported to be set to join Manchester United in the English Premier League next season from Paris St Germain, has had a disappointing tournament so far.

He has not yet had a shot on target as Sweden have taken only one point from their opening two games.

Ibrahimovic, who made his debut in 2001 against the Faroe Islands, has played at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the last four European championships for Sweden.

However, he missed out on the last two World Cup tournaments in 2010 and 2014 when Sweden failed to qualify.

One of his most memorable international matches was a friendly in 2012 when he scored all four Sweden goals in a 4-2 win over England, including a memorable 35-metre effort with his back to goal.

“You need a whole press conference on what I think, but of course he has made a huge contribution to the Swedish national side,” said coach Erik Hamren.

“He has been such an important figure for Swedish football as a whole. He has been fantastic for the national team, for Sweden and I think we can talk about that for hours.

“We have one international player who is at the same level as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and that is Zlatan,” he added. “Zlatan is a huge character and he has really helped Swedish football.”

(Writing by Brian Homewood Editing by Adrian Warner/Toby Davis)

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India opens the door for Apple retail with new FDI rules | Reuters

MUMBAI Apple Inc (AAPL.O) could open its first stores in India and might eventually start manufacturing in the country under new foreign investment rules for retailers outlined on Monday.

The new rules exempt foreign retailers for three years from a requirement to source 30 percent of the goods sold in company-owned stores locally.

That would allow Apple, which currently sells its iPhones, iMacs and iPads through resellers, to set up its own shops in India, ending months of uncertainty for the California-based company that had first applied for store licenses in January.

India is the world’s fastest growing large smartphone market with sales expected to rise over 25 percent this year.

For Apple, which has less than a two percent share in the smartphone market in the country, gaining a bigger footprint in India is crucial at a time when growth in China and the U.S. has stalled.

The announcement was part of a sweeping reform of rules on foreign direct investment, which also opened up the defence and civil aviation sectors to full foreign ownership.

The retail rule changes are also likely to help Swedish furniture-retailer IKEA [IKEA.UL], which is setting up stores in Hyderabad and Mumbai, to expand operations.

Apple had sought to get around the sourcing rules by citing a clause that exempted retailers of “cutting edge” technology from the requirements, however sources had told Reuters that some government officials had quibbled over whether Apple products met that criteria.

The new directive paves the way for Apple to resubmit its application and rapidly start retail stores in India. It can also seek an additional exemption for five years if it convinces the government its products meet the “cutting edge” criteria.

Analysts said opening the door for Apple retail could also lead to Apple looking favorably on India as a manufacturing destination.

“The government hopes that if they can show them that is the market where consumers are Apple will be more willing to start manufacturing operations here,” said Neil Shah, an analyst at Counterpoint Research.

India has been lobbying Apple and its partner Foxconn (2354.TW) to begin manufacturing in the country as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s agenda to bring in foreign manufacturers to India to create millions of jobs.

The announcement comes a month after Apple boss Tim Cook met Modi to discuss Apple’s plans for retail and manufacturing in India as part of his first-ever trip to the country.

(Reporting by Himank Sharma, additional reporting by Manoj Kumar and Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Euan Rocha)

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Days after RBI chief Rajan steps down, India eases foreign investment rules | Reuters

NEW DELHI India announced on Monday sweeping reforms to rules on foreign direct investment, clearing the way for Apple to open stores in the country and announcing easier terms for investors in sectors ranging from civil aviation to pharmaceuticals.

The move comes two days after central bank governor Raghuram Rajan, a darling of financial markets but under pressure from political opponents at home, announced he would not seek another term, a surprise move that raised concerns about whether reforms he set in motion would stall.

“These changes are fairly significant, particularly if you look at them in the context of what happened over the weekend with Governor Rajan’s decision to step down,” said Shilan Shah, India economist at Capital Economics in Singapore.

“It might be the government’s way to illustrate its commitment to reforms and mitigate any investor fallout.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the changes to foreign direct investment (FDI) rules, tweeting they would make India “the most open economy in the world for FDI” and provide a “major impetus to employment and job creation”.

Modi, 65, has pitched to global business to come and “Make in India” since winning power two years ago. His government has touted a 29 percent rise in FDI to $40 billion in the fiscal year to March as proof the policies are gaining traction.

Yet, with India ranking 130th in the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business index, multinationals remain cautious amid lingering concerns about bureaucratic red tape and unpredictable tax officials.

The last time Modi loosened FDI rules was after his nationalist party suffered a heavy defeat in a state election last autumn.

Some companies welcomed the news, but others and industry analysts said changes in several industries appeared limited and the headline-grabbing announcement was more about seeking to wrest back control of the economic narrative.

For example, while the new rules allow 100 percent FDI in civil aviation, investment by foreign airlines in domestic carriers remains capped at 49 percent.

Another new rule allows foreign companies to invest up to 74 percent in ‘brownfield’, or existing, pharmaceuticals projects without government approval. But previous rules allowed 100 percent foreign ownership if government approval was obtained, and analysts doubted the change would have a big impact.

BENEFICIARIES

The new rules, however, do offer relief for single-brand retailers such as Apple and furniture giant IKEA that are finding it tough to meet India’s requirement for them to sell at least 30 percent locally sourced goods.

CEO Tim Cook visited India last month on a mission to expand Apple’s presence in the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market, at a time when sales in the United States and China have slowed.

Under the relaxed norms, Apple would have three years to meet the sourcing rules with an extension of another five years if its products are judged “state-of-art” and “cutting edge”.

The new regime also seeks to attract defence contractors hitherto reluctant to transfer technology to India. They would be able to own local operations outright, with government approval, up from a cap of 49 percent previously – although again some industry sources said this did not mark a big change.

Saab, the Swedish defence and aerospace company that recently re-pitched its Gripen fighter jet to the Indian Air Force, welcomed the announcement.

“We think this is a very good move and this decision by the government only encourages us to start our business in India,” said Robert Hewson, Saab’s Asia-Pacific head of communications.

(Additional reporting by Aditi Shah, Rupam Jain; Writing by Douglas Busvine and Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Mark Potter)

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Late Eder goal sends Italy through to last 16 | Reuters

TOULOUSE, France Italy moved into the knockout stages of Euro 2016 and continued to defy their doubters as Eder scored two minutes from fulltime to secure a 1-0 win over a shot-shy and unadventurous Sweden on Friday.

Eder ended a great run by firing home to move Italy clear at the top of Group E on six points after two matches following their 2-0 victory over Belgium in their opening encounter.

The result left Sweden in an uncomfortable position with one point after two games ahead of their final group clash against Belgium next week.

Sweden were well organised at the back but toothless in attack, with their danger man Zlatan Ibrahimovic looking a shadow of his brilliant best and hardly creating a chance.

Italy, who came into the tournament with questions surrounding the strength of their squad, but surprised many with their superb performance against a highly-fancied Belgium side, relied on their trademark, tight defence against the Swedes.

They rarely threatened up front, however, until Marco Parolo hit the crossbar with a header shortly before Eder netted the winner.

“It was a difficult game,” Italy coach Antonio Conte told Rai Sport. “We struggled in the first half.

“The boys did well to ride the storm and hurt Sweden when we needed to.”

Italy had been praised for their unity and work rate in their opening win over Belgium, but appeared to have no answer to Sweden’s organised rearguard until Eder’s late intervention.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren had criticised their lack of attacking vitality following their opening 1-1 draw with Ireland, and while there was an improvement in their overall performance, Ibrahimovic once again failed to provide a cutting edge and live up to his billing.

“We were much better than the Italians for periods, but we didn’t create really dangerous chances,” Sweden midfielder Albin Ekdal told Swedish broadcaster SVT.

Sweden are still without a shot on target at the tournament, although Martin Olsson proved a menacing threat down the left, sending an effort just over the bar on 18 minutes having set the tone with an early cross that prompted a nervous clearance from Giorgio Chiellini.

Olsson’s frequent forays left space for Antonio Candreva, but Andreas Isaksson and Erik Johansson combined to clear his testing deliveries, while Ibrahimovic flashed a close-range header wide towards the end of the first half.

Having masterminded victory over the Belgians, Conte’s tactics were completely neutralised during the opening 45 minutes in Toulouse and his side appeared unsettled as a result.

“At halftime Conte told us we were too slow and he was right,” Parolo told Rai Sport.

“We changed the tempo after the break and we deserved our victory.”

Conte introduced Simone Zaza in the 60th minute and he had a decisive role in the winner, heading a Chiellini throw in into the path of Eder.

The forward then cut in from the left — evading Andreas Granqvist’s attempted tackle — and sent a curling right-footed shot round Isaksson to take Italy through.

(Additional reporting by Patrick Vignal in Paris; Editing by Toby Davis)

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RBI eases stressed asset restructuring rules for banks | Reuters

MUMBAI The Reserve Bank of India on Monday relaxed guidelines for restructuring of large stressed assets by lenders in a move that would allow the banks to more effectively manage bad loans on their books.

India’s banks are saddled with about $120 billion in stressed loans, or 11.5 percent of the total, and RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has set a deadline of March 2017 to clean up the bqad loans on bank balance sheets.

(Reporting by Suvashree Dey Choudhury; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Wife of Bangladeshi anti-terrorism policeman stabbed, shot dead | Reuters

DHAKA The wife of a senior Bangladeshi police official known for battling Islamist militants was stabbed and shot to death on Sunday, and machete-wielding assailants killed a Christian grocer in a separate incident.

Both attacks appeared to be the work of Islamist militants who have killed at least 30 people, including religious minorities, liberal bloggers and academics, since February last year, police said.

Three assailants riding a motorcycle stabbed and then shot Mahmuda Aktar, 33, while she was on her way to put her son onto a school bus near her home in the southeastern port city of Chittagong, police said.

“She was stabbed first. Then they shot her in the head three times,” Humayan Kabir, deputy police commissioner of Chittagong, told Reuters.

Her husband, police superintendent Babul Aktar, has played an important role in cracking down on militants in the region.

“Babul Aktar is an efficient police officer and played a key role in apprehending Islamists. They might have killed his wife because they failed to get him,” Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters.

Aktar, who was recently posted to police headquarters in the capital, Dhaka, busted several hideouts of the banned group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen. His team also arrested one of the group’s leaders, who was later killed in a grenade blast during a police raid in October.

The government has launched a crackdown on militant groups who want to impose strict Islamic law on Bangladesh, whose population of 160 million are mostly moderate Muslims.

In Sunday’s other killing, Sunil Gomes, a 60-year-old shopkeeper, was hacked to death in his shop in the northern district of Natore, local police official Manirul Islam said.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing Gomes, according to the U.S.-based monitoring service SITE.

Islamic State and al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for many killings in the past but the government denies either group has a presence in Bangladesh and says home-grown radicals are responsible.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam told Reuters in an interview last month that Islamic State was trying to ride a wave of religious radicalisation by falsely claiming killings, and said there was enough evidence implicating domestic militant groups.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Paes, Hingis complete full set of doubles titles with French win | Reuters

PARIS Doubles veterans Leander Paes and Martina Hingis completed a full set of grand slam doubles titles on Friday, adding the missing piece to their collections in an emotional mixed final at the French Open.

For Paes, who turns 43 in two weeks, the 4-6 6-4 10-8 (champions tiebreak) win over India’s Sania Mirza and Croat Ivan Dodig turned the clock full circle.

Paes captured the first of his 18 grand slam titles on Court Philippe Chatrier in 1999 when he teamed up with fellow Indian Mahesh Bhupathi to win the men’s doubles title.

Over the course of the next 17 years, Paes criss-crossed the world several times over as he won men’s doubles titles at all four majors and the mixed at the Australian and U.S. Opens and Wimbledon.

The missing link was at Roland Garros and on Friday, Paes finally made sure his doubles CV was complete.

Spurred on during the closing rallies on Friday by a shout of “come on, old man” from the stands, Paes made the telling intervention on the final point, stretching far to his right to scoop up a Dodig groundstroke with a volley that the Croat drove into the net.

“Today I complete the grand slam with Martina, a player who inspires me,” Paes said courtside after the pair added the Roland Garros crown to the Wimbledon and U.S. Open trophies they already hold.

Hingis began her march towards her own set of eight as far back as 1996 when, as a 15-year-old, she won Wimbledon with Czech Helena Sukova.

“I am glad you were able to complete the (career) grand slam, the one that was missing from your collection with me today,” she told the Indian.

(Reporting by John Stonestreet and Pritha Sarkar)

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Indian central bank chief wins over Modi despite broad mistrust | Reuters

NEW DELHI In late 2014, the knives were out for India’s central bank governor Raghuram Rajan.

Finance ministry officials were frustrated by his reluctance to cut interest rates to stimulate growth, and moves were afoot to ease him out of the job. Some were airing their reservations about Rajan’s hawkish stance in the media.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a meeting of senior finance ministry staff that December to hear their complaints, said a person who was present.

At the end, the leader delivered a stern message: do not indulge in a public spat with the central bank.

The moment marked a turning point in ties between the heads of the newly installed government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Since then, Modi and Rajan have developed a close working rapport, government officials and people close to the governor say, and that could be crucial to the $2 trillion economy.

With Modi’s patronage, it is more likely the government will reappoint Rajan, whose three-year term expires in September, should he wish to stay on, the sources said.

That would allow him to try to revive India’s banking sector that has been smothered by distressed debt, which, in turn, is choking off economic recovery.

“Rajan will get another term and he will accept it,” said Arvind Mayaram, India’s former finance secretary who Rajan worked with closely first as the government’s chief economic adviser and then as RBI governor. “He is well entrenched in India’s political economy.”

A top government official said the decision rests with Modi and the leader has not yet said what he wants to do. Modi recently told The Wall Street Journal that Rajan’s reappointment would come up only in September.

The official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the press, added that the prime minister was “proud” of the RBI governor and that a campaign against Rajan would not affect Modi’s decision.

The prime minister’s office and finance ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Rajan, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, has not disclosed his plans, and did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

MODI’S SUPPORT IS KEY

Modi’s support would be important if the 53-year-old RBI chief is to get the big state banking sector to complete a cleanup of massive debts and force defaulters to pay up.

Banks making provisions for bad debt are reluctant to issue new loans, leading to criticism within the sector and complaints from smaller businesses and politicians.

Patronage from above will also help shield Rajan from lingering opposition within the ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a man known for his straight talking and willingness to question government policy and achievements.

As the personal understanding between Rajan and Modi appears to grow, some officials still resent him.

The fact that Rajan was appointed by the previous Congress government did not help him win friends in Modi’s BJP, and the former University of Chicago professor has been viewed by some with suspicion as a product of the West, not India.

BJP parliamentarian and economist Subramanian Swamy, one of those leading a campaign to remove Rajan, recently accused him of “wilfully and deliberately wrecking the Indian economy.”

The governor’s penchant for blunt commentary raises hackles.

Rajan’s appeal for tolerance late last year was perceived to be a veiled criticism of the government for appealing to the Hindu majority at the expense of minority communities, prompting Swamy to rebuke him for speaking like a “grandfather”.

Rajan recently compared India’s fast-growing economy to a “one-eyed king in the land of the blind”. Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman publicly censured his comments.

BONHOMIE

The first signs of growing bonhomie between Modi and Rajan came early last year, when Modi called Rajan the “best teacher” for explaining complex economic issues to him.

Days later, the governor returned the compliment, saying the teaching went both ways.

The prime minister backed Rajan in the monetary policy panel’s composition and blocking moves to strip the RBI’s authority to regulate government bonds and manage public debt.

Modi’s office also directed the finance ministry to pursue only those policies where there was agreement with the central bank, a former finance ministry official said.

The governor frequently visits New Delhi to meet Modi, a government official with direct knowledge said. But their meetings are mostly kept away from the public gaze.

Modi’s office declined a request to disclose the number and details of the meetings, saying the information relates to “economic interest of the state”.

Rajan had help from junior finance minister Jayant Sinha, a college friend and one of the more influential economic voices in the Modi government.

At the December meeting, Sinha told the attendees that the clashes were undermining the government’s credibility, the person present said.

A government source said that Sinha also facilitated meetings between Rajan and Modi to broker a compromise on thorny issues such as the composition of the new monetary panel. Sinha did not respond to a request for comment.

LEARNING ON THE JOB

Rajan may prove a more effective governor second time around if he gets the chance, say some RBI insiders and economists.

Although he fended off a market attack on the rupee early in his tenure, bankers, economists and his former colleagues said he was relatively slow to grasp how liquidity flows through the economy and how to fine tune it to meet his primary policy goal of taming inflation.

Under Rajan, the RBI forced banks to source limited short-term funds from cash-for-bond auctions rather than getting unlimited funds from the central bank at a fixed rate.

Banks complained the new system was forcing up costs and hampering the transmission of rate cuts to the real economy, said several bankers privy to the discussions with the RBI.

At first, Rajan publicly dismissed their concerns as “nonsense”. It was only after 16 months of pleading by banks that he finally revamped the RBI’s liquidity management in April, the bankers said.

A second stint is likely to see a more accomplished operator as the RBI tackles bank debt, tries to develop the bond market as a viable source of funding for companies and switches to a Western-style approach to decision making.

A new monetary policy panel will be formed later this year to set interest rates, something Rajan favored to make the RBI more independent and introduce transparency to the process.

In a key victory for Rajan, draft legislation from the finance ministry that would have allowed the government to appoint more than half of the panel’s members was amended to split it evenly between government and RBI nominees.

Rajan will get the casting vote in the case of a 3-3 split.

Those who have worked with Rajan said his people skills and powers of persuasion will give him a big say on setting rates.

“WHY ROCK THE BOAT?”

Rajan continues to be lionized by foreign investors whose funds are needed to keep the Indian economy motoring ahead.

That was key in convincing Modi to defend him, while two off-cycle interest rate cuts in January and March last year also acted as a balm, a senior minister in the federal cabinet said.

The country has been ravaged by drought in the last two years and not enough jobs are being created to accommodate its rapidly expanding workforce, but India is the world’s fastest growing major economy and inflation is half what it was in 2013.

“The combination of Modi, (Finance Minister Arun) Jaitley and Rajan are delivering on the macro front,” said Gita Gopinath, an economics professor at Harvard University who knows Rajan well. “I really don’t see any reason to rock the boat.”

(Additional reporting by Douglas Busvine, Neha Dasgupta, Suvashree Choudhury and Rupam Jain; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Rain wipes out play at French Open; first washout since 2000 | Reuters

PARIS Persistent rain accompanied by a flood warning washed out an entire day’s play at the French Open on Monday for the first time since 2000, throwing an unwelcome spotlight on delayed plans to build a retractable roof over Centre Court.

The abandonment also created a scheduling headache for organisers, who called off play shortly before 2pm local time, pushing 10 fourth round singles matches, including those featuring world number ones Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, back to Tuesday.

While the three other grand slams — Wimbledon, U.S. and Australian Opens — all have at least one showcourt with a roof, Roland Garros fans will have to wait till 2020 or later before any covering appears.

French Open director Guy Forget said Monday’s non-event — coming on top of four rain-affected days earlier in the tournament — proved that installing a roof as soon as possible was essential.

Roland Garros’s redevelopment plans have been put on hold by environmental activists looking to protect nearby greenhouses.

“For those in our country who still have doubts and who ask themselves ‘do we absolutely need to modernise our stadium?’, look at the facts. Today offers proof that this is absolutely necessary,” Forget told reporters.

Monday’s flood warning from the French national weather was at orange — the second highest alert level — and covered parts of northern France including Paris and surrounding areas, and said heavy rains could continue until Tuesday afternoon.

Instead of staging just four quarter-finals on Tuesday, organisers — who told soggy and disappointed fans to apply for refunds from the tournament’s website — will have to clear the backlog of last-16 matches first.

Now only two men’s quarter-finals will take place on Tuesday, defending champion Stan Wawrinka’s showdown with Albert Ramos Vinolas and second seed Andy Murray’s highly-anticipated duel with French favourite Richard Gasquet.

The delays will also affect competitors as those hoping to win the title will have to play matches on successive days if the tournament is to finish on Sunday as scheduled.

More than 50 first-round matches were held over during the previous washout on May 30, 2000. That tournament finished on time.

Rain forced the postponement of the 2012 men’s final between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, which was held over two days and finished on the Monday.

PONCHOS AND UMBRELLAS

While a handful of sodden spectators sat hunched under umbrellas on Court Philippe Chatrier on Monday watching a replay of Gasquet’s emotional win over Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori a day earlier, thousands of others took shelter by cramming into the corridors under the main showcourts.

Americans Dot Hillegass and daughter Kim McGeorge had tickets for Chatrier — on what was to have been a highlight of a six-day trip to Europe and their first experience of live professional tennis.

Told the washout was the tournament’s first since 2000, Kim McGeorge remained philosophical. “What are the odds on that? It was obviously not meant to be,” she said.

“It’s a disappointment. They need a retractable roof,” said her mother, unwittingly tapping into the day’s hot debate.

The miserable weather meant brisk trading for the shops and boutiques in the grounds.

And there were no prizes for guessing which products were flying off the shelves.

“Above all, it’s the umbrellas and ponchos that are doing well,” said Vincent Martinez, human resources coordinator for shops selling Roland Garros-branded merchandise.

“But people are going home earlier so in general we prefer sunny days.”

Souvenirs in hand, an estimated 25,000 ticket-holders started trudging out of the grounds at 1:48 pm — with their only memory being that they went to Roland Garros on the day rain washed out play for the first time in 16 years.

Shopping should be part of a special experience for tennis fans, Martinez said, adding: “Today was also unforgettable, though perhaps not in the best way.”

(Additional reporting by John Stonestreet and Julien Pretot; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Naseeruddin Shah-Anupam Kher row: You don’t have to be an egg to make an omlette

I have known Naseeruddin Shah off and on (more off) since the Manthan days when he was part of the Shyam Benegal bandwagon. More a theatre person, he did bring to cinema a certain intellectual elan that was reserved for the likes of Victor Bannerjee and his ilk.

Not being much of a movie maniac, I do recall his movie on Wednesday in which he fights for the little people and models himself on the common man made famous by cartoonist RK Laxman. When Naseer made that movie, he didn’t choose a specific colour or caste or religion for the common Joe. Nor did he live on a hot, tin roof. It was a powerful and across-the-board identification with an individual who just kept receiving the thin edge of the wedge and Naseer rose to reflect the man’s plight.

Naseeruddin Shah. Reuters

Naseeruddin Shah. Reuters

Naseer has often been quoted as saying that this being his favourite movie. Which makes it all the more strange that he would elect to get into an argument with Anupam Kher, a fellow actor, over the condition of Kashmiri Pandits.

It is a tenuous indictment when you predicate it to not having lived in Kashmir to defend their cause as one.

I believe in the Palestine cause and I am not even Palestinian, let alone having been there. You might believe in ending the wars in Yemen and Syria and righting injustices without being Yemeni or Syrian. Many Europeans opened their doors to Syrian refugees without even knowing where the country was on the map.

Individuals and organisations have walked that extra mile; the Peace Corps, Mother Teresa’s army, even the cinematic likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie leaving a positive mark. Salman Khan does not stop running Being Human for kids because he has grown out of it and become an adult. Priyanka Chopra, UN Ambassador for the right of Indian children to go to school, did not say, no, no, no, only Hindu Punjabi children. Shilpa Shetty donated her earnings from Big Brother to AIDS Research not because she has it but because she wants to help. Shabana Azmi adopted a village called Mizwan and opened up a school for village children and she isn’t from there nor does she intend to move there any time soon.

The old adage holds true: you don’t have to be an egg to make an omelette. And it is truly unedifying for two actors of worth to engage in a sniping contest.

I recall speaking to Susan Sarandon who starred in Lorenzo’s Oil over her efforts to cure ALD. She went from her role in the movie to spending years generating support to find that elusive cure.

It would have been so much more salutary if these hurtful tweets had been replaced by Kher and Shah starring together in a sensitive, humane and relevant film on Kashmir.

Why make digs that have no logical basis and why get involved in unnecessary controversy that will take you nowhere?

We all identify with causes and have beliefs and often give of ourselves and our time and our support and even our wealth without having any direct co-relation or being integral to the situation.

You didn’t have to live in South Africa to be against apartheid.

You don’t have to be a whale to fight whaling.

You don’t have to be a tree to combat the decimation of forests.

Sarcasm is not always the best weapon just because it is sharp. I can only hope that these two gentlemen, endowed with intelligence, blessed with success and each of them having a strong following, will not take this absurd slurring further.

Come on, Naseer, you are a better man than this. Stop already.

And there is no cause for Kher to up the ante.

Neither of you will win the jackpot. People will only feel sorry (and a little bit angry) that despite having so much going for you, you would mock the fates.

U.S. sees first case of bacteria resistant to last-resort antibiotic | Reuters

U.S. health officials on Thursday reported the first case in the country of a patient with an infection resistant to a last-resort antibiotic, and expressed grave concern that the superbug could pose serious danger for routine infections if it spreads.

“We risk being in a post-antibiotic world,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, referring to the urinary tract infection of a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman who had not travelled within the prior five months.

Frieden, speaking at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, D.C., said the bacteria was resistant to colistin, an antibiotic that is reserved for use against “nightmare bacteria.”

The infection was reported Thursday in a study appearing in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. It said the superbug itself had first been infected with a tiny piece of DNA called a plasmid, which passed along a gene called mcr-1 that confers resistance to colistin.

“(This) heralds the emergence of truly pan-drug resistant bacteria,” said the study, which was conducted by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of mcr-1 in the USA.”

The patient visited a clinic on April 26 with symptoms of a urinary tract infection, according to the study, which did not describe her current condition. Authors of the study could not immediately be reached for comment.

The study said continued surveillance to determine the true frequency of the gene in the United States is critical.

“It is dangerous and we would assume it can be spread quickly, even in a hospital environment if it is not well contained,” said Dr. Gail Cassell, a microbiologist and senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School.

But she said the potential speed of its spread will not be known until more is learned about how the Pennsylvania patient was infected, and how present the colistin-resistant superbug is in the United States and globally.

“MEDICINE CABINET IS EMPTY FOR SOME”

In the United States, antibiotic resistance has been blamed for at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually.

The mcr-1 gene was found last year in people and pigs in China, raising alarm.

The potential for the superbug to spread from animals to people is a major concern, Cassell said.

For now, Cassell said people can best protect themselves from it and from other bacteria resistant to antibiotics by thoroughly washing their hands, washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly and preparing foods appropriately.

Experts have warned since the 1990s that especially bad superbugs could be on the horizon, but few drugmakers have attempted to develop drugs against them.

Frieden said the need for new antibiotics is one of the more urgent health problems, as bugs become more and more resistant to current treatments. “The more we look at drug resistance, the more concerned we are,” Frieden added. “The medicine cabinet is empty for some patients. It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently.” Overprescribing of antibiotics by physicians and in hospitals and their extensive use in food livestock have contributed to the crisis. More than half of all hospitalized patients will get an antibiotic at some point during their stay. But studies have shown that 30 percent to 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed in hospitals are unnecessary or incorrect, contributing to antibiotic resistance. Many drugmakers have been reluctant to spend the money needed to develop new antibiotics, preferring to use their resources on medicines for cancer and rare diseases that command very high prices and lead to much larger profits. In January, dozens of drugmakers and diagnostic companies, including Pfizer, Merck & Co, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline, signed a declaration calling for new incentives from governments to support investment in development of medicines to fight drug-resistant superbugs.

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Additional reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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Nobel Laureate Satyarthi says companies cannot flourish on child slavery | Reuters

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Big corporations must do more to clean up their supply chains and ensure that there is no child labour involved in the products which they manufacture and sell, Nobel laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi said on Friday.

From cosmetics and clothes to shrimp and smartphones, the supply chain for most products is often complex with multiple layers – whether in sourcing the raw materials or creating the final product – making it hard to identify exploitation.

Speaking at a conference on bonded labour in India, Satyarthi said a new anti-trafficking law being drafted by the government would hopefully make it harder for corporations to use child labour in their supply chains.

“Every national or international corporate must adhere to national as well as international laws. Those who are working in India should know that they cannot continue to violate the laws of the land,” Satyarthi told journalists.

“We have laws in this country and we will have another clearer law on trafficking soon – so then there would be much more robust law and mechanisms to deal with that.”

A draft of a comprehensive new anti-trafficking law is expected to be unveiled in India on Monday which will aim to unify several existing laws, raise penalties for offenders as well as provide victims with rehabilitation and compensation.

The law will also provide for the establishment of a central investigative anti-trafficking agency to coordinate and work between states and special courts to hear such cases.

Nearly 21 million people globally are victims of forced labour, an industry which generates $150 billion a year in illegal profits, says the International Labour Organization.

The British charity Anti-Slavery International on its website documents 122 products made by child labourers across 58 countries ranging from Latin America to Asia.

These children might be employed at the start of the supply chain, forced into mines to extract gold, mica, diamonds and coal or made to toil in farms to produce commodities such as cotton, sugar, tea, coffee and cocoa.

Children are also found working further down the supply chain, such as in the stitching of garments, manufacturing of footwear, weaving of carpets or in the assembly of fireworks.

Satyarthi, whose charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) is credited with rescuing more than 80,000 enslaved children, said big companies are increasingly being held accountable by consumers and the media.

“The power of the consumer and the media is growing everywhere. Companies should not ignore the power of consumers,” said Satyarthi, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

“If they are exploiting children for their own benefit then that it is illegal and ethical. They cannot continue flourish at the expense of children in India or in any country.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla,; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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PM Modi’s Swachh Bharat Mission filled with challenges: Report

The road ahead for the Swachh Bharat Mission is fraught with challenges as a majority of companies focus on creating infrastructure like toilets instead of behavioural change programmes and concentrate mostly on rural areas, according to a report.The report maps corporate social responsibility (CSR) trends in ‘Water Sanitation and Hygiene’ (WASH) in India of the 100 companies with the largest CSR budgets on the BSE 500.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The Swachh Bharat Mission has catalysed the conversation around sanitation, right from the streets to the boardrooms of corporate India.””However, despite substantial support from the corporate sector, the road ahead remains challenging. We need to recognise that tackling this issue is as much about changing ingrained behaviour and social norms as it is about infrastructure,” Naina Lal Kidwai, Chair, India Sanitation Coalition and Past President, Ficci said.The report found that only 20% of companies supported programmes that aimed to change the behaviour of individuals despite its critical role in eliminating open defecation.Moreover, analysis of the types of interventions conducted according to location also depicted a strong preference for rural areas. 11 of the 12 types of interventions were conducted in rural vicinities.The report cautioned that “lack of adequate WASH facilities in urban areas could pose serious health-risks to urban populations in India if sidelined”.Besides, Heavy Engineering and Manufacturing and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies were more likely to support WASH programmes than other industries, owing to the strategic importance of WASH to these industries.Of the 90 companies that supported WASH programmes, 45 companies belonged to the Heavy Engineering and Manufacturing industry, 19 to Banking, 11 to IT & Finance, 6 were Healthcare companies, 5 were from the FMCG sector, 3 from the Telecommunication industry and 1 was a Media and Entertainment undertaking.Only 33 companies published information on the financial outlays and budgets of their CSR programmes. Based on this data the median allocation to WASH programmes was approximately Rs 4.65 crore.Data indicated that the most popular state for CSR in WASH was Maharashtra with 17 companies reporting a programme in the state, followed by 16 companies working in Uttar Pradesh and 15 in Rajasthan.Around 13 companies were working in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Most of these states also reported a high rate of open defecation. certain states with very high open defecation rates such as Orissa, Jharkand, Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir did not see high participation from companies, while parts of North-East India were left out.

Tata Steel says evaluating bids for UK asset sale | Reuters

MUMBAI Tata Steel Ltd is evaluating bids for British assets it has put on sale, India’s biggest steelmaker said on Wednesday, reporting a smaller fourth-quarter net loss of $478 million.

In March, Tata Steel said it wanted to sell its loss-making operation in Britain, putting 15,000 jobs at risk and highlighting the impact of cheap Chinese imports, high energy costs and a global supply glut.

Earlier on Wednesday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who is under pressure to save local jobs, said Tata had received an “encouraging number” of offers but also warned that there were no guarantees of a successful conclusion.

Tata Steel Group Executive Director Koushik Chatterjee told a news conference on Wednesday that the bid deadline was last Monday, but did not comment on the bidders or the timeline of a sale.

Tata Steel posted a consolidated net loss of 32.14 billion rupees ($478 million) for the three months to March, compared with 56.74 billion rupees a year earlier.

Net sales during the fourth fiscal quarter fell 12.5 percent from a year earlier to 291.6 billion rupees.

($1 = 67.2962 rupees)

(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee, writing by Himank Sharma; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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Afghan draft law must stop punishing women over moral crimes – rights group | Reuters

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Afghanistan’s president should ensure that the country’s draft penal code upholds women’s rights by banning “virginity exams” and outlawing the imprisonment of women and girls accused of so-called moral crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

Improving the lives and rights of women remains a major challenge in Afghanistan nearly 15 years after a U.S.-backed military campaign ousted the Taliban’s hardline Islamist regime.

Afghan women and girls accused of “moral crimes” such as running away from home or having sex outside of marriage are often forced to endure invasive and scientifically questionable “virginity tests” by government doctors, HRW said.

The tests claim to verify whether a woman has been sexually active outside of marriage, but the veracity of the exams has been widely debunked by scientists.

“President Ghani should ensure that the new law upholds women’s rights under both the Afghan constitution and international law, by removing all references to “moral crimes” and adding new provisions to protect women and girls from abuse,” said HRW researcher Heather Barr in a statement.

Afghan government officials were not immediately available for comment.

HRW said in most cases women and girls accused of “moral crimes” were escaping forced marriage or domestic violence. In some instances those who had been raped were charged with having sex outside of marriage, the rights group added.

Despite Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s pledge to stop women and girls from being locked up for running away from home, Afghan police and prosecutors continue to arrest them, HRW said.

“President Ghani’s promise to end the practice of arresting women and girls for “running away” is an important step forward for women’s rights in Afghanistan”, Barr said.

“But to make a real difference, the president needs to issue a clear and binding order that immediately changes how every police officer and prosecutor handles complaints against women and girls. For too long, women and girls fleeing violence have been treated as criminals while their abusers go free.”

According to HRW estimates from 2013, half of imprisoned Afghan women and about 95 percent of girls in juvenile detention have been arrested on so-called moral crimes charges.

(Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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Bank of India sees better year ahead after Q4 loss | Reuters

MUMBAI Bank of India, the country’s third largest state-run lender by assets, reported a fourth quarter loss, but hopes a gradual upturn in the economy will help to ease the burden of bad loans in its new financial year.

The quarterly loss, at 35.87 billion rupees ($529.92 million), was the third in a row for the Mumbai based lender as it set aside more money to cover a surge in bad loans. It made a net loss of 561.4 million rupees in the same quarter last year.

Including Bank of India, 12 state-run banks have now posted combined losses of 206.43 billion rupees in the March quarter due to a surge in provisions for bad debt after a clean-up ordered by their regulator, Reserve Bank of India.

Melwyn Rego, who took over as Bank of India’s chief executive in August, said it was “cautiously optimistic” about an improved performance in the current fiscal year that began in April, adding the lender’s asset quality was stabilising.

Bank of India’s gross bad loans as a percentage of total loans rose to 13.07 percent in the quarter ended March, from 9.18 percent in December. Provisions, including for loan losses, more than doubled from a year earlier to 54.70 billion rupees.

Stressed loans, which include bad loans and restructured loans, stood at 575.86 billion rupees or 15 percent of total loans as of end-March, the bank said.

Rego also said the bank was lowering exposure to companies and was instead growing its comparatively safer retail loan book including housing loans.

“Our recovery efforts have moved up substantially,” Rego said.

The bank aims to recover 175 billion rupees in the current fiscal year ending March 2017 from some of its bad loans and by upgrading some weak accounts to performing ones, compared with 109.2 billion rupees the previous year, Rego said.

Bank of India also aims to sell 10 billion rupees worth of non-core assets in the current fiscal year.

It is looking to raise as much as 85 billion rupees of capital this fiscal year, including up to 50 billion via share sale, Rego said.

($1 = 67.6900 Indian rupees)

(Writing by Suvashree Dey Choudhury and Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Why was AAP silent over BJP’s misgovernance in Goa, asks Congress

Panaji: After Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal accused Congress and BJP of being involved in various scams in Goa, the state Congress unit on Monday sought to know why AAP activists were silent over the alleged misgovernance of the Laxmikant Parsekar-led government.

A file photo of Arvind Kejriwal. AFPA file photo of Arvind Kejriwal. AFP

A file photo of Arvind Kejriwal. AFP

“Kejriwal only spoke about the scams. Has he answered why his own local unit is not doing anything against it? Why are they not raising their voice,” Congress’ Goa State Secretary Durgadas Kamat asked reacting to Kejriwal’s public meeting in Panaji.

Kejriwal in his speech had said that both Congress and BJP were involved in the scams in the state.

He had pointed out that current BJP-led government was involved in scams in beach cleanliness contract and Entertainment Society of Goa which hosts International Film Festival of India (IFFI).

“I had exposed ESG scam where in lakhs of rupees were siphoned by the people who are currently in power in ESG. AAP maintained silence over the issue. They never supported me or took up the issue at their level,” Kamat said.

He said parties like AAP hover in Goa during election but later vanish in thin air.

Kejriwal is on a two-day visit to Goa where he announced that AAP would be contesting upcoming state legislative assembly elections in 2017.

Manohar Parrikar less available in Delhi, more in Goa: Arvind Kejriwal

Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday alleged that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was concentrating less on his ministry and more on Goa.”Even till date Goa is having (Manohar) Parrikar-led government. He is less available in Delhi and more in Goa. He clears off all the files in the Goa secretariat during the weekend and goes back to Delhi,” Kejriwal said. He was addressing a public meeting in Panaji where AAP kicked off its campaign for Goa Legislative Assembly polls scheduled in 2017.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The current government is ‘katputli’ (puppet) one. Parrikar concentrates less on defence and has more interest in Goa,” he said.Referring to AAP’s action of filing FIRs in Delhi against industrialist Mukesh Ambani and former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Kejriwal questioned why Parrikar could not jail those involved in the illegal mining scam in Goa.”If I can file case against Sheila Dikshit and Mukesh Ambani, then why Parrikar (former Goa Chief Minister) cannot jail those people involved in corruption during Congress regime,” he said.Kejriwal alleged that the coastal state has been facing a huge issue of corruption.”BJP and Congress have ruined Goa. The way I was reeling under angst against corruption a few years back, similar sentiments are nurtured by people from Goa at this moment,” he said.”In 2012 people gave mandate to BJP government when it pointed out to Congress’ scams in mining, Louis Berger, land conversion, garbage dump,” Kejriwal said, adding people across communities came together to give the mandate to BJP.”Parrikar had promised that he would jail people involved in mining scam and assured to close down casinos but he did nothing. He cheated the people of Goa,” he alleged.”The scams which were started by Congress continued in the BJP-led government. In addition they have more scams in beach cleaning, bitumen, Entertainment Society of Goa and others. Nothing has changed. The corruption level remains the same as that during Congress regime,” Kejriwal alleged.The Delhi Chief Minister challenged BJP to show five promises fulfilled from their election manifesto.”Four years have been completed by BJP (led-government) in Goa. I was reading their manifesto. I challenge them to show at least five promises that they have fulfilled from election manifesto,” Kejriwal added.

Buyout group to back rival’s bid for Tata’s UK steel assets – sources | Reuters

LONDON/MUMBAI Excalibur Steel, a management buyout group interested in purchasing Tata Steel’s British steelmaking operations, is ready to lend its support to rival bidder Liberty House, two industry sources told Reuters on Sunday.

Tata said in March it wanted to sell its UK steel operation, which has been hit by cheap Chinese imports, rising costs and weak demand. The decision prompted a political scramble to find a buyer to save the thousands of jobs at stake.

The deadline for final bid submissions is on Monday. A decision on how to proceed with the sale set to be taken at a meeting of the Tata board in Mumbai on Wednesday. The board is likely to shortlist several bids for further scrutiny.

Talks between Excalibur and Liberty over a possible collaboration to rescue the steelmaking operation are ongoing, the two sources said.

Excalibur would express their support for the Liberty proposal in its bid document, while Liberty’s bid will include a statement welcoming the backing of members of the management buyout team, one of the sources said.

Tata and Liberty declined to comment, while Excalibur could not be reached for comment.

Liberty is proposing a long-term plan under which the Port Talbot steel plant in Wales – Tata’s main asset in Britain – gradually shift towards using technology that allows it to melt scrap steel alongside the plant’s existing blast furnaces.

A second source said that senior members of the buyout team were ready to move over to join Liberty’s bid as part of any collaboration.

Tata said earlier this month that it had received seven expressions of interest for the assets.

(Reporting by William James and Promit Mukherjee in Mumbai; Editing by Keith Weir and Jane Merriman)

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Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ wins Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival | Reuters

CANNES, France “I, Daniel Blake” by British director Ken Loach won the Palme d’Or for Best Picture at the 69th Cannes Film Festival on Sunday.

Loach had already won the highest distinction in 2006 for “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”.

The Iranian film “Forushande” (The Salesman) by Asghar Farhadi received two awards, for Best Screenplay and for Best Actor, won by Shahab Hosseini.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot)

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Sri Lanka landslide buries three villages; death toll unknown | Reuters

COLOMBO A landslide in Sri Lanka, triggered by more than three days of rain, buried three villages in a central district and the death toll is yet to be determined, government officials and area residents said on Tuesday.

Torrential rains have forced more than 137,000 people from their homes so far and killed at least 11.

Rohan Dias, a deputy police inspector, said rescue operations at the villages in the central district of Kegalle was continuing in the night.

“There were about 150 families in those villages and we don’t know how many survived,” Dias told Reuters.

“There are about 800 people gathered in the nearby temples including the people from the neighbouring villages fearing their villages could also be affected. There are another 400 people in the roads who have come to see their relatives.”

W.M. Abeywickrema, Kegalle district secretary, told a local private channel that around 400 people had been rescued so far.

“I saw a whole rock came down and buried many houses. There are people inside,” one middle-aged woman told the channel.

Military Spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera said 174 service personnel and 8 army officers had been deployed to the rescue area in Aranayaka in Kegalle district.

Troops also have launched rescue operations in inundated areas of the Indian Ocean island, with boats and helicopters pulling more than 200 people trapped in the northwestern coastal district of Puttalam to safety, officials said.

“This is the worst torrential rain we have seen since 2010,” said Pradeep Kodippili, a spokesman for the disaster management centre. Nineteen of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts have been hit.

Heavy rains have also struck the neighbouring Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. More than 100 houses were damaged in coastal Kerala and about 50 families had been shifted to a relief camp in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, a state official said.

The weather department has forecast heavy rains across Tamil Nadu over the next two days and warned fishermen not to go out to sea.

Flooded roads and fallen trees led to traffic jams in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Trains were halted as water submerged railway tracks, officials said.

Flooding and drought are cyclical in Sri Lanka, which is battered by a southern monsoon between May and September, while a northeastern monsoon runs from December to February.

(Writing by Shihar Aneez; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Doping program behind Russian medals at Sochi Olympics: report | Reuters

Dozens of Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, including at least 15 medal winners, were part of a state-run doping program, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The report is broadly consistent with revelations by an independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission last November of widespread state-sponsored doping in Russia, which led to a ban on the country competing in international athletics competitions.

Unless that ban is lifted, Russian athletics competitors will miss the Rio Olympics in Brazil, set to run Aug. 5-21.

According to the New York Times report, which is based largely on evidence from Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of the country’s anti-doping laboratory during the Sochi Olympics, those involved included some of Russia’s biggest stars of the Games, including 14 members of its cross-country ski team and two veteran bobsledders who won two golds.

The newspaper said it could not independently verify Rodchenkov’s account of the doping operation. Reuters was not able to verify details of the New York Times report.

Russian anti-doping experts and members of the intelligence services secretly broke into tamper-proof bottles to replace urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, the New York Times reported, citing Rodchenkov, who ran Russia’s drug testing lab.

By the end of the 2014 Olympics, as many as 100 dirty urine samples were expunged, Rodchenkov told the newspaper.

“We were fully equipped, knowledgeable, experienced and perfectly prepared for Sochi like never before,” Rodchenkov is quoted as saying in the report, which stated he received the prestigious Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Sochi Olympics. “It was working like a Swiss watch.”

Rodchenkov resigned from his position last November after the Moscow-based laboratory he oversaw stopped operating when its accreditation was suspended by WADA.

“These allegations are very detailed and very worrying and we ask the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate immediately,” International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said in a statement. “Based on the findings of a WADA inquiry the IOC will not hesitate to act with its usual policy of zero tolerance for doping and defending the clean athletes.”

The report is the latest alleging widespread performance-enhancing drug use by the country’s athletes. In the past week, CBS News aired an interview with a whistleblower, saying that at least four of Russia’s gold medal winners at the Sochi Olympics were using steroids.

‘EXTREMELY DISTURBING’

WADA President Craig Reedie, speaking after a two-day meeting in Montreal with the agency’s executive committee and foundation board, had not read the New York Times report when asked to comment.

“You are making the assumption I know what you know. I’ve been chairing a meeting all day,” said Reedie. “I think the pressure will be on WADA to respond and investigate and I gave a rather strong commitment to the athletes we would do just that.”

Former Olympian Beckie Scott, who is the chair of WADA’s athletes committee, told reporters on the sides of the WADA meeting that the New York Times article was “extremely disturbing but not surprising.”

Putin staked his reputation on the Sochi Games, which at around $50 billion was the most expensive in Olympic history. Russia led all countries with 13 gold medals and 33 overall at in Sochi.

Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko dismissed the New York Times report as nonsense, according to the TASS news agency.

“I believe these guys, they are outstanding athletes, the charges are nonsense,” Mutko, who has previously said doping checks at Sochi were under the control of international experts, was quoted as saying. “The charges against them are groundless. We will study this article and see how to react.”

According to the New York Times report, Rodchenkov was given a list that named the athletes involved in the doping program and their competition schedule and was to substitute their samples if any went on to win a medal.

“This is as bad as we’ve seen assuming what Rodchenkov says is true, and he does have the knowledge of what was going on,” former WADA president Dick Pound, who headed the independent commission last year, told Reuters.

The head of Russia’s Cross-country Skiing Federation Elena Vyalbe told Russia’s R-Sport news agency that there was “no doping.”

Russian skeleton team head coach Willi Schneider told TASS the latest allegations had not been proven. “These are just rumors,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Keating and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Writing by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Bill Rigby)

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In Duterte’s Davao, Filipinos ready to share their maverick mayor | Reuters

DAVAO, Philippines After 22 years with Rodrigo Duterte as its crime-busting mayor, the Philippine city of Davao is coming to realise that it might have to share him with the rest of the country after Monday’s presidential election.

Duterte is the undisputed hero and patriarch of Davao and his touting of extreme measures to bring order to a once-lawless city has resonated on a national scale and put him on the cusp of winning the presidency.

The no-nonsense former prosecutor enjoys a cult-like following as a de facto sheriff who transformed a Wild West town fraught with drugs and gangs into a buzzing, modern city with a population proud of its rise from obscurity.

“Davaoanians”, as they call themselves, feel it is time the rest of the country got a taste of Duterte’s rule.

“We want to share him. We’re happy with him being a mayor but we also want the Philippines to experience it,” said taxi driver Dax Dela Rosa, 42.

“You are safe everywhere … Here the criminals are scared, unlike in Manila (where) it’s the people who are afraid.”

Criticism of Duterte is almost unheard of in Davao and its people say he is a man of action whose sweeping promises of thwarting criminals and rooting out corruption are not hollow.

The streets of Davao are festooned with campaign posters bearing images of a stern-looking Duterte, and there are giant banners and car bumper stickers of a clenched fist accompanied by bellicose slogans and his most famous quotations.

T-shirts emblazoned with Duterte are ubiquitous, many with the “DU-30” code for his name that became iconic as the mayor’s popularity standing in opinion polls surged, making him the clear frontrunner.

SOFT SIDE

“There will be no corruption and he can help the poor when he becomes president,” said ice cream vendor Rio Roxas. “He won’t change his attitude.”

The common narrative of Duterte is of a thuggish, crass candidate with a single-policy platform that has won him nicknames like “Duterte Harry”, “the punisher” and – among his presidential rivals – “the executioner”.

It is an image Duterte has himself cultivated with boasts of scaring off and shooting criminals, making him the target of rights groups and rival candidates who accuse him of sanctioning hundreds of extrajudicial killings on his watch.

But those who have known no other mayor talk of his softer side, like his push for clean governance, a city-wide smoking ban, and setting up a childrens’ cancer ward, vaccination programmes and a modern 911 emergency services facility.

Duterte has personally intervened in countless situations, according to residents, from property disputes to joining raids on drug dens, finding jobs for homeless and ordering taxi drivers to spend more time with their wives.

“I’ve seen what Mayor Duterte has done for the city. His passion, his dedication, everything he has done for the city and how selfless he is,” said businesswoman Lezita Go, 38, who wears Duterte wristbands. “He is not just a myth, or hearsay.”

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Bayern Munich secure record fourth straight Bundesliga title | Reuters

BERLIN Bayern Munich secured a record fourth consecutive Bundesliga title with a game to spare on Saturday after a 2-1 victory at Ingolstadt helped them put the disappointment of their midweek Champions League semi-final exit behind them.

The Bavarians made sure of their 26th German league crown and the first silverware of their season thanks to two goals from top scorer Robert Lewandowski in the first half.

Four days after their away goals defeat to Atletico Madrid ensured a third consecutive Champions League semi-final exit, Bayern went eight points clear of second-placed Borussia Dortmund, who lost 1-0 at strugglers Eintracht Frankfurt.

They can clinch the double when they take on Dortmund in the German Cup final on May 21 in Berlin, ensuring coach Pep Guardiola will leave the club to join Manchester City in the close season on a high after tightening Bayern’s domestic stranglehold.

The final whistle sparked a Bayern party at the 15,000-seater Audi Sportpark, with forward Thomas Mueller grabbing a loud hailer to lead chants with the fans.

In Guardiola’s penultimate league game after three seasons in charge, Bayern set the tone with two goals in the first half, with Lewandowski opening the scoring from the penalty spot.

They took their foot off the gas, however, to let Ingolstadt back into the game with a 42nd-minute penalty of their own with the hosts also missing several good chances in the second half.

“It is no small feat to win the league four times in a row,” Mueller told reporters.

“It required a lot of work. Quality is not enough if you don’t put the work into it. The consistency we have shown in the last few years is incredible. The beer glasses will be in full swing this evening.”

Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Andre Hahn scored twice in a 2-1 comeback victory over Bayer Leverkusen that all but secured fourth place and a Champions League qualifying round spot.

Gladbach, who lost their opening five league matches of the season, are on 52 in fourth with Mainz 05, Hertha Berlin and Schalke 04 on 49.

Schalke conceded an 89th-minute equaliser in their 1-1 draw against Augsburg and Hertha slumped to a 2-1 loss against Darmstadt 98.

Sandro Wagner’s 82nd-minute goal secured all three points for Darmstadt and made sure of their Bundesliga place next season.

Former champions Werder Bremen managed only a goalless draw at Cologne and will now battle it out with Frankfurt on the last matchday to avoid relegation.

Werder are in the relegation playoff spot on 35 with Frankfurt on 36. VfB Stuttgart, Bundesliga champions in 2007, are in 17th on 33 points after their 3-1 loss to Mainz 05.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Davis)

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Lawmaker in Goa charged with buying, drugging and raping teen girl | Reuters

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A lawmaker in Goa has been charged with buying, drugging and raping a 16-year-old girl in a case which will be closely watched by anti-slavery activists as the country moves to crackdown on human trafficking.

Atanasio Monserrate, an independent legislator in Goa’s assembly, was detained on Thursday after the teenager told police she was sold to him by her mother and another woman.

The former Goa education minister may be one of the first Indian lawmakers to be charged under recently enacted human trafficking legislation, said police on Friday.

“We have charged him with various offences. These include drugging, sexual assault of a minor and trafficking,” a police officer involved in the investigation told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Panaji, Goa’s capital.

“I don’t have the figures, but yes, this could be one of the first MLAs (Member of the Legislative Assembly) charged under Section 370 which deals with human trafficking.”

The crime branch officer, who did not wish to be named, said Monserrate, a former member of main opposition Congress Party, has denied the charges and says conspiracy against him has been hatched by his political opponents.

The girl, who is from St Cruz – the constituency which Monserrate represents – told police her mother sold her to work for him, but that he kept her confined, gave her drinks laced with drugs and raped her several times.

Police did not disclose the amount she was sold for, but local media reported the teenager had cited a figure of five million rupees ($75,000) in her statement to police.

Her mother has also been charged under the human trafficking law and is currently being questioned and a search is on for the second woman, said police.

PALM-FRINGED BEACHES

India is home to more than 14 of the world’s 36 million victims of slavery, ranging from bonded labour to prostitution, according to the 2014 Global Slavery Index.

Activists in Goa estimate thousands of women and children from Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand and from other Indian states are duped by traffickers into the western coastal state, famed for its palm-fringed beaches and night life.

Many end up being exploited in brothels fronted by hotels, beauty salons, spas and bars or used in forced labour such as domestic work or in the hospitality industry.

Section 370, which was enacted after the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a New Delhi bus in December 2012, broadens the definition of trafficking to include the buying or selling of a person as a slave and carries a jail term of up to 7 years.

National Crime Records Bureau data shows that in its first year, 720 cases out of a total of 5,466 human trafficking-related cases were registered under Section 370 in 2014.

But activists say this is a gross under-estimation of the scale of the problem and have welcomed government moves to draft more comprehensive legislation by the end of the year.

This will not only unify several existing laws including Section 370, but also raise penalties for offenders and provide victims with rehabilitation and compensation.

The legislation also provides for the establishment of a central investigative anti-trafficking agency to coordinate and work between states as well as special courts to hear cases.

Activists said they would closely follow this case.

“Certainly this case is a test case because the person is a powerful politician. The investigation should be very precise and rely more on scientific and circumstantial evidence,” said Ravi Kant from Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based anti-trafficking charity.

“Protection to witnesses in this case will be a big challenge for the prosecution. It has been seen that in cases involving powerful people, the victim and other witnesses can turn hostile.” 

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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Pop singer Prince had painkiller Percocet in his system – reports | Reuters

Music superstar Prince’s autopsy found the painkiller Percocet in his system, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and KSTP-TV reported on Thursday, citing sources close to the investigation.

Prince also had a dangerously low red blood cell count, indicating he had been ill, Minneapolis ABC affiliate KSTP-TV said, citing two unnamed law enforcement officials.

A spokeswoman for the local medical examiner’s office that conducted a post-mortem examination of Prince declined to confirm the reports.

The cause of Prince’s death remained undetermined. The medical examiner’s office said in late April the autopsy and toxicology results could take weeks.

The news reports came after federal authorities said on Wednesday they were joining the investigation into Prince’s death.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorney’s office in Minnesota will bring federal resources to the local investigation and expertise on the illegal use and trafficking of prescription drugs, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

Also on Wednesday, a lawyer for a California addiction doctor said Prince’s representatives had contacted the doctor the evening before his death, adding that the doctor had planned to visit Prince for a “life-saving mission.”

The 57-year-old Prince was found dead on April 21 at his Paisley Park home-studio complex in a Minneapolis suburb. Prescription opioid medication was found at the scene, a law enforcement source told Reuters.

Dr. Howard Kornfeld, who runs Recovery Without Walls, a clinic in Mill Valley, California, planned to fly to Minnesota on April 22, his lawyer William Mauzy said. In the meantime, his son, Andrew Kornfeld, a clinic staff member, traveled to Minnesota on April 21 for an initial discussion.

When Andrew Kornfeld arrived at Paisley Park, Prince was not available, Mauzy said. A staff member found the artist unconscious in an elevator, and Kornfeld called 911.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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Rescued from bondage in Tamil Nadu, tribals work in brick cooperative | Reuters

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Santa Kumar, who spent nine years in bondage working at a brick kiln in Tamil Nadu, is trying to source soil to make more bricks. He knows that keeping the cooperative brick kiln running is important – it keeps him out of renewed bondage.

One of thousands of Irula tribals rescued from brick kilns and rice mills between 2000 and 2009 in and around Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu, Kumar is part of a unique cooperative formed to prevent a second cycle of bondage.

“It is very difficult to run but we have freedom. We own it and that makes everything worth it,” Kumar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, sitting in the non-profit Makkal Mandaram commune next to the brick kiln in Mangalapadi village.

“We can take a day off, stop work if there is an emergency. There are no restrictions any more.”

Kumar’s father, a traditional snake catcher, went into bondage to repay a loan. Kumar was then caught in debt bondage when he took a 20,000 rupee ($300) loan to pay for his marriage.

Father and son worked for nine years to repay their 60,000 rupees ($900) of loans.

India is home to almost half the world’s 36 million slaves, according to the 2015 Global Slavery Index produced by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation.

Many are duped into working in farms, brothels, small shops and restaurants as security against a loan they have taken or a debt inherited from a relative.

This kind of exploitation is common in the construction sector, particularly in the unregulated areas of brickmaking and stone quarrying, experts say.

There are no official figures on the number of people employed to cut, shape and bake clay-fired bricks, mostly by hand, in tens of thousands of brick kilns in India.

A 2015 paper by the Centre for Science and Environment said at least 10 million people work in kilns, many located on the edge of towns and cities, making them easily accessible for urban builders.

ESCAPER HELPED FREE BONDED LABOURERS

“We were 30 families who worked endlessly because we were told the loan was still unpaid. When another labourer, Selvam, escaped, he brought help and suddenly we were freed,” Kumar said.

According to government data, more than a quarter of a million bonded labourers have been rescued and compensated since a government scheme was put in place in 1978. But activists say that many of them slip back into bondage.

“Rescued workers getting into rebondage is a reality because most of them don’t have any other skill,” said R Geeta of the Unorganised Workers Federation. “Cooperatives are an effective way to provide them with a livelihood using a skill they know.”

Aware of the poverty and desperation of Kumar and others, Makkal Mandram first floated the idea of a cooperative brick kiln in early 2000.

“The people rescued had no place to go. They had forgotten where their homes were, having been in bondage for years,” said Jessy Gloria, a member of the group.

“They had been enslaved for so long that they had started behaving like slaves. It took many years for them to actually take ownership of the brick kiln.”

The kiln was built on land given by the government and started with contributions from the compensation each rescued labourer had received.

“We all gave 9,000 rupees from the 20,000 we got and slowly built the business,” Kumar recalled. “We over-baked some bricks, didn’t get the process right and suffered losses in the beginning. But we learned from each mistake.”

Nearly 10 years later, the “people’s brick kiln” has started making marginal profits. Batches of up to 80,000 bricks are sold in and around Kancheepuram.

“The quality of the bricks we make is very good but we are a bit more expensive than other kiln owners, who have easy access to soil on their land. It’s a competitive market, but we are surviving,” said Geeta Charusivam, also a member of the commune.

Kumar now sends his children to school and his ageing father approves. “My father didn’t even dream of this life. We only knew bondage. Now we don’t even have to take a loan,” said Kumar, before returning to the problem at hand – finding soil for the next batch of bricks.

($1 = 66.43 rupees)

(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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India orders tanker with disputed Libyan oil to await U.N. instructions | Reuters

NEW DELHI India has instructed an Indian-flagged oil tanker not to discharge its cargo of oil from Libya’s rival eastern government and await instructions from the United Nations, a senior Indian government official said on Thursday.

Libyan U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi wrote to the 15-member sanctions committee on Monday asking for the Distya Ameya tanker to be blacklisted, a letter seen by Reuters showed. The ship left Marsa el-Hariga port late on Monday and was blacklisted on Wednesday.

Deepak Shetty, director general of shipping with India’s Ministry of Shipping, said he had told the vessel’s operator and separately the charterer to instruct the captain not to discharge the cargo “at all, anywhere”. The ship was currently near Malta.

“They will wait for the guidance from the U.N.,” Shetty told Reuters.

“They are now staying put … no oil will be discharged even if the charterer wants them to. They will wait for the U.N. to tell us where the vessel will have to go.”

(Reporting by Nidhi Verma, writing by Jonathan Saul, editing by Dale Hudson)

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Pakistan court orders ruling on Muslim NGO Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s illegal sharia courts | Reuters

LAHORE, Pakistan A Pakistani judge directed Punjab province on Wednesday to decide a complaint against an Islamic charity that has been accused of running unauthorised sharia courts in the eastern city of Lahore.

The charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) is listed as a “foreign terrorist organisation” by the United States. Western officials regard it as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group behind an attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.

Pakistani real estate agent Khalid Saeed filed the complaint against JuD, saying it had summoned him in January to appear at one of its courts to resolve a property dispute.

Court documents show the group is accused of holding parallel sharia courts where Islamic law experts decide family, civil and criminal law cases without official supervision.

It is based in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the country’s richest province and power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The Lahore High Court directed the Punjab interior ministry to decide the matter “in accordance with the law after giving opportunity of hearing to all concerned.”

Saeed told Reuters the JuD letter warned him that if he failed to attend, “no excuse would be accepted and action will be taken according to sharia”.

JuD officials deny having links to LeT or running a parallel court system. Instead, they said it holds “arbitration councils” chaired by religious scholars who mediate disputes and provide guidance in light of Islamic teachings.

FRUSTRATION WITH FORMAL JUSTICE

JuD operates openly in Pakistan and its leader Hafiz Saeed, who also founded LeT, holds public rallies and gives interviews despite a $10 million bounty placed on him by the United States.

JuD officials said last year the group had 30,000 volunteers and hundreds of workers across Pakistan.

JuD representatives said Saeed’s summons was forged and the group did not issue threats or summonses.

“If we had been summoning people or coercing them to attend the council or abide by the council’s decisions, then there would be thousands of complaints against us,” JuD representative Nadeem Awan said. “Yet, all you have is this one complaint.”

Pakistan has a Federal Shariat Court separate from the civil courts and has the power to examine if laws comply with Islam. 

Many Pakistanis are frustrated with the formal judicial system, regarding it as flawed and slow, and instead look for justice from village councils or unauthorised sharia courts for a quick decision on a dispute.

Inside the JuD headquarters in Lahore, a large banner announcing the group’s “Mediatory Sharia Court” was set up in 1992. The group said it has as decided “thousands of family, civil and murder disputes according to Islamic law” since its inception

The banner was taken down on Monday.

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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