21:01 LS Speaker returns protocol vehicles, security staff:
Lok Sabha Speaker and Indore BJP MP Sumitra Mahajan Saturday said she had given up police vehicles and security personnel provided to her as part of protocol.
Mahajan, in a letter to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, said she had stopped using these government vehicles from March 10 itself, when the Election Commission announced the Lok Sabha poll schedule.
"In view of the Lok Sabha election, the model code of conduct has come into vogue since March 10. On that day only, I stopped using the government vehicles. But being in the Constitutional post of the Lok Sabha Speaker, police vehicles and guards were accompanying my private vehicle," her letter said.
"As Indore was a peaceful and safe city, I do not need vehicles and guards given under protocol. I want to inform you that I am giving up these facilities," she said in the letter.
Mahajan has been Indore Lok Sabha MP since 1989.
Indore will go to polls on May 19. -- PTI
20:32 China's top Uyghur Muslim official expelled from Communist Party:
A top Uyghur Muslim official of China's ruling Communist Party has been expelled from the party on charges of corruption and misuse of power.
Nur Bekri, former head of the the country's National Energy Administration, has been expelled from the party and removed from public office for serious violations of party disciplinary rules and laws, a euphemism for corruption and misuse of power, state-run China Daily quoted top anti-graft agency as saying on Saturday.
Such actions are taken by CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. He is expected to be formally charged and prosecuted.
Bekri, 58, held many positions as the official of the Communist Party of China including as chairman of Uygur Muslim majority Xinjiang province between 2008-14 where the Chinese security forces are conducting major crackdown against the East Turkistan Islamic Movement.
After his stint in Xinjiang, Bekri worked as deputy head of China's planning body the National Development and Reform Commission, (NDRC) and head of the National Energy Administration.
He was also the former Mayor of Urumqi, the provincial capital of Xinjiang.
An investigation found that Bekri took advantage of his positions to help others in promotions, operation of enterprises, and exploitation of mineral resources. He was also found to have taken bribes himself or through relatives, State-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Other offenses included living an extravagant lifestyle and trading power for sex.
Bekri has severely violated the Party discipline and is suspected of taking bribes, the statement said, adding that he showed no signs of restraint even after the 18th CPC National Congress. -- PTI
20:18 Pak showed 'narrow' view on Kartarpur corridor during talks: Sources:
During the talks with a Pakistani delegation on Kartarpur corridor on Thursday, India found that the neighbouring country has a very "narrow" and "limited focus" on the project contrary to perception that Islamabad has a very generous approach towards it, official sources said.
They said Pakistan wanted to introduce a permit system coupled with a fee for pilgrims wanting to take the corridor to visit Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistani town of Kartarpur.
Indian and Pakistani officials held their first meeting on the corridor at Attari on Thursday to finalise the modalities for the corridor linking Gurudwara Darbar Sahib with Gurdaspur district in Punjab.
Serious differences between the two sides emerged including on the number of Indian pilgrims who should be allowed to visit the Gurudwara -- the final resting place of Sikh faith's founder Guru Nanak Dev.
"We found that a permit system as well as fees are being introduced for the pilgrims to use the corridor which is in contrast to Pakistan's perceived generosity on the project," a source said.
Last November, India and Pakistan agreed to set up the border crossing linking Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India's Gurdaspur district. Kartarpur Sahib is located in Pakistan's Narowal district across the river Ravi, about four km from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine.
The sources said India was also concerned over plans by some Sikh groups in the US, Canada and Australia to organise a convention in Pakistan to draw support for "referendum 2020 under which they are seeking support for a separate Khalistan.
They said New Delhi is conveying to the countries, where pro-Khalistani activities are taking place, that talking about separatism in another country will tantamount to interference in internal matters of India.
They said India is of the view that the noise being made by a small group of people does not represent the views of the Sikh community and that people agitating for referendum are not citizens of India. -- PTI
19:16 Oppn scored self-goal by questioning Balakot air strike: FM:
The opposition has scored a self-goal by asking for proof of damage following air strike on Balakot terror camp, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Saturday.
The air strike and surgical strike carried out by the armed forces should not be part of Lok Sabha election campaign, he said at an India TV event in New Delhi.
"I fully agree with the Election Commission that images of martyrs should not be used on political posters," he said.
Citing example of 1971 war, he said, the entire opposition stood by the ruling dispensation, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, leader of Jan Sangh, defended the government on every forum.
However, the finance minister said, some of the opposition members accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of politicising the Pulwama and Balakot incidents.
Statements made by 21 opposition parties hurt India's national interest and gave handle to Pakistan to discredit the country, he added.
"Raising question on the action of armed forces with the view to creating doubts in the mind of countrymen was self-goal or shot themselves in the foot by doing this," Jaitley noted.
In contrast to this, he said, when the US attacked Osama bin Laden, no one raised any question on the operation conducted by their armed forces and demanded the proof.
Asked about BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa's attempt to politicise the action taken by the armed forces, Jaitley said, it was wrong on his part to do so and the party has condemned it.
The valour of armed forces should not be made a political issue, he said, adding the armed forces have to be kept at arm's length from domestic politics.
On the government's message to Pakistan, the finance minister said, "if you promote terrorism, you have to pay such a heavy price that you will find terrorism unaffordable...the trend has been set now".
Taking a dig at Congress president Rahul Gandhi, he said some people either need to learn more and if they don't do that then must realise that they are unfit for public discourse. -- PTI
18:39 Modi was busy posing for cameras when jawans were blown up in Pulwama: Rahul:
Congress president Rahul Gandhi trained his guns at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, saying the PM was busy posing for cameras at the Corbett National Park when CRPF jawans were being killed in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama.
Launching his party's campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in Uttarakhand, Gandhi also said the Congress will introduce a scheme of guaranteed minimum income for the poor if elected to power.
"Immediately after the Pulwama attack, in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed, the Congress had said it was with the government and the country. I had cancelled all my programmes.
"Everyone knows what Narendra Modi was doing when our jawans were being killed. He was posing for the cameras to shoot for a National Geographic documentary," the Congress president said to loud cheers from a large gathering at the Parade Ground in Dehradun.
"Modi shoots for three-and-a-half hours for a National Geographic film on a day something like Pulwama happens and he still talks about patriotism," he added.
On February 14, 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed when a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into their convoy in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district.
Gandhi said everyone earning below a certain level would be given a guaranteed minimum income, which would go straight into the accounts of the beneficiaries, if the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was elected to power.
He added that India would be the first country in the world to introduce a scheme like this.
The seven-phased Lok Sabha polls will be held from April 11 to May 19 and the counting of votes will be taken up on May 23. -- PTI
18:38 After death of BJP MLA, Congress stakes claim to form govt in Goa:
The Congress on Saturday staked claim to form government in Goa claiming that the Manohar Parrikar dispensation has lost its majority in the assembly following the demise of Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Francis D'Souza.
In a letter to Goa governor Mridula Sinha, Leader of Opposition Chandrakant Kavlekar staked claim to form the government and demanded dismissal of the BJP-led dispensation.
The strength of Goa assembly has reduced from 40 to 37 after the death of D'Souza and resignation of two MLAs -- Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte.
While the Congress currently has 14 MLAs, down from 16 after Sopte and Shirodkar left it to join the BJP, the latter has 13 MLAs.
Three MLAs each of the Goa Forward Party, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and an independent and the lone Nationalist Congress Party legislator are supporting the BJP.
In a communication to the governor, Kavlekar said, "Consequent upon the sad demise of Francis D'Souza, MLA who was belonging to the BJP, it is humbly submitted that incumbent BJP led state government under the leadership of Manohar Parrikar, which has long lost the trust of the people, has also lost the strength of the House".
"Also, we anticipate that numbers of the BJP may further dwindle thus not allowing such a party in minority to continue even for a moment," his letter stated.
"It is therefore incumbent upon you to dismiss the state government led by the BJP and ensure that the Indian National Congress party, which is the single largest party in the House and is presently enjoying the majority, be called to form government," his letter added. -- PTI
18:01 Ex-IAS officer Shah Faesal to launch political party tomorrow:
Former IAS officer Shah Faesal will launch his political outfit 'Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement' at a function in Rajbagh area of Srinagar on Sunday.
He said the function will be held at Gindun Ground in Rajbagh.
The 2010 batch UPSC topper resigned from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in January this year to protest unabated killings in Kashmir and maginalisation of Indian Muslims.
Faesal had also hit out at the Centre, accusing it of subverting public institutions of Reserve Bank of India, Central Bureau of Investigation and the National Investigation Agency.
He said such moves had the potential to decimate the constitutional edifice of the country and the same needed to be stopped.
Since resigning from the service, the former bureaucrat has been interacting with young achievers with an aim of getting them to support his initiative for "corruption-free, clean and transparent" politics in the state.
He had also launched a crowdfunding campaign in January to support his initiative.
Several youngsters and aspiring politicians are expected to join Faesal's political outfit. -- PTI
17:39 NZ shooting: India pursuing whereabouts of 7 Indians, 2 PIOs:
India's high commission in New Zealand on Saturday said that it has been pursuing with local authorities whereabouts of seven Indians and two Indian-origin persons after the terror attacks on two Christchurch mosques.
Two Indians are receiving treatments, the Indian mission said.
"We have been pursuing with NZ auth whereabouts of 9 Indians, incl 2 PIOs. 2 indians receiving treatment. Following up with NZ Govt for others. Also r in regular touch with their families (sic)," the Twitter account of the Indian high commission in New Zealand said.
At least 49 worshippers were killed on Friday in attacks on the Al Noor Mosque in central Christchurch and the Linwood Mosque in the city's outer suburb, in what appeared to be the worst attack on Muslims in a western country.
On Friday, the Twitter account of India's high commissioner in New Zealand Sanjiv Kohli tweeted: "As per updates received from multiple sources there are 9 missing persons of indian nationality/ origin. Official confirmation still awaited. Huge crime against humanity. Our prayers with their families".
In New Delhi, external affairs ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Friday that India's high commission in New Zealand is in touch with local authorities for more information.
India's high commission has said that any Indian national affected by the attacks on two Christchurch mosques can contact the mission for assistance.
The mission has tweeted two contact numbers 021803899 and 021850033 for providing assistance.
Witnesses said that victims being shot at close range, with women and children believed to be among those killed.
The gunman at one mosque was an Australian-born citizen, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Sydney, describing him as "an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist".
Approximately 200,000 Indian and Indian-origin people live in New Zealand. There are over 30,000 Indian students in the country, according to the Indian High Commission's data on its website. -- PTI
17:32 Seer urges SC to replace Sri Sri from Ayodhya mediation panel:
Spiritual leader Adhokshajanand Deo Tirtha Maharaj on Saturday called for replacing Sri Sri Ravi Shankar from the panel formed by the Supreme Court to mediate the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute.
"While I appreciate the gesture of the apex court for finding out an amicable settlement by forming a mediation panel, I urge them to replace Sri Sri Ravi Shankar since he had earlier failed in his mission of a compromise formula. And, therefore, he might not be taken seriously by both the sides," Maharaj told reporters here.
The seer clarified that he did not have any grudge against Ravi Shankar. However, he added, since Ravi Shankar's compromise formula was not acceptable to both the groups, an eminent person, who has patience, might bring fruitful result.
The Supreme Court had on March 8 referred the decades-old politically-sensitive Ayodhya land dispute case for mediation by a panel headed by former apex court judge F M I Kalifulla for exploring the possibility of an amicable settlement.
Spiritual guru and founder of Art of Living foundation Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, a renowned mediator, will be the other two members of the panel of mediators.
"Modi should have brought a bill for the construction of a Ram temple because people had given a huge mandate in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre. The atmosphere was also conducive, but now... the time has passed," the seer said. "Now, the only course left is to get redressal from the top court that would deliver its judgment on the basis of facts and discretion."
Referring to the mediation process, the shankaracharya said the top court had tried to retain the harmony between both the groups. He appealed to both the groups to desist from taking extreme positions. -- PTI
16:26 Woman SPO shot dead in J-K's Shopian:
A woman special police officer was shot dead by terrorists at her home in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir Saturday, police said.
The ultras shot SPO Khushboo Jan from close range at her home in Vehil in Shopian district Saturday afternoon, a police official said.
The official said the injured SPO was shifted to a nearby hospital where she succumbed.
Security forces have cordoned off the area and launched a hunt for the assailants, he added. -- PTI
16:15 There will be no elections after 'Modi tsunami' in 2019: BJP MP:
Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sakshi Maharaj has said that the upcoming Lok Sabha polls will be fought in the name of the country and there will be no elections after that.
"The Modi tsunami has awakened the country. I feel there will be no election in 2024... this is the only election and we are fighting it in the name of the country with full honesty," the Unnao MP said during a party programme on Friday.
The MP, who is known for making controversial remarks, said the Modi wave of 2014 has turned into tsunami in 2019 and no one can stop him from becoming the prime minister again. "I think the results will be better than before," he said.
"Some people are doing all kind of things... bringing Priyanka (Gandhi Vadra) or forging alliances but our leader is Modi and everyone has been saying "Modi hai to desh hai". These elections will not be fought in the name of any party or Sakshi Maharaj, but in the name of the country," he said.
The Congress has appointed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as its eastern Uttar Pradesh general secretary in-charge. The Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati have entered a pre-poll alliance to defeat the BJP in the state. -- PTI
16:00 India's submarine deal with Russia raised by some US Congress members with FS: Sources:
A number of members of the United States Congress raised with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale the issue of India signing a deal with Russia for a nuclear submarine last week, official sources said Saturday.
Gokhale clarified that India finalised the deal for leasing of a nuclear-powered attack submarine from Russia and it was not an acquisition or a purchase, they said.
However, the issue was not raised by the US administration during Gokhale's three-day visit to Washington earlier this week.
Some members of the Congress raised the issue as they have some mis-perception about it, the sources said, adding Gokhale also explained to them that the submarine will only have conventional weapons.
In January, the US announced sanctions against Russia under which Washington can punish countries and entities engaged in transaction with defence or intelligence establishment of Russia.
The sanctions were imposed for Moscow's alleged meddling in the US presidential election in 2016.
On March 7, India sealed a USD 3 billion deal with Russia for leasing of a nuclear-powered attack submarine for the Indian Navy for a period of 10 years.
In October last year, India inked an agreement with Russia to procure a batch of the missile systems at a cost of Rs 40,000 crore. India went ahead with the deal notwithstanding the US's warnings against it.
Under the deal for submarine, Russia will have to deliver an Akula class submarine, to be known as Chakra III, to the Indian Navy by 2025.
It will be the third Russian submarine to be leased to the Indian Navy.
The first Russian nuclear-powered submarine -- christened INS Chakra -- was taken in 1988 under a three-year lease.
A second INS Chakra was taken on lease in 2012 for a period of 10 years. -- PTI
15:33 11 dead as SUV falls into gorge in J-K's Ramban:
Eleven people, including four women and five children, were killed and four others injured when an SUV skidded off a road and fell into a deep gorge in Ramban district of Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, police said.
The SUV, carrying 15 passengers from Chaderkote to Rajgarh, rolled down into the over 500-feet-deep gorge when its driver lost control at Kunda nallah near Baglihar power house at 10.30 am, an official said.
He said the locals along with the police immediately launched a rescue operation and pulled out bodies and injured from the scene.
While six persons were found dead on-the-spot, five others succumbed on way to hospital, the official said, adding that three more critically injured persons, including driver of the vehicle, are being airlifted to Jammu for specialised treatment.
Rajgarh is a far flung tehsil in Ramban district and is connected with the Jammu-Srinagar national highway through a link road which is reportedly damaged at various places.
The allowed capacity for SUV operating in the hilly roads is only seven passengers and the driver of the vehicle has violated the directive, the official said.
He identified some of the deceased as Romal Din (61), Mohammad Mubeen (23), Rubeena Begum (30), Urmilla Devi (32), Babli Devi (37), 13-year-old Imano Bano, nine-year-old Arjun, two-year-old Pari, and a three-month-old baby.
Another child who was being airlifted to Government Medical College hospital Jammu succumbed at the helipad, the official said, adding the identity of the child and a woman is being ascertained.
In separate cases, a cyclist was crushed to death by an unidentified vehicle in Poonch district, while nine passengers were injured in a collision between two buses along the Jammu-Pathankot highway in Samba district on Saturday.
The cyclist, Prakash (48), a daily wager in Municipal Committee Poonch, was hit by an unidentified vehicle near Jhalas when he was on way to work Saturday morning, resulting in his on-the-spot death, officials said.
15:25 Hand over Dawood to show sincerity in tackling terror: India to Pak :
If Pakistan was sincere in tackling terror, then it should at least hand over to India Dawood Ibrahim, Sayeed Salahudeen and other terrorists who are Indian citizens and residing in that country, government sources said on Saturday.
They said Pakistan has failed to take any credible action against Jaish-e-Mohammed and other terror groups even after the dastardly Pulwama attack.
If Pakistan really wants to send a message that it was serious about addressing India's concerns over terrorism, then it should hand over Dawood, Salahudeen and other terrorists who are Indians, the sources said.
Referring to actions by Pakistan such as holding ceratin terrorists in preventive custody, the sources said India considered them to be cosmetic.
Cosmetic action will not cut any ice.
India has been asking Pakistan to hand over Dawood, Salahudeen and several other terrorists who are wanted in India in connection with a series of terror attacks.
The sources said India has shared various key details such as coordinates of terror groups operating from Pakistan soil to Islamabad which can be verified by a third country.
14:44 PM trying to rake up old issues to divert public attention from failures: BSP:
Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati Saturday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of trying to rake up old issues to divert people's attention from their failures ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
"In order to divert people's attention from the failures of its government and prevent poverty and unemployment for becoming real election issues, BJP and Prime Minister Modi are trying to rake up all kind of dead issues," Mayawati said in a tweet in Hindi.
"This is most condemnable... people should remain cautious," she added.
In another tweet, she alleged that the Prime Minister mostly remained busy in laying foundation stones and spent Rs 3,044 crore in publicity.
"This government money could have been used for making available education and hospital facility in every village of a backward state like Uttar Pradesh, but for the BJP, publicity is more important and not education and public interest," she added. -- PTI
14:41 Manohar Parrikar's health is stable: Goa CMO:
The condition of ailing Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar is stable, the chief minister's office said on Saturday amidst reports that the chief minister's health is deteriorating.
With respect to some reports in media, it is hereby stated that Honble Chief Ministers health parameters continue to remain stable, said the CMO.
Furthermore, former MLA Sidharth Kuncalienker, who visited Parrikar today, said the former defence minister's health is stable, adding that regular medical check-ups are underway.
"His (Parrikar's) health condition is stable now. His regular medical check-up is underway," he told ANI.
On March 4,Goa cabinet Minister Vijay Sardesai had announced that Parrikar is suffering from "advanced-stage cancer", but he is still working for the people of the state
The visibly frail-looking chief minister, who was diagnosed with a pancreatic ailment last year, had made a few public appearances in the past few months on a wheelchair with a tube in his nose and a urinary sheath connected to him. -- ANI
14:15 BRICS to focus on counter-terror cooperation as priority area:
BRICS, a bloc of five leading nations including India and China, will discuss counter-terror cooperation as one of its priority areas during its annual summit later this year.
The external affairs ministry said the issue figured at a BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) Sherpa meeting held in Brazilian city of Curitiba between March 14 and 15.
Brazil is the current chair of the grouping which represents over 3.6 billion people, or half of the world population and they have a combined nominal GDP of USD 16.6 trillion.
"It is worth mentioning that Brazil has identified countering terrorism as one of its priority areas for BRICS under its presidency. Brazil's priorities for its presidency includes inter-alia science, technology, and innovation, digital economy, New Development Bank and BRICS Business Council as well as countering transnational crime and terrorism," the MEA said.
The Indian delegation at the meeting was led by T S Tirumurti, secretary (economic relations) in the ministry of external affairs.
After the February 14 Pulwama attack, India has mounted a diplomatic offensive to corner Pakistan on the issue of terrorism.
"India conveyed its support for the priority areas set out by Brazil, particularly to take forward BRICS cooperation on counter terrorism in a meaningful and concrete manner with BRICS member countries," the MEA said.
"India also underlined the need to take forward inter-alia people-to-people cooperation, cooperation in science and technology and innovation, and also in health and traditional medicine," it added. -- PTI
13:27 JD-S general secretary Danish Ali joins BSP:
Danish Ali, general secretary of HD Deve Gowda's Janata Dal-Secular, joined former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party in Lucknow today.
He was welcomed in the party by senior BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra.
Talking about his move to quit JD-S, Ali said that the party that rules in Karnataka didn't have a large organisational structure in Uttar Pradesh, which sends most lawmakers to parliament in the country.
"The JD-S doesn't have a large organisational structure in UP. Despite all my efforts I could not have raised it (JDS) in my 'janmabhoomi, my 'karmabhoomi'....The way in which there is a threat to constitution today, it has become essential to use our energy with a strong leadership," he said in a statement.
He further said," I never asked for anything even when I was in the JD-S, it was upto HD Deve Gowda to decide what work to assign me. I have come here after taking the blessings and permission of Deve Gowda. I will work wherever Behenji assigns me."
13:22 Indian engineer goes missing after NZ mosque attack, family clueless :
The parents of an Indian-origin software engineer who went missing after the shooting during Friday prayers at a mosque in Christchurch in New Zealand are still clueless about his whereabouts even after a day.
At least 49 worshippers were killed in attacks on the Al Noor Mosque in central Christchurch and the Linwood Mosque in the city's suburb, seen as one of the worst attacks on Muslims in that country.
The engineer, Farhaj Ahsan, has been working in New Zealand for the past seven years. He is married and has two children.
"We are yet to get information about my son. We are concerned about him," Ahsan's mother Fatima told PTI Saturday.
Hyderabad MP and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted on Friday, "Farhaj Ahsan, a person of Indian origin, was also reported to have gone to the same mosque and is currently missing. His family is in Hyderabad, I request immediate assistance to his family as well."
Meanwhile, Ahmed Iqbal Jahangir, another Indian from Hyderabad, who was shot at in the same incident is recovering in hospital in New Zealand, his brother Khursheed Jahangir said.
"I thank the government for helping me get a visa to New Zealand. I am leaving today to see my brother. He is out of danger and recovering," Khursheed said.
Iqbal Jahangir was shot in the chest, he said.
According to unofficial reports, nine Indians are missing since the attack, a source said that due to certain processes involved, official confirmation about Indian casualties may take a while to come in. -- PTI
13:16 2 maoists killed in encounter with police in AP:
Two maoists were killed in an exchange of fire with the police in Agency area of Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam district early Saturday.
According to Visakhapatnam Rural police, 20 maoists were moving around in Buradamamidi village in the Agency area around 1 am and they opened fire at police personnel engaged in combing operations.
Police personnel opened fire in retaliation in which two maoists were killed, the other ultras escaped under the cover darkness, an official said.
Pedabayalu area committee member Sudhir headed the team of ultras, police said adding they were yet to identify the deceased.
One CRPF jawan was injured in the exchange of fire, police said. -- PTI
13:11 Assam BJP MP Ram Prasad Sarmah quits party:
In a jolt to the Bharatiya Jnaata Party in Assam, its sitting MP from Tezpur Ram Prasad Sarmah Saturday announced that he quit the saffron fold and alleged neglect of old workers by "new intruders in the party"
Sarmah said he was resigning from the primary membership of the BJP after serving the RSS and VHP for 15 years and the BJP for 29 years.
"I have left BJP today. I really feel pained in my heart for those old BJP workers of Assam who are most neglected in the party by the new intruders in the party," he said in a Facebook post.
Sarmah's name was not included in the party's panel of probable candidate for Tezpur Lok Sabha seat. It only had the name of Assam minister and NEDA convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma.
The list has been sent to Delhi and the names of the candidates for the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam is scheduled to be announced Saturday.
"I felt greatly insulted when my name, a sitting MP and the President of Assam Gorkha Sammelan, did not find place in panel sent up by the state BJP committee," Sarmah in another post on the social media platform.
He, however, said that he would continue to serve the people of Assam and his constituency "till the end of his life".
Sarmah alleged that "old guards" of the party who had toiled for decades and brought the BJP to power were now "most neglected and ill treated".
12:09 Steps taken by Pak against terror groups are cosmetic: India:
India continues to work with the United Nations Security Council sanctions committee on the listing of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist and will show patience on the issue, official sources said Saturday, days after China blocked a proposal at the world body to ban the JeM chief.
They also said steps taken by Pakistan in the last few days, against terror groups are cosmetic in nature.
"India continues to work with the UNSC's sanction committee on listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist," official sources said.
India believes "terrorism is a major issue for China. They know a number of terror groups are based in Pakistan", sources added.
On China blocking Azhar's listing as a global terrorist, sources said India will show patience as long as it takes.
On Beijing continuing to oppose Azhar's listing as global terrorist, government sources said there are issues which China needs to resolve with Pakistan.
On Wednesday, China for the fourth time blocked the bid in the UN Security Council to designate the chief of the Pakistan-based terror group as a "global terrorist" by putting a technical hold on the proposal. The Chinese move was termed "disappointing" by India. -- PTI
11:16 New Zealand PM vows gun law reform after mosque massacre:
New Zealand's prime minister vowed on Saturday to toughen the country's gun laws after revealing the alleged shooter behind Christchurch's mosque attacks had legally bought the five weapons, including two semi-automatic rifles, used in the massacre.
The nation's firearms laws are lax compared to neighbouring Australia, which enacted a strict gun control regime in the wake of a similar massacre in 1996.
Jacinda Ardern said 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant obtained a "Category A" gun licence in November 2017 which allowed him to purchase the weapons used to mow down worshippers in two Christchurch mosques.
Some of the guns appear to have been modified to make them more deadly, she said, adding that a ban on semi-automatic weapons would be considered.
"The mere fact... that this individual had acquired a gun licence and acquired weapons of that range, then obviously I think people will be seeking change, and I'm committing to that," she told a press conference.
"I can tell you one thing right now -- our gun laws will change."
Anyone over 16 can apply for a New Zealand firearms licence, valid for 10 years after completing a safety course and a police background check.
Most guns do not require registration under New Zealand's Arms Act and police do not know "how many legally or illegally owned firearms there are in New Zealand", police said last year.
In 2014, police estimated there were up to 1.2 million legal firearms in civilian ownership, or around one for every four members of the public -- twice the per capita number of guns in Australia.
10:49 US, France & UK in intense discussions with China on Azhar listing at UN:
The US, France and the UK are believed to be in intense "good faith" discussions with China to arrive at a "compromise", including on the language on the UN designation of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, according to people familiar with the matter.
On Wednesday, China blocked for the fourth consecutive time a resolution at the UN Security Council Committee on designating Azhar, head of the JeM terror group, as a global terrorist.
The proposal to designate Azhar under the 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council was moved by France, the UK and the US on February 27, days after a suicide bomber of the JeM killed 44 CRPF soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama, leading to a flare-up in tensions between India and Pakistan.
If the fresh efforts by the US, France and the UK does not end up in the formal designation of Azhar, the three permanent members are planning to soon move a resolution for his listing in the most powerful wing of the UN which would be preceded by an open debate on the issue, according to people familiar with the matter.
India had expressed disappointment over the Chinese stance and the original co-sponsors of the resolution had warned they will consider "other actions" to achieve their goal.
While the internal consultations of the Security Council committee remain private, this time several Council members, frustrated at China's unreasonable stance to protect a terrorist, privately spoke to the media the negative role being played by Beijing.
"If China continues to block this designation, responsible member-states may be forced to pursue other actions at the Security Council. It shouldn't have to come to that," a Security Council diplomat said on Wednesday in an unusual tough warning to Beijing.
In the last 50 hours, it is believed that the original sponsors of the Azhar resolution are having intense "good faith" consultations with China on what many familiar with the matter describe as a "compromise". This probably means Azhar would be designated as a global terrorist by the UN body, but the language of designation would include a language acceptable to China.
China is believed to have suggested "certain changes" in the language of the terrorist designation. The US, Britain and France are believed to be currently looking at the suggestions. It is understood that there is back-and-forth exchange of texts on the matter.
10:34 An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.7 on the Richter Scale hit Nicobar Islands region at 9.43 am today.
10:22 Modi urges supporters to take 'main bhi chowkidar' pledge:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday urged his supporters to take the 'main bhai chowkidar' (I too am watchman) pledge, saying he is not alone in the fight against graft and social evils.
"Your Chowkidar is standing firm & serving the nation. But, I am not alone. Everyone who is fighting corruption, dirt, social evils is a Chowkidar. Everyone working hard for the progress of India is a Chowkidar. Today, every Indian is saying-#MainBhiChowkidar," he wrote on Twitter.
He also posted a little over three minute video to drive home his message.
Modi has often described himself as a "chowkidar" who would neither allow corruption nor get corrupted himself.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been repeatedly hurling the "chowkidar chor hai"(watchman is the thief) jibe at Modi to claim irregularities and favouritism in the Rafale fighter jet deal, a charge the BJP-led government has rejected.
09:47 Imam of attacked New Zealand mosque says 'we still love this country':
An imam who was leading prayers at a Christchurch mosque when a gunman brandishing semi-automatic weapons mowed down his congregation said on Saturday that the Muslim community's love for New Zealand would not be shaken by the massacre.
"We still love this country," said Ibrahim Abdul Halim, imam of Linwood Mosque, vowing that extremists would "never ever touch our confidence".
Halim gave a harrowing account of the moment during Friday prayers when gunshots rang out in the mosque, replacing peaceful reflection with screaming, bloodshed and death.
"Everyone laid down on the floor, and some women started crying, some people died immediately," he said.
But, he said, New Zealand Muslims still felt at home in the south Pacific nation.
"My children live here" he said, adding, "we are happy".
He said the majority of New Zealanders "are very keen to support all of us, to give us full solidarity", describing how strangers exchanged hugs with him on Saturday.
"They start to... give me big hug, and give me more solidarity. This is something very important."
The attacks on two mosques by a right-wing extremist left 49 people dead.
09:23 Shashi Tharoor's relatives join BJP day after Vadakkan's exit from Congress:
The BJP welcomed Congress leader Shashi Tharoor's aunt and her husband into the party fold at a function in Kochi on Friday but faced embarrassment as they said they were already supporters of the saffron party.
The development comes a day after congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan joined the BJP.
Tharoors aunt Sobhana Sasikumar and her husband Sasikumar said they had been long time supporters of the BJP and wondered why such a function was organised to welcome them into the party.
Welcoming 14 new members from diverse backgrounds into the party, BJP's Kerala president P S Sreedharan Pillai called them the cream of Kochi and honoured them with a party shawl in the media's presence.
Addressing the function, Pillai hailed the historic background of Tharoor's family in Palakkad district and said people from such backgrounds becoming part of the BJP have to be welcomed.
When reporters approached Tharoor's relatives, the duo said they had been long time supporters of the BJP and did not know why such a function was organised to welcome them and asked the media to put the question to BJP leaders as to why it was held and left the venue.
08:58 Trust between govt, business community eroded: Manmohan Singh:
Slamming what he termed as the "wrath of coercive agencies" on the business community, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said trust between the government and businesses has eroded and a hostile narrative has been built that will hurt the economy.
Speaking at Hindu Business Line's award event, Singh without taking any names said there was no room for authoritarian impositions after the country opted for a democratic path for itself.
"Of late, many negative perceptions have been manufactured about business leaders; the business community, big and small, has been made to feel the wrath of coercive agencies," he said.
"A hostile narrative has been built; this will sap not only the confidence of our own business leaders, it will also create doubts in the mind of foreign governments and business leaders.
"Honest businessman and genuine entrepreneur must never be allowed to feel harassed by the petty revenue officials. Unfortunately, Trust between the government and the business stands eroded," he said without elaborating.
There is a need to create an intellectual atmosphere that abets industriousness, innovation and imagination among the business community, he said, adding that the society, the government and the business stand to benefit from conditions of trust, lawfulness and fairness.
Singh noted that no change is permanent and the country has remained alive to the need for change and has progressed and prospered whenever society recognised and promoted change.
He also said it is vital to prepare all stakeholders for the coming change because changes produce some disruption, some pain and considerable discomfort.
08:28 Modi shines in UP, Rahul Gandhi soars in Tamil Nadu, finds PSE poll:
ore than half of voters in the bellwether state of Uttar Pradesh prefer Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a second term, but not down south in Tamil Nadu, where Congress chief Rahul Gandhi surges ahead in popularity, an India Today TV survey has found.
Rahul Gandhi is the choice of 28 per cent respondents in the latest PSE poll, up from 22 per cent five months ago.
Overall satisfaction with the central government grew to 57 per cent in March, up from 54 per cent in January and 53 per cent in October, the data showed.
The Congress president's popularity has surged in Tamil Nadu over the past five months -- from 36 per cent in October 2018, 39 per cent in January to 46 per cent in March this year.
PM Modi, on the other hand, received support of 35 per cent of the respondents in March, from 28 per cent in January and 29 per cent in October last year.
08:03 Charged with murder, New Zealand gunman smirks in courtroom:
A 28-year-old suspect, identified as Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared before the court on Saturday on murder charges connected with Friday's terror attacks in Christchurch, which left at least 49 people dead. He was remanded in custody without plea until April 5.
The terror attack suspect, who live-streamed for about 17 minutes his rampage through two mosques, is an Australian-born citizen and is a resident of Dunedin, situated around 360 km south of Christchurch.
The suspect appeared before a Christchurch court on murder charges, in white prison clothing, barefoot and handcuffed. Flanked by two police officers, he smirked when media persons photographed him during the hearing and was seen making the white power gesture, New Zealand Herald reported.
Throughout the hearing, Brenton Tarrant, who had a cut on his upper lip, remained silent and looked at the media persons in the public gallery.
In the worst ever terror attack in New Zealand, multiple gunmen carried out indiscriminate shootings at two mosques in Christchurch during the Friday prayers, leaving 49 people dead and at least 48 wounded, besides giving a scare to the Bangladesh cricket team which had a narrow escape.
Using automatic weapons, the gunmen, four of who were initially taken into custody, launched a "well-planned" attack on the mosques when devotees had assembled for the weekly prayers.
Earlier today, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed that gun laws "will change" in the wake of the worst terror attacks in the country''s history.
Condemning the terror strike, Jacinda Ardern had described it as a terror attack and said it appears to have been well planned. She asserted that New Zealand will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.
00:57 Terror financing: Cash, properties worth crores found in J&K:
In a major crackdown on terror financing, the Income Tax Department on Friday said it has unearthed undisclosed cash, jewellery and property papers worth several crores in Jammu and Kashmir.
Search operations were conducted at five locations in Kashmir valley and a few places in Jammu on Thursday, the department said in a statement.
"These actions are part of the Department's continued drive against use of black money by disruptive elements in the state. The operations also send a message of deterrence and obviation to those intending to vitiate the democratic process of free and fair elections," it said.
The tax department further said one operation was against a prominent Line of Control (LOC) trader who apparently used proxies to conduct large cross-LoC trade in the past six years.
"Large undisclosed profit earned by him has been diverted to allegedly suspect elements in the Valley.
"During the action, documents of transactions in the names of some of the proxies were found. Investigations are in progress to determine the clandestine cross-LOC trade conducted by the tax evader through the Custodian of the Trade Facilitation Centre, Srinagar," it said.
The tax department also said the preliminary results of the search operation are extremely encouraging. In the aggregate, undisclosed cash of Rs 1.44 crore and unaccounted jewellery of Rs 2.48 crore have been seized.
The documentary evidence collected and examined so far shows undeclared property transactions of more than Rs 41 crore, primarily in the Kashmir valley and concealed financial transactions of nearly Rs 17 crore.
A number of hard disks have also been seized that prima facie corroborate the evidence found in the seized documents, the department said.
The department also covered a hotelier and a retailer of liquor in the Kashmir valley.
Evidence found in search shows that he has been earning large undisclosed profits on the sale of liquor as well as from his hotel business and he has not shown cash receipts in his books of account. -- PTI
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