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Half a million Indians flee floods in northeast brought by rain

Reuters: More than 500,000 people have fled their homes in India’s northeastern state of Assam to escape heavy floods triggered by pre-monsoon rains that drowned seven, authorities said on Wednesday, as they warned the situation could worsen.

One of the world’s largest rivers, the Brahmaputra, which flows into India and neighbouring Bangladesh from Tibet, burst its banks in Assam over the last three days, inundating more than 1,500 villages.

Torrential rains lashed most of the rugged state, and the downpour continued on Wednesday, with more forecast over the next two days.

“More than 500,000 people have been affected, with the flood situation turning critical by the hour,” Assam’s water resources minister, Pijush Hazarika, told Reuters, adding that the seven drowned in separate incidents during the last three days.

Soldiers of the Indian army retrieved more than 2,000 people trapped in the district of Hojai in a rescue effort that continues, the state’s health minister, Keshab Mahanta, said.

Water levels in the Brahmaputra were expected to rise further, national authorities said.

“The situation remains extremely grave in the worst-hit Dima Hasao district, with both rail and road links snapped due to flooding and landslides,” said Assam’s revenue minister, Jogen Mohan, who is overseeing relief efforts there.

Cities elsewhere in India, notably the capital, New Delhi, are broiling in a heat wave.

Pakistan-IMF talks begin in Qatar

The government began talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday over the release of crucial funds, a process slowed by concerns about the pace of economic reforms in the country.

Pakistan has repeatedly sought international support for its economy, which has been hit by crippling national debt, galloping inflation and a plummeting rupee.

The talks are being held in the Qatari capital Doha, the Ministry of Finance said, and are expected to continue into next week.

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Minister of State Dr Aisha Ghous Pasha, Finance Secretary Hamed Yaqoob Shaikh, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Acting Governor Dr Murtaza Syed, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Asim Ahmad and other officials from the Finance Division are participating in the talks.

A major sticking point is likely to be over costly subsidies — notably for fuel and electricity — and the finance minister said he wants the two sides to “find a middle ground”.

“The government will try to convince the IMF that for political stability purposes it is important to keep at least some of the subsidies,” said economist Shahrukh Wani.

“The IMF will possibly, rightly, say that these are unsustainable and they should be rolled back to make the trade and budget deficit manageable,” he added.

A $6 billion IMF bailout package signed by former prime minister Imran Khan in 2019 has never been fully implemented because his government reneged on agreements to cut or end some subsidies and to improve revenue and tax collection.

Islamabad has so far received $3bn, with the programme due to end later this year.

Officials are seeking an extension to the programme through to June 2023, as well as the release of the next tranche of $1bn.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has vowed to jumpstart the moribund economy, but analysts say his fragile government has failed to take tough decisions.

In recent meetings with the new finance minister, the IMF has linked the continuation of its loan programme with the reversal of fuel subsidies, which were introduced by the previous government. However, Prime Minister Shehbaz has multiple times rejected summaries by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority and the finance ministry to increase fuel prices.

“It’s an administration that has refused to take hard political steps to bring eventual economic relief — but that’s exactly the sacrifice it must make by going to the IMF,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy South Asia director at the Wilson Centre in Washington.

Woman lost in 1947 violence meets Sikh brothers at Kartarpur

NAROWAL: The woman who was separated from her family during the violence at the time of the Partition of India met her Sikh brothers at Kartarpur.

At the time of the Partition, Mumtaz Bibi was an infant who was lying on the dead body of her mother who was killed by the local violent mobs.

One Muhammad Iqbal and his wife, Allah Rakhi, adopted the baby girl and raised her as their own daughter, naming her Mumtaz Bibi. After the Partition, Iqbal took up residence at the village of Varika Tian in Sheikhupura district.

Iqbal and his wife did not tell Mumtaz that she was not their daughter. Two years ago, Iqbal’s health suddenly deteriorated and he told Mumtaz that she was not his real daughter and that her real family was Sikh.

After Iqbal’s death, Mumtaz and her son, Shahbaz, started searching for her family through social media. They knew the name of Mumtaz’s real father and the village (Sidrana) in Patiala district of Indian Punjab where they settled after being forced to leave their native home. Both the families got connected through social media.

Mumtaz’s brothers Sardar Gurumeet Singh, Sardar Narendra Singh and Sardar Amrinder Singh, accompanied by family members, reached Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur. Mumtaz along with her other family members reached there also and met her lost brothers after 75 years.

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF LIVING TOGETHER IN PEACE

16May is being observed as the International Day of Living Together in Peace. The day aims to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding, and solidarity. However, Hindutva extremism is an important source of violence in contemporary India.

Non-Hindu communities are living in a perpetual state of fear on account of the discriminatory policies of PM Modi’s administration and tolerance of religious violence by Hindu supremacists against vulnerable minorities at the state level. Modi’s fascist government has created a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities.

India being the so-called champion of democracy is exposed in Human Rights Watch report 2022. In annual report for 2021, US Commission on International Religious Freedom that recommended #India be placed on a religious freedom blacklist for the second year in a row.

Religious freedom and foreign policy recommendations to US President, US Congress, and Department of State called for India to be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” for “egregious religious freedom violations”. Keeping in view, the abysmal human rights record of India, it can be argued that a country with such a poor human rights record can’t strive for a key role in international political affairs.

It’s high time that the international community and organizations took effective measures to ensure the availability of basic human rights to minorities of India. The Indian government should also conform to the international human rights regime to reshape its image as a responsible state.

The purported universality of minority rights requires their availability to minorities living in India.

South Korea’s Yoon suggests an ‘audacious’ economic plan if North Korea drops its nukes

SEOUL, May 10 (Reuters) – South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, said on Tuesday that North Korea’s weapons programs pose a threat but that he is ready to provide an “audacious” economic plan if the North is committed to denuclearisation.

Yoon gave the remarks in his inauguration speech after being sworn in at a ceremony in Seoul. He won a tight election in March as the standard-bearer of the main conservative People Power Party, less than a year after entering politics following a 26-year career as a prosecutor.

Yoon, 61, will face two major problems as he takes office: a belligerent North Korea testing new weapons and inflation threatening to undermine an economic recovery from two years of COVID-19 gloom.

He has signaled a tougher line on North Korea, warning of a preemptive strike if there is a sign of an imminent attack and vowing to strengthen the South’s deterrent capability. But his speech was seen as focused more on his willingness to reopen stalled denuclearisation talks with Pyongyang. 

“While North Korea’s nuclear weapon programs are a threat not only to our security and that of Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat,” Yoon said.

“If North Korea genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearisation, we are prepared to work with the international community to present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for its people,” he added.

Yoon did not elaborate on his plan to re-engage or provide economic incentives to the North. But his national security adviser, Kim Sung-han, told Reuters during the election campaign that the Yoon government would devise a roadmap in early days in which Pyongyang could quickly earn sanctions relief or economic aid in exchange for denuclearisation measures. read more

Yoon could face a security crisis if North Korea carries out its first nuclear test in five years, as U.S. and South Korean officials warned after it broke a 2017 moratorium on long-range missile testing in March. 

‘TROUBLING SPEED OF ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM’

Yoon won the election on a platform of fighting corruption and creating a more level economic playing field amid deepening public frustration with inequality and housing prices, as well as simmering gender and generational rivalry.

South Korea’s inflation hit a more than 13-year high last month as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent commodity prices soaring, boosting expectations of more central bank interest rate rises, which could threaten growth prospects. 

Yoon did not mention inflation, but cited low growth, rising unemployment and wage gaps as key economic challenges, pledging to address those by focusing on developing science, technology and innovation.

He blamed anti-intellectualism for polarised politics and deepening internal strife, saying it has threatened to undercut democracy and the people’s “sense of community and belonging.”

“The political process which has the responsibility to address and resolve these issues has failed due to a crisis in democracy, and one of the main reasons for such failure is the troubling spread of anti-intellectualism,” he said.

“When we choose to see only what we want to see and hear only what we want to hear … this is what shakes our trust in democracy.”

Some 40,000 people attended the ceremony on the front lawn of parliament, including about 300 foreign guests, including Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and Douglas Emhoff, the husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

After the inauguration, Yoon moved to a new office at a former defence ministry building inside a sprawling compound, where he was greeted by some children living nearby before holding a meeting with aides.

He has moved the presidential office and residence from the traditional Blue House under a $40 million plan, though his predecessor Moon Jae-in criticised it as rushed and a national security risk. read more

A separate event was held at the Blue House, where 74 citizens selected by lottery entered the long enclosed complex, which was opened to the public for the first time in 74 years.

Yoon had called the office a “symbol of absolute power,” and his team said it would be used as a public park and cultural space, and some 20,000-30,000 people have signed up for a daily visit.