Nepal and China elevate bilateral ties to a ‘strategic partnership’ but no one’s certain what that entails
Analysts believe that a strategic partnership has security and military components but caution against a hasty interpretation.
- ANIL GIRI
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as the latter departs from Kathmandu after his two-day state visit.Post Photo: angad dhakal
KATHMANDU : On Saturday, the day Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in Kathmandu for a two-day state visit, three Nepali papers, including the Post’s sister paper Kantipur, published an article authored by him, in which the Chinese leader said that China wants to forge “a strategic partnership” with Nepal. A joint communiqué issued after the conclusion of Xi’s visit on Sunday categorically mentioned that both sides have “decided to, on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, Charter of the United Nations and principles of good neighbourliness, elevate Nepal-China Comprehensive Partnership of Cooperation Featuring Ever-lasting Friendship to Strategic Partnership of Cooperation.” This is the first time that a joint communiqué issued by Nepal and China has ever mentioned the phrase “strategic partnership”, leaving experts and foreign policy watchers confused as to what exactly this means for Nepal and whether the phrase has any “security and military” connotations. Repeated attempts to reach Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and Rajan Bhattarai, foreign affairs advisor to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, failed as they did not respond to calls and messages from the Post. Though government officials refrained from commenting on what exactly this strategic partnership meant, some agreements reached with China during Xi visit entail both security and military components. “As Nepal has signed a treaty on mutual legal assistance with China, it must have some security dimension,” said Sridhar Khatri, former executive director of the South Asia Centre for Policy Studies. The text of the Mutual Legal Assistance treaty with China has yet to be released to the public. The joint communiqué says that China will train Nepali law enforcement officials, organise exchange visits for security personnel and hold joint training exercises between the two armies. Over the next three years, China will offer 100 training opportunities to Nepali law enforcement officers each year. Former Nepali diplomats involved in negotiations with China said that the northern neighbour has long been urging Nepal to forge a strategic partnership but Nepal had always taken a cautious approach and decided instead in favour of a “comprehensive partnership”. During the visit of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to China in 2016, Chinese President Xi had proposed a strategic partnership but Oli had refused, as such a partnership could have military connotations, according to the diplomats. “We were cautious about using the phrase strategic partnership when Prime Minster Oli met with President Xi in Beijing, fearing it could have military and security implications,” said former Nepali ambassador to China Mahesh Maskey. “Later, we saw that other South Asian neighbours like India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had also started forging strategic partnerships with China, so we included the term this time in our joint communication. I think it does not include any military or security components.” Security analysts, however, believe that there are always national security implications when it comes to bilateral relations. “Chinese President Xi’s two-day visit has sophisticated the Nepal-China relationship, which is full of opportunities but also geopolitical challenges,” said former Nepal Army general Binoj Basnyat. “Political decisions and agreements that will further the relationship are encouraging but political decision-making alone cannot handle matters related to security and sovereignty.” Geopolitical trends have not only economic benefits but also geostrategic security complexities, according to Basnyat. However, foreign policy analyst Khatri cautioned against reading too much into the phrase. “Are we looking at the whole tree or just its branches and roots?” said Khatri. “We cannot draw a conclusion from two speeches delivered at a banquet and the text of a joint communiqué. We don’t know everything about what was discussed during the visit for us to draw a conclusion.”
Despite rape and murder charges, Mahara and Alam remain ‘honourable’ lawmakers
The new House Regulations have removed a previous clause that automatically suspended any lawmakers charged with crimes.
- TIKA R PRADHAN
KATHMANDU : Krishna Bahadur Mahara, former speaker of the House and a Nepal Communist Party lawmaker, and Mohammad Aftab Alam, a former minister and Nepali Congress lawmaker, have both been arrested on criminal charges. But as per the existing laws, they both remain ‘honourable’ Members of Parliament. Up until last year, any police complaint lodged against a sitting lawmaker would automatically suspend them from their post. The rationale behind this provision in the House of Representatives Regulations was that lawmakers should not just be clean but should also be perceived to be clean by the public. However, last year, when the House Regulations for the new federal parliament were drafted by a committee led by Nepal Communist Party lawmaker Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel, it refrained from including this provision, allowing members of Parliament accused of criminal charges to continue as lawmakers. Mahara has been accused of rape while Alam is accused of murder, both heinous crimes, and yet, they are still lawmakers; only their pay, perks and privileges have been stripped. The committee included ruling party lawmakers Brinda Pandey, Rekha Sharma, Juli Mahato, Rambir Manandhar and Dev Gurung, Nepali Congress lawmakers Dilendra Badu, Minendra Rijal and Min Biswokarma, and Laxman Lal Karna from the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and Bimal Srivastav of Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum. The Nepali Congress and Madhesi parties had argued against automatic suspension on the grounds that the provision could be misused by the ruling party to reduce their already small numbers in Parliament, delaying the drafting for months. Karna, one of the drafters, said only the word ‘suspension’ was omitted. Only benefits and privileges of the accused lawmaker are stripped so as to allow the lawmaker to rejoin Parliament if he or she gets a clean chit from the court. But according to constitutional experts, this change in the House Regulations amounts to ‘policy corruption’. “The regulation preventing their suspension even after criminal charges contradicts the constitution,” said Bhimarjun Acharya, a constitutional analyst. Article 103 (6) of the constitution states, “No member of the Federal Parliament shall be arrested during the period from the issuance of a notice summoning the session to its prorogation. Provided that nothing in this clause shall be deemed to bar the arrest under the federal law of any member on a criminal charge.” But Rule 244 (3) of the House of Representatives Regulation says that a lawmaker’s pay, perks and privileges will be suspended when s/he is in custody on criminal charges. They will only be suspended once they are indicted by the courts. Acharya, however, said that the previous regulations should have been retained. A lawmaker should be suspended once a criminal charge is registered. Then, they are automatically dismissed if and when the court indicts them of the charges, he said. Even lawmakers representing the ruling Nepal Communist Party believe that the existing regulation that allows lawmakers to remain in their positions even when charged with criminal offences is wrong. “Though lawmakers have argued that an accusation alone cannot relieve one from his or her position but in many cases, the accusation itself shows the crime,” said Sher Bahadur Tamang, who is a former law minister and a ruling party lawmaker. “This is tantamount to policy corruption as no one can draft regulations or laws that are to their own benefit.”Others, however, said that the regulations were drafted with the increasing amounts of fake news on social media and attempts to defame persons holding public positions in mind. “Lawmakers fear that people might misuse legal provisions to vent their ire on people occupying public positions,” said Anjana Bishankhe, a lawmaker. “There is increasing fake news in social media and a trend of accusing people without having any proper evidence.” According to Acharya, one of the reasons this regulation was drafted was to suit the Rastriya Janata Party’s interest. Its leader, Resham Chaudhary, who was elected a member of Parliament from Kailali, was accused of masterminding violence in Tikapur that killed nine people, including a toddler and a senior police officer. If the existing provision for automatic suspension had been continued with, Chaudhary would never have been sworn in as a lawmaker. He was relieved of his position only after the Kailali District Court found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison in March earlier this year. According to the new House Regulations, a lawmaker will only be relieved of their position when they are convicted of a crime. There are two ways to annul this provision, said Acharya—either through court order or lawmakers themselves can suspend it by forming another drafting committee. “If a regulation or a law contradicts the constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, the constitutional provision should prevail,” said Acharya.
It is politics as usual with Dahal back to making cryptic statements
Statements made by ruling party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal at a Congress tea party has left many wondering if he seeks support from the opposition, or perhaps from across the border.
- TIKA R PRADHAN
Pushpa Kamal Dahal . Post File Photo
KATHMANDU : Hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping left for Beijing after concluding his two-day state visit to Nepal, the country’s politics was back to the humdrum. Immediately after the excitement over the high-level visit from the north died down, the first political session started at a tea party hosted by the Nepali Congress, a routine event that the party organises during Dashain. But it was ruling Nepal Communist Party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal who stole the show with statements that left enough room for speculation. “I see quite some excitement here among Nepali Congress [members],” said Dahal. “I feel like being with my co-workers. Let’s see how politics takes a turn [in the future].” Dahal went on to say that “nothing is impossible in politics” and “anything that looks impossible can be made possible through cooperation among political parties.” When journalists asked Dahal to clarify what kind of cooperation he was talking about between a government with a two-thirds majority and the primary opposition, he, in turn, asked them not to talk about the majority. Dahal’s statement received applause from the Nepali Congress leaders, while it piqued interest among ruling party leaders as well as some political watchers. Some believe Dahal is not happy with the non-implementation of an agreement he had reached with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli at the time of party merger. A deal between Prime Minister Oli and Dahal had it that the two would run the government in turns, and the latter has said in public that he is optimistic about the deal’s implementation. Oli, however, has not only been running the government by himself, but he did not even let Dahal lead party meetings until last month when he had to go to Singapore for treatment. “When there is an internal problem in the party, one may make some unexpected statements out of frustration just to shore up one’s bargaining power,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator. “But if we go by the pattern, it seems his statement has some context.” Many within the ruling party believe that Dahal is setting his sights on the party leadership and not on the government. But if there comes an opportunity to lead government, Dahal will seize it, they say. That’s why his statement at the Congress tea party has left some wondering whether he is seeking support from the Congress. Maharjan, however, does not believe that Dahal will break the existing equation anytime soon. Dahal’s relationship with the parties—the Congress and the former CPN-UML—has always been inconsistent. In 2016, Dahal’s Maoist party had supported Oli’s UML government. A gentleman’s agreement required Oli to hand over the reins of government to Dahal, but when Oli refused, Dahal ditched the UML, joined hands with the Nepali Congress and unseated Oli to become prime minister. But Dahal also joined hands with the Congress because of the transitional justice process. There was an understanding between Oli and Dahal over how cases against Maoist leaders would be withdrawn while taking the transitional justice process forward. But the Oli government remained noncommital, irking Dahal. There appears to be some sort of unanimity between Dahal and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba when it comes to transitional justice, as they both are parties to it. Dahal even earned a lot of praise for abiding by his promises when he handed over the mantle to Deuba after seven months in power. The Deuba-led government, supported by the Maoist party, oversaw the 2017 parliamentary and provincial elections. But by that time, Dahal had already formed an alliance with Oli. The two communist forces swept the elections. Two months after government formation, both parties announced a merger. “But some issues, including work division for top leaders, have yet to be finalised,” said Devendra Poudel, a standing committee member of the ruling party. “Maybe Dahal made the statements out of frustration.” Leaders who have close relations with Dahal have been saying that there was a general understanding between Oli and Dahal just before the former went to Singapore. It was largely believed that Oli would run the government and Dahal would lead the party. But nothing has happened even two months after Oli’s return. Mani Thapa, a standing committee member in the ruling party, said that it’s in Dahal’s character to play to the gallery. “When I heard him making those statements, it looked like he was speaking out of annoyance,” Thapa told the Post. “Maybe he was trying to warn Oli.” But who knows if Dahal was attempting to find an unexpected audience, say some commentators. “What is the import of the statement?” said Maharjan. “It came during the visit of the Chinese president. Maybe he was trying to send a message across the border.” Some believe that China had a hand in materialising the unity between the two communist forces and the push was made through Dahal. “The Chinese president’s visit did not happen out of the blue. There is a certain pattern in the series of events,” said Maharjan. “Dahal’s statement looks like dissatisfaction at the non-implementation of agreements he has reached with Oli. I think Dahal wanted the Chinese to know.”
Samajbadi Party Nepal leader Baburam Bhattarai is welcomed by senior leaders of Nepali Congress at their annual tea reception on Sunday in Kathmandu.Post Photo: beeju maharjan
ARIES (March 21-April 19) *** A meeting or informal discussion at work will reveal a real problem with how people are communicating—or rather, miscommunicating. Before mid-day, it will become all too clear that people are not using the same terms to discuss the central issue. A translator is needed—and you are the likely nominee.
TAURUS (April 20-May 20) ** Just because your fantasies aren’t real doesn’t mean they can’t affect your real life. Your subconscious needs you to draw a map for it to follow. Get detailed about what you see—from the clothes on your back to the car you drive, imagine exactly what you want. Try to have a more futuristic focus right now.
GEMINI (May 21-June 21) *** If you are on one side of an issue and all your friends are on another, so what? You don’t have to take on the burden of changing everyone’s minds—if you disagree with them that doesn’t have to mean that you think less of them. Agree to disagree and avoid this controversy in the future.
CANCER (June 22-July 22) ** Today, you could be subject to some unsolicited advice from a coworker or peer that will sound suspiciously like a lecture. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to do much. It’s a good thing you don’t have to listen. Just let your mind wander off to places where their narrow ideas about how to do everything in life don’t matter.
LEO (July 23-August 22) **** You are a very creative person, so why not create something today? You don’t have to paint a painting or create a typical type of artwork. Create something for someone you care about and give them your creation as a gift—they’ll appreciate the extra effort and thoughtfulness, and they’ll love showing you their gratitude.
VIRGO (August 23-September 22) *** Working in a group could create some drama, but it will also get a lot done. So if you’re on a tight deadline, get everyone together and brace yourself for the little spats that could erupt. Chances are that people will play nicely today, but you can help ease tensions by creating a peaceful environment.
LIBRA (September 23-October 22) *** Today your daily routine will be thrown on its ear at a very inconvenient moment. You could spend the rest of the day trying to figure out how to right it again, but you don’t have to. There are folks who are ready and waiting to lend you a hand—don’t hesitate to call them up.
SCORPIO (October 23-November 21) ** The games people are playing today are going to get pretty competitive, almost to the point of ugliness. You need to think long and hard about whether you even want to get involved. At this point in your life, you need to find your way out of these types of power struggles.
SAGITTARIUS (November 22-December 21) ** Unless you act decisively today, you could run miss out on a big opportunity. You might think that being tentative is the safer strategy, but what you gain in security, you lose in excitement. Risk doesn’t have to be scary—it’s time for you to get more comfortable with uncertainty in your life.
CAPRICORN (December 22-January 19) *** Working with another person, especially in a creative context, will be very rewarding for you. You will almost be able to read their mind! If you are ready to make a big change in your life, this person could be the one to help you make it, although they might not realize it.
AQUARIUS (January 20-February 18) *** Have you have been living beyond your means lately? Today, don’t overspend—put the brakes on luxury living until you have paid for everything you purchased in the past. Debt will only hold you back. Investigate some debt relief options online, or take another look at tightening your budget.
PISCES (February 19-March 20) **** It’s a great day to rediscover an old part of your life. Go digging through old photos, CDs, and saved greeting cards. You will be struck by how much things have changed—and how much they haven’t. Getting back in touch with all the old stuff will remind you of how much you’ve grown.
Government has agreed to promote Mandarin in Nepali schools and not everyone seems pleased
Parents’ group says the government should not foist the language course on children.
- BINOD GHIMIRE
KATHMANDU : The Ministry of Education signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese Embassy in Nepal on Volunteer Chinese Teachers’ Programme in Nepal during the visit of Chinese State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi last month. The deal is aimed at gradually expanding Mandarin language classes in public schools in the country. As per the agreement, 100 volunteer teachers from China will be assigned to teach Mandarin, the official Chinese language, in public schools in the first phase, according to Mahesh Dahal, secretary at the ministry. Around 85 private and public schools are offering Chinese language course to their students at present. A month after the agreement on the volunteer programme, Nepal and China governments on Sunday agreed to set up Confucius Institute in Tribhuvan University. There is already one Confucius Institute in Kathmandu University, established in partnership with the Hebei University of Economics and Business, China. “While the institute in Kathmandu University only offers classes for Mandarin, the one in Tribhuvan University will be more than that,” Dahal told the Post. He said the proposed institute, which is likely to come into operation within a year, would work as a centre to test the proficiency in Mandarin and produce teachers for the volunteer programme. Besides, the institute will also provide Nepali language course for Chinese students. “It will also function as a research centre for language and culture,” said Dahal. “The Chinese government will bear the entire cost for the establishment and operation of the institute in the initial phase. The long-term funding modality for the institute will be determined once it comes into function.” Private school operators, who are running Chinese language classes, say the establishment of the institute is an excellent initiative by the government in promoting the language of the country which is in the race to become an economic superpower. They say the availability of human and other resources will increase once the institute starts running the classes. “Those who excel in Mandarin are sure to get better opportunities in the future. We have to prepare a new generation with future in mind,” Shiva Raj Pant, chairman of the Board of Trustee in Learning Realm International School, Kalanki, told the Post. However, not all buy that argument. Some private schools operators say having command in Mandarin could be a plus for those aspiring to work in the tourism sector, but there are minimal opportunities in other sectors. “I don’t believe knowing Mandarin opens the doors of opportunities,” Ritu Raj Sapkota, president of National Private and Boarding Schools Association Nepal, told the Post. Parents are also not pleased with the government’s decision to teach Mandarin in schools. They say the government should not foist any language course on children. “I believe enforcing Mandarin is a political decision,” Suprabhat Bhandari, president of Guardian Association Nepal, told the Post. “The government must have done homework before taking the decision. What if other countries, say India, propose to providing volunteers to teach their languages as well?” He said it is surprising to see that the government that is reluctant to promote education in the mother tongue, something which is enshrined in the constitution, is working proactively to promote an international language.
Health Ministry to monitor hospitals to curb sex-selective abortions
Newborn data of the Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital shows a wide gap between the number of boys and girls.
- Arjun Poudel
KATHMANDU : In a bid to curb sex-selective abortions being illegally practised in several parts of the country, the Family Welfare Division under the Department of Health Services has decided to monitor private hospitals and abortion centres. The move of the division comes after several studies as well as national newborn data showed a wide gap between the number of boys and girls. “We have allocated the budget to monitor private hospitals and clinics which provide abortion services,” Dr Punya Poudel, chief of Safe Motherhood Programme at the Division, told the Post. “We will start monitoring such centres to curb female foeticide.” As per the abortion law, parents, as well as the service provider, will be fined up to Rs 50,000 and are liable to a jail sentence of up to six months if found practising sex-selective abortion. However, no one has been sentenced or fined for committing such a crime in Nepal so far. Poudel said that health workers deployed in such centres and clinics would analyse the data thoroughly and pursue further inquiries if they find anything suspicious. “We will also probe the practices of those centres if necessary,” she added. Dr Silu Aryal, a gynaecologist, said that the government should launch awareness drives alongside running monitoring campaigns to prevent female foeticide. “I have been running a licenced abortion clinic for a long time,” said Aryal. “Some people visit my clinic for abortion after determining the sex of the foetus but I don’t provide my services to them.” The number of girls is around 800,000 more than boys in the country, according to the National Population and Housing Census 2011. But data for newborn babies shows that the number of girls is declining every year. For instance, the data of the fiscal year 2018-19 of the Paropakar Maternity and Women’s Hospital shows a wide gap between the number of boys and girls. According to data provided by the hospital administration, 11,946 boys and 10,416 girls (1,530 more boys) were born in the hospital in the last fiscal year. In the fiscal year 2017-18, a total of 1,77,253 boys and 1, 66,324 girls (10,929 more boys) were born throughout the country, according to the division. If the birth rate of girls keeps declining, it would lead to gender disparity in the long run, says Aryal. Over 323,000 women carried out abortion in the fiscal year 2017-18. “This data cannot be taken as normal,” Dr Jagashwor Gautam, director at the hospital told the Post. “It’s not natural. Globally 101 boys are born to every 100 girls and that’s normal. The gap we are reflecting currently is not normal.” However, since it’s difficult to monitor “unlisted” clinics and pharmacies that offer abortion pills, it is difficult to keep track of such illegal practices, says Aryal. Gautam believes that social behaviour patterns must be explored in order to understand the widening gender gap since it’s the parents who long for sons that lead to selective sex abortions. According to doctors, parents whose firstborn is a son tend to not opt for a second child and if their firstborn is a daughter then they first determine the sex of the foetus of their next baby and opt for selective sex abortions if it’s a girl. “Evil practices such as female foeticide cannot be stopped without first changing the mindset of the people and the overall outlook of the society,” said Gautam.
Another fire in Kathmandu exposes the city’s limited firefighting resources
The Capital needs more fire engines and stations at the local level, says city’s fire chief.
- BHRIKUTI RAI
Victory Lounge after it was damaged by a fire on Sunday evening in Durbarmarg.Post Photo: Anish Regmi
KATHMANDU : A massive fire that tore through a commercial building in Durbarmarg on Sunday evening destroying property worth millions has once again raised serious concerns over whether Kathmandu is well-equipped to fight such fire-related emergencies. The fire, which started at the Victory Lounge in Durbarmarg because of a short circuit, spread to the fifth and sixth floors of the building. Although there were no casualties, the blaze raged for nearly three hours, reducing everything on the two floors to ashes. It took two fire engines, a water tanker, and more than 30 firefighters to contain the blaze which lit up Kathmandu’s skies and sent embers and ashes flying across the upmarket Durbarmarg street. “We were able to stop the fire from spreading to the next building, but it was a major challenge to contain the fire because it took place on the fifth and sixth floors,” said Lila Raj Gatha Magar, chief of the Kathmandu Fire Brigade. “We had to use a 30-metre ladder to reach the fire and one of the firefighters almost slipped on the ladder.” This is not the first time fires have tested the capital city’s limited firefighting resources. Last August, a similar blaze destroyed property worth millions at an internet company’s data centre in Baluwatar, and in 2013, a devastating fire swept through Thamel and reduced the iconic Pilgrims Book House to ashes. “Our resources aren’t enough. We’ve been trying to convince the authorities to add more fire engines and establish more fire stations, but there hasn’t been much progress,” said Magar. “Local bodies need to have a fire station which can then provide first response in case of a fire emergency.” It isn’t just fire brigade officials like Magar who were terrified about what could have happened if the fire had spread to other buildings and if there were people inside the building when the blaze broke out. People who saw the blaze raging in Durbarmarg and gas cylinders exploding one after another at Victory Lounge from just a few hundred meters had the same thought. “My first reaction was, are there people inside the building, and is one fire truck enough to contain the raging blaze,” said Priyankana Bastola, who was among the hundreds walking around dazed and terrified with their phones up towards the building engulfed by fire. She was supposed to meet her friends for a birthday dinner at a restaurant nearby when the building caught fire and she began looking for an alternative way to get off the jam-packed streets. In the 40-or-so minutes she was there, Bastola saw additional fire trucks reach the scene, watched hundreds of people being cleared off the street by the police, and dozens of vehicles stuck in traffic. As she hurried down an alley just a couple of hundred meters from the building, she saw ashes floating in the sky and worried about a possible stampede, she said. “It could have been us because we don’t have multiple marked exits in buildings here,” said Bastola. “Whether it is a fire or an earthquake or any kind of emergency, there is no protocol on how to get to safety.”
Congress activists stage protests demanding ‘unconditional’ release of lawmaker Alam
The politician, arrested on Sunday, faces charges of murder committed 12 years ago.
- SHIVA PURI
Nepali Congress cadres took to the streets and burned tyres in protest of Alam’s arrest.Post Photo: shiva puriI
RAUTAHAT : Nepali Congress (NC) activists staged demonstrations at various places in Rautahat district on Monday to protest the arrest of their leader Mohammad Aftab Alam held on murder charges. NC cadres took to the streets since early morning by burning tyres in the streets. The demonstrators also attempted to obstruct transportation along the major highway but security personnel took the situation under control. Protesters staged demonstrationsat the Buspark area in Gaur, Sabgadh, Rajpur, Pharadahawa, Jayanagar, Kopawa, Chandranigahapur among other places, demanding the immediate release of leader Alam. Police on Sunday arrested Alam, who was elected to the federal parliament from Rautahat constituency-2 in the 2017 elections, from near the Sheikh Idris gate in connection with an explosion and the subsequent murder of at least 23 persons in Rautahat 12 years ago. The protesters chanted anti-government slogans claiming that the authorities tried to frame Alam. “It is the government’s conspiracy to arrest the NC leader. He should be freed unconditionally,” said Ram Snehi Raya, the mayor of Bridaban Municipality. The protest would continue until he was released, he warned. Even the people representatives elected from the NC took part in the protest rallies. Meanwhile, local administration heightened security in the district to avert any untoward incidents. “Security has been heightened and we are on high alert. Everyone should respect the law and the court,” said Superintendent of Police Bhupendra Khatri. At least two people were killed when explosives “targeting the Constituent Assembly elections” had been blown off in Rautahat 12 years ago. According to eyewitness statements, about two dozen people were injured in the explosion. Alam faces charges of burning the injured alive in a brick kiln “to destroy evidence”. Responding to a writ petition filed on behalf of the victims, the Supreme Court in 2012 had ordered that the case be moved forward.
Rastriya Janata Party lawmaker vandalises counter at Janakpur airport
- SANTOSH SINGH
DHANUSHA : Rastriya Janata Party Nepal’s lawmaker Pramod Sah vandalised the counter of Buddha Air in Janakpur Airport on Monday. Sah kicked the counter, shattering the glass. Sah said that he lost his cool because the airlines did not pay heed to his complaints. He said he was miffed because of the negligence in cleanliness of the airport, the sight of stray cattle around the airport’s runway, and because his flight had been delayed for two hours. After the vandalism, Bijay Singh, chief of Buddha Air Janakpur, confronted Sah. A verbal spat between the two ensued. After the incident, Sah was barred from taking his flight. He flew to Kathmandu only after Chief District Officer Pradeep Kandel mediated the spat over the phone. Lawmaker Sah said that he even informed the airlines that a heart patient, Shaukhilal Chaudhary, was awaiting his flight. But the airlines’ official appeared indifferent, Sah said. “The aircraft was delayed by two hours,” said Sah. “Despite repeated attempts at the enquiry about the status of the flight, the officials declined to relay any information.” Singh said that the delay in flights had occurred owing to air traffic, which had irked Sah. “The officials chase the cattle away from the runway just before the plane takes flight,” Sah added. “This shows how poorly maintained the airport is.” Sah said that he was compelled to kick the airlines counter. “I got furious seeing the negligence and lack of responsibility from the airlines’ officials,” he said.
Last year, BP Koirala Cancer Hospital provided treatment worth Rs 4 billion for free
The hospital has been treating children, senior citizens, and patients who have to spend more than Rs 200 million.
- RAMESH KUMAR PAUDEL
The hospital has also been providing meals to patients free of cost.Post Photo: ramesh kumar paude
BHARATPUR : BP Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital in Bharatpur has provided medicines and treatment worth around Rs 4 billion to patients free of cost in the last fiscal year. According to Dr Bijaya Chandra Acharya, executive director of the hospital, Gleevec medicine worth around Rs 3 billion was provided to patients of blood cancer for free last year. “Last year, 1,073 patients received Gleevec medicine free of cost. The hospital has been providing the medicine free of cost for the last decade and a half,” said Acharya. Kidney cancer patients also received Sutent medicine free of cost. Dr Acharya said, “Last year Sutent medicine around Rs 800 million was distributed to patients.” The Max Foundation in the US provides Gleevec and Sutent medicines free of cost to the hospital. The hospital has also been providing treatment and medicines free of cost to the patients who have to invest more than Rs 200 million for their treatment. “Most patients cannot afford Gleevec and Sutent medicines. Therefore, the hospital decided to provide these medicines to them. The hospital has prioritised children, senior citizens and impoverished communities for treatment,” said Acharya. The hospital also provides free medical treatment to children (below 15 years) and senior citizens. Every year, the hospital has been spending more than Rs 20 million for the treatment of children and senior citizens. According to Shrestha, they also provide meals to the patients (who get admitted for treatment) at free. The hospital has been investing around Rs 13.2 million every year for meals. Bishnu Paudel, chief at the Division Forest Office in Chitwan, is a regular user of the Gleevec medicine. Paudel said, “I have been receiving medicines worth around Rs 1.2 million free of cost every month. Gleevec and Sutent medicines are highly expensive medicines. It’s not easily available and ordinary people cannot purchase these medicines.” Dr Jaya Shrestha, chief at the Department of Medical Oncology, said patients suffering from blood cancer will survive only for five to six months without Gleevec medicine. Shrestha said, “With the use of this medicine, patients can expect to live longer, probably for around 20 years more.”
Landslide victims get new homes a year after disaster
- AGANDHAR TIWARI
PARBAT : Bam Bahadur Pariyar lost his house in the landslide of August 2018 which claimed his 16-year-old son. In the wake of the incident, Pariyar took shelter in a makeshift home made of tarpaulin sheets, and occasionally in his neighbours’ houses. “There was little hope,” Pariyar said. But this year, Pariyar, along with 19 other landslide victims in Parbat, celebrated Dashain in a new house, constructed with the help from several organisations of Nepalis abroad. A team led by Puran Giri, chair of International Parbat Society, and Yam Bahadur Malla, chair of Jaljala Rural Municipality, handed over the newly built houses to the landslide survivors just before the Dashain festival. “We are excited to receive the new houses, grateful to the helping hands,” said Pariyar. Jaljala chair Malla said that it was with joint efforts that the houses were completed at a time when many earthquake survivors are yet to build their houses. “We hope the completion of this project sets an example across the country,” Malla said. The beneficiaries are ecstatic with their new homes. “I hadn’t dreamed that we’d get a house so soon,” said Rupa Pariyar, another survivor. “I can’t express in words the joy with which we celebrated Dashain.” The donor organisation had allocated Rs300,000 each to the families. The locals contributed labour. “Because the victims themselves were active in reconstruction works, the process took less time,” said Hari Bikas GC, chair of Jaljala Ward No. 8. But the risk of accidents remains, given the landslide-prone landscape the village is in. “Much of the risk has been mitigated, and we will adopt further preventive measures,” said Malla.
Upgradation of Postal highway creates more problems than solutions
The Bariyar-Paterwa stretch in Bara has developed cracks and fissures only days after the road was blacktopped.
- LAXMI SAH
BARA : Serious negligence has been detected in the blacktopping of the Bariyar-Paterwa stretch of the Postal highway, often called the ‘lifeline of the Tarai’. The 17-km stretch, which is currently being upgraded, has developed cracks and fissures only days after the road was blacktopped. Use of sub-par material and an impetuous design and estimate’ method are what has caused the problem, said a technician at the Adarshakotwal Rural Municipality, in Bara. Since detecting the problems, the office of the Postal highway in Birgunj has directed the contractor company to immediately fix the road. The office has also received complaints and criticism from locals. The contract for the project was handed over to Raman/Lokvir Construction Company in February 2016. While the deadline of the project was February 2019, the road remains incomplete. Officials at the office of the highway said that the contractor has already received about 80 percent of the contract amount. The company has started repairing the blacktopping, according to Sunil Kumar Gupta, a site engineer at the Office. While the initial work was finished, the office has refused to take over the construction after detecting cracks in the road. The road had a total budget of Rs 180million. While several sections of the road have developed cracks and erosion, other sections are left without blacktopping. There is also apparent negligence in the cleanliness of the finished sections with pebbles and concrete strewn about on the road. Manoj Jaiswal, a local of Paterwa, said that there is virtually no inspection from the office of the Postal highway, while the road continues to create more questions than answers. “The lack of cleanliness has increased the risk of accidents,” said Jaiswal. “Even though the blacktopping was expected to be beneficial, it has invited further problems, beating its own purpose.”
Province 5 continues its integrated settlement drive
The local unit has allocated Rs 5 million each to Mahat and Hukam in Rukum (East) to ensure the project comes through.
- HARI GAUTAM
A view of Mahat village in Bhume Rural Municipality, which has been developed as part of the programme. Post Photo: hari gautam
RUKUM (EAST) : This year too the Province 5 government is continuing with its integrated settlement development programmes in Mahat and Hukam, which were devastated during the decade-long Maoist insurgency in Rukum (East). For the programme, the government has allocated Rs 5 billion. According to Tej Bahadur Oli, a member of the provincial assembly, the fund will be used to manage settlement areas, upgrade roads, courtyards, and build kitchen gardens and maintain sanitation in the village. In the first phase, last fiscal year, the government had allocated Rs 5 million to construct roads and install solar lights along the road in Mahat. Oli said that around 800 metres of a permanent road was constructed and solar lights were installed in the village. “The road which links the village to Rukumkot, the district headquarters, is now motorable making it easy for the locals to travel,” said Dev Bahadur Budha, ward chairman, who says the programme has greatly facilitated villagers. The road was upgraded as part of the programme last year. Hundreds of people were displaced and 58 people were killed in Mahat during the insurgency. Local and provincial governments are trying to compensate for the loss through several development programmes. The local unit has installed a bust of Gautam Buddha and constructed a memorial park in Mahat to commemorate war victims. “Many villagers lost their lives and properties during the war-era. We are only trying to empathise with the victims’ families through development programmes,” said Ramsur Budha Magar, chairman at Bhume Rural Municipality. The provincial government also has allocated Rs 5 million for an integrated development programme at Hukam village in Puthauttarganga Rural Municipality. Hukam is also one of the conflict-affected areas in the district. According to the authorities, the budget will be used to manage the settlement and upgrade roads and other infrastructures in Hukam.
The road less travelled
The provincial government must pay attention to the poor road conditions in Lumbini.
With Visit Nepal 2020 two months away, there is both much anxiety and excitement amongst the citizenry what Nepal’s third large-scale tourism promotional campaign has to offer. The campaign envisions drawing two million foreign tourists and earning Rs200 billion. While the authorities in the centre have been fixated on Visit Nepal 2020, Lumbini, a popular tourist destination in Province 5, is currently observing Lumbini Travel Year 2076. But according to reports, while the provincial government has trumpeted publicity, little effort has been made in terms of improving the roads in the area.
Regrettably, even though six months have passed on the Nepali calendar year, Lumbini hasn’t seen an increase in the number of tourists. This is because the roads leading to Buddha’s birthplace and other sites of historical importance await construction, facelift or expansion. As a result, the most used road to Lumbini—that charts Belahiya-Bhairahawa-Lumbini—is in a state of disrepair. The two other road sections—Taulihawa and Lumbini and Butwal-Behtari-Lumbini—aren’t any better either. Although the roads were dug up two years ago since they were in need of reconstruction, their conditions have not improved with potholes all along the stretch.
Here’s the thing: there’s a charade that happens before important state visits and events. But on the rest of the days, cities and their infrastructural needs are disregarded. The hurried way in which Kathmandu got a makeover a week before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived is a case in point. There was a frenetic rush to patch giant potholes that punctuate Kathmandu roads. Streets were blacktopped overnight, colourful gates were erected, parks were built, and flowerpots dotted various junctions. There is nothing wrong with beautifying cities. But what is wrong is when it happens because we want to create a false image of ourselves when guests arrive. Be it road maintenance or keeping the parks green and clean, these are the basic things the authorities concerned must take care of regularly. But thanks to our ad hoc way of doing things, soon blacktops on the roads will start chipping off, there will be potholes and the parks will turn dirt and dingy.
Same is the case with Lumbini. The popular tourist destination is now launching campaigns to preserve Buddhist rituals and publicise Buddha’s birth site. But this alone is unlikely to increase the number of tourists. The roads have been neglected until now but most probably, right before Visit Nepal 2020 kicks off, the streets too will be maintained and potholes will be patched up. Working at the last minute almost seems like the most natural thing to do by now. But the idea of development needs to be sustainable. More importantly, it should not be pursued because we want to show something to someone. The government must undertake development activities for its citizens who pay their taxes diligently.
Lumbini Travel Year 2076 is ongoing and Visit Nepal 2020 is just around the corner. Learning from its past mistakes, the provincial government must take stock of the problems road conditions are creating for Lumbini’s tourism year goals and not let the same fate dictate what will happen next year in 2020.
Xi’s South Asian sojourn
China knows that it can't be the global superpower without taking its immediate neighbours into confidence.
- ACHYUT WAGLE
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli shake hands after signing the agreements in Kathmandu on Sunday.RSS
Following a two-day informal summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a two-day state visit to Nepal, Chinese President Xi Jinping has officially recorded four days’ outcome of his diplomatic engagement in South Asia. Symbolically, this typifies the scale of investment China would venture and extract output thereof. The South Asian sojourn by President Xi undoubtedly marks a significant departure from how China strategises to take the entire sub-Himalayan region onboard on its fairy flight to be the ultimate global superpower, and at the same time, outlines China’s diplomatic modus operandi under the overarching policy of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. Xi’s two-pillar political narrative of ‘peace and stability for progress’ has been consistent since he took office in 2013. This is apparently meant to assuage the apprehensions of nations like India in light of the geometric rise of China’s economic and strategic might, mainly over the last two decades. The summit diplomacy of Xi and Modi also demonstrated how bilateral relations could be steered by putting highly contentious issues on the back burner.
Xi-Modi summit The Xi-Modi summit had indeed been a pressing need for both sides, economically and strategically. China is already India’s largest trade partner. In 2017-18, Chinese exports to India stood at $89.6 billion while Indian exports to China was only $16.6 billion. Meaning there is a trade deficit of almost $63 billion. Exports from India in the following year 2018-19 barely improved. New Delhi needed an immediate dialogue on this as evidenced by the post summit statement. There was equal urgency on the Chinese side as its exports to India declined by almost $20 billion in a single year, 2018-19. Besides, as China’s trade war with the US shows no sign of abatement, the former needs new markets to keep its massive production facilities running. Strategically, China understands that its ambition to be the global superpower will not be easily achieved without taking its immediate neighbours, particularly a huge country in every respect like India, into a reasonable degree of confidence. For Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was necessary to demonstrate that China is not unequivocally in support of the Pakistani position after he revoked the special status of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir last August to the utmost displeasure of Pakistan and China. Also, Indian discontent over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor financed under the Belt and Road Initiative of China is public knowledge. But both Xi and Modi very maturely prevented these contentious irritants from overshadowing their cardinal agenda of discussing ‘long-term and strategic issues of global and regional importance’ at the summit. Instead, India accorded an elaborately grand welcome to the Chinese president, unprecedented since the two countries went to war in 1962. To create a new constructive atmosphere, Prime Minister Modi also effectively defied a section of Lutyens’ Delhi intelligentsia that thrives on the anti-China ‘industry’ that has constructed a constant narrative of China being an unfathomable enemy. More importantly, China’s focus was on creating an oriental identity from civilisational synergy. The post-summit official statement from the Chinese side stated that the two countries ‘agreed to promote exchanges and mutual learning among civilisations to achieve joint development and prosperity’ and ‘to inject a more lasting driving force into the development of bilateral ties and continue to produce new glory for Asian civilisations’. According to the statement from the Indian side, the two leaders decided to establish a High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue mechanism with the objective of achieving enhanced trade and commercial relations, and encourage mutual investments for manufacturing partnership. Also, although India has refrained from officially joining the Belt and Road Initiative, it is the second largest promoter of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which is now one of the two major financing vehicles for the Belt and Road Initiative (the other being the Silk Road Fund), and the largest recipient of more than $2 billion in loans from the bank for about a dozen infrastructure, energy and green investment projects. In a nutshell, China-India relations had long needed to create a new pragmatic narrative that realistically reflected economic interdependence and geostrategic inalienability. The second Xi-Modi informal summit in Chennai, following the first in Wuhan, China in April 2018, is, therefore, significant to the emerging sub-continental geopolitics of South Asia. As is obvious, the future of the entire region depends on the dynamics and chemistry of relations between these two global giants. It is more so for Nepal as these two are its only adjoining neighbours. In theory, Nepal as a sovereign nation-state is free to conduct its foreign policy independently. Euphemisms apart, when it comes to Nepal’s neighbourhood diplomacy, maintaining a balance between China and India in practice has historically been challenging. Nepal’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, potential trans-Himalayan rail connectivity and increased economic engagement with the northern neighbour, for example, have always been cause for (security) concerns for India. Nepal’s proposal to form Nepal-India-China trilateralism in the greater regional interest is so far dashed by (perceived?) strategic competition between these two giants. But President Xi’s recent tour of India and Nepal in a single loop rekindles hopes of not only possible trilateralism, but also of a more cooperative than competitive perspective of both neighbours when it comes to dealing with Nepal.
Xi’s nuanced messages The historic state visit by the Chinese president after a long gap of 23 years, during which shifts in global power poles have seen a sea change, is important beyond any adjectives. The grant assistance and one and a half dozen cooperation agreements signed during Xi’s visit also have their own significance, depending on how Nepal will be able to execute them.But, above all these, Xi’s three highly nuanced messages to Nepal’s political leadership are perhaps the key to Nepal’s future prosperity and well-being. One, accomplish what you promise by constant pursuit of the goals. Two, Chinese diplomatic priorities in dealing with Nepal will not alter on the basis of the ideology of the incumbent government here but on its performance. And, third, China was not built into a modern superpower just by following orthodox communist rhetoric, but through timely initiation of appropriate policy reforms, adoption of technology and relentless hard work.
Wagle tweets at @DrAchyutWagle.
Whither nuclear-arms control?
Using nuclear escalation to induce another round of arms-control negotiations would yield mixed results.
Is nuclear-arms control unraveling? The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (.INF) has collapsed, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is teetering, and North Korea has continued to expand its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal. Worse, it is unclear whether the United States will stick with the New START Treaty when it expires in 2021. That agreement limits (at 3,000) the number of strategic weapons Russia and the US have pointed at each other. Fortunately, history offers some solace. During and after the Cold War, periods of arms-control breakdown were typically followed by phases of reconstruction. But reversing course is never easy. When it comes to bringing Russia, Iran and North Korea into compliance, past experience shows that there are limits to what can be accomplished by leveraging alliances or pursuing military action. The remaining options are economic sanctions—which are effective only up to a point—and a further arms buildup, to induce renewed negotiations. To be sure, alliances historically have played an important role in nuclear nonproliferation. In Europe, the US-NATO nuclear umbrella prevented the bomb from spreading beyond Britain and France. When US intelligence agencies learned in the 1970s and 1980s that South Korea and Taiwan had secret nuclear-weapons programs, America threatened to withdraw its military and economic support, and the programs eventually were shut down. But intra-alliance pressure has no role to play with respect to loners like North Korea, Russia and Iran. Despite China’s military alliance and occasional summitry with North Korea, it has little influence over Kim Jong-un’s nuclear ambitions. And while Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia may yet be able to pressure the US into renewing dialogue with Iran, their efforts have yielded no results so far. The use of force in nuclear-arms control has long been contemplated, but rarely pursued, owing to the risks of retaliation or radiological fallout. When these risks are absent, military action becomes attractive. In 1981 and 2007, Israel bombed suspected Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors under construction, without blowback. In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the US Air Force struck Iraq’s concealed enrichment plants with impunity. But this is not an option against Russia and North Korea today. A strike on Russia’s contraband intermediate-range missile arsenal or on North Korea’s nuclear program could bring about the very scenario that arms control is supposed to prevent: nuclear war. Iran’s situation is different. Fearing further Iranian enrichment activities, the US could, in theory, fashion a limited strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, on the assumption that the threat of further US action would deter an Iranian response. But Iran is not Iraq or Syria. Either directly or through its various regional proxies, Iran could unleash a wave of aggression against US interests, as demonstrated by the recent attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. US policymakers would have to weigh this risk seriously. Barring effective alliance pressure or military action, another option historically has been to build up one’s own arsenal. In the early 1960s, America resumed nuclear-weapons tests in response to the Soviet Union’s violation of the 1958 test moratorium; and this paved the way for the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Similarly, the INF was agreed on after the US deployed intermediate-range missiles in Europe in response to Moscow’s introduction of such weapons. In each case, both sides concluded that tit-for-tat buildups had only increased their insecurity. But in today’s climate, using nuclear escalation to induce another round of arms-control negotiations would yield only mixed results. The US could try to intimidate the North Koreans by returning to South Korea the nuclear weapons that it removed in 1991. But given that Kim associates the bomb with his own survival, such a move would likely ratchet up tensions on the Korean Peninsula and raise China’s ire. The better way to prevent nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, then, is classic deterrence, leveraging America’s offshore nuclear umbrella and onshore conventional weapons. At the same time, continued North Korean-US diplomatic dialogue—if not relations—would reduce the risk of a conflict arising from some miscalculation or misunderstanding. By contrast, the recent US test of an intermediate-range land-based cruise missile, together with US plans to develop an intermediate-range ballistic missile, fits with the historic pattern of using an arms buildup to refocus the Kremlin’s attention on arms control. By the same token, the US may see fit to introduce land-based intermediate-range nuclear weapons in East Asia to temper China’s nuclear expansion. Iran, by contrast, has no nuclear arsenal to ramp up or bargain down. Rather, it has a nuclear-enrichment breakout capacity that the US wants to eliminate. Hence, the US is tightening sanctions, increasing its military presence in the Persian Gulf, and launching cyberattacks to break Iran’s will. In response, Iran has increased enrichment, disrupted oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, attacked Saudi oil infrastructure, and threatened US interests and allies across the Middle East. The question now is whether brinkmanship will lead to a conflict or a mutual drawdown that would allow for renewed arms-control talks, as in the earlier US-Soviet cases. In these unsettling times, it is natural to wonder whether arms control has run its course. Although most nuclear nonproliferation and test-ban treaties remain in place, the global arms-control regime is under strain. Nonetheless, in its many iterations, it has shown remarkable resilience over time. That resilience will be tested repeatedly in the months—if not years—to come.
- BENNET RAMBERG
This article was previously published in The Korea Harald, a part of the Asia News Network.
The Hong Kong conundrum
October 1 was marked with violence and defiance in mainland China and Hong Kong.
- Naresh Koirala
Anti-government protesters march in a protest in central Hong Kong, China on October 5, 2019. REUTERS
On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong, then Chairman of the Communist Party of China (CPC) proclaimed the birth of the People’s Republic of China from the ramparts of Tiananmen Square. On October 1 this year, again from Tiananmen Square, Xi Jinping, the current General Secretary of CPC, President of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, all in one, led the celebration of China’s astounding military and economic accomplishments over the last 70 years. Xi spoke of China’s unstoppable progress and stability in Hong Kong and Macau. He reiterated the One-China policy, his commitment to the ‘one country, two systems’ model of governance and predicted a peaceful reunification with Taiwan under the same model. In a separate speech on the day before the Tiananmen celebrations, Xi had exhorted the Chinese ‘to be unified under the Communist Party to overcome challenges’. The Square and its surroundings were under a total security lockdown for a few days before the celebrations. Access in and out of the nearby hotels was restricted; commuter train passengers heading towards the Square were subjected to security checks, and anyone seen to speak with foreigners questioned. The Chinese communist party wanted to make sure no one harbouring democratic ideals found a way to the Square to spoil the show. Any mention of the Tiananmen massacre is forbidden in China. The celebration was choreographed to perfection. Fifteen thousand military personnel took part in the parade while hundreds of aircraft roared over them. Many of China’s latest nuclear missiles were on display. The Square was festooned with China’s national flags and placards featuring Xi’s photos. Tens of millions of innocent citizens who perished over the last 70 years due to the communist party’s egregious policies such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) were conveniently forgotten. It was an impressive, colourful, albeit stifling ceremony.
Hong Kong Protests The scene 2,000 km away in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was a complete contrast. For nearly four months, Hongkongers have been protesting against China’s interference in their internal matters in contravention of the Basic Law and demanding, amongst others, the democratisation of Hong Kong’s electoral process. The Basic Law, which formed a part of the Sino-British joint declaration signed at the time of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, guaranteed self-governance to this Special Administrative Region under the so called ‘one country, two systems’ model. The Basic Law included assurances that Hong Kong would continue with its capitalist system, have an independent judiciary, and respect freedom of speech and a free press. Besides, it stipulated that Hong Kong would take steps towards a further democratisation of its elections. It was certain the October 1 protests in Hong Kong would not be celebratory. Before October 1, the Hong Kong government had cancelled all public celebrations for fear of backlash. Even flag raising rituals were conducted indoors. Yet, October 1 became a day of marked violence and defiance in Hong Kong. Over 150,000 Hongkongers came to the streets defying the government ban on demonstrations. They called the 70th anniversary ‘a day of grief’. They defaced Chinas’ flag and trampled on Xi Jinping’s photos. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets whilst protestors threw brick missiles at the police. In a pitched battle with the police, one 18 year old was shot and critically injured. This was the first time in four months live ammunition was fired at the demonstrators. The violence cast a long shadow in China’s moment of pride and gave a violent thumbs down to Xi Jinping’s appeal to unite. The rhetoric in Beijing aside, it is unlikely that, under the present circumstances, the Hongkongers and the Taiwanese will willingly rally around the Communist Party of China to form a united China. They will not recognise the authority of the communist party until they are convinced that their freedom will be fully protected and their right for free and fair elections is secure. Xi’s immediate challenge is to quell the Hong Kong protests. Much of how his one-China dream evolves depends on how he does it.
Xi’s options Xi has three options: crush the protest by military action, like in Tiananmen Square in 1989; accept the protesters’ demands; or let the protests continue—hoping it will lose steam. Military action is not the answer, because it aggravates China’s chances of peacefully annexing Taiwan under the ‘one country, two systems’ model. Since the Hong Kong demonstrations began, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen’s approval ratings have risen significantly. Tsai does not support union with China. To the Taiwanese, China’s interference in Hong Kong proves that the Asian giant cannot be relied upon to keep its words. Military action will also hurt both Hong Kong and China’s economy and the country’s international profile. Investor confidence in Hong Kong is plummeting. On September 16, credit rating agency Moody’s changed its outlook on Hong Kong from stable to negative. A poor credit rating will undermine China’s advantage in using Hong Kong as a major source of equity funding. Giving in to the Hong Kong protestor’s demands is not the answer. Not only because it goes against what the Communist Party of China stands for, but perhaps, giving in could trigger copycat demands and demonstrations in the mainland, particularly where people already feel repressed, like in Tibet and Uighur. Also, the Chinese authorities will not accept a loss of face. There are indications Beijing is working on a strategy to let the protests continue, but break the movement by dividing the demonstrators into violent and peaceful. If the demonstration gets too violent and starts to hurt ordinary Hongkongers’ livelihood, it may lose support. There is a strong rumour amongst China critiques that mainland police are already secretly infiltrating the demonstration. Their job is to incite violence by provoking the demonstrators. The latest battle cry of demonstrators is ‘Glory to Hong Kong’. They have vowed to continue to fight until all of their demands are met. This is a fight for Hong Kong’s self-rule; for compliance to the ‘one country, two systems’ model. It also signifies a clash of global values—liberalism versus authoritarianism. Whatever happens, Hong Kong will be a thorn for the Chinese regime for a long time to come. Xi’s dream of one-China under its communist party will remain elusive for a long lime.
Koirala retired as a Chief Engineer from the Hong Kong government’s Geotechnical Engineering Office.
Listen, understand, include
Most schools fail to incorporate ever more important inclusion strategies in classrooms.
Recently, I had the privilege of working with teachers to implement inclusion strategies in a secondary classroom. We started with what inclusion means to teachers and most of them focused on the task of taking students with disabilities on board. Whilst a large part of inclusion does involve catering to students with differing abilities, it doesn’t end there. Recognising that students engage in the classroom in different ways might help nurture the way they process learning. Doodlers and day dreamers are often frowned upon; a closer look often reveals that these are strategies to process information by creating a silo. Not all students are group learners—some need to distance their cognitive selves to think deeply. Teachers are inclusive when they understand the multiple ways in which student engagement occurs in the classroom. It is mostly a symbiotic relationship where listening to the students is perhaps more important than the instruction itself. Gauging cognitive, behavioural and affective engagement is a process that requires inclusion strategies. Cognitive learning refers to the deep thinking taking place as students process the learning; behavioural engagement refers to actively paying attention, answering questions and so forth. Affective engagement is the idea of helping out peers, sharing the learning experience and participating in group work. Most students are selective about how they want to engage; not all of them manage to do so. Differentiating between their abilities and accepting or respecting their choice of engagement is reflective of inclusion. If there is any trouble-shooting needed, a quick verbal or written formative assessment will reveal the lack of engagement. When teachers find it hard to engage students, some flexibility is essential to enable identification of barriers. Sometimes it’s a simple lack of energy due to tiredness, hunger or some other basic need that has not been fulfilled. Often, it is much deeper than that. Social difficulties at school may end up not just excluding a student from the learning process but causing self-worth issues that seep into learner engagement. Again, inclusion strategies that identify such roadblocks at play might give teachers an insight into the needs of the individual learner. This is especially important at the primary level when children are less adept at identifying and vocalising their feelings and rely heavily on teachers for pastoral care in and outside of the classroom. Hidden biases surface when these children are followed closely. A hesitation to reach out to a teacher for support may be borne out of a perceived bias that affects the student-teacher rapport. Similar biases or the perception of them operates among peers, skewing the learning relationships and affecting the capacity of students to engage well with each other. Inclusion strategies may then require integration activities or class discussion geared towards minimising discord. Inclusion cannot occur in a vacuum, where engagement, interaction and student autonomy are compromised. Learning is a process of negotiation where the needs are identified and both the teacher and student evolve continuously. Inclusion in the classroom does not necessarily require any specific techniques—a basic degree of awareness can yield fantastic results. It is often just the opposite of a feeling of alienation in which case a student may feel ignored, neglected, misunderstood or targeted. Teachers who focus on maintaining a connection or a rapport with their students recognise the signs of alienation very quickly. From barriers to learning for differently abled children to those who feel discriminated against in class, the pattern is fairly similar. Disconnection with the teacher naturally results in disengagement in class, unless there is another adult at home who is filling that vacuum and managing to keep the child motivated. Why do so many of our students require other adults to fill in? Many rely on support from not just parents, but tuition teachers too who have mushroomed in the last decade. We blame the high-pressure environment that demands excellent results. However, it is not just the pressure that is spurring the high demand for tuitions, but teachers who fail at inclusion and lose the rapport with their students who then run amok looking for another equally competent adult that they can establish a rapport with—someone to become their gateway to the inclusiveness that students so deeply crave at every level. Most schools fail to incorporate inclusion in classroom strategy—sometimes what is required is just a conversation about what alienation feels like. The concept of empathy is repeated so often that it has almost become a cliché but can most teachers identify specific ways to show empathy in the classroom?
- NEDA MULJI
This article was previously published in Dawn, a part of the Asia News Network.
A dummy’s guide to smartphone cameras
Photographic technology can be confusing to laymen, but learn these features to snap up the best you can get.
- PRAJESH SJB RANA
KATHMANDU, Smartphone cameras have come a long way over the past decade. From megapixel wars to camera counts, smartphone manufacturers have constantly pushed efforts to improve their devices’ photographic capabilities. From Huawei’s tie-in with veteran camera and lens manufacturer Leica to Sony’s faithful and long-running partnership with Carl Zeiss, all smartphone manufacturers have pushed the boundaries of what tiny smartphone camera sensors are capable of. And while lenses have improved and sensors bigger, physical limitations like the size of camera units have already started affecting further progress, leading to more sophisticated camera set-ups consisting of multiple lenses set at different focal lengths and apertures. While smartphone cameras still have a long way to go towards attaining DSLR-level photographic quality, they’ve come quite close, driving portable and easy-to-use point-and-shoot cameras into extinction. With how complicated smartphone cameras have become, however, it has become increasingly difficult to understand and pick a smartphone with a better camera. It’s not just about megapixels anymore, with everything from image stabilisers to smarter software that defines what kind of an image the camera unit will produce. Every smartphone has a different vanilla style with different colour profiles, so finding your perfect photographic travel companion might turn into a battle of wits against the spec sheet. Here we look at some camera features that you will need to keep an eye out for, if you’re looking for a smartphone with great photographic capabilities.
Camera basics Smartphone cameras work following the same principles as a DSLR-camera, which means everything that you’d look out for while purchasing a camera unit applies here. The focal length defines how wide or narrow your field of view is; the f-stop is your aperture—the lower the f-stop, the wider the aperture opening—and ISO levels for sensor sensitivity. All of these specifications define what your smartphone will be capable of capturing. Lower aperture levels offer shallower depth-of-field effects and better low-light performance but at the cost of sharper images. Megapixels are also part of the equation here, with higher pixel counts yielding much larger images. 1 megapixel creates an image resolution of 1,000 x 1,000 so the higher the pixel count, the larger the resulting image is going to be. Larger images with higher pixel counts tend to be sharper while retaining more details. But as mentioned above, megapixels aren’t the only determining factor when it comes to camera quality—lens quality and sensors also play a major role in good smartphone photos. An example of this could be how the iPhone 8 produces amazing photos with a tiny 12 MP sensor.
Sensors The size of sensors also play a major role in image quality. Smartphone camera sensors tend to be one-third of an inch but some phones even have sensors as big as an inch. Pixel size scales with your sensor size, which means a bigger sensor will record much more details when compared to a smaller sensor with a higher pixel count. This is also the reason for the vast difference in quality between a crop-sensor DSLR and a full-frame. There are also two types of sensors, Charged Coupled Device (CCD) sensors and Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) sensors. While earlier phones used CCD sensors, most modern devices have moved to the more complex and expensive CMOS sensors. Either way, stay away from CCD sensors in the off-chance you see it on a spec sheet.
Lenses Smartphones have multiple camera units these days and all of these cameras play complementary roles for the main lens. Some units offer different lenses with telephoto or wide-angle capabilities. These units usually act independently, providing users with options to toggle inside the camera app. Monochrome sensors are more supplementary to main units; these sensors are used to create images with a higher dynamic range, since one unit is solely responsible for capturing the highlights and the shadows. Some smartphone manufacturers also dedicate their second sensor to depth sensing, which helps the phone understand the difference in depth and create faux shallow depth-of-field effects. These also support autofocus features.
Image stabilisation Camera shakes can be detrimental to a good photograph. Even the slightest movements can result in blurry or out-of-focus images, which is why many modern smartphone camera units come with image stabilisation. Currently, there are two ways that smartphones work around natural handshakes, Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) and Digital Image Stabilisation. The latter of the two compensates for shakes by using on-board software to stabilise, while OIS uses physical lens movement to counteract image shakes. Out of the two, OIS works better. I would not recommend investing in a smartphone without either.
Software With camera hardware reaching a developmental barrier, many smartphone manufacturers have invested in camera software. An example of good camera software would be Google. Google’s Pixel 3 smartphone beats both the Samsung Galaxy S9+ and the iPhone X in photographic capabilities. The smartphone achieves this with a single 12MP sensor. This is all thanks to computational photography, software that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to push and enhance images beyond the capabilities of the lens or the sensor. Google does this by taking multiple low exposure shots, merging them together and then adjusting the shadows and highlights in accordance to similar photos that the AI has analysed in the past. With how intelligent AI has become in the field of smartphone photography, your device understands what the camera is pointing at and adjusts settings accordingly. AI capabilities are not only limited to Google however, with all smartphone manufacturers offering some form of digital intelligence.
Rana is a writer based in Kathmandu.
50 years after internet conception, dark side stirs fear
So much is shouted online that moderate voices are drowned out and extreme viewpoints are amplified.
- Glenn Chapman
On October 29, 1969, professor Leonard Kleinrock and a team at the University of California at Los Angeles got a computer to “talk” to a machine in what is now known as Silicon Valley. The event gave birth to a network that later became known as the internet — hailed at first as a boon to equality and enlightenment, but with a dark side that has emerged as well. As UCLA marks the anniversary, Kleinrock is opening a new lab devoted to all things related to the internet—particularly mitigating some of its unintended consequences on the internet which is now used by some four billion people worldwide. “To some point it democratises everyone,” Kleinrock told AFP. “But it is also a perfect formula for the dark side, as we have learned.” So much is shouted online that moderate voices are drowned out and extreme viewpoints are amplified, spewing hate, misinformation and abuse, he contended. “As engineers, we were not thinking in terms of nasty behaviour,” said Kleinrock, 85. “I totally missed the social networking side. I was thinking about people talking to computers or computers talking to computers, not people talking to people.” The new Connection Lab will welcome research on topics including machine learning, social networking, blockchain and the internet of things, with an eye toward thwarting online evils. Kleinrock expressed particular interest in using blockchain technology to attach reputations to people or things online to provide a gauge of who or what to trust. For example, someone reading an online restaurant review would be able to see how reliable that author’s posts have been. “It is a network of reputation that is constantly up to date,” Kleinrock said. “The challenge is how to do that in an ethical and responsible fashion; anonymity is a two-edged sword, of course.”
Businesses being bad He blamed many of the internet’s ills on businesses hawking things that are outdated or unneeded, violating privacy to increase profit. Instead of clever lone hackers that vexed the internet in its early days, bad actors now include nation states, organized crime and powerful corporations “doing big, bad things,” Kleinrock lamented. “We were not the social scientists that we should have been,” Kleinrock said of the internet’s early days. He regretted a lack of foresight to build into the very foundation of the internet tools for better authenticating users and data files. “It wouldn’t have avoided the dark side, but it would have ameliorated it,” he said. He remained optimistic about the internet’s woes being solved with encryption, blockchain or other innovations. “I do still worry. I think everyone is feeling the impact of this very dark side of the internet that has bubbled up,” Kleinrock said. “I still feel that the benefits are far more significant; I wouldn’t turn off the internet if I could.”
What kind of beast? In the early days, US telecom colossus AT&T ran the lines connecting the computers for ARPANET, a project backed with money from a research arm of the US military. A key to getting computers to exchange data was breaking digitised information into packets fired between machines with no wasting of time, according to Kleinrock. A grad student began typing “LOG” to log into the distant computer, which crashed after getting the “O.” “So, the first message was ‘Lo’ as in ‘Lo and behold,’” Kleinrock recounted. “We couldn’t have a better, more succinct first message.” Kleinrock’s team logged in on the second try, sending digital data packets between computers on the ARPANET because funding came from the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) established in 1958. Credit for creating the internet is a topic of debate, since there are a series of key moments in its evolution including arrival of protocols for how data is routed, and creation of the World Wide Web system of online pages. The name “internet” is a shortening of the “internetworking” allowed when one computer network could collaborate with another, according to Marc Weber, curatorial director at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. “The billion dollar question is, what kind of beast has the internet become?” Weber asked. “It has become the default main way for humans to communicate, and that is not small.” While marking its 50th anniversary, the internet as we know it is a “rowdy teenager” in the eyes of Internet Society chief technology officer Olaf Kolkman. “The internet has done more good than harm,” Kolkman said. “The biggest challenge we have in front of us is that while we cope with big problems enabled by global connectivity that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
CULTURE & ARTS
Here’s the man who wrote the viral song Kanchi Hey Kanchi 2.0
BT Kancha, the YouTube persona of Biswas Timshina, is here to tickle your funny bone through parody songs, but not in the usual frivolous way.
- SRIZU BAJRACHARYA
screengrab via youtube
Kathmandu, The cover picture of BT Kancha’s Facebook, an upcoming YouTuber, is a serious mugshot with a wrapped text that reads ‘Ama, baba (mom, dad) I want to be a YouTuber’. The punchline of this not-so-serious picture is not so subtle: he is asking parents to see a career path in an unconventional profession, far from what he was expected to be—an engineer. BT Kancha, is a YouTube alter-ego of Biswas Timshina, whose parody music videos have been recently making the rounds on Nepali social media. In the latest parody of Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s ‘Senorita’, BT Kancha rants about being bro-zoned by girls with his witty lyrics, “I hate you when you call me on Bhai Tika.” The song is catchy and has been viewed more than hundred thousand times. “All men have been victims of bro-zone, and I thought it would be fun to address the issue as it’s very relatable,” says the YouTuber. Another popular parody on his channel is that of DJ Snake’s ‘Taki Taki’, which he has parodied to ‘Baki Baki’, with the song’s chorus as ‘Baki Baki deuna malai sathi’ (Please lend me some of your remaining money), that tells Kancha’s story of his monthly cash crunch, and how he calls up people to borrow money but in vain because they ignore his calls. “Oh my god this is so funny its makes my day (sic),” one YouTube comment said on the video. But Timshina isn’t just an emerging YouTuber, he is an author with a collection of short stories titled Naive and Beautiful. He also worked as a scriptwriter for actor Priyanka Chopra’s film production company, Purple Pebble Pictures’ Pahuna: The Little Visitors. “I wouldn’t say that my ultimate goal is to be a YouTuber; it’s more of a hobby that pumps my creativity,” says Timshina. “I don’t take this as a career, at least not right now.” Like his videos, his Facebook timeline photo, he says, is there just in the spirit of humour. Timshina was born and raised in Gangtok, Sikkim, and was studying engineering when he started writing and making YouTube videos, which at the time were more like online diary entries and experiments of what he was learning in filmmaking and editing. “But I stopped making videos, as I started working on other projects. It was in 2017 that I got back to it more seriously after my mentor Pakhi A Tyrewala said it will help me with my creativity,” says Timshina. Before 2017, he says he used to publish online content only when he had time, but now he regularly uploads videos, mostly oriented towards Nepali viewers. “When I started out, I didn’t know what I was trying to do, I was more focused on making numbers work,” says Timshina. “I thought if I did stories in Hindi I would have more traction, but I realised that it’s more about content. And so I decided to make videos in Nepali as I am more comfortable in the language, and the humour it allows me is more natural.” A lot of Timshina’s YouTube videos are comedy skits, parodies of hit songs, funny Nepali-dubbed interviews, stand-up comedy sets. His videos are also occasionally about women’s issues in which the humour is carefully subdued. Timshina’s videos are varied; they jump from one subject to another. And although Timshina paints his personality as that of a funny Nepali man, one can tell that Timshina is much more than just a comedian. Like many youths, 25-year-old Timshina is still discovering himself and is unrestrained when it comes to what he wants to do in life. He has a bucketful of aspirations: to pen books, make movies and perform stand-up comedy. And although he has already started on the journey, he knows there is more he wants to get good at and experiment with.
“Everyone has a lighter and darker shade in their personality, I would say BT Kancha shows my lighter side, but that’s not me entirely,” says Timshina. “My other works tell a different story.” Timshina looks quite free-spirited and welcoming in almost all of his videos, although he says he is quite reserved in reality. And although for many, his online outlook may come across as a frivolous YouTuber with a lot of time in his hand, he says it takes discipline for him to make contents for his page. Timshina usually separates his Sundays to work on the content for his YouTube page while he spends his time writing and freelancing for other projects on weekdays. “I am actually a loner; I don’t really socialise and this is what I do in my free time. I like observing people more than engaging in conversations,” says the YouTuber. Most of Timshina’s content is packaged with humour, but some deviate from his usual light-hearted parodies and skits. And in almost all his funny videos, he also makes it a point to talk about women’s issues and it is visible that it is not so to gain traction for his content but rather because of who he is. In Timshina’s recent content ‘Kanchi Hey Kanchi 2.0’, a lyrical cover sung by Bidhan Thapa and Pranita Chhetri of the Nepali classic ‘Kanchi hey Kanchi’, he uses humour to talk about gender equality. The lyrical words are compelling with insights into how women feel in their own homes, “Chhori ra cheli birsera pani raati niskunu hudaina; Raat ko daara, na dekhau Kancha, ghar bhitrai janawar dekhya chhau.”(Daughters shouldn’t come outside of their house during the night, even by mistake; Don’t scare us about darkness Kancha, we have seen animals inside our own homes.) The video received much praise online and was shared by more than 23,000 people on Facebook. In one of his videos, Timshina also talks about why it’s important to talk about menstruation. “I am really close to my mother and sister and I understand what they go through,” says Timshina. “It’s important for me to talk about issues concerning women in my videos.” His YouTube channel BT Kancha at present has 40,600 followers on YouTube, which is a relatively good number he could be considered as a micro-influencer in social media terms. But numbers are low on his list of his priorities, says Timshina. For him, his videos are more of a platform where he spontaneously dabbles ideas based on what he is going through in life. “The ideas that I explore are very random; sometimes it starts with one word and sometimes it is based on a feeling,” he says. “I came up with the idea for ‘Bahun estai nai ho ni bro’ when I was taking a shower.” But when it comes to making comedy sketches, it needs more preparation, says Timshina. “I have to think of other variables as well, such as time, resources and scripts that I can accomplish on my own,” he says. One of the reasons for Timshina’s resolute dedication to keep making videos he says is the reaction of his followers, of their engaging comments in his feeds. “It feels nice to know that people are enjoying watching my videos. While some of them are occasionally negative, I still like reading them,” says Timshina. “But I don’t yet feel like a social influencer or a commenter, I am just myself.” Although he has been publishing content online for over five years, Timshina says he has never thought much about how the audience will perceive his videos. “It’s all for fun, but maybe someday I might get a criticism that will make me think about my audience and the impact that these ideas have when shared online. But for now BT Kancha still is a personal and informal space,” says Timshina. While Timshina is still wary about his future plans, he rests assured that his next venture will be something he believes in just as his other life decisions. “Currently I am exploring screenplay writing, but I still don’t know what I will be in the next five-years,” he says. “But I can say that I will keep making people laugh.”
CULTURE & ARTS
What do we tell the kids? Children’s TV struggles with LGBTQ characters
Portrayal of same-sex parents and blended families still has a long way to go.
- FIACHRA GIBBONS
In the animated show ‘Arthur’, teacher Mr Ratburn is shown to have a same-sex marriage, which was met with controversy, leading the US publicbroadcaster PBS to pull the episode. SCRRENGRAB VIA YOUTUBE
Once upon a time in children’s television land frogs were kissed but princesses only ever married princes. Now Prince Charming might just as easily ride off into the sunset with another man, as happens in the hit new Hulu cartoon series, The Bravest Knight, while the Disney Channel has just had its first gay romance in its live-action tween show Andi Mack. Programme makers are struggling to better reflect the world young people are growing up in, with the first tentative steps to embrace non-traditional families and LGBTQ characters. But even as experts warn that it is key for children’s well-being to see their reality mirrored on screen, the backlash against some of the first wave of gay characters has been sharp. Earlier this year the Alabama affiliate of the US public broadcaster PBS pulled the same-sex wedding episode of its popular animated show Arthur in which the teacher Mr Ratburn marries his “special someone”.
‘We can’t not talk about it’ Yet Nickelodeon introduced a bi-racial gay couple into its The Loud House three years ago, and two female characters married without much fuss on the Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe cartoon last year. While The Bravest Knight received critical plaudits, a fierce battle has raged on its Facebook page between its critics on the religious right in the US and its liberal defenders. The Canadian show’s producer Shabnam Rezaei told AFP that she embraced the debate. “That is how you make progress. If they want to attack us that is great if they can be transparent about their feelings and reasoning. Let’s have that conversation.” But she warned that the basic issues of gender and diversity won’t go away. “Everyone is figuring this stuff out. I don’t know that anyone has the answers,” Rezaei said on Sunday at MIPJunior, the world’s biggest gathering of children’s TV makers in the French Riviera resort of Cannes. “But to not want to talk about it, to want to keep people in the dark, to shove it under the carpet, we know that is the wrong thing to do.” “That is what causes self-hate and suicides,” Rezaei added, saying Hulu has donated $50,000 (45,000 euros) to the suicide prevention charity, The Trevor Project, after the new show raced to its 50,000 streams target in four days rather than four months.
‘Kids not born prejudiced’ Iranian-born Rezaei admitted that “there are whole parts of the world I do not pitch to”, while a Middle Eastern producer told AFP that it was just not possible to broach such sensitive subjects in most Muslim countries. Many Asian networks are also resistant to storylines that include LGBTQ characters or blended families, while Helsinki-based producer Thatcher Mines said the anti-gay “propaganda” law had led to a wave of “self-censorship and worse” in Russia. Kenya also controversially banned a whole slew of children’s cartoons in 2017, claiming they were “deliberately designed to corrupt moral judgement” and pass “bizarre messages intended to promote the LGBT agenda in the country”. A decade before, US conservatives had similarly questioned the sexuality of SpongeBob SquarePants. However, a new study by analysts Dubit found only seven percent of children’s shows airing or streaming in the UK had LGBTQ characters and “not a single episode had same-sex parents”. British producer Sallyann Keizer, who produces diverse programmes for pre-school and older children for the BBC, told AFP “that children are not born with prejudice”. “And there’s a lot of academic research proving that. They are just beautiful vessels. “As producers and entertainment people, we have a massive responsibility” to be inclusive and make minority groups less invisible, she added. Young Belgian director Charlie Dewulf, who has come out as bisexual and non-binary, said that “we have to put shame aside and allow children and adolescents to recognise themselves” on screen. “When I was small I had to watch adult films to see people like myself and I was afraid my mother would catch me,” the 25-year-old said. “Everybody is moving forward on this. It is going to change with our generation,” she added.
Spain’s Supreme Court jails Catalan separatist leaders for independence bid
Madrid is hoping the long-awaited ruling will allow it to turn the page on the crisis in the wealthy northeastern region.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
People protest holding Catalan pro-independence ‘Estelada’ flags in Barcelona on Monday, after Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to prison terms ranging from nine to 13 years for sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in a failed 2017 independence bid.AFP/RSS
MADRID, Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to prison terms of between nine and 13 years for sedition for their role in a failed 2017 independence bid. The long-awaited verdicts were less than those demanded by the prosecution which had sought up to 25 years behind bars for former Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras on grounds of rebellion. Spain has been bracing for weeks for the court’s ruling, with tension mounting steadily and police sending reinforcements to Catalonia where separatists have pledged a mass response of civil disobedience. Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution, denounced the sentences as an “outrage.” “100 years in all. An outrage. Now more than ever, by your side and those of your families. It is time to react as never before,” he tweeted. The 12 defendants, most of them members of the former Catalan government, were put on trial in February for their role in the banned October 1, 2017 referendum and the short-lived independence declaration that followed it. “The Supreme Court condemns Oriol Junqueras to 13 years of prison... on grounds of sedition and the misuse of public funds,” the judges wrote in their ruling. In Puigdemont’s absence, Junqueras served as the main defendant. In a letter to his supporters released on Monday, Junqueras said the story was far from over. “To those who are only driven by the will to do harm, we say to them that nothing ends today, you neither win nor convince,” he wrote. “We will come back even stronger... and win.” Former parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell was handed 11 years and six months in prison, while five other former ministers in the Catalan government were jailed for between 10 years and six months and 12 years. Two influential Catalan civic leaders, Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, were also sentenced to nine years in prison, while the remaining three leaders, who faced lesser charges, escaped jail time and were each handed a 60,000-euro ($70,000) fine. The government is hoping the long-awaited ruling will allow it to turn the page on the crisis in the wealthy northeastern region where support for independence had been gaining momentum over the past decade. The separatist movement hopes for just the opposite—that the guilty verdicts will unite their divided ranks and bring supporters onto the streets. Activists from the region’s two biggest grassroots pro-independence groups, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, have urged followers to rally in the evening. In the coming days, demonstrators will march from five towns towards Barcelona where they will congregate on Friday, when a general strike has been called. Activists from the radical CDR (Committees for the Defence of the Republic), have also promised “surprises”. On Sunday they briefly occupied the main train station in Barcelona before cutting traffic on a main avenue of the city. Anti-riot police have been discreetly deployed to Catalonia but the interior ministry has refused to give numbers. For many, the situation has brought back memories of tensions in the street in the run-up to the October 1, 2017 referendum which was marred by police violence, and ahead of the short-lived independence declaration that followed on October 27. In recent weeks, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made it clear that his government will not tolerate any violence, warning he will not hesitate to renew a suspension of Catalan autonomy, as happened two years ago. The situation is worrying the main Catalan business lobby which said although the verdict would have a “significant emotional impact”, it was important the response avoided disrupting “business activity or social cohesion”. By definition, the most serious charge of rebellion is “rising up in a violent and public manner” to, among other things, “declare independence for part of the (Spanish) territory”. Sedition, however, is “rising up publicly and in turbulent fashion” to “prevent by force or in an illegal way” the law from being applied, or the application of an administrative or legal decision. The trial comes just weeks before Spain heads to the polls for its fourth election in as many years, putting the Catalan question once more at the centre of the political debate.
Fears of new EU tensions as populists’ rise in Poland vote
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
WARSAW, Poland’s governing right-wing populist party was poised to win a weekend election, latest results showed, and appeared on track to keep a parliamentary majority that would allow it to pursue a judicial reform agenda that has put it at loggerheads with the EU. The triumph by the Law and Justice (PiS) party followed a campaign focussed on a raft of new welfare measures coupled with attacks on LGBT rights and Western values. “We have four years of hard work ahead. Poland must change more and it must change for the better,” said PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski after an exit poll showed him winnign with an expanded majority. His party controlled 239 of the 460 seats in last parliament. Near full official results provided by the state elections commission on Monday did not provide a seat count. Condemning the PiS’s anti-LGBT drive and close church ties, but sharing the its welfare goals, the left returned to parliament after a four-year hiatus. A far-right libertarian party, known for its anti-EU views, also made it over the five percent threshold to enter parliament. Experts believe that a strong PiS win would see it continuing court reforms that risk undermining judicial independence and the rule of law, something likely to further stoke conflict with the European Union. Should full results confirm an expanded majority, “we can expect the PiS to further limit liberal democracy,” Warsaw University political scientist Anna Sosnowska-Materska told AFP. The PiS scored 44.57 percent of the vote, outpacing the centrist Civic Coalition (KO) opposition with 26.65 percent support and a leftist coalition that took 12.27 percent, based on 91 percent of official results published by the state elections commission on Monday. The PSL farmers/Kukiz 15 alliance took 8.63 percent of the vote for 30 seats. The new far-right libertarian Confederation party, captured 6.76 percent support for 13 seats. In office since 2015, Kaczynski’s PiS has focussed on poorer rural voters, coupling family values with the introduction of welfare state spending like a popular child allowance, tax breaks for low-income earners and hikes to pensions and the minimum wage. “The PiS is finally taking care of the weakest, most vulnerable members of society,” Kasia, a 40-year-old psychologist working at a women’s shelter, told AFP after voting in Warsaw on Sunday. “I’ve seen it first hand at work.” Kaczynski, who is widely regarded as Poland’s de facto leader, has also stoked deep social division by attacking sexual minorities and rejecting Western liberal values, all with the tacit blessing of Poland’s influential Catholic Church which holds sway over rural voters. He is among several populist leaders in the European Union seeking greater national sovereignty over the federalism championed by France and Germany. The PiS has sought favour with the Trump administration. Poland has long regarded the United States as the primary guarantor of its security within the NATO alliance and as a bulwark against Russia, its Soviet-era master with whom tensions still run high.
UK, EU in make-or-break Brexit week
Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, says ‘a lot of work remains to be done’.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn head the procession of members of parliament through the Central Lobby towards the House of Lords to listen to the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday. AFP/RSS
LONDON, Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeated on Monday that Britain must leave the EU on October 31, as divorce talks resumed in Brussels in a pivotal week that could define how and when Brexit finally happens. In an elaborate ceremony in parliament in London, Queen Elizabeth II set out Johnson’s legislative programme for the coming year, with leaving the EU top of the agenda. “My government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on October 31,” she said in a speech to robed peers from a gilded throne in the upper House of Lords. “My government intends to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly cooperation.” But this depends on the outcome of closed-door discussions in Brussels, where officials are racing to reach a deal on Britain’s exit terms before a summit of EU leaders starting on Thursday. If he cannot get a deal by Saturday, Johnson will fall foul of a British law demanding he ask the EU to delay Brexit for a third time rather than risk a potentially disastrous “no deal” departure. “A deal is possible and it’s possible this month,” Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said as he arrived for talks with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. “It may even be possible this week but we’re not there yet.” Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, briefed EU ambassadors late Sunday after a weekend of talks between officials described as “intense” and “constructive”. After weeks of gloom, the last few days have given a glimmer of hope that an agreement can be reached but there has so far been no decisive breakthrough. Barnier warned on Sunday that “a lot of work remains to be done”. This message echoed by Johnson’s spokesman in London, who said on Monday: “The talks are constructive but there is a lot of work still to do.” More than three years after the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, divorce talks remain stuck on how to avoid customs checks between British Northern Ireland and Ireland. After British MPs rejected a previous plan, Johnson put forward fresh proposals earlier this month—but they have been met with a cool response in Brussels. Johnson took over from his predecessor Theresa May in July vowing no more delays, after she postponed Brexit twice in a failed attempt to get her own divorce deal through the British parliament. But he has no majority in the House of Commons, leaving him powerless even to call an election without the support of opposition parties. In a statement issued alongside Queen Elizabeth II’s speech, Johnson said the British public were “tired of stasis, gridlock and waiting for change”. It was time to leave the EU and seize new opportunities, “to tear away that bureaucratic red tape, to set our own rules, and to release the talent, creativity, innovation and chutzpah that exists in every corner of our United Kingdom”. As well as a commitment to Brexit, the Queen’s Speech included a raft of domestic measures, from tackling domestic violence to plastic pollution. Earlier, finance minister Sajid Javid announced the government’s first post-Brexit budget would take place on November 6 “to shape the economy for the future”. But Johnson is unlikely to get any of his plans through the Commons, and if an election comes, a new Queen’s Speech will be necessary.
Returning from recess, Democrats press Trump impeachment inquiry
Donald Trump. AFP
WASHINGTON, The Democratic-led US House of Representatives will crank up its impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump this week as lawmakers return after a two-week recess, with closed-door testimony from current and former administration officials looming. The headline event could be testimony on Thursday from Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, that was rescheduled after Trump’s administration blocked a previously scheduled appearance. Sondland, a political appointee and Trump political donor rather than a career diplomat, participated in a text message exchange that Democrats have said reveals the internal concern among aides that the Republican president’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, was improper. The House Intelligence Committee, leading the impeachment inquiry, is scheduled on Monday to hear from Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council. The impeachment inquiry focuses on a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Biden, a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face him in the 2020 presidential election, and Biden’s businessman son Hunter Biden. Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring a vulnerable US ally to dig up dirt on a domestic political rival after withholding $391 million in US security aid intended to help combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine. Trump has denied wrongdoing. The inquiry could prompt the House to approve articles of impeachment - formal charges - leading to a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office. The Senate is led by Trump’s fellow Republicans, who have shown little inclination toward removing him. The Intelligence Committee also is scheduled to hear from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We expect to announce additional testimony from relevant witnesses in the coming days and remain prepared to compel testimony through duly authorized subpoenas as appropriate,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in a letter to House Democrats on Friday. The most compelling details could come from Sondland, who is expected to discuss the text message exchange with Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine. Sondland is expected to be asked why he relayed from Trump to other diplomats that the president said no “quid pro quos” connecting the Biden investigation with the US aid and to respond to media reports that he may not believe Trump’s insistence about no linkage between the two matters. Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning a favor for a favor. Zelenskiy agreed to investigate. Trump eventually allowed the aid. Lawmakers also may debate whether to seek to compel testimony from Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney who was pushing for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. On Thursday, two Giuliani associates - Ukraine-born Lev Parnas and Belarus-born Igor Fruman - who helped him with his efforts to investigate the Bidens were charged with scheming to violate US campaign finance laws. Giuliani has defended his actions as proper in his role as Trump’s lawyer. A source familiar with the probe said that as part of the investigation into Parnas and Furman, federal investigators, including Manhattan prosecutors, are “examining Giuliani’s interactions” with the two men. Giuliani disputed that, saying he would have expected to have heard from prosecutors. “I think the probe is a malicious rumor,” Giuliani told Reuters. Giuliani already has a subpoena from the Intelligence Committee demanding that he produce documents related to Ukraine by Tuesday. He has not said whether he will comply.
Ukraine sees hope for ‘last chance’ peace summit
LUXEMBOURG: The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany could hold a summit in Paris in mid-November if Kiev and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine can maintain a ceasefire, Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Monday, warning of a “last chance” for Moscow. The summit, originally envisaged for September, would aim to resolve the five-year-long conflict pitting Kiev’s forces against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in April 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. Intermittent clashes continue despite a notional ceasefire and diplomatic peace efforts. (Agencies)
Zimbabwe doctors defy court, enter 43rd day of strike
HARARE: Striking Zimbabwe doctors on Monday defied a court order to return to work, saying a pay rise offered by the government failed to meet everyday costs. Doctors remained home for a 43rd consecutive day, striking for better pay after their salaries were eroded by the country’s spiralling inflation. Zimbabwe’s labour court ruled the action “unlawful” on Friday and ordered the medics back to their wards within 48 hours. The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) announced on Sunday it would lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court. “We noted the court order but unfortunately we don’t have the means by which to comply,” said ZHDA spokesman Masimba Ndoro on Monday. (Agencies)
EU extends Russia sanctions over Salisbury chemical attack
LUXEMBOURG: The EU on Monday extended sanctions against four Russian intelligence agents linked to a nerve agent attack in Britain, as part of an attempt to crack down on chemical weapons. Foreign ministers from the 28 EU states voted to prolong by 12 months the chemical weapons sanctions regime which currently targets nine individuals including the four Russians and five Syrian officials. The Russians, who are subject to EU travel bans and asset freezes, are the head and deputy head of the Kremlin’s military intelligence outfit, the GRU. (Agencies)
Indian authorities tighten security clampdown ahead of divisive temple ruling
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
NEW DELHI, Authorities have tightened security restrictions in the northern Indian flashpoint city of Ayodhya ahead of a crucial Supreme Court ruling over the disputed site fiercely contested between Hindus and Muslims. Hindus and Muslims have for decades been bitterly divided over the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya, a city in Uttar Pradash state. Tensions boiled over in 1992 when Hindu zealots destroyed the mosque, sparking religious violence that killed 2,000 people. The Supreme Court is expected to conclude on October 17 hearings into appeals against a key 2010 court ruling that both groups should split the site, with Hindus granted the lion’s share. The restrictions under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure prohibiting more than four people to assemble were first imposed on August 31, Ayodhya’s district magistrate Anuj K. Jha said Sunday, but were tightened further on Saturday. “The order has been issued considering safety and security of Ayodhya and those visiting here as Govt’s paramount concerns,” Jha tweeted late Sunday. The new orders said that “drones, unmanned aerial vehicle, unknown flying objects or anything that can be weaponised are banned without prior permission from district authorities”. The district also banned firecrackers popular during this time of the year when Hindus mark several major religious festivals, some involving Hindu deity Ram who they believe was born in Ayodhya. The orders will be in place under December 10. The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its ruling before Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi retires on November 17. Many Hindus believe the medieval mosque that stood there for 460 years was only built after the destruction of an earlier temple. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party has campaigned on constructing a new temple on the site of the razed mosque.
Attempts to split China risk ‘smashed’ bodies, Xi warns
China has accused ‘external forces’ of fueling unrest in the semi-autonomous city.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Xi Jinping. AFP
BEIJING, President Xi Jinping has warned that any attempts to split China would result in “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder”, amid four months of anti-Beijing unrest in Hong Kong. Xi issued the dire message during a weekend visit to Nepal, according to a foreign ministry statement released on Sunday. “Anyone who attempts to split any region from China will perish, with their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder,” Xi said, according to the ministry. “Any external forces that support the splitting of China can only be regarded as delusional by the Chinese people,” he said. While Xi did not mention any region by name, his comments came as riot police and pro-democracy protesters clashed again in Hong Kong on Sunday and amid tensions with self-ruled Taiwan. Rallies erupted in multiple neighbourhoods of Hong Kong, with some protesters blocking roads, sabotaging train tracks, and trashing pro-China businesses in the financial hub. China has accused “external forces” of fuelling unrest in the semi-autonomous city, a former British colony that enjoys rights unheard of in the mainland, such as freedom of speech. The protests were sparked by opposition to a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, but have since morphed into a larger movement for democracy and police accountability. There have been concerns that China could send in troops to put an end to the unrest, but Beijing has so far said it believes Hong Kong’s police force is capable of handling the protests. Few analysts believe Beijing would risk international condemnation by repeating its 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, when it deployed tanks and troops to quash the uprising, leaving hundreds, perhaps more than 1,000, dead. Beijing has also hardened its stance with democratic Taipei since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in 2016, as her government refuses to acknowledge that Taiwan is part of “one China”. Taiwan has ruled itself since the end of a civil war in 1949, but China views the island as its territory and has vowed to seize it—by force if necessary. Another sovereignty flashpoint is Tibet. Nepal is home to around 20,000 exiled Tibetans, but under pressure from Beijing the current communist government has taken an increasingly hardline stance on their activities. Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli told Xi that his country, which borders Tibet, would “never allow any forces to use Nepalese territory for anti-China separatist activities”, according to the foreign ministry statement. Yet another source of tension is US criticism of Beijing’s security crackdown in the northwest region of Xinjiang, where more than one million mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in internment camps. China defends the camps as “vocational education centres” aimed at combating separatism and religious extremism.
Japan searches for survivors as Typhoon Hagibis death toll hits 56
- Post Report
Tokyo, Tens of thousands of rescuers worked into the night Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon in Japan that killed at least 56 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper their efforts. Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country’s 47 prefectures, triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding. The death toll from the disaster has risen steadily, with national broadcaster NHK saying Monday night that 56 people had been killed and 15 were still missing. It cited its own tally based on local reporting. The government has given lower numbers but is still updating its information. “Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday. “Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night,” Abe said. Later in the day, he pledged to “do whatever the country can” for victims and survivors, ordering the defence ministry to call up to 1,000 reserve troops to join 31,000 active forces in search operations. But rescue work that was continuing into the night risked being hampered by additional rain falling in central and eastern Japan that officials warned could cause fresh flooding and landslides. “I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, officials said they were working cautiously. “We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts,” local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP. “We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain.” The death toll continued to rise into Monday evening, with bodies pulled from flooded cars and homes, swollen rivers and landslides. The casualties included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said. Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member. Hagibis packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, but it was the heavy rains that caused the most damage. A total of 176 rivers flooded—mainly in eastern and northern Japan—with their banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said. In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor. Television footage from the area showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.
Syrian regime steps in to halt Turkish assault against Kurds
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Syrians return to their homes in the town of Ayn al-Arus, south of the border town of Tal Abyad, on Monday, after it was taken over by Turkish-backed Syrian fighters during their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. AFP/RSS
TALL TAMR (Syria), The Syrian regime sent troops towards the Turkish border on Monday to contain Ankara’s deadly offensive against the Kurds, stepping in for US forces due to begin a controversial withdrawal. Outgunned and without US protection, the autonomous Kurds in northeastern Syria had few other options to stop the rapid advance of Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies. Turkey wants to create a roughly 30-kilometre (20-mile) buffer zone along its border to keep Kurdish forces at bay and also to send back some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts. The United States and its partners—who spent years fighting the Islamic State group in Syria before deserting them—have condemned the Turkish invasion but their threats of sanctions have failed to stop it. The chaos in the areas targeted in the six-day-old Turkish assault has already led to the escape of around 800 foreign women and children linked to IS from a Kurdish-run camp, Kurdish authorities said. The Kurds had repeatedly warned of that scenario when Western countries refused to repatriate their IS-linked nationals and when US President Donald Trump made it clear he wanted to end US military presence. Wasting no time to fill the void, Moscow—already the top broker in Syria—clinched a deal between the Kurds and Damascus, whose ties had been icy since the minority threw its lot with Washington and unilaterally declared self-rule. “In order to prevent and confront this aggression, an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government,” the Kurdish administration said in a statement late Sunday. In an editorial published in Foreign Policy magazine, the head of the main Kurdish force wrote: “If we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people.” By Monday morning, Syrian government forces were already moving to within several kilometres (miles) of the border, AFP correspondents on the ground said. Residents around the town of Tall Tamr welcomed regime forces with cheers and Syrian state television showed some of them waving national flags and portraits of President Bashar al-Assad. According to a newspaper close to the Damascus regime, Syrian forces were also expected to deploy in the areas of Manbij and the border town of Kobane. The main remaining flashpoint along the border was the town of Ras al-Ain, where Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been putting up stiff resistance against Turkish air strikes and shelling for almost a week. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, the Turkish attack—which uses Syrian proxies on the ground—has already left 121 SDF fighters and 60 civilians dead. An air strike on a convoy that included SDF fighters, civilians and journalists Sunday killed at least 10 people in the Ras al-Ain area. Footage circulated by local media showed gruesome scenes taken moments after the hit, with bodies strewn amidst the convoy’s vehicles. AFP reporters said overwhelmed medics in a hospital in Qamishli struggled to treat the wounded, several of whom were in critical condition.
Malaysia considers total vaping ban after reports of US deaths
An illustration picture shows a man using a vape device. REUTERS
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia is considering banning the sale of electronic cigarettes, its health minister said on Monday, citing growing reports of deaths in the United States linked to e-cigarettes and vaping. As of Friday, US authorities had reported 29 deaths and 1,299 cases of respiratory illnesses linked to the use of e-cigarettes and vaporisers, amid calls for stricter regulation. Malaysia was already finalising a law that would ban the use of all smoking products, including electronic cigarettes and vaporisers, among minors and prohibit their promotion and advertising. But it is now considering a complete ban on the new devices, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad told parliament. “A detailed study is required to review the need for enforcing a total ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes and vapes,” he said, adding that the ministry had set up a committee to look into the matter. Tobacco products in Malaysia are currently regulated under the Food Act while the sale of vaporiser liquids containing nicotine has been banned since 2015. However, there are no specific regulations governing the sale and use of non-nicotine vaporisers and e-cigarettes. The world’s vaping industry, which has seen rapid growth, has faced rising public backlash over concerns of increased use among young people. India, which has the second-largest population of adult smokers in the world, banned the sale of e-cigarettes last month as it warned of a vaping “epidemic” among youths.
Mobile phones back in Indian Kashmir; internet still down
SRINAGAR (India): Mobile phone networks were restored in Indian Kashmir on Monday after a 72-day blackout, authorities said, but the internet remains off-limits to the region’s seven million-plus people. India cut access to mobile networks in the restive Kashmir Valley in early August citing security concerns as it scrapped the region’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a lockdown. The easing on Monday covers around four million post-paid mobile phone contracts, but only for calls and text messages. The internet is still unavailable both on cellphone and fixed line networks. Landlines were restored previously, although residents say connections are erratic. (Agencies)
Philippine drug war chief quits amid narcotics scandal
MANILA: The Philippines’ top policeman, who leads the nation’s deadly drugs crackdown, quit on Monday as he faces allegations of protecting officers accused of selling a huge haul of seized narcotics. Though the scandal dates from before Oscar Albayalde’s time as national police chief, it has raised fresh criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature anti-narcotics campaign, which is key to his massive popularity among Filipinos. As part of Duterte’s internationally condemned initiative, police have killed thousands of alleged dealers and users since mid-2016, but critics say the wealthy and powerful have been largely untouched. (Agencies)
Khamenei tells Iran’s Guards to develop advanced weapons
DUBAI: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has told Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards to develop more advanced and modern weapons, amid increasingly tense disputes with the United States and Gulf Arab states. Tensions in the Gulf have risen to new highs since May 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran that put limits on its nuclear programme in exchange for the easing of sanctions. As US sanctions have been reimposed, there have been a series of attacks in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf that Washington and its allies have blamed on Iran, which denies responsibility. “The Guards should have advanced and modern weapons ... Your weapons should be modern and updated. It should be developed at home,” he said. (Agencies)
China exports and imports in deeper contraction
September had marked a major escalation in the trade row, with Washington imposing 15 percent tariffs on more than $125 billion in Chinese imports.
A Fedex delivery man pushes a trolley with goods along a street in Beijing on Monday. AFP/RSS
BEIJING : A slide in China’s exports picked up pace in September while imports contracted for a fifth straight month, pointing to further weakness in the economy and underlining the need for more stimulus as the Sino-US trade war drags on. Analysts say it could take time for Chinese exports to recover amid slowing global growth despite tentative signs of a thaw in tense trade relations between the world’s top two economies. On Friday, US President Donald Trump outlined the first phase of a deal to end the trade war with China and suspended a threatened tariff hike set for Oct 15. But existing tariffs remain in place and officials on both sides said much more work needed to be done. September exports fell 3.2 percent from a year earlier, the biggest fall since February, customs data showed on Monday. Analysts had expected a 3 percent decline in a Reuters poll after August’s 1 percent drop. “The headline figures suggest that global demand softened last month, adding to the pressure from the US tariffs that went into effect in September,” said analysts at Capital Economics. Economists also attributed the export slowdown to a fading in the so-called “front-loading” effect. Some Chinese firms had rushed to ship goods to the United States ahead of the September deadline, supporting overall July and August export readings. “We expect shrinking exports will likely be one of the biggest drag on China’s economic growth in the coming months, as the tariff impact will be further in place, along with the pay-back effects,” said Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura. Total September imports fell 8.5 percent after August’s 5.6 percent decline, the lowest since May, and were expected to fall 5.2 percent. Some sectors held a silver lining. China’s industrial metals imports, including iron ore and copper, surged in September fuelled by firm demand at steel mills. But analysts at ANZ noted volumes were buoyed by recovery from recent disruptions in Australia and Brazil, and may also have been lifted by restocking ahead of China’s 70th anniversary celebrations, suggesting overall demand remains weak. Nomura’s Lu pointed to subdued imports in the raw material processing sector and softening global commodity prices possibly playing a role in depressing overall imports. Despite more than a year of growth boosting measures, China’s domestic demand has remained stubbornly weak as economic uncertainty weighs on business and consumer confidence and discourages fresh investment. China reported a trade surplus of $39.65 billion last month, compared with a $34.84 billion surplus in August. Analysts had forecast $33.3 billion. Its trade surplus with the United States stood at $25.88 billion in September, narrowing from August’s $26.96 billion. China’s exports to the United States fell 10.7 percent from a year earlier in dollar terms in January-September, while US imports dropped 26.4 percent during that period, the customs data showed. September had marked a major escalation in the trade row, with Washington imposing 15 percent tariffs on more than $125 billion in Chinese imports from Sept 1, and Beijing hitting back with retaliatory levies. Though President Trump had agreed not to proceed with a hike in tariffs set for Tuesday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Trump had not made a decision about tariffs that were subject to go into effect in December. Analysts are also sceptical that the “mini deal” would mark a major breakthrough. “It is difficult to take that much comfort from the latest signs of progress given that we’ve had plenty of apparent truces in recent months end abruptly in a sudden further escalation in trade tensions,” said analysts at Capital Economics. Customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told a news conference on Monday China’s stable domestic economy had provided a strong cushion against external challenges, but added that trade development in the future was still complicated and severe. Economists at UBS expect further pressure on China’s job market as the impact of the latest US tariff escalations filter through to struggling manufacturers. “We think the time to watch for potentially significant job losses is from December this year until March 2020, assuming all announced tariff hikes are implemented. Job losses may be more concentrated in a few sectors that have higher exposure to foreign final demand, such as textiles, computers and electronics and electrical equipment, among others.” Analysts believe China’s economic growth cooled further in the third quarter from a near 30-year low of 6.2 percent hit in April-June, and is threatening to breach the lower end of the government’s full-year target of 6 to 6.5 percent.
French energy giant Total to buy 37 percent stake in India’s Adani Gas
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
MUMBAI : Total has agreed to buy a 37.4-percent stake in India’s Adani Gas, the two firms said on Monday, with the French giant spending $600 million to expand its access to the energy-hungry country. The Indian firm, part of the Adani Group conglomerate, is one of the four main distributors of city gas in the country, and plans to increase its coverage to six million homes and 1,500 outlets to supply vehicles over the next decade. Under the terms of the deal, Total will make an open offer to Adani Gas shareholders to purchase up to 25.2 percent before buying the remaining equity from the company, leaving the French and Indian firms with an equal share. “Energy needs in India are immense and the Indian energy mix is key to the climate change challenge,” Patrick Pouyanne, Chairman and CEO of Total, said in a statement. “The natural gas market in India will have a strong growth and is an attractive outlet for the world’s second-largest LNG player that Total has become,” he added.Natural gas currently represents a fraction of India’s energy consumption—around seven percent—while a June report by the Centre for Science and Environment think-tank found that the country’s gas-based power plants were running at 24 percent of their capacity. New Delhi has set a target to increase natural gas consumption to 15 percent by 2030. “Total’s investment in Adani Gas reinforces India’s natural gas and demand potential. We look forward to working together towards delivering India’s vision for clean and green energy,” said Gautam Adani, founder of the mining-to-logistics conglomerate. The Indian group has faced fierce criticism over the environmental impact of a huge coal mine scheduled for construction in Australia, with conservationists saying it will increase global warming, threaten local vulnerable species, and damage the Great Barrier Reef.
Singapore eases monetary policy, avoids recession
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
SINGAPORE : Singapore eased monetary policy for the first time in more than three years on Monday as the US-China trade war bites, while the export-reliant economy narrowly avoided recession in the third quarter. The financial hub’s central bank joins others around the world, from Europe to the US, in loosening policy as fears mount of a global economic slowdown. The city-state has traditionally been the first among Asia’s export-driven economies to be affected during a downturn, making it a closely watched barometer of demand for goods and services for the rest of the region. And it has been hard hit in recent months, with growth rates and exports plummeting, as US-China tensions upend the global trading system. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it will “reduce slightly” the slope of the band at which its currency is allowed to move, effectively allowing for a weaker dollar, as had been expected. Instead of using interest rates, Singapore manages monetary policy by letting the local dollar rise or fall against a currency basket of its main trading partners. “In the last six months, the drag on GDP (gross domestic product) growth exerted by the manufacturing sector has intensified, reflecting the ongoing downturn in the global electronics cycle as well as the pullback in investment spending, caused in part by the uncertainty in US-China relations,” MAS said. Preliminary GDP data released at the same time showed Singapore’s economy narrowly avoided tipping into a technical recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of contraction. It expanded 0.6 percent in the three months to September on a quarterly basis, bouncing back from a shock 2.7 percent second-quarter contraction. The economy grew 0.1 percent on a yearly basis. The manufacturing sector, a pillar of the trade-dependent economy, shrank 3.5 percent, following a 3.3 percent contraction the previous quarter.
Trio win Nobel Economics Prize for work on poverty
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
STOCKHOLM : A trio of American economists on Monday won the Nobel Economics Prize for their work in the fight against poverty, including novel initiatives in education and healthcare, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. Indian-born Abhijit Banerjee of the US, his French-American wife Esther Duflo—a former advisor to ex-US president Barack Obama—and Michael Kremer of the US were honoured “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty,” the jury said. “This year’s laureates have introduced a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty,” the jury said. The science academy said that “more than 700 million people still subsist on extremely low incomes,” and that around five million children under the age of five still die every year from preventable or curable diseases. The three found efficient ways of combatting poverty by breaking down difficult issues into smaller, more manageable questions, which can then be answered through field experiments, the jury said. “They have shown that these smaller, more precise, questions are often best answered via carefully designed experiments among the people who are most affected,” it said. “As a direct result of one of their studies, more than five million Indian children have benefitted from effective programmes of remedial tutoring in schools. Another example is the heavy subsidies for preventive healthcare that have been introduced in many countries,” the jury said. Duflo is only the second woman to win the Nobel Economics Prize in its 50-year existence, following Elinor Ostrom in 2009. Duflo, 46, who is also the youngest person to ever receive the Economics Prize, told the Nobel committee in a phone interview the honour was “incredibly humbling”. “I didn’t think it was possible to win the Nobel Prize in Economics before being significantly older than any of the three of us,” she added. Duflo has made her name conducting research, together with her husband who was her PhD supervisor, on poor communities in India and Africa, seeking to weigh the impact of policies such as incentivising teachers to show up for work or measures to empower women. Her tests, which have been likened to clinical trials for drugs, seek to identify and demonstrate which investments are worth making and have the biggest impact on the lives of the most deprived. “Our vision of poverty is dominated by caricatures and cliches,” she told AFP in a September 2017 interview.Banerjee, 58, and Duflo are both professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, while Kremer, 54, is a professor at Harvard University. In the 1990s, Kremer used field experiments to test interventions to improve school results in western Kenya. He has also helped develop programmes to incentivise the distribution of vaccines for diseases in the developing world.Unlike the other Nobels awarded since 1901, the Economics Prize was not created by the prizes’ founder, philanthropist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, in his 1895 will. It was devised in 1968 to mark the 300th anniversary of Sweden’s central bank, and first awarded in 1969.
‘Symbolic rent’: Seattle residents pay reparations to Native American tribe
Donors to the Duwamish tribe applaud during a thank you ceremony at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Centre in Seattle, USA. Reuters
SEATTLE : Every month, business coach Maggie Karshner makes three rent payments: one for her apartment, another for her office and the third to the Duwamish tribe. The Duwamish are an indigenous group of about 700 people whose ancestral lands include what is now present-day Seattle, a city named after their former chief. They gave up 54,000 acres (21,800 hectares) of land to the US government under the terms of an 1855 treaty but were never resettled onto a reservation, according to Jolene Haas, head of Duwamish Tribal Services. Not legally recognised as a Native American group by the government, the Duwamish have been rendered a so-called “landless tribe” that does not benefit from federal assistance to indigenous people, she added. In an effort to fill that gap, Karshner is one of more than 2,700 people in greater Seattle who choose to make a monthly contribution through a grassroots initiative called Real Rent Duwamish. The project is part of a growing movement of individuals, groups and businesses across the country who are voluntarily making up for unpaid reparations. For Karshner, whose ancestors settled in Washington state in the 19th century, the $12 she pays every month is a small but symbolic gesture to atone for the role her family had in expropriating indigenous land. “My family history is one of taking Native people’s land repeatedly,” she said. “Even though I didn’t do that, I know that some of what my family used to send me to college came from the benefits my family got from that.” Real Rent Duwamish celebrates its second anniversary on Oct 14, the federal Columbus Day holiday. Some local jurisdictions, including Seattle, have redesignated it as Indigenous Peoples’ Day to reflect that Native Americans were living on the continent before Christopher Columbus’ 15th century arrival. In September, about 50 “real renters” gathered for a thank-you ceremony inside the Duwamish tribe’s longhouse, a graceful cedar building located near a former traditional Duwamish village turned industrial site.Tribal members sang, played drums and lifted their hands, a traditional gesture of gratitude. They served salmon and frybread to their guests, whose donations have so far helped pay for upgrades to the tribe’s headquarters, the development of materials to teach their history in schools and the hiring of extra staff, said Haas. “The contributions that Real Rent has given to the Duwamish tribe have been significant,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, declining to reveal how much in total has been donated so far. “It’s given us a level of stability that the tribe hasn’t seen in a very long time and really elevated our tribe’s presence here in Seattle.” The ongoing struggle to secure federal recognition for the tribe was a major motivator for Patrick Tefft, one of the original organisers of the Real Rent campaign. “Since the federal government refuses to do the right thing and live by its own words of the Treaty of Point Elliott (of 1855) ... this is an opportunity for myself and others to play a local role and impact on a grassroots level,” said Tefft. He said he pays $18.55 monthly in honour of the treaty.Working with the Duwamish has changed the very notion of land ownership for Tefft, who owns a house in Seattle with his husband. The couple, who have no children, are considering leaving their property to the tribe in their will. “Is it our duty - or certainly our option - to potentially turn land that is currently privately owned back to the collective, back to the local indigenous (people)?” Tefft asked at the celebratory luncheon. The US Bureau of Indian Affairs did not respond to several requests for comment.In July, it announced that it would not reconsider its 2015 decision to deny recognition to the Duwamish, when it said there was a “lack of evidence concerning the continuous existence of a ‘distinct American-Indian community’ and ‘tribal political influence or authority’”. The idea of people reaching into their own pockets to pay reparations is slowly gaining steam across the continent.The organisers of some small-scale events like concerts in New York and Oregon have asked white patrons to pay extra to help cover the costs for people of colour who were attending. In April, students at the prestigious Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. voted to increase tuition fees to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans who were sold by the school’s Jesuit administrators in 1838.
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Nepal Rastra Bank asks fund managers to enforce anti-money laundering laws
The central bank enforced the directive aiming to extend anti-money laundering measures to non-banking sectors too.
- RAJESH KHANAL
KATHMANDU : Nepal Rastra Bank has asked state-owned Employees Provident Fund, Citizen Investment Trust and Postal Savings Bank to enforce anti-money laundering measures. The central bank issued the directive to implement anti-money laundering laws at government operated fund managers to prevent transfers of illegally acquired money in accordance with a Cabinet decision. “The law needed to be implemented at these institutions too as they manage huge amounts of money collected from civil servants and private sector employees,” said an anonymous official. The Employees Provident Fund extended its services to employees of private companies too after Parliament passed the necessary piece of legislation in 2014. According to the fund, it provides provident fund services to more than 600,000 clients including government employees. Among them, around 166,000 are employees from the private sector. The Citizen Investment Trust manages the retirement fund, gratuity and pension and insurance funds of various organisations. It currently holds deposits totalling more than Rs111 billion. The Postal Savings Bank holds deposits amounting to more than Rs1 billion, collected particularly from rural areas of the country. The central bank enforced the directive aiming to extend anti-money laundering measures to non-banking sectors too. “It will enable these institutions to act as an oversight agency to check black money transactions in their concerned areas,” said the source. Nepal Rastra Bank has asked government operated fund managers to devise working guidelines under headings such as internal responsibility and work divisions, risk-based evaluation system and procedures and identification and follow up of risk-based customers and suspicious transactions. Under the provision, these organisations have to prepare lists of high ranking government officials and their family members so that they can carry out instant enquiries in case any transaction made by them looks suspicious. They need to update the overall customer lists annually based on the degree of risk. The central bank has asked the fund managers to report to the Financial Information Unit if an individual carries out transactions of more than Rs1 million either physically or electronically from abroad. If the transaction is done in foreign currency, the upper limit has been fixed at an amount equivalent to Rs500,000. “For each of these transactions, a separate threshold transaction reporting is mandatory,” the central bank said in the directive. Nepal is now in the process of fulfilling compliance of anti-money laundering to report to the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a regional anti-money laundering watchdog of the Financial Action Task Force. The watchdog body is scheduled to conduct mutual evaluation of Nepal through peer review next year. According to the 2016 Basel Anti-Money Laundering Index, Nepal was ranked in the 12th position globally with a risk score of 7.57, showing the country at high risk of money laundering. With the evaluation time approaching, the government has been asking the concerned agencies to enforce the related laws to check black money transfers. Under the government plan, it has targeted to create as many oversight agencies as possible to implement risk-based supervision of the areas under their jurisdiction. According to the Department of Money Laundering Investigation, around three dozen government agencies have started implementing anti-money laundering laws.
Shopkeepers fined for refusing to cooperate with inspection teams
- KRISHANA PRASAIN
KATHMANDU : Shopkeepers who refused to cooperate with government monitoring teams when they came to conduct market inspections have each been fined Rs20,000 to Rs50,000, the Department of Commerce, Supply and Consumer Protection Management said. Among the disobedient merchants were storekeepers at Ranjana Mall, New Road and BG Mall, Gongabu. While the traders at Ranjana Mall besieged the inspection team and prevented them from doing their work, storeowners at BG Mall pulled down their shutters and fled at the arrival of the officials. Yogendra Gauchan, director general of the department, said that four garment shops at Ranjana Mall were fined Rs50,000 each for violating government rules. “Seven stores at BG Mall were fined Rs20,000 each for not cooperating with the market inspection team,” said Gauchan. The department conducted market inspections at the shopping malls from September 26-October 5 in a bid to prevent business malpractices during the annual Dashain shopping binge. Apart from edibles, readymade garments are the fastest selling items during the festive season. “The traders have a disobedient attitude and think they can do whatever they want,” said Gauchan, adding that clothing stores, in particular, overcharge their customers when there is high demand for their products. The Black Market and Other Social Offence and Penalty Act allows traders to add a 20 percent mark-up, unscrupulous traders hike prices arbitrarily during the festival rush. Similar incidents occurred when authorities swooped on shops on Durbar Marg in the past. This year the department concentrated on shops selling garments, food items, vegetables and meat and business malls, and did not check outlets on Durbar Marg, Gauchan said. According to him, they collected fines totalling Rs1.16 million in the Kathmandu Valley when they conducted inspections during the 10-day period before Dashain. Government teams collected fines amounting to Rs425,000 from diners on Prithvi Highway. “Among the 21 roadside eateries that were checked, 12 were penalised for overcharging customers, selling substandard products and failing to maintain proper hygiene,” said Gauchan. According to the department, it collected fines totalling Rs3.33 million during market inspections in the past two months. Among the 522 business outlets officials checked, 210 were fined on the spot. The department said it was preparing to renew market inspections before the approaching Tihar festival. “We will conduct aggressive market monitoring for the festival in the next few days,” he said. Sweets, dried fruits, fresh fruits, electric lights, decorative items, readymade garments and fresh flowers are among the fastest selling products during Tihar.
Shares in state-run Indian Railways soar on Mumbai debut
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
MUMBAI : Shares in the catering and ticketing arm of state-run Indian Railways more than doubled in value after its debut on Mumbai’s Sensex stock exchange on Monday, as New Delhi looks to raise funds and kickstart a stuttering economy. Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp (IRCTC), which has a monopoly on online ticket sales, enjoyed a massive initial public offering that was oversubscribed nearly 112 times. Shares opened at 644 rupees, peaking at 743.80 rupees before ending at 728.60 rupees—127 percent higher than the issue price of 320 rupees. Analysts say Monday’s performance, while not in line with valuations of other public sector IPOs this year, offers hope to India’s beleaguered government, which is aiming to raise 800 billion rupees this fiscal year after announcing a cut in the corporate tax rate. They added that the huge demand was in part caused by the small number of shares released by the government, and by how well-known the IRCTC is in India, home to one of the world’s largest rail networks. “The shares are riding on unsustainable speculative expectations,” founder of Mumbai-based Equinomics Research and Advisory Private Limited, G. Chokkalingam, told AFP. “There will be course correction, hence government should offload more and generate revenue rather than letting speculators reap the benefits.” Asia’s third-largest economy has been in the throes of a prolonged slowdown, with growth rates falling to five percent in the June-ended quarter as consumer demand shrinks. The automobile sector, often seen as a barometer of economic health, reported a sales slowdown for the eleventh month in September as major manufacturers including Ashok Leyland and Mahindra & Mahindra halted production. Earlier this month ratings agency Moody’s revised the country’s GDP growth forecast to 5.8 percent for the financial year 2019-20, lower than the 6.1 percent predicted by India’s central bank.Besides online ticketing, IRCTC also operates a catering service and sells packaged drinking water and tourism holiday packages.India’s colonial-era railway system has long struggled to cope with the demands placed on it by millions of daily passengers and suffers from massive underfunding.Following the market listing, the Indian government owns an 87.4 percent stake in the company.
Tuborg Open Sessions puts new spin on Baskota’s Maajhi
- Post Report
The second rendition of Tuborg Open Sessions, a YouTube series featuring live studio-recorded performances by renowned artists premiered with the song ‘Maajhi’ by lyricist, composer and singer Kali Prasad Baskota. “Baskota opened Season 2 narrating a tale of hope, despair, fate and destiny,” said the organisers. “The artists’ soulful voice submerged in a soothing tune of the flute has brought the song to life while lighting up the Open Session stage in grace and melody.” Maajhi (fisherman) is a piece written by Baskota for the movie Purano Dunga. Prominent Music Producer and Arranger, Rohit Shakya has put a new spin on the song in the second season of Open Sessions. “Tuborg Open Sessions Season 2 by Tuborg and Channel Arbitrary will continue to serve the celebration of Nepali musicians and bring them together with some musical surprises and hits,” said organisers.
Electricity authority looking for new contractor to build transmission line
- PRAHLAD RIJAL
post file photo
KATHMANDU : The Nepal Electricity Authority has invited global bids for the construction of the 220 kV Hetauda-Bharatpur power line, four months after terminating the deal with the original contractor for poor performance. The state-owned power utility is the implementing agency for the multimillion-dollar Nepal-India Electricity Transmission and Trade Project, of which the 74-kilometre Hetauda-Bharatpur transmission line is a component. “The contractor will be required to commission the transmission line within 15 months from the date of the agreement, and it must have experience in installing and commissioning 220 kV or higher voltage lines of at least 75 kilometres in length,” said the Nepal Electricity Authority. “The deadline for submitting bids is November 18.” Last May, the Nepal Electricity Authority terminated the contract with Indian company ICOMM Tele and confiscated the $3.57 million performance deposit. The Nepal Electricity Authority and ICOMM Tele had entered into an agreement in 2011 to construct the Hetauda-Bharatpur transmission line at a cost of around $10 million with the completion date set for 2016. The Indian company had erected only 119 pylons out of the required 226 even after the completion deadline had been extended to 2018, which prompted the Nepal Electricity Authority to cancel the contract. The power line scheme, with an estimated cost of $182 million, is being built with a $99 million concessional loan from the World Bank’s International Development Association and government funding. The multilateral lending agency, which has termed the project’s progress moderately satisfactory, had disbursed $84.38 million as of September 2019. As per the World Bank, the closing date for the original project and additional financing was first extended from December 31, 2016 to June 30, 2018, taking into consideration disruptive impacts caused by the earthquake in 2015 and trade disruption in 2016. And owing to delays caused by firing of multiple contractors, the deadline was extended for the third time with the closing date set for April 30, 2020. The transmission and trade project, to which the government has also accorded priority in this fiscal year’s budget, has five components including a 288-kilometre 400 kV Hetauda-Dhalkebar-Inaruwa transmission line, 220 kV substations in Dhalkebar, Hetauda and Inaruwa, and a 140-kilometre 220 kV Hetauda-Bharatpur-Bardaghat transmission line. According to an official close to the situation, delays in work execution has vexed World Bank officials. They told Province 3 Chief Minister Dormani Paudel and the power utility’s Managing Director Kulman Ghising during a meeting that the agency would not extend the project beyond April 2020 as it had ‘hit the limitation’. “Due to poor work execution by previous contractors for all segments of the project and delays in selecting a new contractor, the project is unlikely to meet the deadline set by the donor,” said the official. In June 2017, the state-owned power utility also terminated the contract with Chinese contractor Central China Power Grid International Economic & Trade Co for poor performance on the Bharatpur-Bardaghat portion of the 220 kV power line and three 220 kV substations in Hetauda, Dhalkebar and Inaruwa. Out of the three substations, the Dhalkebar substation came into operation in August 2018, through which the electricity authority has been importing 250 megawatts from India. After ending the contract with Central China Power Grid, the project entered into a new contract with a consortium of Siemens and Telmos Electronics who are working to finish the construction of the substations at Hetauda and Inaruwa. According to the World Bank, the objectives of the Nepal-India Electricity Transmission and Trade Project are to establish cross-border transmission capacity between India and Nepal of about 1,000 megawatt to facilitate electricity trade between the two countries and increase the supply of electricity in Nepal through sustainable power imports. The transmission lines and substations are being built to synchronise Nepal’s power system with India to facilitate electricity trade between Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
Poor results in successive tournaments a reality check
Nepal fared badly in the five-nation series and the Twenty20 Asia Regional Qualifiers in which they were favourites to win.
- Sailendra Adhikari
A file photo shows Nepal’s national cricket team entering the pitch for their match against the Netherlands in Muscat, Oman.Photo courtesy: raman shiwakoti
Kathmandu : Nepal were favourites in the ICC World Twenty20 Asia Regional Qualifiers in Singapore. A victory there would have secured their berth in the Global Qualifier and opened doors to the Twenty20 World Cup in 2020. Instead, the team lost their opening match against Qatar and despite recovering to beat Malaysia and Kuwait in their next two matches, Nepal were well beaten by hosts Singapore in their ultimate match of the series which required a mandatory win. Nepal had expected to take part in the Twenty20 World Cup finals in 2020 after their first appearance back in 2014. Nepal’s participation in the recently concluded five-nation series was confirmed by August and was planned as part of preparations for the Global Qualifier. But having missed the Global Qualifier after finishing third in the Twenty20 Asia Regional Qualifiers, Nepal’s participation in the tournament merely became a formality than it was originally intended for. But here too, Nepal’s performance once again dwindled as they finished third after two wins and two defeats. In both of these two tournaments, one particular department that has come under scrutiny is the batting. Nepal were bowled out for 122 by Qatar and 109 by Singapore in their final Twenty20 Asia Regional Qualifiers match while the department has been plagued with major concerns in other matches as well. One particular result that showed the batting frailties came in their last match of the five-nation series against hosts Oman. Nepal were bowled out for a meagre 64 before suffering a six-wicket defeat. Former national cricket team player Dipendra Chaudhary believes such results of the team were forthcoming though a lot of people did not predict them. He said the level of cricket in Nepal has certainly risen than in the past but has remained stagnant. “We have remained stuck in the same stage for too long now. Take Oman for an example, it was hard to think that we would lose against Oman. But they have improved their game and defeated us in quite a style,” said Chaudhary. “The strides Oman have made in the past four or so years in cricket can be a lesson for others.” Chaudhary says the preparation for the Twenty20 Asia Regional Qualifiers could have been better. “We prepared against a weak team as part of our preparations. We should have played against a strong team which would expose our shortcomings and help identify our rooms for improvement. Preparing for a short span of time and playing against a weak team will not help the squad,” said Chaudhary. “That combined with poor batting led to the defeat,” he added. Chaudhary also believes that the current players are insecure about their place in the national team. “There are a lot of players coming and going. It is good to bring new faces but changing too often destabilises a squad. This has led to the downfall in players’ confidence,” he said. However, former national team coach Jagat Tamata and current U-19 team head coach Binod Das think not all is doomed for Nepali cricket. Das admits the fact that the players failed to play to their potential but was quick to note that the inclusion of new players would help in building a team for the future. “The tournaments provided an opportunity for the new players. Yes, we did not play well but we should also consider that our opponents were really good and outperformed us,” said Das. He added the current crop of players needed proper nurturing to bring the best out of them. “Our players need more exposure. We should also improve our domestic structure,” he said. “It will take time but we can do better.” Tamata, the current head coach of the women’s cricket team, also believes that lack of domestic tournament is holding Nepali cricket back. “It was unfortunate that our cricket association was suspended and it has taken a toll on our domestic front. Lack of domestic tournaments will not develop new players,” said Tamata. Tamata says the poor batting performance in recent tournaments was largely due to the inclusion of new faces who were not able to grasp the opportunity provided to them. “They are young and developing. That is why our batting was poor. But it will improve,” he said. Tamata said the combination of young blood and experienced players in recent tournaments has provided a good platform for the players to make a name for themselves. “It is good to rest more experienced players and start with new ones. It will help the youngsters to become responsible while playing. And understanding your responsibility will help you and your team win matches,” he said.
Poland, Russia through to Euro finals as Germany, Netherlands close in
Russia thrashed 10-man Cyprus 5-0, Poland saw off North Macedonia 2-0.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Russia’s Denis Cheryshev (second left) celebrates with teammates after scoring his side’s fifth goal against Cyprus in Nicosia on Sunday.AP/RSS
PARIS : Poland and Russia secured their places at Euro 2020 on Sunday with victories over North Macedonia and Cyprus respectively, while Germany and the Netherlands boosted their hopes of reaching the finals. Russia eased to a 5-0 thrashing of 10-man Cyprus, with Poland joining them, Belgium and Italy in qualifying this week by seeing off North Macedonia 2-0. Stanislav Cherchesov’s Russia, who reached the World Cup quarter-finals on home soil last year, only had to avoid defeat in Nicosia to follow Belgium in qualifying from Group ‘I’. Valencia winger Denis Cheryshev fired in a ninth-minute opener for the visitors, before Magomed Ozdoev made it two midway through the first half. Any thoughts of a Cyprus comeback were ended in just the 28th minute when Kostas Laifis was dismissed for a nasty lunge on Russian full-back Sergei Petrov. Striker Artem Dzyuba scored his third goal in two games in the 79th minute, before Aleksandr Golovin and Cheryshev’s second completed the rout late on. The European Championship finals, which start on June 12 next year, are being held at 12 different venues across the continent, including Saint Petersburg in Russia. Poland went into their game against North Macedonia knowing victory would punch their ticket for the Euros. They were forced to be patient by the visitors, who could qualify through the playoffs after winning their Nations League group if they fail to do so automatically. But Przemyslaw Frankowski prodded home less than 60 seconds after coming on as a substitute in the 74th minute, before Akardiusz Milik made the points safe. Poland remain three points clear of Austria, who won 1-0 in Slovenia, at the top of Group ‘G’. Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands remained at the top of Group ‘C’ ahead of Germany on head-to-head record with a nervy 2-1 win over Belarus in Minsk. The Dutch lead third-placed Northern Ireland by three points after beating Michael O’Neill’s side 3-1 on Thursday. Georginio Wijnaldum headed the away team in front in the 32nd minute. The midfielder doubled the advantage before the break with a 25-yard strike, and although Stanislav Dragun gave Belarus hope early in the second half, the Netherlands held on. “We have to do better than we did in the second half, although in the end we had things under control,” Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk said. “We are now very close to qualifying for the finals, and ultimately that’s what counts.” Victory in Belfast over the Northern Irish next month would secure the Oranje a first appearance at a major tournament since finishing third at the 2014 World Cup. Germany eased to a 3-0 victory in Estonia despite seeing Emre Can sent off early. Ilkay Gundogan scored twice, with Timo Werner also finding the net. Germany host Northern Ireland in their final game, which could decide second place. “We had to regroup after the red card, the team did well after the break,” said Loew.
ICC readmits Cricket Association of Nepal
The game’s world governing body has yet to reveal conditions set for CAN’s reinstatement.
- Sports Bureau
Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers (left) is tackled by Artie Burns of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second quarter during their National Football League match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, on Sunday.AFP/RSS
Kathmandu : The International Cricket Council, the cricket world governing body, has lifted a ban it had imposed on the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) in April 2016, on a conditional basis. According to a media release issued by the International Cricket Council (ICC) after its board meeting in Dubai on Monday, memberships of Nepal and Zimbabwe “have been reinstated”. “Nepal has also been reinstated on a conditional basis following their 2016 suspension for breach of the ICC regulations which prohibit government interference and require free and fair elections,” states the release. “The election of the 17-member Central Working Committee for the CAN was completed earlier this month and paved the way for the re-admittance of the CAN.” The apex international cricket body, however, has stopped short of making public the conditions. It said that a transition plan would be made for Nepal in addition to controlled funding. “Given the progress made in Nepal, a transition plan will now be developed for the Cricket Association of Nepal to support full compliance with Associate Membership criteria, which will also involve controlled funding,” the release has quoted ICC Chairman Shashank ICC had suspended CAN on April 2016 citing dual existence of the cricket governing body in Nepal and government interference in the election. Nepali cricket has long been in crisis after a faction of the previous CAN committee led by Tanka Aangbuhang held its general assembly and subsequently went on to the polls without the support of the National Sports Council (NSC), the country’s main sports governing body. The Council had refused to give legitimacy to the new body under now newly elected President Chatur Bahadur Chand, which was formed on December 15, 2015, following a controversial mid-night election that was not contested by then CAN president Aangbuhang and his faction. The Sports Council, in February had formed an ad-hoc committee under Ramesh Silwal which prompted ICC to suspend CAN. Later, ICC had formed an advisory committee in 2016 entrusting it with the responsibility of drafting a new statute of Nepal’s cricket governing body and facilitating a fresh election. The new statute was unanimously approved by CAN in April 2018. ICC had formed the Independent Committee in July last year and tasked with overseeing the elections of districts and provinces under the newly adopted statute. The election process of districts and provinces concluded earlier this month. ICC and NSC had jointly announced the date of the election on September 15.
Clueless Nepal to vie with positive mindset against Jordan
Nepal had suffered a 9-0 humiliation in Amman at the World Cup Qualifiers back in 2011 but had held the West Asian nation to a 1-1 draw at home.
- Binod Pandey
A file photo of Nepali national football players Nawayug Shrestha (left) and Bimal Gharti Magar during a training session in Australia. Post Photo: hemanta shrestha
Amman : Jordan is not a familiar opponent for Nepal in international football. However, the name has been carved into the memories of the ardent followers of Nepali football as Nepal had contrasting results against the West Asian nation. Having suffered a 9-0 demolition in the away fixture of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers back in 2011, Nepal held Jordan for a 1-1 draw in a rain-affected reverse fixture in their own backyard as Bharat Khawas became the first Nepali player to score against a nation placed within top 100 in the FIFA rankings as Jordan back then were 91st in the world. As Nepal takes on Jordan yet again on Tuesday, the matches played eight years ago could be of some reference. The 9-0 defeat remains as Nepal’s worst loss in a decade and a half. Nepali squad misses Khawas this time around while the playing surface will not be as dilapidated as the one at then Dashrath Stadium. As it appears, the team appears clueless regarding what to expect from Jordan almost a decade later from the humiliation. The team does not have anything to lose and Nepal head coach Johan Kalin has no blushes to hide. Kalin says, “We believe in our playing style, standards and strategies. We will try and give our best and hope for a good game.” Jordan are the second-highest ranked team after Australia that Nepal are playing against in the joint qualifiers. While Nepal are placed 161st in the FIFA rankings, Jordan are 64 places above their South Asian rivals. In the three matches played so far, Nepal have won just one as their 2-0 win against Taiwan was the first-ever away win at World Cup Qualifiers. Nepal’s opponents for Tuesday, Jordan, however, have failed to play at their level and Nepal would aim to reap benefits from the same. The second-half performance in the match against the Socceroos have given some respite to Team Nepal as they aim to carry on the momentum and upset Jordan at their home. Jordan, similar to Kuwait and Australia boast players that are physically taller and stronger in relative comparison to Nepal and are certain to have the advantage of home conditions and support of their fans. In the matches played nine years ago, Jordan took advantage of their physical strength and played more air balls to cause complications for Nepal’s defense. The clash against Jordan is Nepal’s last away match of the group stage as the country’s only international football venue; the Dashrath Stadium is undergoing renovation. The stadium is expected to be prepared before the South Asian Games scheduled between December 1-10 in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Nepal will then play all of their home matches following completion of the stadium. Speaking ahead of the clash against Jordan, Nepal captain Kiran Chemjong says, “It is a tough back to back match following a long journey from Australia. Obviously, we are going to play for a win. We will follow the strategy of the coach for a victory. The coach has been formulating different strategies for matches against different teams so far, but he has taken Jordan and Kuwait as equals.” On his performance against Australia, Chemjong adds: “I am satisfied with my performance against Australia, but after every match, I feel that I could have done better for my country and the team. Everyone appreciated performance, but I feel guilty for a few errors.” On the crushing defeat against Jordan nine years ago, Chemjong shares, “Jordan are a strong side, there is no second thought in that. We have already played with them. Away match against a strong side is always a challenge. The previous 9-0 drubbing did hurt all of us. We will try our level best to fight with Jordan and avenge the defeat. A lot has changed in the past 8 years; we have many new faces in the team, so we are focusing on the present.”
We have nothing to lose: Kalin
Nepal are set to play their fourth away match of the FIFA World Cup and Asia Cup Joint Qualifiers against Jordan on Tuesday, eight years after a 9-0 drubbing in their backyard. Nepal have suffered large margin defeats against Kuwait and Australia while securing a 2-0 win against Taiwan in their last three matches. The Post’s Binod Pandey caught up with Nepal’s head coach Johan Kalin in Amman ahead of their clash against Jordan. The edited excerpts.
What has the preparation been like after the Australia match? It was a long travel from Australia after the match. We did an easy session upon arrival with some easy jogging and stretching. The next day, we did a normal training. The team is going through a longer training session a day before the match. We are trying to get the bodies in order and repeating some small bits and pieces from our basic play.
This is our last away match in this stage of the tournament, how do you see it? In all our games, we had nothing to lose. All the opponents in the group are better ranked than us. We play away yet again and we know that Jordan is a very strong team. Some of their players are really very good. However, we trust our ideas. Hopefully, we can do something good but it will require our best game.
Nepal recovered in the second half against Australia, what did it take? We can see progress in our performance game by game. It is natural to have setbacks at times, that’s normal. The performance graph doesn’t always a straight line, heading upwards. The early part of the match against Australia was a nightmare, to be honest, something we did not want. However, the boys came back strong, they did not concede a lot of space in the central area as the game progressed. We indeed had troubles in set-pieces and crosses. Australians had the physical advantage as they were taller and stronger boasting experience in top leagues around the world. They are far ahead of us as the FIFA ranking makes it evident. Their passing game and technical aspects were strong. But at that level, it is the basic thing. It was a good performance despite the fact that we lost the game by five goals. If we are to compare our performances in recent time, it is easy to see the progress.
Any changes in the team for the match against Jordan? Bishal Rai is injured and out of the squad. He had some problems high up in the calf even before heading to Australia. However, he got better and was okay before the game, but the pain started coming back. We will check him up when we get back (to Kathmandu). We can’t be sure about his return yet, but I don’t think it’s a big deal, he will probably remain out for a week. I am not sure about his replacement yet but will consider the balance in the team as we do have alternatives.
Nepal is halfway in the qualifiers, what is your opinion about the current state of the points table? I think it’s pretty much as expected. We knew it would be really hard. All the teams are playing quality football and therefore it is a great opportunity for us to be playing at this level and the tournament. Nepal is not used to playing against such high standard teams, both in terms of playing style and quality, except for the South Asian nations, therefore, it is a big difference. Taiwan was a good game but Australia was just okay. Point wise, three points from three difficult away matches are satisfactory. Of course, we want to snatch points against Jordan, taking away all three points would even be better. We can be pretty pleased with the performance so far as we are taking small steps in becoming a better team.
Last time Nepal played Jordan, it was a 9-0 drubbing. Is it going to affect the performance now? I think everybody in Nepali football knew about the special circumstances of the game in 2011. Not everybody knows, but the match was surrounded by suspicions. It was a long time ago and such collapses happen even with top teams of the world, we all saw Brazil collapsing against Germany. It’s hard for me to say, but the standard was different back then. Jordan has a better league, they play quality football. Looking at them today, their players play at top leagues in Europe. However, I don’t think the players think about the game which was played eight years ago.
Griffin holds on to win Houston Open by one stroke
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
LOS ANGELES : Six years ago, Lanto Griffin had less $200 in his bank account, so he decided to caddie for his friend and fellow pro golfer Willy Wilcox. The move paid off as the pair became a successful team and Griffin was able to replenish his savings and continue his dream of playing full-time on the PGA Tour. Fast forward to Sunday as the 31-year-old Griffin claimed his maiden PGA title, two-putting 18 to close with a three-under 69 and win the Houston Open by one stroke. “I just knew that even if I made bogey I would still have a job out here next year,” said Griffin, of Mount Shasta, California. “I am so proud of the way I hung in there.” Griffin came into the fourth round with a one shot lead and made five birdies on Sunday to finish with a 14-under 274. He told his mother, Julie, that he would buy her a new car if he won this week — and after earning $1.3 million in first-place prize money, he will make good on that promise. “There’s too many people (to thank). My entire team,” said Griffin, who lost his father when he was 12 to brain cancer. China’s Zhang Xinjun and Austria’s Sepp Straka were part of a group of five who tied for fourth. Zhang shot 66, Straka a 69 to finish at 11-under along with Harris English (66), Talor Gooch (69) and Carlos Ortiz (69). Griffin is the only player to finish in the top 20 in every PGA Tour tournament since the new season and now leads the FedEx Cup standings. Griffin, who earned a two year exemption on the Tour with his win, was forced to play on the lower Korn Ferry Tour last year in an attempt to earn his PGA card. On Sunday, he was locked in a battle in the back nine. He drained a 33 foot birdie putt on No. 16 to take the lead. He also made a par save on the 14th hole and two-putted up a ridge on 17 for another clutch par. “I just felt calm. I don’t know why,” said Griffin of his first win. Stewart Cink closed with a 69 to finish in a tie for ninth at 10-under 278.
Former India skipper Sourav Ganguly poised to become cricket board chief
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
NEW DELHI : Former India captain Sourav Ganguly is poised to take over as the president of the country’s cricket board as nominations close Monday for elections to the game’s wealthiest and most powerful body. Ganguly, 47, emerged as the only candidate for the top post after a meeting in Mumbai on Sunday, a Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) source told AFP. One of the most successful national captains in the sport, Ganguly retired from Test cricket in 2008 having accumulated 7,212 runs. Last month he was re-elected president of the Cricket Association of Bengal. Brijesh Patel, a former India batsman and experienced administrator, is likely to become chairman of the Indian Premier League, the board’s lucrative Twenty20 competition. Jay Shah, son of India’s home minister Amit Shah, is tipped for the secretary’s post. Monday was the last day for filing nominations before BCCI elections are held on October 23. Cricket’s massive popularity in India has helped the BCCI become the wealthiest of all of the sport’s national boards, racking in large sums of money from sponsorship and TV deals. But it has also been embroiled in legal battles and a series of scandals, including accusations of corruption and match-fixing in the IPL. Ganguly told the Press Trust of India news agency Monday that his priority as president would be to polish BCCI’s image. “I am taking over at a time when BCCI has not been in greatest of position for the last three years. Its image has got hampered quite a lot. It’s a great opportunity for me to do something good,” he said. “Financially, India is a cricketing powerhouse, so it will be a challenge,” Ganguly added. India, the world’s number one-ranked Test team, is currently playing a home Test series against South Africa.
South Africa urge supporters to be patient after heavy defeats in India Test
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
South Africa’s Keshav Maharaj (right) celebrates with his teammates after dismissing India’s Ajinkya Rahane during their Test match on Friday. AP/RSS
JOHANNESBURG : South African cricket officials on Monday urged the country’s supporters to be patient with their struggling Test side after two heavy defeats in India. The Proteas, rebuilding after the retirement of several senior players, were outplayed in every aspect of both Tests so far. India clinched the three-match series when they won the second Test in Pune by an innings and 137 runs on Sunday. It followed an equally punishing 203-run win in the first Test in Visakhapatnam. “It was always going to be a difficult challenge taking on the top team in the world — certainly under their own conditions — at a time when we have introduced a new team structure,” said Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe. CSA fired previous coach Ottis Gibson and the selection panel following a poor World Cup campaign earlier this year and introduced a new structure, to be headed by a team director who would be responsible for all team matters who would report to a director of cricket. Enoch Nkwe, a former player with a modest first-class career and a single, successful season as a franchise coach, was appointed to the team director role in an interim capacity, while former international player Corrie van Zyl was appointed acting director of cricket and interim convener of selectors. Moroe also pointed to the number of top players who played a big role in making South Africa one of the top sides in the world. “In the past two years we have had to bid farewell to some of the great names of international cricket such as AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn who between them played nearly 450 Test matches for the Proteas,” said Moroe. “You don’t replace that kind of experience overnight and we need to give a new generation time to settle.” Moroe said he was confident that a young South African team would reward their supporters with improved performances during a home series against England in December and January. “These are exciting times for South African cricket with new names and faces coming to the fore. Our talent pipeline has produced the likes of Aiden Markram, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Zubayr Hamza over the last few years and our development systems are clearly in good shape,” he said. Former Test batsman and current Cape Cobras franchise coach Ashwell Prince responded to widespread criticism of the team on Twitter by pointing out the difficulties of coping with conditions away from home. “I know we didn’t play well and it seems all doom and gloom,” Prince said on Twitter. “However, I do feel that people don’t really appreciate how tough it is to win away series especially in conditions that’s foreign to your own. “India for example, despite touring SA with batting line-ups that included the likes of (Virender) Sehwag, (Rahul) Dravid, (Sachin)Tendulkar, (VVS) Laxman, (Sourav) Ganguly, (MS) Dhoni, have never won a series in SA.” But Prince added cryptically that there were “serious issues” in South African cricket that needed to be resolved. “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on da bus,” tweeted Prince.
South Korea depart to North for World Cup qualifier
BEIJING: South Korean footballers departed for Pyongyang on Monday to play a World Cup qualifier against North Korea amid deadlocked talks over the North’s nuclear arsenal. The teams — with Tottenham’s star forward Son Heung-min included in the South Korean squad — are expected to face each other at the Kim Il Sung Stadium on Tuesday. This will be the first competitive men’s game between the two sides to be held in Pyongyang, and has raised hopes for new momentum in ties between the two Koreas. But Pyongyang refused to hold direct talks with Seoul on the logistics for the match, denying South Korean fans and journalists permission to travel with the team.
Australia’s Mitch Marsh injures bowling hand punching wall
PERTH: Australian Mitch Marsh was nervously waiting Monday to see how badly he has hurt his bowling hand after punching a dressing room wall in frustration during a weekend Sheffield Shield game. The Western Australia all-rounder, who was recalled to the Test side for the final game of the Ashes against England last month, was on his way to a big score Sunday against Tasmania when he was caught and bowled for 53. The match ended in a draw.
Gundogan, Can remove ‘likes’ from salute photo
BERLIN: German internationals Ilkay Gundogan and Emre Can, who both have Turkish roots, on Sunday deleted Instagram ‘likes’ of a photograph showing Turkey footballers performing a military salute, a gesture seen as supporting their country’s military offensive in Syria. Gundogan, who was lambasted on the eve of the 2018 World Cup for posing for pictures with teammate Mesut Ozil alongside Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdo-gan, said he deleted his post when he realised it was open to misinterpretation. The photograph in question showed Turkey players making a military salute in their 1-0 win over Alba-nia in Istanbul on Friday in response to country’s widely condemned offensive against Kurds. On Sun-day, Can also deleted his post. (Agencies)
Jeevan Ram Shrestha: My current focus is to make the 13th South Asian Games a grand success
The Nepal Olympic Committee chief on the ongoing preparations for the Games scheduled for December 1-10.
- Post Report
Parliamentarian Jeevan Ram Shrestha was re-elected as the president of the Nepal Olympic Committee last month for a second term. Shrestha, who was also appointed as the member secretary of the National Sports Council twice in the past, is among the handful of Nepali politicians considered to be well-versed on the domestic sports scene, and has been directly involved in Nepali sports for the past decade and a half. Shrestha previously served as the general secretary of the Nepal Olympic Committee for two terms before being elected as the chief. As Nepal is set to host the 13th South Asian Games from December 1 to 10, the Committee has a central role to play as a bridge between the visiting six teams of the sub continent and the organisers. The Post’s Prajwal Oli caught up with Shrestha to discuss the 13th South Asian Games, Nepali sports scene and his plans to develop sports in the country. This interview has been condensed for clarity.
The 13th South Asian Games, set to be hosted by Nepal, has been postponed three times in the past. How confident are you about holding the event on the scheduled date this time? I am very optimistic that the Games will be held on the scheduled date. The current date was finalised after intense discussions with the government of Nepal and Minister for Youth and Sports Daljit Sunar Bishwokarma. We also need to discuss the matter with, and take consent of the member associations of the South Asian Olympic Council. Also, it is the last possible date and the event cannot be pushed beyond this. As it is the third and the final date, none of the members are ready to postpone it again.
Who is to be blamed for the postponement of the event in the past, as it has definitely tarnished the image of the country at the international level? The postponement is directly associated with the government. It is the government that will get credit if the Games are held on time and in a proper fashion. And it is the government which has to take the blame for any weaknesses and flaws. The government is directly responsible for organising the Games as it comes under the respective country’s Olympic committees. The hosting right was awarded to Nepal at the Council meeting during the 12th South Asian Games (2016) and we made our claims only after discussions were held with the government and then Minister for Youth and Sports Satya Narayan Mandal as well as the respective unit of the Parliamentary Hearing Committee.But we were going through political instability and there were frequent government changes. We, however, had close ties with the government on matters related to the Games, including postponing the date for it. The new [third] date was also set after discussions with the current government and Council members.
What are the reasons you think contributed in postponing the event? Unstable government I think is the major reason for the postponement of the event. Lack of willpower and infrastructure is also to blame. But frequent changes in government and leadership in sports [Minister of Youth and Sports] before the election are mainly to be blamed for postponement of the Games. The game was not prioritised by the government and therefore it hampered the construction of the required infrastructure.
As a host, what will be the responsibility of Nepal in the Games? Nepal will be responsible for all aspects. Authorisation of games, maintaining standards, and giving validation to events [records] will come under the jurisdiction of the National Olympic Committee. As the Games is an international event being organised under the umbrella of the Olympic, the records will not only be valid at the South Asian level, but throughout the world. The other things including managing the Games, preparing, organising the event as per the international standards and ensuring a friendly environment for players are the responsibilities of the preparation committee [Government of Nepal]. Organising the Games at this scale is also associated with national identity and prestige. If we run the event in a well-managed and smooth manner, it will send across positive messages about the country globally.
We lack basic infrastructure for the Games, including the Olympic Village among others. How are we going to manage such issues? Looking at the international practices so far, mega events organised under the Olympic Umbrella such as Olympics and Asian Games [continental meets] have the practice of building the Olympic Village. In the context of the SA Games [sub continental sports meet], there is no such practice. There may be tentatively 4,000 visiting delegates for the Games but the exact number can only be estimated after completion of registrations. In the absence of a proper village, ensuring sound arrangement for accommodation that meets certain standards that’s similar to the village, will be key.
What are the major things we lack as hosts? And what can we do to improve? Our preparations have been delayed under various pretexts. We must gear up on vital issues on the organising part. It could be on infrastructure development, accommodation, transportation and deploying volunteers. In all, we are a bit slow and need to work on a war footing.
The National Sports Council got its leadership on July 6. Will the change affect Nepal’s preparations for SAG? I take the change in a positive light because the government quickly appointed a new member secretary immediately after the post was vacant. I think preparations of the Games will run more smoothly and in a well-managed way under the new member secretary because he is not a new face to Nepali sports.
The Budget Formation Task Force Committee of the SAG Preparation and Management Committee has proposed a huge budget of 5.26 billion. Are the enormous estimates practical? An event like South Asian Games is beneficial to us and we need not compare it in terms of monetary value. It is associated with national pride and the state should not consider the budget as massive. The event will also have multiple benefits. The Games is a tool to send across positive messages about the country which has gone through many ups and downs over the past decades. As the country was facing an internal conflict for a long time, successfully organising the event will definitely disseminate the message that Nepal is back to normal. This could in turn benefit the tourism industry in the country which is hosting ‘Visit Nepal Year 2020.’ The budget you are talking about is only an estimation. The actuals will be known only after all the committees for SA Games work out their financial parts minutely. The budget is prepared by a committee based on assumption and some of the aspects may also have been overlooked. The clear figure will be known only after all the committees start functioning. Moreover, it is a traditional concept that investing in sports is a waste. In fact, investments in sports is investment in human health. Along with urbanisation, human beings are facing new challenges for healthy living. Creating new sports infrastructures for such events will have positive impacts on physical and mental health of communities. The Games will also play an effective role to unite the country and various communities.
The primary duty of the Olympic Committee is to coordinate government bodies [National Sports Council and the Ministry of Youth and Sports] during international sports meets. How is the coordination so far? The coordination, so far, has been good. In a sports meets, like for example the South Asian Games, the executive head of the Sports Council has a bigger role to play. Until a few months ago, the entire Sports Council was busy organising the National Games and after that there was a kind of vacuum as the member secretary’s post remained vacant for two weeks. I reiterate that there is some delay in preparation of the Games. However, following the appointment of the new member secretary, works are under way in full swing. I hope the coordination and preparation work will gain momentum.
You are also a parliamentarian. What have your efforts been towards the betterment of Nepali sports? Parliament is a place to formulate necessary laws. I am also a member of the Parliamentary Committee of Youth, Sports, Education and Health. Our duty is to supervise whether the plans of the government are implemented and enquire the government. I was also the coordinator of the sports sub-committee under the Ministry of Youth and Sports. After conducting a study and holding discussions at the committee, we have prepared a report on how to develop Nepali sports, ensure the future of players and make sports result-oriented. We have also directed the Ministry of Youth and Sports to implement those suggestions. The new Sports Act is set to be introduced in the near future, but we are yet to inspect and see how the suggestions are being implemented.
What is your agenda and focus after being re-elected as the president of the Nepal Olympic Committee for a second term? I will try to give momentum to the Olympic movement throughout the country. My focus will also be to establish autonomy in sports associations and make the 13th South Asian Games a grand success.
There are 192 sports associations registered at the Sports Council, but only 27 member associations at Nepal Olympic Committee. Even many Olympic Games are not registered. You are blamed for issuing memberships only to those games that favour your constituency. Can you explain this? As per our norms, each sports association must represent an Olympic game and should be recognised by respective international federations for identification by the Nepal Olympic Committee. There are very few associations, like you said. Some associations have been recognised in my tenure and they shall be registered at the Nepal Olympic Committee, if they fulfill all the norms. There is not a single association that has been barred from getting membership of Nepal Olympic Committee due to [my] political reasons.