Schools shut as toxic smog hits Delhi

Author: 
Annie BANERJI | AFP
Wed, 2017-11-08 09:49
ID: 
1510126165023552000

NEW DELHI: Delhi shut all primary schools on Wednesday as pollution hit 70 times the World Health Organization’s safe level, prompting doctors in the Indian capital to warn of a public health emergency.
Dense grey smog shrouded the roads of the world’s most polluted capital, where many pedestrians and bikers wore masks or covered their mouths with handkerchiefs and scarves.
The US embassy website showed the concentration of PM 2.5 — the microscopic particles that are the most damaging to health — topped 700 early on Wednesday morning, 70 times the WHO guidelines on long-term exposure, before dropping slightly.
“When I came to Delhi in 1984, the air in the city was clean. But today when I left at 4 am for work I could barely see anything,” said Jeevanand Joshi, a roadside tea seller.
“This is not fog, this is smoke, and it is certainly making us sick.”
The Indian Medical Association declared a public health emergency, urging administrators to “curb this menace,” while the Environment Pollution Authority warned that things were set to get worse in the coming days.
As public outrage mounted, the Delhi government ordered the closure of all primary schools on Wednesday.
“We have decided to shut schools up to primary level for a day, and will evaluate the situation on an hourly basis to see if such a closure needs to be extended,” Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia told reporters.
Almost 2 million students are enrolled in primary schools in Delhi, according to government data from 2015.
All outdoor activities have also been banned across the capital’s 6,000 schools while pollution levels remain at severe levels.
The city of 20 million has the unenviable distinction of being the world’s most polluted major city, often surpassing Beijing.
Since 2014, when WHO figures showed the extent of the crisis, authorities in Delhi have closed power plants temporarily and experimented with taking some cars off the road.
But the temporary measures have so far had little effect.
Delhi’s air quality typically worsens ahead of the onset of winter as cooler air traps pollutants near the ground, preventing them from dispersing into the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as inversion.
High levels of moisture in the air and a lack of wind meant emissions had become trapped in the environment, according to India’s Central Pollution Control Board.
Firecrackers set off to celebrate the Diwali festival of lights in the city add to the toxic mix created by pollution from diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and industrial emissions.
The problem is further exacerbated by the burning of crop stubble by farmers after the harvest in northern India, a practice that remains commonplace despite an official ban.
On Tuesday India’s Environment Pollution Authority, which was set up by the Supreme Court to tackle the issue, ordered the closure of dust-spewing brick kilns and an increase in parking fees to encourage the use of public transport.
“In terms of air pollution, things are expected to get much worse in the coming days,” Bhure Lal, head of the agency, said in a statement late Tuesday.

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Trump warns North Korea’s ‘cruel dictatorship’

Author: 
Jerome CARTILLIER | AFP
Wed, 2017-11-08 08:49
ID: 
1510124691483485500

SEOUL: President Donald Trump warned the “cruel dictatorship” of North Korea against underestimating the United States Wednesday, but offered leader Kim Jong-Un a better future if he gives up his nuclear ambitions.
In an address to the South Korean parliament — the first by a US president for 24 years — Trump painted a dark picture of Pyongyang as an oppressive, despotic regime.
He called on the world to act, specifically singling out the North’s allies China — where he was headed for later Wednesday — and Russia.
“North Korea is a country ruled as a cult,” the US leader declared, a year to the day after his election victory.
“At the center of this military cult is a deranged belief in the leader’s destiny to rule as parent protector over a conquered Korean peninsula and an enslaved Korean people.”
Analysts said the criticisms could provoke a reaction from the North.
But South Korean lawmakers applauded as the US president, whose tour of Asia has been dominated by fears over the nuclear-armed North, vowed not to be intimidated and warned Pyongyang it should not test American resolve.
The North carried out its sixth nuclear test in September, by far its most powerful to date, and has fired dozens of missiles in recent months.
Two have overflown key US ally Japan, and Pyongyang says it can mount a nuclear warhead on a rocket with the US mainland within range.
“We will not permit America or our allies to be blackmailed or attacked,” Trump said, or “allow American cities to be threatened with destruction.”
Ahead of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping — whose country is responsible for about 90 percent of the North’s commerce — Trump called on the world to unite against the threat from Pyongyang.
“You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept,” he said, urging China and Russia to fully implement UN sanctions, downgrade diplomatic ties, and sever all trade and technology ties.

Earlier, Trump was forced to abandon a surprise visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas because of bad weather, leaving him “pretty frustrated” according to the White House.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who had flown earlier before fog closed in, was left waiting for him at a guard post on the border, which bristles with electric fences, minefields and anti-tank barriers.
In his speech, Trump described the DMZ as “the line that today divides the oppressed and the free,” where “the flourishing ends, and the prison state of North Korea sadly begins.”
The Kim dynasty has ruled the impoverished, isolated North with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult for three generations, showing no tolerance for political dissent.
The regime has for decades been criticized for a range of rights abuses including torture, rape and execution of perceived critics or those trying to flee the country.
It is also known to operate prison camps where hundreds of thousands languish under forced labor, and its 25 million people are barred from contact with the outside world such as foreign television or Internet access.
While Trump condemned the authorities, he also made overtures to leader Kim Jong-Un, who has overseen rapid advances in its weapons technology.
In what he said was a direct message to the country’s young leader, he told him: “The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer. They are putting your regime in great danger.
“North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned,” he went on. “It is a hell that no person deserves.”
“Yet despite every crime you have committed against God and man, we will offer a path toward a much better future.”
It would have to begin, though, with the North stopping ballistic missile development, Trump said, and “complete verifiable and total denuclearization.”
Analysts said the speech could go down badly in Pyongyang, which is particularly sensitive to criticism of its leaders.
Go Myong-Hyun, of the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul, said the open criticism of the realities in North Korea diminished the prospect of talks.
“The message he delivered was that the US will not open dialogue on North Korea’s terms,” he said.
Yang Moo-Jin from Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies said he was “very disappointed.”
“The first half seemed like a press conference given by a North Korean defector,” he said, while Trump’s message that the North’s nuclear program will not be tolerated was “nothing new.”
But labelling Kim a “cruel dictator” could be “enough to provoke North Korea because the North Korean system puts the most importance on the dignity of its leadership,” he said.
Ahead of the speech the North’s RodongSinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, condemned Trump’s visit, calling it “a deliberate scheme aimed at strengthening military threats against us and to light the fuse of nuclear war.”

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Axed Catalan leader slams EU for ‘helping’ Spanish PM

Author: 
Toni Cerda with Daniel Bosque in Barcelona | AFP
Wed, 2017-11-08 07:17
ID: 
1510124203973460700

BRUSSELS: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel are due to address lawmakers over the Catalan crisis on Wednesday after the deposed separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, urged the European Union to stop supporting a “coup” against his region.
On Tuesday Puigdemont slammed the European Union for backing Rajoy’s bid to quash Catalan secession, after calling on pro-independence parties to unite for next month’s regional election.
“Will you accept the result of the Catalan referendum or will you continue to help Mr.Rajoy in his coup d’etat?” Carles Puigdemont, who was dismissed by Madrid last month after the Catalan parliament declared unilateral independence, said in Brussels.
Puigdemont, who faces extradition on charges of rebellion and sedition, was speaking at an event attended by some 200 pro-independence Catalan mayors who had flown there for support.
Rajoy and Michel are both due to speak to their respective parliaments Wednesday on the worst crisis that Spain has known in forty years of democracy. Catalan Separatist associations and a trade union have called for a general strike in Catalonia, ahead of a major demonstration on Saturday.
The secession crisis kicked off when Catalan leaders held an independence referendum on October 1 despite a court ban.
Regional authorities said 90 percent opted to break away from Spain, though less than half of eligible voters turned out in a region deeply divided over independence.
The unregulated referendum was also repressed by police trying to stop people from voting.
Then on October 27, Madrid took direct control of the once semi-autonomous region after the Catalan parliament declared independence, dismissed regional leaders and called elections for December 21.
Earlier on Tuesday, Puigdemont called for pro-independence parties to unite for the vote.
“We have no option but to go all in together,” he told Catalan radio.

The crisis has deeply divided Catalans and seen more than 2,000 businesses move their headquarters out of the wealthy region, home to 7.5 million people.
Puigdemont has said he is prepared to run as a candidate on December 21, but it is far from clear whether or not he will even be in the country by then.
In 2015, the “Together For Yes” coalition — composed of left-wing party ERC and Puigdemont’s conservative PDeCAT — delivered a majority with 72 seats out of the 135-seat parliament, aided by their smaller ally, the far-left CUP party.
But Tuesday night ERC dismissed this option for the coming poll, with spokesman Sergi Sabria saying in a statement that “faced with the impossibility of forming a truly unified list, we will seek to coordinate on the basis of different candidacies.”
Although parties still have until later this month to officially register on electoral lists, politicians in Madrid will watch closely for any possible cracks in the pro-independence front.

Although the separatists won a majority of seats in 2015, they captured less than half of votes cast, and polls show Catalans remain split over independence.
The crisis has reignited fears over Spain’s ability to recover from the financial crisis and exposed officials in Madrid to allegations of heavy handedness in their response.
A court last week ruled that eight Catalan ministers deposed by Spain after declaring independence be remanded in custody pending investigation into charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
Puigdemont himself and four former ministers are due to appear next week in front of a Belgian judge after Spain issued a European arrest warrant and demanded their extradition.
The crisis has caused concern in the EU, already reeling from Britain’s shock decision to exit the bloc.

The deposed leader on Tuesday claimed he had fled Spain in order to avoid a harsh crackdown from Madrid.
“I’m absolutely convinced that the Spanish state was preparing a harsh wave of repression and violence for which we would have all been held responsible,” he told Catalan radio, without elaborating.
The Catalan independence crisis is now Spaniards’ second largest concern after the country’s rampant unemployment, according to a poll published Tuesday.
A survey by the Center of Sociological Studies in Madrid found that 29 percent of respondents said they were now more worried over the fate of the region than by corruption (28.3 percent).
There had been fears that Madrid’s imposition of direct rule on Catalonia could provoke widespread unrest in the region — which accounts for a fifth of national GDP.
But this has yet to materialize.
Still, pro-independence groups have held several large protests calling for the release of former ministers.

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China, Philippines to draft protocol to avoid maritime ‘miscalculations’

Author: 
Reuters
Wed, 2017-11-08 08:31
ID: 
1510123200873425700

MANILA: China and the Philippines will negotiate a military protocol to avoid maritime “miscalculations,” Manila’s defense minister said on Wednesday, following a brief standoff near a Philippine-occupied island in a disputed part of the South China Sea.
Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippines tried to put up makeshift structures on a sand bar about 4 km (2.5 miles) off Thitu island in the Spratly archipelago in August, but China objected and sent ships to the area.
President Rodrigo Duterte sought to defuse tensions by ordering troops to pull out. Construction was stopped.
“We intend to sit down with China to draft and agree on a protocol to resolve immediately any incident,” he said, adding he hoped talks could start this year.
“We hope to avoid any miscalculations in the disputed areas so we need the protocol to act on any problems because we cannot wait for higher authorities to decide.
“Anything can happen anytime, so we want commanders on the ground to decide to prevent violence.”
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic waterway where about $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims.
China-Philippines relations have often been frosty over maritime disputes, but ties have warmed under Duterte, who prefers to not provoke Beijing and wants to tap it for loans and investment.
Lorenzana said marines were sent to a sand bar to build shelter structures made of light materials for Filipino families and fishermen. There were also Chinese fishermen on the sand bar, about 500 square meters large, he said.
“China complained because the Philippines was occupying new features, which it said was a violation of a bilateral agreement,” Lorenzana added.
“We pulled out and no structures were built there but both sides agreed there would be no new occupation.”
The Philippines has pressed ahead with $25 million of upgrades to Thitu island. A small community of Filipinos has lived there since the 1970s, ostensibly to prop up the country’s claim, although conditions are basic compared to those enjoyed by Vietnamese and Chinese on other islands in the Spratly chain.
The Philippines has defended the upgrades, saying other countries have long been doing the same. China has rapidly built small cities on nearby artificial islands and installed missile systems, radars and aircraft hangars on three of them.
China’s Xinhua news agency said coast guard officials of both countries had met on Tuesday to discuss exchanging visits, building trust and cooperating to prevent cross-border crimes.

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Myanmar says UN move could harm talks with Bangladesh

Author: 
Reuters
Wed, 2017-11-08 07:54
ID: 
1510117818503258300

YANGON: Myanmar said on Wednesday that a UN Security Council statement on the Rohingya refugee crisis could “seriously harm” its talks with Bangladesh over repatriating more than 600,000 people who have fled there to escape a Myanmar military crackdown.
The Security Council had urged Myanmar, in a statement on Monday, to “ensure no further excessive use of military force” and had expressed “grave concern over reports of human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine State.”
Responding, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, whose less than two year-old civilian administration shares power with the military, said the issues facing Myanmar and Bangladesh could only be resolved bilaterally, a point she says was ignored in the Security Council statement.
“Furthermore, the (Security Council) Presidential Statement could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously,” Suu Kyi’s office said in a statement.
Negotiations with Bangladesh were ongoing it said, and the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali had been invited to Myanmar from Nov. 16-17.
A sour note was struck over the talks last week, as Bangladesh officials voiced outrage over Suu Kyi’s spokesman casting suspicion that Bangladesh might drag its feet over agreeing to the repatriation process in order to first secure hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid money.
Speaking at a conference for Commonwealth countries parliamentarians in Dhaka on Sunday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for more international pressure on Myanmar.
“I would request all of you to discuss Rohingya issue with utmost priority and exert pressure on the Myanmar government to stop the persecution of its citizens and take them back at the earliest,” she said.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to visit Myanmar on Nov. 15, with moves afoot in Washington to bring a bill calling for sanctions on Myanmar that specifically target the military and related business interests.
In a nod to China, the Myanmar statement said it appreciated the stand taken by some members of the Security Council who upheld the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.
To appease council veto powers Russia and China, Britain and France dropped a push for the Security Council to adopt a resolution on the situation and the 15-member body instead unanimously agreed on a formal statement.
The United Nations has denounced the violence during the past 10 weeks as a classic example of ethnic cleansing to drive the Rohingya Muslims out of Buddhist majority Myanmar.
Rejecting that accusation, the military says its counter-insurgency clearance operation was provoked by Rohingya militants’ synchronized attacks on 30 security posts in the northern part of Rakhine State on Aug. 25.
Rohingya refugees say the military torched their villages, but the military say the arsonists were Rohingya militants. The refugees’ have given harrowing accounts of rape and murder. Myanmar says those accusations will have to be investigated.
Meantime, the exodus from Rakhine continues. Several thousand Rohingya reached Bangladesh last week, many of them wading through shallows on the Naf river on the boundary between the two countries, and some making a short, but perilous sea crossing in small boats.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh border guards told Reuters of at least two more boats reaching Cox’s Bazar, bringing 68 more Rohingya to join the hundreds of thousands who have taken shelter in refugee camps there.
Suu Kyi, a stateswoman lionized as a Nobel Peace Prize winner for defying the junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, has been pilloried abroad for not speaking out more forcefully to rein in the military.
Last week she went to Rakhine for the first time since the crisis erupted, and met with community leaders and saw what efforts were being made to deliver aid and return the region to some semblance of normality.
While she has spoken of plans to open repatriation processing centers, where the refugees will have to prove they were once resident in Rakhine before being allowed to return.
Having been classed as stateless by the military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, Rohingya could struggle passing the repatriation test.
During recent weeks, authorities began issuing “national verification cards” to people in northern Rakhine. Remaining Rohingya have been reluctant to accept these cards as they do not guarantee citizenship, and would effectively treat them as new immigrants.

Main category: 
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Continue reading »

Myanmar says UN move could harm talks with Bangladesh

Author: 
Reuters
Wed, 2017-11-08 07:54
ID: 
1510117818503258300

YANGON: Myanmar said on Wednesday that a UN Security Council statement on the Rohingya refugee crisis could “seriously harm” its talks with Bangladesh over repatriating more than 600,000 people who have fled there to escape a Myanmar military crackdown.
The Security Council had urged Myanmar, in a statement on Monday, to “ensure no further excessive use of military force” and had expressed “grave concern over reports of human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine State.”
Responding, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, whose less than two year-old civilian administration shares power with the military, said the issues facing Myanmar and Bangladesh could only be resolved bilaterally, a point she says was ignored in the Security Council statement.
“Furthermore, the (Security Council) Presidential Statement could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously,” Suu Kyi’s office said in a statement.
Negotiations with Bangladesh were ongoing it said, and the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali had been invited to Myanmar from Nov. 16-17.
A sour note was struck over the talks last week, as Bangladesh officials voiced outrage over Suu Kyi’s spokesman casting suspicion that Bangladesh might drag its feet over agreeing to the repatriation process in order to first secure hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid money.
Speaking at a conference for Commonwealth countries parliamentarians in Dhaka on Sunday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for more international pressure on Myanmar.
“I would request all of you to discuss Rohingya issue with utmost priority and exert pressure on the Myanmar government to stop the persecution of its citizens and take them back at the earliest,” she said.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to visit Myanmar on Nov. 15, with moves afoot in Washington to bring a bill calling for sanctions on Myanmar that specifically target the military and related business interests.
In a nod to China, the Myanmar statement said it appreciated the stand taken by some members of the Security Council who upheld the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.
To appease council veto powers Russia and China, Britain and France dropped a push for the Security Council to adopt a resolution on the situation and the 15-member body instead unanimously agreed on a formal statement.
The United Nations has denounced the violence during the past 10 weeks as a classic example of ethnic cleansing to drive the Rohingya Muslims out of Buddhist majority Myanmar.
Rejecting that accusation, the military says its counter-insurgency clearance operation was provoked by Rohingya militants’ synchronized attacks on 30 security posts in the northern part of Rakhine State on Aug. 25.
Rohingya refugees say the military torched their villages, but the military say the arsonists were Rohingya militants. The refugees’ have given harrowing accounts of rape and murder. Myanmar says those accusations will have to be investigated.
Meantime, the exodus from Rakhine continues. Several thousand Rohingya reached Bangladesh last week, many of them wading through shallows on the Naf river on the boundary between the two countries, and some making a short, but perilous sea crossing in small boats.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh border guards told Reuters of at least two more boats reaching Cox’s Bazar, bringing 68 more Rohingya to join the hundreds of thousands who have taken shelter in refugee camps there.
Suu Kyi, a stateswoman lionized as a Nobel Peace Prize winner for defying the junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, has been pilloried abroad for not speaking out more forcefully to rein in the military.
Last week she went to Rakhine for the first time since the crisis erupted, and met with community leaders and saw what efforts were being made to deliver aid and return the region to some semblance of normality.
While she has spoken of plans to open repatriation processing centers, where the refugees will have to prove they were once resident in Rakhine before being allowed to return.
Having been classed as stateless by the military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, Rohingya could struggle passing the repatriation test.
During recent weeks, authorities began issuing “national verification cards” to people in northern Rakhine. Remaining Rohingya have been reluctant to accept these cards as they do not guarantee citizenship, and would effectively treat them as new immigrants.

Main category: 
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Myanmar says Bangladesh dragging feet over repatriating Rohingya
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Continue reading »

Myanmar says UN move could harm talks with Bangladesh

Author: 
Reuters
Wed, 2017-11-08 07:54
ID: 
1510117818503258300

YANGON: Myanmar said on Wednesday that a UN Security Council statement on the Rohingya refugee crisis could “seriously harm” its talks with Bangladesh over repatriating more than 600,000 people who have fled there to escape a Myanmar military crackdown.
The Security Council had urged Myanmar, in a statement on Monday, to “ensure no further excessive use of military force” and had expressed “grave concern over reports of human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine State.”
Responding, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, whose less than two year-old civilian administration shares power with the military, said the issues facing Myanmar and Bangladesh could only be resolved bilaterally, a point she says was ignored in the Security Council statement.
“Furthermore, the (Security Council) Presidential Statement could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously,” Suu Kyi’s office said in a statement.
Negotiations with Bangladesh were ongoing it said, and the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali had been invited to Myanmar from Nov. 16-17.
A sour note was struck over the talks last week, as Bangladesh officials voiced outrage over Suu Kyi’s spokesman casting suspicion that Bangladesh might drag its feet over agreeing to the repatriation process in order to first secure hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid money.
Speaking at a conference for Commonwealth countries parliamentarians in Dhaka on Sunday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for more international pressure on Myanmar.
“I would request all of you to discuss Rohingya issue with utmost priority and exert pressure on the Myanmar government to stop the persecution of its citizens and take them back at the earliest,” she said.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to visit Myanmar on Nov. 15, with moves afoot in Washington to bring a bill calling for sanctions on Myanmar that specifically target the military and related business interests.
In a nod to China, the Myanmar statement said it appreciated the stand taken by some members of the Security Council who upheld the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.
To appease council veto powers Russia and China, Britain and France dropped a push for the Security Council to adopt a resolution on the situation and the 15-member body instead unanimously agreed on a formal statement.
The United Nations has denounced the violence during the past 10 weeks as a classic example of ethnic cleansing to drive the Rohingya Muslims out of Buddhist majority Myanmar.
Rejecting that accusation, the military says its counter-insurgency clearance operation was provoked by Rohingya militants’ synchronized attacks on 30 security posts in the northern part of Rakhine State on Aug. 25.
Rohingya refugees say the military torched their villages, but the military say the arsonists were Rohingya militants. The refugees’ have given harrowing accounts of rape and murder. Myanmar says those accusations will have to be investigated.
Meantime, the exodus from Rakhine continues. Several thousand Rohingya reached Bangladesh last week, many of them wading through shallows on the Naf river on the boundary between the two countries, and some making a short, but perilous sea crossing in small boats.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh border guards told Reuters of at least two more boats reaching Cox’s Bazar, bringing 68 more Rohingya to join the hundreds of thousands who have taken shelter in refugee camps there.
Suu Kyi, a stateswoman lionized as a Nobel Peace Prize winner for defying the junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, has been pilloried abroad for not speaking out more forcefully to rein in the military.
Last week she went to Rakhine for the first time since the crisis erupted, and met with community leaders and saw what efforts were being made to deliver aid and return the region to some semblance of normality.
While she has spoken of plans to open repatriation processing centers, where the refugees will have to prove they were once resident in Rakhine before being allowed to return.
Having been classed as stateless by the military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, Rohingya could struggle passing the repatriation test.
During recent weeks, authorities began issuing “national verification cards” to people in northern Rakhine. Remaining Rohingya have been reluctant to accept these cards as they do not guarantee citizenship, and would effectively treat them as new immigrants.

Main category: 
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Myanmar says Bangladesh dragging feet over repatriating Rohingya
Agencies rush to aid Rohingya refugees as winter bites
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Continue reading »

A year after cash ban, India’s black money market is thriving

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2017-11-08 06:27
ID: 
1510111921703020800

NEW DELHI: When India declared most bank notes unuseable a year ago in an effort to flush out tax cheats, one steel manufacturer was so spooked he resolved to do business by the book in future.
But 12 months on from the shock move, the industrialist says he has gone back to cash under the table at the insistence of his buyers — undermining government claims that the bold scheme has cleaned up India’s graft-ridden economy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision last November to withdraw India’s high-value rupee bills was intended to root out a culture of tax evasion so widespread it had become the norm.
His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won the 2014 election on a promise to root out corruption, which had led to popular disillusionment with the previous government.
But the move wrought havoc on businesses in Asia’s third-largest economy, causing growth to slump to levels not seen since Modi was elected.
Now, as businesses from streetside stalls to wholesalers rekindle their love affair with cash, Modi is coming under pressure to explain whether the most controversial policy of his tenure was worth the economic pain.
The steel producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his efforts to keep business above board backfired when his buyers insisted on paying cash — and keeping their payments off the books.
“They said, ‘we have cash at home, and if you want to be paid, we can pay you in cash immediately, but we cannot arrange a bank payment’,” he told AFP.

The government had hoped the surprise move, which meant high-value notes could not be spent and instead had to be banked, would encourage a switch to traceable digital payments in a country where just three percent had been paying taxes.
Modi personally championed credit and debit cards in the aftermath of demonetization, beaming down from billboards encouraging Indians to embark on a digital revolution.
But sales from plastic have declined 13 percent from highs in December 2016, when new cash notes remained scarce.
Mobile banking figures for August, the latest data available, showed $16 billion in transactions — a 20 percent drop compared with November.
Sanjay Moria, a tea vendor in central Delhi, said at least half his income in the weeks after demonetization came through a popular payment app, but since then, digital sales had plunged.
“I’ll take any form of payment, but people are mostly back to paying in cash,” he said, as office workers sipped hot spiced tea from small paper cups.
Many poorer Indians, reliant on cash, were left scrambling to buy basic necessities as their meagre savings evaporated in an instant.
“Was it worth it? Certainly not,” said Sunil Sinha, principal economist at India Ratings & Research.
“It brought huge pain and disruption. People lost lives, lost their livelihoods.”
Authorities also expected that a portion of non-tax payers would fail to bank their unuseable cash for fear of exposure.
But in August the Reserve Bank of India announced that 99 percent of the devalued bills had been returned, undermining Modi’s claim that stashes of black money would be uncovered.
Now traders say they are operating much as they did before the ban, with cash once again king, as fears of being stung by the taxman have faded.
“We’re in a wait and watch phase before we decide if we should increase the cash portion (of the business) or not. It depends how closely the government monitors this,” said a dry fruit importer in a traditional market in Delhi’s old quarter.
“Everyone does this. This is how business is done in India.”

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A year after cash ban, India’s black money market is thriving

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2017-11-08 06:27
ID: 
1510111921703020800

NEW DELHI: When India declared most bank notes unuseable a year ago in an effort to flush out tax cheats, one steel manufacturer was so spooked he resolved to do business by the book in future.
But 12 months on from the shock move, the industrialist says he has gone back to cash under the table at the insistence of his buyers — undermining government claims that the bold scheme has cleaned up India’s graft-ridden economy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision last November to withdraw India’s high-value rupee bills was intended to root out a culture of tax evasion so widespread it had become the norm.
His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won the 2014 election on a promise to root out corruption, which had led to popular disillusionment with the previous government.
But the move wrought havoc on businesses in Asia’s third-largest economy, causing growth to slump to levels not seen since Modi was elected.
Now, as businesses from streetside stalls to wholesalers rekindle their love affair with cash, Modi is coming under pressure to explain whether the most controversial policy of his tenure was worth the economic pain.
The steel producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his efforts to keep business above board backfired when his buyers insisted on paying cash — and keeping their payments off the books.
“They said, ‘we have cash at home, and if you want to be paid, we can pay you in cash immediately, but we cannot arrange a bank payment’,” he told AFP.

The government had hoped the surprise move, which meant high-value notes could not be spent and instead had to be banked, would encourage a switch to traceable digital payments in a country where just three percent had been paying taxes.
Modi personally championed credit and debit cards in the aftermath of demonetization, beaming down from billboards encouraging Indians to embark on a digital revolution.
But sales from plastic have declined 13 percent from highs in December 2016, when new cash notes remained scarce.
Mobile banking figures for August, the latest data available, showed $16 billion in transactions — a 20 percent drop compared with November.
Sanjay Moria, a tea vendor in central Delhi, said at least half his income in the weeks after demonetization came through a popular payment app, but since then, digital sales had plunged.
“I’ll take any form of payment, but people are mostly back to paying in cash,” he said, as office workers sipped hot spiced tea from small paper cups.
Many poorer Indians, reliant on cash, were left scrambling to buy basic necessities as their meagre savings evaporated in an instant.
“Was it worth it? Certainly not,” said Sunil Sinha, principal economist at India Ratings & Research.
“It brought huge pain and disruption. People lost lives, lost their livelihoods.”
Authorities also expected that a portion of non-tax payers would fail to bank their unuseable cash for fear of exposure.
But in August the Reserve Bank of India announced that 99 percent of the devalued bills had been returned, undermining Modi’s claim that stashes of black money would be uncovered.
Now traders say they are operating much as they did before the ban, with cash once again king, as fears of being stung by the taxman have faded.
“We’re in a wait and watch phase before we decide if we should increase the cash portion (of the business) or not. It depends how closely the government monitors this,” said a dry fruit importer in a traditional market in Delhi’s old quarter.
“Everyone does this. This is how business is done in India.”

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A year after cash ban, India’s black money market is thriving

Author: 
AFP
Wed, 2017-11-08 06:27
ID: 
1510111921703020800

NEW DELHI: When India declared most bank notes unuseable a year ago in an effort to flush out tax cheats, one steel manufacturer was so spooked he resolved to do business by the book in future.
But 12 months on from the shock move, the industrialist says he has gone back to cash under the table at the insistence of his buyers — undermining government claims that the bold scheme has cleaned up India’s graft-ridden economy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision last November to withdraw India’s high-value rupee bills was intended to root out a culture of tax evasion so widespread it had become the norm.
His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won the 2014 election on a promise to root out corruption, which had led to popular disillusionment with the previous government.
But the move wrought havoc on businesses in Asia’s third-largest economy, causing growth to slump to levels not seen since Modi was elected.
Now, as businesses from streetside stalls to wholesalers rekindle their love affair with cash, Modi is coming under pressure to explain whether the most controversial policy of his tenure was worth the economic pain.
The steel producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his efforts to keep business above board backfired when his buyers insisted on paying cash — and keeping their payments off the books.
“They said, ‘we have cash at home, and if you want to be paid, we can pay you in cash immediately, but we cannot arrange a bank payment’,” he told AFP.

The government had hoped the surprise move, which meant high-value notes could not be spent and instead had to be banked, would encourage a switch to traceable digital payments in a country where just three percent had been paying taxes.
Modi personally championed credit and debit cards in the aftermath of demonetization, beaming down from billboards encouraging Indians to embark on a digital revolution.
But sales from plastic have declined 13 percent from highs in December 2016, when new cash notes remained scarce.
Mobile banking figures for August, the latest data available, showed $16 billion in transactions — a 20 percent drop compared with November.
Sanjay Moria, a tea vendor in central Delhi, said at least half his income in the weeks after demonetization came through a popular payment app, but since then, digital sales had plunged.
“I’ll take any form of payment, but people are mostly back to paying in cash,” he said, as office workers sipped hot spiced tea from small paper cups.
Many poorer Indians, reliant on cash, were left scrambling to buy basic necessities as their meagre savings evaporated in an instant.
“Was it worth it? Certainly not,” said Sunil Sinha, principal economist at India Ratings & Research.
“It brought huge pain and disruption. People lost lives, lost their livelihoods.”
Authorities also expected that a portion of non-tax payers would fail to bank their unuseable cash for fear of exposure.
But in August the Reserve Bank of India announced that 99 percent of the devalued bills had been returned, undermining Modi’s claim that stashes of black money would be uncovered.
Now traders say they are operating much as they did before the ban, with cash once again king, as fears of being stung by the taxman have faded.
“We’re in a wait and watch phase before we decide if we should increase the cash portion (of the business) or not. It depends how closely the government monitors this,” said a dry fruit importer in a traditional market in Delhi’s old quarter.
“Everyone does this. This is how business is done in India.”

Main category: 
related_nodes: 
Muslim man dies after attack by cow vigilantes in India
India cash crunch to ease by year-end, says finance minister
‘Entertainment’ earns over 20 crore rupees
Cow vigilantes arrested for assault on Indian officials
India police arrest three over cow vigilante murder
Continue reading »