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Sunday, May 20, 2018

2018 Iraqi Parliamentary Election Saturday May 12,2018 - Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s bloc wins Iraq election

A political bloc led by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States who also opposes Iranian influence in Iraq, has won the country’s parliamentary election, the electoral commission said on Saturday May 19,2018

The Saeroon Alliance led by al-Sadr, the Shia who many US military officials hold responsible for the deaths of US troops, won by taking the most number of seats in the May 12 parliamentary elections.

The Saeroon Alliance claimed 54 of the 328 seats in the parliament, the most of any coalition. The Fatah Alliance, led by Hadi al-Amiri, took 48 seats, while the Victory Alliance, led by Washington's preferred candidate, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, won 42 seats.
Al-Sadr, who in 2008 was named as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influence people, campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, allied himself with the Communist Party and rode a wave of populist sentiment to victory. An opponent of Iranian influence in his country, al-Sadr is also a longtime foe of the United States and its role in Iraq. 
Al-Sadr was once the leader of the Mehdi Army, a powerful Shia militia, which was blamed for some of the worst violence between 2005 and 2008 in Iraq. Some of his militiamen fought and killed US and Iraqi soldiers. He formally disbanded the group in 2008, announcing that it was transitioning into a movement to oppose secularism and Western thought.

Sadr himself cannot become prime minister as he did not run in the election, though his bloc’s victory puts him in a position to have a strong say in negotiations. His Sairoon electoral list captured 54 parliamentary seats.

The Victory Alliance, headed by incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, trailed in third place with 42 seats, several seats behind the Al-Fatih bloc, which won 47 seats.

Al-Fatih is led by Hadi al-Amiri, who has close ties with Iran and heads an umbrella group of paramilitaries that played a key role in defeating Islamic State.

The results were announced a week after Iraqis voted in a nationwide election, which produced surprising results amid historically low turnout.

Winning the largest number of seats does not automatically guarantee that Sadr will be able to hand-pick a prime minister.

Since no electoral list won an outright majority, negotiations to form a government are expected to drag on for months.

Parties will have to align themselves to try and form a block large enough for the parliamentary majority necessary to nominate a candidate

2018 Venezuelan Presidential Election Sunday May 20,2018

Venezuelans are heading to the polls on Sunday May 20,2018 to elect a new president in what is considered a snap election. Some in the opposition are calling for a boycott.

The elections were initially scheduled for December, then changed to April 22, then delayed again to May 2018.

This electoral process has been heavily criticised by the opposition and the international community, who have said they will not recognise it. 

What is the country voting for? 

  • Venezuela will hold its presidential elections on May 20, but the country will also vote to choose the members of state and municipal legislative councils.
  • Just over 20 million citizens can vote in the presidential election, and a total of 19 million can choose their representatives in the state legislative councils.
  • Only Venezuelans living overseas and in Caracas can participate in the presidential elections

    Who is running for president?

    Four candidates are running for president. But the two main players are Nicolas Maduro  and opposition candidate Henri Falcon.
    The main opposition coalition has decided to boycott the elections.

    Nicolas Maduro 
  • Nicolas Maduro, 55, has been Venezuela's president since former President Hugo Chavez died in 2013.
  • Under Chavez, the country turned towards socialism. Maduro continued many of the Chavez policies and during his campaign has promised to create a "new economy" in the country.
  • Maduro stated he had followed Chavez's legacy, adding: "I will dedicate my life to fixing the economy of this country. My spirit is renewed, my energy recharged."
         Henri Falcon 
  • Falcon is Maduro's primary opponent and was once a Chavez supporter. A lawyer and former governor of Lara State, he broke with the ruling party in 2010, and in 2013 was the campaign chief for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
  • In 2018, he decided to break with the opposition and run as an independent candidate. 
  • In an op-ed written for the New York Times, Falcon said he decided on the break because "electoral boycotts almost never work. In country after country, opposition forces that abandoned the field of electoral competition have lost ground and allowed rulers to consolidate power."
  • Among his proposals are the use of the US dollar as a currency instead of the Bolivar to try to stabilise the economy. He also said he would accept foreign aid to Venezuela and would consider working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
          Javier Bertucci
  • Bertucci is an evangelical pastor who announced his candidacy on February 18, 2018. 
  • He calls himself an "independent candidate with no political history."
  • Bertucci has said he would eliminate exchange controls and attempt to increase foreign investment. He also said he would not eliminate the social programmes initiated by Chavez' "Bolivarian Revolution". 
          Reinaldo Quijada:
  • Quijada is an electrical engineer who follows the Chavista movement; he announced his candidacy on April 22.
  • The engineer defends Bolivarian Revolution but does not support Maduro's government. If he wins, Quijada claims he will continue the "revolutionary process" started by Chavez in Venezuela.
  • What is the opposition boycotting?  

  • The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of parties that in recent years worked together and represented the opposition against Chavez and Maduro, declared it would boycott the election.
  • But the coalition faced internal division between those who think that taking part in this election would legitimise Maduro's rule and those who believe that participation is an opportunity for change. 
  • In a statement, the MUD said the election was "premature" and lacked "proper conditions," and called it "a show by the government to give an impression of legitimacy that it does not have in the midst of Venezuelans' agony and suffering."
  • Most of the candidates who might have run against Maduro have been barred from running, including Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez. Capriles was banned from holding office for 15 years due to "administrative irregularities", and Lopez is facing house arrest.  
  • Henri Falcon broke with the MUD and decided to run against Maduro. "You will disappear as politicians and as parties for not understanding the dynamics of a country that demands solutions and not conflict," Falcon told the MUD.

What is the government saying? 

  • Maduro says Venezuela's electoral system is clean and accuses the US of leading a right-wing international conspiracy to end socialism and take over his nation's oil. 
  • "I'm ready for the battle, ready to make history," Maduro said. "Who is it who gets to elect the president of Venezuela? A military coup? … The government of Colombia? …. Donald Trump?” Maduro said during Thursday’s event in  Caracas.
  • The government has support across different sectors; according to various estimates, about a quarter of eligible voters continue to support Maduro's political ideology and policies.
  • "I don't think the opposition parties are offering a real alternative to bring change," Zumira Cardozo, a government supporter, told Al Jazeera. "We reached to this point, due to the economic war they have imposed against the government", she added.
  • "The only actor that must recognise the elections is the Venezuelan people, and the only institution that has the faculties to give results and legitimise the process is the National Electoral Council of Venezuela," the Ministry of People's Power for Communication and Information wrote
  • Key issues

  • Economy: The central issue the country is facing is the economic crisis, with current inflation and long queues for food and medicines.
  • The cost of living and lack of basic goods has led to street protests in recent years. The IMF expects the economy to shrink by 15 percent in 2018, and also expects unemployment to rise to 36 percent by 2022.
  • Hyperinflation, along with a $70bn bond default means that basic food and medicine can not be imported. The military has been put in charge of food distribution, and the government is running out of cash.
  • Oil industry: Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves, but domestic sector is currently failing to meet local needs.  The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) says oil production is down to a 30-year low of around 1.4mn barrels a day.
  • Insufficient investments, US sanctions, and the plunge in global oil prices have hammered the oil industry.
  • In the private sector, US energy company ConocoPhillips has seized assets belonging to the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA over a $2bn dispute over unpaid debts.
  • Leaving the country: Many citizens are choosing to leave the country.
    Roughly 550000 Venzuelans left for Colombia at the end of 2017, according to migration authorities. 

Kidambi Srikanth elated after receiving MS Dhoni signed bat

Shuttler Kidambi Srikanth received a signed cricket bat from Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni and the India No 1 expressed how it ‘made his day’. Earlier in the season, CSK had gifted the former World No 1 with the team jersey specially for Srikanth. Bearing the number 7, used by Dhoni, Srikanth had expressed his joy upon receiving the gift.

That sheer joy went up even further when he shared the picture of a signed Dhoni bat. In a tweet, Srikanth shared the image of the bat with the caption, “Thank you @msdhoni for the wonderful gift and can’t tell how happy I am. This just made my day.🤩😁 #MSDhoni #fanmoment” with the bat reading, “Love, Luc [sic] & Best Wishes for Srikanth” and Dhoni’s signature.

Thank you @msdhoni for the wonderful gift and can’t tell how happy I am. This just made my day.🤩😁

Pope Francis To Nominate Fourteen New Cardinals On June 29,2018

Pope Francis said on Sunday he would elevate 14 Roman Catholic prelates to the high rank of cardinal, the elite group of churchmen who are his closest advisers and can enter a conclave to choose his successor if they are under 80.

The pope made the surprise announcement during his weekly Sunday address. He said the ceremony to elevate the nominees, known as a consistory, would take place on June 29.

Appointing new cardinals is one of the most significant powers of a Pope, allowing him to steer the future of the 1.2 billion member Catholic Church.

After the June ceremony, Pope Francis will have nominated 74 cardinals since being elected Pope in 2013, according to statistics on the Vatican's website.

Only cardinals under the age of 80 can enter the closed-door conclave which chooses from its ranks a new pope and are known as "cardinal electors".

It was not immediately clear how many of the 14 qualify.

Two of those named by the Pope are Bishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, head of the Vatican's doctrinal department, known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Angelo Becciu, deputy secretary of state.

Both currently work in the Vatican's central administration, known as the Curia.

New York Gets Its First Woman Turbaned Sikh Auxiliary Police Officer

The New York Police Department has got its first woman turbaned Sikh auxiliary police officer, whose induction aims to motivate others to join law enforcement and help create better understanding of Sikhism.

Gursoach Kaur will join the New York Police Department as an Auxiliary Police Officer (APO) after graduating last week from the New York City Police Academy.

"We are proud to welcome first Sikh turbaned female Auxiliary Police Officer in the New York Police Department. APO Gursoach Kaur and other Auxiliary Police Officers graduated from the academy. We are proud of you. Stay safe. #sikhsinlawenforcement," the Sikh Officers Association tweeted.

The association said in a Facebook post that it is "proud" to welcome Ms Kaur to the Police Department.

"Your service will be a motivation for others to join the Law enforcement Family," it said.

The association is the nation's first organisation to represent Sikh Officers in Law Enforcement.

Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri also tweeted about Ms Kaur, expressing hope that a turbaned lady officer will help create better understanding of Sikhism in the US.

"Delighted to see a turbaned lady officer in NYPD. Hope this fosters better understanding of Sikhism and Sikhs and corrects perceptions in the US so that incident which happened with me in 2010 and recently with Canada minister Navdeep Bains do not recur. Sikhs are ambassadors of harmony," Mr Puri tweeted.

He was referring to the 2010 incident in which Mr Puri, then Ambassador to the UN, was asked by airport officials to remove his turban during a security check at Houston Airport. When he refused to remove his turban, the officials made him wait for over half-an-hour in a 'holding room'.

The matter was resolved only after a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official, accompanying Mr Puri, intervened. India had lodged an official protest with US authorities over the incident.

This month, Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said he was asked to remove his turban at Detroit Metro Airport on his way back to Canada last year.

Mr Bains was returning to Toronto after meetings with Michigan state leaders in April 2017 and had already passed through regular security checks at the Detroit Metro Airport, but because he was wearing a turban, a security agent told him that he would have to undergo additional checks.

"He told me to take off my turban. I asked him why I would have to take off my turban when the metal detector had worked properly," the minister said in an interview with the French-language paper La Presse.

New York Police commissioner James O'Neill had said in 2016 that there are about 160 Sikh officers serving in various ranks and he was looking to expand those numbers.

In December 2016, the NYPD had said it will allow its Sikh officers to wear turbans and maintain beards, relaxing its uniform policy to promote inclusiveness and encourage the minority community members to join the force.

Under the revised policy, officers from the Sikh faith were allowed to have beards that extend up to one-half inch from the face. The officers may also wear blue turbans with a hat shield it affixed to it' in place of the traditional police cap.

"We're making this change to make sure that we allow everybody in New York City that wants to apply and have the opportunity to work in the greatest police department in the nation, to make sure we give them that opportunity," Mr O'Neill had said while making the announcement after a police academy graduation ceremony.

Karnataka CM-designate HD Kumaraswamy to be sworn in on May 23,2018 Wednesday at 12.30 pm

Karnataka chief minister-designate HD Kumaraswamy will be sworn-in on Wednesday May 23,2018 at around 12.30 pm, said JD(S) national secretary general Danish Ali
The Governor has invited HD Kumaraswamy to form the government. He will take the oath as the Chief Minister on Wednesday, May 23 at around 12:30pm: Danish Ali, National Secretary General, JD(S)

Kumaraswamy, who became the chief minister for the first time in 2006 at the head of a JD(S)-BJP coalition, said the governor has given him 15 days to prove the majority, "but we will do it much before". He also thanked the Supreme Court for the "right directions"

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Only Dalit women are allowed to touch the deities in this ancient Odisha temple

When Janaki married Sukadev Dalai and moved to Satabhaya village in Odisha’s Kendrapara district, she had no inkling of the traditions she was stepping into and the mantle she was carrying forward.

But when her mother-in-law took her to the Panchubarahi village temple and taught her the rituals there, she joined a 300-year-old legacy of exclusively Dalit women priestesses, from the Sabar caste, who head this seaside temple.

While there is no historical evidence for the age of the temple, residents of the village claim the temple has not always had priestesses in charge. “Legend has it that a male Brahmin priest once saw the deities unclothed, and was cursed to become a stone. Thereafter, women were roped in to conduct daily rituals and no man could touch the idols. The tradition had been carried on since,” says Sibendra Bhanjdeo, scion of the erstwhile Rajkanika zamindari and chief trustee of the temple.

Four priestesses conduct the daily rituals on a rotational basis for 15 days each. “We are descendants of Jara Sabar, who accidentally shot an arrow and took Krishna’s life,” says Janaki. A repentant Jara Sabar is said to have become an ardent devotee, worshipping a piece of Krishna’s body. “For our community, performing puja for Krishna is not new,” says Janaki.

The priestesses’ husbands take it for granted that they have to play second fiddle to their wives in matters concerning the temple. “It is an honour to be Janaki’s husband. Our family takes immense pride in her being a priestess and it elevates our social status,” says Sukadev.

“Our husbands can enter the temple, but cannot touch the deities. They collect fruits and flowers from devotees and hand them to us to offer to the goddesses,” says Sujata, another priestess.

In this temple, the priestesses aren’t expected to recite hymns in fluent Sanskrit, or be familiar with complex rituals , or wear specific temple attire. “We just seek the blessings of our deities for the devotees who come here,” says Janaki.

The former kings of this zamindari had chosen four families to look after the temple and its deities.

At present, there are four such assigned families in Satabhaya village, and the priestess-hood is generally bestowed upon the eldest daughters-in-law of these families in hereditary succession. The priestesses aren’t paid for their vocation, and the days they aren’t in the temple are spent working at home.

Panchubarahi itself is no ordinary temple. At its earlier location on the edge of the sea, it was often battered by incessant rain, tropical cyclones and tidal waves. The extreme weather, however, didn’t seem to dampen the spirit of these intrepid priestesses, as the temple stood mute testimony to the advancing sea.

Then, in 1971, when Odisha was ravaged by a cyclone, more than 700 villagers were swept away into the Bay of Bengal. And the 16 hamlets of Satabhaya, spread over 3,440 acres, were reduced to a few hamlets.

Satabhaya has never been exactly easy to access. You had to walk down an 8 km long serpentine road after crossing the crocodile-infested Baunsagadi river on a country boat. During the monsoons, the village would become almost fully inaccessible, and villagers would be choked of even basic services.

Finally, last month, it was decided that human habitation could no longer continue here. The people of this isolated, sea-ravaged village were relocated to a new settlement in Bagapatia, some 10 km away.

Along with them, the temple and its deities too were shifted to a suitable spot in the new village. That was when, for the first time in centuries, men had to be allowed into the temple to lift the three heavy idols, weighing almost six quintals each, and move them to their new home. After the relocation, the priestesses took over again, shutting the men out.

The 571 families who have started living in the new village have started flocking to the temple again.

A few families still cling on to the old Satabhaya, claiming that they have not been properly rehabilitated and compensated yet. Meanwhile, Satabhaya village itself has been declared part of the Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary, at one with the sea and the birds