Ahmedabad, India – Donald Trump is on his maiden visit to India, and his first stop is the western state of Gujarat, the home of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has pulled out all stops to woo the US president.
The trip comes as the two countries have failed to agree on a trade deal as Trump, who has made trade a cornerstone of his diplomacy, has demanded New Delhi open up its market for more American goods.
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As India’s growth has slumped in recent years, the Hindu nationalist government has turned protectionist and raised tariffs that have irked the Trump administration.
“We’re not treated very well by India, but I happen to like Prime Minister Modi a lot,” the US president said before the trip.
Motera Stadium now more or less full #TrumpIndiaVisit pic.twitter.com/ly01mnM7uR
— Arshad R Zargar (@rasoolarshad) February 24, 2020
President Trump has hinted there will not be a trade deal during the trip as his administration has been trying to reduce its $25bn trade deficit with India. Bilateral trade between the two countries is worth $142bn.
However, a deal worth $2.6bn to buy attack helicopters from US defence firm Lockheed Martin might be finalised during the trip, according to media reports.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 23, 2020
Analysts say Modi would like to use his personal chemistry with Trump to smooth over the differences in trade.
On Monday, the Indian prime minister tweeted: The “visit is definitely going to further strengthen the friendship between our nations. See you very soon in Ahmedabad.”
Highlight of the trip
Analysts say the highlight of the trip will be the joint Modi-Trump address to an audience of more than 100,000 at a cricket stadium in Ahmedabad for the first leg of the trip, which comes in an election year.
They say the trip is high on optics and Trump will use the occasion to woo nearly 2.5 million Indian American voters.
हम भारत आने के लिए तत्पर हैं । हम रास्ते में हैँ, कुछ ही घंटों में हम सबसे मिलेंगे!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2020
As he embarked on the visit, the US president tweeted in Hindi saying he was looking forward to it.
The event, called “Namaste Trump” (Hello Trump), seems to be Modi’s return favour to Trump, who hosted the Indian prime minister in the US city of Houston last September. The two right-wing leaders had addressed a crowd of 50,000 as part of a “Howdy Modi” extravaganza.
Ahmedabad is decked out, with the road from the airport to the new Motera stadium decorated with life-sized posters of Modi and Trump.
Walls have been erected along the route, apparently to prevent Trump from catching a glimpse of slums, though municipal authorities said it was part of a “beautification” drive.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that a large number of people would be greeting President Trump as his cavalcade moved towards the stadium.
An Indian army soldier sits atop an armoured vehicle next to cutouts of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump along a road in Ahmedabad [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]
Earlier this week, Trump said Modi had assured him there would be about seven million people to welcome him on the streets.
According to the schedule released by India’s foreign ministry, President Trump will also be visiting the humble home of India’s independence hero Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad before leaving for Agra city – the home of the iconic Taj Mahal in northern Uttar Pradesh state. His 36-hour trip will culminate in the capital, New Delhi, where he is expected to hold talks with the Indian prime minister.
Rights of minorities
Ahead of the much-awaited visit, a senior US official said that Washington was concerned over the rights of minorities in India, adding that the president will raise these issues, especially religious freedom, when he meets with Modi.
Earlier this month, four US senators wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying Modi’s steps in Indian-administered Kashmir and a new citizenship law dubbed anti-Muslim “threaten the rights of certain religious minorities and the secular character of the state”.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by India’s Parliament, fast-tracks nationality for minorities from three neighbouring Muslim countries but blocks naturalisation for Muslims – and has raised comparisons with Trump’s Muslim ban.
Analysts say Modi would like to use his personal chemistry with Trump to smooth over the differences in trade [Tawqeer Hussain/Al Jazeera]
The CAA, coupled with plans for a nationwide citizenship count, has triggered protests across India. Nearly 30 people have been killed in a police crackdown against protesters.
Last week, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) warned that the bill represented “a significant downward turn in religious freedom in India”.
Former diplomat Kanwal Sibal told Al Jazeera that Trump did not have “the moral right” to question India on minority rights.
“All these reports is a signal that these issues will be raised … we have to wait and see. And I am sure India has a great repose if Trump raises CAA,” said Sibal, a former foreign secretary of India.
“Isn’t Trump the same president who banned the entry of Muslims from some countries? Isn’t he anti-Muslims, anti-Islam? Does he have any moral right to preach to us what is right and what is wrong?” he said.
Some reports have suggested that Trump might also raise the Kashmir issue, on which he has offered mediation several times since last year.
“I don’t see any expectation attached to this visit. No doubt Trump has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan three times in past one year, but did it yield a result? No, and it will not until you don’t work towards it; mere statements are of no use,” said Kashmiri political analyst Professor Siddiq Wahid.
The Hindu nationalist government’s decision to revoke the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir last August has turned into a diplomatic nightmare for the country, and the foreign ministry has been busy explaining the situation to its allies, particularly in the West.
Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, still remains under security lockdown, with partial restoration of communications last month.
A senior Foreign Ministry official told Al Jazeera that New Delhi would consider Trump raising the Kashmir issue as meddling in its internal affairs, and the US president would be advised to “stay out of it”.
India’s main opposition Congress party criticised the government for offering a “political spectatorship” to a foreign leader, leaving aside the critical issues of trade, termination of preferential trade status and a clampdown on H-1B visas that have affected India’s IT industry.
“India and the United States share a strong strategic partnership for decades, and we want this bond to further strengthen our relations,” said Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma.
Sharma, however, cautioned the government that this visit should not become an “extension of the US presidential campaign”.
“We do not become active parties in the elections in another country. This mistake was made in Texas at the Howdy Modi event and the prime minister ought to be careful. These are setting wrong precedents.
“We hope that there would be tangible outcomes on substantive issues and will hear that in the joint declaration to be made by the prime minister and President Trump,” he added.
However, Sibal, the former diplomat, defended Modi’s approach to diplomacy, saying “Namaste Trump” was the right event to reach out to the American president.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticised the opposition for creating “fuss” around President Trump’s visit.
“US is our natural ally and it is important that we give their leader a resounding welcome. They should be shameful to call this crucial visit a political spectatorship,” Amitabh Sinha, the BJP spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.
“It is a matter of pride for us to receive the world’s most powerful leader, we should all be together to show our Indianness and not question the event itself,” he added.
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump prepare to board Air Force One as they depart Washington for India from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US [Al Drago/Reuters]
Facebook to ban new political ads ahead of election, remove ‘misinformation’ about voting
Facebook on Thursday said it won’t accept new political ads the week before the November election and will clearly label content that seeks to “delegitimize” the election’s outcome. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will extend its work with election officials to remove “misinformation about voting.” “We will remove posts with claims that people will…
Facebook on Thursday said it won’t accept new political ads the week before the November election and will clearly label content that seeks to “delegitimize” the election’s outcome.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will extend its work with election officials to remove “misinformation about voting.”
“We will remove posts with claims that people will get COVID-19 if they take part in voting,” he said. “Given the unique circumstances of this election, it’s especially important that people have accurate information about the many ways to vote safely, and that COVID-19 isn’t used to scare people into not exercising their right to vote.”
Analysts have predicted that President Trump and the Republicans could build a lead immediately after polls close on Election Day but that Democrats could make up ground in the days and weeks after Nov. 3 because of the party’s emphasis on voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There could be a period of intense claims and counter-claims as the final results are counted,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.
The company said that if any candidate or campaign tries to declare victory before the final results are in, they’ll add a label to their posts directing people to official results from Reuters and the National Election Pool.
Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook will use its Voting Information Center “to prepare people for the possibility that it may take a while to get official results” and said the information will help people understand that “there is nothing illegitimate about not having a result on election night.”
He said Facebook has strengthened its enforcement against “militias, conspiracy networks like QAnon, and other groups that could be used to organize violence or civil unrest in the period after the elections.”
Mr. Zuckerberg said they took down a network of 12 accounts and two pages last week trying to “mislead Americans and amplify divisions.”
“We’ve removed more than 100 networks worldwide engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior over the past couple of years, including ahead of major democratic elections,” he said. “However, we’re increasingly seeing attempts to undermine the legitimacy of our elections from within our own borders.”
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Tunisia’s political wrangling explained in 600 words |NationalTribune.com
After just five months in office, Tunisia’s Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh has called it a day. His resignation on Wednesday came on the heels of a political scandal that has seen critics – most notably the Ennahdha party – accuse the head of government of abusing his authority for personal gain. Here, Al Jazeera takes…
After just five months in office, Tunisia’s Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh has called it a day.
His resignation on Wednesday came on the heels of a political scandal that has seen critics – most notably the Ennahdha party – accuse the head of government of abusing his authority for personal gain.
Here, Al Jazeera takes a look at the reasons behind Fakhfakh’s departure and what lies ahead for the North African country.
How did Fakfakh become PM?
Tunisia held a parliamentary election in October 2019 that saw Ennahdha secure 52 seats in the 217-member Parliament.
As the largest parliamentary force, the self-styled Muslim Democrats had chosen Habib Jemli, an independent, for the post of prime minister.
Jemli’s proposed lineup, however, failed to secure Parliament’s backing, leaving President Kais Saied in charge of naming the country’s next head of government.
Saied in late January nominated Fakhfakh, who a month later managed to win parliamentary approval for his coalition government.
When did the crisis begin?
Almost as soon as Fakhfakh was picked by the president.
The 48-year-old, an engineer by training and a former finance minister, drew the ire of Ennahdha after announcing his government would exclude parties suspected of corruption or whose ideology did not align with the goals of the 2011 revolution.
While Ennahdha had run its campaign on an anti-corruption platform, it quickly changed course and called for the inclusion of media mogul Nabil Karoui and his Qalb Tounes party.
In addition to run-ins with the law, Karoui has been accused of using his influential Nessma TV to bolster his political ambitions before the vote.
In the end, the prospect of new elections was said to have deterred Ennahdha and other parties from rejecting Fakhfakh’s government.
Did Fakhfakh lose Parliament’s confidence?
In recent weeks, Ennahdha had increasingly voiced its frustration with Fakhfakh, mainly over an alleged conflict of interest. Other factors, including the prime minister’s disregard for Ennahdha ministers in the decision-making process, are believed to also have played a role.
Last month, an independent legislator published documents showing Fakhfakh owned shares in companies that won government contracts worth 44 million dinars ($15m).
The prime minister denied the accusations and promised he would step down if investigators found any evidence of wrongdoing.
His voluntary departure last week came after Ennahdha said it would file a motion of no confidence in Parliament. That threat, however, was made obsolete when Saied stepped in and called on Fakhfakh to resign.
Why did Saied step in?
Tunisia’s political system is complex.
While Saied is the head of state, his mandate is constitutionally limited to foreign affairs and defence.
The prime minister is responsible for the day-to-day running of the government and steering economic policy.
As such, when Ennahdha leader and Speaker Rached Ghannouchi congratulated Libya’s internationally recognised government on fending off an offensive by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, it seemed to many Ghannouchi was overstepping his bounds.
By calling on Fakhfakh to step down, Saied – a former constitutional law professor who won by a landslide in last year’s presidential runoff vote – effectively pre-empted Ennahdha from potentially having the upper hand in the next government’s formation.
Had Ennahdha succeeded in removing Fakhfakh via a no-confidence vote, it would have been tasked to form the country’s next government.
Fakhfakh will now lead a caretaker administration while the president must nominate a replacement who will have until August 26 to form a new government.
Failure to agree on a new head of government will lead to Parliament’s dissolution and new elections within three months.
Max Gallien, research fellow at the UK-based Institute of Development Studies, said Tunisia’s political crisis stems from last year’s legislative and presidential elections when a “fractured Parliament without a mandate and a popular president without a parliamentary base” were voted into office.
“If the last days are any indication, building a stable government may take more than just a new prime minister,” Gallien said.
‘Political virus’: China rounds on Hong Kong protesters
China has again condemned Hong Kong’s protesters calling them a ‘political virus’ [File: Susana Vera/Reuters] China’s Hong Kong Affairs office on Wednesday condemned Hong Kong protesters as a “political virus”, warning the territory would never be calm until the protesters were removed. In a statement, the office described the protesters as violent people who wanted…
China has again condemned Hong Kong’s protesters calling them a ‘political virus’ [File: Susana Vera/Reuters]
China’s Hong Kong Affairs office on Wednesday condemned Hong Kong protesters as a “political virus”, warning the territory would never be calm until the protesters were removed.
In a statement, the office described the protesters as violent people who wanted independence for Hong Kong. It said Beijing would not sit by “with this demented force in place” and stressed China’s greatest responsibility was in maintaining order and safeguarding national security.
Crackdown on Hong Kong activists sparks talk of renewed protests
Hong Kong pro-democracy activists arrested in police swoop
Anti-government sentiment persists in Hong Kong
After weeks of coronavirus restrictions, groups of protesters have begun to re-emerge, resuming a campaign that began a year ago after the government tried to push through a now-dropped bill that would have allowed people to be sent for trial in mainland China. The arrests last month of some of the territory’s most prominent democracy campaigners has also added new momentum to the protests.
Organisers are planning a march on Sunday in what could become the first significant demonstration since the coronavirus outbreak. Although protesters do not expect to get permission for the rally many young people have said they will attend as social-distancing controls have been relaxed.
On Tuesday, China-aligned Hong Kong politicians led by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa launched the Hong Kong Coalition, calling for the adherence to “one country, two systems”, the framework that was put in place when the then-British colony was returned to China in 1997 and is supposed to provide for freedoms not seen elsewhere in China.
Global Times, China’s state-run tabloid, said the coalition had 1,545 members from “all walks of life” and the coalition’s goal was “to get Hong Kong moving again by reinvigorating the economy and restoring the rule of law to boost investors’ and law enforcers’ confidence in the city.”
The group will work with the Hong Kong government, it said. Its first major campaign will be distributing face masks in 18 districts of the territory on Sunday and Monday.
Al Jazeera and news agencies
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