Weekly Global Newscast | February 25 - March 3, 2019
Pakistan Hands Over Captured Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India
Pakistan has handed over the captured pilot to Indian authorities at the Wagah border, a move aimed at de-escalating tensions after days of hostilities between the South Asian neighbours. The decision taken by the Prime Minister Imran Khan earned much appreciation on the world stage with states acknowledging the seriousness of the leader to ensure regional peace and security.
‘Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman crossed the Wagah-Attari border at around 9pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Friday, hours later than expected and sporting a black eye from his ordeal. His release came two days after he was captured following a rare aerial engagement between the nuclear-armed rivals over the disputed region of Kashmir, divided between the two countries since 1947. A press statement by Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Varthaman has been returned to India and that he was treated “with dignity” during his custody. “While in captivity, he was treated with dignity and in line with international law. Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr Imran Khan announced his return as a goodwill gesture aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India,” said the statement.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘The pilot’s homecoming sparked jubilation in India. Large crowds gathered near the border post cheering, dancing and waving Indian flags in scenes broadcast live on major TV news channels, who counted down the hours to Varthaman’s return throughout the afternoon and evening. A Bollywood filmmaker has already applied to copyright the movie title Abhinandan. Varthaman’s return had been scheduled for the afternoon but was delayed for hours without explanation, leading TV anchors to speculate something may have gone wrong. At around 9.15pm Indian time, he appeared on the Pakistan side of the border crossing, straight-backed and wearing a blue blazer and grey trousers. Around the time he was crossing the border, Islamabad released what appeared to be a heavily edited video in which Varmathan recounts his capture, praises the way he was treated and criticises the Indian media. “The Indian media always exaggerates. They embellish the smallest thing, present it as if on fire, and people fall for it,” the footage shows him saying in Hindi. The fate of the pilot had become a major concern in India after a series of videos were released showing him being beaten by a mob near his crash site and then interrogated by Pakistani officers while blindfolded and wearing a bloodied uniform. He gave his name, rank and religion, but when prompted for more, calmly replied: “I’m sorry, sir, that’s all I’m supposed to tell you.”
The footage was widely circulated on WhatsApp and social media and broadcast nationally in both countries, including on India’s stridently nationalistic evening talk shows. Pakistan appeared to seize on Varthaman’s potential to be a circuit breaker in the conflict by the evening, releasing a video showing the detainee drinking chai, saying he was being treated well and lauding his captors as “thorough gentlemen”. “The tea is fantastic,” he added. India had lodged an official complaint about the “vulgar display” of the prisoner in the videos and demand his immediate return without conditions. Kashmir, a Himalayan region the two countries claim in full but rule in part, has been the trigger for three India-Pakistan wars since 1947. The pair regularly trade mortar fire over the heavily guarded line of control separating the two armies, including on Friday as Varthaman was being repatriated.’ Michael Safi and Mehreen Zahra Malik write for The Guardian.
‘Experts said Varthaman, a 38-year-old from the South Indian city of Chennai, will undergo a detailed debrief and medical checkup. Indians have closely followed every twist and turn in Varthaman’s saga this week. An alleged video of his initial capture shows him being dragged from the crash site as enraged locals attempt to hit him. A Pakistani soldier is heard asking people to stop. A second, more controversial video that may run afoul of Geneva Conventions was tweeted by Pakistan’s Information Ministry. The clip showed the blindfolded pilot with a bloodied face, answering questions calmly while in Pakistani custody. After the Foreign Ministry in India “strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel,” the Pakistan military posted a fresh video saying the pilot was being treated “as per norms of military ethics.”’ Niha Masih writes for Washington Post.
India’s Economy Slows Before National Election
India’s economy slowed further in the latest quarter, official data showed as the world’s largest democracy prepares for a national election and border clashes with rival Pakistan. GDP growth in Asia’s third-largest economy reduced to 6.6 percent in the third quarter, a consecutive slump from 7.1 percent in the three months to the end of November.
‘India’s GDP grew a lower-than-expected 6.6 percent in the October-December period, the lowest in five quarters, dragged by lower farm and manufacturing growth, government data showed on Thursday. A Reuters poll of economists had forecast a growth of 6.9 percent for the December quarter, compared with a downwardly revised 7.0 percent rise in July-September. India’s $2.6 trillion economy, Asia’s third largest, grew at upwardly revised 7.7 percent in the October-December quarter of 2017, the data released by the statistics ministry showed.’ Reuters reported for HuffPost.
‘India’s economy has hit a soft patch just as national elections loom. The country’s annual rate of growth slumped to 6.6% in the quarter ended December. That’s a sharp drop from 7.1% recorded the previous quarter and the weakest performance in more than a year. Economists surveyed by Reuters were predicting GDP growth of 6.9%. The plunge is a troubling sign for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he bids for a second term in office. India’s elections are due to be held before May, and Modi’s stewardship of the economy has come under increased scrutiny ahead of the vote. The Indian leader came to power in 2014 promising to create millions of jobs and boost the economy. But growth is down from its recent peak of 8.2% in the middle of 2018, and a recent study showed that unemployment has risen across the country. India is still the world’s fastest growing major economy after China’s growth slowed to 6.4% in the last quarter of 2018. But analysts say the comparison won’t matter to voters who feel they’re not reaping the benefits of India’s relatively strong growth. “Are people living that feel-good factor? The sense is that they are not,” said Pronab Sen, country director for India at the International Growth Centre. “What you’re seeing is a serious urban employment problem… especially among the youth. And these are your first time voters,” he added.’ Rishi Iyengar writes for CNN Business.
Middle East & North Africa
Sudan’s President Bashir Steps Down as Ruling Party Leader
Sudan‘s embattled President Omar al-Bashir quit his position as chairman of the ruling party after more than two months of protests against his nearly three-decade rule. The statement was declared by the ruling party earlier this week.
‘According to a party statement released on Friday, al-Bashir delegated his powers as chairman of the National Congress Party to its deputy chairman, Ahmed Harun, until the party’s next general conference. No date has been set for the conference. Local media quoted Harun as saying al-Bashir took this step in order to “devote himself to the national tasks” as the country’s leader. Like al-Bashir, Harun is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed in Sudan’s Darfur region. He was appointed the party’s deputy chairman earlier this week. In late February, al-Bashir banned unauthorised public gatherings. On Thursday, an emergency court in the capital, Khartoum, sent eight people to prison over their participation in the anti-government protests that have engulfed Khartoum and its twin city, Omdurman, the state-run news agency SUNA reported. Four were sentenced to five-year terms each and three got three-year sentences. One person was sentenced to six months.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘President Omar al-Bashir stepped down as leader of Sudan’s ruling party on Friday, temporarily handing power to its newly appointed deputy head, as thousands of Sudanese continued to protest against his thirty-year rule. “President Omar al-Bashir has transferred his authority as chief of the party to Ahmed Harun,” the ruling National Congress Party said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse. Mr Harun, who — like Mr Bashir — is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed in Darfur, will serve as acting party leader until the party’s next general conference, the NCP said. Mr Harun was only appointed as the NCP’s deputy head earlier this week, having previously served as the governor of North Kordofan state. Last week, Mr Bashir imposed a nationwide state of emergency, dissolved his government and replaced the governors of Sudan’s 18 states with military and security officials in an attempt to regain control of the country. The protests, which are entering their third month, have spread to some 35 cities since a demonstration in December over the rising price bread. Initially lead by doctors, lawyers and other professionals, the movement has broadened in the past two weeks to include leaders from Sudan’s political opposition, who are all calling on the president to step down after almost three decades in power. Tom Wilson writes for Financial Times.
‘On February 22nd millions of Sudanese gathered with bated breath in front of their television screens. It had been two months since tens of thousands of protesters, angry at rising food prices, began demanding an end to the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir. Earlier in the day Sudan’s security chief had briefed journalists that Mr Bashir would step down as head of the ruling party. Amid mounting excitement, rumours swept the country that he would announce his intention to resign as president next year rather than stand for another five-year term. Would he bow out even sooner? No such luck. Mr Bashir began by sounding conciliatory. “The demands of our people for better living conditions are lawful,” he said, calling for a national dialogue. He told parliament to postpone the constitutional amendments that would have let him seek another term. But then, suddenly, his tone changed sharply as he declared a one-year state of emergency. His government, he said, had been dissolved. There was no sign that he would step down.’ Associated Press reports for The Economist.
Sub Saharan Africa
Nigeria’s 2019 Election ‘Last Gasp of the Old Order’: Moghalu
Muhammadu Buhari has comfortably secured a second term as Nigeria’s president, according to official results. The 76-year-old, of the All Progressive Congress (APC) party, won 56 percent of the votes, compared with 41 percent for his top rival Atiku Abubakar, the candidate for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
‘At some point, there was an epiphany when it became clear to me that the rate of poverty in this country, the rate of population growth, the rate of unemployment, were all heading towards a social cataclysm in the years ahead if the trajectory was not broken now. In the past 20 years of our democratic experience, we have only gotten poorer. What can take Nigeria into the 21st century as a modern and prosperous nation? I answered the question – a visionary, competent and technocratic leader. I have been a technocrat as a senior policymaker as the deputy governor of the Central Bank. I have been a professor of international business and economic policy. I’ve been a United Nations official for 17 years. But the democratic legitimacy that is conferred by being elected at the ballot box is the deciding factor of the progress or lack of progress of any country. It is because of the lack of political education, which my campaign really was about. My campaign was a process of political education but we did not have enough time in one year to educate the people away from habits that have been ingrained over the past 20 years. [Secondly], the fact that there are too many people who are poor and hungry and for them, the immediate need is for survival in the moment; they don’t have time for the fine luxuries of electing a good and competent leader, they are just looking for somebody who can give them food today. Right now, [the people] can see the vision, they are sympathetic to it but clearly, they were not just ready to act.’ Fidelis Mbah writes for Al Jazeera.
‘As of today, these processes are tedious, inefficient and prone to risks and performance failures such as those we have experienced. We also must stiffen punishment and enforce accountability for electoral offences. Nigerians in Diaspora have continued to remit billions of dollars home every year for this. Our fellow citizens living abroad must be able to vote from overseas as from 2023. Immediate action to achieve this goal is required once the present elections are over. He said that President Muhammadu Buhari, who INEC announced as the winner of the 2019 presidential election, owed Nigerians an inclusive, competent government that could heal the land and take millions of Nigerians out of crushing poverty. According to him, this calls for a very different approach to create jobs and improve actual economic productivity and living standards. A new, philosophically and conceptually grounded approach to economic management that goes beyond mere economic growth statistics to real economic development and structural transformation remains an urgent priority for our country. Our struggle for a better and well governed society, a productive and inclusive economy that breaks the backbone of poverty, and to restore Nigerias leadership role in the world continues. I on my part will remain engaged in that struggle over the long haul, Moghalu added.’ Associated Press reported for Pulse Nigeria.
British Government to Ask EU to ‘Ringfence’ Citizens’ Rights
The British parliament has passed an amendment to ensure the rights of 3.5 million European Union citizens in the United Kingdom and 1.3 million British citizens living in EU countries remain protected, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
‘Following the fourth parliamentary debate this year on Britain’s departure from the bloc, the House of Commons on Wednesday voted on a series of amendments to a motion put forward by the government on the next steps for Brexit. Two out of five were passed almost unanimously. The so-called Costa amendment – after Alberto Costa, the Conservative MP behind the motion – asks Prime Minister Theresa May to “seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the withdrawal agreement on citizens’ rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK’s exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the withdrawal agreement”. The vote followed May’s U-turn on delaying Brexit on Tuesday, when she announced that should she fail to get a revised deal through the House of Commons by March 12, she would give members of parliament the last word on leaving the EU without a deal. Should parliament vote against leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement, MPs will decide on March 14 whether they want an extension to Article 50 – the part of the Treaty on the European Union that enables member states to leave the bloc – “not beyond June”.’ Ylenia Gostoli writes for Al Jazeera.
‘Campaigners were celebrating victory on Wednesday night when the so-called Costa Amendment, named after Conservative MP Alberto Costa, was adopted by the British parliament with the government’s support. The amendment, which had the support of both Leave and Remain-supporting MPs cost Costa his job in the government but was warmly welcomed by campaign groups such as British in Europe. The amendment forces British Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a deal with the EU, at the earliest possible opportunity, to ring-fence the citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement before Brexit Day – currently March 29th. Ring-fencing citizens’ rights is something campaigners have long called for given the possibility of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal and the impact that would have on the futures of British immigrants throughout the EU, whose existing rights would be lost immediately unless countries decide to act. Ben McCartland writes for The Local France.
Bernie Sanders Kicks Off 2020 Presidential Campaign
Bernie Sanders kicked off his presidential campaign on Saturday not far from the rent-controlled apartment where he grew up in Brooklyn, and forcefully made the case that he is nothing like fellow New Yorker Donald Trump.
‘Sanders proclaimed himself the Democrat best prepared to beat the incumbent in 2020. The rally was his first campaign event since announcing a week ago that he would run for the White House. “My experience as a child, living in a family that struggled economically, powerfully influenced my life and my values. I know where I came from,” Sanders boomed in his unmistakable Brooklyn accent. “And that is something I will never forget.” Sanders has never shied from addressing Trump in stark terms, and during his speech at Brooklyn College, he called Trump “the most dangerous president in modern American history” and said the president wants to “divide us up”. The Vermont senator positioned himself in opposition to Trump administration policies from immigration to climate change. Beyond the issues themselves, Sanders, who grew up in the heavily Jewish neighbourhood of Flatbush in a middle-class family, drew a stark contrast between himself and the billionaire in the White House who hails from Queens. “I did not have a father who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers, casinos and country clubs,” said Sanders, who has lived in Vermont for decades. He pegged his allowance as a kid at 25 cents a week. Sanders also said he “did not come from a family of privilege that prepared me to entertain people on television by telling workers, ‘You’re fired'”. “I came from a family who knew all too well the frightening power employers can have over every day workers,” he added.’ Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday returned to Brooklyn, his birthplace, for the first rally of his second presidential campaign and sought to tie his working-class background to his populist views that are helping reshape the Democratic Party. He predicted he would win the nomination in a field of now-double digit rivals and then defeat President Donald Trump, “the most dangerous president in modern American history.” After falling short in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, the Vermont independent told supporters at a rally at Brooklyn College, which he once attended, that his campaign is saying “loudly and clearly that the underlying principles of our government will not be greed, hatred and lies. It will not be racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and religious bigotry. That is going to end.”’ Juana Summers writes for Time.