Indian, Turkish officials hold talks on bilateral ties

            By Ahmad Adil</p>  <p> </p>  <p>CHANDIGARH, India (AA) - Indian and Turkish officials met Wednesday in the capital, New Delhi, and discussed a wide range of topics.</p>  <p>  <p><br>

Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sedat Onal had a meeting with Gitesh A Sarma, Secretary (West) under the institutional mechanism of Foreign Office Consultations, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.

It said the officials held cordial discussions on various aspects of bilateral ties, including examining opportunities for enhancing trade and investment relations.

The ministry said bilateral trade currently totals around $8.6 billion, with a target to reach $10 billion by 2020.

Enhanced cultural interaction, tourism and people-to-people contacts were also discussed, and the two sides also reviewed the current situation in their respective regions and exchanged views on several multilateral issues.

“India and Turkey enjoy close, friendly and deep-rooted ties dating back several centuries and share civilizational links. The recent political exchanges have imparted fresh momentum to our bilateral ties and opened several new avenues for cooperation,” the ministry added.

"Exchanging views. India and Turkey held Foreign Office Consultations led by Secretary West Sh. Gitesh Sarma & Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal. Discussed cooperation in trade, investment, cultural interaction, tourism, people-to-people contacts," said MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar on Twitter.

Onal is visiting India from May 7-9 as part of a regular exchange between the two countries, said officials in New Delhi, adding he had earlier visited India as part of the delegation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May 2017.

Iconic Indian poet commemorated in Turkey

By Can Erozden

ANKARA (AA) – Indian envoy to Turkey honored a world famous poet, writer and polymath, Rabindranath Tagore from India for his 158th birthday on Wednesday.

“Tomorrow we celebrate his 158th birth anniversary,” Sanjay Bhattacharyya said and adding that Tagore is an iconic figure as a poet, philosopher, painter, musician, patriot, revolutionary, scientist, traveller and humanist.

Bhattacharyya said that India’s pacifist independence leader Mahatma Gandhi used to call him "Gurudev" (the Great Master) and Tagore named him "Mahatma" (the Great Soul) as there was an affection between the duo.

"Tagore wrote two national anthems for India and Bangladesh. It's also true that the Sri Lankan national anthem was mostly affected by a song composed by Tagore," Bhattacharyya said and adding that he won a Nobel prize, which introduced him to the West.

Tagore won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 becoming the first laureate of the Indian subcontinent.

He said that Tagore had a deep sense of affection for Turkey and particularly for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, as the Indian poet was in Istanbul for two days in 1920s.

Bhattacharyya said that maybe Tagore has never really met Ataturk but they used to write to each other.

  • 'Tagore very impressed by Ataturk'

"In one of those letters, Tagore asked Ataturk to contribute books for the library in Visva Bharati University (the university Tagore established) and Ataturk contributed 41 books, still in this library with a plaque saying a gift of love from Turkey.

"Tagore was very impressed by Ataturk", Bhattacharyya remarked as Tagore praised Ataturk for his bravery and farsightedness.

"Tagore writes about Ataturk and he says Ataturk reawakened the heritage of Asia. Tagore says he rekindled hope in all Asia with nationalist movement and Tagore congratulates Ataturk for being farsighted, brave and nationalist," he said.

"Tagore says while the nationalist movement, perhaps the greatest contribution (of Ataturk) was breaking conservatism and emerging from blind faith in religion and he concludes as Ataturk showed the same bravery in the reconstruction of his nation as he had earlier shown on the battlefield; for a progressive Asia, we should look towards Turkey," Bhattacharyya said and adding that Turkey wasn't unfamiliar with Tagore.

He stated that his several works were translated to Turkish such as Gitanjeli, the poem book of Tagore was translated to Turkish by Turkey's former premier Bulent Ecevit.

He added that in 2003, Turkey named an Ankara street as Rabindranath Tagore Avenue.

During Wednesday's Tagore Festival at the Indian Embassy in Ankara, a short film about his life was displayed.

One of the most famous works of Tagore, Chokher Bali was put on screen for attendees at the Indian Embassy in Ankara.

Chokher Bali is a Bengali novel written in 1903, narrating the life of a main female character, Binodini – a young widow – and her relations with three individuals.

This novel was adapted to a drama movie in 2003 as the film is also known as Chokher Bali: A Passion Play.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, 45, as Binodini is the main protagonist of this movie.

Separately, Tagore painting exhibition was held in the Indian Embassy.

Turkey, India to hold political talks in New Delhi

             By Burak Bir</p>    <p>ANKARA (AA) - Turkey and India will hold political consultations in New Delhi, India’s capital, on Wednesday.</p>    <p>Sedat Onal, Turkey’s deputy foreign minister and Gitesh Sarma, secretary (West) in External Affairs Ministry of India will co-chair the talks, a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said.</p>    <p>Bilateral relations, regional and international issues as well as cooperation in the international organizations will be discussed during the consultations, it added.

Time to take Kashmir back to world stage: President of AJK

            By Anadolu Agency staff</p>    <p>ANKARA (AA) - President of Pakistan-administrated Kashmir (PaK) Sardar Masood Khan called upon the international community to focus on the Kashmir conflict, as people in the region are suffering for decades.</p>    <p>In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in Ankara, Khan spoke on security issues, humanitarian conditions and the role of international community, besides emphasizing to launch humanitarian diplomacy which Turkey has been practicing in different regions, to ameliorate sufferings of people.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>AA: Kashmir is one of the reasons that India and Pakistan are engaged in political and military conflict since 1947. What are the basic dynamics of the conflict?</p>    <p>Sardar Masood Khan (SMK): Basic dynamics have remained the same since 1947. There has been repression from decades. Recent phase has been a catastrophic chapter for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Few people know that after the (February 14) Pulwama attack followed by military exchanges between India and Pakistan on February 26 and 27, India has intensified its cordon and search operations (CASOs). Genuine leadership in the region is behind bars. Through its National Investigation Agency (NIA), political leaders and activists are being persecuted. So, it is a hell for the Kashmiris, if I would like to put it very simply. The situation is grim and gruesome. Indian leaders have also used oppression in Kashmir as a fodder in their election campaign, particularly by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi. He has showcased repression against Kashmiris as a strong point of his party to solicit votes. This is one aspect.</p>    <p>Other is that in the backdrop of the Pulwama attack and also military exchanges, India has taken hatred against Pakistan to higher levels never seen before. The Hindu extremists have orchestrated a campaign against Pakistan. In election rallies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has threatened to use nuclear weapons against Pakistan to wipe out it from the face of earth. This, I would call, is nuclear terrorism. Since1947, we are exploring a diplomatic space to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.</p>    <p>When international community became intensely interested in the situation of Jammu and Kashmir in February, they were more concerned about the security of the region. They wanted to prevent escalation so that India and Pakistan do not use nuclear weapons. So, they were more interested in security of the region. They, did not focus on the humanitarian crisis unfolding every day in Kashmir. They have not paid much attention to the cause of the tensions -- the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, to grant right to self-determination or to end coercion against the people of Jammu and Kashmir.</p>  <p><br></p>    <p>AA: You mean that the ruling BJP as well as other parties are using this issue as part of political agenda to win elections.</p>    <p>SMK: Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. You know, they are selling hatred, violence against Muslims in Kashmir as a plus point to appeal to voters. So, hatred and violence are the latest currency which the BJP is using and it is not just the BJP, there is a network of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – patron or all Hindu nationalist organizations, including the BJP. Then there are other violent extremist organizations – Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji) that spew venom. This family of violent extremists is pushing an agenda against the Kashmiris.</p>  <p> </p>    <p>AA: What kind of political solution can be applied to resolve the Kashmir conflict? What kind of a role, you suggest for the international community including Turkey? You have been alarming the world about a &quot;nuclear Armageddon&quot; with catastrophic consequences. Has it become impossible to resolve the Kashmir issue after India and Pakistan became nuclear powers?</p>    <p>SMK: A political solution is possible when all the parties to the dispute come to the negotiating table. Now, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the state and people of Pakistan are ready for that process. The UN has not said “no”, although it has not implemented the resolutions that it passed back in the 1940s and 1950s. But it has not said “no” to a democratic and diplomatic process. There is only one country which is obstructing the process -- that is India. It has chosen the path of brutalizing the people of Jammu and Kashmir.</p>    <p>A solution is already on the table given by the UN Security Council (UNSC) when India had approached the world body. The solution was that a referendum, or a plebiscite, would be held under the auspices of the UN to ascertain wishes of people of Jammu and Kashmir.</p>  <p> </p>    <p>AA: Will plebiscite cover all regions of Kashmir?</p>    <p>SMK: The whole of Kashmir which include five regions that we have today -- Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, Ladakh, the Valley of Kashmir and Jammu.</p>    <p>This was the decision by the UNSC, consented by India and Pakistan and also accepted by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Other solutions can evolve, if all sides have a kind of engagement. Because India is blocking all sorts of engagement, we cannot have a quest for an alternate solution.</p>  <p> </p>    <p>- Kashmir ‘not a bilateral issue’</p>    <p>Kashmir is not a bilateral issue and cannot be bilateralized. It is India’s preference to present it as a bilateral issue, a border dispute between India and Pakistan. But this is not a reality. The international community should focus on the Kashmir dispute, not just through a security prism and the consequences of a clash between India and Pakistan. But it should focus on the root cause -- the denial of the right to self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and gross violations of human rights. Unless you do that, at the official level, at the level of the UNSC, at the level of the capitals or the governments of the most powerful nations, this issue will continue to be a potent threat to the international peace and security. So, we need to involve the entire international community.</p>    <p>The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report last year (June 2018), which was followed by a similar report by the British parliament. Earlier in 2017 the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) produced a comprehensive report recording the human rights violations by the Indian occupation forces. Earlier this year, a hearing was conducted by the human rights committee of the European Parliament in Brussels.</p>    <p>So, these are positive steps in the right direction. But these steps are inadequate. The governments have to act on the recommendations of these reports and they have to invest their time, energy and political will, in ending repression in Kashmir and in developing mechanisms for the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.</p>  <p> </p>    <p>- ‘Nuclear Armageddon’</p>    <p>If there is a nuclear exchange and some people may choose to call it a limited nuclear exchange, it would not remain confined to the region. The consequences will be dangerous not just for India and Pakistan, but for the entire world.</p>    <p>I have listed its consequences in various presentations. There would be a massive radiation which would affect 2.5 billion people in South Asia. Some 20 million people will die. There would be an outflow of refugees and economic migrants to many parts of the world including Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, the Gulf region, Central Asia, in all directions. There will be a nuclear winter. The climate change would affect the entire humankind.</p>    <p>So, I think it is responsibility of the international community to avert such a war. But to avert such a war, you have to address the root cause which is the dispute of Kashmir.</p>  <p> </p>    <p>AA: The conflict in Kashmir is not just related to politics, economy, and geopolitics, but it is also about humans. Can you tell us about the human dimension of the Kashmir conflict? </p>    <p>SMK: There is a humanitarian crisis in the Indian-occupied Kashmir. The people from the territory will tell you what happens to the population there. There are long curfews, cordon and search operations (CASOs), there is an information blockade and there is also the closure of main road between Srinagar and Jammu. Harassment, persecution, hunting down, insults, disruption of business and humiliations are order of the day. Sources of livelihood of people have been destroyed.</p>    <p>For instance, crops have been burnt, orchards have been brought down, houses and businesses have been razed to ground. There is a humanitarian crisis of a bigger magnitude. People have demonstrated the will to live with this continuing perennially unfolding humanitarian crisis.</p>  <p>I have been talking to the Turkish interlocutors and the humanitarian organizations. They said that they are ready to help the people of Kashmir to provide some relief to them but the Indian government does not agree to such offers. They want to tell the world that here is this territory where there are some terrorists and the Indian government or the Indian forces are fighting these terrorists, This is the biggest falsehood and the lie of our times.

AA: If and when, a plebiscite is held, will it be held across Line of Control (LOC)?

SMK: Yes, in the entire territory. I mean if a referendum is held in accordance with the UNSC resolutions, then the population of entire territory, all the five regions that I identified would participate in the referendum.

AA: When it (referendum) will happen?

SMK: Once India is ready.

AA: So, is this still on the table?

SMK: Our stance is that these resolutions are valid. India’s stance is that they held elections in the 1950s to set up a constituent assembly and those elections constituted the will of people. We do not agree, and the UNSC also does not agree. There are two resolutions passed by the Security Council. The last resolution number 122 clearly stipulates that actions taken by the constituent assembly or the elections held by the Indian and Kashmiri authorities is not a substitute to the UN-prescribed and UN-mandated referendum or plebiscite.

– ‘Quadrilateral dispute’

AA: You had been a career diplomat before becoming the president and you mentioned that the Kashmir issue does not resonate in the world capitals as the other disputes like Palestine. Why it is so? What is your government doing to generate interest of world capitals on the Kashmir dispute? Recently, India suspended trade activity across the Line of Control. They said it was being used to push drugs and arms. Why your government provided such an excuse to India? About your description of international nature of the Kashmir dispute, the 1972 Shimla Agreement, signed between India and Pakistan, has converted it into a bilateral dispute?

SMK: Kashmir dispute does not resonate abroad, as a serious conflict, because India has succeeded convincing the world that it is a bilateral issue. But it is not so. It is a trilateral dispute because it involves India, Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, a quadrilateral dispute as it involves the UN also. The most important party is the people — because they have to decide about their own future.

In good faith I would say, from 1972 to 1989, we did not go to the international community with vigor. And, even after the 1990s, Pakistan tried to engage India at the bilateral plain, to find a solution. That is why both countries had a series of meetings under the composite dialogue process. But they proved unproductive and to say counterproductive.

The stance that — the 1972 Shimla Agreement has made Kashmir a bilateral issue, is one of India’s fabrications. I have read the agreement; its preamble starts with the UN charter. They (India and Pakistan) talk about the bilateral contacts. In addition, they talk about their respective positions on the issues. They also talk about the final dispositions of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

I do not have text of the agreement in front of me. But I can tell you that it (Shimla Agreement) has not bilateralized the issue. I can go with you paragraph by paragraph and tell that this was not the intention of Pakistan at that time and this is not the interpretation that we subscribe to. And again, it is self-serving for India to say there is a bilateral issue. First, they reduced it to a bilateral matter and then when we go to Delhi or invite them to Islamabad, then they do not talk on Kashmir at all. So, this is just a manipulation. They do not sincerely believe that this is a bilateral issue either which needs resolution.

– Return to International Community

Since I assumed presidency in August 2016, I have been visiting different capitals. I have been talking to the leadership in Pakistan to persuade and convince them that we cannot get results out of a bilateral process which has proved to be a mirage. We must return to the international community because Kashmir dispute is quite essentially an international dispute. It cannot be resolved between New Delhi and Islamabad because India is not sincere. It does not cooperate with Pakistan in finding a just, lasting and an enduring solution.

Regarding trade across the LoC, let me clarify, India acts like the judge, the jury and the executioner. All of a sudden in the midst of their (2019) elections, they raised this issue that all these trucks carrying merchandise across the LoC, had some weapons and drugs. Why were they (Indian authorities) silent all these years? And, what were their border officials doing? So, we think this is one of ploys to demonize Pakistan and this fits into their approach to level allegations without any shred of evidence or proof. If there was a complaint, we could have investigated it jointly. When were the weapons loaded and by whom? Who had cleared them, Pakistani side or the Indian side? Were the officials complicit? Did it happen at all?

  • Kashmir after Indian elections

    AA: Kashmir issue is being used by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a tool to win elections, as you mentioned. What is the stance of other Indian political parties, say the opposition Congress? Is there any possibility that after Indian elections the dimension of the conflict will change? If Modi is reelected, what kind of actions he would take?

    SMK: The rhetoric chosen by Modi and his extremist affiliates has changed character of the Indian electorate. Even other parties in order to lure extremist Hindu votes are competing with Modi. This is a tragedy. This has happened in India recently. The space for a secular vote has shrunk as a result of extremist positions taken by Modi and his associates.

    The second thing is that Congress party in the past when it was in power, were no lily whites, as far as Kashmir goes. It was equally brutal and oppressive towards the people of Jammu Kashmir. The only difference is that the Modi government shows off its muscles. They call it a muscular policy.

    There is this “Doval doctrine”, put up by India’s current national security advisor Ajit Doval. It says kill Kashmiris, subject Kashmiris to an unbearable punishment, do not talk to the Kashmiri leadership, particularly Hurriyat [Conference] leadership, and third is, do not discuss Kashmir with Pakistan or do not engage Pakistan on Kashmir. This is exactly what is happening. They are pursuing this muscular policy, but the Congress was no less oppressive and brutal.

    – Peace diplomacy

    On what will happen after elections, I do not want to speculate. There are indications that Modi might well be reelected. If he is reelected, it doesn’t mean he would come back cleansed as far as Kashmir is concerned. There is possibility that he would continue to pursue his extremist, fundamentalist rhetoric against Muslims in India and against the Kashmiris and against the state of Pakistan. But you know, in international politics anything can happen. We don’t know what would be composition of the government after the (Indian) elections. As far as the people and the state of Pakistan are concerned, I would say they really want to invest in peace diplomacy. They want engagement at all levels, bilateral level but with sincerity. Kashmiris and Pakistan would welcome any third-party mediation. We would welcome if the UN particularly the UNSC becomes more active.

    AA: You are an experienced former diplomat. You worked in the UN representing Pakistan. How do you see international community’s position on Kashmir issue? Whether it is sincere? What do you think about that?

    SMK: I have been in the United Nations both in Geneva and New York. I have done multilateral diplomacy for decades. You know right now we have a barrier in front of us. Within the permanent five, which is the U.S., the U.K., and France are closely aligned with India. They would try to protect India in the UNSC and promote India’s interest. They are not ready to move forward on Kashmir.

    – Role of China

    There are other permanent members. China has offered mediation from time to time through informal channels or at least has tried to de-escalate situation between two countries, by offering good offices. But the offer has been rejected by India. My sense is that since the Kashmiri struggle is legitimate, people have given immense sacrifices, they have vowed to would get their freedom and the right to self-determination under all circumstances.

    My message to Kashmiris is, do not lose heart. My message to the international community is, do not let this crime continue under your eyes and under your watch. The Kashmiris would win their freedom in any case, but the international community should play its role to reduce their pain.

    AA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over past 5 years has been stressing need to reform the UN structure. There are 5 permanent members who could not solve problems be that Syria or Kashmir. What do you think about reformation of the UN?

    SMK: In fact, Turkey and Pakistan are comrades in a small group, which is called Uniting for Consensus (UfC) within the UN. And together both the countries have been pressing to reform the UNSC and the organization as a whole. And we firmly believe that the pact should not remain concentrated in the hands of only five permanent members. But we believe that there should be no new permanent members and we should democratize the UN structure. I strongly believe that the UN needs to be reformed and I think that the collective efforts of the UfC, Turkey and Pakistan would succeed. We would continue to move in that direction. We would continue to obstruct moves of creating new centers of privilege in the UN in the form of new permanent members.

    – Role of Turkey

    The second aspect is that we are grateful to the leadership of President Erdogan and Turkey. He has spoken to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the plight of Kashmiris, about the need to address the Jammu Kashmir dispute in accordance with wishes of Kashmiri people. We are also grateful to the President of Turkey for demonstrating leadership in regard to Kashmir in the OIC.

    I remember I was there in the (Pakistan) Parliament Hall in 2016 when President Erdogan spoke to the people of Pakistan and to the people of Jammu Kashmir. He said that Turkey felt pain of the people of Jammu Kashmir. He emphasized that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute should be resolved in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and through diplomacy. We are grateful to the nation of Turkey and its leadership. I have been talking to different audiences here in Istanbul and Ankara. I have suggested to them that since we have strong faith in Turkey, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan would appreciate, if Turkey takes an initiative with India by trying to bring together all the stakeholders around a diplomatic table. India would, of course, say “no”, but Turkey and the international community should not take India’s “no” for an answer. But continue to persevere and persuade India to return to diplomacy, to come out of the state of denial — that the Kashmir dispute does not exist at all.

    – Humanitarian diplomacy

    I have also picked up a new term here, which is called, humanitarian diplomacy, which Turkey has been practicing it in different regions. Probably, the time is right for initiating humanitarian diplomacy on Kashmir also.

    There are also two levels, to which I have been referring to. One is hard-core top diplomacy, government to government, leadership to leadership, but then there is another type of diplomacy which can be people to people, think-tank to think-tank and at humanitarian organizations’ levels to create more space for consultation and conversation, between the stakeholders. We may find some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

    AA: Modi has also promised to abrogate the article 370 of the Indian constitution. It means that they are going to change the demographics of Kashmir and then they will agree to hold a plebiscite? Are there any precautionary measures to be taken from your side?

    SMK: We cannot directly interfere in the Indian-occupied Kashmir. The people of Indian-occupied Kashmir themselves have reason against these moves and have been resisting such moves. But the Indian government is ruthless in pursuing its agenda. This article 370 is now an empty shell. I mean its real value is symbolic, not substantive because all these years its provisions have been diluted or eroded.

    The other provision — article 35A — which grants separate citizenship rights to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir, is important. It does not allow non-residents and citizens of India to make settlements in Kashmir. They want to attack and scuttle and eliminate this article. That would be a very serious move and we hope that this does not happen. I am told that even Hindus in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh are opposed to this move, because they too, have special privileges and they do not want to surrender them.

    So, my own sense is that yes, they are trying to change the demographic composition of the Indian-occupied Kashmir. They are settling the West Pakistani refugees and building illegal settlements for former armed personnel to manipulate with the statistics and the electoral constituencies. But I do not think that India has any intention of saying “yes” to a plebiscite at any stage even if they start to initiate these measures.

    AA: Let us suppose a plebiscite is held in Jammu Kashmir today and the outcome is a sovereign state of Kashmir. How would you take it and what would be your and the government of Pakistan’s response?

    SMK: If we would implement the resolution which is passed by the UNSC in 1950s, there is no third option. There are only two options, India or Pakistan. But a sovereign independent state will have to find a different formula. Under the present formula, this is not possible.

Indians vote in fifth phase of general elections

                <p>By Shuriah Niazi</p>    <p>NEW DELHI, India (AA) - Indians on Monday voted in 51 parliamentary constituencies spread over seven states in a fifth phase of general elections. </p>    <p>According to the election commission, the overall turnout until evening remained 62.56%.</p>    <p>The highest poll with 74% was recorded in West Bengal state while the lowest 17.07% was recorded in Jammu and Kashmir, it said. </p>  <p>Violence were reported from West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir.</p>    <p>According to media reports, a candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from Barrackpore constituency of West Bengal alleged that he was attacked by workers of Trinamool Congress Party, a ruling party in the state.</p>    <p>Malfunctioning of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) were reported from many states -- including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.</p>    <p>Election Commission of India officials said polling went on smoothly, barring some complaints of EVM malfunctioning which were attended to immediately, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.</p>    <p>In Jammu and Kashmir, a dismal 2.81% voter turnout was reported from Pulwama and Shopian districts -- two of the four districts in Anantnag constituency -- according to the election commission.</p>    <p>Elections in Anantnag constituency, which at present is the center of anti-Indian resistance and militancy in the region, were held in four phases.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>Today’s voting concluded the polling in the constituency, with the total turnout of 8.67%.  </p>  <p> </p>  <p>Earlier in the day, suspected militants reportedly lobbed a grenade toward a polling station in Rohmoo in Pulwama district, while a petrol bomb was reportedly thrown at a polling station in Shopian. </p>    <p>No casualties were reported in the incident.</p>    <p>The voting in Kashmir has so far been low with Baramulla seeing a turnout of 34.6% and Srinagar with 14%.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>Meanwhile, Ladakh constituency of Jammu and Kashmir also went to polls on Monday and witnessed a turnout of 63.7%. </p>    <p>With the world’s largest electorate -- nearly 900 million -- the elections in India will be held in seven phases through May 19, the counting will be held on May 23, and the results are expected to be announced the same day.</p>    <p>The ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest contender in the elections, with current Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second term.</p>  

India: Death toll from Cyclone Fani hits 34

             By Ahmad Adil</p>  <p>CHANDIGARH, India (AA) - The death toll from cyclone Fani on Sunday reached 34 in the Indian state of Odisha, two days after the storm wreaked massive destruction in eastern India.</p>  <p>State emergency officials in Odisha’s capital on Sunday said of the 34 deaths reported, most were seen in the temple town of Puri (21).</p>  <p>Bishnupada Sethi, Odisha special relief commissioner, told Anadolu Agency the death toll is “subject to confirmation through police and postmortem reports that death occurred due to the cyclone.”</p>  <p>About the impact and damage from the cyclone, emergency officials said that 11 districts and 14,835 villages were affected.</p>  <p>They said over 1,000 health facilities and nearly 5,800 schools suffered damage due to the cyclone, and Puri saw extensive damage.</p>  <p>Fani made landfall impact on Friday morning, leaving behind a trail of destruction and devastation.</p>  <p>Naveen Patnaik, Odisha’s chief minister, said Fani is one of the rarest summer cyclones to hit Odisha in 43 years. </p>  <p>“It is also one of three to hit in the last 150 years. Odisha undertook the challenge to lead one of the biggest human evacuations in history, shifting 1.2 million people to safety in 24 hours. Odisha has been devastated by Cyclone Fani. Please help rebuild precious lives,” he said.</p>  <p>According to Philip Klotzbach from Colorado State University, Fani is the strongest cyclone this early in the year in the North Indian Ocean since 2008.

12 dead as Cyclone Fani batters India’s Odisha state

                             NEW DEATH TOLL, HEADLINE, AND DECK; REVISED AND UPDATED THROUGHOUT

By Ahmad Adil

CHANDIGARH, India (AA) – The death toll from Cyclone Fani in eastern India reached 12 on Saturday, with officials saying that they are still collecting details from throughout Odisha state about the damage from the extreme cyclone.

Among the casualties were three people, including a teenage boy, killed in Puri, and an elderly woman who died of a heart attack at a relief shelter in Kendrapara, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

“Massive restoration and relief work was launched on war-footing Saturday across 10,000 villages and urban areas,” the agency added.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Saturday morning: “Spoke to Odisha CM [chief minister] Naveen Patnaik Ji and discussed the situation prevailing due to Cyclone Fani. Assured continuous support from the Central Government in the wake of the cyclone. The entire nation stands in solidarity with all those affected.”

A Home Ministry statement said Odisha officials said that extensive damage to telecommunications and power infrastructure had been caused in Puri, Bhubaneswar, and other areas. “However, due to advance precautionary measures taken and large-scale evacuation, the loss of human lives was minimal,” it said.

It added: “West Bengal reported mild impact of the cyclone while Andhra Pradesh informed of heavy rainfall and some damage to crops and roads in Srikakulam district.”

According to the Defense Ministry, the Indian Navy launched a massive rescue and rehabilitation effort in Odisha. “Two maritime Recce sorties were undertaken by the Dornier aircraft of the Navy revealing widespread destruction localised around the temple town of Puri,” the ministry said.

On Saturday morning, Cyclone Fani – the strongest tropical cyclone to hit India in 20 years — hit West Bengal state, and meteorologists are saying it will move further towards Bangladesh, likely in a weakened state.

According to Philip Klotzbach from Colorado State University, Fani is the strongest cyclone this early in the year in the North Indian Ocean since Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

Earlier relief officials told Anadolu Agency that more than one million residents had been moved to safer locations in the state.

Eight dead as Cyclone Fani batters India’s Odisha state

            By Ahmad Adil</p>  <p>  <p><br>

CHANDIGARH, India (AA) – Cyclone Fani left a trail of destruction as it made landfall Friday in India’s Odisha state, knocking out power and inundating many areas.

At least eight people were killed, according to officials and local media.

“While three people, including a teenage boy, were reported killed in Puri district, three perished in Bhubaneswar and nearby areas. Flying debris from a concrete structure fatally struck a woman in Nayagarh. An elderly woman died of a heart attack at a relief shelter in Kendrapara district,” the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The Indian government’s Principal Spokesperson, Sitanshu Kar, said 160 people are reported to be injured.

“As per telephonic information, in Puri, extensive damage to kuchha houses, old buildings and temporary shops…Power and telecom is completely down. NDRF and state forces are clearing roads,” he said on Twitter, referring to the National Disaster Response Force.

“Damage is extensive. It is devastation. Buildings, roads are damaged. Electricity and telephones are affected,” Odisha Special Relief Commissioner Bishnupada Sethi told Anadolu Agency by phone, adding a damage assessment is being conducted.

Several videos of the damage caused to buildings and other property mostly in the capital city Bhubaneswar have surfaced on social media.

On Saturday morning, Cyclone Fani – the strongest tropical cyclone to hit India in 20 years — hit West Bengal state, and meteorologists are saying it will move further towards Bangladesh.

It is very likely to weaken to a cyclonic storm during the next six hours, according to an update released early Saturday by the Meteorological Department.

According to Philip Klotzbach from Colorado State University, Fani is the strongest cyclone this early in the year in the North Indian Ocean since Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

Earlier relief officials told Anadolu Agency that more than one million residents had been moved to safer locations in the state.

A statement from India’s Civil Aviation Ministry said Bhubaneswar airport has suffered damage.

“Based on the feedback and action taken, it was decided that Bhubaneswar [airport] will resume commercial flight operations with effect from 1300 hours India Standard Time on May 4, 2019,” the statement said.

UPDATE 2 – India: 1 million people evacuated as cyclone hits

                             ADDS DETAILS FROM BANGLADESH

By Ahmad Adil

CHANDIGARH, India (AA) – Cyclone Fani, a severe cyclonic storm, made landfall impact on Friday morning in India’s Odisha state, where more than one million people were evacuated ahead of the impact.

“The extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘Fani’ lay centered at 0930 hours IST [Indian Standard Time, 0400GMT] of today, 03rd May, 2019 near lat. 19.80n and long. 85.70e over Odisha coast close to Puri. Latest observation indicates that the eye of the system has completely moved into land by 1000 hours IST of today,” state meteorologists said on Twitter.

The cyclone crossed the Odisha coast close to the Hindu holy town of Puri, a major tourist destination, at 8.00-10.00 a.m. local time.

According to state meteorologists, the storm is very likely to move north-northeastwards and weaken into a very severe cyclonic storm with wind speeds of 90-100 kilometers per hour gusting to 115 kph by Saturday morning. From there it is likely to hit West Bengal and Bangladesh with reduced winds of 60-70 kph gusting to 80 kph.

Meteorologists said the landfall process has started and will continue for the next three hours. The process of the eye entering into land will be completed over the next two hours.

Local media reported that the cyclone hit the coast on Friday morning and has started making its impact felt. “Large areas in the temple town of Puri and other places were submerged as heavy rain battered the coast,” local broadcaster NDTV said on Friday.

Local authorities are on high alert with disaster teams deployed to several locations as 14 districts are expected to be impacted.

Prabhat Ranjan Mohapatra, a senior officer at Odisha's Special Relief Commissioner’s Office, told Anadolu Agency that more than one million residents had been moved to safer locations in the state.

Officials said that by using a location-based alert system, more than 10 million text messages were sent to people in different zones of vulnerability, urging them to take precautions and move to shelters.

According to Philip Klotzbach from Colorado State University, Fani is the strongest cyclone this early in the year in the North Indian Ocean since Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

  • Bangladesh district receives floods

Heavy rains caused floods in at least 25 villages on the coast of Bangladesh as Cyclone Fani is likely to hit the country on Friday midnight.

Also, more than 400,000 people were moved to cyclone shelters on Friday morning from the coastal districts vulnerable to the effects of the storm, Disaster Management and Relief Secretary Md Shah Kamal told reporters.

The number of affected people could swell to 2.5 million, he added.

All vessels have been asked not to venture into the sea until further notice.

River transport operation across Bangladesh has also been suspended.

  • Najmus Sakib contributed to this report from Dhaka

UPDATE – India: 1 million people evacuated as cyclone hits

                             UPDATED/REVISED THROUGHOUT WITH LANDFALL, LATEST STORM PROJECTIONS; UPDATED HEADLINE, DECK

By Ahmad Adil

CHANDIGARH, India (AA) – Cyclone Fani, a severe cyclonic storm, made landfall impact on Friday morning in India’s Odisha state, where more than 1 million people were evacuated ahead of the impact.

“The extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘Fani’ lay centered at 0930 hours IST [Indian Standard Time, 0400GMT] of today, 03rd May, 2019 near lat. 19.80n and long. 85.70e over Odisha coast close to Puri. Latest observation indicates that the eye of the system has completely moved into land by 1000 hours IST of today,” state meteorologists said on Twitter.

The cyclone crossed the Odisha coast close to the Hindu holy town of Puri, a major tourist destination, at 8.00-10.00 a.m. local time.

According to state meteorologists, the storm is very likely to move north-northeastwards and weaken into a very severe cyclonic storm with wind speeds of 90-100 kilometers per hour gusting to 115 kph by Saturday morning. From there it is likely to hit West Bengal and Bangladesh with reduced winds of 60-70 kph gusting to 80 kph.

Meteorologists said the landfall process has started and will continue for the next three hours. The process of the eye entering into land will be completed over the next two hours.

Local media reported that the cyclone hit the coast on Friday morning and has started making its impact felt. “Large areas in the temple town of Puri and other places were submerged as heavy rain battered the coast,” local broadcaster NDTV said on Friday.

Local authorities are on high alert with disaster teams deployed to several locations as 14 districts are expected to be impacted.

Prabhat Ranjan Mohapatra, a senior officer at Odisha's Special Relief Commissioner’s Office, told Anadolu Agency that more than one million residents had been moved to safer locations in the state.

Officials said that by using a location-based alert system, more than 10 million text messages were sent to people in different zones of vulnerability, urging them to take precautions and move to shelters.

According to Philip Klotzbach from Colorado State University, Fani is the strongest cyclone this early in the year in the North Indian Ocean since Cyclone Nargis in 2008.