Amnesty International Exposes Illicit $46m South Sudan Arms Deal

People walk along a street in Juba, South Sudan December 21, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
People walk along a street in Juba, South Sudan December 21, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
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Amnesty International Exposes Illicit $46m South Sudan Arms Deal

People walk along a street in Juba, South Sudan December 21, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
People walk along a street in Juba, South Sudan December 21, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo

Amnesty International exposed in a recent research how a shell company in the heart of London’s West End acted as an intermediary in huge prospective arms deals to war-torn South Sudan and other countries, thanks to regulatory gaps which are making the UK a hotspot for companies involved in illicit arms transfers.

Commercial documents name S-Profit Ltd, a tiny UK-registered company, as the ‘supplier’ in a 2014 deal to provide at least US$46m worth of small arms, light weapons, and ammunition to the South Sudanese government. The report, From London to Juba: a UK-registered company’s role in one of the largest arms deals to South Sudan, also reveals that the UK government has been aware of similar practices taking place on British soil for more than eight years, without taking effective regulatory action.

“South Sudan is awash with weapons that have been used to kill and maim thousands of civilians, causing Africa’s biggest refugee crisis. The UK government has been a vocal proponent of a UN arms embargo on South Sudan, yet is turning a blind eye to illegal deals taking place right under its nose,” said James Lynch, Amnesty International’s Head of Arms Control and Human Rights.

“Glaring gaps in UK company regulation mean a dealer of illicit arms can go online and set up a UK company to front its activities with fewer checks than joining a gym or hiring a car. The UK must urgently review its company registration procedures – right now it provides the perfect conditions to become a hotspot for the kind of irresponsible arms transfers that have devastated South Sudan.”

The weapons in question form part of a previously undisclosed 2014 contract between a Ukrainian state arms company and a UAE-based company to procure US$169m of weapons on behalf of South Sudan. These include thousands of machine guns, mortars, RPGs and millions of rounds of ammunition.

If fulfilled, the total deal would constitute one of the largest publicly disclosed arms transfers to South Sudan since the outbreak of fighting in December 2013.

Amnesty International has not been able to determine whether some or all of the weapons listed in these documents have yet been delivered to South Sudan. However, a UK company may violate UK export control laws even by being involved in the negotiation of an arms deal to South Sudan. The involvement of the Ukrainian state-owned arms company and a UAE private company in weapons supplies to South Sudan also potentially contravenes the Ukraine and UAE’s obligations as signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty.

S-Profit’s director –a Ukrainian national based outside the UK – denied to Amnesty International that the firm had supplied military products to South Sudan, but has not responded to further questions, including whether it played an intermediary role.

Amnesty International affirmed that it has provided UK authorities with the documents and information it has obtained. The report also reveals that the UK government has, for more than eight years, been aware of UK shell companies being used unlawfully as contract vehicles for weapons dealers to supply arms to human rights violators and embargoed destinations including Syria, Eritrea and South Sudan. Yet, the UK has made no regulatory changes to address these gaps.

Meanwhile, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit said he was not happy about the ongoing civil war and suffering of citizens in the country.

"I am not really happy. I can be seen to be happy but hurting inside. How can I be happy when I see my people suffering? People are starving and dying in criminal actions and battles.” Kiir said in an interview with SSBC on Friday.

“Being the leader I must put a brave face where I can be seen to be happy but I am not happy,” he added.

Kiir pointed out that the national dialogue is a hope that will reunite the people of South Sudan address grievances which were not tackled by the 2015 peace accord.

The world’s youngest nation has been embroiled in a violent conflict since 2013, when a split between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, escalated into outright civil war.

The devastating conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions that have sought refuge in neighboring countries.



What Is Needed on Int’l and Regional Levels to Stop the War in Sudan?

 A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
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What Is Needed on Int’l and Regional Levels to Stop the War in Sudan?

 A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)

By Rasha Awad

The war in Sudan between the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) entered its second year with no progress made on reaching a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict. Some hope appears on the horizon with the announcement that the Jeddah negotiations will resume in Saudi Arabia in two weeks.

On the internal scene, the military escalation has continued on the ground and through military speeches. The situation has raised alarm among experts and observers in Sudan that the country may be headed towards a long war that may lead to the division of the country and the spillover of the conflict into the region, especially in wake of the RSF launching a drone attack on army positions in the eastern city of al-Qadarif.

Eastern Sudan has been largely spared from the war up until the April 9 attack.

Time as a decisive factor

The success of the negotiations will rely heavily on time. If the war stretches on, then new obstacles will emerge that will complicate negotiations. Such complications include defections from the army or RSF.

In this regard, Dr. Bakri al-Jak, official spokesman of the Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum), warned the war could take on regional and ethnic dimensions, instead of its current ideological and political ones.

There is the possibility that the army and RSF leaderships could lose control over their forces on the ground and that the country could be divided into areas of influence and control, which would be the first step in the division of Sudan, he added.

He therefore underscored the need to speed up reaching a negotiated solution and intensifying regional and international contacts in support of peace to avert the prolongation of the war.

Internal political will

Experts estimate that one year of war has cost Sudan 100 billion dollars. Around 90 percent of factories have been destroyed, 65 percent of agricultural production has come to a halt, and 75 percent of the services sector has stopped functioning. Moreover, wasted opportunities have cost Sudan an estimated 200 billion dollars.

Around 14,000 civilians have been killed, thousands are wounded and reported missing and 11 million have been displaced.

As for the military losses, the army and RSF have both refrained from disclosing figures, but the estimates are that they have both incurred heavy losses.

In spite of these massive losses, neither side has demonstrated the political will to turn to a negotiated solution even though the majority of the millions of Sudanese people want peace.

National and regional determination

Like all wars in the region, the conflict in Sudan is unlikely to come to an end without a national drive to reach peace. It should also be coupled with effective regional and international pressure on the warring parties to agree to a negotiated solution.

Writer and analyst Al-Haj Warraq said several factors will determine whether the war will stretch on or wind down. Among them is whether the United States would come with a unified position on Sudan.

He explained that the US is currently deeply divided between Republican and Democrat strategic visions. President Joe Biden’s Democrat administration itself is divided between supporters of the civilian rule in Sudan and others who would opt for empowering the Islamists (National Congress) under the command of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Advocates of civilian rule, meanwhile, continue to propose “empty general slogans” that offer nothing in specific, continued Warraq.

He went on to say that the declared goals of the American administration are “unachievable” because they don’t follow any specific policy and they contradict Sudan’s democratic leanings. In the end, however, several of the cards to end the war lie in American hands.

“So, the civilian democratic forces need to invest in Washington’s openness to draft a specific policy that would guarantee the end of the war, reestablish the democratic system and restore Sudan’s unity based on real federal foundations,” he stressed.

War and gold

Another significant factor in the war are the networks of looting that are funding it, especially the gold miners and smugglers. Besides financing the war, the networks have led to rampant corruption and bribery in the country.

They have played a role in tearing apart the ranks of the civilian forces. The powers pursuing peace must address this problem with the West and seek sanctions on these networks, which would be a step forward in ending the war.

Another factor that should end the war is the unification of the forces of peace and civilian democratic rule. Warraq said that even though Taqaddum was the largest coalition of civilian forces, “it needs to be more open to the people and include new forces and non-partisan figures.”

It also needs to develop its internal structure to make it more effective, he suggested.

The unification of an effective and united movement of civilian democratic forces will help “remove the legitimacy of the war”, said Al-Jak, who stressed the need for the forces to refrain from adopting the narrative of either of the warring parties. Rather, they should work on stopping them.

*Rasha Awad is a Sudanese researcher and spokesperson of Taqaddum.


Al-Jadaan from Washington: We Must Be Vigilant, Prepared to Confront Challenges Ahead

The IMF Managing Director and Al-Jadaan during their joint press conference in Washington (AFP)
The IMF Managing Director and Al-Jadaan during their joint press conference in Washington (AFP)
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Al-Jadaan from Washington: We Must Be Vigilant, Prepared to Confront Challenges Ahead

The IMF Managing Director and Al-Jadaan during their joint press conference in Washington (AFP)
The IMF Managing Director and Al-Jadaan during their joint press conference in Washington (AFP)

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Chairman of the International Monetary and Finance Committee (IMFC), said that the war in Ukraine, the crisis in Gaza, and the obstruction of shipping in the Red Sea have repercussions on the global economy.
Al-Jadaan’s words came during a joint press conference with the IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, at the end of the 49th meeting of the Fund’s International Monetary and Finance Committee (IMFC), on the sidelines of the IMF spring meetings currently taking place in Washington.
The Saudi minister has been chosen to chair the IMFC for a period of three years as of Jan. 4, 2024.
“While recognizing the IMFC is not the forum to resolve geopolitical and security issues and these issues will be discussed in other fora, IMFC members acknowledged that these situations have significant impacts on the global economy. Today’s era must not be of war and conflict,” Al-Jadaan said, in a statement published on behalf of the Committee.
He continued: “A soft landing for the global economy appears to be drawing closer. Economic activity has proved more resilient than expected in many parts of the world, though it continues to diverge across countries. However, medium-term global growth prospects remain weak. Ongoing wars and conflicts continue to impose a heavy burden on the global economy.”
The statement stressed that although inflation has decreased in most regions, due to the decline in supply shocks and the effects of tight monetary policy, its persistence calls for caution.
“Against this background, our policy priorities are to achieve price stability, strengthen fiscal sustainability, and safeguard financial stability, while promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. We will proceed with rebuilding fiscal buffers, carefully tailoring actions to country-specific circumstances, while protecting the most vulnerable and growth-enhancing investment,” the IMFC chair underlined.
The Committee also stressed the importance of international cooperation to improve the resilience of the global economy and the international monetary system, and to work collectively to support climate and digital transformations, including artificial intelligence, taking into account the specific circumstances of each country.
It added: “We reiterate our commitments on exchange rates, addressing excessive global imbalances, and governance, and our statement on the rules-based multilateral trading system, as made in April 2021, reaffirming our commitment to avoid protectionist measures. We will also continue working together to strengthen the global financial safety net and address global debt vulnerabilities.”

 


Saudi National Handball Team in UAE to Participate in First GCC Youth Games

The delegation of the Saudi handball team arrived in the United Arab Emirates to take part in the first edition of the GCC Youth Games.
The delegation of the Saudi handball team arrived in the United Arab Emirates to take part in the first edition of the GCC Youth Games.
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Saudi National Handball Team in UAE to Participate in First GCC Youth Games

The delegation of the Saudi handball team arrived in the United Arab Emirates to take part in the first edition of the GCC Youth Games.
The delegation of the Saudi handball team arrived in the United Arab Emirates to take part in the first edition of the GCC Youth Games.

The delegation of the Saudi handball team arrived on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates to take part in the first edition of the GCC Youth Games, said the Saudi Press Agency.
The games will be held from 20 to 26 April 2024, at the Bataeh Club hall in the Emirate of Sharjah.
The list of the national team participating in the tournament included 18 players.
Six teams will participate in the tournament: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain.


SEU Participates in the Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions

The Saudi Electronic University (SEU) is participating in 49th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva (IEIG). (SPA)
The Saudi Electronic University (SEU) is participating in 49th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva (IEIG). (SPA)
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SEU Participates in the Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions

The Saudi Electronic University (SEU) is participating in 49th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva (IEIG). (SPA)
The Saudi Electronic University (SEU) is participating in 49th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva (IEIG). (SPA)

The Saudi Electronic University (SEU) is participating in 49th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva (IEIG), held from April 17 to 21, 2024, the Saudi Press Agency said on Friday.
The SEU's participation includes three inventions that demonstrate its interaction with the international community and open new horizons of cooperation and expertise exchange with other institutions in scientific research and innovation.
As many as 26 Saudi universities are participating in the event.

The exhibition is acknowledged as the most important exhibition of inventions anywhere today. It is also the most international, with the participation of more than 45 countries.

 


5 Japanese Workers in Pakistan Escape Suicide Blast Targeting their Van

A Pakistani security official stands guard as the body of an alleged terrorist, killed by security forces at the scene of a suicide bomb attack, is shifted to a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, 19 April 2024. EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER
A Pakistani security official stands guard as the body of an alleged terrorist, killed by security forces at the scene of a suicide bomb attack, is shifted to a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, 19 April 2024. EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER
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5 Japanese Workers in Pakistan Escape Suicide Blast Targeting their Van

A Pakistani security official stands guard as the body of an alleged terrorist, killed by security forces at the scene of a suicide bomb attack, is shifted to a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, 19 April 2024. EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER
A Pakistani security official stands guard as the body of an alleged terrorist, killed by security forces at the scene of a suicide bomb attack, is shifted to a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, 19 April 2024. EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER

A suicide bomber targeted a van carrying Japanese nationals in Pakistan's port city of Karachi on Friday, police said. The Japanese nationals escaped unharmed but officials later said one bystander was killed.
Initially, police said the van was heading to an industrial area where the five Japanese nationals worked when it came under attack, local police chief Arshad Awan said. Police escorting the Japanese returned fire, killing a second attacker, the bomber's accomplice, he said.
“All the Japanese who were the target of the attack are safe,” Awan added.
Police had initially said the five worked at Pakistan Suzuki Motors but later corrected that statement, saying it was another factory.
Images on local news channels showed a damaged van as police officers arrived at the scene. The three passersby who were wounded in the attack were taken to the hospital, where one later died. The two others were said to be in stable condition, The Associated Press said.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif denounced the attack in separate statements, praised police for their quick response and vowed to eliminate terrorism. They also offered prayers for the casualties.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed the Japanese nationals were unhurt and said it “strongly condemns this heinous act of terrorism. All necessary measures will be taken to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
“Pakistan remains committed to ensuring the safety of foreign nationals residing in the country," the ministry said.
The ministry said two Pakistani nationals were killed in Friday's attack, which contradicted the statements from police and hospital officials who said one of the three wounded died. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled.
The van was given a police escort following reports of possible attacks targeting foreigners working in Pakistan on various Chinese-funded and other projects, said Tariq Mastoi, a senior police officer. He said a timely and quick response from the guards and police foiled the attack and both attackers were killed.
No one immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion is likely to fall on separatists or the Pakistani Taliban, who have stepped up attacks on security forces in recent years.
Insurgents have also targeted Chinese working in Pakistan on projects relating to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which includes a multitude of megaprojects such as road construction, power plants and agriculture.
In March, five Chinese and their Pakistani driver were killed when a suicide bomber in northwestern Pakistan rammed his explosive-laden car into a vehicle when they were heading to the Dasu Dam, the biggest hydropower project in Pakistan, where they worked.
Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, is the capital of southern Sindh province.
Separately, an Afghan Taliban religious scholar, Mohammad Omar Jan Akhundzada, was killed on Thursday by gunmen inside a mosque in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, a local police officer Akram Ullah said.
No one claimed responsibility for that attack.
Many Afghan leaders and scholars lived in Quetta and elsewhere in Pakistan before the Afghan Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021 as US and NATO forces withdrew. Most then went back and it was unclear why Akhundzada was still in Pakistan.


American Officials: Israeli Strike Was ‘Symbolic’, Chances of Escalation Are Low

Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
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American Officials: Israeli Strike Was ‘Symbolic’, Chances of Escalation Are Low

Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)

The American administration has exercised caution over the explosions that were reported near a major air base near Iran’s city of Isfahan.

The White House has not condemned or supported the purported Israeli strike. Reports have said that Israel had informed Washington of its intention to carry out the attack at the last minute.

On Friday, Iran fired air defenses at a major air base and a nuclear site near the central city of Isfahan after spotting drones. They were suspected to be part of an Israeli attack in retaliation for Tehran’s unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country last weekend.

A senior American official said Israel had informed the US on Thursday of its plan to avenge the Iranian attack.

The official added that the White House had warned that escalation with Iran would not serve US or Israeli interests. He urged Israel to exercise caution in its retaliation, stressing that ultimately this was an Israeli decision.

Strike aimed at de-escalation

Several analysts and experts described the Israeli strike on Isfahan as “limited”, saying it was aimed at averting a new round of escalation that could push the region to a full-scale war. The attack also took into account American concerns and advice to avoid attacking Iranian nuclear sites.

An attack on nuclear facilities may only push Iran to forge ahead with its nuclear program.

American analysts were unanimous in saying that the Israeli retaliation was “symbolic” and that it sends a message to Iran and allows its regime to claim that Tel Aviv’s attack did not cause damage.

Changing the rules of engagement

US former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN: “There's no question that the rules of engagement have changed.”

“We've just had, not only Israel striking an embassy complex in Damascus, but Iran then striking back with 300 missiles into Israel. And now, Israel has struck at a target in Iran,” he noted.

“It also appears that Israel did pay attention to a lot of the warnings from the world, not to dramatically escalate the response. This was a pretty targeted effort, aimed at hitting a target in Iran near the nuclear facilities, and sending a message to Iran,” he remarked.

“Iran does not appear willing to respond. So, I think the hope is that perhaps we have achieved some kind of rough balance at this point. And that perhaps deterrence has been reestablished,” he stated.

Furthermore, Panetta said developments could possibly unfold along two paths. The first path, which he said was better for Israel, would be for bolstering the Israeli coalition with the US, European countries and regional powers to end the war in Gaza and the terrible humanitarian crisis there.

“That's the hopeful path,” he added.

“The path of concern is that if anything happens here and in foreign policy in that part of the world - there is always miscalculations. What Israel did show is that they could penetrate Iran and that Iran could not take defensive action,” he noted.

“So, there are a lot of questions that have been raised here as a result of these efforts. And the question is going to be whether the Iranian leadership wants to maintain a period of balance or whether or not they're going to continue to try to hit each other,” he explained.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs General Mark Kimmitt told CNN that Israel succeeded in breaching Iran’s air defenses without anyone noticing and then it carried out an attack near nuclear sites that Iran wants to protect.

The message was if Iran wanted to escalate then it will have a lot to lose, he added. The Iranians seem to have understood that and they also understood the messages of de-escalation from the US, Germany and other partners.

Ease of escalation

Former US Ambassador Dennis Ross said that “Israel hit in very limited way in Iran and in Syria,” proving a point that it will respond.

“Iran is acting now as if it deterred Israel from a larger strike,” he added in a post on the X platform. “Both sides made a point and are ready to go back to the shadows for the time-being. But both see how easy it is to escalate.”

Meanwhile, former US National Security Adviser John Bolton slammed the Biden administration over its stance towards Israel and launched a campaign in support of Israel.

“Israel has been under constant attack by Iran and its terrorist proxies since October 7th. Joe Biden turned his back on our ally and continues to recommend the Israelis not defend themselves. I need to know if you stand with Israel or not,” he said in a post on X.


Indians Vote in the First Phase of the World's Largest Election as Modi Seeks a Third Term

A polling officer takes the thumb impression of a woman before she votes at a polling station during the first phase of the general election, in Bikaner district, Rajasthan, India, April 19, 2024. REUTERS/Amit Dave
A polling officer takes the thumb impression of a woman before she votes at a polling station during the first phase of the general election, in Bikaner district, Rajasthan, India, April 19, 2024. REUTERS/Amit Dave
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Indians Vote in the First Phase of the World's Largest Election as Modi Seeks a Third Term

A polling officer takes the thumb impression of a woman before she votes at a polling station during the first phase of the general election, in Bikaner district, Rajasthan, India, April 19, 2024. REUTERS/Amit Dave
A polling officer takes the thumb impression of a woman before she votes at a polling station during the first phase of the general election, in Bikaner district, Rajasthan, India, April 19, 2024. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Millions of Indians began voting on Friday in a six-week election that's a referendum on Narendra Modi, the populist prime minister who has championed an assertive brand of Hindu nationalist politics and is seeking a rare third term as the country's leader.
People began lining up at polling stations hours before they were allowed in at 7 a.m. in parts of 21 states, from the Himalayan mountains to the tropical Andaman Islands. Nearly 970 million voters — more than 10% of the world’s population — will elect 543 members to the lower house of Parliament for five years during the staggered election that runs until June 1. The votes will be counted on June 4. There are a total of 28 states in India.
The voting ended at 6 p.m. (1230 GMT) and the turnout was estimated at around 60% of 166.3 million eligible voters in the first round, the election authority said in a statement. By comparison, India’s 2019 national election registered the highest ever voter turnout — 67.11% — in the history of Indian parliamentary elections.
The second round will be held on April 26, and turnout is expected to increase over the course of the voting. Authorities said the voting was largely peaceful on Friday. Media reports said that some supporters of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress party clashed in Chhindwara, a city in central India, during the voting.
Some workers of the BJP and the All India Trinamool Congress clashed in West Bengal state on Thursday night. Some injuries were reported, but the election authority didn't give any details.
This election is seen as one of the most consequential in India’s history and will test the limits of Modi's political dominance.
If Modi wins, he’ll be only the second Indian leader to retain power for a third term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.
Most polls predict a win for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is up against a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties.
It's not clear who will lead India if the opposition alliance, called INDIA, wins the election. Its more than 20 parties haven't put forward a candidate yet.
The BJP controls much of India's Hindi-speaking northern and central parts, but is now trying to gain a foothold in the east and south. Their toughest challenge is in the southern Tamil Nadu state, with 39 seats, where voting is being held on Friday.
Voters in hot and humid Chennai, the state's capital, began briskly filling the city's nearly 4,000 polling booths. A number of them said they were voting for a change in federal government given rising prices, unemployment and religious polarization stoked by the BJP.
“First thing I came to vote for is to have a country without any religious disharmony. In Tamil Nadu — Hindus, Muslims, Christians, we're all together. And this unity should grow," said 65-year-old Mary Das, who was waiting to vote.
P. Chidambaram, an opposition Congress party leader and the country’s former finance minister, said that the people of Tamil Nadu wouldn't vote for the BJP as “it is imposing one language, one culture, one system and one kind of food.”
The BJP has long struggled to capture votes in the state, where two powerful regional parties — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — dominate. The BJP drew a blank in 2019, and won one seat in 2014.
In Rajasthan, people returning from polling stations covered their heads against dusty winds.
“If the new government is able to solve unemployment, then it will be good. People are migrating from this region to earn a living," said Atinder Singh, 26.
Voting is also taking place in the northeastern state of Manipur, where a near-civil war for a year has triggered ethnic violence. Mobs have rampaged through villages and torched houses, and more than 150 people have been killed.
The election comes after a decade of Modi's leadership, during which the BJP has consolidated power through a combination of Hindu-first politics and economic development.
Modi has ratcheted up Hindu nationalist rhetoric on the campaign trail, and has sought to present himself as a global leader. His ministers tout him as the steward of a surging India, while his supporters celebrate his campaign promise to make India a developed nation by 2047, when it marks 100 years of independence.
But while India’s economy is among the world’s fastest-growing, many of its people face growing economic distress. The opposition alliance is hoping to tap into this, seeking to galvanize voters on issues like high unemployment, inflation, corruption and low agricultural prices that have driven two years of farmers' protests.
The opposition — and critics — also warn that Modi has turned increasingly illiberal. They accuse Modi of using tax authorities and the police to harass the opposition, and they fear a third term could undermine India's democracy. His Hindu nationalist politics, they argue, has bred intolerance and threatens the country's secular roots.
Modi insists that India's commitment to democracy is unchanged. He told a Summit for Democracy meeting in New Delhi in March that “India is not only fulfilling the aspirations of its 1.4 billion people, but is also providing hope to the world that democracy delivers and empowers.”
The Indian leader, who enjoys vast popularity, is targeting a two-thirds majority this time.
The BJP hopes for a landslide win powered by its popular welfare programs, which it says have improved access to clean toilets, health care and cooking gas, as well as providing free grain to the poor. Moves like the construction of a controversial temple to Ram on the site of a demolished mosque, and the scrapping of the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir's former autonomy, may resonate with supporters who hail him as the champion of the Hindu majority.
“Any party that comes back for a third term, and with a brute majority, is a scary prospect for democracy,” said Arati Jerath, a political commentator.
 


Verstappen Wins Again. This Time He Takes First Formula 1 Sprint Race of the Season

Formula One F1 - Chinese Grand Prix - Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China - April 18, 2024 Red Bull's Max Verstappen ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix REUTERS/Edgar Su
Formula One F1 - Chinese Grand Prix - Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China - April 18, 2024 Red Bull's Max Verstappen ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix REUTERS/Edgar Su
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Verstappen Wins Again. This Time He Takes First Formula 1 Sprint Race of the Season

Formula One F1 - Chinese Grand Prix - Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China - April 18, 2024 Red Bull's Max Verstappen ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix REUTERS/Edgar Su
Formula One F1 - Chinese Grand Prix - Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China - April 18, 2024 Red Bull's Max Verstappen ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix REUTERS/Edgar Su

Max Verstappen, continuing his dominance in Formula 1, took Saturday's first sprint race of the season — the prelude to the full-blown Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday.
Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes on the ninth of 19 laps and stretched out his lead to win by 13 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Sergio Perez of Red Bull was third and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari was fourth, The Associated Press said.
“The first few laps were quite hectic," Verstappen said. “Once I got in the lead the car was handling pretty well.”
It was his eighth victory in an F1 sprint.
Red Bull's Verstappen is the three-time defending F1 champion and is almost unbeatable in any format.
He now has 85 points to lead of the overall season standings. Perez is second with 70 followed by Leclerc with 64 and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari with 59.
Second place was like a consolation victory for Hamilton. The seven-time champion has not been a factor the last several seasons. His last GP win was in 2021 in Saudi Arabia in the second-last race of the season.
“I forgot what he felt like to be out ahead,” Hamilton said. “It felt good for the short while that I had it. I was grateful for the moment.”
Verstappen will be the favorite to win Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix, which is the fifth race of the season. Verstappen has won three of the first four GP races and 22 of the last 26.
Lando Norris of McLaren and Hamilton of Mercedes started on the front row with Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin and Verstappen on the second row.
The sprint — F1 will run six this season — is about one-third the distance of a full race. The winner gets eight points with seven for second, six for third and so forth.
Saturday's race was run on a dry track, unlike the wet and slippery qualifying session on Friday.
Verstappen likened the sprint qualifying on Friday to “driving on ice.” Verstappen was among several drivers who ran off the track in a chaotic, wet session exacerbated by the track, itself.
The track is the great unknown going into Sunday's race. This is the first Formula 1 race in China in five years. The circuit has had a thin “seal coating” applied, described as liquid asphalt. F1 tire supplier Pirelli said it was not fully aware of the changes heading into the race.
Two small grass fires broke out on at the edge of the track in Friday practice. The circuit was built on a marshy area, and a methane gas leak is suspected.


North Korea Says It Tested ‘Super-Large’ Cruise Missile Warhead and New Anti-aircraft Missile

In this photo provided Saturday, April 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, a missile that the state media call "Hwasal-1 Ra-3 strategic cruise missile", is launched from transporter erector launcher vehicle in North Korea, Friday, April 19, 2024. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
In this photo provided Saturday, April 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, a missile that the state media call "Hwasal-1 Ra-3 strategic cruise missile", is launched from transporter erector launcher vehicle in North Korea, Friday, April 19, 2024. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
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North Korea Says It Tested ‘Super-Large’ Cruise Missile Warhead and New Anti-aircraft Missile

In this photo provided Saturday, April 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, a missile that the state media call "Hwasal-1 Ra-3 strategic cruise missile", is launched from transporter erector launcher vehicle in North Korea, Friday, April 19, 2024. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
In this photo provided Saturday, April 20, 2024, by the North Korean government, a missile that the state media call "Hwasal-1 Ra-3 strategic cruise missile", is launched from transporter erector launcher vehicle in North Korea, Friday, April 19, 2024. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

North Korea said Saturday it tested a “super-large” cruise missile warhead and a new anti-aircraft missile in a western coastal area as it expands military capabilities in the face of deepening tensions with the United States and South Korea.

North Korean state media said the country’s missile administration on Friday conducted a “power test” for the warhead designed for the Hwasal-1 Ra-3 strategic cruise missile and a test-launch of the Pyoljji-1-2 anti-aircraft missile. It said the tests attained an unspecified “certain goal.”

Photos released by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency showed at least two missiles being fired off launcher trucks at a runway.

North Korea conducted a similar set of tests Feb. 2, but at the time did not specify the names of the cruise missile or the anti-aircraft missile, indicating it was possibly seeing technological progress after testing the same system over weeks.

KCNA insisted Friday’s tests were part of the North’s regular military development activities and had nothing to do with the “surrounding situation.”

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest in years, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dialing up his weapons demonstrations, which have included more powerful missiles aimed at the US mainland and US targets in the Pacific.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have responded by expanding their combined military training and sharpening their deterrence strategies built around strategic US assets.

Cruise missiles are among a growing collection of North Korean weapons designed to overwhelm regional missile defenses. They supplement the North’s vast lineup of ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at the continental United States.

Analysts say anti-aircraft missile technology is an area where North Korea could benefit from its deepening military cooperation with Russia, as the two countries align in the face of their separate, intensifying confrontations with the US. The United States and South Korea have accused North Korea of providing artillery shells and other equipment to Russia to help extend its warfighting in Ukraine.


US Says UN Agency Has Agreed to Help in Distribution of Aid to Gaza via Sea Route

 19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians inspect the largely destroyed homes and roads after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians inspect the largely destroyed homes and roads after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
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US Says UN Agency Has Agreed to Help in Distribution of Aid to Gaza via Sea Route

 19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians inspect the largely destroyed homes and roads after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)
19 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Khan Younis: Palestinians inspect the largely destroyed homes and roads after the Israeli army withdrew from the town of Abasan, east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (dpa)

The UN World Food Program has agreed to help deliver aid for the starving civilians of Gaza once the US military completes a pier for transporting the humanitarian assistance by sea, US officials said Friday.

The involvement of the UN agency could help resolve one of the major obstacles facing the US-planned project — the reluctance of aid groups to handle on-the-ground distribution of food and other badly needed goods in Gaza absent significant changes by Israel.

An Israeli military attack April 1 that killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen intensified international criticism of Israel for failing to provide security for humanitarian workers or allow adequate amounts of aid across its land borders.

President Joe Biden, himself facing criticism over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza while supporting Israel's military campaign against Hamas, announced March 8 that the US military would build the temporary pier and causeway, as an alternative to the land routes.

The US Agency for International Development confirmed to The Associated Press that it would partner with the WFP on delivering humanitarian assistance to Gaza via the maritime corridor.

“This is a complex operation that requires coordination between many partners, and our conversations are ongoing. Throughout Gaza, the safety and security of humanitarian actors is critical to the delivery of assistance, and we continue to advocate for measures that will give humanitarians greater assurances,” USAID said in its statement to the AP.

US and WFP officials were working on how to deliver the aid to Palestinian civilians "in an independent, neutral, and impartial manner,” the agency said.

There was no immediate comment from the WFP, and an WFP spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Israel promised to open more border crossings into Gaza and increase the flow of aid after its drone strikes killed the seven aid workers, who were delivering food into the Palestinian territory.

The war was sparked when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 250 others hostage. The Israeli offensive in Gaza, aimed at destroying Hamas, has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, according to local health officials. Hundreds of UN and other humanitarian workers are among those killed by Israeli strikes.

International officials say famine is imminent in northern Gaza, where 70% of people are experiencing catastrophic hunger.

The US military will be constructing what’s known as a modular causeway as part of the maritime route, in hopes that handling the inspection and processing of the aid offshore will speed the distribution to Gaza's people.

Offshore, the Army will build a large floating platform where ships can unload pallets of aid. Then the aid will be transferred by Army boats to a motorized string of steel pier or causeway sections that will be anchored to the shore.

Several Army vessels and Miliary Sealift Command ships are already in the Mediterranean Sea, and are working to prepare and build the platform and pier.

That pier is expected to be as much as 1,800 feet (550 meters) long, with two lanes, and the Pentagon has said it could accommodate the delivery of more than 2 million meals a day for Gaza residents.

Army Col. Sam Miller, commander of the 7th Transportation Brigade, which is in charge of building the pier, said about 500 of his soldiers will participate in the mission. All together, Pentagon officials have said about 1,000 US troops will be involved.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters this week that the US in on track to have the system in place by the end of the month or early May. The actual construction of the pier had been on hold as US and international officials hammered out agreements for the collection and distribution of the aid.

He said the US has been making progress, and that Israel has agreed to provide security on the shore. The White House has made clear that there will be no US troops on the ground in Gaza, so while they will be constructing elements of the pier, they will not transport aid onto the shore.

US Navy ships and the Army vessels will provide security for US forces building the pier.