Egypt, Tajikistan Discuss Water Cooperation

Egyptian Water and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty meets with Tajikistan’s Ambassador to Cairo Zarobiddin Kosimi. (Water and Irrigation Ministry)
Egyptian Water and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty meets with Tajikistan’s Ambassador to Cairo Zarobiddin Kosimi. (Water and Irrigation Ministry)
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Egypt, Tajikistan Discuss Water Cooperation

Egyptian Water and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty meets with Tajikistan’s Ambassador to Cairo Zarobiddin Kosimi. (Water and Irrigation Ministry)
Egyptian Water and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty meets with Tajikistan’s Ambassador to Cairo Zarobiddin Kosimi. (Water and Irrigation Ministry)

Egypt and Tajikistan discussed on Monday ways to boost cooperation in the field of water resources and irrigation.

Egyptian Water and Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty met with Tajikistan’s Ambassador to Cairo, Zarobiddin Kosimi and prepared a memorandum of understanding that includes all areas of proposed cooperation.

Kosimi praised the great development in Egypt's water system in recent years, said a statement released by Abdel Aty’s office.

He also discussed the arrangements made by Tajikistan to host the Dushanbe Water Conference in June 2022, which Abdel Aty will attend as a representative of Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly.

During the meeting, Abdel Aty reviewed Egypt’s preparations to hold the fifth edition of Cairo Water Week and the UN Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP 27) that will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November.

He highlighted the efforts made by his ministry to prepare for the UN mid-term review conference that will be held in New York in March 2023.

He announced that his ministry is preparing a regional report that lists the challenges of countries that suffer from water scarcity, as well as developing a number of recommendations that contribute to achieving the sustainable development goals.

Tajikistan is a member of the Water and Climate Coalition, which collaborates with a number of UN organizations to integrate between the water and climate agendas.

The Egyptian Water Ministry said in its statement that talks between Abdel Aty and Kosimi tackled the action plan of the Water and Climate Coalition, which is led by the presidents of Tajikistan and Hungary.

The minister briefed him on the measures taken by Egypt to improve its irrigation system and efforts to contain the impact of climate change, including the cleaning of canals, shift to drip irrigation and recycling of wastewater.



What are Cairo’s Options to Confront Impact of Red Sea Tensions on Suez Canal?

An American destroyer in the Red Sea to protect ships from Houthi attacks (US Army)
An American destroyer in the Red Sea to protect ships from Houthi attacks (US Army)
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What are Cairo’s Options to Confront Impact of Red Sea Tensions on Suez Canal?

An American destroyer in the Red Sea to protect ships from Houthi attacks (US Army)
An American destroyer in the Red Sea to protect ships from Houthi attacks (US Army)

Official statements in Egypt about a 60 percent decline in revenues from the Suez Canal have renewed questions about Cairo’s options to confront the impact of Red Sea tensions on the canal.
While some experts talked about diplomatic routes, others stressed that the Egyptian effort has limited results due to complex political obstacles that have led to these tensions, mainly the war in Gaza.
Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait, said that the Suez Canal revenues declined by 60 percent.
In recent statements on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington, he attributed this fall to the continued tensions in the Red Sea.
Since the end of November, the Yemeni Houthi group has been targeting ships in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab region, which it says are “owned or operated by Israeli companies.”
The attacks came in response to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, and forced international shipping companies to divert their vessels to the Cape of Good Hope route, despite the increase in shipping cost and time.
The Deputy Director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Ayman Abdel Wahab said that the political options available to Egypt to confront the Red Sea tensions “depend on maintaining diplomatic moves to enhance stability in the region.”
“Egypt needs to intensify its political movements with all parties to reach an international consensus to enhance stability in the Red Sea, and not just secure the movement of ships,” he said, adding: “Regional and international powers must reduce competition over Red Sea ports and seek a greater level of coordination.”
For his part, Economic Expert Wael Al-Nahas told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt’s current options to confront the decline in Suez Canal revenues are to increase exports in all fields to ensure a regular dollar flow.”
In a report issued on Monday, the World Bank indicated that the continuation of the crisis resulting from the Houthi attacks on vessels passing through the Red Sea, and the decrease in Suez Canal transit traffic, “will cause losses of about $3.5 billion in Egypt’s dollar revenues.”
Former Egyptian Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Mohamed Al-Orabi, said that Egypt had limited options to address the current situation.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Egypt alone cannot deal with the continued tensions in the Red Sea, and any Egyptian effort will have limited results due to the complexity of the political reasons that led to these tensions, mainly the war in Gaza.”

 

 


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.