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Outrage over right-wing Euro-MPs’ Kashmir visit

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Outrage over right-wing Euro-MPs’ Kashmir visit

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The visiting MEPs were taken for a boat ride on the picturesque Dal lake

A group of largely right-wing European parliamentarians (MEPs) have visited Indian-administered Kashmir, prompting outrage from local politicians who have not been allowed to go.The visit has been criticised as nothing more than a PR stunt. This is the first international delegation to visit the region since August, when India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stripped the region of its autonomy, split it into two federally run territories and imposed a lockdown that lasted for weeks. On the day of their arrival, the MEPs were given a tightly controlled tour of Srinagar – the main city of the region – which included a boat ride on the picturesque Dal lake. On the same day, five civilians were killed by suspected militants in the region, while clashes with security forces were reported from about 40 locations around Srinagar. Who are the visiting MEPs?The delegation initially comprised 27 members from countries including the UK, Spain, Germany, France and Poland – although four decided not to visit the region and returned to their home countries. But the choice of parliamentarians has been seen as extraordinary by many observers. More than a third of the delegation are from openly far-right parties in Europe, which are regarded as anti-Muslim. Among them are MEPs for the Alternative For Germany (AFD) and from France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally.

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More than a third of the delegation are from openly far-right parties in Europe

This has led to a slew of criticism from Indian opposition parties including Muslim leader Asaduddin Owaisi, who questioned the point of sending “openly fascist” MEPs to the region. The EU Parliament has stressed that the visit is not an official one and the MEPs who are visiting are doing so in a personal capacity. Chris Davies, an MP from the UK’s Liberal Democrat party, said his invitation was rescinded after he expressed a wish to have unfettered access to go anywhere and speak to anyone he wanted. He later told the BBC’s Gaggan Sabherwal that he was “not prepared to take part in a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well”. What did they do in Kashmir?The delegation was housed in a luxury hotel by the Dal lake – one of Kashmir’s principal tourist attractions – and was driven around under heavy security.They met about 15 hand-picked delegations, including traders and students, before being taken on their boat ride. Some reports pointed out that the meetings were held in a hotel next to a guest house where the state’s former Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, is being held under house arrest.

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Media captionThe families of two detained men have spoken to the BBC
Despite the government desire to showcase normalcy, however, correspondents say that the roads were largely deserted and markets shut. The BBC’s Riyaz Masroor says that as soon as word of the visit got out, announcements were made through mosque loudspeakers that there would be “no morning shopping” to protest against the “wrong portrayal of Kashmir’s situation”. The visit coincided with the holding of examinations for Kashmiri students.”Just a day before, the timing for the exams was changed from 11 in the morning to 12:30 [pm]. Parents here believe the timing was rescheduled to ensure traffic on roads,” our correspondent adds. Why is their visit so controversial?Well, mainly because access to Kashmir has been like gold dust. Opposition politicians, including the leader of the main opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi, who tried to visit the region while it was in lockdown, were turned back at the airport.Those who have been allowed in, like former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, could only do so after approaching the Supreme Court. After returning, Mr Azad alleged he had not been allowed to move freely, and that people had been warned against speaking to him.

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There were more than 40 incidents of stone-throwing in the region on the day of the visit

“The BJP’s nationalism is strange, allowing European MPs to visit and interfere in Kashmir while Indian MPs are sent back from the airport,” Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi said in a statement soon after the visit was announced.And it’s not just local politicians who have been barred. US Senator Chris Van Hollen was refused permission to visit the region earlier this month, and the United Nations has also not been allowed to send any observers or fact-finding missions there. Foreign journalists, even from news organisations based in India, have been refused permission to visit the region as well. Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez told the BBC the MEP’s visit smacked of double standards:”Embassies of EU countries in Delhi have been seeking permission to visit Kashmir for the past two-and-a-half months, but Delhi is adamant that it doesn’t want outside intervention of any manner in Kashmir. Now that Modi chose to invite his friends from the EU, how can he stop Americans, United Nations and other European countries from coming to Kashmir if they wish an unguided tour?”What does India get out of this visit?The idea seems to be an effort to control the conversation around what’s happening in the region. The government has repeatedly stressed that life is back to normal in the region.Even at the height of the lockdown, it frequently denied reports of protests – despite evidence to the contrary.

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Media captionThe Indian government has said this protest never took place
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who met the MEPs on Monday, said in a statement that the visit “should give the delegation a clear view of the development and government priorities of the region”.Although the move to strip the state of its semi-autonomous powers was widely welcomed in India, Kashmiris have criticised it, and there has been some international opposition, particularly from liberal lawmakers.Although there has been little outright condemnation, the EU has urged the Indian government to lift restrictions, restore internet access and free politicians and individuals detained after 5 August. The US has also just held a congressional hearing on the issue.

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Roads were largely deserted and markets shut when the delegation visited

Among the criticisms is the fact that thousands of people, including three former chief ministers of the state, have been detained. India has maintained that its actions in the region are an “internal matter”, but Pakistan in particular has made it an international issue, raising it at several high-profile forums including the UN General Assembly. Indrani Bagchi, a columnist with the Times of India, quoted sources in the government as saying that the exercise was partially meant to combat Pakistan, which regularly “ferries international diplomats to influence opinion against India”.However, some analysts say the choice of MEPs could work against India in this regard.David Devdas, writing for the Wire website, said: “Since most of the Members of European Parliament chosen for a trip to Kashmir belong to relatively xenophobic political groups in their countries, their endorsement may actually turn out to be counter-productive.”

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European leaders seized more power during the pandemic. Few have ‘exit plans’ to hand it back

The move was seen as controversial by some of Macron’s liberal allies: after all, instructing your citizens to be home by a certain time and tracking their medical information is hardly consistent with France’s liberal traditions. It wasn’t long ago that the French president was extolling the values of democracy. Speaking to the US Congress…

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European leaders seized more power during the pandemic. Few have ‘exit plans’ to hand it back

The move was seen as controversial by some of Macron’s liberal allies: after all, instructing your citizens to be home by a certain time and tracking their medical information is hardly consistent with France’s liberal traditions.

It wasn’t long ago that the French president was extolling the values of democracy. Speaking to the US Congress in 2018, he paid tribute to the “sanctuary of democracy” he was addressing and reminded the world of the words “emblazoned on the flags of the French revolutionaries, ‘Vivre libre ou mourir.’ Live free or die.” Ironic, given the president’s apparent eagerness to boss his citizens around to stop the spread of a deadly virus.

Macron’s loosening relationship with democracy doesn’t stop at tracking who’s been injected and forcing people indoors. Throughout the pandemic, the president has reduced the role that his parliament plays in scrutinizing his policy announcements.

“Parliament’s role in France is more limited under the new state of health emergency than before,” said Joelle Grogan, senior lecturer in UK public and EU law at the University of Middlesex. “There is no obligation for governments and administrations to send copies of orders they adopt to parliament.”

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) recently published a comprehensive study on how governments across the European Union had responded in the context of democracy and the rule of law. France was listed as a country of “significant concern” for the extent to which its government has subverted legal norms.

France is not the only EU nation that has backslid on democracy.

In Austria, Slovenia, Belgium and Lithuania to name a few, there is serious concern that governments have misused existing laws to restrict the liberty of citizens. In fact, DRI listed only Spain out of the 27 EU member states as a country of “no concern” when it came to parliamentary or legal oversight of Covid measures.

The most egregious example probably comes from Hungary, where the government passed legislation that allowed it to rule by decree with no judicial review.

Courts in Cyprus and the Czech Republic claimed to have no jurisdiction over coronavirus measures. This significantly reduced moves to safeguard any attempted government overreach.

A central concern of DRI’s report is that few European countries have a clear “exit plan” for ending states of emergency and returning to normal ways of governance.

Anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protesters demonstrate in Paris on the first day of a new four-week lockdown on March 20, 2021.

This is a real concern in the case of France. Phillippe Marlière, professor of French and European politics at University College London, notes that in recent years, France has introduced numerous states of emergency in response to terror attacks. Many of the measures introduced at these times concerning personal liberty have remained in place.

“I would bet that a lot of the illiberal measures that have come in under Covid, like the health pass and threats of curfews will remain in place or be seen again,” he said. “Politicians are very good at taking authority but less good at handing it back.”

There is particular concern among some that Macron, who is facing election next year, might see keeping a tight grip on power as advantageous.

“The French president has more power on paper than the American [resident. He can control the police, the army, all domestic policy, all foreign policy. He even appoints his own prime minister,” said Marlière. “This, combined with someone seeking re-election who is already shifting to the right on issues like Islam with no real oversight is very concerning.”

More worryingly, the DRI report also states that only five EU member states — the Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Portugal — have adequate exit strategies for a return to normal.

“It’s far easier to govern by decree than to govern within limits, so it’s obvious why leaders would want to hang onto powers,” said Grogan, who also noted that undermining the rule of law has been a problem within the EU for some time.

Police officers check a demonstrator during an anti-lockdown demonstration in Budapest, Hungary, on January 31, 2021.

In recent years, Hungary and Poland had both abused the rule of law to such an extent that article 7 of the EU’s treaty, which, if approved by all member states, would restrict both nations’ voting rights with the EU and restrict access to EU money, has been triggered against both.

The problem is that both Hungary and Poland are able to veto actions against the other, rendering the EU somewhat toothless. “What happens next is the big problem. We can talk about legal mechanisms and the laws. But ultimately we need political consensus,” Grogan adds.

Last summer, Brussels tried to force Hungary and Poland to fall in line though a mechanism in the EU’s long-term budget, but ultimately choked at the last minute and agreed a fudge in order to get the bloc’s Covid recovery funds approved.

That was two member states. What happens when it’s many more is a real unknown for the EU.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been accused of using the pandemic to grab emergency powers in France.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has a long history of undermining his country's democratic institutions.

“Fundamentally, the EU is a legal structure. It exists to obligate mutual rights between states and citizens,” said Grogan. “But it would be remiss to ignore the complexity beyond that. As Brexit proved it is a group of states deciding to be part of the club. Brexit showed us you can leave, but the problem is if someone doesn’t accept the values and doesn’t want to leave, it is legally impossible to remove a state.”

Where this ends is anyone’s guess. The EU is unlikely to fall apart, as many have predicted, but it is possible that Euroskeptics across the bloc can force changes that undermine the whole thing. And if you were looking for a way to destabilize the EU, making a mockery of the rule of law would be a good place to start.

“We’re seeing, as usual with emergencies, a shift of power towards the executive with oversight from parliaments, judiciary and other bodies getting weaker,” said Jakub Jaraczewski, research coordinator at DRI.

Boris Johnson echoes Republicans with voter ID push. But election fraud is still rare on either side of the Atlantic

“The EU could work towards better legal oversight — be it through the Commission, the Fundamental Rights Agency or even through the Court of Justice. But that would require political will from the leadership in member states for the central EU to take control of policy areas they prefer to keep close to their chests.”

It’s sometimes said that EU law is a complicated mess of narrow political interests dressed in a legal cloak. Those narrow political interests have had a greater impact on the bloc’s direction of travel than the ideals that supposedly unite 27 vastly different nations.

For the best part of a decade, member states bickering over precisely what Europe should be and how it should respond to crises has been the hardest thing for the EU to navigate. The disregard for law, however, is a more fundamental headache than disagreements on migration or how money should be spent.

When politics returns to something resembling normal, Brussels might find itself with more than just Poland and Hungary on the naughty step. And if these recent delinquents decide that their newfound powers matter more to them than keeping their EU neighbors happy, there is very little that EU grandees can do to stop the fallout destabilizing the whole bloc.

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Thousands evacuated as powerful Cyclone Tauktae threatens Indian region grappling with Covid

Tropical Cyclone Tauktae, which formed in the Arabian Sea, is moving northward along India’s western coast, bringing damaging winds, heavy rain and the threat of storm surges to the state of Gujarat. The storm is packing maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour (127 mph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. That’s equivalent…

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Thousands evacuated as powerful Cyclone Tauktae threatens Indian region grappling with Covid
Tropical Cyclone Tauktae, which formed in the Arabian Sea, is moving northward along India’s western coast, bringing damaging winds, heavy rain and the threat of storm surges to the state of Gujarat.

The storm is packing maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour (127 mph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. That’s equivalent to a strong Category 3 Atlantic hurricane and just shy of Category 4 strength, which begins at 209 kph (130 mph).

Tauktae has killed at least six people in southern Goa and Karnataka states.

At least two people died Sunday as a result of the storm, which caused heavy rainfall in Goa, the state’s chief minister Pramod Sawant said at a news conference.

“One boy died due to a tree falling on his head and the second death, two people were on a motorcycle when an electric pole fell on them and one died on the way to the hospital,” Sawant said.

In Karnataka, four people died, 216 houses were damaged and 253 people sought shelter in relief camps due to the cyclone as of Sunday evening, according to data from the Karnataka State Disaster Management Authority.

Police clear fallen trees from a road following heavy rains and strong winds brought by Cyclone Tauktae, at Panjim, Goa on May 16.

A rescue operation was conducted in Karnataka Monday, after two tug boats capsized Saturday with 10 people aboard. One body was recovered Saturday and the coast guard and navy rescued five people. The remaining four were stranded overnight but were airlifted by a navy helicopter, according to the coast guard on Monday.

Rescue and repair efforts are also underway in Kerala state, where several districts are on red alert for extremely heavy rainfall following strong winds and rain that damaged houses, downed trees, cut power lines and brought flooding as the cyclone moved northwest up the coast.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said Monday that Tauktae has intensified into an “extremely severe cyclonic storm.” As of 11 a.m. local time (1.30 a.m. ET), it was about 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of Mumbai and moving at a speed of approximately 15 kph (9 mph), the IMD said in its latest update. Landfall is expected on the Gujarat peninsula near the town of Diu around midnight on Tuesday local time.
Nearly 150,000 people are expected to be evacuated from villages and low-lying areas near the coast, and directions have been issued to complete the evacuation process by Sunday evening, the Gujarat government said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Rains over 200 millimeters (8 inches) have fallen in parts of India’s west coast and an additional 200 millimeters is possible in and around the Gujarat peninsula, according to CNN Weather. The threat to lives and property is likely to increase with storm surges expected between 1.5 and 3 meters (5 to 10 feet) in and around the landfall.

“It’s extremely rare for this time of year to have this cyclone, which is equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane, making its way into a landfall in India,” said CNN meteorologist Tom Sater. “It’s been coasting along the west coast of India, dropping an incredible amount of rainfall, flooding communities, (and causing) power outages.”

“If you head down to southern India, the town of Koch in Kerala — already over 500 millimeters of rainfall,” Sater added. “So communities have (already) been dealing with massive flooding, evacuations, downed trees, power outages. It’s a massive undertaking.”

Police and rescue personnel evacuate a local resident through a flooded street in a coastal area in Kochi on May 14.

India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said it has deployed more than 100 teams across six coastal states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu to help with evacuations and relief and rescue measures. Some 22 teams have been readied for back up, according to Satya Pradhan, director general of the NDRF.

“The main impact state will be Gujarat, and that’s where we expect maximum impact,” Pradhan said, adding that more than 50 teams had been deployed to that region alone. 

In addition, the Indian Coast Guard and Navy have also deployed ships and helicopters for search and rescue operations.

The IMD has warned the strong winds are expected to destroy thatched houses along the coast in Diu and southern coastal areas of Gujarat. Major damage is expected to buildings and roads, overhead power lines and signaling systems, while floods will likely block escape routes and disrupt railways.

Covid vaccines suspended, patients evacuated

The cyclone comes as India battles a devastating second wave of Covid-19, with millions infected across the country in the past month and hospitals running out of oxygen and medicine. Thousands are dying every day.

Gujarat is seeing a high caseload of new infections, with more than 8,200 reported on Sunday, according to the state’s Health and Family Welfare Department.

Vaccinations have been suspended across Gujarat for Monday and Tuesday, and the state’s chief minister, Vijay Rupani, has asked officials to ensure electricity supplies to Covid-19 hospitals and other medical facilities are not disrupted and the supply of oxygen is maintained, the state government said, according to Reuters.

“The state government is completely ready to deal with the Tauktae cyclone,” Rupani said Monday. “People in 655 villages have been identified across 17 districts for evacuation. More than 100,000 people have been evacuated.”

Rupani urged Gujarat residents to “remain indoors considering the possibility of heavy rains along with cyclone in the state.”

In neighboring Maharashtra state, home to India’s financial capital and most populous city Mumbai, coastal districts have been put on a “state of high alert,” the chief minister’s office said on Twitter.

In Mumbai, 580 Covid patients from “jumbo centers” — the city’s makeshift coronavirus care centers — were shifted to various hospitals ahead of the storm on Friday and Saturday, a statement from the city’s municipal corporation said.

Fishing boats anchored near Uttan village ahead of the expected arrival of Cyclone Tauktae on May 16,  in Mumbai, India.

The state government said it has also “taken adequate precautions to ensure continuous electricity and oxygen supply to hospitals.”

During the 2020 cyclone season, Indian authorities mounted multiple ambitious evacuation operations even as the virus complicated the emergency response. Relief teams grappled with how to get people to safety while also protecting them against the risk of Covid-19.

On Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed senior officials to “ensure special preparedness on Covid management in hospitals, vaccine cold chain and other medical facilities on power back up and storage of essential medicines and to plan for unhindered movement of oxygen tankers,” according to a statement.

After making landfall, the cyclone is expected to lose some of its wind strength, CNN meteorologist Sater said. But heavy rainfall is still expected to continue to move into the high terrain of northern India.

CNN’s Gene Norman, Swati Gupta, Akanksha Sharma, Manveena Suri and Derek Van Dam contributed reporting.

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‘Money, Explained’ and more of what you need this weekend

All right, yes, I also like having it.’Money, Explained’Get-rich-quick schemes. Swindlers. Chasing the American dream. Money — and how we need it, don’t have it and maybe could get it — is never far from the mind.Netflix made note of that and has blessed us with this new docuseries.”We spend it, borrow it and save…

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‘Money, Explained’ and more of what you need this weekend

All right, yes, I also like having it.

‘Money, Explained’

US Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota appears in
Get-rich-quick schemes. Swindlers. Chasing the American dream. Money — and how we need it, don’t have it and maybe could get it — is never far from the mind.

Netflix made note of that and has blessed us with this new docuseries.

“We spend it, borrow it and save it,” the show’s description reads. “Now let’s talk about money and its many minefields, from credit cards to casinos, scammers to student loans.

Mo’ money, mo’ problems? I am personally willing to risk it.

The series currently is streaming.

‘The Underground Railroad’

Thuso Mbedu stars in Barry Jenkins' adaptation of

Academy Award-winner Barry Jenkins has adapted a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead into a new limited series.

“The Underground Railroad” chronicles Cora Randall’s desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South.

But there is a twist.

After escaping a Georgia plantation, Randall (Thuso Mbedu) discovers the railroad is not a metaphor, but an actual structure beneath the soil.

The series starts streaming Friday on Amazon Prime.

‘Halston’

Ewan McGregor (center) as Halston, David Pittu (second from right) as Joe Eula, and Rebecca Dayan (far right) as Elsa Peretti star in the Netflix series

He was one of the first international superstars of fashion and now, more than 30 years after his death, he’s getting the biopic treatment.

This account of the rise — and fall — of Roy Halston Frowick, better known as Halston, stars Ewan McGregor as the famed designer, who came to be known for his elegant creations.

The limited series starts streaming on Netflix Friday.

Two things to listen to:

St. Vincent performs during the 61st Annual Grammy Awards at LA's Staples Center, February 10, 2019.

“Daddy’s Home” is the sixth and latest album from the artist known as St. Vincent.

It’s inspired by her father’s decade-long stint in prison for a white-collar financial crime.

“Pops was in the clink for 10 years, and he’s out,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I don’t mention it for sympathy or trauma points or anything like that. It’s just that the story was told without me in a tabloid-y way, and then it kind of seeped into my narrative. I was like, ‘Oh, this is awkward.'”

The new album drops Friday.

J. Cole headlines the main stage at the Wireless Festival 2018 at London's Finsbury Park, July 6, 2018.

If you ever have been to a J. Cole concert, you know that the rapper has a tendency to perform all the tracks from his current album.

As of Friday, he will have some new material.

The North Carolina native is releasing his latest studio project, “The Off-Season.”

Can’t wait for the next tour.

One thing to talk about:

(From left) Roast Master Seth Rogen and James Franco onstage during the Comedy Central Roast of Franco in Culver City, California, August 25, 2013.

The ripples of the #MeToo movement still are being felt.

As reported by CNN’s Toyin Owoseje, Seth Rogen recently said in an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times that he doesn’t plan on working with longtime friend and collaborator James Franco.
“What I can say is that I despise abuse and harassment, and I would never cover or conceal the actions of someone doing it, or knowingly put someone in a situation where they were around someone like that,” Rogen said when asked about comedian-actor Charlyne Yi‘s claim that he was Franco’s “enabler.”

Franco has denied claims that he was inappropriate and sexually exploitative with multiple women over the years.

But Rogen’s stance is a reminder that Hollywood takes claims seriously.

Something to sip on

Porsha Williams attends the

Can we get to the next season of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” already?!

Yes, Season 13 just wrapped up, but the news that cast member Porsha Williams is now engaged to a man viewers initially knew as the husband of one of her friends has folks chomping at the bit for more drama.

Here’s the deal: Businessman Simon Guobadia and his wife, Falynn, were introduced on the Bravo reality series this season — with her being listed as Williams’ “friend” in their first scenes.

“What we have is what we wish every single one of you out there — happiness. So when I asked … she said yes,” Guobadia now has said of his relationship with Williams.

For the record, Williams said their relationship began a month ago.

Yes, you read that correctly.

It’s unclear as to whether the Guobadias are legally divorced yet, but either way it all adds up to some possible not-to-miss content for Season 14.

“Real Housewives” maestro Andy Cohen is somewhere smiling so hard right now.

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