BBC News – Manchester attack: What we know so far

Twenty-two people have been killed and 59 injured after suspected attacker 22-year-old Salman Abedi detonated a home-made bomb at the end of a concert by US singer Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena.

Here is what we know so far.

What happened?

Police say a lone male suicide bomber detonated a home-made bomb in the foyer of Manchester Arena as crowds were leaving the concert.

Officers were called at 22:33 BST on Monday and streets surrounding the arena and Victoria station were sealed off.

Twenty-two people were killed in the explosion, including an eight-year-old girl.

A further 59 people, including 12 under the age of 16, were injured and taken to hospital.

The attacker died at the scene.

Eye witnesses said the noise of the explosion was followed by a flash of fire

Metal nuts and bolts were strewn around the floor among bodies and the smell of explosives was in the air, witnesses said.

They also spoke about the fear and confusion that gripped the concert-goers, as they rushed for the exits.

More than 240 emergency calls were made; 60 ambulances and 400 police officers attended.

After the attack hundreds of people in Manchester took to social media to offer spare beds and rooms for those stranded in the city.

Ariana Grande, who had just left the stage when the blast happened, has expressed her sorrow at the deaths.
Who carried out the attack?

Salman Abedi, 22, has been named by police as the suspected suicide bomber.

“The priority remains to establish whether he was acting alone or as part of a network,” Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said.

Daniel Sandford, BBC home affairs correspondent, said Salman Abedi was born in Manchester on New Year’s Eve 1994.

The BBC understands that he has at least three siblings: an elder brother who was born in London, and a younger brother and sister who were born in Manchester.

The family, believed to be of Libyan origin, has lived at several addresses in Manchester, including at a property at Elsmore Road in the Fallowfield area, that was raided by police on Tuesday.

Earlier, Mr Hopkins had said the force would treat the incident as a terror attack “until we have further information”.

The so-called Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, but this has not been verified.

Who are the victims?

Student Georgina Callander was the first of those who were killed to be named. She was studying health and social care at Runshaw College in Lancashire.

Eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, from Leyland, Lancashire, was killed.

And the third victim has been named as John Atkinson, 28, of Radcliffe in Bury.

A further 19 people who died have not yet been named.

The injured are being treated at eight hospitals in Greater Manchester.

Many have life-threatening conditions, the prime minister said.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-40008389

BBC News – Manchester Arena blast: 19 dead and more than 50 hurt

Nineteen people have been killed and more than 50 injured in a suspected terror attack at Manchester Arena.

Manchester, 23 May 2017. The blast happened at 22:35 BST on Monday following a pop concert by the US singer Ariana Grande.

PM Theresa May said her thoughts were with those affected by “what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack”.

Paramedics at the scene told the BBC they had treated some of the wounded for “shrapnel-like injuries”.

North West Ambulance Service said it had taken 59 casualties from the explosion to hospitals and treated a number of walking wounded.

Greater Manchester Police has established an emergency telephone number in response to the attack. It is: 0161 856 9400.

The prime minister has suspended Conservative Party general election campaigning and will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee later, in response to the attack.

Mrs May said: “We are working to establish the full details” of what happened in Manchester.

“All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected,” Mrs May said.

BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Daniel Sandford said senior counter-terrorism officers were assembling in London and liaising with the Home Office.

Unconfirmed reports from two unnamed US officials suggested the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: “Terrible incident in Manchester. My thoughts are with all those affected and our brilliant emergency services.”

Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham said: “My heart goes out to families who have lost loved ones, my admiration to our brave emergency services. A terrible night for our great city.”

British Transport Police said the explosion was in the arena’s foyer, which connects with Victoria train and tram station, a major hub on the northern edge of the city centre.

Shortly after the blast the station was closed and all trains cancelled.

Greater Manchester Police carried out a precautionary controlled explosion in the Cathedral Garden area of the city at about 01:32. The force confirmed it was not a suspicious item.

The arena explosion occurred shortly after Ariana Grande left the stage at the arena, the city’s largest indoor venue with a concert capacity of around 18,000.

Grande, a 23-year-old American TV teen actress-turned-pop star, has a strong following among teenage girls and children.

It is believed the blast, which shook the building, centred on the area near the box office where concert merchandise is often sold.

The pop star tweeted: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”

In the aftermath of the explosion witnesses spoke about the fear and confusion that gripped those caught up in the events.

Andy Holey, who had gone to the arena to pick up his wife and daughter who had been at the concert, said: “An explosion went off and it threw me about 30ft from one set of doors to the other set of doors.

“When I got up I saw bodies lying on the ground. My first thought was to go into the arena to try to find my family.

“I managed to find them eventually and they’re OK.

“It was definitely an explosion and it was some force. It happened near the box office at the entrance to the arena.”

Emma Johnson said she and her husband were at the arena to pick up her children, aged 15 and 17.

“It was definitely a bomb. It was definitely in the foyer,” she told BBC Radio Manchester.

“We were stood at the top of the stairs and the glass exploded – it was near to where they were selling the merchandise.

“The whole building shook. There was a blast and then a flash of fire afterwards. There were bodies everywhere.”

BBC reporter Tom Mullen, who was at scene shortly after the blast, witnessed “sheer panic” among many young people, some with parents or guardians, in the city centre.

In the streets around the arena he saw concertgoers streaming away from the venue in confusion, many of them in tears.

Within an hour of reports of the incident emerging, people began offering spare rooms and beds to people stranded in the city using the hashtag #RoomForManchester.

Hundreds of tweets offering places to stay have been shared and re-tweeted thousands of times.

Other social media users began using the hashtag #MissingInManchester in an attempt to reunite people.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-40007886

BBC News – Boris Johnson criticised by Sikh woman over whisky comment in temple [Gurdwara]

Bristol, 17 May 2017. Boris Johnson has said sorry to a woman unhappy with a remark made during an election campaign visit to a Sikh temple [Gurdwara] in Bristol.

The foreign secretary promised his audience that a future Conservative government would increase free trade and end tariffs on India’s imports of British whisky.

But a Sikh woman said it was “absolutely outrageous” for Mr Johnson, whose mother-in-law is Sikh, to try to promote alcohol inside a place of worship.

Mr Johnson said “I’m very sorry if you think alcohol is a bad thing, I understand your point of view.”

Asked later by a BBC reporter if he would apologise for speaking about alcohol in a Sikh temple [Gurdwara], Mr Johnson said: “I was making a very good point that I continue to make.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/election-2017-39952616/boris-johnson-criticised-by-sikh-woman-over-whisky-comment-in-temple

BBC News – Aadhaar: Are a billion identities at risk on India’s biometric database

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

Op/Ed, 4 May 2017. “My fingerprints and iris are mine and my own. The state cannot take away my body,” a lawyer told India’s Supreme Court last week.

Shyam Divan was arguing a crucial petition challenging a new law that makes it compulsory for people to submit a controversial biometric-based personal identification number while filing income tax returns.

Defending this law, the government’s top law officer told the court on Tuesday that an individual’s “right to body is not an absolute right”.

“You can have right over your body but the state can restrict trading in body organs, so the state can exercise control over the body,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said.

At the heart of the latest challenge are rising concerns over the security of this mega biometric database and privacy of the number holders. (The government says it needs to link the identity number to income tax returns to improve compliance and prevent fraud.)

India’s biometric database is the world’s largest. Over the past eight years, the government has collected fingerprints and iris scans from more than a billion residents – or nearly 90% of the population – and stored them in a high security data centre.

In return, each person has been provided with a randomly generated, unique 12-digit identity number.

For a country of 1.2 billion people with only 65 million passport-holders and 200 million with driving licenses, the portable identity number is a boon to the millions who have long suffered for a lack of one.

States have been using the number, also called Aadhaar (Foundation), to transfer government pensions, scholarships, wages for a landmark rural jobs-for-work scheme and benefits for cooking fuel to targeted recipients, and distribute cheap food to the poor.

Over the years, the number has taken a life of its own and begun exerting, what many say, is an overweening and stifling control over people’s lives. For many like political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Aadhaar has transmuted from a “tool of citizen empowerment to a tool of state surveillance and citizen vulnerability”.

People will soon need the number to receive benefits from more than 500 of India’s 1,200-odd welfare schemes. Even banks and private firms have begun using it to authenticate consumers: a new telecom company snapped up 100 million subscribers in quick time recently by verifying the customer’s identity through the number.

Forcibly linked

People are using the number to even get their marriages registered. The number, says Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of Indian news site MediaNama, is “being forcibly linked to mobile numbers, bank accounts, tax filings, scholarships, pensions, rations, school admissions, health records and much much more, which thus puts more personal information at risk”.

Some of the fears are not without basis.

The government has assured that the biometric data is “safe and secure in encrypted form”, and anybody found guilty of leaking data can be jailed and fined.

But there have already been a number of leaks of details of students, pensioners and recipients of welfare benefits involving a dozen government websites. Even former Indian cricket captain M S Dhoni’s personal information was mistakenly tweeted by an overzealous enrolment service provider.

Now a disturbing report by The Centre for Internet and Society claims that details of around 130-135 million Aadhaar numbers, and around 100 million bank numbers of pensioners and rural jobs-for-work beneficiaries have been leaked online by four key government schemes.

More than 230 million people nationwide are accessing welfare benefits using their numbers, and potentially, according to the report, “we could be looking at a data leak closer to that number”. And linking the number to different databases, as the government is doing, is increasing the risk of data theft and surveillance.

The chief law officer believes that the outrage over the leaks is “much ado about nothing”.

“Biometrics were not leaked, only Aadhaar numbers were leaked. It is nothing substantial. The idea is biometrics should not be leaked,” Mukul Rohtagi told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The government itself has admitted that it has blacklisted or suspended some 34,000 service providers for helping create “fake” identification numbers or not following proper processes.

Two years ago, a man was arrested for getting an identification number for his pet dog. The government itself has deactivated 8.5 million numbers for incorrect data, dodgy biometrics and duplication.

Last month, crop loss compensation for more than 40,000 farmers was delayed because their Aadhaar numbers were “entered incorrectly by banks”.

Mass surveillance

There are also concerns that the number can be used for profiling. Recently, authorities asked participants at a function in a restive university campus in southern India to provide their Aadhaar identity numbers.

“This is not only a matter of privacy. The all pervasiveness of the Aadhaar number is a threat to freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right,” Srinivas Kodali, who investigated the latest report on data leaks, told me.

Critics say the government is steaming ahead with making the number compulsory for a range of services, violating a Supreme Court order which said enrolment would be voluntary. “The main danger of the number,” says economist Jean Dreze, “is that it opens the door to mass surveillance.”

Nandan Nilekani, the technology tycoon who set up the programme popularly known by its acronym UIDAI, believes concerns about the safety of the biometric database are exaggerated.

He says the identity number has cut wastage, removed fakes, curbed corruption and made substantial savings for the government. He insists that the programme is completely encrypted and secure. “It’s like you are creating a rule-based society,” he told Financial Times recently, “it’s the transition that is going on right now.”

Abused

More than 60 countries around the world take biometric data from its people, says Mr Nilekani. But then there are nagging concerns worldwide about these databases being abused by hackers and state intelligence.

In 2016, personal details of some 50 million people in Turkey were reportedly leaked. (Turkey’s population is estimated at 78 million.) In 2015, hackers stole more than five million fingerprints after breaching US government networks. In 2011, French experts discovered a hack involving the theft of millions of people’s data in Israel.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta has written that the lack of a “clear transparent consent architecture, no transparent information architecture, no privacy architecture worth the name [India doesn’t have a privacy law], and increasingly, no assurance about what exactly you do if the state decides to mess with your identity” could easily make Aadhaar a “tool of state suppression”.

So a lot of lingering doubts remain. How pervasive should an identity number be? What about the individual freedom of citizens? How do you ensure the world’s biggest biometric database is secure in a country with no privacy laws and a deficient criminal justice system?

In many ways, the debate about Aadhaar is also a debate about the future of India. As lawyer Shyam Divan argued forcefully in the top court, “people are reduced to vassals” when the state controls your body to this extent.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39769322

BBC News – The Mother of All Bombs: How badly did it hurt IS in Afghanistan?

On 13 April the US dropped one of its largest non-nuclear bombs on a tunnel complex used by so-called Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan. It was the first time such a weapon had been used in battle.

The BBC’s Auliya Atrafi has been to the area to see if it really had any impact in the battle against IS.

The view from the hills overlooking the Mamand Valley is beautiful. Green fields and trees fill the valley floor. Ahead, the valley narrows and hills become mountains. In the distance rises the magnificent Spin-Ghar, the White Mountain, which marks the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But there was no chance of quiet contemplation when I visited this area of Nangarhar province. Above, three types of American fighter planes were circling and dropping bombs.

One bomb hit the narrow part of the valley. It was there, a young soldier told me, that the weapon known as the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) had been used.

I was confused. Reports of the bomb had made me think that it had wiped out the IS stronghold here in Achin district. I assumed that US and Afghan troops would have sealed off the area and that IS (or Daesh, as it is known here) would be in disarray.

An Afghan officer corrected me. “For a start this bomb wasn’t as powerful as you think,” he said.

“There are still green trees standing 100m away from the site of the impact.”

A large number of IS militants were killed by the MOAB, but it is hard to know how many. The Achin district governor, Ismail Shinwary, says at least 90.

Either way, the battle against IS continues.

“Daesh hasn’t gone anywhere; there are hundreds of caves like the one the Americans bombed,” the officer says, adding that strikes have continued since the bomb was dropped. “They can’t get rid of them like this.”

The fighting appeared to be taking place along a huge area in the mountains. The bombardment was relentless, filling the valley with smoke and noise.

But IS were taking casualties. Over a breakfast of eggs and green tea, the district police chief, Major Khair Mohammad Sapai, showed us pictures of dead IS fighters. They had beards and long hair.

In death they looked pitiable, quite unlike the image they try to portray in their propaganda videos, riding horses, carrying their black flags or making the local Shinwari people sit on bombs and then blowing them up.

Major Khair said some of them were foreigners, but from their disintegrating, dust-covered faces it was hard to tell.

He showed us hand-written lists of Afghan telephone numbers seized during operations, and some of the names on the list were indeed Arabic or Pakistani.

The major’s claims were backed up by Hakim Khan Momand and his friends. They are members of the so-called “people’s uprising”, new militias made up of local people that help with security in the area. They cooperate with state security forces but their existence is seen as a sign of weak central government and instability.

The bearded men lay on portable cots, drinking strong green tea and relishing the sight of IS fighters being bombed by American planes.

“They are all sorts, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Arabs and Wahhabis from Kunar Province. They have nowhere to go; best to bury them in the caves where they happen to be hiding,” Hakim Khan said.

His house lies in the Mamand Valley, in an area still under the control of IS. He adds: “God willing, the Americans have given us their word that they would clear the entire valley of Daesh fighters.”

Unlike the Taliban, who tend to have many supporters in their core areas, IS seem to have angered a lot of people. Few seemed unhappy about the US bombardment.

A couple of kilometres from the frontline, ordinary life was continuing. Women carried water, boys played cricket and people went about their daily tasks.

However, there was anxiety. One man, Khaled, said local people were pawns in a US game.

“[Dropping the bomb] was a trick to show the world that their mission was going well. But this wasn’t the type of bomb they showed in the media. The bomb did nothing.”

“Will IS come back?” I asked.

“Yes, as soon as the government leaves, the locals won’t be able to fight them. If the government makes permanent bases in the area and helps us, then we will be happy,” he answered.

Another local resident suggested IS could do with something a little stronger.

“Let Americans bring down a bigger one, this one was small,” he said.

Back in the hills, Hakim Khan and his friends were listening in to IS fighters communicating via walkie-talkies with the help of their radio. The fighters were reassuring each other and communicating with their comrades in a neighbouring district.

A border police officer wondered aloud if the commitment of the Trump administration would match that of IS.

“The more we kill, the more they come from the other side of the Durand line, in Pakistan,” he said.

To read the full article :

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39705128

BBC News – Kulbhushan Jadhav: India to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help ‘spy’

India says it will do “whatever it takes” to ensure justice for a former navy officer sentenced to death in Pakistan on charges of spying

New Delhi, 11 April 2017. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said Kulbhushan Jadhav was “kidnapped” and tried on “concocted charges”.

Mr Jadhav was arrested last year and convicted on Monday of “espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan”.

Shortly after his arrest, Islamabad released a video in which he was shown admitting involvement in spying.

India has always questioned the alleged confession, saying that it was extracted under duress.

There are differing accounts of how and where Kulbhushan Jadhav was detained.

Pakistan says he was detained on 3 March 2016 in the restive Balochistan province, which has been hit by a separatist insurgency that Islamabad accuses India of backing. India says he was kidnapped by Pakistan while he was in Iran.

Speaking in the Indian parliament on Tuesday, Ms Swaraj described the death sentence as “an indefensible verdict” and warned Pakistan to “consider the consequences”.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh promised that the government would do “whatever it takes to make sure Mr Jadhav gets justice”.

Who is Kulbhushan Jadhav?

– The 46-year-old was a resident of Mumbai

– He is the son of Sudhir Jadhav, a retired Mumbai police officer

– A former naval officer, he was in the navy for more than a dozen years

– His family says he quit the navy to start his own business and was working from Iran’s Chabahar port

– He is married and has children

On Monday, Pakistan said he had been tried by a military court and sentenced to death.

Pakistan said he told the court he had been ordered to “plan, coordinate, and organise espionage/sabotage activities aiming to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan”.

He has 40 days to appeal to the court, Pakistani media report. No date was given for his execution.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have a long history of diplomatic spats and Delhi and Islamabad often accuse each other of sending spies into their territories.

In November, Pakistan withdrew six officials from its mission in Delhi after they were outed as suspected spies by India.

It later leaked to the press the names and photos of eight alleged Indian spies working from India’s mission in Islamabad.

But executions for spying are rare. In 1999, Pakistan hanged Sheikh Shamim 10 years after his conviction for spying.

Sarabjit Singh, an Indian man sentenced to death for spying in 1991, died in prison in 2013 while on death row after an attack by other prisoners.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39563495

BBC News – ‘You may as well kill us’: Human cost of India’s meat ‘ban’

Allahabad, 30 March 2017. The government’s crackdown on meat shops in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has left many traders and butchers without much work and money. The BBC’s Vikas Pandey meets them in Allahabad city.

“I have no money since my shop shut two weeks ago. I don’t know how to feed my children and aging parents. Is it because I am a Muslim, or a meat trader?” Shakeel Ahmad, 52, asks.

He is angry with the state’s new chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, who opposes the slaughter and consumption of cows, considered sacred by India’s Hindu majority.

Authorities have closed many slaughterhouses since Mr Adityanath’s BJP party won the state elections earlier in the month. Small shops selling goat and chicken have also been forced to shut, despite the slaughter of these animals being legal.

Most butchers are Muslims and many suspect that they are being targeted unfairly. They allege that their businesses are being shut on technicalities. One meat traders association went on strike, alleging harassment by state authorities.

Mr Ahmad says he understands the crackdown on slaughterhouses which sell beef “because it was one of the BJP’s campaign promises”.

“But why punish small shop owners who sell goat and sheep meat? Most butchers like me earn daily, and don’t have any other skill after being in the business for decades,” he says.

He adds that municipal authorities recently rejected his application to renew his licence.

“They want me to set up a waste disposal unit, but I don’t have the money needed for it.”

Mr Ahmad lives in a small house with nine other family members in a densely populated area, mostly inhabited by the Muslim Qureshi community.

His mother, Fatima Begum, says that the community in this area has traditionally earned its livelihood through the meat trade.

“Men in this community don’t have any other skill. We are already poor, and now we are not sure where the next meal is going to come from. They may as well kill us,” she says.

Ms Begum says she needs regular medication because of her old age.

“I am running out of my medicines, but I haven’t told this to my son because I don’t want to add to his troubles,” she says.

Mr Ahmad’s wife, Husna Begum, is worried about her children’s education.

“I want my children to get a good education and come out of poverty. If the government thinks meat shops are bad, then give us something else to do.

“Is it a crime to dream about a good future for your children?” she asks.
‘I am scared’

A few blocks away, I meet Mohamed Shariq who has also shut his shop.

“I have the licence needed to run my shop, but I fear attacks from right-wing groups,” he says.

Mr Shariq’s fear is not unfounded.

Media reports suggest that several meat shops have been attacked in the state in the past two weeks.

Mr Shariq invites me to his house, and asks a question.

“Just look around. My house is already breaking apart. I have to feed 10 people. Is it fair to ban our only source of livelihood?”

His brother P Qureshi and other members of the family also join the conversation.

They are all worried about their future.

“I hope and pray that the chief minister understands our problems and stops people who are misusing his name. We know there is no official ban on slaughtering sheep and goats, but we are still scared,” Mr Qureshi says.

Every house in this community has similar stories.

Abdul Qureshi, who ferries animals in his cycle rickshaw, says the crackdown seems so unreasonable because Hindus too eat meat.

“Most of the customers in this market are Hindus. Even the Indian Army people buy from our shops. I don’t understand how banning a food item proves anybody is more or less religious,” he says.
‘Not just Muslims’

Gulzar Qureshi is the community leader here, and he explains that “people don’t understand that this is not just Muslims’ problem”.

“Most people who rear sheep and goats are Hindus. I know so many Hindus who have come here from their villages to sell their animals and are now stuck,” he says.

Chunni Lal is one of them.

“I am running out of money to feed the five goats I have brought with me. Nobody is willing to buy them,” Mr Lal says.

Gulzar Qureshi says people who believe that the meat trade ban has only affected butchers and slaughterhouse owners are wrong.

“That’s just over simplification. Cattle farmers, middlemen who buy animals and butchers are all affected,” he says.

He adds that even rickshaw pullers who ferry these animals, and tannery workers who need leather don’t have much work these days.

“We are not asking for fancy roads and schools. Just let us earn whatever little amount we make for our children. I think that’s the least a citizen can expect from his government,” he says.

To see the pictures and read the full article :

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39427552

BBC News – Who’s the Hindu hardliner running India’s most populous state?

New Delhi, 29 March 2017. Yogi Adityanath has dominated headlines in India since his appointment as leader of the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. A saffron-robed Hindu priest, he is a highly controversial figure who is loved and hated in equal measure, as the BBC’s Geeta Pandey reports.

At the weekend, Yogi, as he is widely known, returned to a hero’s welcome to the temple town of Gorakhpur for the first time since he was sworn in as chief minister on 19 March.

Overnight, the town turned saffron, the colour of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). All roads leading to Gorakhnath temple were decorated with party flags, marigold flowers and orange balloons.

The smiling new leader, 44, looked down from massive hoardings and posters on buildings, and mannequins outside shops even sported bright saffron outfits.

At a college run by the temple, thousands of people waited for hours to see him. Speakers praised his vision and leadership. “Some people walk in others’ footsteps, some make footsteps for others to walk in,” said one.

A brilliant orator, Yogi Adityanath has been elected MP for Gorakhpur five times since 1998 and the crowds there worship him. Many tell me he’s a “reincarnation of the gods, a God himself”.

But he is also a very controversial leader who has often been in the news for the wrong reasons. Critics describe him as India’s most divisive and abusive politician who used his election rallies to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria.

And some of the statements attributed to him – and his supporters – have been widely condemned.

He accused Muslim men of indulging in a “love jihad” to seduce Hindu women and convert them, he claimed that Mother Teresa wanted to Christianise India, he called for a Donald Trump-style travel ban on Muslims in India and compared Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistan-based militant Hafiz Saeed.

At one point, he shared a stage with a supporter who said that when Yogi Adityanath came to power, Muslims would no longer have the right to vote and that supporters would rape dead Muslim women.

His campaign promises included “anti-Romeo squads” to “prevent harassment of Hindu women” and he listed protecting cows and shutting down illegal slaughterhouses as his top priorities.

Religious Hindus revere cows and slaughtering them is illegal in large parts of India, including Uttar Pradesh. In 2015, a Muslim man was lynched by a Hindu mob which alleged that he had stored beef at home.

Yogi Adityanath also faces criminal charges. He has been accused of attempted murder, criminal intimidation and rioting in relation to a clash that took place in 1999. And in 2007, he spent 11 days in jail for making inflammatory speeches.

No wonder then that his surprise elevation has alarmed many in India and around the world, with many expressing concerns that the state’s 40 million Muslims will not have an easy time under his watch.

In an editorial, The Guardian called it a “victory for anti-Muslim bigotry” and the New York Times said Mr Modi was trying to “humour Hindu extremists”. The paper called the move “a shocking rebuke to religious minorities”.

Respected Indian columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta called it an “odious and ominous” development.

And the negative publicity has continued since he became chief minister. The “anti-Romeo squads” have been accused of harassing and intimidating courting couples in cities and towns, and the authorities have been criticised for forcing abattoirs to shut down, mostly on flimsy grounds.

The press in Gorakhpur, however, has been more complimentary, revelling in the “grand victory” of their hero.

“Local newspapers are writing in great detail about his amazing memory skills, they say he can remember names of thousands of people. Some are talking about how he communicates directly with his 500 cows, monkeys, dogs and birds,” says senior Gorakhpur journalist Kumar Harsh.

“For people here, he’s a celebrity. He’s the chief priest and head of the temple management, which also runs a hospital and colleges. He is very hardworking and is immensely popular with the people,” he adds.

The son of a forest ranger, Yogi Adityanath was born in 1972 in Garhwal (which was then in Uttar Pradesh but is now in Uttarakhand state) and was named Ajay Singh Bisht.

A maths graduate, he moved to Gorakhpur in November 1993 and three months later was appointed heir to Mahant Avaidyanath, the temple’s chief priest and an influential Hindu politician. A vegetarian, he has taken a vow of lifelong celibacy.

Dwarika Tiwari is his deputy at the temple and has worked closely with him since his arrival in Gorakhpur.

“He’s very intelligent, bright and hard-working, he’s efficient, he respects everyone whatever their caste, creed or religion, he respects women and loves children.”

Mr Tiwari concedes he has weaknesses – a tendency for plain speaking and a quick temper.

When I point out the anti-Muslim statements during the campaign, the criminal charges and the fact that he was briefly jailed, Mr Tiwari brushes them aside as “malicious propaganda” and “conspiracy” from his political rivals.

“Muslims respect him equally. They also come to us to resolve their disputes,” he says.

Just outside the temple gates, Muslim shopkeepers insist they are not unduly worried over the appointment.

Cloth merchant Feroz Ahmad says he, in fact, voted for the BJP and now hopes that Yogi Adityanath will bring much-needed development to this backward town.

“All politicians say such things to win elections,” he says. “Some of his supporters are troublemakers who do wrong things. But now that he’s in power, it will all stop.”

So can it all be dismissed as mere rhetoric, something he indulged in just to win the election?

Sharat Pradhan, senior journalist in the state capital, Lucknow, says “ever since he’s been named chief minister, he’s been conducting himself very responsibly”.

“In his first days in power, he’s been careful. He’s shown a lot of restraint. He’s trying to be inclusive, he’s even inducted a Muslim into his cabinet.”

He has also been trying an image makeover – paying a surprise visit to a police station one day, visiting an acid attack victim in hospital the next. He has also refrained from commenting on the contentious issue of the Ram temple in Ayodhya despite it being promised in the BJP election manifesto.

“But the worry is with the fringe elements among his supporters. With his rabble rousing, he’s freed the genie from the bottle, now the question is can he control it?” asks Mr Pradhan.

That is precisely what Yogi Adityanath attempted to do when he took the stage in Gorakhpur at the weekend, appealing to his boisterous supporters to behave.

“The prime minister has given me a huge responsibility, to ensure that development reaches the last man. I assure you no-one will be ignored, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion,” he said. “And I need your help to succeed.”

Success, Mr Pradhan says, will depend on whether he can ensure the first six months of his rule are trouble-free. Then he can build his future.

“At present Mr Modi is number one in the party, the others are number nine. There’s no-one in between. Yogi Adityanath can be number two.

“He’s young. Age is on his side. By the time he turns 60, Mr Modi will be 80. And he will be ready to take him on. He’s the BJP’s tomorrow.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39403778

BBC News – How PM Modi destroyed rivals in India’s Uttar Pradesh

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi, 11 March 2017. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) decisive win in elections in India’s politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, it sends 80 MPs to the lower house of parliament, has produced nine prime ministers, and is located next door to the capital, Delhi, is clearly being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi was the face of the campaign in the absence of any clear chief ministerial candidates.

Mixing rhetoric with promises of development, he campaigned hard against what looked like formidable opposition, a coalition of the ruling regional Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress, headed by the young satrap Akhilesh Yadav, and the powerful Bahujan Samaj Party, (BSP) led by Dalit leader Mayawati.

So what does this victory mean for his party?

For one, the balance of power in India has now decisively swung in favour of the BJP, and reinforces the party’s position as the central pole in India’s politics.

The win in Uttar Pradesh, and in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, means the BJP now rules more than a dozen of India’s 29 state legislatures.

Also, the party appears to have successfully forged a coalition of upper, middle-ranking and lower castes to be able to manipulate the social arithmetic of Indian elections. It has also avoided being seen as doling out reckless patronage to a caste or group, the bane of Mr Yadav’s defeated party in Uttar Pradesh.

“He has managed to go beyond the caste arithmetic. On the ground, the BJP is not perceived as a casteist party,” Bhanu Joshi, of the Centre of Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank, told me.

Second, Mr Modi’s party appears to have famously survived the jitters over his controversial currency ban, which inconvenienced many people and hurt the poor and small businesses.

Political scientist Milan Vaishnav believes the vote actually “represents a referendum on demonetisation”.

“Whether voters were bothered by the implementation of the policy or not, they clearly have decided that the PM is a man of action. As the old saying goes, “you can’t beat something with nothing”, he told me.

Thirdly, midway through his first term, Mr Modi becomes the front-runner in the 2019 general elections for a second term in power.

This despite what critics say is a lukewarm economic record, the jury is out on whether he’s an economic reformer or a believer in big state, and rising social tensions.

One reason is the state of opposition. The main opposition Congress party, despite its apparent win in Punjab, remains in a limbo, run by the dynastic Gandhi family, which holds the party together but is unable to win votes. “No state in India will now vote for a Gandhi,” says political analyst Shekhar Gupta.

The defeats in Punjab and Goa are also a big setback for the national ambitions of the promising anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party, which holds power in its Delhi borough.

Fourthly, the win will mean a huge boost to Mr Modi’s party in the upper house of parliament, and help it to push through key laws.

And finally, Mr Modi’s connection with the masses remains undiminished.

“Modi is the single most popular politician in India today, bar none. His charisma, perceived personal incorruptibility, and credibility are unmatched right now in Indian politics,” says Dr Vaishnav.

“As the opposition keeps railing against him, with very little to show for itself in the way of an affirmative vision, he will continue to gain strength.”

That probably is the biggest problem with India’s jaded and uninspiring opposition: their inability to take on Mr Modi with a new narrative of hope.

Many like Yogendra Yadav, founder of the Swaraj India party, believe that jolted by the defeat in Uttar Pradesh, the opposition will be pushed to cobble together a “grand anti-Modi alliance” to take on his party in 2019.

“This could be suicidal,” says Mr Yadav, “as purely anti-Modi politics may not work.”

But politics is also about the unforeseen and the unpredictable. Nobody predicted that former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, one of the BJP’s most charismatic leaders, would lose the 2004 elections to a subdued Congress party-led coalition.

But in the summer of 2017, Mr Modi’s ratings remain high.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-39227822

BBC News – Afghanistan: IS gunmen dressed as medics kill 30 at Kabul military hospital

Kabul, 8 March 2017. More than 30 people have been killed after attackers dressed as doctors stormed the largest military hospital in Kabul, Afghan officials say.

Militants armed with guns and grenades gained entry after one detonated explosives at a hospital gate and then opened fire on staff and patients.

Commandos who landed on the Sardar Daud hospital roof killed all four attackers after several hours of fighting.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has claimed the attack.

The Taliban has denied any involvement.

More than 50 people were also wounded, the defence ministry said.

President Ashraf Ghani said the attack at the 400-bed hospital “trampled all human values”.

“In all religions, a hospital is regarded as an immune site and attacking it is attacking the whole of Afghanistan,” he said.

The attack began at 09:00 local time (04:30 GMT). One hospital staff member who was able to get out saw an attacker “wearing a white coat holding a Kalashnikov and opening fire on everyone, including the guards, patients and doctors”.

One employee wrote on Facebook: “Attackers are inside the hospital. Pray for us.”

Change of tactic: Analysis by Inayatulhaq Yasini, BBC Afghan

The hospital attack marks a change in approach by so-called Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, it’s the first time they have engaged directly with security forces in the capital.

Previously they have targeted civilian gatherings, mainly of Shia Muslims, as well as causing carnage at the Supreme Court last month.

But at the hospital they used an approach more commonly associated with the Taliban, blowing the gates open to allow gunmen to enter. This suggests they now have the resources and the military training to expand their attacks.

If that’s the case, the security forces could face more such assaults in the coming months.

In the two years since it announced its presence in Afghanistan, IS has mainly engaged with Afghan forces and more powerful, rival Taliban fighters in the east, near the Pakistan border. It has failed so far to widen its base in the country, one reason, observers suggest, it may now be mounting more headline-grabbing attacks.

The government claims it has rooted out IS militants from a number of bases in the east, but has yet to dislodge them from mountainous areas they control.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39202525