The Hindustan Times – Sri Lanka imposes emergency, says international network involved in attacks

Police said 87 bomb detonators were found at the city’s main bus station, while an explosive went off near a church where scores were killed on Sunday when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it.

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 22 April 2019. Sri Lanka said on Monday it was invoking emergency powers in the aftermath of devastating bomb attacks on hotels and churches, blamed on militants with foreign links, in which 290 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded.

The emergency law, which gives police and the military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders, will go into effect at midnight on Monday, the president’s office said.

Colombo, the seaside capital of the Indian Ocean island, was jittery on Monday. Police said 87 bomb detonators were found at the city’s main bus station, while an explosive went off near a church where scores were killed on Sunday when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it.

A night curfew will go into effect at 8 pm, the government announced.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack but suspicion was focusing on Islamist militants in the Buddhist-majority country.

Investigators said seven suicide bombers took part in the attacks while a government spokesman said an international network was involved.

Police had received a tip-off of a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group some 10 days ago, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The intelligence report, dated April 11 and seen by Reuters, said a foreign intelligence agency had warned authorities of possible attacks on churches by the leader of the group, the National Thawheed Jama’ut. It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken on the tip-off.

Police said 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan, but they gave no more details.

International anti-terrorism experts said even if a local group had carried out the attacks, it was likely that al Qaeda or Islamic State were involved, given the level of sophistication.

Two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the luxury Shangri-La Hotel on Colombo’s seafront, said Ariyananda Welianga, a senior official at the government’s forensic division. The others targeted three churches and two other hotels.

A fourth hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital Colombo were also hit, but it was not immediately clear how those attacks were carried out.

“Still the investigations are going on,” Welianga said.

Most of the attacks came during Easter services and when hotel guests were sitting down for breakfast buffets.

“Guests who had come for breakfast were lying on the floor, blood all over,” an employee at Kingsbury Hotel told Reuters.

Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said an international network was involved, but did not elaborate.

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne said. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

The president, Maithripala Sirisena, said in a statement the government would seek foreign assistance to track the overseas links.

Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists, most of them Hindu, but violence had largely ended since the government victory in the civil war, 10 years ago.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

Foreign victims

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans although government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including British, USA, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

Denmark’s richest man Anders Holch Povlsen and his wife lost three of their four children in the attacks, a spokesman for his fashion firm said.

A British mother and son at breakfast at the Shangri-La, British media reported, while five Indian political workers were killed at the same hotel, relatives told Indian media.

The hotel said several guests and three employees were killed.

The USA State Department said in a travel advisory “terrorist groups” were plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka and targets could include tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship and airports.

There were fears the attacks could spark communal violence, with police reporting late on Sunday there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.

Bomb found near airport [bold

Traffic was uncharacteristically thin in normally bustling Colombo after an island-wide curfew was lifted earlier Monday.

Soldiers with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Centre in the business district, a Reuters witness said.

An Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia’s 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of “absolute carnage”.

He said he and a travel partner were having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.

“There were people screaming and dead bodies all around,” he said. “Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don’t know if they were dead or not, just crazy.”

There were similar scenes of carnage at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered. Pictures showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.

Dozens were killed in a blast at the Gothic-style St Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected it was a suicide attack.

Questions over why the intelligence report warning was not acted upon could feed into a feud between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the president.

Sirisena fired the premier last year and installed opposition strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his stead. Weeks later, he was forced to re-instate Wickremesinghe because of pressure from the Supreme Court but their relationship is still fraught as a presidential election nears.

The Hindustan Times – Tax raids on properties of Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath’s close aides

In a 3 am raid, the officials searched the house of Praveen Kakkar, OSD to Kamal Nath. The house is located at Indore’s posh locality Vijay Nagar.

New Delhi – India, 07 April 2019. The Income Tax department on Sunday conducted raids on residences and offices of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s nephew and two close aides.

Those raided were CM’s nephew Ratul Puri, officer on special duty (OSD) to Nath, Praveen Kakkar and a close associate R K Miglani.

The raids in Madhya Pradesh that began at about 3 am on Sunday are said to be a part of IT department’s nationwide raids on 50 locations, sources said.

Ratul Puri, who is chairman of board of directors of Hindustan Power Projects Pvt Ltd is under scanner for an alleged money laundering case related to Augusta Westland VVIP chopper scam.

The raids were conducted at four properties of Kakkar in Indore and two places in Bhopal of Kakkar and Miglani.

“I am in Chhindwara right now. I don’t know about the raids,” Miglani said while Kakkar couldn’t be reached for comments. Chief minister Kamal Nath too couldn’t be reached for his comments.

As per a report by news agency ANI, Ratul Puri had denied his involvement in the money laundering case and has in a written statement said, “I have no connection in the AgustaWestland case or defense. I run an independent business. I have no business dealings with any relative of mine.”

The properties raided in Indore include Kakkar’s bungalow at Scheme no. 74 at Vijay Nagar, his office at BCM Heights, Jalsa Marriage Garden and another flat.

The Bhopal properties raided include Kakkar’s Nadir Colony bungalow, Miglani’s residence, an NGO director’s residence and a relative of Kakkar.

The IT team that conducted the raids came from Delhi, sources said.

Though the recovery during the raids is yet to be known, BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya tweeted, “Black money worth crores has been recovered from the office of KamalNath’s personal secretary.”

Miglani, who has been associated with Kamal Nath for many years, was appointed an advisor to Kamal Nath when he took over as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh in 2018.

Kakkar has been associated with former union minister and sitting MP of Congress from Ratlam Lok Sabha seat Kantilal Bhurai and was also his OSD.

Miglani resigned from the post of advisor on February 23 this year to help Kamal Nath in the ensuing by-poll to the Chhindwara assembly seat from where Nath is to contest to continue in his chair of CM.

The Hindustan Times – Sushma Swaraj seeks report into kidnapping of 2 Hindu girls in Pakistan’s Sindh province

In a tweet, Swaraj, while tagging a media report about the incident, said she has asked the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan to send a report on the matter.

New Delhi – India, 24 March 2019. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has sought details from the Indian envoy in Pakistan into the reported abduction of two Hindu teenaged girls and their forcible conversion to Islam on the eve of Holi in Sindh province.

In a tweet, Swaraj, while tagging a media report about the incident, said she has asked the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan to send a report on the matter.

According to the media report, the incident took place in Dharki town of Ghotki district in Sindh province on the eve of Holi.

It said the Hindu community in the area staged protests, demanding action against perpetrators of the alleged crime.

India has been raising the issue of plight of minorities, particularly the Hindu community in Pakistan.

The Hindustan Times – Uphold life term for Sajjan Kumar: CBI to Supreme Court

The CBI made this submission in an affidavit, which the agency filed in response to Kumar’s appeal questioning his conviction and sentence. Kumar has also asked for bail until his appeal is decided.

New Delhi – India, 15 March 2019. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Friday urged the Supreme Court to uphold the Delhi High Court’s order of a life sentence for former Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.

The CBI also opposed his plea for bail, saying he has been using his “large political clout” to derail the trial and influence witnesses.

The CBI made this submission in an affidavit in response to Kumar’s appeal questioning his conviction and sentence. Kumar also asked for bail until his appeal is decided. A bench led by Justice SA Bobde took the affidavit on record and fixed March 25 to hear Kumar’s application for bail.

Kumar, 73, was held guilty by the high court on 17 December 2018, and sentenced to jail for life in a case related to the killing of five Sikhs in Delhi Cantonment’s Raj Nagar Part-1 area of southwest Delhi on the intervening night of November 1 and 2.

Kumar surrendered before a trial court here on December 31, 2018, to serve the sentence in pursuance of the high court’s judgment awarding him life imprisonment for the “remainder of his natural life”. He resigned from the Congress after his conviction in the case.

The CBI argued against Kumar’s release and said he is capable of “influencing” and “terrorising” witnesses.

A fair trial would not be possible in the other cases pending against him, if he is granted bail, the agency said, adding that Kumar’s conduct in using his political clout to derail trial and influence witnesses should be a ground to deny him bail.

The murders witnessed during the 1984 riots fell under the category of “crime against humanity on parity with well-known genocides worldwide like large scale killing of Armenians by Kurds and Turks, mass extermination of Jews by Nazis, mass killing of Bangladeshi citizens by the sympathisers of Pakistani Army and mass killing during various ethnic riots within India also,” the CBI argued.

The minority community was targeted by “spearheaded attacks of dominant political actors like the applicant/convict (Kumar) and duly facilitated by law enforcement agencies,” CBI said. “It took 34 valuable years of legal battle and courage shown by fearless witnesses/victims, which has resulted in his conviction and no leniency, therefore, on the ground of age should be granted,” read the CBI affidavit.

The Hindustan Times – Mirwaiz, Geelani summoned by NIA to Delhi tomorrow

The NIA on Saturday summoned Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Naseem Geelani, son of hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to Delhi on Monday for questioning in connection with a terror funding case.

Mir Ehsan

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 09 March 2019. The National Investigative Agency (NIA) on Saturday summoned Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Naseem Geelani, son of hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, to Delhi on Monday for questioning in connection with a terror funding case.

Farooq’s secretary, Syed Rehman Shamas, confirmed receiving the summons. “Yes, NIA has summoned Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to Delhi,” he said.

On February 26, the NIA carried out searches at seven locations, including the residences of Farooq, Geelani, JKLF leader Yaseen Malik, Shabir Shah, Ashraf Sehrai and Zaffar Bhat in connection with the same case.

An NIA spokesperson said officials recovered incriminating documents, including property papers, financial transactions receipts and bank account details during the raids. Electronic devices, including laptops, e-tablets, mobile phones, pen drives, communication system and DVRs, were also seized, he added.

On Thursday, Malik was slapped with Public Safety Act and was shifted to a Jammu jail. The developments come in the backdrop of the government’s decision to withdraw the security cover of senior separatist leaders after the Pulwama attack.

The Hindustan Times – Captain Amarinder seeks release of 1971 war prisoners from Pakistan

He made the statement in an informal chat with reporters as part of his tour of border areas of the state in the wake of the escalating tension between the two countries.

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 01 March 2019. Even as he extended a warm welcome to IAF wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman on his return home, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh urged Pakistan to admit to, and release, the Prisoners of War (PoWs) in its captivity from the 1971 war.

He made the statement in an informal chat with reporters as part of his tour of border areas of the state in the wake of the escalating tension between the two countries.

“The Indian government must take up the issue of PoWs of the 1971 war with Islamabad,” the CM said, adding that it was good that talks on the modalities for the Kartarpur Corridor were on track despite the tension.

“The state government will take up the issue of compensation for people whose land was being acquired for the corridor with the Centre. I will also request the Centre to allow 5,000-10,000 pilgrims to cross through every day, once the corridor is functional,” he added.

“I will be the first to cross the border and pay obeisance at the historic gurdwara,” he said, in Haruwal village in Gurdaspur district. He recalled his visit to the area as the ADC of Lt General Harbakhsh Singh in 1965, assuring residents, “If anything happens, I’ll be there with you.”

Amid loud cheers and slogans of Jai Hind, the CM told a gathering at Dera Baba Nanak that the state was prepared for any eventuality. The CM also shared a cup of tea with the BSF personnel at the force’s border observation post.

He also interacted with officers at an army camp in Gurdaspur, where the deputy commissioner and the DIG, border range, briefed him on steps taken to ensure safety of citizens. Interacting with students of Government High School, Dhyanpur, where his helicopter had landed, the CM told them to study diligently.

Cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, his media adviser Raveen Thukral and DGP Dinkar Gupta accompanied the CM. Others present were Ajnala MLA Harpartap Singh Ajnala; IG border range Amritsar SPS Parmar; Gurdaspur DC Vipul Ujwal; Batala SSP Opinderjit Singh; BSF DIG of Gurdaspur sector, Rajesh Sharma, and the Commandant of 10 BN, BSF, Varinder Vajpai.

The Hindustan Times – Centre moves 100 companies of paramilitary forces to Srinagar amid massive crackdown

There has been a considerable build-up of security forces across Jammu and Kashmir after 14 February terror attack in Pulwama which killed 40 CRPF troopers.

HT Correspondent

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 23 February 2019. The Centre airlifted an additional hundred companies of paramilitary forces to Srinagar to boost security build up even as police detained JKLF chief Yasin Malik Friday night and arrested dozens of Jamaat-e-Islami workers in the Valley.

The fresh deployment includes 45 companies of the CRPF, 35 of the BSF and ten each of the 10 SSB, and the ITBP.

There has been a considerable build-up of security forces across Jammu and Kashmir after the 14 February terror attack in Pulwama which killed 40 CRPF troopers.

About two dozen people associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami were also arrested from central, north and south Kashmir as part of a crackdown after the terror attack on a CRPF convoy that killed 40 troopers in Pulwama on February 14.

Police have so far not commented on the detentions.

The Jamaat-e-Islami termed the move a “well-designed conspiracy to pave way for further uncertainty in the region”.

“During the intervening night of 22-23 February, 2019 police and other forces agencies launched a mass arrest drive and raided many houses in the Valley wherein dozens of its central and district level leaders have been arrested,” it said in a statement.

Those detained included its chief (Ameer Jama’at) Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz, Advocate Zahid Ali (spokesperson), Ghulam Qadir Lone (former secretary general) and dozens more, it said.

Police and paramilitary forces have been put on high alert since the Pulwama attack

Earlier this week, the government withdrew the security cover of separatist leaders in Kashmir.

The Hindustan Times – Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s remark on minorities an insult: Government

New Delhi – India, 09 February 2019. India on Saturday rejected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks that members of Indian minorities are treated like “second class citizens”, saying they were an “egregious insult” to all Indians.

Addressing a ceremony, Khan said his government would ensure equal status and rights to minorities in Pakistan, and would not allow them to be treated as “second class citizens” like minorities of India.

Responding to queries on Khan’s remarks, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “Pakistan PM’s remarks are an egregious insult to all citizens of India.”

Kumar said Khan “has yet again demonstrated his lack of understanding about India’s secular polity and ethos”. He added Khan “overlooks the obvious fact that adherents of all faiths choose to live under the democratic polity and the progressive Constitution of India.

India has eminent leaders of all faiths who occupy its highest constitutional and official positions. In contrast, Pakistani citizens of non-Islamic faith are barred from occupying high constitutional offices.

The minorities are often turned away from government bodies like the Economic Advisory Council of their Prime Minister, even in ‘naya Pakistan’,” he said.

The Hindustan Times – Living with the past: How Rakhigarhi residents share space with the remains of one of India’s ancient cities

Haryana’s Rakhigarhi is much like any other Indian village. Except that it was once a Harappan city. For residents, it is no longer a surprise to have scholars find history in their fields’

Poulomi Banerjee

Rakhigarhi – Haryana – India, 02 February 2019. Many of the streets of Rakhigarhi, Haryana, are cobbled or bricked. But it’s often difficult to see the road surface, so covered is it with dried animal dung. As in most rural households in India, animals are a part of nearly every household. Milk is rarely, if ever, bought.

Butter is made fresh, at home. And dried dung cakes are used to light fires for warmth through the freezing winters, heat water and often cook. “Even people with gas connections use dried dung cake fires to heat water and to cook.

There’s a different flavour to the food, when cooked in an earthen pot over an open flame,” explains Vicky Malik, a Rakhigarhi resident, as he stands on a high mound beyond which stretches fields of wheat and yellow blossoming mustard.

Near his feet, as indeed across most of the mound, are scattered round, flattened cakes made of animal dung – in various states of dryness. Beneath the waste lie the remains of the Indian subcontinent’s earliest-known urban culture.

Three years ago, a team of archaeologists working under Vasant Shinde of Pune’s Deccan College, found skeletons in one of the farmlands in the village. The cemetery they uncovered dated back to the Indus Valley Civilisation that had flourished in the subcontinent between 2600-1900 BCE.

The locals weren’t surprised. Rakhigarhi’s introduction to its ties with the past had begun years ago.

Finding the lost town

The revelation of Rakhigarhi’s links to history was quite accidental, recalls archaeologist Ravindra Singh Bisht, who specialises in the study of the Indus Valley Civilisation – or Harappan Civilisation, as it is often called, after the name of the village in present-day Pakistan, where the first site of that ancient culture was discovered, sometime in the 1920s.

“Acharya Bhagwan Dev headed a gurukul in Jhajjar, Haryana. He was also a collector of antiquities. Once, on a trip to Rakhigarhi, he found some old earthenware urns and other things in the soil here, but was unable to identify them,” explains Bisht.

Dev invited Suraj Bhan, a professor who was studying the Harappan era, to examine his findings. “It was Bhan who established that these antiquities dated to the Indus Valley Civilisation. This was in the 1960s,” he adds.

Bisht paid his first visit to Rakhigarhi in 1972. Though referred to collectively as Rakhigarhi, the area is made of two small villages – Rakhi Khas and Rakhi Shahpur – each with its own panchayat. The site of the old Harappan Civilisation spreads across both.

“Initially I identified five mounds where remains of the Harppan Civilisation could be found,” he says. Later he found two more with remains of a pre Harappan (or early-Harappan as some call it) settlement and recommended that they be all declared as ‘protected monuments’ by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Presently four of the seven mounds are ASI-protected. The others are too thickly populated at present to bring them under protection, says an ASI official. It was the reason why Bisht never did any excavations at Rakhigarhi.

“Some of the biggest mounds were under occupation. I felt I could not do justice to the study in such a situation,” says the archaeologist, who has done extensive work in Dholavira, another site of the Harappan Civilization.

The Hindustan Times – India accounts for more than half of 2 lakh leprosy cases reported every year: WHO

New Delhi -India, 25 January 2019. Around 2 lakh leprosy cases continue to be reported every year in the world with India accounting for more than half of them, the WHO said Friday, adding leprosy-related “discrimination, stigma and prejudice” were the most powerful barriers in ending the disease.

WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Poonam Khetrapal Singh also lauded India for repealing two legislations – one that discriminated against persons affected by leprosy and another which allowed leprosy as legitimate grounds for divorce.

She said significant numbers are detected in the South-East Asia Region, Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific.

“Leprosy-related discrimination, stigma and prejudice are the most powerful barriers to ending leprosy for good, especially given the disease is 100 per cent curable when detected early.

“Though the number of leprosy cases has steadily declined worldwide, an estimated 2,00,000 cases continue to be reported every year, with India accounting for more than half,” Singh said.

The official said as core public health interventions like active case-finding, improved treatment regimens and strengthened surveillance continue to drive-down leprosy’s incidence and spread, the disease’s bio-social components must be brought to the fore.

“As outlined in WHO’s Global Leprosy Strategy 2016-2020, policies that promote inclusion and aim at ending leprosy-related discrimination, stigma and prejudice should be front and centre of all leprosy programmes, both as goods in themselves as well as powerful tools to achieve a leprosy-free region and world,” she said.

Stressing on empowering people with leprosy to be “agents of social change”, Singh said this could include training them in advocacy and social mobilisation to enhance community buy-in and secure high-level support and funding for leprosy programmes.

“It could also include helping them form psycho-social support networks to reduce emotional and economic distress, thereby promoting the active participation of persons affected by leprosy in society,” she said.

“While the inclusion of leprosy-affected persons in vocational training is already underway in most endemic countries, these programmes should be expanded wherever possible.

“As part of this, clear information on how they can be accessed should be made available to every eligible person, thereby ensuring no one is left behind,” she said.

Human rights of persons affected by leprosy must be prioritised, she added.

“Notably, in recent years India, along with other countries in the Region and beyond, has repealed legislation that discriminates against persons affected by leprosy.

“In 2016, for example, it repealed the draconian colonial-era Lepers Act, while earlier this month it repealed a law allowing leprosy as legitimate grounds for divorce. Both initiatives are to be commended,” she said.

WHO’s South-East Asia Region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

Singh also congratulated WHO Goodwill Ambassador and chairman of the Nippon Foundation Yohei Sasakawa on being awarded the 2018 International Gandhi Peace Prize for his contribution to ending leprosy in India and across the world.