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Rahul Gandhi: India’s Congress leader sentenced to jail for Modi ‘thieves’ remark

Rahul Gandhi: India’s Congress leader sentenced to jail for Modi ‘thieves’ remark

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Rahul Gandhi: India's Congress leader sentenced to jail for Modi 'thieves' remark

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has been sentenced to two years in prison in a criminal defamation case.

Mr Gandhi was convicted by the court in Gujarat state for 2019 comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname during an election rally.

He will not go to jail immediately – he was granted bail for 30 days and will file an appeal against the conviction.

The Congress party MP was present in court for sentencing, which comes a year before general elections are due.

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Speaking at an election rally in Karnataka state in April 2019, ahead of the last general election, Mr Gandhi had said: “Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi.”

Nirav Modi is a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon while Lalit Modi is a former chief of the Indian Premier League who has been banned for life by the country’s cricket board. Mr Gandhi argued that he had made the comment to highlight corruption and it was not directed against any community.

The case against him was filed on the basis of a complaint by Purnesh Modi, a lawmaker from India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, who said that Mr Gandhi’s comments had defamed the entire Modi community.

But some have said they are puzzled by the order.

Legal scholar Gautam Bhatia tweeted that “references to a generic class of persons” – surnames in this case – are not “actionable unless an individual can show a direct reference to themselves”.

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“If a man says ‘all lawyers are thieves’, then I, as a lawyer, cannot file a case against him for defamation unless I can show its imputation aimed at me,” Mr Bhatia said.

India’s criminal defamation law is British-era legislation under which there can be a maximum prison sentence of two years, a fine or both.

Free speech advocates have often argued that the law goes against the principles of freedom and that it is is used by politicians to silence their critics.

In 2016, some top Indian politicians including Mr Gandhi filed legal pleas arguing for defamation to be decriminalised. But India’s Supreme Court upheld the validity of the law, saying that the “right to free speech cannot mean that a citizen can defame the other”.

The Congress party tweeted that Mr Gandhi would appeal and said “we will fight and win”.

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Mr Gandhi has not commented publicly yet but has tweeted a quote in Hindi from India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi: “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, and non-violence the means to get it.”

His lawyer, Kirit Panwala, told BBC Gujarati that Mr Gandhi had told the judge after the order that he had made the speech “in favour of democracy”.

He also said that their defence of Mr Gandhi was based on four points: “Firstly, Mr Gandhi is not a resident of Gujarat and so, before the complaint, an inquiry should be conducted. Secondly, there is no community named Modi. Thirdly, there is no association of people with Modi as their surname and lastly, there was no ill intention behind Mr Gandhi’s speech.”

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

The US Coast Guard and Kiribati police boarded two Chinese fishing boats during a patrol against illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands nation’s vast exclusive economic zone this month but found no issues aboard, a coast guard official said.

The United States is seeking a bigger role for its coast guard in helping remote Pacific Islands nations monitor millions of kilometres of ocean – a rich tuna fishing ground – a move that also boosts surveillance as a rivalry with China over security ties in the region intensifies.

Reuters reported on Friday that Chinese police are working in Kiribati, with uniformed officers involved in community policing and a crime database program.

Kiribati, a nation of 115,000 residents, is considered strategic despite being small, as it is relatively close to Hawaii and controls a 3.5 million square kilometre (1.35 million square mile) exclusive economic zone. It is also host to a Japanese satellite tracking station.

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Washington has flagged plans to build an embassy in Kiribati to compete with China, but has not yet done so.

Kiribati police officers were on patrol with the US Coast Guard as “ship riders” for the first time in almost a decade, between Feb. 11-16, a US Coast Guard Guam spokeswoman said.

“The two People’s Republic of China (PRC) flagged fishing vessels were boarded as part of routine maritime law enforcement activities to ensure compliance with regulations within the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed comments.

No concerns were reported during the boardings, she said.

“Both Kiribati officers from the Kiribati Police Maritime Unit and US Coast Guard officers were involved in the boarding operations. This collaboration underscores the partnership between the two nations in upholding maritime law and good governance,” she added.

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The Kiribati president’s office and Chinese embassy did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, told Reuters last week that Chinese police on the island work with local police.

China built a large embassy on the main island, Tarawa, after Kiribati switched ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. 

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Russia launched 14 attack drones and a barrage of missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defence systems destroying nine drones as well as three guided missiles over the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, Ukraine’s air force said on Monday.

Russia also launched two S-300 missiles from anti-aircraft missile systems and one air-to-surface Kh-31P missile, the air force said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear what happened to the missiles and drones that were not downed. 

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Tuvalu on Monday announced former attorney general and fisheries official Feleti Teo as its new prime minister, after he was elected unopposed by lawmakers in the Pacific Islands nation, officials said.

Former Prime Minister Kausea Natano lost his seat in a general election on Jan. 26 closely watched by Taiwan, China, the US and Australia, amid a geopolitical tussle for influence in the South Pacific.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 11,200 spread across nine islands, is one of three remaining Pacific allies of Taiwan, after Nauru cut ties last month and switched to Beijing, which had promised more development help.

Teo received unanimous support from the 16 lawmakers, two lawmakers told Reuters on Monday.

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Teo, who was educated in New Zealand and Australia, was Tuvalu’s first attorney general. He has decades of experience as a senior official in the regional fisheries organisation and has worked with the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s major political and economic group. Fishing is a major source of revenue in the Pacific islands.

“Feleti Teo was declared by the Governor General as Prime Minister for Tuvalu,” Tuvalu’s government secretary, Tufoua Panapa, said in an emailed statement.

Tuvalu lawmaker Simon Kofe congratulated Teo in a social media post.

“It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The election result in Tuvalu had been delayed by a month as dangerous weather stopped boats from bringing new lawmakers to the capital to vote for prime minister, highlighting why climate change is the top political issue in the Pacific Islands nation.

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Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Tuvalu, Andrew Lin, expressed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulations to Teo, adding that deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang will visit Tuvalu in the near future.

Teo is a friend of Taiwan’s and has visited many times, and has said relations are stable and that maintaining ties is the widespread consensus in Tuvalu, the ministry added.

Taiwan previously said it was paying close attention to the election after Tuvalu’s finance minister in the previous government, Seve Paeniu, said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

There had also been calls by some lawmakers to review a wide-ranging deal signed with Australia in November, that allows Canberra to vet Tuvalu’s police, port and telecommunication cooperation with other nations, in return for a defence guarantee and allowing citizens threatened by rising seas to migrate.

The deal was seen as an effort to curb China’s rising influence as an infrastructure provider in the Pacific Islands.

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Teo’s position on Taiwan ties, and the Australian security and migration pact, have not been made public.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media he looked forward to working with Teo.

“Australia deeply values our relationship with Tuvalu, in the spirit of the Falepili Union,” he wrote, referring to the migration pact.

Tuvalu’s ministry would be announced at an oath taking ceremony for the new government later this week, Panapa said.

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