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India’s top court hearing petitions challenging government’s removal of Kashmir’s special status

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India's top court hearing petitions challenging government's removal of Kashmir's special status

 India’s top court Wednesday began hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the legislation passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2019 that stripped disputed Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, scrapped its separate constitution and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.

The five-judge constitutional bench that includes the Supreme Court’s chief justice is simultaneously hearing a series of petitions challenging the special status granted to the region after its accession with newly independent India in 1947. Such petitions were filed before the 2019 changes.

The unprecedented move divided the region into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir, both ruled directly by the central government without a legislature of their own. The move’s immediate implications were that the Muslim-majority region is now run by bureaucrats with no democratic credentials and lost its flag, criminal code and constitution.

“The case is before the country’s top-most constitutional bench. We are optimistic as we know our case is very strong,” said Hasnain Masoodi, a Kashmir-based Indian lawmaker who was one of the first petitioners challenging the Modi government’s decision. He also served as a judge at Kashmir’s high court.

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“This constitutional framework provided a mechanism to be part of the Indian union. The abrogation was a betrayal and an assault on our identity,” he said.

Masoodi, who is part of Kashmir region’s largest political party, the National Conference, said the 2019 decision “violated every norm and mechanism” under India’s constitution and its “gross violation in letter and spirit.”

Soon after, Indian officials began integrating Kashmir into the rest of India with administrative changes enacted without public input. A domicile law rolled out in 2020 made it possible for any Indian national who has lived in the region for at least 15 years or has studied for seven years to become a permanent resident of the region. That same year, the government also eased rules for Indian soldiers to acquire land in Kashmir and build “strategic” settlements.

Indian authorities have called the new residency rights an overdue measure to foster greater economic development, but critics say it could alter the population’s makeup.

Many Kashmiris worry that an influx of outsiders could alter the results of a plebiscite if it were to ever take place, even though it was promised under the 1948 United Nations resolutions that gave Kashmir the choice of joining either Pakistan or India.

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The stunning mountain region has known little but conflict since 1947, when British rule of the Indian subcontinent divided the territory between the newly created India and Pakistan. Kashmiri Muslims launched a an independence movement in 1989, seeking unification with Pakistan or complete independence.

Most Muslim Kashmiris support the goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of sponsoring independence freedom movement, a charge Islamabad denies. Tens of thousands of civilians, freedom fighters and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

Many Muslim ethnic Kashmiris view the 2019 changes as an annexation, while members of minority Hindu and Buddhist communities initially welcomed the move but later expressed fear of losing land and jobs in the pristine Himalayan region.

While deeply unpopular in Kashmir, the move resonated in much of India, where the Modi government was cheered by supporters for fulfilling a long-held Hindu nationalist pledge to scrap the restive region’s special privileges.

In New Delhi’s effort to shape what it calls “Naya Kashmir,” or a “new Kashmir,” the territory’s people have, however, been largely silenced, with their civil liberties curbed, as India has shown no tolerance for any form of dissent.

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Kashmir’s press has also faced major difficulties. Many journalists in the region have since been intimated, harassed, summoned to police stations and sometimes arrested. The administration also implemented a new media policy that seeks to control reporting.

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

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White-led DA party joins ANC in South African unity government

 The African National Congress and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, agreed on Friday to work together in South Africa’s new government of national unity, a step change after 30 years of ANC majority rule.

Once unthinkable, the deal between two sharply antagonistic parties is the most momentous political shift in South Africa since Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the 1994 elections that marked the end of apartheid.

“Today, South Africa is a better country than it was yesterday. For the first time since 1994, we’ve embarked on a peaceful and democratic transfer of power to a new government that will be different from the previous one,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a televised address.

“From today, the DA will co-govern the Republic of South Africa in a spirit of unity and collaboration,” he said, adding that multi-party government was the “new normal”.

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The ANC lost its majority for the first time in an election on May 29 and has spent two weeks locked in intensive behind-the-scenes talks with other parties, which came down to the wire on Friday morning as the new parliament was convening.

The DA’s entry into national government is a big moment for a country still processing the legacy of the racist colonial and apartheid regimes. The party has struggled to shake off its image as a defender of rich white people and convince a broad spectrum of South Africans that it reflects their aspirations.

Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government, they said. 

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Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

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Hamas' armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Hamas’ armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said on Friday that two Israeli hostages held in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah a few days ago.

The group, in a video posted on its Telegram channel, did not release the names of those said to have been killed or provide any evidence.

The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins,” the al-Qassam Brigades statement said.

Israel rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a hostage-freeing operation in central Gaza’s al-Nuseirat on June 8. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said more than 250 Palestinians were killed in the raid.

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The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. 

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

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US attack sub, Canada navy patrol ship arrive in Cuba on heels of Russian warships

A Canadian navy patrol ship sailed into Havana early on Friday, just hours after the United States announced a fast-attack submarine had docked at its Guantanamo naval base on Cuba, both vessels on the heels of Russian warships that arrived on the island earlier this week.

The confluence of Russian, Canadian and U.S. vessels in Cuba – a Communist-ruled island nation just 160 km (100 miles) from Florida – served up a reminder of old Cold War tensions and of current fraught ties between Russia and Western nations over the Ukraine war.

However, both the U.S. and Cuba have said the Russian warships pose no threat to the region. Russia has also characterized the arrival of its warships in allied Cuba as routine.

The Admiral Gorshkov frigate and the nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, half submerged with its crew on deck, sailed into Havana harbor on Wednesday after conducting “high-precision missile weapons” training in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Canada`s Margaret Brooke patrol vessel began maneuvers early on Friday to enter Havana harbor, part of what the Canadian Joint Operations Command called “a port visit…in recognition of the long-standing bilateral relationship between Canada and Cuba.”

A Canadian diplomat characterized the Margaret Brooke`s arrival as “routine and part of long-standing cooperation between our two countries”, adding it was “unrelated to the presence of the Russian ships.”

Russia and Cuba were close allies under the former Soviet Union and tensions with Washington over Communism in its “backyard” peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Moscow, which has maintained ties with Havana, has questioned the apparent nervousness of the West over the warships this week. 

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