Indian PM in UAE to Open Hindu Temple, Deepen Trade Ties

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi started a visit to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to inaugurate the Middle East’s largest Hindu temple and boost investment and trade links.

The two governments signed deals, including a framework agreement on a major trade and transport route, at the start of Modi’s two-day visit, the third in the past eight months.

His trip comes ahead of India’s national election, which is expected to begin in April.

He was due to inaugurate the region’s largest Hindu temple on Wednesday, a day after he addresses thousands of expatriates in a community event in Abu Dhabi.

The visit is largely focused on galvanizing the diaspora, according to experts, even though Indians in the UAE can’t vote from abroad.

The UAE is home to about 3.5 million Indian nationals — the largest expatriate community in the Gulf country.

Modi met UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Tuesday, according to the Indian foreign ministry and local state media, their fifth meeting in eight months.

India’s foreign ministry said they inked several deals, including a bilateral investment treaty, building on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed in 2022.

They also signed an “intergovernmental framework agreement” on the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, a ship-to-rail transit network that will supplement existing sea and land routes.

Ex-Thai Prime Minister Granted Parole

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been granted parole after serving six months of a one-year prison sentence.

News reports in Thailand say the 74-year-old Thaksin was on a list of 930 prisoners being granted early release because they were either ill or elderly.

He could be released from jail as early as Saturday.

Thaksin was detained last August after returning to Thailand from 15 years of self-imposed exile to avoid imprisonment after being convicted of several corruption-related charges.

He had been sentenced to eight years in prison, but his sentence was commuted to one year by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

He has served nearly all his sentence in a police hospital for treatment of an undisclosed condition.

The media tycoon was first elected prime minister in 2001 and gained a loyal following among Thailand’s rural poor for such policies as universal health care and cash payments to farmers.

But he was overthrown in a coup in 2006 by a military aligned with members of Thailand’s pro-monarchy elite who saw him as a threat to their longstanding grip on the social order.

US Senate Approves Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan

The U.S. Senate voted early Tuesday to approve a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, but the measure faces opposition in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

The Senate bill passed 70-29 with more than a dozen Republicans joining the majority Democrats in support.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly expressed gratitude, saying U.S. aid “helps to save human lives from Russian terror.”

“American assistance brings just peace in Ukraine closer and restores global stability, resulting in increased security and prosperity for all Americans and all the free world,” Zelensky said on X.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the measure will “greatly impact not just our national security, not just the security of our allies, but the security of Western democracy.”

“With this bill, the Senate declares that American leadership will not waiver, will not falter, will not fail,” Schumer said after the final vote total was announced.

EU Eyes Export Ban on Three Chinese Firms 

The EU has proposed imposing export bans on firms in mainland China, India and Turkey accused of supplying Russia with military technology as part of a new round of sanctions over the war in Ukraine, according to a document seen by AFP.

Officials in Brussels are currently hammering out a 13th package of sanctions on Russia to coincide with the second anniversary of its all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

As part of the push, the EU’s diplomatic service has proposed adding around 20 firms, including three in mainland China, one in Turkey and one in India, to an export blacklist of those providing support to Russia’s military.

That would mean firms in the 27-nation bloc would be prohibited from doing business with the companies as Brussels steps up efforts to crack down on the circumvention of its sanctions on Russia.

The EU has already placed similar export bans on over 600 firms, including three based in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong and firms in Armenia, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.

If EU member states agree to the proposal, it will be the first time that firms in mainland China will be targeted to help Russia get around sanctions on acquiring technology that can be used on the battlefield.

Brussels proposed putting five Chinese firms on the list last year, but they were dropped in the face of opposition from Beijing and reluctance from some EU capitals.

Zimbabwe Will Attempt to Establish Gold-Backed Currency

Zimbabwe’s government said Monday it is introducing a gold-backed currency to replace the country’s nearly worthless dollar, which most businesses have shunned, preferring the U.S. dollar or South African rand.

Minister for Finance and Economic Development Mthuli Ncube told reporters in an online press conference that Zimbabwe was making the move to ensure sustained growth.

“Really this is a quest for currency stability,” Ncube said. “What has emerged over the years is the U.S. [dollar] being the most dominant.

“Going forward, we want to make sure that the growth we have achieved so far — which is very strong — is maintained and even increased,” he said. “We can only do that if we have further stability in the domestic currency. … And the way to do that is perhaps to link the exchange rate to some hard asset such as gold.”

He did not say when Zimbabwe will introduce the gold-backed currency.

Police Fire Tear Gas at Protesting Farmers Marching to Delhi

Police in India fired tear gas shells at hundreds of farmers who were marching Tuesday toward the capital, New Delhi, in a mass protest demanding crop price guarantees.

Spearheaded by farmers from the North Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, known as India’s breadbasket, the protestors said the government failed to meet promises it made after they called off a year-long protest in 2021.

Television images showed plumes of smoke at a border point that lies about 200 kilometres north of Delhi after security forces dropped tear gas canisters from a drone to disperse the farmers.

The Indian capital has been turned into a virtual fortress with barbed wire, cement blocks and metal spikes installed at its borders to prevent the farmers from reaching the city. Thousands of security personnel and police guarded Delhi, where large gatherings have been banned. Internet service has been suspended in some districts of neighbouring Haryana state.

The heavy security measures aim to prevent a repeat of a massive protest that began in September 2020 when tens of thousands of farmers camped on Delhi’s borders for nearly one year until the government conceded their demand to scrap three controversial laws.

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