Khamis, 15 Mei 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

India vote count puts Modi on course for resounding win

Posted: 15 May 2014 09:05 PM PDT

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Early counting of results in India's general election put opposition leader Narendra Modi on course for a resounding victory that would hand him a clear mandate for his agenda to revive growth and create jobs.

Returns showed Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies leading in 249 parliamentary seats. The ruling Congress party alliance was ahead in just 67, according to NDTV news.

Modi was ahead in both of the constituencies he contested - in Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat and in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

Rahul Gandhi, who led the Congress campaign, was lagging in his seat of Amethi, which has been held in turn by his uncle, father and mother, Sonia, since 1980. A loss there would spell disaster for the great grandson of India's independence leader and cast the future of the dynasty into serious doubt.

If early trends are confirmed the BJP and its allies would win an absolute majority of more than 272 seats in the lower house of parliament, bearing out the findings of exit polls that have proved inaccurate in the past.

"This is undoubtedly going to be a BJP government," said Prannoy Roy, the head of NDTV news channel and a political analyst.

Such an outcome would open the way for Modi, 63, to become prime minister and act quickly to form the core of a new government by naming loyalists to the prized cabinet posts of finance, home, defence and external affairs.

"We didn't go by the exit polls. We went by the sense on the ground," said Piyush Goyal, BJP treasurer.

"It looks pretty bleak at the moment," said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a Congress leader, adding he would wait for final results.

Betting on a Modi win, foreign investors have poured more than $16 billion (9.52 billion pounds) into Indian stocks and bonds in the past six months and now hold over 22 percent of Mumbai-listed equities - a stake estimated by Morgan Stanley at almost $280 billion.

Indian markets got off to a roaring start, with the Indian rupee breaking below 59 to the U.S. dollar, and SGX Nifty stock futures up by more than 3 percent, sharply reversing an earlier drop of 0.6 percent.


Since being named as his party's candidate last September, Modi has flown 300,000 km and addressed 457 rallies in a slick, presidential-style campaign that has broken the mould of Indian politics.

In so doing, Modi has outclassed Gandhi, 43, while burnishing his pro-business record as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who as finance minister launched reforms in 1991 that brought an end to decades of economic isolation, has already bid farewell to his staff after a decade in office marked by mounting policy paralysis.

Modi's mantra of development has won over many voters sceptical about his Hindu-centric ideology and role in sectarian riots in his home state in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died. He has denied any wrongdoing and a probe ordered by the Supreme Court has found he had no case to answer.

Exit polls estimate that the BJP's vote share rose by 15 percentage points to 34 percent. Under India's first-past-the-post system, that may be enough for the BJP to take battleground states like Uttar Pradesh - home to one in every six Indians.


Modi has promised that, if elected, he would take decisive action to unblock stalled investments in power, road and rail projects to revive economic growth that has fallen to a decade low of below 5 percent.

Tax and labour market reforms, backed by a gradual opening up to foreign investment, would seek to create the 10 million jobs that Asia's third-largest economy must create every year to employ young people entering the workforce.

If Modi does fall short of a majority, he could face lengthy coalition talks with regional parties that might demand a high price for their loyalty and dilute his reform agenda.

Modi has retreated to his home base in Gujarat, where he will learn of the election results on Friday before flying to New Delhi for what could be a hero's welcome from party loyalists clad in the BJP's orange colours.

(Additional reporting by Shyamantha Asokan; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by John Chalmers)

U.S. warns China its actions in sea disputes are straining relations

Posted: 15 May 2014 08:20 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China's "provocative" actions in maritime disputes with its neighbours are straining ties with the United States, raising questions over how the world's two biggest economies can work together, a senior U.S. official said.

The strong comments from Washington on Thursday come after deadly anti-China riots broke out in Vietnam in response to China towing an oil rig into a part of the South China Sea claimed by both Hanoi and Beijing.

"This is raising some fundamental questions for us about China's long-term strategic intentions," the U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said Beijing's move appeared to fit a "pattern" of advancing territorial claims through coercion and intimidation.

"China's activities are straining the U.S.-China relationship because it raises questions about our ability to partner together in Asia or even bilaterally."

The Vietnamese government says one person was killed in the anti-China violence on Tuesday and Wednesday, but a doctor at a hospital near one area of rioting said he had seen 21 dead bodies and that at least 100 people were wounded. An eyewitness to fighting between Chinese and Vietnamese workers in an industrial zone in the same area said she had seen at least 15 people killed.

There were no immediate reports on Friday of further violence.

Washington is in close contact with the Vietnamese government on "how most effectively to manage" Hanoi's standoff with Beijing, the U.S. official told Reuters,

The Philippines, one of Washington's closest allies in Asia, has said China is reclaiming land on a reef in the oil- and gas-rich South China Sea that both countries claim and is building what appears to be an airstrip on it. It has offered the United States the use of an underdeveloped naval base on a nearby island to ensure U.S. warships can enter the vicinity.

Vice President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials told visiting General Fang Fenghui, chief of general staff in China's army, that Beijing's behaviour in the maritime disputes was "dangerous and provocative" and must stop, the official said.

The renewed tensions in the South China Sea underscore one of the biggest challenges in Asia facing President Barack Obama, who is under pressure by America's allies to accelerate a "pivot" of military assets to the region to counter China's rising influence.

In Washington on Thursday, Fang defended the deployment of the oil rig in the disputed South China Sea and blamed Hanoi, saying China cannot afford to "lose an inch" of territory.

The general also pointed the finger at Obama's strategic shift towards Asia, saying it had encouraged countries such as Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines to make trouble with Beijing. Vietnam and China are now grappling with one of the worst breakdowns in relations since the neighbours fought a brief border war in 1979.


The U.S. official dismissed Fang's accusation as "a fundamental mis-reading" of U.S. strategy and said China's assertiveness would only encourage Asian countries to seek greater U.S. involvement in regional diplomatic, economic and military affairs. Washington insists its Asia-Pacific re-engagment is not meant to contain China's rise but that Beijing must conduct itself according to international norms.

"We're concerned that China has learnt the wrong lessons from Russia and Ukraine and has decided that unilateral assertion is the way to advance China's interests," the official said.

Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula - and perceptions of limited U.S. options to get Moscow to back down - have heightened unease in parts of Asia over whether Beijing will be emboldened to use force to pursue its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.

In Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said China's foreign minister condemned Vietnam in an urgent phone call with the Southeast Asian country's deputy prime minister over the anti-Chinese protests.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh in the call on Thursday night that "Vietnam bears unshirkable responsibility for the violent attacks against Chinese companies and nationals", the report said.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called on police and state and local authorities to restore order and ensure the safety of people and property in the affected areas.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh confirmed one death in the clashes, and described media reports and accounts on social networking sites of higher casualties as "groundless".

China's state news agency Xinhua reported that at least two Chinese nationals had died and more than 100 were hospitalised.

The worst violence appears to have taken place in an industrial zone in the central province of Ha Tinh. Journalists' movements are restricted in tightly controlled Vietnam, where the government maintains an iron grip on law and order, and it was not possible to get independent confirmation of the death toll.

The doctor at the Ha Tinh hospital who had seen 21 dead bodies and the witness who saw the fighting in the industrial zone did not want to be identified by name.

(Additional reporting by Nguyen Phuong Linh and Martin Petty; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Colombia's president slips behind rival in election polls

Posted: 15 May 2014 08:10 PM PDT

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos slipped behind his main rival, right wing Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, in two election polls on Thursday, raising the heat 10 days before a vote in which prior surveys appeared to assure the incumbent a second mandate.

A Gallup poll published by local media said Zuluaga would gain 29.3 percent of votes in the first round, a fraction ahead of 29 percent for Santos, but it gave Zuluaga a comfortable lead in a run-off vote of 42.5 percent versus 35.1 for Santos.

Pollster Cifras y Conceptos had also predicted a technical first round tie for the candidates with 27.7 percent for Santos versus 23.9 percent for Zuluaga. That poll said a run-off would give Zuluaga a thin victory with a 0.6 percentage point lead at 34.2 percent versus Santos' 33.6.

Barring an extraordinary late-minute surge, neither contender is expected to clear the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a June 15 run-off. The number of blank or protest voters who would not choose any of the candidates in the race, initially 31 percent, fell to 5.9 percent in the Gallup poll.

Santos and Zuluaga differ little on economic issues - both favour investor-friendly policies - so the choice for many voters is likely to come down to the candidates' position on ongoing peace negotiations with Marxist FARC rebels.

In a bid to end five decades of war, Santos began talks with the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, at the end of 2012.

Zuluaga, the anointed candidate of former president Alvaro Uribe, who decimated the guerrillas' ranks with a relentless U.S.-backed military offensive, has said he would demand concessions, including a ceasefire, from the rebels before continuing talks, a condition FARC leadership has rejected.

He has also talked about scrapping the negotiations, which could intensify on-going combat in order to defeat the rebels militarily, something which has eluded the Andean nation with the guerrillas scattered over its mountainous jungle terrain.

Santos says his re-election is vital to completing the negotiations in Havana, where representatives of the FARC and the government have so far reached partial agreements on two of the five agenda points.

Both campaigns were jolted by the resignations of key advisors last week, after allegations of bribery and spying prompted investigations by authorities.

Support for each of the other candidates in the contest - the Green Alliance's Enrique Penalosa, Clara Lopez of the left-wing Polo Democratico and the Conservative Party's Marta Lucia Ramirez - was at or below 10 percent in the Cifras y Conceptos poll and 10 percent or higher in the Gallup poll.

The Cifras y Conceptos survey interviewed 2,762 respondents in 62 municipalities and was conducted between May 9 and May 12. Gallup's poll of 1,184 people was gathered from May 10 to May 13.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, Luis Jaime Acosta and Peter Murphy; Editing by W Simon and Michael Urquhart)


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