- Kejriwal quits as Delhi chief minister after 49 days
- Three Indonesia airports reopen after volcano eruption
- Thai riot police deployed to clear areas occupied by protesters
Posted: 14 Feb 2014 10:02 PM PST
NEW DELHI, Feb 15, 2014 (AFP) - Firebrand anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal was clearing his desk Saturday after quitting as Delhi's chief minister in a move that leaves him clear to lead his party into battle in a looming general election.
Only 49 days after his upstart Aam Aadmi ("Common Man") Party took power in the capital, Kejriwal resigned on Friday night when the country's two main parties combined to thwart his efforts to bring in a new anti-corruption bill.
Kejriwal, whose stunning breakthrough in the Delhi state elections in December highlighted public anger towards the political establishment, launched a blistering assault on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in his resignation speech.
Newspapers said his decision to quit so soon after taking power appeared part of a wider strategy which would free Kejriwal to lead his party's campaign in a general election due by May.
The anti-corruption bill was the main plank of Kejriwal's manifesto in the Delhi state election, the first campaign that his party had ever fought.
Although Aam Aadmi only won 28 of the 70 assembly seats, it was able to take power after Congress agreed to give it backing from outside.
However Congress refused to support the Jan Lokpal bill, which included plans to set up an anti-corruption commission, in a vote Friday on procedural grounds.
In his speech to supporters on Friday, the 45-year-old accused Congress of reneging on an earlier promise to back the bill.
"Congress had promised us, in writing, that they would support the bill but when we tried to present it before the assembly today both they and the BJP came together to block it," Kejriwal said.
"This is the first time in India's history that both the BJP and Congress have come together... They have exposed themselves and shown their true face."
In his typically fiery address, the former tax inspector also accused the two parties of taking orders from Mukesh Ambani, India's wealthiest man who heads the giant Reliance Industries conglomerate.
The BJP is expected to win the national polls, but it will need support from smaller parties to clinch victory.
Although Kejriwal only formed his party a year ago, its remarkable showing in the Delhi election shocked the country's political establishment.
Congress, which has been badly damaged by a series of corruption scandals at national level, saw its number of seats slashed from 43 to just eight.
Aam Aadmi has said it plans to contest the national elections although analysts say it is unlikely to win much support outside major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai due to its lack of infrastructure and funding.
Newspapers said that Kejriwal's resignation represented something of a gamble for his party, with many of the voters who backed him in December unhappy at his decision to walk so soon.
"As AAP moves to launch an audacious Lok Sabha (parliamentary) campaign, the political greenhorn who humbled both Congress and BJP will also have to answer questions about its commitment to governance and if it has the vision to be a long-term player," said The Times of India.
The Hindustan Times said that Kerjiwal's resignation was part of a plan that would allow him to spearhead the general election campaign.
"The decision to quit is part of AAP's bigger strategy," the paper said.
"It hopes to paint the Congress and BJP as the villains of the piece who did not let his government fulfill its promises, and is banking on the people to bring it back to power on its own."
During his administration's brief time in office, Kejriwal unveiled a series of headline-grabbing initiatives, including a graft hotline aimed at stemming the rampant corruption of police and bureaucrats.
After shunning the usual official car and instead taking the subway to his swearing-in ceremony, Kejriwal then slashed electricity costs and announced free water supplies.
But while his elevation to one of the most important political posts in India was initially widely welcomed as a much-needed shock to the system, the former tax inspector has since come in for criticism over a series of stand-offs with the authorities.
The self-styled "anarchist" staged a sit-in on the pavement close to the national parliament last month, triggering chaos in the city centre, as part of a push to be given greater powers of control over the police.
In Delhi, the BJP will be given the opportunity to form an alternative administration before any decision is made on holding fresh elections.
The party is the biggest faction in the assembly, having won 32 seats in December.
Posted: 14 Feb 2014 09:14 PM PST
JAKARTA, Feb 15, 2014 (AFP) - Three airports in Indonesia reopened on Saturday while four others remained closed, officials said, after a volcanic eruption killed three people and forced mass evacuations.
Mount Kelud, considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the main island of Java, spewed red-hot ash and rocks high into the air late Thursday night just hours after its alert status was raised.
"The airport in Malang city in East Java province, and Cilacap and Semarang cities in Central Java province have reopened. There's no problem flying there now. We are now evaluating the status of other airports," Transport Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan told AFP.
Seven airports - including those serving international flights in Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Solo and Bandung - were forced to close Friday due to thick ash that blanketed eastern Javanese cities.
Ervan said the airports in Bandung and Surabaya are expected to reopen later Saturday, while the airport in Solo may reopen Monday and the one in Yogyakarta on February 18.
On Friday villagers in eastern Java described the terror of volcanic materials raining down on their homes, while AFP correspondents at the scene saw residents covered in grey dust fleeing in cars and on motorbikes towards evacuation centres.
The volcano spewed grey smoke some 3,000 metres (9,850 feet) into the sky on Saturday, National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, but added that "volcanic activity showed a slowing trend".
Transport Ministry director general of aviation Herry Bakti said the authorities "will continue to monitor the movement of ash in the air via satellite".
"We were informed by the volcanology agency this morning that no more powerful eruptions are expected. So it is safe to fly and flights can resume. We will issue an update via notice to airmen," he told AFP on Saturday.
Three people were killed and around 200,000 people were ordered to evacuate following the eruption, though some families ignored the orders and others have returned home, with just over 75,000 now in temporary shelters, officials said.
The 1,731-metre (5,679-foot) Mount Kelud has claimed more than 15,000 lives since 1500, including around 10,000 deaths in a massive eruption in 1568.
It is one of 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean.
Earlier this month another volcano, Mount Sinabung on western Sumatra island unleashed an enormous eruption that left at least 16 dead and has been erupting almost daily since September.
Posted: 14 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST
BANGKOK: Thousands of riot police were deployed in the Thai capital to clear areas occupied for weeks by opposition protesters, tearing down makeshift barricades around the besieged government headquarters.
The operation in Bangkok marked an unexpected shift in tactics by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government after months during which the demonstrators have often appeared to be more in control of the city than the authorities.
Apparently emboldened by dwindling protester numbers and the failure of the opposition to have a recent election nullified by the courts, the government attempted to regain the upper hand by reclaiming key state buildings.
Police with shields and riot helmets, some carrying rifles, met little resistance as they re-took areas around Government House, which Yingluck had been unable to use for about two months.
Security forces removed protesters' tents and ripped down their makeshift defences built from barbed wire, sandbags and piles of rubber tyres, according to reporters.
But it was unclear if the operation was a success as demonstrators were later seen rebuilding barricades. Police also pulled back from an occupied government complex in the north of the city before they could clear the area.
Thailand remains deeply divided more than seven years after a controversial military coup ousted then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck's brother.
The kingdom has been periodically rocked by mass demonstrations by rival protest groups broadly allied or opposed to the tycoon-turned-politician, who wooed rural voters with policies such as affordable healthcare and micro-loans.
Thaksin is hated by many southerners, middle class Thais and members of the Bangkok elite who see him as authoritarian, corruption and a threat to the revered monarchy.
The deployment of security forces revived memories of a bloody crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" rallies in 2010 under the previous government, using armed troops backed by armoured vehicles.
Unlike on that occasion, when scores were killed, there were no serious injuries in yesterday's operation, which targeted an area of the government district where few demonstrators remained, rather than the main rally stages in the heart of the commercial district.
Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, responsible for overseeing a state of emergency imposed in the capital, said officials would return to work at Government House on Monday.
He said sling-shots, illegal drugs and bomb-making materials were discovered at the rally site.
"Protesters – you should return home," Chalerm said in a televised national address from the government headquarters.
"If you're still stubborn we will gently enforce the law," he added.
"The police are ready to disperse protesters but the prime minister told us not to use force to avoid loss of life." — AFP
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