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India’s Congress says $25m frozen by tax department ahead of election

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India’s Congress says $25m frozen by tax department ahead of election

The Indian National Congress party says its bank accounts with 2.1 billion rupees ($25.3m) in deposits have been frozen by the Income Tax Department months before the national election.

The main opposition party on Friday called the action “a deep assault on India’s democracy”, adding that an income tax tribunal has allowed it to partially operate its accounts until February 21 when it would hear the case.

Congress treasurer Ajay Maken told reporters the party has filed a complaint against the tax department after it told banks to freeze funds in its accounts.

“We got information two days back that cheques being issued by us were not being honoured by banks. … We don’t have money to pay electricity bills, to pay salaries to our employees,” Maken said.

The tax department’s action comes just weeks before dates for a general election, which has to be conducted by May, are to be announced.

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It also came a day after the Supreme Court, in a landmark order, declared a secretive election funding system, called the electoral bonds, as illegal. The scheme was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2017.

“When the principal opposition party’s accounts have been frozen just two weeks before the announcement of the national elections, do you think democracy is alive in our country?” Maken asked reporters.

“Don’t you think it is going towards a one-party system?”

Maken said the 2.1 billion rupees frozen by the tax department was collected by the party through crowd funding and membership drives, adding that the dispute with the tax department was in connection with an issue dating back to 2018-2019.

Maken conceded that the party had filed its returns late by up to 45 days but insisted it had done nothing to warrant such a penalty.

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“Today is a sad day for Indian democracy,” he said, adding that the party was appealing the decision and would stage public protests.

The power of Congress, once India’s dominant party, has sunk to historic lows in parliament and in many states after Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014.

Critics and human rights groups have accused Modi’s government of using law enforcement agencies to selectively target its political foes.

“Power drunk Modi Govt has frozen the accounts of the country’s largest Opposition party,” Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge posted on X. “We appeal to the Judiciary to save the multi-party system in this country and protect India’s Democracy.”

Virendra Sachdeva, president of the BJP’s Delhi branch, said Congress had only itself to blame for the freezing of its accounts.

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“It is unfortunate that a big party like Congress is not following government rules,” he told the Press Trust of India news agency.

“If it is not following the rules, then it has to face the consequences.”

Agencies ‘behaving as BJP’s handmaidens’

Friday’s announcement follows numerous legal sanctions and active investigations against leading opponents of the BJP.

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, which dominated Indian politics for decades, was convicted of criminal libel last year after a complaint by a BJP legislator.

Gandhi’s two-year prison sentence saw him disqualified from parliament for a time until the verdict was suspended by a higher court, but it raised concerns over democratic norms in the world’s most populous country.

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Congress is a member of an opposition alliance hoping to challenge Modi at this year’s polls. Other leading figures in the bloc have also found themselves under investigation.

Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and chief minister of the capital region Delhi, has repeatedly been summoned by investigators probing alleged corruption in the allocation of liquor licences.

This month, police arrested Hemant Soren, until then the chief minister of the eastern state of Jharkhand and another leading figure in the opposition alliance, for allegedly facilitating an illegal land sale.

India’s main financial investigation agency, the Enforcement Directorate, has ongoing probes against at least four other chief ministers or their families, all of whom belong to the BJP’s political opponents.

The recent record of government agencies showed they were “behaving as handmaidens of the ruling party to cow down the political opposition”, Hartosh Singh Bal of current affairs magazine The Caravan told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

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Other investigations have been dropped against erstwhile BJP rivals who later switched their allegiance to the ruling party.

Surveys suggest the BJP is likely to win a third successive victory in this year’s election, in part because of Modi’s supremacist appeal to India’s Hindu majority.

The Congress is also forecast to slightly improve its position in the vote.

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Israel indicts sister of Hamas leader Haniyeh on terrorism incitement

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Israel indicts sister of Hamas leader Haniyeh on terrorism incitement
Israel’s State Attorney on Sunday indicted the sister of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on charges of incitement and showing solidarity with a terror group, after she allegedly praised Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that sparked the six-month old war in Gaza.
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Conservative Brazilians laud Elon Musk at rally in support of Bolsonaro

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Conservative Brazilians laud Elon Musk at rally in support of Bolsonaro

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Conservative Brazilians heaped praise Sunday on Elon Musk at a rally in support of former President Jair Bolsonaro, whose legal troubles are mounting in tandem with the billionaire entrepreneur’s feud with the South American nation’s Supreme Court.

“Brazil Thanks Elon Musk,” read one giant sign in English at the rally alongside Copacabana beach in the seaside city of Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of die-hard supporters of Bolsonaro attended.

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ELON MUSK TO FUND NEW FIRST AMENDMENT CAMPAIGN TO COMBAT ‘RELENTLESS ATTACKS ON FREE SPEECH’

Musk, a self-declared free speech absolutist, is a target in an ongoing investigation over the dissemination of fake news by supporters of Bolsonaro. Musk said the social platform X wouldn’t comply with a high court justice’s order to remove certain accounts accused of spreading disinformation.

Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX who took over Twitter — now X — in late 2022, accused Justice Alexandre de Moraes of suppressing free speech and violating Brazil’s constitution. He noted on X that users could seek to bypass any shutdown of the social media platform by using VPNs, or virtual private networks.

AMERICA FIRST FOREIGN POLICY ‘PROFOUNDLY DANGEROUS,’ INVITES MULTI-FRONT WAR, EMINENT HISTORIAN WARNS

That prompted de Moraes to include Musk in an ongoing investigation into so-called digital militias and open a new investigation into obstruction, incitement and criminal conspiracy.

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Alexandre de Moraes, justice of Brazil's Supreme Federal Court

Alexandre de Moraes, justice of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court, left, speaks during a session at the Supreme Court building in Brasilia, Brazil, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Elon Musk’s X social media platform will comply with all orders from Brazil’s Supreme Court, a week following top Justice Moraes’s decision to open an investigation into Musk and the billionaire saying he would defy the court. (Ton Molina/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Several speakers lauded Musk at Sunday’s rally.

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“What you see here are people who love liberty, who will not give up and will not kneel down to dictators, people who are willing to give their lives for freedom,” said Gustavo Gayer, a pro-Bolsonaro congressman.

Jair Bolsonaro

For his part, the former president lauded Musk for demonstrating “courage” in the face of what he called censorship by de Moraes.

“He is the man who really preserves true freedom for all of us,” said Bolsonaro, who is himself under investigation for a plethora of crimes ranging from aiding an effort to overturn the 2022 election results and plotting a coup against his leftist successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

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Brazil is an important market for social media companies. About 40 million Brazilians, or about 18% of the population, access X at least once per month, according to the market research group Emarketer.

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Biden condemns ‘blatant’ anti-Semitism at Columbia pro-Palestine protests

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Biden condemns ‘blatant’ anti-Semitism at Columbia pro-Palestine protests

Biden’s remarks come after footage emerges appearing to show Jewish students being harassed and intimidated.

United States President Joe Biden has condemned pro-Palestinian activists for acts of “blatant” anti-Semitism during protests at Columbia University.

In a statement to commemorate the Jewish holiday of Passover on Sunday, Biden said it was necessary to speak out against “the alarming surge of antisemitism – in our schools, communities, and online”.

“Silence is complicity. Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews,” Biden said.

“This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country.”

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Biden’s comments came after reports emerged over the weekend of harassment and threats against Jewish students on the campus of Columbia University in New York.

Footage shared on social media appeared to show activists telling students to “go back to Poland” and that October 7 is “going to be every day for you” – referring to Hamas’s attacks on Israel in which 1,139 people were killed.

Chabad at Columbia University, a chapter of an international Orthodox Jewish movement, said in a statement that protesters had also told Jewish students, “You have no culture”, “All you do is colonise” and to “Go back to Europe”.

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In a statement on Sunday, a group of student activists representing the protesters distanced themselves from “inflammatory individuals” and said they reject “any form of hate or bigotry”.

“We are frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us. At universities across the nation, our movement is united in valuing every human life,” the statement said.

“Our members have been misidentified by a politically-motivated mob. We have been doxxed in the press, arrested by the NYPD [New York Police Department], and locked out of our homes by the university. We have knowingly put ourselves in danger because we can no longer be complicit in Columbia funnelling our tuition dollars and grant funding into companies that profit from death.”

Biden made his remarks hours after a statement by the White House calling out “physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community”.

“While every American has the right to peaceful protect, calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly antisemitic, unconscionable, and dangerous – they have absolutely no place on any college campus, or anywhere in the United States of America,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said.

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“And echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organisations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York State Governor Kathy Hochul have also condemned reports of harassment and intimidation at the protests.

Columbia, one of the most prestigious universities in the US, has emerged as a hotbed of student activism since the start of Israel’s war in Gaza following the October 7 attacks.

On Thursday, the New York Police Department arrested more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters after its officers swarmed the campus and cleared an encampment set up by students.

Some students involved in the protests said they had been suspended from Columbia and its associate institution, Barnard College, including Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

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