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authorities in Andhra Pradesh for allegedly smuggling 62kg of gold bars worth 17 crore rupees (about RM10mil), the Times of India reports.

It is not immediately clear whether Malaysians were among those arrested.

The newspaper said that acting on a tip-off, officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) of Chennai, in a special operation on Sunday night, travelled to the Visakhapatnam International Airport and carried out thorough checks on two flights from Kuala Lumpur and one from Singapore.

The officers initially checked 20 passengers of an AirAsia flight who were carrying a lot of electronic items, and found gold bars concealed inside the items, the daily reported.

A check on 10 passengers of a Silk Air flight from Singapore also found gold bars in contained in electronic goods.

A check on 25 AirAsia passengers on a second flight from Kuala Lumpur also revealed smuggled gold bars.

According to the daily, many of those arrested were frequent travellers and most of them were acting as couriers.

“They indulge in such business for monetary considerations. Depending upon the quantity, the couriers would get paid,” it quoted the DRI authorities as saying.

The couriers would always look for new avenues and new destinations, officials said.

Another possibility is that new flights would have been introduced between Visakhapatnam and Southeast Asian destinations or the frequency of flights between the two destinations could have been increased, added the officials.

So, it could have attracted the couriers to switch over to the new destination, away from their home, they said. – Bernama

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KUALA LUMPUR – Maggi instant mee sold in the country is manufactured locally and not imported from India, said Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

He said the Health Ministry conducts regular food safety checks on the factories involved in manufacturing the product.

“…the factories concerned have taken all steps necessary to ensure their food products are safe for human consumption,” he said in a statement here Wednesday.

The statement was issued in response to media reports that India had temporarily banned the sale of Maggi instant mee in the country after finding the lead content to be above the permissible level.

Dr Noor Hisham added that the ministry’s monitoring also did not find instant mee products of the various brands sold in the country to have lead content above the level permitted by the Food Regulations Act 1985.

As such, he said consumers need not worry about consuming instant mee products sold in the country.

- BERNAMA

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KATHMANDU: India will provide additional assistance for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction following massive earthquakes that hit
Nepal.

India had decided to send its 7,000 National Disaster Response Force of India (NDRF) personnel, several medical teams equipped with necessary aid package and relief materials to help earthquake victims in Nepal, said a statement from the Indian embassy here Thursday.

The new aid package was announced after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally spoke to Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala over the telephone this week and assured more help to cope with the damage caused by the recent earthquake.

India had earlier sent 16 NDRF teams to Nepal which rescued 11 persons alive and retrieved several dead bodies from different earthquake-hit areas, said the statement.
Similarly, NDRF medical camps at six places treated 992 affected persons, it said.

According to the Indian embassy, Indian IAF brought over 550 tons of relief material, including food, tents, blankets, water, tarpaulins, baby food, medicine, rescue and heavy earth moving, engineering and communication equipment, ambulances, oxygen generators, two army field hospitals with 18 medical teams, 18 army engineering teams and 16 NDRF teams.

“Eight Mi-17 and five advanced light helicopters of the Indian army and crew at the disposal of the Nepal army for rescue and relief have so far
performed over 917 sorties, evacuated over 942 (mostly Nepalese and foreigners) persons, inducted over 1064 Nepal army troops, carried over 2595 passengers (out of which about 500 were Indians), and airlifted close to 421.59 tons of stores,” it said.

India was the first country to respond for rescue and relief efforts immediately after the April 25 earthquake hit Nepal.

Nepal and India are neighbours which share 1,800 kilometres of common border.–BERNAMA

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NEW DELHI: A female cartoon superhero who dons a burqa to tackle crimes against girls and other social ills is bringing her message of women’s empowerment to India, the creator of the Pakistani children’s series said.

The Emmy-nominated Burka Avenger series started in Pakistan in August 2013 and has since been launched in Afghanistan, winning global accolades including the Peabody Award, International Gender Equity Prize and Asian Media Award.

Its main protagonist, a teacher called Jiya – who tackles everything from the ban on girls going to school, to child labour to environmental degradation – was named as one of the most influential fictional characters of 2013 by Time magazine.

Series creator and director Haroon Rashid said Burka Avenger would launch in India this month with the Zee Network and will be broadcast in four languages – Hindi, English, Tamil and Telegu. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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KARACHI: A man charged with planning the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in India has been released on bail in Pakistan after years of detention, prompting sharp criticism from India.

Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a top leader of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, was released early Friday from a jail in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, according to Yahya Mujahid, spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group with which Lakhvi is affiliated.

Lakhvi was charged in Pakistan in 2009, accused of masterminding the November 2008 terror attacks that left more than 160 people dead in Mumbai, India’s most populous city.

Lakhvi still faces trial in the case. But an anti-terrorism court granted Lakhvi bail last year, a decision the Pakistani government said it would challenge.

That challenge lasted until Thursday, when the Lahore High Court ordered his release, CNN affiliate and Pakistani outlet GEO News reported.

Lakhvi posted bail totaling 2 million Pakistani rupees (more than $19,000), according to GEO News.

India, Pakistan’s neighbor and rival, condemned Lakhvi’s bail release on Friday.

The country contacted Pakistan’s foreign secretary to underline “that this has reinforced the perception that Pakistan has a dual policy on dealing with terrorists, and those who have carried out attacks or are posing a threat to India are being dealt with differently,” said Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

The accusation that Pakistan might treat India differently highlights long-running tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, which have fought three wars against each other since their partition at the end of British colonial rule.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office responded Friday by saying, “It would not be proper to cast aspersions on Pakistan’s commitment to countering terrorism at a time when Pakistan has entered a critical stage of defeating the menace of terrorism.”

The Foreign Office also blamed what it said was India’s delay in cooperating in the case, saying it “weakened the prosecution.”

In the Mumbai attacks, heavily armed men stormed landmark buildings around Mumbai, including luxury hotels, the city’s historic Victoria Terminus train station and a Jewish cultural center.

India executed the last surviving gunman from the attacks in 2012. Other suspects were all killed during the series of attacks, which went on for three days. – CNN

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NEW DELHI – A 70-year-old Catholic nun was gang raped by a group of robbers in the Indian state of West Bengal, officials said Saturday.

Officials from a local convent school said the attackers broke in after midnight and three or four of them raped the woman after gagging her, reported CNN sister network CNN-IBN.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered a criminal investigation into the incident in Gangnapur in Nadia district, CNN-IBN said.

“It is a very, very shameful act, first of all, to rape any woman, any female,” Father Dominic Emmanuel of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese said in televised comments. “But this one becomes even worse because, first of all, she is an old lady and then on top of it, she is a nun. She is a religious [and] has consecrated her life to God and all her life she has remained a virgin.”

A series of rape cases involving girls, foreign tourists and a physiology student who died following a brutal gang rape in 2012 has hurt India’s international reputation.

The nation’s lawmakers introduced tougher laws and punishments for sexual crimes and harassment. Despite such action, India continues to see episodes of sexual violence.

For instance, five men were arrested in Kolkata in January and charged with raping a Japanese tourist. Police said the men operated as a gang and targeted single, Japanese tourists. In December, an Uber driver was charged with sexually assaulting a passenger.

The incident that grabbed the world’s attention was the rape of a woman by five men on a bus in 2012. She later died of her injuries.

Anti-rape activists complained when the Indian government restricted the showing of a BBC documentary about rape that included comments from one of those men. He provoked outrage around the world by blaming the victim and saying the woman “should just be silent and allow the rape.”

Official data in India show that rape cases have jumped almost 875% over the past 40 years — from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011. But campaigners say sexual assaults are underreported because of stigma and cultural factors.

Experts say the causes of the high number of rapes include the nation’s patriarchy, widespread poverty and lack of law enforcement in rural areas. – CNN

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LONDON – The British filmmaker behind the controversial BBC Delhi gangrape documentary said India committed “international suicide” by banning the film from being screened in the country.

Director of ‘India’s Daughter’ Leslee Udwin said it was ironical that her purpose of “giving a gift of gratitude” to India had been misinterpreted as “pointing fingers at India”, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

“My whole purpose was to actually praise India, to single India out as a country that was exemplary in its response to this rape, as a country where one could actually see change beginning,” she said.

“The irony is that they are now accusing me of having wanted to point fingers at India, defame India and it is they who have committed international suicide by banning this film.”

Udwin said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would see similar thoughts echoed in the film as his ‘Beti Bachao’ (girl rights) campaign.

“If (Modi) spent one hour seeing this documentary, he would see his own statements since he got into power reflected in this film.

“The film is saying exactly what he’s saying with his ‘Beti Bachao’ campaign,” she said over the weekend.

The documentary – available online in the UK via BBC’s iplayer tool – features an interview of one of four men sentenced to death, Mukesh Singh, for rape, torture and murder of 23-year-old ‘Nirbhaya’ on a moving bus on Dec 16, 2012.

The Indian government last week banned broadcast of the documentary and asked YouTube to remove all links to the film. – Bernama

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COIMBATORE – A 19-year-old student shortlisted for a one-way trip to Mars in 2024 is confident of making it to the red planet, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

“I feel proud and happy for being chosen from over 200,000 applicants. My parents are very happy after hearing about the selection,” said Shraddha Prasad, a mechanical engineering student at Amrita University.

Prasad along with Indians 29-year-old Taranjeet Singh Bhatia and Dubai-based Ritika Singh, 29, are among 100 hopefuls who will move on to the next round of an ambitious mission to send four people on a permanent basis to Mars.

Their names were made public on Monday by Netherlands-based non-profit organisation Mars One which aims to set up the first human colony on Mars.

Prasad, who hails from Kerala, said she came to know about her selection a few days ago.

“I am optimistic of winning the fourth and final round of the interview,” she said.

“I am fully confident of making it to the final list. I will land and settle down in Mars,” she added.

The date for the fourth and final interview is yet to be fixed.

The next rounds of selection will focus on composing teams that can endure all hardships of a permanent settlement on the red planet.

Candidates will receive their first shot at training and live in a copy of the Mars outpost on Earth.

The 100 applicants comprise 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa and 7 from Oceania. – Bernama

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A city in central India has elected the country’s first transgender mayor, nine months after a court ruled that transgender be recognized as a legal third gender, local media reported.

Madhu Kinnar, 35, won the mayoral election in Raigarh a city of about 150,000 in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh on Sunday, beating her opponent from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by more than 4,500 votes, the Press Trust of India reported in a story published.

Television images showed a sari-clad Kinnar, with a large red bindi on her forehead, greeting supporters who placed marigold garlands around her neck.

Kinnar, who is from the Dalit community and used to earn a living singing and dancing in trains, said that she was overwhelmed by her election.

“People have shown faith in me. I consider this win as love and blessings of people for me. I’ll put in my best efforts to accomplish their dreams,” Kinnar was quoted as saying.

“It was the public support that encouraged me to enter the … fray for the first time and because of their support only, I emerged as the winner.”

Activists say there are hundreds of thousands of transgender people in India, but because they were not legally recognized, they faced ostracism, discrimination, abuse and forced prostitution.

Last April, India’s Supreme Court recognized transgender as a legal third gender and called on the government to ensure their equal treatment.

While the landmark judgement was welcomed by human rights campaigners, many say it contradicts the court’s reinstatement of a gay sex ban that has resulted in an increase in the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, forcing many to conceal their sexual identity.-Reuters

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GUWAHATI, India – Indian police have arrested a 36-year-old woman suspected of being involved in a plot to assassinate the prime minister of Bangladesh and carry out a coup, police said on Saturday.

The arrest comes days after Indian security officials said they had uncovered a plot by members of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, accused of carrying out scores of attacks in Bangladesh, targeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The group also planned to assassinate the country’s main opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, Indian officials said. Hasina and Zia have dominated Bangladeshi politics for more than a decade.

Pallab Bhattacharjee, additional director general of police in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, said the woman had been also charged with collecting arms with an intention of waging war against India.

“She has been arrested by the special operations unit of the Assam Police and will be produced in court today,” he said.

The alleged assassination conspiracy was discovered after two members of the outlawed group were killed in an explosion while building homemade bombs at a house in West Bengal in eastern India last month.

Indian police say the militants were Bangladeshis and were using India as a safe haven to plan the attacks.

Mainly-Muslim Bangladesh has suffered three major army coups and two dozen smaller rebellions since gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971. -Reuters