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India temple replaces elephant with robot for rituals



A temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala has introduced a mechanical elephant to conduct its rituals.

The initiative by authorities at Irinjadappilly Sree Krishna Temple in Thrissur district is part of their pledge to stop using live animals for any festivities.

The model was donated by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India and actress Parvathy Thiruvothu.

They hoped this would help in holding events “in a cruelty-free manner”.

Chained, saddled and decorated, elephants play an important part in temple festivals in Kerala – the state is home to about a fifth of the country’s roughly 2,500 captive elephants.

For years, animal welfare activists have flagged concerns about their treatment. The Centre for Research on Animal Rights last week wrote to the state’s chief minister about the increased mortality of the mammal, saying 138 captive elephants had died in Kerala between 2018 and 2023.

In a statement issued on Monday, PETA said the that subjecting live elephants to extreme loud noises during festivals was “cruel” and urged all temples in the state to switch to lifelike mechanical elephants.

“It’s high time we made stronger and more impactful strides towards stopping such abuse and letting animals have respectful and dignified lives,” the organisation added.

According to the Indian Express newspaper, the elephant model donated by PETA is 11 ft (3.3m) tall, weighs 800 kg (1763.7 lbs) and is made of an iron frame.

Temple priest Rajkumar Namboothiri told the Indian Express newspaper that authorities were happy to receive the mechanical elephant.

“We hope other temples will also think about replacing elephants with robotic elephants for their rituals,” Mr Namboothiri said.

(BBC News)


Indian farmers say they will resume march to New Delhi




Protesting Indian farmers say they will resume marching to capital Delhi this week after rejecting a government proposal to buy some crops at assured prices on a five-year contract.
The protesters began marching last week but were stopped around 200km (125 miles) from Delhi.

Since then, farmer leaders were in talks with the government on their demands.

But on Monday night, they said the offer was “not in their interest”.

The government had proposed buying pulses, maize and cotton at guaranteed floor prices – also known as Minimum Support Price or MSP – through cooperatives for five years.

But the farmers say that they will stand by their demand of a “legal guarantee for MSP on all 23 crops”.

“We appeal to the government to either resolve our issues or remove barricades and allow us to proceed to Delhi to protest peacefully,” Jagjit Singh Dallewal, a farm union leader, told local media.

They say they will resume marching from Wednesday.

Farmers form an influential voting bloc in India and and analysts say the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be keen not to anger or alienate them. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a third consecutive term in power in general elections this year.

Last week, authorities clashed with the protesters, firing tear gas and plastic bullets at them in a bid to halt the march. They fear a repeat of 2020, when thousands of farmers camped at Delhi’s borders for months, forcing the government to repeal controversial agricultural reforms.

The latest round of protests began on Wednesday, when farmers from Haryana and Punjab started marching to Delhi. They say the government did not keep promises made during the 2020-21 protest, and also have demands including pensions and a debt waiver.

But their most important demand is a law guaranteeing a support price for crops.

India introduced the MSP system in the 1960s – first for only wheat and later other essential crops – in a bid for food security.

Supporters of MSP say it is necessary to protect farmers against losses due to fluctuation in prices. They argue that the resulting income boost will allow farmers to invest in new technologies, improve productivity and protect cultivators from being fleeced by middlemen.

But critics say the system needs an overhaul as it is not sustainable and will be disastrous for government finances. They also say that it will be ruinous for the agricultural sector in the long run, leading to over-cultivation and storage issues.

Since last week, federal minister Piyush Goyal and other government officials had held four rounds of talks with the farmers. On Sunday, Mr Goyal told journalists that the discussions had been “positive” and that the government was devising an “out-of-the-box” solution to benefit farmers, consumers and the economy.

But on Monday, farmer leaders said they were dissatisfied with the way the talks were being held, claiming that there was no “transparency”.

(BBC News)

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Greece legalizes same-sex marriage




Greece has become the first Christian Orthodox-majority country to legalise same-sex marriage.

Same-sex couples will now also be legally allowed to adopt children after Thursday’s 176-76 vote in parliament.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the new law would “boldly abolish a serious inequality”.

But it has divided the country, with fierce resistance led by the powerful Orthodox Church. Its supporters held a protest rally in Athens.

Many displayed banners, held crosses, read prayers and sang passages from the Bible in the capital’s Syntagma Square.

The head of the Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos, said the measure would “corrupt the homeland’s social cohesion”.

The bill needed a simple majority to pass through the 300-member parliament.

Mr Mitsotakis had championed the bill but required the support of opposition parties to get it over the line, with dozens of MPs from his centre-right governing party opposed.

“People who have been invisible will finally be made visible around us, and with them, many children will finally find their rightful place,” the prime minister told parliament during a debate ahead of the vote.

“The reform makes the lives of several of our fellow citizens better, without taking away anything from the lives of the many.”

The vote has been welcomed by LGBTQ organisations in Greece.

“This is a historic moment,” Stella Belia, the head of same-sex parents’ group Rainbow Families, told Reuters news agency. “This is a day of joy.”

Fifteen of the European Union’s 27 members have already legalised same-sex marriage. It is permitted in 35 countries worldwide.

Greece has until now lagged behind some of its European neighbours, largely because of opposition from the Church.

It is the first country in south-eastern Europe to have marriage equality.

(BBC News)

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Imran Khan’s PTI surges in Pakistani elections despite imprisonment




Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is set to emerge as the leading force in Pakistan’s parliamentary elections, although falling short of an absolute majority, according to reports from Pakistani media.

As of Saturday morning, the latest vote count revealed that PTI-affiliated independent candidates had secured 99 out of the 266 seats, while Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) won 71 and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) obtained 53 seats. 

A majority requires 133 seats, leaving 43 seats yet to be determined.

Imran Khan, currently in prison, delivered an unexpected victory speech generated by artificial intelligence. 

This unprecedented move comes amidst a crackdown on the opposition, resulting in the imprisonment of Khan and several other party leaders. 

Khan faced convictions in three cases over the past two weeks, involving alleged false marriage, divulging state secrets (connected to a leaked official message he denies), and purportedly selling presents gifted by foreign leaders during his tenure as Prime Minister.

The victory for PTI has stunned many observers, as the party appeared to be in disarray due to the imprisonment of its leader and other prominent figures. Notably, PTI candidates were compelled to run as independents after the Election Commission of Pakistan stripped the party of its familiar cricket bat symbol.

In response to the unexpected results, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who initially claimed victory for PMLN, has now expressed his intention to explore forming a coalition government with the rival PPP led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The outcome of these elections marks a pivotal moment in Pakistan’s political landscape, with the unexpected success of PTI challenging conventional expectations despite the challenges faced by its leadership. 

As the country awaits the final seat tally and potential coalition negotiations, the political future of Pakistan hangs in the balance.

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