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A Goa Priest Enters The Political Coop

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Panaji: If Father Bismarque Dias sticks to his guns till March 3, he may well become the first man of the cloth to contest elections in Goa.

The thin, wiry French beard-sporting Roman Catholic priest who hails from St Estevam island, in the Cumbharjua constituency near Panaji, is at ease preaching from the pulpit as well as leading civil society agitations against illegal mining and state-endorsed abusive land use policies.

For the last decade, the firebrand Bismarque, who’s easily recognisable in his casual T-shirts and trousers and a small haversack slung over his shoulders, has been a regular face at public outings and protests across Goa against the ruling Congress-led alliance government.

”I am fighting elections to protect the land for the children of Goa who are yet to be born. What has happened over the last few years is absolute rape and plunder of Goa’s natural resources. My contesting elections is to give people an alternative to the present corrupt lot who have sold us off,” Bismarque, who belongs to the lesser known Catholic order of the House of Blessed Sacrament Fathers and is an independent candidate, told IANS.

Bismarque acknowledged that he is the first priest in Goa to contest elections to the state legislative assembly and knows it could lead to the wrath of his superiors in the church hierarchy. But he feels that the political system in Goa has plunged to unthinkable depths and is bordering on anarchy and that now is the time to make a difference.

”The church is clear that no priest can contest elections. This is Roman law. But looking at the situation in Goa now, my conscience calls me to act. And now is the time to act before it is too late,” Bismarque said.

The activist priest did not mince words vis-a-vis the alleged role of the church in selling off its island property in Vanxim (in Cumbarjua constituency) to real estate developers and which is now facing flak for the same.

”I respect the church as much as I respect any other religion. In Vanxim, I exposed the issue, but the church did nothing. They still have the power to correct the wrongs they have done, but they have not taken any step yet,” Bismarque said, adding that his poll mantra was holistic planning.

Willing to take on the establishment, especially the political class at public forums, Bismarque has often had ugly slanging matches with ministers, which is as unconventional as unconventional goes when it comes to Catholic priests who rarely take on the political class publicly.

Bismarque’s maverick streak lived up to itself two months back, when yoga guru Baba Ramdev was in town as part of the Bharat Swabhiman Trust (BST) engagement. Both Bismarque and Ramdev during a public confabulation that followed resolved to fight corruption in public life in Goa in collaboration with each other.

According to the priest, over a hundred citizens groups are backing his candidature.

”I worked for people staying in Narva and St Estevam. My constituency is the place where I was born and grew up. We want to give a new political culture to Goa,” Bismarque said, adding that the island constituency was ecologically vulnerable and he was looking to conserve the area.

The Zagrut Goenkarancho Ekovtt, an umbrella group representing numerous small to big civil society groups, which has backed Bismarque and three other apolitical candidates, is hoping that Bismarque and the other three will make a difference.

”We are not a political party. We have been forced to take this stand. All the political parties — ruling and opposition — have failed us. If people want to save Goa from builders and land sharks and the mining mafia, they should elect us,” said Prakash Bandodkar, convenor of the ZGE.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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