Cairo, May 24 (AP/UNB) — Three boats carrying a total of 290 Europe-bound migrants including 14 Bangladeshis were rescued off the country’s Mediterranean coast, a day after a German aid group released video showing a sinking raft packed with dozens of migrants, with some people scattered in the sea, Libya’s navy confirmed on Friday.
Libyan coast guards first reported finding a sinking rubber boat whose bottom had collapsed on Thursday, leaving most migrants in the water and hanging onto what was left of the boat and plastic barrels. A statement posted Friday on the navy press center's official Facebook page says that boat carried 87 migrants, including six women and a child.
Earlier, the coast guard came to the rescue of two other rubber boats carrying a total of 203 migrants, according to a separate statement.
The three boats carried mostly Arab and African nationals as well as 14 Bangladeshis, who were handed over to Libyan police after receiving humanitarian and medical aid.
A few hours earlier, German aid group Sea-Watch said its aircraft had witnessed three rescue operations by Libyan coast guards on Thursday.
Libya became a major conduit for African migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi and amid the subsequent chaos and turmoil that engulfed the oil-rich North African country.
Thousands have perished while making the perilous sea crossing, while others have been detained and abused in Libya by smugglers and armed groups.
Lyon, May 24 (AP/UNB) — An explosion Friday on a busy pedestrian street in the French city of Lyon injured seven people, local officials said.
The cause of the blast that occurred in or outside a branch of the bakery chain Brioche Doree wasn't immediately clear, according to Kamel Amerouche, the regional authority's communications chief. Authorities couldn't confirm French media reports that a small package had exploded.
The victims sustained leg injuries that weren't life-threatening, Amerouche told The Associated Press.
Live television images showed the Brioche Doree sign intact and police vans and an ambulance on the street, which had been cordoned off. The central area, the Presqu'ile, lies between the Rhone and Saone rivers that run through France's third-largest city.
Resident Jean-Pierre, who lives above the bakery and didn't give his last name, told BFMTV the noise from the explosion was "deafening" but it didn't cause the walls to shake. He said one window shattered and there was some debris on the street.
French President Emmanuel Macron called it an "attack" during a live interview about the European Parliament elections that run through Sunday, but the president of greater Lyon, David Kimelfeld, urged calm.
"We must remain prudent and wait for the analysis of the circumstances and not panic the Lyon population," Kimelfeld said on BFMTV.
Earlier, French officials said eight people were wounded, but later lowered the figure to seven.
The women's World Cup soccer tournament is scheduled to start in France on June 7. Lyon will host the semifinals, and then the final on July 7.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a tweet that he has sent instructions for Lyon authorities to strengthen "the security of public sites and sporting, cultural and religious events."
Macron sent his thoughts "to the injured and their families."
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe cancelled an appearance at a European elections-related meeting in Paris over the Lyon explosion.
Washington, May 24 (AP/UNB) — The U.S. will bolster its military presence in the Middle East with an additional 1,500 troops, President Donald Trump said Friday amid heightened tensions with Iran.
Trump said the troops would have a "mostly protective" role as part of a build-up that began this month in response to what the U.S said was a threat from Iran without providing details or evidence.
"We are going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective," the president told reporters at the White House before setting off on a trip to Japan. "Some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now and we'll see what happens."
Trump has in recent weeks alternated between tough talk toward Iran and a more conciliatory message, insisting he is open to negotiations with the Islamic Republic. He seemed to downplay the prospect of conflict when he spoke at the White House.
"Right now, I don't think Iran wants to fight and I certainly don't think they want to fight with us," he said.
The administration notified Congress earlier in the day about the troop plans.
The forces would number "roughly" 1,500 and would deploy in the coming weeks, "with their primary responsibilities and activities being defensive in nature," according to a copy of the notification obtained by The Associated Press.
Their mission would include protecting U.S. forces already in the region and ensuring freedom of navigation, the notification said.
Earlier this week, officials said Pentagon planners had outlined proposals that could have sent up to 10,000 military reinforcements to the region. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later said planners hadn't settled on a figure.
The U.S. has tens of thousands of troops in the Middle East, including at a major Navy base in Bahrain and an Air Force base and operations center in Qatar. There are about 5,200 troops in Iraq and 2,000 in Syria.
Earlier this month, the U.S. sent thousands more into the region around Iran, including an aircraft carrier strike group, four bomber aircraft and fighter jets in response to the unspecified threat.
Tension had been rising with Iran for more than a year. The Trump administration withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers and reinstated American sanctions that have badly damaged the Iranian economy.
The president has argued that the nuclear deal failed to sufficiently curb Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons or halt its support for militias throughout the Middle East that the U.S. argues destabilize the region.
New Delhi, May 24 (AP/UNB) — At least 17 teenage students were killed in a fire that broke out Friday in a tutoring center in the western Indian city of Surat, police said.
Police officer Praveen Chaudhary said more than a dozen students were hospitalized with burns.
The students were attending a class when the fire broke out in the four-story building, Chaudhary said. He said all of the students had been accounted for.
Fire officer Deepak Satkale said 24 fire engines battled the blaze. Authorities were investigating the cause of the fire.
The Press Trust of India news agency said the fire engulfed the third and fourth floors of the building in a shopping district.
Television images showed some students jumping from the building to escape the blaze with a thick smoke billowing from the building.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was anguished by the fire. "Have asked the Gujarat Government and local authorities to provide all possible assistance to those affected," he tweeted.
Building fires are common in India because of poorly enforced safety regulations.
Dhaka, May 24 (UNB) -On Thursday when Indian PM Narendra Modi won a landslide victory in the Indian elections, Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and leader of India's Congress party, emerged at the other end, battered and mauled, reports BBC.
He is the primary heir to the ultimate political dynasty. His great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first and longest-serving prime minister of India. His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, was the first female prime minister of the country, and his father was India's youngest prime minister.
If the 2014 election was Congress' worst political showing ever, Thursday's poll delivered a double blow to Mr Gandhi. Congress won just over 50 seats against the 300 plus that Mr Modi's BJP got; and if that was not bad enough, he lost his own seat in the family bastion of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
He will still sit in the parliament though because this time he contested from a second seat - Wayanad in Kerala - which he won.
However, Amethi was a prestige battle. It was the seat from where both his parents - Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi - had contested and won and he himself had held it for the past 15 years. Even an emotional letter delivered to every house in Amethi - addressed to "Mera Amethi Parivar" - was not enough to spare him a ballot box humiliation at the hands of the BJP's Smriti Irani, a high profile actress-turned-politician.
It sits in the heart of Uttar Pradesh - India's most populous state - which is considered the ground zero of politics. It's generally believed that whoever wins the state rules the country.
Eight of 14 Indian prime ministers - including Mr Gandhi's great grandfather, grandmother and father - were from the state, which elects the largest number of MPs - 80 out of a 545-member lower house. Even Narendra Modi, who is originally from Gujarat, chose Uttar Pradesh to make his debut as an MP in 2014 when he contested from the ancient city of Varanasi.
Not many were expecting an outright win for the Congress, but they were definitely expected to do better than 2014. That's why Thursday's results have stunned many inside and outside the party. Congress may limp on in parliament, but the question many people are asking is if this means the Gandhi era is over - or whether it should be ended to revive the party's fortunes.
What does Congress want?
On Thursday evening, Mr Gandhi addressed a press conference in Delhi where he conceded the election to Mr Modi, saying the people had given their mandate and chosen the BJP. He also took full responsibility for the Congress party's defeat.
And even though counting was not over in Amethi with more than 300,000 votes yet to be counted, he conceded the constituency to Smriti Irani.
"I want to congratulate her. She has won, it's a democracy and I respect the decision of people," he said.
Refusing to give further details about the Congress performance or what would come next, Mr Gandhi said it would all be discussed in the meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the party's top decision-making body.
He also told the Congress workers, the ones who lost and the ones who won, not to lose hope. "There is no need to be afraid. We will continue to work hard and we will eventually win."
But at the Congress office in Lucknow, the future victory that Mr Gandhi promised seemed like a distant dream to the handful of despondent party workers, glued to a TV screen, watching the bloodbath unfold as several party veterans lost their seats.
"Our credibility is very low. People have no faith in our promises. They are not trusting what we are saying," one party official who didn't want to be named told me.
"Mr Modi failed to fulfil the commitments he made, but people still believe him."
I ask him why?
"Even we can't understand why!" he says.
The dismal performance of the Congress is bound to raise questions over Mr Gandhi's leadership and many analysts are already calling for a change, demanding that he step down from the top party post. But all such calls, like in the past, have come from outside the party and are likely to be rejected by its leadership.
As rumours swirled around Delhi that Mr Gandhi had offered to quit, Congress politician Mani Shankar Aiyar told BBC Hindi that "Congress will not question its leadership and [will] not accept Mr Gandhi's resignation were he to offer it".
He added that the leadership was not the reason for the party's resounding defeat. "It's the other reasons we need to work on," he said.
A local party spokesman in Lucknow, Brijendra Kumar Singh, explained that, in their view, the problem was not with Gandhi power, but with party infighting and poor campaign choices.
"There are weaknesses in the party structure, there's infighting within the ranks, we were late getting off the ground with our campaign, and our attempts - though unsuccessful - to join the alliance of regional parties in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were a bad idea."
Congress leadership is - so far - not laying this defeat at the feet of Mr Gandhi, but in the organisation and campaign strategy of the party as a whole.
Many Congress analysts might privately admit that Rahul Gandhi was on the losing side of an unwinnable personality contest. The biggest roadblock in their way, everyone agrees, was "Brand Modi".
"Even though the prime minister failed to fulfil the promises he made in the last election, he's still able to convince people about the policies of his government," Mr Singh says.
This is not the first time Mr Gandhi has received such a battering at Mr Modi's hands - he was all but written off after the party's worst ever performance in the 2014 elections when they won only 44 seats.
Subsequently, the party also lost several state elections and Mr Gandhi was criticised for being "remote and inaccessible" and was ridiculed on social media as a bumbling, clueless leader prone to gaffes.
He was also criticised by many for his dynastic links to the Nehru-Gandhi family and PM Modi, who comes from a humble background, has repeatedly said that Mr Gandhi had risen to the top not on merit, but because of family connections.
In private conversations, party workers describe Mr Gandhi as a "simple" man who lacks the "wiliness and cunning of his rival". So is this seen as a failure of the man or the Gandhi brand?
But the party machinery does not blame him or his name for their loss. One party worker suggested what Mr Gandhi needs is an "Amit Shah" - a reference to the BJP party president who's helped craft Mr Modi's winning strategy and has been given credit for the party's victory - first in Gujarat and now in Delhi.
It's unlikely that they will blame Mr Gandhi - at least openly - for the debacle. If the past is any indication, they will rally behind him.
In the past two years Mr Gandhi's career graph had also begun to improve: he'd emerged from the shadows and was wearing his political skin with more ease. His social media campaigns became smarter and he began arguing convincingly about the government's controversial currency ban, a lack of employment opportunities, growing intolerance in the country and the slowdown in the economy.
He was increasingly seen as setting the agenda with a combative campaign and in December when he led the Congress to victory in important state elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, many said he had brought the party back into the reckoning.
And then in February, when his charismatic sister Priyanka Gandhi joined him in Uttar Pradesh, it seemed like the Gandhis were on to something.
There has long been a school of thought among some Congress enthusiasts that Priyanka might be the Gandhi to save the political dynasty. For whatever reason, she has been reluctant to take on that mantle. The siblings are believed to be close and it is unlikely she will be part of any plan that would see him pushed out. But she may well take on a bigger role in working with and supporting him.
In the end, this is being seen in Congress as a broad failure of party vision, an inability to connect with an India that Mr Modi has both defined and taken the pulse of.
"If you look at our manifesto, it's the best. The policies we had announced, the promises we made were top notch. But what we had hoped for from the voters, the support we had hoped for, that didn't happen," says state party official Virendra Madan.
Mr Madan says the party leadership in Delhi - as well as the state level - will hold meetings in the next few days to figure out what went wrong. "It's time for soul searching. To assess where we went wrong."
But, he says, that no matter how decisive the election result, there's no question of the party not standing by its leadership.
"It's not just Mr Gandhi who has lost. Lots of other leaders also did not win. And elections come and go, you win some and you lose some. Remember in 1984, BJP was down to just two seats? Didn't they make a comeback? We will also come back," he says.