Tycoon hosts big, fat Indian

wedding amid cash crunch


BANGALORE (AFP):- A controversial Indian mining tycoon has taken over a royal palace and flown in Brazilian dancers at a reported cost of $75 million to celebrate his daughter’s wedding on Wednesday, as the country reels from a cash crisis. Up to 50,000 people are expected at the sprawling Bangalore Palace, a mock Tudor castle in southern India, to celebrate the wedding of Gali Janardhan Reddy’s daughter, who was married in a Hindu ceremony earlier in the day. Local media criticised the extravagance at a time when many Indians are struggling to find the cash to buy food following the government’s shock move to pull high-value notes out of circulation in a bid to tackle tax evasion. But one associate defended the lavish expenditure, saying Reddy wanted people to remember the wedding of his only daughter. “It is unfortunate that a daughter’s wedding has been made an issue out of envy and rivalry,” Manju Swamy told AFP ahead of the party. “It’s an important moment for her parents and they wanted to celebrate the event in a way that befits the family’s status in society.” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced last week that 500 and 1,000 rupee ($7.50, $15) bills - 85 percent of the cash in circulation - would cease to be legal tender.

Indians can change a limited number of old notes for new ones at banks and post offices, but there have been huge queues since they reopened last Thursday after closing for a day following the announcement.

Indians rely heavily on cash for their daily transactions and those living in rural areas or who do not have bank accounts have been particularly hard hit.

The 49-year-old Reddy, a former minister with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the southern state of Karnataka, spent three years in jail for his alleged involvement in a mining scam before he was released on bail last year.

Speaking to journalists in his home town last week, he refused to reveal how much he was spending on the celebrations, but said everything would be declared to the tax authorities.

Guests received their invitations on LCD devices and helium balloons featuring images of the Reddy family are reported to be floating above the palace.

While some Bangalore residents were appalled at Reddy’s obscene display of wealth at a time of cash crunch, others were sympathetic.

“What’s wrong in conducting a daughter’s wedding on a grand scale? The rich and wealthy do it regularly,” said Jayaprakash Rao, a retired government official.

“Reddy is spending from his pocket and not public money,” Rao told AFP.

Indian activist T. Narasimha Murthy put the cost of the wedding at five billion rupees (about $75 million), a figure that tallied with local media reports.

“Reddy has hired about 3,000 bouncers and security guards to prevent media and activists like me from barging into the venue,” said Murthy, adding he had petitioned local tax authorities to investigate.





BBC World Service adds 11 languages


LONDON (Reuters): The BBC said on Wednesday that its World Service will begin broadcasting in 11 additional languages in a drive to reach millions more people, including in places like North Korea where impartial news is hard to get. The World Service started out in 1932 as a radio channel for English-speakers in the British empire but has morphed over time into a highly respected provider of news to global audiences. It already broadcasts in 29 languages, reaching an estimated 246 million people around the world every week. The expansion is a result of a funding injection of 289 million pounds ($360 million) until 2020 announced by the government last year. The boost reversed a previous decision to cut World Service funding and was part of a broader strategy to increase Britain’s ‘soft power’.  “This is a historic day for the BBC, as we announce the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s,” said BBC Director General Tony Hall. “The BBC World Service is a jewel in the crown - for the BBC and for Britain.” The additional African languages will be Afaan Oromo and Amharic, spoken in Ethiopia and other countries, Tigrinya, the main language of Eritrea, and Nigerian languages Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin, also spoken in other West African countries.






Denver first US city to allow social cannabis use

LOS ANGELES (AFP): Denver has become the first city in the United States to legalize the social use of cannabis in businesses, including bars, yoga studios and art galleries. The new ordinance was part of several marijuana measures put to voters in nine US states during last week’s general election. Denver officials said Tuesday that Initiative 300 had garnered enough votes to pass after nearly all the ballots had been counted. The measure allows private businesses in Colorado’s capital to seek permits to create areas where customers can bring their own cannabis and consume it.

However, applicants would first need to receive backing from a local business group or neighborhood. “This is absolutely historic and ground-breaking,” said Emmett Reistroffer, a key proponent of the measure and a cannabis consultant in Denver. “We are the first in the United States and potentially the first place in the world to regulate the consumption of cannabis.” He told AFP that the vote was in line with a measure approved by the state four years ago allowing the recreational use of marijuana by adults. “Essentially what we passed is a continuation of that same belief that adults should be able to use and socialize with cannabis as they are able to do with alcohol,” Reistroffer said.

The city’s trailblazing measure comes as more and more states across America move to legalize cannabis either for medical or recreational use.





Over 100 tigers killed and trafficked each year

HANOI (AFP): With fewer than 4,000 left in the wild, tigers are on a precipice - yet more than 100 of the big cats are still killed and illegally trafficked each year, according to fresh analysis published Wednesday. The latest estimate comes as experts and dignitaries, including Britain’s Prince William, gather in Vietnam’s capital for an international wildlife conference which kicks off on Thursday. The two-day meet joins governments, NGOs and activists to combat illegal wildlife trade and is being hosted in a country that has become a nexus for smuggling and consumption. Traffic, which campaigns to protect endangered animals and help governments catch those who trade in their parts, published a new analysis looking at 16-years of tiger seizure data from across the globe. They estimate an average of 110 tigers became victims of the trade each year since 2000. The study also illustrates the growing role breeding centres play in fuelling the trade, especially in Southeast Asia. Researchers singled out Thailand, Laos and Vietnam as among the world’s top countries for tiger farms. “These countries have clearly made little meaningful progress in controlling this source of supply,” Kanitha Krishnasamy, a co-author of Traffic’s report said in a statement.  “Any further stimulation of demand could have a more disastrous impact on wild tigers.”

Around 30 percent of tiger parts seized between 2012 and 2015 now come from captive tigers compared to just two percent between 2000 and 2003.

Animal rights groups argue that by keeping demand for tiger parts going, farms simultaneously perpetuate the destruction of tigers in the wild.

Laos recently announced plans to close its tiger farms while Thailand has initiated investigations after a long tussle with a controversial Buddhist “tiger temple” that for years had been at the centre of allegations of complicity in the trade.

But both countries have a long history of corruption and policing crackdowns that rarely result in permanent successes on the ground.

Animal rights groups hope the Hanoi conference will pile pressure on governments to redouble efforts to stem the trade and close down farms.

“Ending tiger farming would ease the pressure and help law enforcement agencies focus on the poachers and traffickers of wild tigers,” Michael Baltzer, from the World Wildlife Fund said.

Prince William, who has become a champion of endangered species in recent years, met with Vietnam’s prime minister and vice president on Wednesday.