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41 feared dead after Russian plane crash-lands in Moscow

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Forty-one people including at least two children are believed to have died when a Russian passenger plane made an emergency landing and was engulfed in flames at Moscow’s busiest airport Sunday, investigators said.

Dramatic footage shared on social media showed Aeroflot’s Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft, land at Sheremetyevo international airport, flames and black smoke pouring from its fuselage.

Passengers could be seen leaping onto an inflatable slide at the front and running from the blazing plane as huge black columns of smoke billowed into the sky.

“There were 78 people including crew members on board the plane,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement, adding it had headed to the northwest Russian city of Murmansk.

“According to the updated info which the investigation has as of now, 37 people survived.”

Another 11 people were injured, Dmitry Matveyev, the Moscow region’s health minister said earlier in the day. Three of them had been hospitalised but they were not in a serious condition, he added.

Investigators said they were looking into various lines of inquiry and it was premature to draw any conclusions about the cause of the accident.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had offered his condolences to the victims’ loved ones, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has also ordered a special committee to investigate the disaster.

The jet carrying 73 passengers and five crew members had just left Sheremetyevo when the crew issued a distress signal, officials said.

“Flight Su-1492 took off on schedule at 6:02 pm (15H02 GMT),” said a statement from the airport.

“After the take-off, the crew reported an anomaly and decided to come back to the departure airport. At 6:30 pm, the aircraft made an emergency landing,” it added.

The tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted one passenger, Petr Egorov, who said: “We had just taken off and the aircraft was hit by lightning…. The landing was rough, I almost passed out from fear.”

“The plane sent out a distress signal after takeoff,” a source told Interfax news agency.

“It attempted an emergency landing but did not succeed the first time, and on the second time the landing gear hit (the ground), then the nose did, and it caught fire,” the source added.

Interfax, citing an anonymous source, said the plane had landed with its fuel tanks full because, having lost contact with air traffic controllers, it was too dangerous to dump its fuel tanks over Moscow.

Several flights have been diverted to other Moscow airports or Nizhny Novgorod, some 500 kilometres (310 miles) east of the Russian capital.

The Sukhoi Superjet-100 was the first civilian aircraft developed in Russia’s post-Soviet era and at the time of its launch, in 2011, was a source of national pride.

But it struggled to convince buyers from airlines outside Russia, and several foreign carriers that did buy it have since prefered to cut back its use or phase it out completely, citing its reliability.

The Russian government offered subsidies to encourage Russian airlines to buy the Superjet and Aeroflot became its main operator.

In September 2018, it announced a record order of 100 Superjet-100s.

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Sushma Swaraj congratulates PM Narendra Modi on ‘big win’ in Lok Sabha elections

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Senior BJP leader and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj on Thursday congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi and thanked the people on the BJP’s “big victory” in the Lok Sabha polls.

Riding on a massive Modi wave sweeping through most parts of India, the BJP was set to return to power as it led in 295 seats while the Congress trailed far behind with 50, according to trends released Thursday by the Election Commission for all 542 seats that went to polls.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi — Many Congratulations for securing such a big victory for the BJP. I am thankful to the people,” Swaraj tweeted.

With its allies, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance could win 343 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. In the last election, the NDA had 336 seats while BJP accounted for 282.

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Lok Sabha election results: 2019 is more like 1977 and 1980 than 2014 elections

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has firmly established itself as the dominant pole of Indian politics in the 2019 general elections.

If the current trends hold , the 2019 verdict will have a close resemblance to the results of the 1977 and 1980 elections in terms of the dominance of one political party in India. Data scarped from the Election Commission of India (ECI) website shows that at 11:03 am, around 19% of the total votes had been counted in the country. The BJP is leading in 288 parliamentary constituencies (PCs) with a vote share of around 40%, nine percentage points more than what it had in 2014.

No political party in India has had such a high level of vote share after the 1984 elections, which were held in an extremely polarised environment months after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The Congress had a vote share of 48.1% and it won 415 PCs in the 1984 elections.

The 2019 results, if the current trends hold, will be closer to what the Janata Party and the Congress achieved in the 1977 and 1980 elections. In 1980, the Congress won 353 PCs with an all-India vote share of 42.7%. In 1977, it was the Janata Party which got 295 PCs with a vote share of 41.3%.

The 2019 verdict, or what it looks like as of now, also has some regional exceptions to the overall trend, like in 1977 and 1980. Even though the Janata Party swept the northern region of the country in 1977, the Congress performed really well in Andhra Pradesh (41 out of 42 PCs) and Karnataka (26 out of 28 PCs). Similarly in 1980, the Congress could win only 4 PCs in West Bengal despite winning the majority of seats in almost all major states.

As of now, the BJP and its partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are either leading or making major advances in all major states except Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which are voting clearly for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) led alliance and YSR Congress Party respectively.

The Congress, despite adding around four percentage points to its 2019 vote share has not been able to make any significant gains in terms of seats. Also, the party has suffered major reverses in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where it defeated the BJP in the 2018 assembly elections.

After the 2014 elections, when the BJP crossed the half way mark in the Lok Sabha with just 31% vote share, lack of opposition unity was seen as a key factor behind the party’s victory. With the BJP all set to cross the 40% vote share mark, the opposition will have to reinvent its chemistry with the electorate rather than just arithmetic.

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Supreme Court dismisses new petition on verifying all votes with VVPAT, says ‘let country elect its government’

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a new petition that sought matching of all voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips with electronic voting machines (EVMs) during the counting of votes on May 23.

Calling the petition a “nuisance”, the court said, “We won’t entertain such a plea over and over again. Can’t come in the way of people electing their representatives. Let country elect its government.”

A vacation bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra refused to entertain the plea filed by a Chennai-based organisation ‘Tech for All’ saying that a larger bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had already dealt with the matter and passed an order, news agency PTI reported.

The apex court had on May 7 dismissed a review plea filed by 21 Opposition leaders led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu seeking that random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs be increased to 50 per cent.

The top court had on April 8 directed the Election Commission to increase random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs from one to five polling booths per assembly segment in Lok Sabha polls, saying it would provide greater satisfaction not just to political parties but also to the entire electorate.

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