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Photos: Robot waiters serving food at Bengaluru’s first Robot Restaurant

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US self-help guru sentenced to 120 years in prison for running cult-like organization of sex slaves

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A “self-help” guru convicted of running a cult-like organization of sex slaves who were branded with his initials was sentenced to 120 years in prison by a New York judge Tuesday.

The effective life sentence for Keith Raniere, 60, comes after he was found guilty of coercing women into having sex with him as the charismatic leader of Nxivm, a life-coaching group that attracted a coterie of rich and famous devotees.

Followers signed up for $5,000, five-day self-help courses, but some were then financially and sexually exploited and forced to follow a restrictive diet, as Raniere — known as “Vanguard” — exerted control, his six-week trial heard.

He established a faction within the group called DOS, a pyramid structure in which the women were “slaves” and “Grand Master” Raniere sat at the top.

The “slaves” were made to have sex with Raniere, hand over personal information and compromising photos — and some of the women were branded like cattle as other members held them down.

Raniere was convicted in June 2019 on all seven charges brought against him, including racketeering, sex trafficking, extortion, criminal conspiracy and the sexual exploitation of a 15-year-old girl.

“I was a child. (He) robbed me of my youth,” said the woman during an impact statement at his sentencing hearing.

A total of 15 people — 13 of them women — addressed the Brooklyn court Tuesday while more than 90 victims wrote letters to Judge Nicholas Garaufis.

Nxivm — pronounced Nexium — proved a huge draw with its promise of self-improvement courses after Raniere founded the organization in New York state in 1998.

But Raniere, who was arrested in Mexico in 2018, swapped the personal development training courses for sex sessions as the head of subgroup of up to 20 women — the youngest of whom was the 15-year-old.

Heiress

The dramatic story has been the subject of two screen adaptions: HBO’s recently released “The Vow” docu-series and “Escaping the Nxivm Cult,” a 2019 Lisa Robinson film focused on the testimony of a mother working to save her daughter from the organization.

Addressing the court Tuesday, Raniere said he was “deeply sorry” for the “pain and anger” that his victims had expressed but maintained his innocence.

“I’m not remorseful over the charges. Those are not right,” he added.

Five other people were charged in the case, and all of them pleaded guilty.

German-born American actress Allison Mack — known for her role in “Smallville” — admitted to two counts of racketeering in April 2019.

The heiress of the Canadian drinks empire Seagram, Clare Bronfman, was sentenced last month after also pleading guilty.

The 41-year-old was accused of using more than $100 million of her $2.6 billion estimated net worth to fund the group and got more than six years in jail.

Following Raniere’s conviction, New York prosecutor Richard Donoghue said the proceedings “revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact, a master manipulator, a con-man and the crime boss of a cult-like organization.”

Prosecutors had called for a life sentence, accusing Raniere of a “total denial of culpability.”

Citing post-conviction calls and emails, the prosecution said Raniere presented his organization as a “good” thing, wondering “who will carry forth this burning torch of light?”

Raniere’s defense team — who unsuccessfully asked the jury to focus on whether they saw his actions as legal, even if they found them immoral — had suggested a 15-year jail term would be appropriate.

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Amid backlash, Union Minister assures country will be given free COVID vaccine

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Union Minister Pratap Sarangi on Sunday said that all people of the country will be given free COVID vaccine, amidst the demand by opposition parties in the country for it and not only in poll-bound Bihar as announced by the BJP.

The BJP announcement of free COVID vaccine for Bihar, where assembly polls begin this week, had kicked up a controversy with the opposition parties tearing into the NDA government alleging that the ruling party was using the pandemic for political reasons.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said the announcement was in order as it was an election manifesto announcement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that all people will be provided free of cost vaccines. An estimated ₹ 500 odd will be spent on vaccination of each person, Mr Sarangi told reporters after addressing a campaign meeting for the November 3 assembly by-poll in Balasore.

PM Modi had in a televised adddress to the nation on October 20 said that Indian scientists are in the process of developing several vaccines that are at different stages of clinical trials and the results seem encouraging.

Mr Sarangi, the union minister of state for animal husbandry, dairy, fisheries and micro, small and medium enterprises spoke in reply to question raised by Odisha Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Minister, RP Swain.

Mr Swain had earlier in the day sought clarification from Dharmendra Pradhan and Sarangi, the two union ministers from Odisha questioning them for their silence on their party BJP’s stand on free COVID-19 vaccination for the people of the state along the lines of the one being promised in Bihar.

The governments of Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Puduchchery have already announced free of cost COVID vaccines for the people of their states, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has demanded free vaccine for all citizens across the country.

Mr Swain had tweeted “I am asking questions to two Odisha union ministers from Balasore soil to clarify as to why the people of the state will not get free of cost COVID vaccine. The union ministers should clarify BJPs stand on the corona vaccination in Odisha.”

On the state governments steps for vaccination, Mr Swain said it has signed an agreement with a vaccine manufacturer and is committed to extend the facility to all people of the state.

He, however, did not say whether the state government will provide the vaccine to the people free of cost.

BJP deputy leader in Odisha Assembly Bishnu Charan Sethi said the Centre has been supporting Odisha fully during the pandemic and has granted ₹ 22,000 crore for the purpose.

“But large scale lapses have been detected in the utilisation of the fund,” he alleged.

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‘Looking forward to collaborate closely with India’: US ahead of 2+2 dialogue

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The third edition of the 2+2 dialogue between India and USA is set to begin as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper are on their way to New Delhi.

Ahead of the important talks, the US State Department said the country welcomes India’s emergence as a leading regional and global power.

“As outlined in our National Security Strategy, the United States welcomes India’s emergence as a leading regional and global power. The United States looks forward to collaborating closely with India during its upcoming term on the UN Security Council,” the US said, reported NDTV.

“Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with our partners to promote a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific composed of independent, strong, and prosperous nations,” Mike Pompeo tweeted last night.

The top US leaders will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hold discussions with other government and business leaders on ways to advance the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, the State Department said.

US said that the subjects to be covered included regional security cooperation, defence information sharing, military-to-military interactions and defence trade.

“We have made significant progress towards concluding the last foundational defence enabling agreement – the Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or BECA,” senior officials of the Trump administration said last week in an online news briefing.

“This agreement will allow for expanded geospatial information sharing between our armed forces. We are also seeking to expand secure communication capabilities between our respective militaries as well as between our foreign defence ministries and that figures prominently in what we are trying to accomplish in the information-sharing space,” they added.

The relations between US and India have been strengthening in last few months as the Quadrilateral grouping of US, Japan, India and Australia are sending their warships for the Malabar Exercise next month.

Quadrilateral grouping, which experts say is to be mirroring NATO, has already been criticized by China many times.

In another major development in direction of strengthening the ties, New Delhi and Washington are also stepping up efforts to conclude the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) ahead of the Indo-US 2+2 ministerial meeting on October 26-27.

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