Domestic tourism soars in China but foreigners stay away

BBC/KATHERINA TSE A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is to pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing
A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing

With the Chinese economy facing massive challenges, there have been concerns over its growth potential, at least in the immediate future.

Yet a key exception is emerging in the form of domestic tourism.

Last week’s five-day public holiday to mark labour day saw 295 million trips made within China, according to figures from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This was 28% higher than pre-pandemic figures recorded in 2019.

The Transport Ministry’s figures are also staggering: 92 million rail trips; almost 10 million air trips and 1.25 billion highway journeys.

However, this comes as international arrivals continue to lag, with foreigners currently entering China at barely 30% of 2019 levels. Why the disparity?

The beautiful historical river town of Wuzhen, a short drive from Shanghai, is considered one of China’s top visitor sites for travellers of all types. When we arrive the little pathways and old bridges which cross narrow waterways are filled with visitors.

A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is to pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing – as if you have really been transported back hundreds of years.

Two women in their 20s, friends since high school, are visiting from Jilin Province in the north east. After arriving, they spend an hour getting their hair done in an elaborate imperial-era style – and they are full of praise for Wuzhen’s classical beauty.

We ask if, following the post-Covid opening up, many of their family and other friends have been travelling much? “Of course, after the pandemic, we’re all visiting other places.”

Nearby a local man who is selling ice-creams also says tourist numbers are “not that bad lately”.

As good as before Covid? “Almost the same,” he replies.

Shopkeeper Wang Ying, who sells traditional snacks, echoes this sentiment with a big smile on her face. “Business is going well, and it’ll only get better.”

BBC/KATHERINA TSE Wuzhen is considered one of China's top visitor sites
Wuzhen is considered one of China’s top visitor sites

All this will be seen as good news for the Chinese government. It’s been saying that a push on domestic consumption can counter the significant faltering portions of the economy.

Major players in the once-mighty property sector are struggling to stay afloat, local government debt continues to rise, and persistent youth unemployment has left highly qualified university graduates uncertain of their future.

Amid all these challenges, the Communist Party has set a target of “around 5%” GDP growth for this year. Apart from the fact that analysts have long questioned the veracity of the country’s official growth figures, economists are also asking how such a target can be reached, in any genuine sense, in 2024 without significant extra stimulus.

One lifeline could be a more buoyant travel scene which could bring broader business opportunities and greater service industry employment.

Schubert Lou, chief operating officer at travel agency Trip.com, told the BBC: “We’ve seen very strong domestic travel demand with search volumes in hotels up 67% compared to last year, and flight volumes up 80%.”

Tourism industry consultant Peng Han from Travel Daily is following the investment trail to see how the business community really views the possibilities in the sector.

“With famous international hotel brands – like Intercontinental, Marriott and Hilton – you just have to look at their growth in China in 2023,” he says. “Then check the performance goals for these large hotel groups in 2024 which have also been set relatively high. This shows that they are very optimistic about the growth potential of the Chinese market.”

But, while the volume of local travellers might be up, Mr Peng does point to the problem of per capita consumption which remains persistently low.

He says general uncertainty about the Chinese economy is putting more emphasis on saving, so people are looking for good value options. They are going on holidays and paying for things but doing so much more frugally.

This is where an increase in big-spending foreigners could help. But they are simply not travelling to China in the numbers they used to.

In 2019, nearly 98 million international visitors came to the country. Last year it was only 35 million – including business trips, students and the like. Mr Lou describes the domestic versus international market as “uneven”.

For many in the tourism industry here specialising in services for foreign travellers, “uneven” would be an understatement. Three years of harsh Covid prevention measures drove down arrivals from other countries, but that alone can’t account for the current situation.

Huang Songshan, the head of the Centre for Tourism Research in the School of Business and Law at Australia’s Edith Cowan University, blames this weakness in part to “the shifting geopolitical landscape globally”.

Getty Images Chinese performer
China’s culture and heritage has traditionally been a big draw for tourists

In the peer-reviewed East Asia Forum, he pointed to a 2023 survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre, writing that, “Most individuals in Western nations hold unfavourable views towards China. The Chinese government’s tightening grip on societal regulations could potentially cause discomfort for foreign travellers in China.”

Official travel advice from some governments echo this sentiment, at times quite harshly.

Washington warns potential travellers to “reconsider travel to Mainland China due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions”.

Australia advises “a high degree of caution” warning that “Australians may be at risk of arbitrary detention or harsh enforcement of local laws, including broadly defined National Security Laws”.

The political environment has also taken a toll on flight availability and price. This is especially the case with connections to and from North America. Last month’s 332 scheduled round trips between China and the US contrasts with 1,506 in April 2019.

As a result, finding a seat on a direct flight can be extremely difficult and those that are available are very expensive.

President Xi Jinping made a speech at a dinner on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco last November addressing this point. “Today, President Biden and I reached important consensus,” he told the crowd.

“Our two countries will roll out more measures to facilitate travels and promote people-to-people exchanges, including increasing direct passenger flights, holding a high-level dialogue on tourism, and streamlining visa application procedures. We hope that our two peoples will make more visits, contacts and exchanges and write new stories of friendship in the new era.”

Washington has since increased the number of Chinese airline flights permitted to land – but only from 35 per week to 50. It is still well short of the 150 weekly trips pre-Covid.

The Biden administration is coming under pressure from unions and US airlines to not increase this any further because, they argue, Chinese airlines have an unfair advantage over them as they have state support; don’t face the same onerous Chinese regulations; and, crucially, can fly over Russian airspace, making trips shorter and cheaper.

A letter to the US government from the Chair of the House Committee on China, Mike Gallagher, and the committee’s top Democrat representative, Raja Krishnamoorthi, reads: “Should the US-China passenger carrier market expand without the US government addressing these significant issues, US aviation workers, travellers and airlines will pay a hefty price tag.”

Mr Lou says the frequency of international flight connections is definitely having an impact.

“What we are seeing right now, based on civil aviation data, is that inbound flight capacity won’t get back to even 80% of 2019 [levels] by the end of 2024.”

Then there are other potential turnoffs for those considering travelling in China, like the country’s state-of-the-art phone app payment and booking systems which work very smoothly for Chinese citizens and residents, but which can be an enormous headache if you have just arrived.

There are certain sites, transport options, and purchases which can only be accessed via Chinese electronic apps which are, at times, only available in Chinese.

Professor Chen Yong at Switzerland’s EHL Hospitality Business School is an authority on the economics of tourism in China. He thinks that hurdles relating to payment and booking apps can pose a real problem.

“Technologies such as social network websites, online maps, payment apps, among others, which foreigners have long been accustomed to using, are either unavailable or inaccessible when they travel to China,” he says.

“On the other hand, there are Chinese alternatives to these technologies that remain inaccessible to foreigners due to language barriers and differences in user habits. We need to bridge this divide because it affects the tourist industry badly.”

Back in Wuzhen, the presence of international travellers is much smaller than in years gone by, but there are still a few foreign faces in the crowd.

An Italian couple says the process of linking up to and using China’s payment apps was a challenge but that it was not insurmountable, though they add, with a laugh, that it is “much, much, much easier” if you have a Chinese friend to help you.

BBC/KATHERINA TSE Woman and child pose for selfies
Chinese officials have acknowledged that the foreign traveller numbers have been low but they are trying to turn this around

Eliseo, from California, says he has had problems making payments to small vendors who don’t accept credit cards and really no longer deal with cash. Another hurdle for him has been his bank at home which has blocked some payments, flagging them as potentially fraudulent coming from China.

Chinese officials have acknowledged that the foreign traveller numbers have been low but they are now trying to turn this around.

One way they’re attempting to attract more foreign visitors is by increasing the number of countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to enter. Trip.com says this resulted in an almost immediate increase in passenger arrivals from Southeast Asia.

In 23 Chinese cities, transit passengers from more than 50 countries are also able to stay for a few days visa free if they have an onward ticket. In Shanghai, hotels above a three-star level have been told that they should prepare to deal with international credit cards and an initial batch of 50 taxis have also started accepting them.

However, Professor Chen says “it would be too optimistic to envision a long-term growth in China’s inbound tourism”.

“The key is to establish a culture that puts service providers in the shoes of foreign tourists. They should imagine themselves being a foreigner who can’t speak or read Chinese and who doesn’t have a Chinese mobile number, payments apps and so on.”

He says that the culture around this can’t be changed overnight.

Yet, in places like Wuzhen – where the local travellers have already returned – the tourism companies are hoping that incredible sites like theirs will eventually be too much for foreigners to resist as well.

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UN rights chief ‘horrified’ by mass grave reports at Gaza hospitals

Reuters Palestinian civil defence workers dig mounds of earth in the grounds of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip (21 April 2024)ReutersPalestinian workers are exhuming bodies at Nasser hospital with shovels because they have no heavy machinery

The UN’s human rights chief has said he is “horrified” by the destruction of Gaza’s Nasser and al-Shifa hospitals and the reports of “mass graves” being found at the sites after Israeli raids.

Volker Türk called for independent investigations into the deaths.

Palestinian officials said they had exhumed the bodies of almost 300 people at Nasser. It is not clear how they died or when they were buried.

Israel’s military said claims that it buried bodies there were “baseless”.

But it did say that during a two-week operation at the hospital in the city of Khan Younis in February, troops “examined” bodies buried by Palestinians “in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages”.

Ten hostages who have now been released have said that they were held at Nasser hospital for long periods during their captivity.

Prior to the Israeli operation at Nasser, staff there had said they were being forced to bury bodies in the hospital’s courtyard because nearby fighting prevented access to cemeteries. There were similar reports from al-Shifa before the first Israeli raid on the hospital took place in November.

The Israeli military has said it has raided a number of hospitals in Gaza during the war because Hamas fighters have been operating inside them – a claim Hamas and medical officials have denied.

The war began when Hamas gunmen carried out an unprecedented cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people – mostly civilians – and taking 253 others back to Gaza as hostages.

More than 34,180 people – most of them children and women – have been killed in Gaza since then, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says.

A spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office said it was currently working on corroborating reports from Palestinian officials that 283 bodies had been found in Nasser hospital’s grounds, including 42 which had been identified.

“Victims had reportedly been buried deep in the ground and covered with waste,” Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

“Among the deceased were allegedly older people, women and wounded, while others… were found with their hands tied and stripped of their clothes.”

Mr Türk called for independent, effective and transparent investigations into the deaths, adding: “Given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators.”

“Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law. And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees, and others who are hors de combat [not participating in hostilities] is a war crime.”

On Monday, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Civil Defense force told BBC Arabic’s Gaza Today programme that it had received reports from local Palestinians that the bodies of a “large number” of people who had been killed during the war and buried in a makeshift cemetery in the hospital’s courtyard were moved to another location during the Israeli raid.

“After research and investigation, we learned that the occupation [Israeli] army had established a mass grave, pulled out the bodies that were in Nasser hospital, and buried them in this mass grave,” Mahmoud Basal said.

Gaza Today also spoke to a man who said he was searching there for the bodies of two male relatives which he alleged had been taken by Israeli troops during Israel’s recently concluded offensive in Khan Younis.

“After I had buried them in an apartment, the [Israelis] came and moved their bodies,” he said. “Every day we search for their bodies, but we fail to find them.”

Hamas has alleged that the bodies include people “executed in cold blood” by Israeli forces, without providing evidence.

Contains some violence and disturbing scenes.BBC Verify authenticates video from key moments in the story of Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement on Tuesday: “The claim that the IDF buried Palestinian bodies is baseless and unfounded.”

“During the IDF’s operation in the area of Nasser Hospital, in accordance to the effort to locate hostages and missing persons, corpses buried by Palestinians in the area of Nasser hospital were examined.

“The examination was conducted in a careful manner and exclusively in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages. The examination was carried out respectfully while maintaining the dignity of the deceased. Bodies examined, which did not belong to Israeli hostages, were returned to their place.”

The IDF said that its forces had detained “about 200 terrorists who were in the hospital” during the raid, and that they found ammunition as well as unused medicines intended for Israeli hostages.

It also insisted that the raid was carried out “in a targeted manner and without harming the hospital, the patients and the medical staff”.

However, three medical staff told the BBC last month that they were humiliated, beaten, doused with cold water, and forced to kneel for hours after being detained during the raid.

Medics who remained at Nasser after the Israeli takeover said they were unable to care for patients and that 13 died because of conditions there, including a lack of water, electricity and other supplies.

Reuters Palestinian officials tape off the courtyard of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City as workers search for human remains (8 April 2024)ReutersThe UN Human Rights Office said it had received reports that 30 bodies were buried in the courtyard of al-Shifa hospital

On 1 April, Israeli troops withdrew from al-Shifa hospital, which is in Gaza City, following what the IDF said was another “precise” operation carried out in response to intelligence that Hamas had regrouped there.

The IDF said at the time that 200 “terrorists” were killed in and around the hospital during the two-week raid. More than 500 others were detained, and weapons and intelligence were found “throughout the hospital”, it added.

After a mission gained access to the facility five days later, the World Health Organization (WHO) said al-Shifa was “now an empty shell”, with most of the buildings extensively damaged or destroyed, and the majority of equipment unusable or reduced to ashes.

It also said that “numerous shallow graves” had been dug just outside the emergency department, and the administrative and surgical buildings, and that “many dead bodies were partially buried with their limbs visible”.

The IDF also said it had avoided harm to patients at al-Shifa. But the WHO cited the acting hospital director as saying patients were held in abysmal conditions during the siege, and that at least 20 patients reportedly died due to a lack of access to care and limited movement authorised for medics.

Spokeswoman Ms Shamdasani said reports seen by the UN human rights office suggested that a total of 30 bodies were buried in the two graves and that 12 of them had been identified so far.

Gaza’s civil defence spokesman told CNN on 9 April that 381 bodies had been recovered from the vicinity of al-Shifa, but that the figure did not include people buried in the hospital’s grounds.

The UN human rights chief also deplored as “beyond warfare” a series of Israeli strikes on the southern city of Rafah in the past few days, which he said had killed mostly women and children.

The strikes included one on Saturday night, after which a premature baby was delivered from the womb of her pregnant mother, who was killed along with her husband and other daughter.

Mr Türk also again warned against a full-scale Israeli ground assault on Rafah, where 1.5 million displaced civilians are sheltering, saying it would lead to further breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

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Was this the week Israel and Hezbollah drew closer to war?

Since the start of the Israel-Gaza war, following the Hamas attack of 7 October, the overriding fear has been that the conflict could spill over into something even deadlier.

The day after the Hamas assault, Lebanon’s most powerful armed group Hezbollah fired guided rockets and shells into Israel in solidarity with Hamas, prompting Israeli drone and artillery retaliation.

Could Israel, traumatised and vulnerable, with a prime minister fighting for political survival, decide the threat from across its northern border in Lebanon needs to be neutralised?

The fear has been that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government might be tempted into a second front in the war, against Hezbollah – which, like Hamas, is intent on destroying the Jewish state. And if so, would it draw in Iran, Hezbollah’s key patron in the region and sworn enemy of the US?

This week Israel carried out more air strikes on the Bekaa valley, deep into Lebanon, taking the death toll in Lebanon since the start of the conflict to more than 240.

In retaliation, Hezbollah fired a barrage of 100 Katyusha rockets on northern Israel, its heaviest attack since the war began, with targets including Israeli army bases in the Golan Heights. At least 17 Israelis have been killed in attacks from Lebanon and Syria since October.

EPA Smoke rises from the Lebanese village of Markaba as a result of Israeli shelling in southern Lebanon, next to the Israeli moshav of Margaliot at the border with Israel, 04 March 2024.EPAIsrael carried out more air strikes on the Bekaa valley, taking the death toll in Lebanon since the start of the conflict to more than 240

The rockets this week prompted an angry post by Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, addressed to the Defence Minister Yoav Gallant: “The military is your responsibility. What are you waiting for? We have to start responding, attacking – war, now!”

Last month, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Herzi Halevi said: “We are now focusing on being prepared for war in the north.”

For long, it seemed that the clashes on the border were carefully calibrated around unspoken red lines to avoid escalation into all-out war.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has not called for it. Memories in Lebanon are still fresh of the disastrous 2006 war with Israel, which left more than 1,000 Lebanese dead.

And Israel knows that Hezbollah’s military capability is far greater than that of Hamas.

Holding back – just

A poll published in the country’s Maariv newspaper last month showed that 71% of respondents favoured a large-scale military operation to drive Hezbollah back.

Sarit Zehavi lives close to the Lebanese border and heads the Alma research centre, which specialises on the threat there. She says Hezbollah’s aim is “to drag Israel into war without actually initiating it”.

But, she argues, Israel is not looking for all-out confrontation. “Israel’s interest is to avoid full scale war – but achieve an improved security situation, while damaging Hezbollah’s brigades as much as possible. For Israel, it is about choosing the least worst option: we understand the capability of Hezbollah here and the cost of war.”

She believes that Hezbollah’s use of rockets, which have a longer range than anti-tank missiles used previously by the group, is evidence of a shift in the group’s military tactics and capability.

“Hezbollah takes into consideration the cost of a war, but they don’t look into the near future – they look years ahead.”

“They have already gained by forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of Israelis,” she adds – about 60,000 Israelis living in communities close to the border have fled the fighting since October, the largest such displacement in Israeli history. Around 100,000 Lebanese residents have also been moved from the other side of the border.

To allow for the evacuees to return, Israel wants to push Hezbollah’s forces back beyond the Litani river, which marks a buffer zone of sorts between Beirut and the Israeli border.

As part of the agreement to end the 2006 war, the area south of the Litani was supposed to be clear of military presence except for that of the Lebanese army and UN forces – which Hezbollah has violated.

That’s been part of discussions with Amos Hochstein, the US Special Envoy, who has been repeatedly dispatched to the region to avert an escalation. But a deal on Hezbollah’s withdrawal and disarmament remains elusive.

So far, both Benjamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah appear to be holding back from the precipice. The Israeli army is already stretched in Gaza, without opening a new front – and a new wave of international tension.

And Hezbollah is in reactive mode, opting more for a lower-level war of attrition. But the real risk is miscalculation, and caving into competing pressures.

Mr Netanyahu is battered by the perception that he left his country vulnerable to the worst attack in its history, reviled by families of the hostages who want him to strike a deal to bring them back, and excoriated by the West over the mounting civilian casualties in Gaza.

The fear is that he may see expanding the fight in Lebanon as key to his political survival – and that Israel, in the wake of the 7 October attacks, would not countenance the continued threat on its northern front without taking military action.

AFP Lebanese civil defence members search the rubble of a destroyed building in the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike on the village of Sarein, near Baalbek in east central Lebanon on March 12, 2024.AFPIsraeli strikes hit about 4,000 positions across Lebanon since October

Professor Hilal Khashan, from the American University in Beirut, believes Israel’s relative restraint so far doesn’t tell the true story. “Netanyahu clearly wants war,” he says, pointing to Israel’s strikes on about 4,000 positions across Lebanon since October.

“He is finished politically and when the war stops, he will have to face his reckoning,” he says. “I don’t think he’ll give a damn about what the US or Europe will think – he has made up his mind on Hezbollah.”

A further, and potentially more serious, unknown would be the response from Iran, which relies on Hezbollah, its proxy in Lebanon, as a bulwark against Israel.

Since the Hamas attack, Tehran has flexed its muscles across the Middle East. Iran-backed groups have hit US military bases in Iraq and Syria, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, have launched countless strikes on ships in the Red Sea. It has so far stopped short of an unfettered war. But major Israeli strikes on Hezbollah could change Tehran’s calculus.

In Lebanon, there is little appetite for full conflict with Israel, particularly among religious groups that don’t belong to the Shia branch of Islam to which Hezbollah belongs. “Non-Shias are almost unanimously opposed, and want Hezbollah to disarm,” says Professor Khashan.

But Shias are unhappy about the fighting too, he says. “By and large, they don’t want war either.”

Hassan Nasrallah has said that he will not agree to a ceasefire with Israel before there is a truce in Gaza. He is reported to have told an Iranian military leader last month that he did not want Iran to get sucked into a war with Israel or the United States – and that in the case of a full offensive with Israel, Hezbollah would fight on its own.

Still fear stalks those living on either side of a perilous border. https://mauapalagi.com/

Lion kills zookeeper at Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University

A lion in a zoo
Image caption,Olabode Olawuyi, a veterinarian technologist, had been taking care of the university’s lions for nine years (file photo)

A zookeeper at a Nigerian university has been killed by one of the lions he had been looking after for close to a decade.

Olabode Olawuyi, who was in charge of the zoo at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), was attacked as he was feeding the lions, the university said in a statement.

His colleagues were unable to save him as one of the lions had already fatally wounded him, the university added.

The lion has since been put down.

Mr Olawuyi, a veterinary technologist, had been “taking care of the lions since they were born on campus about nine years ago”.

“But, tragically, the male lion killed the man who had been feeding them,” the university’s spokesman, Abiodun Olarewaju, said.

“We never knew what came over the male lion that it had to attack [him],” he added.

Nigerians on social media have been sharing graphic images of the mauling at the university in Osun state in the south-west.

The university community is in mourning, and a delegation has gone to the family of Mr Olawuyi to offer their condolences.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Adebayo Simeon Bamire, said he was “saddened” by the incident and ordered a thorough investigation.

The students’ union leader, Abbas Akinremi, told Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper that the attack was caused by “human error” after the zookeeper had forgotten to lock the door after feeding the lions.

He described the incident as unfortunate, while paying tribute to Mr Olawuyi as a “good and humble man, who attended to us nicely whenever we went to the zoo”.

Abba Gandu, who has been feeding lions for more than 50 years at a zoo in Kano in northern Nigeria, described Monday’s incident as unfortunate and said more safety measures were needed.

“This incident wouldn’t in any way affect me personally as feeding lions is what I want to do until I die,” said Mr Gandu, who started feeding lions in 1971.

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TKN sebut Prabowo-Gibran serius wujudkan makan siang dan susu gratis

TKN sebut Prabowo-Gibran serius wujudkan makan siang dan susu gratis
Wakil Ketua Dewan Pakar TKN Prabowo-Gibran, Budiman Sujatmiko, saat mendatangi lokasi Debat Ketiga Capres Pemilu 2024 di Istora Senayan, Jakarta, Minggu (7/1/2024). (ANTARA FOTO/Fakhri Hermansyah/foc)

Jakarta (ANTARA) – Wakil Ketua Dewan Pakar Tim Kampanye Nasional (TKN) Prabowo-Gibran, Budiman Sudjatmiko memastikan pasangan calon presiden dan wakil presiden nomor urut 2 itu serius merealisasikan program makan siang dan susu gratis.

“Kami serius dan karena itu, program ini memerlukan perencanaan yang matang sejak jauh hari, dan kami sudah mulai bekerja untuk itu,” kata Budiman dalam keterangan yang diterima di Jakarta, Sabtu.

Keseriusan itu, lanjut Budiman, ditunjukkan dengan melakukan proyek percontohan atau pilot project program tersebut di beberapa tempat, salah satunya di Sukabumi, Jawa Barat.

Dalam proyek percontohan tersebut, TKN mengandalkan satu dapur di sebuah rumah makan untuk melayani 16 siswa di setiap sekolah. Total siswa yang mendapatkan susu dan makan siang gratis dalam proyek percontohan tersebut sebanyak 3.500 orang.

Budiman pun tidak menampik bahwa realisasi program itu tidaklah mudah. Hal itu karena program tersebut memerlukan bahan pangan dan tenaga sumber daya manusia (SDM) yang banyak untuk diberlakukan secara nasional.

Namun demikian, dia yakin program itu akan berdampak pada perbaikan gizi SDM dan perputaran ekonomi di tingkat usaha mikro, kecil, dan menengah (UMKM).

“Potensi penerima manfaatnya hingga 82,9 juta anak sekolah se-Indonesia, maka program ini akan menjadi sangat masif dan berdampak positif bagi banyak sektor di Indonesia,” ujar Budiman.

Karena dinilai banyak memberikan dampak positif, dia memastikan program tersebut akan bergulir setelah pasangan calon Prabowo-Gibran dinyatakan memenangi Pilpres 2024 dan dilantik pada Oktober mendatang. https://mauapalagi.com/

Prabowo-Gibran unggul 58,18 persen dalam “quick count” Indikator

Prabowo-Gibran unggul 58,18 persen dalam "quick count" Indikator
Calon presiden nomor urut 2 Prabowo Subianto menyapa anak-anak saat berziarah ke makam Habib Ali Kwitang di Masjid Al Riyadh, Kwitang, Jakarta Pusat, Jumat (16/2/2024). ANTARA FOTO/Galih Pradipta/nym. (ANTARA FOTO/GALIH PRADIPTA)

Jakarta (ANTARA) – Pasangan calon presiden dan wakil presiden (capres dan cawapres) nomor urut 2 Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka unggul dalam hasil hitung cepat (quick count) lembaga survei Indikator Politik Indonesia per-pukul 17.46 WIB, dengan meraih 58,18 persen suara.

Dalam hasil kajiannya di Jakarta, Sabtu, Indikator Politik menyebutkan data tersebut berasal dari data masuk di 2.999 tempat pemungutan suara (TPS) yang berhasil terkumpul atau setara dengan 99,97 persen, dengan sekitar 598.075 suara sah.

“Dengan demikian, pasangan Prabowo-Gibran diprediksi akan keluar sebagai presiden dan wakil presiden terpilih dalam satu putaran,” kata Indikator Politik.

Setelah pasangan Prabowo-Gibran, pasangan capres dan cawapres nomor urut 1 Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar berada di posisi kedua dengan 25,35 persen suara dan pasangan capres dan cawapres nomor urut 3 Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud MD dengan 16,47 persen suara.

Dalam hasil hitung cepat tersebut, Indikator Politik menetapkan toleransi kesalahan (margin of error) sebesar 0,52 persen, dengan tingkat partisipasi 82,57 persen.

Dengan begitu pada selang kepercayaan 95 persen, maka rentang angka prediksi hitung cepat tersebut menjadi, Anies-Muhaimin dalam rentang 24,84-25,87 persen suara, Prabowo-Gibran 57,67-58,69 persen, serta Ganjar-Mahfud 16,08-16,85 persen.

Karena itu selain unggul signifikan dari dua pesaingnya, perolehan suara Prabowo-Gibran juga tercatat signifikan lebih besar dari 50 persen.

Dari segi wilayah, hasil hitung cepat Indikator Politik turut menunjukkan pasangan Prabowo-Gibran unggul signifikan dengan perolehan suara di atas 20 persen di hampir seluruh provinsi, kecuali Aceh, Sumatera Barat, dan DKI Jakarta. Dengan kata lain, pasangan Prabowo-Gibran unggul signifikan dengan perolehan suara di atas 20 persen di 35 provinsi.

Dalam hitung cepat Indikator Politik, total sampel yang diambil sebanyak 3.000 TPS dengan populasi seluruh pemilih yang datang ke TPS dan memilih secara sah, yang tersebar di seluruh Daerah Pemilihan (Dapil) Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR) RI. Sampel TPS dipilih dengan metode pengambilan sampel acak klaster berstrata (stratified-cluster random sampling). https://mauapalagi.com/

Trump faces a $370m fine in New York fraud trial. How would he pay it?

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the press before closing arguments at his civil fraud trial in New York.
Image caption,Former President Donald Trump speaks to the press before closing arguments at his civil fraud trial in New York

The future of Donald Trump’s family business may be decided on Friday when a New York judge is expected to deliver a verdict in his civil fraud trial.

The former president, his adult sons and his namesake company have already been found liable for fraudulently inflating the value of assets in statements to lenders.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to fine Mr Trump $370m (£291m) and to put restrictions on his ability to conduct business in the state.

That’s a lot of money, even for a billionaire. Legal experts told the BBC that a penalty that large, coupled with a potential final verdict that may greatly impact his real estate empire, could deliver a serious blow to Mr Trump’s finances.

“He’s not going to suddenly become working class,” said former federal prosecutor Diana Florence. “But it’s just going to be a lot of cash. His fortune will be significantly reduced.”

Why could Trump be fined $370 million?

The New York Attorney General Letitia James told the court that $370m was the appropriate amount the Trumps should pay in disgorgement, a financial penalty that involves paying back the money gained through fraudulent means.

She calculated the sum based on three factors: money Mr Trump allegedly earned in interest rate savings on loans due to misstating his assets; “bonuses” paid to Trump Organization employees who participated in the scheme; and profit realised from two property deals that Ms James alleges were obtained fraudulently.

It is up to Judge Arthur Engoron to determine the financial penalties when he delivers his ruling.

Whatever the amount, Mr Trump would also have to pay annual interest on that fine, dating back several years to when the alleged offences took place. New York’s 9% interest rate means Mr Trump might have to pay an additional nine-figure sum on top of the penalty.

Mr Trump denies committing fraud and says there was no crime because the banks made money on his investments. He is expected to launch an appeal, which would put the verdict on hold until a higher court reviews the case.

But if he wants to avoid paying the fine or have personal assets seized while the appeal process plays out, he still has to deposit the full amount to be held by the court within 30 days.

A punishing amount – but not a ruinous one

One calculation from Forbes Magazine put Mr Trump’s total net worth at $2.6bn. The New York Attorney General’s Office estimated his annual net worth at $2bn in 2021.

Based on those estimates, a penalty of $370m would cost Mr Trump roughly 15-18% of his wealth.

On top of this looming penalty, however, he already owes the writer E Jean Carroll $83.3 million in damages from a separate defamation case that concluded in January. His legal fees are also mounting as he battles four criminal cases at the federal and state level.

These combined financial burdens may constitute more cash than Mr Trump has available. Legal experts say he has several potential options.

Judge Arthur Engoron sits at the bench.
Image caption,Judge Arthur Engoron

Trump could secure a bond, but it will cost him

To avoid paying everything upfront, Mr Trump could try to secure a bond – a third-party guarantee that he can pay the full fine. That would cost him many more millions, with added interest and fees. He would also likely be required to put up collateral.

To secure a bond from a bonding company, a person typically needs to put up about 10% of the total amount owed, Steven Cohen of the New York Law School explained.

So if Mr Trump owed $370m in disgorgement, he might have to pay a bond company $37m (£29m) to issue the bond. And he will not get that fee back.

Trump could sell assets to raise enough cash

In a deposition in this case, Mr Trump said he had $400m in cash on hand (the BBC could not verify that sum independently). With his other legal liabilities and fees, however, that would not be enough to cover a new $370m fine.

“He’s got to think about what to do with his assets, how to perhaps liquidate businesses to come up with that money,” said Sarah Kristoff, a former federal prosecutor.

Much of Mr Trump’s fortune is tied to his real estate ventures. Forbes found his New York real estate empire to be valued at $490m (£384m) including his flagship condominium skyscraper, Trump Tower, worth $56m (£44m) by the outlet’s count.

His portfolio includes many other properties around the country, with golf courses, condominium towers, hotels and even a winery.

“Something is going to have to be sold or realised in order to get the money to pay for that kind of cost,” said William Thomas, a professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

New York Attorney General Letitia James sits behind Donald Trump in court during closing arguments.
Image caption,New York Attorney General Letitia James sits behind Donald Trump in court during closing arguments

Trump could ask his loyal supporters for the money

Mr Trump may also turn to the massive fundraising engine he uses to pay his tens of millions in legal fees. According to the New York Times, 10% of every dollar that is raised from his supporters goes to pay for his defence in his civil and criminal trials.

He has used two political action committees – Save America, which has been his primary vehicle for legal fees, and Make America Great Again, which funds his presidential bid – to raise money to cover the costs of these trials, even though such structures are typically used for political purposes. These entities are separate from his official presidential campaign account.

Between his first indictment in March of 2023 to the end of the year, his Save America political action committee spent nearly $40m on lawyers and other related fees, Forbes calculated.

Under federal campaign finance rules, Mr Trump could potentially use Save America to pay a court-ordered penalty, said Shanna Ports, a senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. He would not be allowed to make this payment with official campaign funds, she added.

But fundraising might not be practical in Mr Trump’s case anyway, attorneys told the BBC.

A large penalty would “create a real cash-flow crunch for him to come up with nine figures in cash in very short order,” said former federal prosecutor Michel Epner. He added it would be an extraordinary amount to fundraise from his supporters in a brief time period.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, his Save America PAC started the new year with $5m in cash on hand.

Mr Trump will only get a clearer picture of what this means for his business and personal fortune when Judge Engoron delivers his final ruling. But no matter how he chooses to pay, any major penalty will likely cause serious financial headaches for the former president.

“Trump, for all of his misrepresentations and lies about his wealth, really is a wealthy person,” said Mr Thomas, the business professor. “But most people don’t have $400m lying around.” https://mauapalagi.com/

Electoral bonds: India’s Supreme Court scraps anonymous election funding

Congress MPs protest against the issue of electoral bonds in the Parliament premises during the Winter Session, demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi breaks his silence over it, on November 22, 2019 in New Delhi, India.
Image caption,Opposition parties have protested against electoral bonds

India’s top court has struck down a scheme that allowed people to make anonymous donations to political parties, calling it unconstitutional.

Electoral bonds were launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2018 to make political funding more transparent.

But critics say it’s done the opposite and made the process more opaque.

Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has received most of the funds through the bonds.

The scheme was challenged in the Supreme Court as a “distortion of democracy”.

On Thursday, a five-judge constitution bench ruled that electoral bonds violate citizens’ right to access information held by the government.

Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said the Right to Information (RTI) law is “not confined to state affairs but also includes information necessary for participatory democracy”.

“Political parties are relevant units in the electoral process and information about funding of political parties is essential for electoral choices,” he added.

The court directed the government-run State Bank of India (SBI) not to issue any more such bonds, to provide identity details of those who bought them, and to give information about bonds redeemed by each political party to the Election Commission within a week.

It also observed that electoral bonds were not the only scheme to curb the use of cash or “black money” and asked the government to explore other alternatives.

“Citizens have a duty to hold the government accountable for their actions and inactions, and this can only happen if the government is open and not clothed in secrecy,” the court said.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - 2023/12/11: Supreme Court of India during verdict of Article 370 in New Delhi Article 370, a temporary provision in the Indian Constitution, granted special autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir after it acceded to India in 1947. In August 2019, the BJP government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, revoked Article 370, ending the region's special autonomy. The state was bifurcated into two Union Territories - Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. This decision triggered diverse reactions, both nationally and internationally, and underwent legal scrutiny, with the Supreme Court of India playing a pivotal role in adjudicating on its constitutional aspects. (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Image caption,The Supreme Court has ordered SBI to stop issuing electoral bonds

The government had defended the policy, saying it was introduced with the aim of eliminating cash donations to political parties as much of India’s elections are funded through private donations.

These interest-free, time-limited bonds are issued in fixed denominations – 1,000 to 10 million rupees (about $12.50-$125,000; £10-£99,560) – and can be purchased from a state-owned bank during specific periods of time through the year.

Citizens and firms can donate them to political parties without revealing their identities.

Only registered political parties who have also secured not less than 1% of the votes polled in the last election to the parliament or a state assembly can receive the bonds, which they have to cash within 15 days.

Supporters of the scheme argue that it makes the funding of political parties traceable and transparent while also protecting the identity of the contributor.

However, critics say that the bonds are not entirely anonymous since the state-owned bank has a record of both the donor and the recipient, making it easy for the ruling government to access details and “use” the information to influence donors.

They add that there is also no public record of who bought each bond and to whom the donation was made and hence, taxpayers remain in the dark about the source of the donations.

In court, petitioners argued that this defeats the people’s right to know about the funding of political parties and promotes corruption.

The government denied the charge and contended it was necessary to keep the identity of donors confidential so that they would not face “any retribution from political parties”.

So far, electoral bonds worth 160bn rupees ($1.9bn; £1.5bn) have been sold in 29 tranches.

The BJP appears to be the main beneficiary, getting 57% of the bonds compared with 10% for the main opposition Congress party. https://mauapalagi.com/

Hindu Mandir: India PM Modi to inaugurate temple in Abu Dhabi

Construction workers at the site of the BAPS Hindu Mandir temple in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024
Image caption,The BAPS Swaminarayan temple is located on a 27-acre plot

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to inaugurate a grand Hindu temple in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during a two-day visit to the country.

The BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi is built on a 27-acre (11-hectare) plot donated by the UAE government.

India had announced its construction during Mr Modi’s visit to UAE in 2018.

Analysts say the temple will likely boost the government’s Hindu nationalist agenda ahead of the general elections due in two months.

The opening comes weeks after Mr Modi inaugurated a grand temple to Hindu god Ram in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya. It replaces a 16th-Century mosque torn down by Hindu mobs in 1992, sparking riots in which nearly 2,000 people died.

The temple in Abu Dhabi is run by the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, which calls itself a “spiritual, volunteer-driven fellowship” aimed at “fostering Hindu values of faith, service and global harmony”.

The organisation, which claims a 200-year-old history, is headquartered in Mr Modi’s home state Gujarat.

While temples have been around in the UAE for decades, this is reportedly the first one to be built using traditional techniques.

Made from pink sandstone from Rajasthan state and white Italian marble, the temple was carved in India and assembled in Dubai.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, meets with Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, during a reception at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi on 13 February 2024.
Image caption,India has signed a bilateral investment treaty with UAE to promote investments in the two countries

India and UAE are close allies and share $85bn (£67.6bn) in bilateral trade. Indians also make up the largest expatriate group in the country. Hundreds of thousands of Indian Hindus live in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Modi is in the country to participate in the World Governments Summit, a forum of global leaders.

On the first day of his visit on Tuesday, he held bilateral meetings with the UAE president. Indian ministry of external affairs said the two countries signed a bilateral investment treaty and a comprehensive economic partnership agreement.

The agreements are meant to bolster cooperation in the filed of energy security and trade and digital infrastructure development.

Mr Modi also addressed a gathering of the Indian community in Abu Dhabi where he thanked the UAE president for allotting land for the temple. https://mauapalagi.com/

Kylie Minogue to receive Brits global icon award and will perform at ceremony

Kylie Minogue performing on the Pyramid stage
Image caption,Kylie Minogue will receive her fourth Brit award on 2 March

International pop star Kylie Minogue is set to receive a Brits global icon award at this year’s ceremony.

Taking place on 2 March, it will recognise Kylie’s career over five decades.

She is also nominated for international artist of the year alongside Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Lana Del Rey.

Kylie has also been confirmed to perform on the night and will join the already-announced Dua Lipa and Raye on stage.

Speaking about the announcement, Kylie said: “I am beyond thrilled to be honoured with the global icon award and to be joining a roll call of such incredible artists.

“The UK has always been a home from home so the Brits have a very special place in my heart. I have some amazing memories from the awards over the years and I can’t wait to be back on the Brits stage.”

The Brits icon award is the highest accolade given by the award organisers and is “reserved for truly exceptional artists”.

In 2021, Taylor Swift became the first woman to win the prestigious award. Previous winners include Sir Elton John, David Bowie and Robbie Williams.

Kylie has already won three Brit awards and has sold over 80 million records worldwide. She has also had nine UK number one albums and seven UK number one singles.

Earlier in February, the Australian singer-songwriter was honoured with the inaugural best pop dance recording award at the Grammys for her hit Padam Padam, which went viral last summer.

Other artists to be nominated for this year’s Brit awards include The Rolling Stones, Little Simz and Arlo Parks.

Raye is the most nominated artist for 2024 with seven nominations, a new record for one artist in a single year. Her nominations include best album, best new artist, best pop act and artist of the year.

She also has two tracks nominated for best song.

Brit organisers chose to expand the artist of the year category from five to 10 slots this year following criticism over the all-male best artist line-up in 2023.

The ceremony, at London’s O2 Arena, will be hosted by Clara Amfo, Maya Jama and Roman Kemp. https://mauapalagi.com/