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Indian video-sharing apps surge in popularity on TikTok ban

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian tech and entertainment firms are looking to capitalise on sudden opportunities arising from a government ban on Chinese owned apps, including the wildly popular TikTok, with one rival video app saying it had added 22 million users in 48 hours.

India this week outlawed 59 Chinese-owned apps including TikTok and Tencent’s (0700.HK) WeChat, in what was described as a “digital strike” against China by the country’s technology minister.

The move followed a confrontation between India and China at a disputed Himalayan border site, which left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

With 200 million Indians users, TikTok, which features a simple user interface, background music options and various special effects, was a burgeoning force in the nation’s social media scene and the ban left its fans scrambling for options.

Roposo, an Indian video-sharing social media app similar to TikTok that been around since 2014, saw its user base jump by 22 million in the two days after India banned the Chinese apps, the company’s founder Mayank Bhangadia told Reuters.

“In the last few days I’ve slept for a total of five hours, and its the same for our entire team,” Bhangadia said. “The load is so much and we’re just ensuring that the experience is as smooth as possible.”

Roposo’s downloads on Google’s Android now total over 80 million, and Bhangadia expects that to reach 100 million in just a few days. Before the ban, Roposo had roughly 50 million installs on Android devices, which account for a bulk of India’s nearly 500 million smartphones.

Based in the southern Indian tech hub of Bengaluru, the company has just 200 staff now but is planning to hire as many as 10,000 people over the next two years and may take the app global, Bhangadia said.

Other home-grown TikTok alternatives such as Chingari and Mitron are also finding favour with users, with many taking to social media to echo Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for “atma-nirbhar” or self-reliant India.

MyGov, the federal government’s citizen engagement website, last month created its account on Roposo.

“We have to create our own ecosystem, every country has done this, this is our atma-nirbhar programme,” said a government minister.

New players are also jumping into the fray. Mumbai-based Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEE.NS) is set to launch an ad-supported, short-video platform, named HiPi, in the next two months, Rajneel Kumar, the product head for its digital unit Zee5 said.

He hoped that former TikTok users would “find a home within Hipi to be able to continue to enjoy the content they enjoyed.”

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India PM Modi shuts Weibo account amid border tensions with China

Narendra Modi deletes account on Chinese social media platform as tensions with China simmer over border clash.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has deleted his account on Sina Weibo, China’s alternative to Twitter, an Indian government source and the company said, as tensions between the two countries continue to simmer over a border skirmish last month.

Since posting on Sina Weibo the first time in 2015 during a visit to China, Modi has been an infrequent user of the Chinese social media platform. He had more than 200,000 followers and 100 posts before the account was shut on Wednesday.

Sina Weibo announced the closure of the account late on Wednesday and the removal comes a few days after India banned dozens of Chinese apps, including Sina Weibo and ByteDance’s TikTok, following the border clash between the two nations.

Pompeo backs apps ban

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday applauded India’s sweeping ban on Chinese apps including TikTok, saying New Delhi was ensuring its own security.

“We welcome India’s ban on certain mobile apps that can serve as appendages of the CCP surveillance state,” Pompeo said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

“India’s clean app approach will boost India’s sovereignty and will also boost India’s integrity and national security, as the Indian government cell itself has stated,” he said.

India had been the top international market for TikTok, the blockbuster Chinese app popular with young people that lets users upload and share short videos.

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said the apps “are engaged in activities … prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.

The head of TikTok India, however, denied charges that the company shared any information from its users with a foreign government, including China. 

Anti-China sentiment

India lost 20 soldiers in the clash last month at the disputed Himalayan border. Both sides blamed each other for the deadliest border clash in nearly 50 years.

The deaths triggered enormous outrage and street protests in India.

Anti-China sentiment has long simmered in India over accusations of cheap imports flooding the country, but the border clash has brought tensions to the fore with calls being made to boycott Chinese products.

Meanwhile, reacting to the apps ban, China’s Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday it hopes India would correct its discriminatory actions against Chinese companies immediately.

China has not adopted any restrictive or discriminatory measures against Indian products and services, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng told reporters in an online briefing, adding that India’s actions are in violation of WTO rules.

Earlier, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was concerned about India’s decision to ban Chinese apps and was making checks to verify the situation.

An Indian government source told Reuters news agency on Thursday that it took time to get Modi’s account taken down.

“For VIP accounts, Weibo has a more complex procedure to quit which is why the official process was initiated. For reasons best known to the Chinese, there was great delay in granting this basic permission,” the source said.

The Indian source added all of Modi’s posts on Weibo had been deleted except for two showing pictures of him with Xi. “On Weibo, it is difficult to remove posts with the photo of their president,” the source said.

HR Venkatesh, of Boom Factcheck, a New Delhi-based fact-checking website, told Al Jazeera the banned apps are huge in India – not just in terms of the number of users but also the cultural effect they have on people.

Modi was among a handful of foreign leaders with a Weibo account.

Notably, he revealed the birth dates of both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang by wishing them “Happy Birthday” on Weibo. The birth dates of senior leaders in China are usually not revealed publicly.

Chinese leaders are rarely active on social media. Foreign social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.


The Listening Post

Sino-Indian clash: Disputed border, divided media

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Business

Indian police allege fraud by GVK chairman, others at Mumbai airport

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s federal police have filed a criminal complaint against the chairman of conglomerate GVK Group and others for alleged fraud in the development of Mumbai’s international airport that resulted in the government losing more than $92 million.

GVK Group, which has interests in energy, resources, airports and hospitality, led a consortium that formed a joint venture – Mumbai International Airport Ltd – with the Airport Authority of India (AAI) in 2006 to modernise and operate the airport under a revenue-sharing agreement.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) late on Wednesday released a complaint alleging that GVK’s chairman, Gunupati Venkata Krishna Reddy, “connived” with his son and some AAI officials to siphon off funds meant for the development of the airport, one of country’s busiest.

GVK, AAI and Mumbai International Airport Ltd did not respond to requests for comment. Shares in the group’s flagship company, GVK Power & Infrastructure (GVKP.NS), were down 4.5% at 0810 GMT on Thursday.

According to the CBI, Mumbai International Airport generated fake work contracts during 2017-18 and transferred funds to several companies for real-estate developments that were not executed.

Their modus operandi also included misusing the airport’s surplus reserves, inflating its expenditure, and underreporting its revenue, the police alleged.

In October, GVK signed binding agreements to raise more than $1 billion in its airports holding company from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board and Indian government-backed National Investment & Infrastructure Fund.

It is also developing another airport near Mumbai.

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World News

Indian PM Modi shuts Weibo account after banning Chinese apps

HONG KONG/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has deleted his account on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, an Indian government source and the company said, as tensions between the two countries continue to simmer over a border skirmish.

Since posting on Sina Weibo the first time in 2015 during a visit to China, Modi has been an infrequent user of the Chinese social media platform. He had more than 200,000 followers and 100 posts before the account was shut.

Sina Weibo announced the closure of the account late on Wednesday and the removal comes a few days after India banned dozens of Chinese apps, including Sina Weibo and ByteDance’s TikTok, following the border clash between the two nations.

An Indian government source told Reuters on Thursday that it took time to get Modi’s account taken down.

“For VIP accounts, Weibo has a more complex procedure to quit which is why the official process was initiated. For reasons best known to the Chinese, there was great delay in granting this basic permission,” the source said.

India lost 20 soldiers in the clash last month at the disputed Himalayan border in what it said was a premeditated attack by Chinese troops. Beijing rejected the allegations and blamed frontline Indian troops for crossing into its side of undemarcated border.

Modi was among a handful of foreign leaders with a Weibo account.

Notably, he revealed the birth dates of both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang by wishing them “Happy Birthday” on Weibo. The birth dates of senior leaders in China are usually not revealed publicly.

Chinese leaders are rarely active on social media. Foreign social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.

The Indian source said all of Modi’s posts on Weibo had been deleted except for two showing pictures of him with Xi. “On Weibo, it is difficult to remove posts with the photo of their president,” the source said.

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World News

Morning News Call – India, July 2

To access a PDF version of this newsletter, please click here here
    
    If you would like to receive this newsletter via email, please register at:
here
    
    
    FACTORS TO WATCH
    No major events are scheduled.​

    
    LIVECHAT - REUTERS GLOBAL MARKETS FORUM
    Danielle DiMartino Booth, CEO and chief strategist of Quill Intelligence and
former Federal Reserve advisor, speaks on where equities could go from here, the
trajectory of the U.S. economic recovery, and the efficacy of the Federal
Reserve's latest moves to prop up markets. To join the conversation at 8:30 pm
IST, click on the link: refini.tv/2P8N0Wp
    
    
    INDIA TOP NEWS
    • India's factory activity contracts for third straight month in June
    India's manufacturing activity contracted for a third straight month in
June, albeit at a much shallower pace, as demand and output continued to suffer
from three months of lockdowns to quell the spread of the coronavirus, a private
survey showed.
    • India asks telcos, internet firms to block banned Chinese apps, ByteDance
to hold talks
    India has ordered telecom companies and other internet providers to stop
access to 59 banned Chinese-origin apps, according to notices seen by Reuters,
intensifying efforts to crack down on such businesses following a border clash
between the nations.
    • Fujifilm to partner with Dr. Reddy's to sell Avigan as COVID-19 treatment
    Japan's Fujifilm Holdings announced a deal with India's Dr Reddy's
Laboratories and Dubai-based Global Response Aid (GRA) to sell its anti-flu drug
Avigan for COVID-19 treatment globally excluding Japan, China and Russia.

    • India's fuel demand extends recovery in June
    India's fuel consumption rose in June compared with May, continuing with a
gradual recovery as industrial and transport sectors reopened after a stringent
lockdown, a government statement issued on Wednesday said.
    • NLC India boiler blast kills six, units shut for safety audit
    A boiler blast on Wednesday at lignite miner and electricity generator NLC
India's plant in the southern Tamil Nadu state has killed six people, the
company said, the second deadly accident at the plant in two months.

    • Carlyle to buy 25% of Bharti Airtel's data centre arm for $235 million
    Carlyle will buy a 25% stake in Indian telecom firm Bharti Airtel's data
centre arm for $235 million, the U.S. private equity group said on Wednesday, as
it taps into the rapid growth of digital services in India.
    • DHL temporarily suspends Chinese import shipments to India
    German logistics company DHL said on Wednesday it had temporarily suspended
picking up import shipments from China to India, after border tensions between
the countries led to clearance delays.
    • India's Bharti targeting collapsed satellite operator OneWeb -sources
Indian conglomerate Bharti Enterprises is backing a bid for collapsed
SoftBank-backed satellite operator OneWeb, two sources said, in a consortium
that is supported by the British government.

        
    GLOBAL TOP NEWS
    • Reopenings stall as U.S. records nearly 50,000 cases of COVID-19 in single
day
    Governors of U.S. states hit hardest by the resurgent coronavirus halted or
reversed steps to reopen their economies on Wednesday, led by California, the
nation's most populous state and a new epicenter of the pandemic.
    • U.S. House passes bill to sanction Chinese banks over Hong Kong
    The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday that would
penalize banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement a national
security law that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called a "brutal, sweeping
crackdown" on Hong Kong.
    • BioNTech and Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine shows potential in human trial
    A COVID-19 vaccine developed by German biotech firm BioNTech and U.S.
pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has shown potential and was found to be well
tolerated in early-stage human trials, the companies said on Wednesday.

    
    
    LOCAL MARKETS OUTLOOK
    (As reported by NewsRise)
    • SGX Nifty nearest-month futures were 0.8% higher at 10,474.30.
    • The Indian rupee is expected to strengthen against the dollar as
better-than-expected U.S. manufacturing and private payrolls data affected
demand for safe-haven assets.
    • Indian government bond yields are likely to edge lower in early trade,
ahead of the central bank’s so-called special open market operation. The yield
on the benchmark 5.79% bond maturing in 2030 is likely to trade in a range of
5.80%-5.85%.
    
    
    GLOBAL MARKETS
    • The S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes closed higher on Wednesday to kick off the
third quarter as increasing optimism for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine
eased concerns that another round of business lockdowns was likely.
    • Asian stocks tracked Wall Street higher although sentiment was cautious
ahead of U.S. employment data while copper prices jumped to more than six-month
highs on a better global outlook and supply fears in top producer Chile.

    • The dollar was on the defensive against more growth-sensitive currencies,
following upbeat U.S. and European economic data but renewed worries about the
coronavirus blunted more aggressive risk taking.
    • U.S. Treasury yields on the long end of the curve shot higher on Wednesday
after data showed manufacturing activity rebounded in June and minutes from the
Federal Reserve's last meeting indicated yield curve control was not coming
anytime soon.
    • Oil prices dipped after the United States recorded its biggest one-day
spike in coronavirus cases and California reimposed some lockdown measures,
stoking worries a resurgence in COVID-19 cases will stall a recovery in fuel
demand.
    • Gold prices slipped, easing from a near eight-year high hit in the
previous session, as strong U.S. data and hopes for a potential COVID-19 vaccine
dented safe-haven sentiment.
      
    
                   CLOSE        FII INVESTMENTS  EQUITIES           DEBT
 PNDF spot         75.58/75.61  July 1           (1,942.79) crores  (23.34) crores
 10-yr bond yield  5.84%        Month-to-date    (1,942.79) crores  (23.34) crores
                                Year-to-date     (20,456) crores    (1,06,982) crores
    
    (FII investment numbers are in Indian rupees. Source: National Securities
Depository Limited)​

    For additional data:
    India govt bond market volumes                 
    Stock market reports                
    Non-deliverable forwards data              
    Corporate debt stories               [IN CORPD]
    Local market closing/intraday levels [IN SNAPSHOT]
    Monthly inflows                      [INFLOWS RTRS TABLE IN]
    
    ($1 = 75.44 Indian rupees) 


 (Compiled by Pranay Prakash in Bengaluru)
  

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India NLC power plant hit by second fatal explosion in two months

The government-run NLC power plant in Tamil Nadu state’s Cuddalore district suffers second blast in two months.

A blast at a power plant in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu’s Cuddalore district has killed at least six people, an official from the state-run company and local police said, the second deadly boiler explosion in two months.

“Six people died on the spot,” said S Latha, inspector at a local police station in Neyveli, adding that the incident in May killed five and injured three at the plant run by lignite miner and electricity generator NLC.

The incident occurred at unit V of NLC Power Plant II, a company official said, adding that the unit was under shutdown when the mishap happened. The accident in May occurred in unit VI of the same company.

“The boiler was not in operation. We are investigating the incident. There was an explosion followed by a fire that injured the workers and contractual labourers,” company spokesman Guru Swaminathan told DPA news. 

Major blast in Stage -2 of the #Neyveli lignite plant.
Unit 5 in the Neyveli lignite plant has exploded.

Sources say atleast 17 injured many are struck inside the unit 2,Casualties feared. Rescue operations is underway. pic.twitter.com/06xX09HHMI

The explosion injured 17 people, 16 of whom have been sent to a private hospital in the state capital of Chennai for treatment, while one person is being treated at a local hospital in Neyveli, a company official said.

According to local media outlet The Hindu, 11 were critically injured, with burns to more than 40 percent of their bodies.

“Pained to hear about the blast in Neyveli power plant boiler in Tamil Nadu,” India’s Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Pained to hear about the blast in Neyveli power plant boiler in Tamil Nadu. I am informed that the administration is providing all help possible. My condolences with the bereaved families.

At least three people die, and more than 46 are injured each day in industrial accidents in India, government data for the three years ending 2016 show.

NLC has a power generation capacity of more than 6,000 megawatts. The company employs 26,000 people, including 14,000 contractual workers.

The state of Tamil Nadu, where the NLC India plant is located, is the third-worst state in the country to be a worker, the data showed, and is preceded by other top industrial states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Accidents and fires are fairly common at Indian factories, where safety standards are often disregarded.

On Tuesday, two workers were killed and four more were hospitalised after a gas leak at a pharmaceutical plant in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

In May, at least 12 people were killed by a massive gas leak at a chemical plant run by South Korean firm LG Chem in Andhra Pradesh state.

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India asks telcos, internet firms to block banned Chinese apps, ByteDance to hold talks

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India has ordered telecom companies and other internet providers to stop access to 59 banned Chinese-origin apps, according to notices seen by Reuters, intensifying efforts to crack down on such businesses following a border clash between the nations.

The Department of Telecommunications (DOT) said internet operators should “immediately block” access to such apps and their websites, warning of legal action if they fail to do so, according to notices issued late on Tuesday.

The department’s order came after India’s government this week banned several Chinese apps including ByteDance’s TikTok, Alibaba’s UC News and Tencent’s WeChat citing “threat to sovereignty and integrity”, a move seen as India’s push back against Chinese firms following a border clash with the neighbour.

The websites of some of the banned apps – such as Alibaba’s UC News – were no longer accessible from some internet networks in India. While Bytedance moved to block TikTok in India soon after the government’s announcement, several other banned apps were still available for download.

The Indian government has separately reached out to Google and Apple formally and asked them to remove the apps from their app stores so that new downloads can be restricted, two sources told Reuters.

And for apps already downloaded on phones in India, in coming days the telecom companies will find ways to make them unusable, three industry sources said. It was not immediately clear how the companies will do so.

“It’s very tough to block (downloaded apps), takes time,” said one of the telecom sources.

Google and Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Three top telecom operators – Reliance’s Jio, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel – also did not respond.

China has criticized India’s decision. The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi on Tuesday said it suspected the move violated WTO rules.

Among the most popular of the banned apps was ByteDance’s video app TikTok which counted India as its top growth market accounting for 30% of its 2 billion global downloads.

ByteDance will hold discussions with Indian officials this week and seek clarifications on the app ban, two people familiar with the thinking said. One of the sources said the company will likely also send a written representation to the government later explaining its stance.

The company declined to comment.

TikTok has said it complies with all data security and privacy requirements in India. ByteDance last year announced plans to invest $1 billion in India, where it currently employs 2,000 people.

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DHL temporarily suspends Chinese import shipments to India

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) – German logistics company DHL said on Wednesday (July 1) it has temporarily suspended picking up import shipments from China to India, after border tensions between the countries led to clearance delays.

Another prominent freight transporter FedEx Corp has also suspended shipments, according to a BloomberQuint report, adding that the company is facing backlogs beyond its control.

FedEx was not immediately available for a comment.

A DHL representative confirmed to Reuters that the recent delay in customs clearance of cargo into India caused the shipment company’s DHL Express India unit to temporarily suspend pick ups from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. DHL did not elaborate on the nature of consignments that were delayed.

Reuters reported last week that goods, including products from US companies Apple, Cisco and Dell were caught up in the border tensions, as Indian ports held up imports from China.

Pharma ingredients are other goods that await government clearances at ports, according to a Bloomberg report on Tuesday, adding that pharmaceutical firms were not sure why their consignments were delayed.

United Parcel Service and Amazon India did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding possible shipment delays.

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India's first Covid-19 vaccine candidate approved for human trials

BANGALORE (REUTERS) – Bharat Biotech’s Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for human trials, making it India’s first domestic candidate to get the green light from the government’s drug regulator as cases surge in a country with more than 1.3 billion people.

The Drug Controller General of India has approved the company’s application to conduct a Phase I and II clinical trial of Covaxin, which was developed along with the Indian Council of Medical Research’s National Institute of Virology, the company said in a statement on Monday (June 29).

Human clinical trials are scheduled to start across the country in July for the vaccine, which was developed and manufactured in Bharat Biotech’s facility at Genome Valley in Hyderabad, India.

India, which lags only the United States, Brazil and Russia in total cases, reported close to 20,000 new infections on Monday, according to data from the country’s federal Health Ministry.

More than 16,000 people have died from the disease since the first case in India in January – low when compared to countries with similar numbers of cases. But experts fear hospitals in the densely populated nation will be unable to cope with a steep rise in cases.

No vaccine has yet been approved for commercial use against the illness caused by the new coronavirus, but over a dozen vaccines from more than a 100 candidates globally are being tested in humans.

China’s military received the approval to use a Covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by its research unit and CanSino Biologics after clinical trials proved it was safe and showed some efficacy, the company said on Monday.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the nation on Tuesday

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation at 1600 hours local time (1030 GMT) on Tuesday, his office said on Twitter late on Monday, but did not provide any details on the subject of his speech.

India on Monday announced a new set of guidelines, which will come into effect from July 1, to further ease restrictions on the lockdown imposed by Modi’s government to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

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