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India’s over two-month-long acrimonious election campaign concludes

India began voting in seven phases in the world’s largest election on April 19

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Mumbai (Reuters): More than two months of gruelling and acrimonious campaigning in India’s general election that played out in sweltering heat ended on Thursday, two days before the final phase of polling, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency will cast its votes.

India began voting in seven phases in the world’s largest election on April 19 and it is set to conclude on June 1. Votes will be counted on June 4 although television channels conduct exit polls and project results after voting ends.

Modi, who is seeking a record-equalling third straight term and is widely expected to win, began his re-election campaign by focusing on his achievements over the last 10 years but soon switched to mostly targeting the opposition by accusing them of favouring India’s minority Muslims.

This change of tack, analysts said, was likely aimed at firing up his Hindu nationalist base after a low turnout in the first phase sparked concerns that supporters of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were not voting.

India’s election rules stop campaigning about 36 hours before voting begins.

Modi addressed one rally in the northern state of Punjab on Thursday, while his main opponent, the Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi, spoke at rallies in the states of Odisha and Punjab.

“It is clear from the overwhelming support of people … that there is going to be an unprecedented victory” for BJP and the alliance it leads, Modi posted on X minutes before campaigning ended.

Modi will spend the next two days meditating at the southernmost tip of India at an island memorial for Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda, located at where the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean converge.

Opposition parties criticised his decision, saying it was a form of campaigning as his meditation would be shown on TV and so was in breach of the rules, with the Congress complaining to the Election Commission.

“This is a blatant violation of the code of conduct. We don’t mind if he goes to meditate anywhere after June 1,” Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh said.

Modi meditated at a cave in the Himalayas two days before the last phase of voting in 2019, an election BJP won resoundingly.

While opinion polls say his popularity has not waned, his opponents have criticised him for his divisive politics and on issues such as unemployment, inflation and rural distress.

“No PM, in the past, has uttered hateful, unparliamentary, and coarse terms … meant to target either a specific section of society or opposition,” former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a letter to voters in Punjab on Thursday.

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Technology

Robots play soccer at Geneva AI showcase

The football-playing robots were the work of a group of students from the university of ETH Zurich

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Geneva (Reuters): Teams of robots jostled on a miniature artificial soccer pitch as androids answered trivia questions and took jabs at human ignorance on Thursday at an artificial intelligence summit on the technology's wide-ranging uses.

Organisers said the AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva showed the ways the technology could improve and even transform lives.

"Sometimes we think about AI as just something big," said Tomas Lamanauskas, Deputy Secretary-General of the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which staged the event.

"At the same time AI can be embedded in so many more things in everyday life... Whether it's for flood forecasting, disaster management and early-warning systems, in agriculture, in health. It's across the board."

Displays showed off prosthetic limbs that could learn from a user's behaviour and adapt to muscle activity, devices to help visually impaired people avoid obstacles in the street and bionic cats and dogs built to act as companions.

The football-playing robots were the work of a group of students from the university of ETH Zurich.

The team kicked, passed and kept track of the ball based on input from sensors.

"The project allows our undergraduate and graduate students to collect experience on a full robotic platform," Jan-Nico Zaech, the project's scientific supervisor, said.

"It's a platform to test algorithms that can run in the real world afterwards."

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World

Slovenia recognises Palestinian state after Spain, Ireland, Norway

The move is part of a wider effort by countries to coordinate pressure on Israel to end the bombardment in Gaza

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(Reuters): The Slovenian government on Thursday approved a decision to recognise an independent Palestinian state, Prime Minister Robert Golob said, following in the steps of Spain, Ireland and Norway.

“Today the government has decided to recognise Palestine as an independent and sovereign state,” he said at a news conference in Ljubljana.

Parliament speaker Urska Klakocar Zupancic told a press conference in Ljubljana that Slovenian lawmakers are to vote on Tuesday on whether to recognise the Palestinian state.

“The session is scheduled for Tuesday from 4pm (1400 GMT),” Zupancic said.

The move is part of a wider effort by countries to coordinate pressure on Israel to end the bombardment in Gaza. Israel has been fighting against Hamas since a cross-border October 7 attack by fighters in which some 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. Nearly 130 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza.

Gaza health authorities say more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli bombardment over the past seven months that has generated global criticism.

PM Golob also called for the immediate cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the release of all hostages. “This is the message of peace,” he said.

The Slovenian government raised a Palestinian flag alongside the flags of Slovenia and the EU in front of its building in downtown Ljubljana.

On May 28, Spain, Ireland and Norway officially recognised a Palestinian state, prompting an angry reaction from Israel.

Of the 27 members of the European Union, Sweden, Cyprus, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria have already recognised a Palestinian state.

Malta has said it could follow soon.

Britain and Australia have said they are also considering recognition, but France has said now is not the time.

Germany joined Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States, in rejecting a unilateral approach, insisting that a two-state solution can only be achieved through dialogue.

Denmark’s parliament on Tuesday voted down a bill to recognise a Palestinian state.

Norway, which chairs the international donor group to the Palestinians, had until recently followed the US position but has lost confidence that this strategy will work.

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