The world in brief: India’s opposition head gets prison term

India’s opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi arrives at a court Thursday in Surat, India.
India’s opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi arrives at a court Thursday in Surat, India. (AP)

India's opposition head gets prison term

NEW DELHI -- An Indian court found opposition leader Rahul Gandhi guilty of defamation Thursday over his remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surname and sentenced him to two years in prison.

The case against Gandhi dates back to an election rally in 2019 where he said, "Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?" In his speech, he then went on to name fugitive Indian diamond tycoon Nirav Modi, banned Indian Premier League boss Lalit Modi and Narendra Modi.

Narendra Modi is not related to either of the other two.

The defamation case against Gandhi was filed by a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in western Gujarat state. The complainant, Purnesh Modi, said Gandhi's comments had "defamed the entire Modi community."

Modi is a common last name in western Gujarat state.

Gandhi, who was present in the court when the verdict was announced, said his remarks were meant to highlight corruption and were not directed against any community. He won't go to jail immediately as the court granted bail for 30 days to file an appeal against the verdict.

Mallikarjun Kharge, president of Gandhi's Congress Party, said Gandhi would appeal against the verdict in a higher court and called Modi's government "cowardly and dictatorial."

Belarusian reporter sentenced to lockup

TALLINN, Estonia -- A court in Belarus on Thursday sentenced a reporter for the now-closed local edition of one of Russia's most popular newspapers to three years in prison for insulting the country's authoritarian leader.

Hienadz Mazheyka was sentenced for a 2021 article in Komsomolskaya Pravda that cited an acquaintance of a man killed in a police raid as speaking favorably of him. The story angered President Alexander Lukashenko, who has suppressed opposition and criticism with increasing severity.

The man killed, an IT worker named Andrei Zeltsar, was shot when agents of the Belarusian KGB raided an apartment building in what was described as a search for terrorists. A KGB officer also died in the raid.

The story was taken down from the newspaper's website quickly, but authorities blocked the website and Komsomolskaya Pravda later closed its Belarus operation. Mazheyka fled to Russia after the blockage, but was detained in Moscow and sent back to Belarus.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 and his repression of opposition intensified after a monthslong wave of protests in 2020 following the presidential election that gave him a sixth term in office -- which the West and Belarus' opposition have denounced as a sham.

Cyclone Freddy death toll exceeds 600

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The death toll from Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which ravaged Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique over the past two months, now stands at more than 600 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Aid agencies are scrambling to meet the soaring humanitarian needs amid fears of rising cholera cases, malnutrition and large numbers of displaced families.

"The cyclone has left an appalling humanitarian situation in its wake ... increased and concerted humanitarian assistance is needed" to support affected people recover and cope with the disaster, WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti said in an online briefing.

The long-lasting cyclone destroyed houses, roads, farmland and hospitals and has "stretched the capacity of health facilities," claiming 605 lives among the more than 1.4 million affected people as of March 20 in the three countries, she said.

Cyclone Freddy first hit Madagascar and Mozambique in February. The storm went back out to the Indian Ocean and then made a second landfall in March that was far more devastating in Malawi where it has killed about 500 people, and also in Mozambique, where about 900,000 people have been affected. Many risk a resurgent cholera outbreak, aid agencies say.

Africa sees more cases of deadly virus

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Equatorial Guinea has confirmed another eight cases of the "highly virulent" Marburg virus, a deadly hemorrhagic fever with no authorized vaccine or treatment.

The World Health Organization on Thursday said that brings the country's total number of cases to nine in the outbreak declared in mid-February.

There are two known current outbreaks of Marburg on the African continent. Tanzania this week announced eight cases of Marburg, including five deaths. One of the people killed was a health worker.

"Our pathogen genomics team will sequence samples from both places ... and see if there is a relationship between the current two outbreaks," the acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ahmed Ogwell, told journalists Thursday. He said results should be known within the week.

The WHO said the new cases in Equatorial Guinea were found in the provinces of Kie Ntem, Litoral and Centro Sur, all with borders with Cameroon and Gabon.

"The areas reporting cases are about 93 miles apart, suggesting wider transmission of the virus," the United Nations agency

  photo  FILE- India's opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, speaks during a 5-month-long "Unite India March," in Jammu, India, Monday, Jan.23, 2023. An Indian court on Thursday, March 23, 2023 found Gandhi guilty of defamation over his remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surname and sentenced him to two years in prison. The case against Gandhi dates back to an election rally in 2019. (AP Photo/Channi Anand, File)

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