By Mayank Bhardwaj NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's monsoon rains are likely to be below the prior forecast of 88 percent of the long-term average, the weather office chief said, which could make it the driest year since 2009 and worsen rural distress by cutting farm output. The July-September rains irrigate nearly half of India's farmlands, bringing relief to millions of poor farmers who till small plots of land to sustain their families. This would be the second straight year of drought- or drought-like conditions for only the fourth time in 115 years, which is another setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi struggling to win over political opposition to pass reforms and unshackle Asia's third-largest economy.
In this photo by Hau Dinh, Vietnamese soldiers march during a military parade in Hanoi as part of events commemorating the 70th anniversary of independence from France. Speaking at the parade, President Truong Tan Sang praised the country's achievements over the past 70 years but warned that corruption is eroding the people's trust in the ruling Communist Party and government. Revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam's independence on Sept. 2, 1945, though subsequent wars left the country divided until 1975.
By Bernadette Christina JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia will pledge to increase its commitments on cutting greenhouse gas emissions growth by 29 percent by 2030, the environment and forestry minister said on Wednesday, but giving few details on how this would be done. Indonesia, ranked third in the amount of land covered by tropical forests and the world's top palm oil producer, is likely to play a key role at the United Nation's Paris climate conference later this year. Indonesia will now cut emissions growth by 29 percent by 2030, Siti Nurbaya said at a forestry event in the capital, Jakarta, although it was unclear what year would be the starting point for the new reduction commitment.
Thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in Athens on Wednesday, piling further pressure on increasingly divided European nations as they struggle to cope with the unprecedented influx. Tensions were running high in Hungary, a key transit point for the huge numbers of people trekking up from Greece through the western Balkans to seek a new life in northern Europe. Ministers in Athens were holding talks on the migrant crisis ahead of a wider meeting with top EU officials Thursday.
By Douglas Busvine NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Australia expressed alarm on Wednesday at escalating strategic rivalry in the South China Sea, saying it puts Asia at the risk of a military blunder with potentially serious consequences. China's recent assertiveness in the South China Sea has increased military and diplomatic tensions between it and rival claimants, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. Defence Minister Kevin Andrews refrained from taking sides, but his comments made clear that Australia's greatest concerns arose from Chinese military construction on scraps of land that are internationally contested.
By Pracha Hariraksapitak and Pairat Temphairojana BANGKOK (Reuters) - Police claimed significant progress on Wednesday towards finding the mastermind of Thailand's deadliest attack after an arrested man admitted being near the Aug. 17 shrine blast and fingerprints tied him to the room of a suspected bomber. "It's natural that the suspect will deny he did it, but we still have to continue to look into that," deputy national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda told reporters. Police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri said the latest suspect's prints were found on explosives in the same room.
By Shamil Zhumatov BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying a three-man international crew, including Denmark's first astronaut, roared off on Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, beginning a two-day journey to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew is commanded by veteran Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, joined by rookie Andreas Mogensen from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Aidyn Aimbetov, another first-time space flyer from Kazakhstan's space agency Kazcosmos. ESA dubbed Mogensen "Denmark's Gagarin", a reference to the Soviet cosmonaut and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin.
Azerbaijan sentenced award-winning investigative journalist and anti-graft campaigner Khadija Ismayilova to seven and a half years in jail on corruption charges she denounced as trumped-up, her lawyer said. Considered Azerbaijan's most prominent critical journalist, Ismayilova, 39, served as bureau chief for the local service of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty network between 2008 and 2010. "Baku's Court for Serious Crimes sentenced Khadija Ismayilova to seven and a half years in prison for economic crimes, including illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion," her lawyer Fariz Namazly told AFP.
By Michael Taylor JAKARTA (Reuters) - Tree cover lost globally eased for a third straight year in 2014, an environmental research group said, although the three-year average rose to an all-time high, with trees covering an area twice the size of Portugal lost last year. Brazil and Indonesia, which contain some of the world's biggest tropical forests, both saw a small rise in tree cover loss last year, while losses accelerated in some previously overlooked regions, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based World Resources Institute (WRI) think-tank. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for causing global warming, as they grow and release it when they are burnt or rot.
Shanghai led a broad Asian equities sell-off Wednesday, plunging more than four percent, as further evidence of slowing in China's economy brought a new bout of volatility to global markets. The losses followed a dismal day on US and European markets as clouds gathered over the worldwide economy, amid mounting signs of stumbling growth. The Australian dollar -- which is heavily linked to demand for the country's abundant natural resources -- was plumbing six-year lows with figures out of Canberra showing the economy logged a slower-than-expected 0.2 percent quarterly expansion.