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June 10, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — An ally of Kazakhstan’s former president was named winner of the presidential election on Monday in a vote marred by a police crackdown on protesters who criticized the result as an orchestrated handover of power.

The Central Election Commission in this Central Asian country said Monday that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won nearly 71 percent of the vote with all the ballots counted. The results have not yet been formally confirmed.

Tokayev became acting president when Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had led the country since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, abruptly stepped down. Shortly after Nazarbayev resigned, Kazakhstan’s ruling party nominated Tokayev for presidency.

Some 500 people were taken into custody after police broke up rallies in Kazakhstan’s two largest cities Sunday. Protests erupted again on Monday with people rallying in the capital Nur-Sultan, named after the former president, and the commercial capital Almaty.

An Associated Press photographer saw at least 100 people detained by police on a central square in Almaty Monday morning. The observers’ mission of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe on Monday criticized Kazakh authorities for dispersing the rallies.

The OSCE said in a statement that the police response “hampered the conduct of democratic elections.” “While there was potential for Kazakhstan’s early presidential election to become a force for political change, a lack of regard for fundamental rights, including detentions of peaceful protesters, and widespread voting irregularities on election day, showed scant respect for democratic standards,” the statement said.

June 09, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Hundreds of protesters held unauthorized demonstrations in Kazakhstan to oppose an early presidential election Sunday, drawing riot police and arrests. Police roughly broke up the demonstrations in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and Almaty, the country’s main commercial city. Deputy Interior Minister Marat Kozhayev said about 100 protesters were detained in all, news reports said.

The protesters complained the snap election was illegitimate, staged as a show to hand over power to a loyalist of the longtime president who resigned in March. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the upper house speaker who became acting president when President Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down, is expected to win Sunday’s contest easily.

Seven candidates are on the ballot, including a genuine opposition figure for the first time since independence. The resignation of the 78-year-old Nazarbayev, who had led Kazakhstan since it separated from the Soviet Union to become an independent country in 1991, came as a surprise to many who expected him to run for re-election next year.

The opposition candidate, Amirzhan Kossanov, said Sunday he had no complaints about violations during the campaign. “But the most important result, the peak of the election political process, is counting of the votes,” Kossanov said.

Preliminary results were expected early Monday. Kazakhstan has experienced rising opposition sentiment recently. Anti-government rallies were held in the spring to protest what opponents saw as an orchestrated handover of power and to call for a boycott of the early presidential vote.

One of the most prosperous former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan stands at a crossroads between neighbors China and Russia.

November 02, 2019

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria’s electoral body Saturday announced five candidates for the Dec. 12 presidential election, including two former prime ministers and all products of the system challenged by months of pro-democracy protests.

The electoral authority validated the candidacies of former prime ministers Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and two former ministers, one of them a moderate Islamist, plus the head of a small party.

The elections are to replace former longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, forced to resign in April after protests and a stern warning from army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has emerged as the country’s authority figure.

Protesters had opposed Bouteflika’s planned bid for a fifth term after 20 years in power and now want to dismantle the corruption-ridden system that kept him in office and the long-standing, if often shadowy, role of the military at the top. Bouteflika was Algeria’s first civilian president since the nation’s first leader after independence from France in 1962, Ahmed Ben Bella, was deposed in a coup.

Besides the two former prime ministers running in next month’s presidential election, the other candidates are: former tourism minister and moderate Islamist, Abdelkader Bengrina; former culture minister and current interim secretary of the RND party that was in the governing coalition, Azzedine Mihoubi; and the head of the El Moustakbel (Future) party close to the FLN, also in the ruling coalition, Belaid Abdelaziz.

The announcement came a day after tens of thousands of Algerians marched for a 37th consecutive week to demand an end to Algeria’s post-colonial political system. Protesters say they don’t trust those currently in power to ensure democratic elections, citing their past links to Bouteflika.

The five who will run were among 23 people who tried to run for the presidency but fell short of the requirements. Rules for candidates included gathering 50,000 signatures from citizens on voting lists from at least 50 regions.

April 17, 2019

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Tens of millions of Indonesians voted in presidential and legislative elections Wednesday after a campaign that pitted the moderate incumbent against an ultranationalist former general whose fear-based rhetoric warned that the country would fall apart without his strongman leadership.

Polling booths closed first in easternmost provinces such as Papua followed an hour later by central regions including Bali, and finally western provinces and Jakarta, the capital. Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands and hundreds of ethnic groups, has three time zones.

Preliminary results based on so-called “quick counts” as votes are publicly tallied at polling stations were expected to start rolling in within two hours of the final poll closings. The quick counts from reputable survey organizations have been reliable in past elections.

About 193 million people were eligible to vote in elections that will decide who leads the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and third-largest democracy after India and the U.S. Indonesians are voted for Senate and national, provincial and district legislatures.

The elections are a huge logistical exercise, with more than 800,000 polling stations and 17 million people involved in ensuring they run smoothly. Helicopters, boats and horses were used to get ballots to remote and inaccessible corners of the archipelago.

The presidential race is a choice between five more years of the steady progress achieved under Indonesia’s first president from outside the Jakarta elite, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, or electing Prabowo Subianto, who was a special forces general during the era of the Suharto military dictatorship.

Pre-election polls consistently gave a large lead of as much as 20 percentage points to Widodo and his running mate, conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin, though analysts said the race was likely tighter. “I’ve voted for Jokowi because five years in office was not enough for him to complete his brilliant programs for infrastructure, health and education,” said Eko Cahya Pratama, 43, after voting in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta.

“For me, this country is better to be managed by a man with a clean track record rather than a dirty one in the past,” he said. Widodo’s campaign highlighted his progress in poverty reduction and improving Indonesia’s inadequate infrastructure with new ports, toll roads, airports and mass rapid transit. The latter became a reality last month in chronically congested Jakarta with the opening of a subway.

A strident nationalist, Subianto ran a fear-based campaign, highlighting what he sees as Indonesia’s weakness and the risk of exploitation by foreign powers or disintegration. “He deserves to get my vote because I was impressed with his commitment to create a clean government and a great nation,” said Anneka Karoine, 43, after she and her husband voted for Subianto and his running mate, tycoon Sandiaga Uno. “I believe they will lead our country better than the current leader.”

Subianto voted not long after 8 a.m. in Bogor in West Java province, one of his strongholds of support, and told reporters he was confident of winning despite trailing in the polls. “I promised that we will work for the good of the country,” he said. “If it’s chaos or not, it’s not coming from us. But I guarantee that we don’t want to be cheated anymore, that Indonesian people don’t want to be cheated anymore.”

Widodo, who voted in Jakarta, held up a finger dipped in inedible ink to show reporters and said his next stop was playing with his grandson and eating with his wife, Iriana Widodo. Asked if he was feeling optimistic about the results of Wednesday’s vote, Widodo said: “Always. We should stay optimistic at work.”

April 18, 2019

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Voting began in the second phase of India’s general elections Thursday amid massive security and a lockdown in parts of the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Srinagar is one of 95 constituencies across 13 Indian states where voting was taking place.

Kashmiri Muslim separatist leaders who challenge India’s sovereignty over the disputed region have called for a boycott of the vote, calling it an illegitimate exercise under military occupation. Most polling stations in the Srinagar and Budgam areas of Kashmir looked deserted in the morning, with more armed police, paramilitary soldiers and election staff than voters.

Authorities shut down mobile internet services and closed some roads with steel barricades and razor wire as armed soldiers and police in riot gear patrolled the streets. Voting was expected to be brisk in the Hindu-dominated Udhampur constituency of the region.

The Indian election is taking place in seven phases over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. Some 900 million people are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in India’s lower house of Parliament.

Voting concludes on May 19 and counting is scheduled for May 23. Also voting Thursday is Tamil Nadu state in the south, where tens of thousands lined up to cast their ballots for 37 seats. Voting was postponed for the Vellore seat following the seizure of 110 million ($1.57 million) in unaccounted cash allegedly from the home of a local opposition politician, Kathir Anand.

His party accused federal tax authorities of raiding the homes and offices of party leaders running against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. The governing party in the state, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, is an ally of Modi’s party.

The Election Commission said that authorities had recovered 2 billion rupees ($29 million) from leaders, workers and supporters of various political parties in the state in the past month. They suspect the money is for buying votes.

In vote-rich Uttar Pradesh state, election officials directed authorities to provide drinking water and sun shelters at polling stations to cope with the scorching summer heat, said Vekenteshwar Lu, the state’s chief electoral officer.

The election, the world’s largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi has used Kashmir as one of the top issues of his campaign and played up the threat of rival Pakistan, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 soldiers. The bombing brought nuclear rivals India and Pakistan close to the brink of war.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.

Anti-India unrest has risen significantly since Modi came to power in 2014 amid a rise in Hindu nationalism and attacks against Muslims and other minorities. Modi supporters say the tea seller’s son from Gujarat state has improved the nation’s standing. But critics say his party’s Hindu nationalism has aggravated religious tensions in India.

Associated Press writers Ashok Sharma in Bew Delhi and Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India, contributed to this report.

September 28, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s presidential polls closed Saturday amid fears that accusations of fraud and misconduct could overwhelm any election results, while insurgent attacks aimed at disrupting voting in the country’s north and south caused dozens of casualties.

An upsurge in violence in the run-up to the elections, following the collapse of U.S.-Taliban talks to end America’s longest war, had already rattled Afghanistan in the past weeks. Yet on Saturday, many voters expressed equal fear and frustration over relentless government corruption and the widespread chaos at polling stations.

A deeply flawed election and contested result could drive the war-weary country into chaos. Many Afghans found incomplete voters’ lists, unworkable biometric identification systems aimed at curbing fraud, and in some cases hostile election workers.

Ruhollah Nawroz, a representative of the Independent Complaints Commission tasked with monitoring the process, said the problems are countrywide. Nawroz said he arrived at a polling center in the Taimani neighborhood of Kabul, the capital, at 6 a.m. and “hour by hour I was facing problems.”

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and closed at 5 p.m. after the Independent Election Commission (IEC) extended polling by one hour. Preliminary results won’t be out until Oct. 17, with a final vote count on Nov. 7. If no candidate wins 51 percent of the vote, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates.

Voter Hajji Faqir Bohman, who was speaking on behalf of disgruntled voters at the Taimani polling center, said the polling was so disorganized and flawed that even if his candidate wins “I will never believe that it was a fair election.”

The leading contenders are incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his partner in the five-year-old unity government, Abdullah Abdullah, who already alleges power abuse by his opponent. Cameras crowded both men as they cast their vote earlier in Kabul, with Ghani telling voters they too had a responsibility to call out instances of fraud.

A young woman, Shabnam Rezayee, was attacked by an election worker after insisting on seeing the voter’s list when she was told her name was not on the list. Rezayee said the worker hurled abuses at her, directing her insults at her ethnicity. She then punched and scratched her.

When it ended and the attacker left, Rezayee found her name on the list and voted. “I am very strong,” she said. In Kabul, turnout was sporadic and in the morning hours it was rare to see a crowded polling center. Afghans who had patiently lined up before the voting centers were opened, entered in some locations to find that election officials had yet to arrive by opening time.

Imam Baksh, who works as a security guard, said he wasn’t worried about his safety as he stood waiting to mark his ballot, wondering whom he would vote for. “All of them have been so disappointing for our country,” he said.

The government’s push to hold the vote was in itself controversial. In an interview with The Associated Press last week, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who still wields heavy influence, warned that the vote could be destabilizing for the country at a time of deep political uncertainty and hinder restarting the peace process with the Taliban.

On Saturday, one of the first reports of violence came from southern Afghanistan, the former spiritual heartland of the Taliban. A bomb attack on a local mosque where a polling station was located wounded 15 people, a doctor at the main hospital in the city of Kandahar said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak with the media.

The wounded included a police officer and several election officials, along with voters. Three were in critical condition. In northern Kunduz, where Taliban have previously threatened the city — even briefly taking control of some areas — insurgents fired mortar rounds into the municipality and attacked Afghan security forces on its outskirts, said Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a council member for the province.

Rabani said the attacks are to “frighten people and force them to stay in their homes and not participate in the election.” He said ongoing fighting has wounded as many as 40 people. Tens of thousands of police, intelligence officials and Afghan National Army personnel were deployed throughout the country to protect the 4,942 election centers. Authorities said 431 polling centers will stay closed because it was impossible to guarantee their security since they were either in areas under Taliban control or where insurgents could threaten nearby villages.

At one polling station in Kabul’s well-to-do Shahr-e-Now neighborhood, election workers struggled with biometric machines as well as finding names on voters’ lists. Ahmad Shah, 32, cast his vote, but said the election worker forgot to ink his finger — which is mandatory to prevent multiple voting by the same person.

“What sort of system is this?” he asked, frustrated that he had risked his safety to vote and expressed fear that fraud will mar the election results. “It’s a mess.” Still, 63-year old Ahmad Khan urged people to vote.

“It is the only way to show the Taliban we are not afraid of them,” he said, though he too worried at the apparent glitches in the process. In Kabul traffic was light, with police and the army scattered throughout the city, stopping cars and looking for anything out of the ordinary. Larger vehicles were not being allowed into the capital on Saturday, which is normally a working day but for the elections was declared a holiday.

Campaigning for Saturday’s elections was subdued and went into high gear barely two weeks ahead of the polls as most of the 18 presidential candidates expected a deal between the United States and the Taliban to delay the vote. But on Sept. 7, President Donald Trump declared a deal that seemed imminent dead after violent attacks in Kabul killed 12 people, including two U.S.-led coalition soldiers, one of whom was American.

While many of the presidential candidates withdrew from the election, none formally did so, leaving all 18 candidates on the ballot. Elections in Afghanistan are notoriously flawed and in the last presidential polls in 2014, allegations of widespread corruption were so massive that the United States intervened to prevent violence. No winner was declared and the U.S. cobbled together the unity government in which Ghani and Abdullah shared equal power — Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive, a newly created position.

Constant bickering and infighting within the government frustrated attempts to bring in substantive legislation as security, which has been tenuous, continued to deteriorate, frustrating Afghans and causing many to flee as refugees.

Neighboring Pakistan, routinely accused of aiding insurgents, said it was re-opening its borders with Afghanistan after receiving a request from the Afghan defense minister to allow Afghans to return home to vote. Pakistan had announced the border would be closed Saturday and Sunday.

Associated Press writer Mukhtar Amiri in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

September 28, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans headed to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president amid high security and Taliban threats to disrupt the elections, with the rebels warning citizens to stay home or risk being hurt.

Still at some polling stations in the capital voters lined up even before the centers opened, while in others election workers had yet to arrive by poll opening time. Imam Baksh, who works as a security guard, said he wasn’t worried about his safety as he stood waiting to mark his ballot, wondering who he would vote for.

“All of them have been so disappointing for our country,” he said. The leading contenders are incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his partner in the 5-year-old unity government, Abdullah Abdullah, who already alleges power abuse by his opponent. Cameras crowded both men as they cast their vote, with Ghani telling voters they too had a responsibility to call out instances of fraud.

Fear and frustration at the relentless corruption that has characterized successive governments ranks high among the concerns of Afghanistan’s 9.6 million eligible voters. Even in the early hours of voting, complaints had begun to be raised such as polling stations in the posh Wazir Akbar region opening late and biometric machines, aimed at curbing fraud, not working.

In the northern Taimani neighborhood of mostly ethnic Hazaras, two-thirds of the voting registration papers had yet to arrive and angry voters were told their names were not on the list. Abdul Ghafoor, who spoke on behalf of dozens of men waiting to cast their ballot, said that of about 3,000 registered voters only 400 appeared on the list that had arrived at the center.

Ghafoor said he was told to return at 2 p.m. and that he would be allowed to vote even if his name was not on the list and without using the biometric machine. “But how can they do this? My vote won’t count if I am not on a list,” he said.

In Khoja Ali Mohfaq Herawi mosque in Kabul’s well-to-do Shahr-e-Now neighborhood, election workers struggled with biometric machines as well as finding names on voters’ lists. Ahmad Shah, 32, cast his vote, but said the election worker forgot to ink his finger — which is mandatory to prevent multiple voting by the same person.

“What sort of system is this?” he asked, frustrated that he had risked his safety to vote and expressed fear that fraud will mar the election results. “It’s a mess.” Still, 63-year old Ahmad Khan urged people to vote.

“It is the only way to show the Taliban we are not afraid of them,” he said, though he too worried at the apparent glitches in the process. Tens of thousands of police, intelligence officials and Afghan National Army personnel have been deployed throughout the country to protect the 4,942 election centers. Authorities said 431 polling centers will stay closed because it was impossible to guarantee their security since they were either in areas under Taliban control or where insurgents could threaten nearby villages.

In Kabul traffic was light, with police and the army scattered throughout the city, stopping cars and looking for anything out of the ordinary. The Taliban said they would take particular aim at Afghanistan’s cities.

Outfitted in bullet-proof vests, their rifles by their side, soldiers slowed traffic to a crawl as they searched vehicles. Larger vehicles were not being allowed into the capital on Saturday, which is a usual working day but for the elections was declared a holiday.

Neighbor Pakistan, routinely accused of aiding insurgents, announced it was closing its borders with Afghanistan Saturday and Sunday to further protect security in the war-weary country. Campaigning for Saturday’s elections was subdued and went into high gear barely two weeks ahead of the polls as most of the 18 presidential candidates expected a deal between the United States and the Taliban to delay the vote. But on Sept. 7, President Donald Trump declared a deal that seemed imminent dead after violent attacks in Kabul killed 12 people, including two U.S.-led coalition soldiers, one of whom was American.

While many of the presidential candidates withdrew from the election, none formally did so, leaving all 18 candidates on the ballot. Elections in Afghanistan are notoriously flawed and in the last presidential polls in 2014, allegations of widespread corruption were so massive that the United States intervened to prevent violence. No winner was declared and the U.S. cobbled together the unity government in which Ghani and Abdullah shared equal power — Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive, a newly created position.

Constant bickering and infighting within the government frustrated attempts to bring in substantive legislation as security, which has been tenuous, continued to deteriorate, frustrating Afghans and causing many to flee as refugees.

Associated Press writer Mukhtar Amiri contributed to this report.

October 29, 2019

GENEVA (AP) — Iran and Russia on Tuesday criticized and scoffed at Trump administration plans to protect oil deposits in Syria, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accusing Washington of “illegal” actions.

Lavrov joined Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Geneva to lend support to U.N.-backed talks among Syrian government, opposition and civil society delegations on the country’s constitution starting Wednesday.

The most pointed comments at their joint news conference addressed new Pentagon plans to increase efforts to protect Syria’s oil fields from both the Islamic State radical group and the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian government, even as U.S. forces are withdrawn from other parts of the country.

“Well, it seems that the United States is staying to protect the oil — and at least President Trump is honest to say what the United States intends to do,” said Zarif with a smile. Lavrov accused the United States of looking for a “pretext” to protect the oil deposits. He said any “exploitation of natural resources of a sovereign state without its consent is illegal,” according to a translator of his remarks in Russian.

Cavusoglu, however, remained focused on a top priority for Turkey in Syria: Ensuring that Kurdish fighters whom the United States supported to help drive out ISIS don’t threaten Turkish interests. Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s. Turkey, U.S. and the European Union have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Turkey has led a military incursion into northeastern Syria to create a 30-kilometer (19-mile) “safe zone” between Kurdish fighters and the Turkish border. Cavusoglu reiterated the hopes of Turkey — along with much of the international community — that Syria won’t split apart. He suggested that areas now controlled by Turkish forces and their allies in Syria could one day be “handed over” to the Syrian government, especially if the talks enhance prospects for peace and stability.

“When times come that the Syrian regime, at the end of this political process, is capable enough to protect the country’s territories and eliminate the terrorist organization (PKK) from that, I think all the territories should be handed over to Syria,” he said. “This is the territory of Syria.”

October 16, 2019

Moroccan anti-normalization activists have expressed their anger as a former Israeli interior minister attended an international symposium in Marrakech and gave a presentation, a move the activists described as a “crime of penetration”.

Former Knesset member Meir Sheetrit attended the World Policy Conference, which was held last weekend in Marrakech. The event was attended by ministers and officials from Moroccan and all over the world, according to Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

The Morocco Observatory Against Normalisation with Israel said the presence of Sheetrit is a “new Zionist crime of penetration”, denouncing conferences in Morocco that allow current and former Israeli officials to attend.

No Arab country has established formal political, economic, or cultural relations with the occupying state, except for Jordan and Egypt, which have signed peace agreements with Israel.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20191016-anger-as-israel-official-attends-morocco-conference/.

October 16, 2019

Israeli authorities have opened a natural spring in southern Jerusalem to visitors, “but on the explicit condition that Palestinians not be allowed to enter the site”, reported Haaretz.

The decision by police yesterday meant that the Ein Hanya spring “was kept under heavy guard by the police and Border Police, which even closed the road leading to Palestinian towns”.

Meanwhile, “hundreds of Israelis visited the site”, said Haaretz.

As described by the paper, Ein Hanya “is one of the largest and most important natural springs in the Jerusalem area”.

While it is located within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, Palestinian residents of neighboring village Al-Walaja “regularly visit it”.

Much of Al-Walaja’s land has been confiscated by Israeli authorities over the decades, with village land straddling the 1967 ‘Green Line’

The official opening of the spring as a tourism site was subject to repeated delays, thanks to “a dispute over whether entry fees should be charged”, as well as the “police’s demand that Palestinians not be allowed to enter”.

Police have also insisted that a checkpoint be relocated further south, “so that it would separate Palestinian towns from the spring”, at an estimated cost of 12 million shekels ($3.4 million).

The spring has now opened for just three days, before closing again “until the checkpoint is moved”.

According to Haaretz, “over the past few days, police have stepped up enforcement against Palestinian farmers seeking to work land near the spring”, and have “even forced a farmer to leave”.

Shaul Goldstein, the nature authority’s director, “said his agency has no objection to Palestinians visiting the spring, nor does it have any interest in moving the checkpoint.”

However, he noted that “since Ein Hanya is located in Jerusalem, from the defense establishment’s perspective, any Palestinian who goes there is in the capital illegally.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20191016-israel-opens-natural-spring-to-visitors-except-palestinians/.