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Election Officials Allege “Manipulation” As Preval Lead Declines

Two members of Haiti’s electoral council are charging fraud as early returns show a dwindling lead for Presidential front-runner Rene Preval. Initial results had Preval in the lead with over 60% percent. But with over three quarters of votes counted, Preval’s lead has fallen to 49% — just below the 50% needed to avoid a run-off vote in March. The two election officials say they’ve noticed discrepancies between the official results and the results on the electoral computer system. Pierre Richard Duchemin, who is in charge of the main voting tabulation center, said: "There is an unwholesome manipulation of the data. Nothing is transparent." Further questions are being raised with the disclosure election officials have counted over 72,000 blank ballots. When counted, the ballots have the effect of lowering a candidate’s percentage — even though they contain no vote. In the capital of Port-au-Prince, over 10,000 Preval supporters took to the streets Sunday demanding a fair vote count.

Cheney Accidentally Shoots Hunting Partner

In other news, Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a companion Saturday during a quail-hunting trip on a Texas ranch. Harry Whittington, a 78-year old millionaire attorney and Republican donor, was hit in the face and chest with pellets from Cheney’s shotgun. He had reportedly failed to announce himself in an area Cheney fired on. Whittington is listed in stable condition in a Texas hospital. The White House has drawn criticism for failing to report the incident for nearly 24 hours — and only after a local newspaper broke the story. They were hunting on the Armstrong Ranch. Anne Armstrong was a director of Halliburton when they hired Dick Cheney as CEO.

New Video Shows British Troops Beating Iraqi Youths

In Iraq, the US and British-led occupation force faces a new abuse scandal. An investigation by the British tabloid News of the World has revealed British troops beat young Iraqi prisoners after a protest in Southern Iraq in early 2004. A videotape released by the newspaper shows soldiers pulling four young protesters off a street and into an army compound where they are punched, kicked and hit with batons. An off-camera voice can also be heard praising the attacks. The video was leaked by a whistleblower after it was shown on the troops’ military base.

Al-Jaafari Chosen For 2nd Term As Iraq PM

Meanwhile, the Iraqi parliament Sunday chose incumbent Ibrahim al-Jaafari to remain as Iraq’s prime minister. The physician and longtime exile won by a single vote. The winning support for al-Jaafari came from an unexpected quarter — politicians affiliated with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Report: US Aiding Construction of Morocoo Prison

In other news, the London Times is reporting the US is helping Morocco build a new prison for terror suspects near the capital of Rabat. The prison would be run by the Moroccan secret police, the Direction for Security of the Territory — known as DST. Several human rights groups have accused the DST of torture. Morocco is thought to be one of the key partners in the CIA’s rendition of detainees.

Christian Peace Group Charged Over Gitmo Vigil

Meanwhile, the US government has served legal papers to seven members of a US Christian group that held a vigil outside the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The group, Witness Against Torture, held a five-day march to the prison in December. Around 500 prisoners are being held at Guantanamo, most without charge. The seven members each face up to 10 years in prison or a $250,000 dollar fine. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights said: "I find it extremely hypocritical that Washington is investigating this group for the 'crime' of traveling to Cuba. The U.S. government is flagrantly violating even the most basic norms of human rights — such as indefinite detention without charges, denial of fair trials and, most importantly, torture."

Ex-CIA Officials Say US Threats Helped Drive Iran Nuclear Program

This news on Iran — Two high-level former CIA officials say the intelligence community has believed that fear of a US attack has been a principal factor in Iran’s motives to pursue nuclear weapons. The officials made the comments in separate interviews with the Interpress News Service. Paul Pillar, the former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, who oversaw all National Intelligence Estimates on Iran from 2000 to 2005, said: "Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons."

Vermont Resolution Would Bar Warrantless Eavesdropping

In Vermont, legislators have introduced a resolution that criticizes President Bush’s domestic spying program and bars eavesdropping without a court order in the state.

Ex-FEMA Head Criticizes White House in Katrina Testimony

This news on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — Michael Brown, the embattled former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, gave his first public testimony Friday since he resigned in the early days of the storm crisis. During his testimony, Brown said the government’s response had been hampered because of the White House’s preoccupation with the war on terror. He said: "It is my belief [that if] we’ve confirmed that a terrorist has blown up the 17th Street Canal levee, then everybody would have jumped all over that and been trying to do everything they could." For the first time, Brown also identified a senior White House official he said he first told about breaches of New Orleans levees. Brown said it was either Joe Hagin, the deputy White House chief of staff, or Andrew Card. The White House has maintained it was first informed of the levee breaches the morning of Tuesday, August 30th 2005. But Brown and others have maintained the White House was informed the night before.

GOP Report Faults Bush, Chertoff on Katrina

Meanwhile, a forthcoming Republican-authored congressional report lays considerable blame for the government’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina from President Bush down. The report, disclosed in Sunday’s Washington Post, singles out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for being detached from events on the ground and responding: "late, ineffectively or not at all." The report concludes: "Blinding lack of situational awareness and disjointed decision making needlessly compounded and prolonged Katrina’s horror.’’ The 600-page report will be released Wednesday.

Katrina Evacuees Seek Halt to 40,000 Hotel Evictions

In other Katrina news, lawyers acting on behalf of about 40,000 Katrina evacuees have asked for a temporary restraining order against the government’s plans to evict them from hotels across the country. The evictions are scheduled for today. Last week, occupants of more than 4500 rooms were ordered to leave their hotels in New Orleans. Bill Quigley, a New Orleans attorney who helped file the motion, said: "We think FEMA is just trying to clear the books and not taking a careful or compassionate look at these people."

Media Groups Call for Public Input on Video Franchising

And finally, community groups and public access television stations across the country are calling on viewers to join a campaign many see as a fight for the future of public access television. The Federal Communications Commission is considering "Video Franchising" — where large cable and telecom companies enter into agreements with local municipalities that include funding for public access TV. Several companies, including Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner are attempting to weaken or do away with these agreements. Today is the last day for viewers to submit their comments to the FCC.

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