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International voting monitors say Russia’s presidential election was clearly skewed to help Prime Minister Vladimir Putin return to the presidency. Putin won Sunday’s vote with about 64 percent of the vote. Putin previously served as Russia’s president from 2000 to 2008. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said there have been widespread claims of fraud and vote violations. At a victory rally, Putin rejected the charges and said he won a clean victory.
Vladimir Putin: "We have won today also thanks to the overwhelming support of the overwhelming majority of our voters. We had a clean victory. We will work honestly and intensely. We will achieve success. And we will call on everyone to unite for the sake of our people’s and our motherland’s interests."
Opposition groups are planning protests in Moscow today. Alexei Navalny is a prominent opposition blogger.
Alexei Navalny: "These crooks who are committing unvarnished vote falsifications, they are afraid of outraged people, and that’s why they are trying to deploy police and military forces to prevent protests."
The Republican presidential candidates have entered the final full day of campaigning before Super Tuesday, when voters will head to the polls in 10 states, including Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and Massachusetts. On Saturday, Mitt Romney won the Republican caucuses in Washington with just under 38 percent of the vote. Ron Paul placed second with about 25 percent of the vote.
In campaign news, President Obama’s top political adviser, David Plouffe, was scheduled to speak Friday at a fundraising meeting for Priorities USA Action, a super PAC set up by Obama’s former aides. Plouffe’s appearance may be scrutinized because campaign finance laws ban coordination between independent groups and the candidates they are backing.
Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to offer a legal defense today of Obama’s campaign to assassinate U.S. citizens overseas who have alleged ties to al-Qaeda. Holder’s speech comes five months after a U.S. drone killed the U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Another drone in Yemen later killed al-Awlaki’s teenage son, also a U.S. citizen.
The head of the Arab League has announced Syria has agreed to allow former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to visit Damascus on Saturday. Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian troops have entered the city of Daraa, where anti-government demonstrations began nearly a year ago. At least one person was killed. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are still seeking approval from Syrian authorities to enter the Baba Amr section of Homs to help civilians. Syrian armored forces recaptured Baba Amr after an almost month-long siege in which shelling reduced much of the district to rubble. Quoting "local sources," Human Rights Watch says about 700 civilians had been killed and thousands wounded in Homs since a military assault in the city began on February 3. Paul Conroy, a British photographer who was injured in Homs, spoke to the media over the weekend about what he saw.
Paul Conroy: "It’s systematic slaughter. It’s not a war. The Free Syrian Army provide bread and meager defense. This is not a war, this is a massacre. We’re watching it. And once again, the world sits by and watches, and I have no answers for them people. Somebody has to break the geopolitical stalemate that is allowing this regime to crush the humanity out of Syria. It’s a crime beyond—of a scale I’ve never seen."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has voiced his support for Syrian President President Bashar al-Assad. Chávez made the comment in a speech from Havana, where he is receiving medical treatment after doctors found a new cancerous tumor.
Hugo Chávez: "From here, we send our solidarity to the Syrian people, to President Bashar al-Assad, and we demand and we ask for the cessation of the armed aggression, not only diplomatic, armed infiltration, armed mercenary terrorism to justify — this is the same thing that was done to the Libyan people and to the government of murdered ex-President Muammar Gaddafi."
President Obama is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House today to discuss Iran’s alleged nuclear program. On Sunday, Obama addressed AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He vowed support for Israel and said the United States is ready to act against Iran — with all "elements of American power."
President Obama: "A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suffered a political setback after supporters of his rival, Clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, won more than 75 percent of seats in parliamentary elections. The election is likely to increase chances Ahmadinejad will be viewed as a lame duck president ahead of next year’s presidential elections. Many supporters of Ahmadinejad lost their parliamentary seats, including his sister, Parvin Ahmadinejad.
An increase in polio in Pakistan is being linked to a secret CIA ploy used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. With the help of a Pakistani doctor, the CIA set up a fake vaccination campaign in the city of Abbottabad in an effort to get DNA from the bin Laden family. A coalition of U.S. aid groups have written a letter to CIA head David Petraeus saying the covert program has cast doubt on the intentions and integrity of all humanitarian groups in Pakistan and undermined the international humanitarian community’s efforts to eradicate polio. Last year, Pakistan recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world.
In news from Yemen, at least 106 people have died in heavy fighting between militants from the group Ansar al-Sharia and Yemeni troops. Fifty-five troops were also reportedly taken hostage. The fighting began when militants conducted a surprise attack on military bases outside of Zinjibar.
The commander of U.S. Pacific Command has revealed the United States has special forces in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India. Admiral Robert Willard made the comment last week at a congressional hearing. Willard said the special forces are in India to help the country with their counterterrorism cooperation.
The death toll from last week’s devastating tornadoes in the Midwest and South has reached 39. The storms caused damage across Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Meteorologists say this year’s mild winter has increased the chances for severe weather across much of the United States. In 2007, NASA’s Goddard Institute on Climate Science issued a report predicting larger and more violent thunderstorms and tornadoes in the United States as global warming trends continue.
In media news, seven companies have pulled its ads from Rush Limbaugh’s radio program after he called a student reproductive rights activist "a slut" for campaigning in favor of contraception coverage for women. On Saturday, Limbaugh apologized to the woman, Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student and a member of the group Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice.
In Virginia, 33 demonstrators were arrested Saturday while protesting legislation they said would violate women’s reproductive rights. A Virginia bill mandating ultrasound exams for women seeking abortions recently cleared its final legislative hurdle and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
In news from Iraq, gunmen disguised as police raided checkpoints and homes in western Iraq today, killing at least 27 members of the security forces. The dead included a lieutenant colonel and a captain who were dragged out of their homes in Haditha and killed.
A major pipeline carrying Canadian oil into the United States was shut down Saturday after a fatal car accident caused a fire and oil spill at an Illinois pumping station. The pipeline is owned by Enbridge. It is unclear how much oil had been spilled.
Fifty farm workers in Florida have launched a six-day fast outside of the headquarters of the grocery chain Publix calling for better working conditions and pay for tomato pickers. The fast is being organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.