In the first presidential elections in Palestine since the death of Yasser Arafat, the candidate favored by the US and Israel has declared victory. Mahmoud Abbas won more than 60% of the votes cast but voter turnout was low and there were widespread reports of problems at the polls. At least one independent candidate has called for a repeat of the election. After initial results were released, Abbas quickly declared himself the winner and dedicated his victory to the late Yasser Arafat. The runner-up to Abbas, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, won approximately 20% of the votes. He alleged at a press conference that Palestinian security forces and others cast multiple ballots. And said that voters were harassed and intimidated by Israeli forces and that some Palestinians were prevented from voting. He said that contrary to media reports, Israel did not remove checkpoints to facilitate the free movement of voters to their elections centers. Barghouti also said that some 25,000 people who have been held at a checkpoint in Rafah for nearly a month by Israeli forces were unable to return to their hometowns to vote. Still, Barghouti said his candidacy represented a clear message from Palestinian voters: “We’ve managed to prove that we are a strong powerful democratic force. We’ve managed to prove that we represent a huge majority that has been silent so far but that is not silent any more. Which is not part of part of the existing polarism between Fatah and Islamic fundamentalism and that this huge silent majority wants a representative.”
Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry is continuing his tour of the Middle East. He met with Israeli Prime Minister General Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, where Kerry said, “Israel is our special ally, our special friend. It’s a relationship that no-one can tear apart.” Kerry said: “The security of Israeli is the paramount concern. I know the Prime Minister has taken steps in order to protect that over the course of the last years. The United States, both parties, Republican and Democrat, stand behind Israel in that effort but we also, all of us, hope for the possibilities of peace in the days ahead and I look forward to my conversations with the Prime Minister.”
Another high-ranking Iraqi official has been gunned down in Baghdad. Baghdad’s deputy police chief and his son were shot dead as they left the family home on Monday. Their car crashed into a house after they had been shot. His assassination came hours after the acting police chief of Sammara was also killed in a drive by shooting. Meanwhile, al Jazeera is reporting that US helicopter gunships attacked multiple sites in the northern city of Mosul and that US and Iraqi forces closed five bridges in the city. In southern Baghdad today, a bomber driving a police car blew himself up at a police station, killing at least three Iraqis. In a separate incident, a number of US soldiers were killed and others injured when an explosive device hit a US military patrol in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. The US military said on Monday that a marine had been killed in action in al-Anbar province in western Iraq. Today’s violence comes after another deadly weekend for Iraqi civilians, in which US soldiers may have killed as many as 19 Iraqi civilians in two incidents. On Saturday, 14 Iraqis were killed and five injured after an American warplane dropped a 500-pound bomb on an Iraqi home in a village near Mosul. The US military said it was a mistake. Journalists report rows of freshly dug graves where local people said the dead were buried. Meanwhile, US soldiers who were struck by a roadside bomb allegedly opened fire on Iraqi bystanders on Saturday evening, killing at least three civilians and two policemen. The military says it is investigating both incidents.
After an accidental blast killed seven Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq, the country’s president-elect Viktor Yushchenko said that withdrawing the nation’s troops from Iraq would be a priority for him once he takes office. The seven Ukrainian troops and one Kazakh soldier died after a bomb they were about to defuse went off accidentally in central Iraq. Some 1,600 Ukrainian troops have been deployed since August 2003 in western Iraq. Prior to Sunday’s deaths, Ukraine has lost nine of its troops, with another 20 injured. In the heat of Ukraine’s election saga in December, parliament in Kiev approved a resolution that demanded outgoing President Leonid Kuchma withdraw Ukrainian soldiers from Iraq.
The Sudanese government and southern rebel groups signed an agreement Sunday after three years of negotiation. The agreement seeks a comprehensive settlement after 21 years of fighting by allowing southern rebels to share power and oil wealth with the Khartoum government. Secretary of State General Colin Powell told an audience of several thousand at the signing ceremony that the agreement was historic and stressed that the two sides must uphold their ends of the bargain. He also urged Khartoum to move swiftly toward peace in the western region of Darfur. The deal includes a number of measures that are politically sensitive and may prove difficult to implement. It entitles the southern region to organize an autonomous government and constitution and get a share of Sudan’s oil revenue. It calls for the integration of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army into the central government’s military. It makes John Garang, the U.S.-educated rebel leader, first vice president in a new Sudanese government. It also provides for a referendum after six years that would give the south a chance to declare its independence. We’ll have more on this story later in the program.
A US helicopter with 10 people on board has crashed in a rice paddy as it was trying to land at the Banda Aceh airport while on a tsunami relief operation, injuring at least two US soldiers. The US military suspended helicopter flights for about two hours after the crash. Also in Banda Aceh, an earthquake shook buildings and sent people scrambling from their homes early Monday, but no injuries or damage were reported. Strong aftershocks and security concerns have provided more challenges for aid workers two weeks after the tsunami. Aceh has accounted for about two-thirds of the 150,000 people known to have died in the disaster.
Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban has called on President Bush to cancel the lavish inauguration parties planned for later this month and instead donate the money saved–some $40 million–to victims of the Asian tsunami. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team won’t say how much he has given to the disaster victims, but his Dec. 31 proposal on his Web site has generated controversy–and support–on the Internet. The Presidential Inaugural Committee is raising $30 million to $40 million from private donors and says it doesn’t plan to cancel any of the nine inaugural balls or the three so-called “candle light dinners” that donors of $250,000 and $100,000 get with the president and first lady. Mark Cuban says he voted for President Bush. Asked if it was fair to deny Bush supporters a celebration, he replied QUOTE “Since when is the level of celebration defined by the amount spent?”
Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 has won best film at the US People’s Choice Awards, voted for by the US public. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ won best drama, despite both films being snubbed so far at US film awards in the run-up to February’s Oscars. Nominees for the People’s Choice Awards were picked by a 6,000-strong Entertainment Weekly magazine panel, and winners were subsequently chosen by 21 million online voters. Here is Michael Moore accepting the award last night: “We live in a great country and we all love our country very much and I am so amazed that you did this–the people of America–that you voted for this film. I can’t thank you enough. I’m honored and gratified and I know that there are many people tonight–mothers and fathers across this country–with sons and daughters in Iraq. Our prayers are with them and I dedicate this award to them tonight. I want to thank, most of all, the people out there who voted for this. I don’t want you to give up. This country is still all of ours. Not just right or left, democrat or republican, it’s all of our country. I love making movies and I’ll take this as an invitation to make more 'Fahrenheit 9/11's.”
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