Under heavy pressure from the Obama administration, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appears set to concede today that he fell short of a first-round victory in the nation’s disputed presidential election. But the path to resolving the political crisis remains uncertain. Officials said Karzai was moving toward accepting the findings of a United Nations audit that stripped him of nearly a third of his votes. This leaves Karzai below the 50 percent threshold that would have allowed him to avoid a runoff and declare victory over his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah. The New York Times reports some Obama administration officials are now quietly pushing for Karzai and Abdullah to form a coalition government to avoid a runoff altogether. Earlier today, Abdullah called for the formation of an interim government to shepherd the country through the winter if it’s too difficult or dangerous to organize a runoff in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the Times of London reports Afghanistan’s security chiefs have been ordered to make emergency preparations for a second round of voting. United Nations spokesperson Aleem Siddique said the international community is ready to assist with the runoff.
Aleem Siddique: “Preparations are already well underway for a runoff. All the voting materials that are required to conduct a runoff are now in country. Distribution will begin next week if the Independent Election Commission announces the need for a runoff. So, on the part of the United Nations, we’re standing ready to assist the electoral authorities of this country to conduct that runoff, if it’s required.”
UPDATE: This latest news, as we are broadcasting, Afghanistan will hold a second round of presidential elections on November 7th, after fraud claims discredited the first round results.
The Obama administration has unveiled a new strategy toward Sudan. The White House plans to renew tough economic sanctions against the African nation while promising broad engagement with Khartoum in an effort to end the genocide in Darfur. Secretary of State Clinton declined to specify what incentives would be offered Sudan, saying they were part of a classified strategy document.
Hillary Clinton: “Our strategy has three principal objectives: first, an end to conflict, gross human rights abuses, war crimes and genocide in Darfur; second, implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement that results in a united and peaceful Sudan after 2011 or an orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other; and third, a Sudan that does not provide a safe haven for terrorists.”
Analysts said the United States might consider removing Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terror or expanding the number of Sudanese officials targeted for sanctions.
The Interior Department has given Shell the OK to drill oil exploration wells in two areas of the Beaufort Sea near the Arctic. This could lead to the first drilling in more than a decade in this area off the north coast of Alaska. Chuck Clusen of the Natural Resources Defense Council criticized the decision. Clusen said a drilling blowout could leave oil in the waters off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for decades, killing whales, seals, fish and birds and turning irreplaceable spawning and feeding grounds into an ecological wasteland.
In healthcare news, the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll has found 57 percent of all Americans now favor a public insurance option. This marks an increase since mid-August, when 52 percent of the nation favored it.
Attorney General Eric Holder has directed federal prosecutors to back away from pursuing cases against medical marijuana patients. Reversing the Bush administration’s stance, Holder said, “it will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana.” Fourteen states have adopted laws allowing the medical use of marijuana.
A Maryland scientist has been arrested for attempted espionage after he offered to sell military secrets to an undercover FBI agent that he believed was an Israeli spy. The scientist, Stewart Nozette, used to work for the Department of Energy, where he had top secret clearance and access to nuclear weapon design information. Nozette is also alleged to have worked as a consultant for an Israeli aerospace company from 1998 up until last year.
The Washington Post reports many of the nation’s largest financial firms have been boosting the perks and benefits their chief executives receive, even while the federal government was spending hundreds of billions of dollars to save the firms. Kenneth Lewis of Bank of America and Jeffrey Peek of CIT Group each received about $100,000 more than a year earlier for personal use of corporate jets. Ralph Babb, chief executive of Dallas-based lender Comerica, was compensated for a new country club membership, with an initiation fee and dues of more than $200,000. GMAC Financial Services chief executive Alvaro de Molina benefited from a $2.5 million payment from his company to help cover his personal tax bill. On average, the chief executives at twenty-nine of the largest public financial companies that have taken bailout funds received perks and benefits worth more than $380,000 in 2008.
In Pakistan, at least six people have been killed and nine wounded after a series of bomb explosions at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. The bombings marked the first attack in Pakistan since the Pakistani military began its assault on militants in South Waziristan.
US immigration authorities in Texas have detained a prominent Mexican human rights official after he crossed the border following a series of death threats. Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson is the rights official for Chihuahua state, which includes the border city of Ciudad Juarez. De la Rosa recently reported 170 instances of Mexican soldiers allegedly torturing, abusing and killing innocent people in Chihuahua. US immigration officials say they’re required by law to detain him, since authorities at the border concluded he was seeking asylum. But de la Rosa’s lawyer said his client does not want asylum.
Reporters Without Borders has released its annual press freedom index. Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden shared the highest ranking. The United States is ranked twentieth in the world, up from fortieth a year ago. Israel sank forty-seven places in the index to ninety-third because of Israel’s media crackdown during the invasion of Gaza. Reporters Without Borders also harshly criticized Iran’s treatment of journalists. Iran now ranks 172nd, ahead of just three nations: Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
In Honduras, supporters of ousted president Manuel Zelaya plan to protest today at the National Autonomous University. The demonstration comes one day after the coup government lifted restrictions on protests and the media. Talks between Zelaya and the coup government are currently on hold.
In other news from Latin America, a senior prosecutor in Colombia says more than 27,000 people have been forcibly disappeared in Colombia since the late 1980s. Right-wing militias were responsible for 75 percent of the disappearances. It’s the first official number on the subject and is based chiefly on recent confessions of demobilized militia fighters and relatives of those missing and presumed killed.
In West Virginia, activists opposed to mountaintop removal mining staged a sit-in Monday at the office of Governor Joe Manchin. Seven people were arrested.
And in media news, the New York Times has announced it will eliminate 100 newsroom positions, about eight percent of the paper’s news staff.