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Politics

Zimbabwe groups: election intimidation building

Elections in Zimbabwe are still months away, but already President Robert Mugabe’s party is intimidating its opponents and threatening violence, human rights and pro-democracy groups say.

Witnesses say Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has begun deploying youth militia groups in some of its strongholds. A young mother in the Harare township of Mbare said militants of a pro-Mugabe youth group known as Chipangano, or “the brotherhood” in local slang, have started door-to-door visits in the neighborhood and told residents to attend night meetings where names and identity particulars of participants were written down.

“They are watching me every day,” she said, refusing to give her name because she feared violent retribution.

If she doesn’t go to the meetings with family members and friends her absence will be noted down on another list of suspected Mugabe opponents, she said.

Mugabe party officials say the logging of names is merely part of regular campaigning to keep supporters up to date with the party’s activities in the runup to polling.

Rugare Gumbo, the party’s spokesman, denied a campaign of intimidation was under way. He has accused Mugabe’s opponents of making “sensational” allegations to garner sympathy in the face of electoral defeat.

“We have become more and more aware of their machinations,” he said.

The independent Zimbabwe Peace Project, which monitors political intimidation and violence, reported in its latest bulletin Mugabe militants are also marking with stickers the homes of their supporters and new converts.

“There is no doubt those with stickers would be used to identify people (without them) who would then be victimized before and after elections,” the group said.

Mugabe’s party insists its members are free to display party loyalty and regalia during election campaigning, a common practice in most countries. But independent campaign monitors have reported rival fliers and posters being torn down and destroyed, mostly by militant youth groups.

Monitors representing both local and foreign rights groups say there is now burgeoning fear because Zimbabwe’s elections have been marred by violence and alleged vote rigging since 2000, mainly by Mugabe’s party.

Actual physical violence this time around has been comparatively limited so far but there has been an increase in police action against groups and individuals seen as Mugabe opponents, including the arrests on March 17 of Beatrice Mtetwa, Zimbabwe’s most prominent human rights lawyer, and four senior staffers of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s main rival.

Mugabe is to announce an election date in consultation with the coalition partners, but it is bogged down in technicalities. Under the constitution, new elections must be held within 90 days of June 29, when the term of the current parliament expires and the body is automatically dissolved. Mugabe wants the poll as soon as possible. Tsvangirai says it would be late July at the earliest but it could come as late as September.

Mtetwa, held in jail for eight days, appeared briefly in a Harare court Wednesday on charges of obstructing justice that carry a penalty of a fine or up to two years imprisonment. Prosecutors said they were not ready to go to trial and the hearing was put off to Monday. She denies the charges and says she only demanded to see a police search warrant when officers combed through offices of Tsvangirai’s communications unit searching for alleged subversive materials and then seized equipment and documents. She said her arrest was a ploy to intimidate democracy activists ahead of new elections.

The police force is generally loyal to Mugabe.

“There will be many more arrests to follow as we near elections. The police were all out to get me,” said Mtetwa after her release on bail on March 25. “They wanted me to feel their might and power.”

Legal experts dismiss the charges against Mtetwa as spurious, but right groups also warn that more such arrests can be expected.

“We will see more of these kinds of tactics to criminalize key activists. It is a ZANU-PF strategy they are unlikely to stop,” said McDonald Lewanika, director of Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition, an alliance of independent rights and civic groups. Lewanika’s alliance also alleged that villagers where harvests had failed were made to take part in activities of Mugabe’s party in order to receive food aid and school places for their children.

Underscoring how security forces operate with impunity, the African Union’s Commission on Human and People’s Rights on March 23 said Gabriel Shumba, a well-known human rights lawyer, was arrested in Zimbabwe in 2003 while meeting with a client and was then tortured. Police and intelligence agents threatened Shumba with death, and subjected him to electric shocks, the commission reported, adding that Shumba was doused in chemicals and became incontinent, he vomited blood and was forced to drink his vomit. It said Zimbabwe failed to open an official investigation into Shumba’s “torture and trauma” and that it should now do so and prosecute those responsible.

For a decade, rights groups have campaigned to bring to justice perpetrators of political killings, torture, rape, assault, death threats, the destruction of homes and the looting of livestock and property surrounding a series of past elections. At least five groups belonging to the alliance have been targeted this year, with several activists arrested and alleged to have broken a range of security and criminal laws. None has yet been convicted.

Lewanika said police and other security services apparently intend to “disable groups that have a clear presence on the ground” which will leave communities vulnerable to threats of a return to the violence seen before and after the 2008 polls.

“This could have a huge and telling impact on voting. At this stage, we think there will be rampant fear affecting the vote,” he said.

Mugabe, 89, led the nation to independence from colonial-era rule in 1980 and ruled virtually unchallenged until Tsvangirai, 60, founded his urban and labor based opposition Movement for Democratic Change in 1997. Mugabe’s party suffered setbacks at polls that followed and in 2000 he ordered the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms crippling the agriculture-based economy of the former regional breadbasket.

Mugabe said he was correcting colonial imbalances in land ownership by the descendants of British and South African settlers so as to hand over farms to impoverished black Zimbabweans. But most prime farms went to his party elite and loyalists and many still lie idle.

The nation now depends on food imports and the United Nations estimates that 1.5 million Zimbabweans are currently in need of emergency food handouts.


Source: AP

Categories
Politics

Italy votes in election seen as key for economic recovery

Polls have opened for a second and final day in Italy’s general election – a vote seen as crucial for efforts to tackle the country’s economic problems, as well as for the eurozone.

Turnout on Sunday was 55%, a drop of 7% compared with the 2008 elections, with bad weather partly being blamed.

Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left bloc is believed to have a narrow lead over Silvio Berlusconi’s alliance.

But a new protest party appears to be on course for an impressive result.

The anti-establishment movement led by former comedian Beppe Grillo drew huge crowds during its rallies in the final stages of the election campaign.

The election was called two months ahead of schedule, after Mr Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support for Mario Monti’s technocratic government.

‘Getting favours’

Italians will vote until 15:00 (14:00 GMT), and the first results are expected within hours.

But there is huge uncertainty as to what the results may bring, although everyone believes the outcome will be close, the BBC’s Alan Johnston reports from Rome.

Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) was a consistent frontrunner in the pre-election opinion polls at nearly 35%, and is widely believed to remain in the lead.

But Mr Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) centre-right alliance, which narrowed the PD lead in the final weeks of campaigning, may have done enough to prevent his opponents winning an overall majority, our correspondent says.

Mr Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) was running third in the polls, with Mr Monti’s party expected to gain fourth place.

The elections are taking place amid a deep recession and austerity measures, brought in by Mr Monti’s government, that have caused widespread public resentment.

They are also being closely watched in the eurozone, with the Italian government’s future commitment to austerity measures particularly under scrutiny.

If he wins the election, Mr Bersani, a former Communist, has pledged to continue with Mr Monti’s reforms, but suggests current European policy needs to do more to promote growth and jobs.

Emerging from one polling station in Milan, voter Attilio Bianchetti told Reuters: “I’m not confident that the government that emerges from the election will be able to solve any of our problems.”

Luciana Li Mandri, a civil servant in Palermo, shared his pessimism: “We’re all about getting favours when we study, getting a protected job when we work. That’s the way we are and we can only be represented by people like that as well.”

‘The best’

As Mr Berlusconi voted in Milan on Sunday, he was confronted by topless women with Basta Berlusconi (Enough Berlusconi) scrawled on them.

The three-time PM is embroiled in two trials, accused of tax fraud and sex with an underage prostitute.

He has also been under fire for giving a TV interview on Saturday, which opponents said was a breach of the campaigning ban.

Mr Berlusconi’s office said the interview had been granted only with the explicit agreement that it would be broadcast after polls close on Monday.

Some 47 million eligible voters are electing both chambers of parliament – the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

The electoral system is based on proportional representation and party lists, with a series of thresholds to encourage parties to form coalitions.

Recent polls have suggested that Mr Bersani’s alliance could easily win the lower house of parliament, but may fail to gain a majority in the Senate.

The Senate is elected on a region-by-region basis and much may depend on the results from the heavily-populated regions around Milan and Naples, our correspondent notes.

Many predict Mr Bersani will seek to form a coalition with Mr Monti if he fails to win an outright majority.

However, observers say that the race has been thrown wide open by the popularity of Mr Grillo’s M5S movement, whose activists show a searing contempt for Italy’s traditional parties and the whole political establishment.


Source: BBC

Categories
Politics

Italy votes in election seen as key for economic recovery

Polls have opened for a second and final day in Italy’s general election – a vote seen as crucial for efforts to tackle the country’s economic problems, as well as for the eurozone.

Turnout on Sunday was 55%, a drop of 7% compared with the 2008 elections, with bad weather partly being blamed.

Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left bloc is believed to have a narrow lead over Silvio Berlusconi’s alliance.

But a new protest party appears to be on course for an impressive result.

The anti-establishment movement led by former comedian Beppe Grillo drew huge crowds during its rallies in the final stages of the election campaign.

The election was called two months ahead of schedule, after Mr Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support for Mario Monti’s technocratic government.

‘Getting favours’

Italians will vote until 15:00 (14:00 GMT), and the first results are expected within hours.

But there is huge uncertainty as to what the results may bring, although everyone believes the outcome will be close, the BBC’s Alan Johnston reports from Rome.

Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) was a consistent frontrunner in the pre-election opinion polls at nearly 35%, and is widely believed to remain in the lead.

But Mr Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) centre-right alliance, which narrowed the PD lead in the final weeks of campaigning, may have done enough to prevent his opponents winning an overall majority, our correspondent says.

Mr Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) was running third in the polls, with Mr Monti’s party expected to gain fourth place.

The elections are taking place amid a deep recession and austerity measures, brought in by Mr Monti’s government, that have caused widespread public resentment.

They are also being closely watched in the eurozone, with the Italian government’s future commitment to austerity measures particularly under scrutiny.

If he wins the election, Mr Bersani, a former Communist, has pledged to continue with Mr Monti’s reforms, but suggests current European policy needs to do more to promote growth and jobs.

Emerging from one polling station in Milan, voter Attilio Bianchetti told Reuters: “I’m not confident that the government that emerges from the election will be able to solve any of our problems.”

Luciana Li Mandri, a civil servant in Palermo, shared his pessimism: “We’re all about getting favours when we study, getting a protected job when we work. That’s the way we are and we can only be represented by people like that as well.”

‘The best’

As Mr Berlusconi voted in Milan on Sunday, he was confronted by topless women with Basta Berlusconi (Enough Berlusconi) scrawled on them.

The three-time PM is embroiled in two trials, accused of tax fraud and sex with an underage prostitute.

He has also been under fire for giving a TV interview on Saturday, which opponents said was a breach of the campaigning ban.

Mr Berlusconi’s office said the interview had been granted only with the explicit agreement that it would be broadcast after polls close on Monday.

Some 47 million eligible voters are electing both chambers of parliament – the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

The electoral system is based on proportional representation and party lists, with a series of thresholds to encourage parties to form coalitions.

Recent polls have suggested that Mr Bersani’s alliance could easily win the lower house of parliament, but may fail to gain a majority in the Senate.

The Senate is elected on a region-by-region basis and much may depend on the results from the heavily-populated regions around Milan and Naples, our correspondent notes.

Many predict Mr Bersani will seek to form a coalition with Mr Monti if he fails to win an outright majority.

However, observers say that the race has been thrown wide open by the popularity of Mr Grillo’s M5S movement, whose activists show a searing contempt for Italy’s traditional parties and the whole political establishment.


Source: BBC

Categories
Politics

Fidel Castro votes in Cuba election

Fidel Castro has voted in Cuba’s parliamentary elections, the first time the frail ex-leader has been seen in public for several months.

State TV showed the 86-year-old voting at a polling station where he is said to have spent up to an hour talking to other voters and the media.

The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Havana says he was stooped and spoke with a faint, weak voice.

A crowd surrounded his car, cheering as he was driven off, she adds.

All organised opposition is banned in Cuba and all candidates for elections have been selected by the ruling Communist Party or its affiliated associations.

More than 600 delegates will take their seats in the National Assembly and approve the candidates for Cuba’s key political positions.

With President Raul Castro – Fidel’s younger brother – already 81, Cubans are watching for any sign as to who might follow him, our correspondent says.

The choice of vice-presidents and ministers could suggest who is being groomed to carry on the revolution, she adds.


Source: BBC

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Politics

South Korea election: Park Geun-hye defeats Moon Jae-in

South Korea’s President-elect, Park Geun-hye, has said her victory will help the country’s economy recover.

Ms Park, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, defeated her liberal rival Moon Jae-in. She will be South Korea’s first female leader.

Votes are still being counted, but Mr Moon has admitted defeat. Turnout was high in a poll dominated by economic and social welfare issues.

Ms Park, 60, will replace her party colleague Lee Myung-bak.

He is stepping down as the law requires after his five-year term.

Combined figures from the networks released after polls closed gave Ms Park 50.1% of the vote over Mr Moon’s 48.9%.

“This is a victory brought by the people’s hope for overcoming crisis and economic recovery,” she told supporters in the capital Seoul.

Economic growth has fallen to about 2% after several decades in which it averaged 5.5%.

With the country having split almost equally along party lines, the BBC’s Seoul correspondent Lucy Williamson says Ms Park will have to work hard to improve relations with her detractors.

Father’s legacy

From the moment polls opened at 06:00 on Wednesday (21:00 GMT on Tuesday), millions of South Koreans queued to cast their ballots despite freezing temperatures.

Ms Park’s supporters, wearing red party scarves, cheered as poll figures emerged.

Both bolstered and dogged by the legacy of her father, who built South Korea’s economy while crushing dissent, she apologised in September for human rights abuses under his administration.

Mr Moon of the Democratic United Party is a former human rights lawyer who served under former President Roh Moo-hyun. He was briefly jailed by Ms Park’s father in the 1970s.

Both candidates put forward broadly similar policies, promising to boost social welfare spending, close the gap between the rich and poor and rein in the family-run giant conglomerates known as chaebol.

The issue of North Korea did not feature heavily in the campaign despite its recent rocket launch.

Both candidates promised more engagement with Pyongyang – though in Ms Park’s case, more cautiously than her rival.

Ties between the two Koreas deteriorated during Mr Lee’s term.

Source: BBC

Categories
Politics

Poll shows Israel’s Netanyahu romping in election

A new poll shows Israeli prime minister’s hardline Likud Party handily winning the Jan. 22 elections despite the entry of a dovish new party into the race.

The Dialog poll gives Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud 39 of parliament’s 120 seats, days after the party elected a slate of candidates that is more hawkish than the previous one.

It gives seven seats to the new party of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the onetime chief negotiator with the Palestinians. Livni, who casts herself as an alternative to Netanyahu in the vote, took those seats away from other centrist parties, not Likud.

The poll, published Wednesday, shows Likud and its traditional right-wing and religious partners capturing 69 seats.

The survey of 514 respondents had a margin of error of 4.2 percent.


Source: AP