Liberia holds vote delayed by Ebola

Voting is under way in Liberia in an election that was postponed in October because of the Ebola outbreak.

Liberians are choosing representatives to the country’s senate.

Among the 139 candidates vying for 15 seats are former football star George Weah and Robert Sirleaf, the son of Liberia’s president.

Ebola has infected about 19,000 people in West Africa, killing more than 7,373 – with 3,346 deaths in Liberia, according to the latest UN figures.

The senate elections were postponed in October in a bid to stop campaigners and voters spreading the virus.

The election is being held just days after neighbouring Sierra Leone clamped down on public gatherings.

It has banned Sunday trading, restricted travel between districts and prohibited public celebrations over Christmas and the New Year.

One of Sierra Leone’s top doctors, Victor Willoughby, died from Ebola on Thursday, just hours after the arrival of experimental drug ZMab which could have been used to treat him.

Healthcare workers are among those most at risk of catching Ebola which is spread by bodily fluids and requires close contact with victims.

In November, Liberia’s election commission chairman, Jerome Korkoya, urged candidates and supporters to follow public health regulations in the run-up to the senate elections.

“For instance, the transportation of large groups of electorates by candidates clustered in vehicles and the congregation of huge number of people will be regulated,” he said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in Liberia on Friday at the start of a two-day visit to countries affected by Ebola in West Africa. He continued on to Guinea on Saturday.

After stepping off the plane, he washed his hands and had his temperature taken – two important practices to help stop the spread of the disease.

Mr Ban urged people to follow strict health regulations until the epidemic was over.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lifted a state of emergency last month that was imposed in August to control the outbreak.

Source: Emmanuel Kwame Amoh||Ghana


INEC: Over 1m Nigerians unable to vote unless law changed

More than a million Nigerians displaced by an Islamist insurgency in the northeast may not be able to vote in the Feb. 14 presidential election unless the law is changed, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said on Monday.

Africa’s most populous nation faces what is likely to be its most closely fought election since the end of military rule in 1999, but the Electoral Act states that voters have to cast ballots in their home constituencies, an obstacle for refugees who have fled attacks by Boko Haram militants.

A decision on how to deal with the displaced will not be taken before January when the National Assembly next meets.

“Unless the act is amended, the IDP (internally displaced person) issue could expose the election to legal challenges by the losing party,” INEC spokesman Kayode Idowu said.

President Goodluck Jonathan, the ruling People’s Democratic Party candidate, will face former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, candidate for the opposition All Progressives Congress.

Voters in northern Nigeria favor the opposition party led by a Muslim northerner. The potential loss of more than a million votes from that area could stoke tension.

Around 73 million people voted in the last election in 2011.

The insurgency could also mean some local government areas in three northeastern states may be prevented from holding the ballot if the army deems it too dangerous, Idowu said.

Sunni jihadist group Boko Haram has been waging a five-year insurgency to carve out an Islamic state in the northeast. Attacks have increased sharply since the government imposed a state of emergency last year in three states — Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

Thousands of people have been killed. Bombs, ambushes and raids on towns occur on a near-daily basis in the region, particularly in Borno, the stronghold of the militant group.

The Council for Foreign Relations estimates that about 10,340 violent deaths between November 2013 and November 2014 were linked to Boko Haram-related violence.

“INEC is hoping that some amendment will happen to the legal framework to make it feasible for IDPs to vote,” Idowu said.

INEC is in the process of identifying refugee camps and counting the number of people potentially excluded, Idowu said. Many of the displaced are in small groups scattered across the country.

Source: Reuters


Election council to audit vote in Venezuela

Venezuela’s electoral council announced Thursday night that it would audit the 46 percent the vote not scrutinized on election night in a concession to opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who said he believes it will prove he is the president.

“We are where we want to be,” a satisfied but cautious-looking Capriles told a news conference after the announcement. “I think I will have the universe of voters needed to get where I want to be.”

Capriles had demanded a full vote-by-vote recount but said he accepted the National Electoral Council’s ruling, which marked a surprising turnaround for President-elect Nicolas Maduro, whose government had a day earlier looked to be digging in its heels.The late President Hugo Chavez’s heir is being inaugurated on Friday and was in Lima, Peru, on Thursday night for an emergency meeting of South American leaders to discuss his country’s electoral crisis.

The meeting began late and it was not clear whether any of the continent’s other leaders — Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff wields the most influence — had pressured Maduro to accept the audit.

Capriles ducked the question when asked by an Associated Press reporter for his explanation of the concession.

Maduro had never rejected it publicly, and it was possible that pressure from the military or more moderate members of his ruling clique were a factor.

The so-called Chavistas controls all the levers of power in Venezuela, so the electoral council’s decision can only be seen as having the government’s imprimatur.

A petition to halt Maduro’s inauguration had been rejected earlier Thursday by the country’s highest court.

Opposition supporters waxed optimistic, even triumphant, on social networks, hoping this could lead to national reconciliation in a bitterly divided nation where half the people have just rejected Chavismo without Chavez, who endeared himself to the poor but who Capriles argued had put the country with the world’s largest oil reserves on the road to ruin.

“Maduro isn’t sleeping tonight,” tweeted Rocio San Miguel, director of an independent group that monitors Venezuela’s military.

Capriles, 40, called on his supporters to back down from confrontation and play music, preferably salsa, instead of banging on pots, as they have been nightly all week since the council ratified Maduro’s victory to protest what they considered a stolen ballot.

That man who had been calling Maduro illegitimate and belittling him as incompetent was now saying go ahead with the inauguration.

“We know where the problems are,” Capriles said, referring to the votes cast in the 12,000 voting machines that council President Tibisay Lucena said would be audited beginning next week and would take a month to complete.

The opposition has been battered for years by Chavez and many of its members say political repression has only increased under Maduro, including the arrests of more than 300 protesters this week for staging marches against Sunday’s alleged election theft.

Capriles said he will insist that every single vote receipt be counted and compared to voter registries as well as to voting machine tally sheets.

In announcing the audit, Lucena did not say whether authorities would do that. But a council spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not permitted to be named, said the audit would be done as Capriles specified.

Venezuela’s electronic voting system emits receipts for every ballot that are boxed up with the tally machines. The government says the boxes are in warehouses, guarded by troops.

Maduro was declared the winner of Sunday’s election by a slim 267,000-vote margin out of 14.9 million ballots cast. That did not include more than 100,000 votes cast abroad, where more than 90 percent were cast for Capriles in elections last October.

He had squandered in less than two weeks a double-digit lead in the polls as Venezuelans upset by a troubled economy, rampant crime, food shortages and worsening power outages turned away from a candidate they considered a poor imitation of the charismatic leader for whom he long served as foreign minister.

Capriles maintains the vote was stolen from him through intimidation and other abuses and presented a long list of abuses including using the threat of violence to force opposition monitors from 283 polling stations, in some cases at gunpoint.

No international election monitors were scrutinizing the vote and Capriles has said that some members of the military were arrested for trying to prevent abuses.

Lucena’s announcement seemed a sharp turnaround from a government that has a stranglehold on all state institutions and waged a crackdown on protests all week. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court chief had announced that the full recount Capriles demanded was not legal.

But Capriles said the government would need to prove its sincerity by carrying out the audit in good faith and without subterfuge.

All week, Maduro had been accusing him of trying to mount a coup by dispatching “neo-Nazi gangs” allegedly bankrolled and directed by the United States. His government blamed Capriles for eight deaths and 70 injuries it said were caused by right-wing thugs.

The 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader who was sworn in as acting president after Chavez died last month after a long fight with cancer. He has served Chavez as foreign minister for six years.

“I am not going to be a weak president,” Maduro said before flying to Lima. “I am going to be a president with a firm hand against coup plotters, against inefficiency and corruption.”

But a leading human rights lawyer said Thursday that Venezuela had this past week seen its worst political repression in six years with the beating by National Guard troops in the western city of Barquisieto of dozens of opposition supporters inside a barracks for refusing to recognize Maduro’s victory.

 Source: AP


Falkland Islanders vote overwhelmingly to keep British rule

Residents of the Falkland Islands voted almost unanimously to stay under British rule in a referendum aimed at winning global sympathy as Argentina intensifies its sovereignty claim.

The official count on Monday showed 99.8 percent of islanders voted in favor of remaining a British Overseas Territory in the two-day poll, which was rejected by Argentina as a meaningless publicity stunt. There were only three “no” votes out of about 1,500 cast.

“Surely this must be the strongest message we can get out to the world,” said Roger Edwards, one of the Falklands’ assembly’s eight elected members.

“That we are content, that we wish to retain the status quo … with the right to determine our own future and not become a colony of Argentina.”

Pro-British feeling is running high in the barren and blustery islands that lie off the tip of Patagonia, at the southern end of South America. Turnout was 92 percent among the 1,649 Falklands-born and long-term residents registered to vote.

Three decades after hundreds died when Argentina and Britain went to war over the far-flung South Atlantic archipelago, islanders have been perturbed by Argentina’s increasingly vocal claim over the Malvinas – as the islands are called in Spanish.

Local politicians hope the resounding “yes” vote will help them lobby support abroad, for example in the United States, which has a neutral position on the sovereignty issue.

“We’re never going to change Argentina’s claim and point of view, but I believe there are an awful lot of countries out there that are sitting on the fence … this is going to show them quite clearly what the people think,” Edwards said.

The mood was festive as islanders lined up in the cold to vote in the low-key island capital of Stanley, some wearing novelty outfits made from the red, white and blue British Union Jack flag.

“We are British and that’s the way we want to stay,” said Barry Nielsen, who wore a Union Jack hat to cast his ballot at the town hall polling station in Stanley, where most of the roughly 2,500 islanders live.


Argentina’s fiery left-leaning president, Cristina Fernandez, has piled pressure on Britain to negotiate the sovereignty of the islands, something London refuses to do unless the islanders request talks.

Most Latin American countries and many other developing nations have voiced support for Argentina, which has stepped up its demands since London-listed companies started drilling for oil and natural gas off the Falklands’ craggy coastline.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the referendum clearly showed the islanders wanted to remain a British overseas territory.

“All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland Islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy,” he said in a statement.

“We have always been clear that we believe in the rights of the Falklands people to determine their own futures and to decide on the path they wish to take. It is only right that, in the 21st century, these rights are respected.”

However, officials in Buenos Aires questioned the referendum’s legitimacy. They say the sovereignty dispute must be resolved between Britain and Argentina and cite U.N. resolutions calling on London to sit down for talks.

“This (referendum) is a ploy that has no legal value,” said Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to London.

“Negotiations are in the islanders’ best interest. We don’t want to deny them their identity. They’re British, we respect their identity and their way of life and that they want to continue to be British. But the territory they occupy is not British,” she told an Argentine radio station.

Argentina has claimed the islands since 1833, saying it inherited them from the Spanish on independence and that Britain expelled an Argentine population.

The 1982 war, which killed about 650 Argentines and 255 Britons and ended when Argentina surrendered, is widely remembered in Argentina as a humiliating mistake by the discredited and brutal dictatorship in power at the time.

But most Argentines think the islands rightfully belong to the South American country and they remain a potent national symbol that unites political foes.

Falkland islanders, who are enjoying an economic boom thanks partly to the sale of oil and natural gas exploration licenses, say they do not expect Monday’s result to sway Argentina.

“Argentina’s stance on the Falklands will stay the same,” said Stanley resident Craig Paice, wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Our Islands, Our Decision” as he waited to vote on Monday.

“But hopefully the world will now listen and know the people of the Falkland Islands have a voice.”

Source: Reuters


UN to vote on new North Korea sanctions Thursday

The U.N. Security Council, ignoring threats from North Korea, is set to impose a fourth round of even tougher sanctions against Pyongyang in a fresh attempt to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the current council president, said the council will vote on the draft sanctions resolution Thursday morning. The resolution was drafted by and the United States and China, North Korea’s closest ally.

The success of a new round of sanctions could depend on enforcement by China, where most of the companies and banks that North Korea is believed to work with are based.

The council’s agreement to put the resolution to a vote just 48 hours later signaled that it would almost certainly have the support of all 15 council members.

In anticipation of the resolution’s adoption, North Korea has threatened to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War.

The Korean People’s Army Supreme Command, citing the U.S.-led push for sanctions, threatened Tuesday to cancel the armistice agreement on March 11 because of ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills that began March 1. Without elaborating, the command also warned of “surgical strikes” meant to unify the divided Korean Peninsula and of an indigenous, “precision nuclear striking tool.”

Such threats have become increasingly common from North Korea as tensions have escalated following last December’s rocket launch and Pyongyang’s third nuclear test on Feb. 12, in defiance of three council resolutions that bar North Korea from testing or using nuclear or ballistic missile technology and from importing or exporting material for these programs.

U.S. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said the proposed resolution, to be voted on at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), would impose some of the strongest sanctions ever ordered by the United Nations.

The final version of the draft resolution, released Wednesday, identified three individuals, one corporation and one organization that would be added to the U.N. sanctions list if the measure is approved.

The targets include top officials at a company that is the country’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of ballistic missile-related equipment and a national organization responsible for research and development of missiles and probably nuclear weapons.

The United States and other nations worry that North Korea’s third nuclear test pushes it closer to its goal of gaining nuclear-armed missiles that can reach the U.S. The international community has condemned the regime’s nuclear and missile efforts as threats to regional security and a drain on the resources that could go to North Korea’s largely destitute people.

The draft resolution condemns the latest nuclear test “in the strongest terms” for violating and flagrantly disregarding council resolutions, bans further ballistic missile launches, nuclear tests “or any other provocation,” and demands that North Korea return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It also condemns all of North Korea’s ongoing nuclear activities, including its uranium enrichment.

But the proposed resolution stresses the council’s commitment “to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution” and urged a resumption of six-party talks with the aim of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula “in a peaceful manner.”

The proposed resolution would make it significantly harder for North Korea to move around the funds it needs to carry out its illicit programs and strengthen existing sanctions and the inspection of suspect cargo bound to and from the country. It would also ban countries from exporting specific luxury goods to the North including yachts, luxury automobiles, racing cars, and jewelry with semi-precious and precious stones and precious metals.

According to the draft, all countries would now be required to freeze financial transactions or services that could contribute to North Korea’s nuclear or missile programs.

To get around financial sanctions, North Koreans have been carrying around large suitcases filled with cash to move illicit funds. The draft resolution expresses concern that these bulk cash transfers may be used to evade sanctions. It clarifies that the freeze on financial transactions and services that could violate sanctions applies to all cash transfers as well as the cash couriers.

The proposed resolution also bans all countries from providing public financial support for trade deals, such as granting export credits, guarantees or insurance, if the assistance could contribute to the North’s nuclear or missile programs.

It includes what a senior diplomat called unprecedented new travel sanctions that would require countries to expel agents working for sanctioned North Korean companies.

The draft also requires states to inspect suspect cargo on their territory and prevent any vessel that refuses an inspection from entering their ports. And a new aviation measure calls on states to deny aircraft permission to take off, land or fly over their territory if illicit cargo is suspected to be aboard.

Source: AP


South Koreans vote in tightly-fought presidential poll

Millions of South Koreans are casting ballots in a presidential election seen as too close to call.

Park Geun-hye of the governing Saenuri party is looking to make history as South Korea’s first female president.

But she faces a tough challenge from Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party, who has been steadily eroding her lead in the polls.

Whoever wins will replace President Lee Myung-bak, who is stepping down, as the law requires, after his five-year term.

Economic issues including welfare provision and job creation have dominated campaigning.

‘New era’

Polls opened at 06:00 (21:00GMT) and close 12 hours later. Three television stations will release joint exit polls when voting closes, with formal results expected early on Thursday.

Seven hours in, polling was brisk with turnout at 45.3% – up from 36.7% at the same point in the previous election in 2007, Yonhap news agency said.

A national holiday has been declared so people can cast their ballots.

“Though it’s cold today, I hope you will take part in the voting and open up a new era that every one of you has yearned for,” Ms Park said after voting in Seoul.

Park Geun-hye is the daughter of former military ruler General Park Chung-hee, a polarising figure credited with transforming South Korea into an economic success story during his 1961-1979 rule, but accused of ruthlessly crushing dissent.

Both Ms Park’s parents were assassinated – her mother in 1974 by a pro-North Korea gunman and her father in 1979 by his own spy chief.

Ms Park, 60, who in September apologised for human rights abuses during her father’s era, said on Tuesday she would be “a president of the people’s livelihoods, who thinks only about the people”.

“I will restore the broken middle class and open an era in which the middle class make up 70% of the population,” she said in a news conference at her party’s headquarters in Seoul.

Mr Moon, a former human rights lawyer, was once jailed for protesting against General Park’s regime.

He was a chief of staff to Mr Lee’s predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, who killed himself in 2009 while under investigation for corruption.

In his news conference, Mr Moon pointed to the current corruption and incompetency allegations surrounding Ms Park’s own party.

“This overall crisis… will not be resolved by replacing the representative player. We must change the entire team,” the 59-year-old said.

Casting his ballot on Wednesday, he appealed for voters to turn out. “If you have been unsatisfied over the last five years, please change the world with your votes,” he said.

For all their differences, the two candidates have put forward remarkably similar policies, the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Seoul says.

They have both promised to boost social welfare spending, close the gap between the rich and poor and rein in the country’s family-run giant conglomerates, known as chaebol.

On the issue of North Korea, which has not featured heavily in the campaign despite its recent rocket launch, both candidates have promised more engagement with Pyongyang – though, in Ms Park’s case, more cautiously than her rival.

Our correspondent says the electorate appears to be more engaged than usual, with one recent poll suggested more than 80% of voters are planning to cast their ballots

South Korea uses a first-past-the-post system, and so the candidate with the most votes will become president.

Source: BBC