- Congo's Kabila re-elected, opposition claims victory
- Drone crash unmasks U.S. spying effort in Iran
- Police identify gunman in Virginia Tech murder-suicide
Posted: 09 Dec 2011 07:56 PM PST
KINSHASA (Reuters) - The main challenger in Democratic Republic of Congo's election declared himself president on Friday and poured scorn on provisional official results handing victory to incumbent Joseph Kabila.
Clashes broke out between tire-burning protesters and security forces in the mostly pro-opposition capital, Kinshasa, and fears mounted a post-election dispute would reignite conflict in the war-scarred central African state.
The head of the electoral commission said on Friday Kabila won nearly 49 percent of the votes to rival Etienne Tshisekedi's roughly 32 percent, results an observer group later said appeared suspicious.
In Washington, the Obama administration called on Congolese authorities to complete the election process "with maximum openness and transparency."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said the Kinshasa government "remains responsible for providing security for the people of the Congo" and that anyone involved in violence "must be held accountable."
Electoral commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda called for calm. "(The results) are no reason to whip up the population against the established order to contest the results, or to settle scores," he told officials and diplomats gathered to hear the results.
Tshisekedi said he rejected Kabila's victory and considered himself the newly elected leader of Congo.
"I consider these results a real provocation of the Congolese people," he said in an interview on RFI radio. "As a consequence, I consider myself, from today, the elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo."
Opposition supporters burned tires in parts of Kinshasa, a sprawling city of 10 million, and chanted Tshisekedi's campaign slogan, "The people first." A U.N. source said there had been clashes with security forces and reports of shooting.
Gunfire erupted in Mbuji Mayi, an opposition stronghold in the south of the country, an hour after Kabila was named winner, a local civil society leader said. "We can hear gunshots everywhere, it's still going on," he told Reuters.
Celebration broke out in other parts of the country.
At least 18 people have been killed in election-related violence, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, as opposition protesters took to the streets alleging the government was attempting to rig the vote.
The November 28 poll was Congo's first locally organized presidential contest since a war that killed more than 5 million, and is meant to move the country toward stability and encourage investment after years of conflict and turmoil.
Government Communications Minister Lambert Mende said Tshisekedi's self-declaration as president was "nonsense and illegal" and warned that it could spark violence.
"We're calling for Mr. Thshisekedi to come back to legality and not to threaten the peace of the country just because the people didn't choose him," he told Reuters by telephone.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Congolese on Friday to avoid violence over the results.
The dispute mirrored a post-vote crisis in Ivory Coast that sparked a civil war. But unlike in Ivory Coast, the U.N. mission will not be in a position to take sides, as it does not have a mandate to certify the results and did not observe the poll.
The announcement of the result had been delayed twice earlier in the week due to logistical problems and as donor nations urged more transparency, stretching the nerves of residents both eager for and worried about the outcome.
An international observer said workers were analyzing results posted on the election commission website but that they had already spotted a number of irregularities, notably in Katanga, where Kabila scored particularly well.
In some districts of Katanga, voter turnout was pegged at nearly 100 percent with all or nearly all of the votes going to Kabila, according to the website. (click here for an example: http:/www.ceni.gouv.cd/resultat_circons/Malemba-Nkulu.pdf)
"These results aren't even naturally occurring, you simply don't get that many people all being healthy, motivated, getting to the polls and voting in such unison," said David Pottie, mission manager for the U.S.-based Carter Center.
"It's a fundamental mark of disrespect for Congolese voters. ... The sole owner of responsibility for this is the (electoral commission). Its agents have signed off on these kind of results in multiple places," he said.
The website also showed that the results from nearly 2,000 polling stations in Kinshasa, potentially amounting to about 700,000 votes, had not been tallied.
Third-placed finisher Vital Kamerhe said he also rejected the results, in part because of the Katanga numbers. "The Congolese people have chosen Etienne Tshisekedi," he said.
In Katanga's capital, Lubumbashi, the heart of the country's copper mining industry, residents were blowing vuvuzela horns and whistles and others were firing guns into the air in celebration, a foreigner living there said.
"People are singing, there is clearly a lot of joy," he told Reuters by telephone, asking not to be named.
Britain's Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, said he was concerned by reports of irregularities with the vote, but urged that "any challenges to the results should be conducted through the proper channels, not through violence."
"Similarly, the reaction of the security forces to any disturbances will be key; they need to react proportionately and avoid escalating confrontations," he said in a statement.
The government of neighbouring Congo Republic said this week it was preparing a refugee camp north of Brazzaville in case violence forced people to flee across the Congo River.
Kabila came to power when his father, Laurent, was assassinated in 2001, and later won the country's 2006 election. He has struggled to control marauding rebel groups in Congo's east despite U.N. backing.
Congo is last on the U.N. human development index despite rich mineral resources, and investors say it remains one of the most challenging countries in the world in which to do business.
(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Braun in Kinshasa, David Lewis in London and Andrew Quinn in Washington; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by David Lewis, Louise Ireland and Peter Cooney)
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Posted: 09 Dec 2011 05:26 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The crash of a CIA drone in Iran has brought into the open what U.S. intelligence agencies would prefer kept secret: intense spying efforts in a country where the United States has no official presence.
Iran on Thursday aired with great flourish footage of the captured drone, which appeared largely intact. Pentagon and CIA spokesmen would not comment on whether it was the missing U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aircraft.
A person familiar with the situation confirmed that the drone that crashed was on a surveillance mission over Iran.
It is believed to have crashed because of a malfunction and not from being shot down or computer-hacked by the Iranians, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
Although there are risks that Iran could attempt to reverse engineer the technology, or sell it to other countries, like China, U.S. officials believe that Iran will not be able to mine the drone's computer systems to learn details of the U.S. surveillance mission.
U.S. surveillance of Iran through various means has been going on for years, U.S. officials and others with direct knowledge of the situation say.
A private U.S. defence expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that when he visited the command centre at a U.S. military base in the Gulf region in 2008, it was clear that the installation was receiving multiple feeds of electronic surveillance information from inside Iran.
Some of the information appeared to be transmitted from high-altitude aircraft and some from electronic sensors which the United States had somehow installed on the ground in Iran, the expert said.
The United States has no official presence in Iran so it is difficult to determine exactly what is going on inside its borders. One recent incident has yet to be fully unravelled.
EXPLOSION IN ISFAHAN
On November 28, there were contradictory reports out of Iran on whether an explosion had occurred in the city of Isfahan, which is also home to a major nuclear site.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said he has been studying imagery of that area and no damage was detected at the Isfahan nuclear site. But, he said, "it is credible there was an explosion, but not at the nuclear site."
He said it was puzzling that Iranians clearly said an explosion at a missile depot two weeks earlier had been an accident, but did not provide similar clarity about Isfahan. "We're trying to figure out what actually happened," he said.
"Explosions are happening in Iran, and Iran is not making a big deal out of them. They are either calling them accidents or saying they didn't happen, and therefore when these things continue to happen it could be because intelligence agencies are actually now playing sabotage," Albright said.
In the earlier November 12 incident, Iran said a massive blast at a military base west of Tehran killed 17 members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including the head of its missile program, in an accident while weapons were being moved.
When unexplained events occur that appear to be aimed against Iran's nuclear program, experts often question whether U.S. and Israeli intelligence services were at work.
Iran also has had alleged covert operations against the West come to light. Recently, the United States arrested a man accused of being involved in a plot by Iranian agents to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington.
The U.S. government also accuses Iran of arming and funding Iraqi militias responsible for attacking American troops in Iraq.
U.S. officials do not appear to be the least bit disturbed about mishaps to Iran's nuclear and missile programs that include the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site.
"Whether it's due to technical difficulties, incompetence, or other reasons, some setbacks to Iran's activities are welcome," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Writing by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Warren Strobel)
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Posted: 09 Dec 2011 05:21 PM PST
BLACKSBURG, Virginia (Reuters) - The man who fatally shot a campus police officer at Virginia Tech on Thursday before killing himself was a student at a nearby university who had stolen a vehicle at gunpoint the day before, officials said.
Virginia State Police on Friday identified the gunman as 22-year-old Ross Truett Ashley, a part-time student at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.
Ashley entered a real estate office in Radford on Wednesday and demanded the keys to an employee's white 2011 Mercedes Benz sport utility vehicle at gunpoint.
He drove off in the vehicle and later dumped it on the campus of Virginia Tech some time before his deadly confrontation with 39-year-old Deriek Crouse, an officer with the Virginia Tech campus police.
The state police said they had not been able to establish any prior contact or connection between Ashley and Crouse and did not know why he walked up to the officer and shot him before turning the gun on himself in a nearby parking lot.
Ballistics testing confirmed the same weapon was used in both shootings, police said.
The incident prompted a lockdown of the campus on Thursday and evoked memories of an April 2007 rampage by a mentally deranged student who killed 32 people and wounded 25 before committing suicide on the campus about 250 miles (400 km) southwest of Washington. That was one of the worst shooting incidents in U.S. history.
Shortly after noon (5 p.m. British time) Thursday, Crouse had a vehicle stopped in a campus parking lot when he was approached by a man and fatally shot while still in his car, police said. The man then fled.
About 30 minutes later, a sheriff's deputy saw a man acting suspiciously in a parking lot about a half a mile from the first shooting. After briefly losing sight of the man, the deputy found him dead on the ground with a handgun nearby, police said.
Police later recovered a discarded backpack on campus with clothing inside that was similar to that worn by the man seen in video taken by Crouse's patrol car.
OFFICER WAS FOUR-YEAR VETERAN OF FORCE
The man apparently changed clothes on the way to the second parking lot, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said at a media briefing at Virginia Tech. Police are investigating writing found on a wall near the backpack, she said.
Officials did not lift the lockdown on campus until later on Thursday afternoon because they could not immediately identify the man as the shooter and were still investigating tips from the public, Geller said. The body did not have identification on it, but police found an ID in the backpack.
A Virginia Tech student was driving the car that Crouse had stopped, Geller said. The student has been cooperating in the investigation.
Crouse joined the Virginia Tech police department in October 2007 and is survived by his wife, five children and stepchildren, and his mother and brother.
"His death is a tremendous loss to our department," Virginia Tech police chief Wendell Flinchum said at the briefing. Other departments will help patrol the campus while officers grieve, he said.
Virginia Tech implemented new alert systems, including text alerts sent to students' phones, after facing criticism for the school's response to the 2007 shootings. The systems "worked exactly as expected," said Larry Hincker, Virginia Tech's associate vice president for university relations.
(Writing by James B. Kelleher; Additional reporting by Matthew Ward in Portsmouth, Virginia; Editing by Greg McCune and Peter Cooney)
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