- Egypt's Islamists aim to build on constitution vote
- Obama consoles Connecticut town, vows effort to tame violence
- Chavez allies sweep Venezuela vote, but Capriles holds seat
Posted: 16 Dec 2012 08:21 PM PST
CAIRO (Reuters) - President Mohamed Mursi has won initial backing from Egyptians for a new constitution that he hopes will steer the country out of crisis, but which opponents say is an Islamist charter that tramples on minority rights.
A first day of voting in a referendum on the draft basic law resulted in 56.5 percent 'Yes' vote, Mursi's political party said. An opposition official conceded that Egyptians voting on Saturday appeared to have backed the measure.
Next Saturday's second set of balloting is likely to give another "yes" vote as the voting then will be in districts generally seen as even more sympathetic towards Islamists, and that would mean the constitution should be approved.
But the apparent closeness of the early tally gives Mursi only limited comfort as it exposes deep divisions in a country where he needs to build a consensus for tough economic reforms.
If the constitution passes, national elections can take place early next year, something that many hope will usher in the stability that Egypt has lacked since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.
"The referendum was 56.5 percent for the 'yes' vote," said a senior official in the operations room set up by the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party to monitor voting.
A statement from the opposition National Salvation Front did not explicitly challenge the Brotherhood's vote tally, saying instead that voting malpractices meant a rerun was needed.
Rights groups reported abuses such as polling stations opening late, officials telling people how to vote, and bribery. They also criticised widespread religious campaigning that portrayed "No" voters as heretics.
A joint statement by seven human rights groups urged the referendum's organisers "to avoid these mistakes in the second stage of the referendum and to restage the first phase".
Mursi and his backers say the constitution is vital to move Egypt's democratic transition forward. Opponents say it is too Islamist and ignores the rights of minorities, including the Christians who make up 10 percent of the population.
The build-up to Saturday's vote was marred by violent protests. Demonstrations erupted when Mursi awarded himself extra powers on November 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution through an assembly dominated by his Islamist allies and boycotted by many liberals.
However, the vote passed off calmly, with long queues in Cairo and other places, though unofficial tallies indicated turnout was around a third of the 26 million people eligible to vote this time. The vote is being held over two days because many of the judges needed to oversee polling staged a boycott in protest.
The opposition had said the vote should not have been held given the violent protests. Foreign governments are watching closely to see how the Islamists, long viewed warily in the West, handle themselves in power.
"BLOOD AND KILLINGS"
"It's wrong to have a vote or referendum with the country in the state it is in - blood and killings, and no security," said Emad Sobhy, a voter who lives in Cairo.
As polls closed late on Saturday, Islamists attacked the offices of the newspaper of the liberal Wafd party, part of the opposition National Salvation Front coalition that pushed for a "no" vote.
Violence in Cairo and other cities plagued the run-up to the referendum. At least eight people were killed when rival factions clashed during demonstrations outside the presidential palace earlier this month.
"The nation is increasingly divided and the pillars of state are swaying," opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. "Poverty and illiteracy are fertile grounds for trading with religion. The level of awareness is rising fast."
A narrow loss could still hearten the leftists, socialists, Christians and more liberal-minded Muslims who make up the disparate opposition, which has been beaten in two elections since Mubarak was overthrown last year.
They were drawn together to oppose what they saw as a power grab by Mursi as he pushed through the constitution. The National Salvation Front includes prominent figures such as ElBaradei, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and firebrand leftist Hamdeen Sabahy.
In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of those casting ballots. There are 51 million eligible voters in the nation of 83 million.
The army deployed about 120,000 troops to protect polling stations. While the military backed Mubarak and his predecessors, it has not intervened in the present crisis.
(Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad; Writing by Edmund Blair and Giles Elgood)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 16 Dec 2012 08:09 PM PST
NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday demanded changes in the way the country dealt with gun violence, though he avoided the use of the word "gun" itself in consoling the Connecticut town shattered by the massacre of 20 young schoolchildren.
Obama said the world would judge the nation by the way it cared for its children, and that Friday's slaughter left that judgment wanting.
"Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I've been reflecting on this in the last few days. And if we're honest with ourselves the answer's no," Obama told a packed auditorium at Newtown High School at the end of a sombre multi-faith service.
"We're not doing enough and we will have to change."
The emotional prayer vigil capped a day when worshippers sought solace in churches to mourn the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where a gunman used a military-style assault rifle to kill six adults and 20 first-graders before committing suicide.
A more detailed picture of Adam Lanza's stunning attack emerged on Sunday. Police said he was armed with hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines of about 30 rounds each for the Bushmaster AR 15 rifle and two handguns he carried into the school. He had a fourth weapon, a shotgun, in his car outside.
All the dead children were either 6 or 7 years old, feeding more emotion into a revived debate about whether stricter gun laws could prevent future mass shootings in the United States.
Obama noted it was the fourth time in his presidency he had needed to console a community after such an attack, following the shootings in Tucson, Arizona in January, 2011; Aurora, Colorado in July; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August.
"Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of the nation," Obama said. "I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts."
Obama, who on Friday wiped away tears as he addressed the nation following the killings, sombrely spoke the first names of the 20 children. People in the audience wailed and cried out as they heard the names.
He said he would convene a meeting of law enforcers, parents, educators and others in an effort to prevent future tragedies, but he did not specifically call for tougher gun laws, mindful of the heated debate ahead on the issue.
PICTURE OF THE CRIME
While townspeople grieved, investigators examined forensic evidence and scoured the crime scene in a process likely to extend for weeks. Many more witnesses needed to be interviewed, possibly including children who survived the attack, state police Lieutenant Paul Vance said.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said the gunman shot his way through a school door "using several rounds" before beginning to kill adults and children inside, then killed himself as police closed in.
"He discharged to make an opening and then went through it, went to the first classroom ... went to the second classroom. We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that, decided to take his own life," Malloy said on the ABC show "This Week."
"This sick fellow, you know, clearly mentally ill, killed his mother, proceeded to go on and kill a great number of people," Malloy added.
MEMORIALS DRAW MOURNERS
Townspeople and visitors took solace in church on Sunday. Mass at St. Rose Catholic church was packed. The priest's announcements included news that the Christmas pageant rehearsal would go on as planned, but without 6-year-old Olivia Engel, killed on Friday before she could play the role of an angel.
Makeshift memorials appeared in this affluent town of 27,000 people about 80 miles (130 km) from New York City. The largest, festooned with flowers and teddy bears, sat at the end of Dickenson Drive where Sandy Hook Elementary stands.
As children walked down the street in the rain, carrying their toys and signs, a man sat on the back of his parked car playing a mournful tune on a violin to accompany them.
"This is a time to come together," said Carina Bandhaver, 43, who lives in nearby Southbury.
The children who survived will not have to return to the scene of the massacre. They will attend classes at an unused school in a Connecticut town about 7 miles (11 km) away, school officials said. Classes elsewhere in the town will resume on Tuesday, except at Sandy Hook.
Several Democratic lawmakers called for a new push for U.S. gun restrictions on Sunday, including a ban on military-style assault weapons.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the author of an assault-weapons ban that lapsed in 2004, said she would introduce new legislation this week.
Gun rights advocates have countered that Connecticut already has among the strictest gun laws in the nation.
Police were trying to establish the relationship between Adam Lanza, Nancy Lanza and the school, and whether the mother and her sons were frequent visitors to gun ranges, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.
In addition to the military-style Bushmaster assault rifle, a civilian version of the weapon used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, police said Lanza carried Glock 10 mm and Sig Sauer 9 mm handguns into the school.
Nancy Lanza legally owned a Sig Sauer and a Glock, handguns commonly used by police, in addition to the long gun, according to law enforcement officials.
Lanza had struggled at times to fit into the community and his mother pulled him out of school for several years to home-school him, said Louise Tambascio, the owner of My Place Restaurant, where his mother was a long-time patron.
(Additional reporting by Edith Honan, Martinne Geller, David Ingram and Chris Francescani; Writing by Daniel Trotta, Jim Loney and Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Will Dunham and Jackie Frank)
Connecticut survivors to attend school in neighbouring town
Democrats vow to push for gun control measures in U.S. Congress
Connecticut survivors to attend school in neighbouring town
Factbox - A profile of weapon used in Connecticut massacre
Factbox - Identities of Connecticut shooting victims
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 16 Dec 2012 08:08 PM PST
CARACAS (Reuters) - Allies of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez swept to victory by taking nearly all of Venezuela's 23 states in elections on Sunday, but Henrique Capriles consolidated his position as top opposition leader by winning re-election as governor.
Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda, beat Chavez's former vice president Elias Jaua to retain control of the country's second-most populous state, leaving him as candidate-in-waiting if Chavez's ill health forces him aside.
The ruling Socialist Party, however, extended its control over the South American OPEC nation, snatching four states from the opposition to win 20 of the 23 states.
Possibly benefiting from a wave of sympathy over Chavez's battle to recover from cancer surgery, it staged several upsets, including a victory in the most populous state of Zulia.
The youthful Capriles' re-election will help maintain unity among the historically fractured opposition in a potential election against Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's anointed successor.
Though his supporters whooped for joy, the subdued tone of Capriles' victory speech and long faces of some in his campaign team reflected the reality of the drubbing the opposition took.
"I'm happy for Miranda, but not for our Venezuela," Capriles said, accusing Socialist Party candidates of bolstering their showing by offering handouts to voters and exploiting Chavez's illness. "The day must come when we defeat this abuse of power."
Capriles won by just four percentage points, lower than his camp and most analysts had predicted.
Another prominent opposition leader, Henri Falcon, a former government ally who broke with Chavez in 2010, also won re-election. His broad popularity and appeal to working class voters have left many considering him a potential challenger to the socialist government.
"Nobody here is surrendering," said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, head of the opposition Democratic Unity coalition.
In southern Bolivar state, the opposition candidate refused to accept the official results that showed him losing on Sunday. He alleged irregularities in the vote count and called on supporters to protest in the street.
'RED IN ALL CORNERS'
The results signalled the continued dominance of Chavez's socialist leadership despite his ill health and in spite of widespread complaints about shoddy roads, unsafe streets and poor electrical services.
The vote date may have hurt the opposition, with plenty of middle-class opposition supporters already starting holidays.
Chavez's brother Adan comfortably held their agricultural home state of Barinas, while the president's former military comrade Francisco Arias unseated a prominent opposition leader, Pablo Perez, in oil-rich Zulia state.
"It's been an immense victory. The map is red in all corners," said Socialist Party campaign coordinator Jorge Rodriguez.
Turnout was a poor 54 percent, reflecting weariness with politics after the recent presidential campaign and the closeness of Christmas. Opposition sympathizers have grumbled that the date was intentionally chosen to heighten voter abstention to the benefit of Chavez allies.
The nation remains focused on Chavez's recovery in Cuba from Tuesday's six-hour operation - his fourth since he was diagnosed with cancer in the pelvic region in mid-2011.
Chavez's struggle with a third bout of cancer has raised the possibility of a return to the polls just months after the October presidential election in which he beat Capriles to win a third term.
Officials say Chavez has regained full consciousness, is giving instructions from his bed, and was following Sunday's vote closely.
"The commander-president continues to stabilize. The trend remains positive," his son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, who serves as science and technology minister, said from Havana.
The official updates of his health are shy on details, however, so speculation is rife that Chavez may be in a life-threatening situation in Havana's Cimeq hospital with both a difficult post-operative recovery and a possible spreading of the cancer.
Chavez, 58, is due to start a new term on January 10, but has named Maduro as his preferred successor should he be incapacitated. That would trigger a new presidential poll within 30 days.
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Kieran Murray)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Star Online: World Updates |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|