- Egypt's constitution approved in vote, say rival camps
- Violence, fear & suspicion imperil Pakistan's war on polio
- Egypt constitution approved in vote, say rival camps
Posted: 22 Dec 2012 07:08 PM PST
CAIRO (Reuters) - A constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly was approved by a majority of Egyptians in a referendum, rival camps said on Sunday, after a vote the opposition said drove a wedge through the Arab world's most populous nation.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled President Mohamed Mursi to power in a June election, said 64 percent of voters backed the charter after two rounds of voting that ended with a final ballot on Saturday. It cited an unofficial tally.
An opposition official also told Reuters their unofficial count showed the result was a "yes" vote.
The referendum committee may not declare official results for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals. If the outcome is confirmed, a parliamentary election will follow in about two months.
Mursi's Islamist backers say the constitution is vital for the transition to democracy, nearly two years after the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in an uprising. It will provide stability needed to help a fragile economy, they say.
But the opposition accuses Mursi of pushing through a text that favours Islamists and ignores the rights of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, as well as women. They say it is a recipe for further unrest.
"According to our calculations, the final result of the second round is 71 percent voting 'yes' and the overall result (of the two rounds) is 63.8 percent," a Brotherhood official, who was in an operations room monitoring the vote, told Reuters.
His figures were confirmed by a statement issued shortly afterwards by the group and broadcast on its television channel.
The Brotherhood and its party, as well as members of the opposition, had representatives monitoring polling stations and the vote count across the country.
The opposition said voting in both rounds was marred by abuses and had called for a re-run after the first stage. However, an official said the overall vote favoured the charter.
"They (Islamists) are ruling the country, running the vote and influencing the people, so what else could we expect," the senior official from the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, told Reuters.
The vote was split over two days as many judges had refused to supervise the ballot.
"I'm voting 'no' because Egypt can't be ruled by one faction," said Karim Nahas, 35, a stockbroker, heading to a polling station in Giza, in greater Cairo, in the last round.
At another polling station, some voters said they were more interested in ending Egypt's long period of political instability than in the Islamist aspects of the charter.
"We have to extend our hands to Mursi to help fix the country," said Hisham Kamal, an accountant.
The build-up to the vote witnessed deadly protests, sparked by Mursi's decision to award himself extra powers in a decree on November 22 and then to fast-track the constitution to a vote.
Hours before polls closed, Vice President Mahmoud Mekky announced his resignation. He said he wanted to quit last month but stayed on to help Mursi tackle the crisis that blew up when the Islamist leader assumed wide powers.
Mekky, a prominent judge who said he was uncomfortable in politics, disclosed earlier he had not been informed of Mursi's power grab. The timing of his resignation appeared linked to the lack of a vice-presidential post under the draft constitution.
The new basic law sets a limit of two four-year presidential terms. It says the principles of Islamist sharia law remain the main source of legislation but adds an article to explain this. It also says Islamic authorities will be consulted on sharia - a source of concern to Christians and others.
Rights groups reported what they said were illegalities in voting procedures. They said some polling stations opened late, that Islamists illegally campaigned at some polling places and complained of irregularities in voter registration.
But the committee overseeing the two-stage vote said its investigations showed no major irregularities in voting on December 15, which covered about half of Egypt's 51 million voters. About 25 million were eligible to vote in the second round.
The Brotherhood said turnout was about a third of voters.
The opposition says the constitution will stir up more trouble on the streets since it has not received sufficiently broad backing for a document that should be agreed by consensus, and raised questions about the fairness of the vote.
In the first round, the district covering most of Cairo voted "no," which opponents said showed the depth of division.
"I see more unrest," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party and a member of the National Salvation Front, an opposition coalition formed after Mursi expanded his powers on November 22 and then pushed the constitution to a vote.
He cited "serious violations" on the first day of voting, and said anger against Mursi was growing. "People are not going to accept the way they are dealing with the situation."
At least eight people were killed in protests outside the presidential palace in Cairo this month. Islamists and rivals clashed in Alexandria, the second-biggest city, on the eves of both voting days.
Late on Saturday, Mursi announced the names of 90 new members he had appointed to the upper house of parliament, state media reported, and a presidential official said the list was mainly liberals and other non-Islamists.
A spokesman for the National Salvation Front, which groups opponents who include liberals, socialists and other parties and politicians, said the Front's members had refused to take part.
Legislative powers, now held by Mursi because the lower house of parliament was dissolved earlier this year, will pass to the upper house under the new constitution.
Two-thirds of the 270-member upper house was elected in a vote this year, with one third appointed by the president. Mursi, elected in June, had not named them until now. Mursi's Islamist party and its allies dominate the assembly.
(Writing by Edmund Blair and Giles Elgood; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Todd Eastham)
Egypt president appoints upper house of parliament members
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 22 Dec 2012 06:34 PM PST
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani health worker Bushra Bibi spent eight years trekking to remote villages, carefully dripping polio vaccine into toddlers' pursed mouths to protect them from the crippling disease.
Now the 35-year-old mother is too scared to go to work after masked men on motorbikes gunned down nine of her fellow health workers in a string of attacks this week.
"I have seen so much pain in the eyes of mothers whose children have been infected. So I have never seen this as just a job. It is my passion," she said. "But I also have a family to look after ... Things have never been this bad."
After the deaths, the United Nations put its workers on lockdown. Immunisations by the Pakistani government continued in parts of the country. But the violence raised fresh questions over stability in the South Asian nation.
Pakistan's Taliban insurgency, convinced that the anti-polio drive is just another Western plot against Muslims, has long threatened action against anyone taking part in it.
The militant group's hostility deepened after it emerged that the CIA - with the help of a Pakistani doctor - had used a vaccination campaign to spy on Osama bin Laden's compound before he was killed by U.S. special forces in a Pakistan town last year.
Critics say the attacks on the health workers are a prime example of the government's failure to formulate a decisive policy on tackling militancy, despite pressure from key ally the United States, the source of billions of dollars in aid.
For years, authorities were aware that Taliban commanders had broadcast claims that the vaccination drive was actually a plot to sterilise Muslims.
That may seem absurd to the West, but in Pakistan such assertions are plausible to some. Years of secrecy during military dictatorships, frequent political upheaval during civilian rule and a poor public education system mean conspiracy theories run wild.
"Ever since they began to give these polio drops, children are reaching maturity a lot earlier, especially girls. Now 12 to 13-year-old girls are becoming women. This causes indecency in society," said 45-year-old Mir Alam Khan, a carpet seller in the northern town of Dera Ismail Khan.
The father of four didn't allow any of his children to receive vaccinations.
"Why doesn't the United States give free cures for other illnesses? Why only polio? There has to be an agenda," he said.
While health workers risk attacks by militants, growing suspicions from ordinary Pakistanis are lowering their morale. Fatima, a health worker in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said that reaction to news of the CIA polio campaign was so severe that many of her colleagues quit.
"People's attitudes have changed. You will not believe how even the most educated and well-to-do people will turn us away, calling us U.S. spies and un-Islamic," said the 25-year-old who did not give her last name for fear of reprisals.
"Boys call us names, they say we are 'indecent women'."
Pakistan's government has tried to shatter the myths that can undermine even the best-intentioned health projects by turning to moderate clerics and urging them to issue religious rulings supporting the anti-polio efforts.
Tahir Ashrafi, head of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, said the alliance of clerics had done its part, and it was up to the government to come to the rescue of aid workers.
"Clerics can only give fatwas and will continue to come together and condemn such acts," he said. "What good are fatwas if the government doesn't provide security?"
RISK OF POLIO RETURNING
That may be a tall order in Pakistan, where critics allege government officials are too busy lining their pockets or locked in power struggles to protect its citizens, even children vulnerable to diseases that can cripple or disfigure them.
Pakistani leaders deny such accusations.
Politicians also have a questionable track record when it comes to dealing with all the other troubles afflicting nuclear-armed Pakistan.
The villages where health workers once spent time tending to children often lack basic services, clinics, clean water and jobs. Industries that could strengthen the fragile economy are hobbled by chronic power cuts.
Deepening frustrations with those issues often encourage Pakistanis to give up on the state and join the Taliban.
So far it's unclear who is behind the shootings. The main Taliban spokesman said they were opposed to the vaccination scheme but the group distanced itself from the attacks.
But another Taliban spokesman in South Waziristan said their fighters were behind an attack on a polio team in the northwestern town of Lakki Marwat on Monday. "The vaccinations were part of "a secret Jewish-American agenda to poison Pakistanis", he said.
What is clear is the stakes are high.
Any gaps in the program endanger hard-won gains against a disease that can cause death or paralysis within hours.
A global effort costing billions of dollars eradicated polio from every country except Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Vaccinations cut Pakistan's polio cases from 20,000 in 1994 to 56 in 2012 and the disease seemed isolated in a pocket in the north. But polio is spread person-to-person, so any outbreak risks re-infecting communities cleared of the disease.
Last year, a strain from Pakistan spread northeast and caused the first outbreak in neighbouring China since 1999.
Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said the group had been coming closer to eradicating the disease.
"For the first time, the virus had been geographically cornered," he said. "We don't want to lose the gains that had been made ... Any suspension of activities gives the virus a new foothold and the potential to come roaring back and paralyze more children."
Condemnation of the killings has been nearly universal. Clerics called for demonstrations to support health workers, the government has promised compensation for the deaths and police have vowed to provide more protection.
For women like Fehmida Shah, it's already too late. The 44-year-old health worker lived with her family in a two-room house before gunmen shot her on Tuesday.
Her husband, Syed Riaz Shah, said she spent her tiny salary - the equivalent of just $2 a day - on presents for their four daughters. Even though the family was struggling, she always found some spare money for any neighbour in need.
"She was very kind and big hearted. All the women in our lane knew her," he said.
"The entire neighbourhood is in shock. Pray for my daughters. I will get through this. But I don't know how they will."
(Additional reporting by Imtiaz Shah in Karachi, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Katharine Houreld in Islamabad; Editing by Michael Georgy and Sanjeev Miglani)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 22 Dec 2012 06:15 PM PST
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's new constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly, was approved by 64 percent of voters in a two-round referendum, an official in the Muslim Brotherhood said on Sunday citing the group's unofficial tally.
An official from Egypt's main opposition group, which campaigned against the constitution saying it would deepen divisions in Egypt, also said that its unofficial count indicated the document was approved.
The first round of voting was held on held on December 15 and a second round was staged on Saturday, with roughly half Egypt's 51 million eligible voters covered in each round.
"According to our calculations, the final result of the second round is 71 percent voting 'yes' and the overall result (of the two rounds) is 63.8 percent," the Brotherhood official, who was in an operations room monitoring the vote, told Reuters.
Murad Ali, a senior official in the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, confirmed the numbers. His group propelled President Mohamed Mursi to office in a June election.
The Brotherhood and its party, as well as members of the opposition, had representatives monitoring polling stations and the vote count across the country. The opposition said voting in both rounds was marred by abuses.
"We can tell from the results so far that it will be a 'yes' vote," an official from the National Salvation Front told Reuters. "They (Islamists) are ruling the country, running the vote and influencing the people, so what else could we expect."
(Reporting by Yasmine Saleh; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Bill Trott)
Egypt president appoints upper house of parliament members
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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