Khamis, 24 Oktober 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Madagascar votes in first presidential election since 2009 coup


ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - The people of Madagascar began voting on Friday in a presidential election they hope will end a five-year crisis and rebuild investor confidence to mend an economy crippled since President Andry Rajoelina seized power in a 2009 coup.

It was the first vote on the huge nickel- and vanilla-producing island off Africa since the upheaval triggered by protests and mutinous soldiers that drew sanctions against Madagascar and prompted donors to freeze crucial budget support.

Election officials at one primary school in the capital, Antananarivo, showed the first voters and political party representatives the empty plastic ballot boxes before sealing the containers. The first ballots were cast shortly after 04.00 a.m. British Time.

"We need to end this crisis. As far as I am concerned, this election is our last chance," said laboratory worker Faly Richard Randrianarivo. "The vote should allow our next leaders to tackle the high unemployment and our schools."

Rajoelina, a former disc jockey, and the wife of the man he ousted, Marc Ravalomanana, were barred by an electoral court from competing. With no clear favourite among the 33 candidates, the election is not expected to produce an outright winner, meaning a likely runoff in December.

Initial results are likely to come in slowly on the island, which is a bit smaller than Texas. The electoral commission has until November 8 to announce a provisional count.

Presidential hopefuls have crisscrossed the Indian Ocean isle famed for its exotic wildlife and threatened rainforests, promising free primary education, better management of mineral resources and a crackdown on corruption.

Many Malagasy are less optimistic, however, and fear the result will be disputed. That would risk prolonging uncertainty and more turmoil on the world's fourth largest island, situated in the Indian Ocean, as it struggles to lure back foreign investors, tourists and donors.


Madagascar's cash-strapped economy needs budgetary support back from foreign donors, its finance minister told Reuters.

Rajoelina, 39, rose to power after galvanising popular anger at Ravalomanana's perceived abuses of power. He spearheaded violent street protests in early 2009 and toppled the self-made millionaire after dissident soldiers swung behind him.

Diplomats said they were keeping a watchful eye on the military, still headed by a general who backed Ravalomanana's ouster and whose commanders are seen as loyal to Rajoelina.

"The Malagasy want a president ... who is not hungry for power. The people deserve a better future," Rajoelina said late on Thursday in a pre-recorded address to the country.

The bitter rivalry between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana persists. Both men agreed with regional states not to run for the presidency in order to help restore order, but remain influential in the voting, analysts say.

Ravalomanana, who fled to South Africa and remains there, has openly backed Jean Louis Robinson, a former minister during his presidency and regarded as a serious contender.

Publicly, Rajoelina has not endorsed a candidate. But two aspirants, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister, and Edgard Razafindravahy, are both widely seen as close political associates of the outgoing president.

One Western diplomat said flaws in the voting process were inevitable but that the alternative was another delay. Rajoelina first promised an election in late 2010.

"Everybody knows the vote cannot be perfect but everybody is playing the game," said Lydie Boka of French risk group StrategiCo. "Given the circumstances, maybe that is the best they can do."

(Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney)

Man arrested in northern Mexico suspected of killing 79


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A 20-year-old man in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey has admitted to killing 45 people, and is being investigated for 34 more, officials said on Thursday.

Juan Pablo Vazquez was caught earlier this month in Monterrey where he was allegedly selling drugs, said Nuevo Leon state security spokesman Jorge Domene.

Vazquez, who said he was part of an unidentified local organized crime group, has already admitted being behind 45 killings and "is related to at least 79 murders, most of them committed in 2012," Domene told a news conference.

Mexico has suffered from a wave of drug-related violence, with about 1,000 people a month dying in gangland killings. About 80,000 people have died since 2007 in cartel violence.

(Reporting by Noe Torres and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner and Peter Cooney)

China court upholds life sentence for Bo Xilai


BEIJING (Reuters) - A court in eastern China rejected an appeal by ousted senior politician Bo Xilai on Friday and upheld his life sentence on charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Bo, once a rising star in China's leadership circles who had cultivated a following through his populist, quasi-Maoist policies, was jailed for life in September after a dramatic fall from grace that shook the ruling Communist Party.

His career was stopped short last year by a murder scandal in which his wife, Gu Kailai, was convicted of poisoning a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who had been a family friend.

In a brief announcement carried on its Weibo microblog, Xinhua said that the high court in the eastern province of Shandong, where Bo was originally tried, had rejected his appeal. It gave no further details.

Bo's guilty verdict had been unlikely to be overturned as the courts are controlled by the Communist Party, which had pronounced him guilty long ago.

President Xi Jinping, who took office in March, will have wanted the Bo affair settled because the next few weeks are critical for his government.

At a closed-door party plenum next month, Xi will push for more economic reforms and he needs unstinting support from the party's elite 200-member Central Committee.

Bo, 64, who was Communist Party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, mounted an unexpectedly fiery defence during his trial, denouncing testimony against him by his wife as the ravings of a mad woman hoping to have her own sentence reduced.

He repeatedly said that he was not guilty of any of the charges, although he admitted making some bad decisions and shaming his country by his handling of former Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun, who first told Bo that Gu had probably murdered Heywood.

Wang, who fled to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu in February last year after confronting Bo with evidence that Gu was involved in the murder, was also jailed last year for covering up the crime.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)


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