Ahad, 13 April 2014

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Abdullah leads Ghani in first partial results of Afghan vote

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 04:13 AM PDT

KABUL: Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah is leading his closest rival Ashraf Ghani in the Afghan presidential election, the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) said Sunday.

"Today we announce the partial results of 26 provinces with 10 percent of votes counted, these include (provinces) in the north, south, east, west and Kabul," said Yousuf Nuristani, the IEC chief.

"With 500,000 votes from 26 provinces Dr Abdullah is leading with 41.9 percent; Dr Ashraf Ghani has 37.6 percent and is in second; and Zalmai Rassoul has 9.8 percent in third position."

A run-off election between the two leading candidates will be triggered if no single candidate gains more than 50 percent of the vote when the final results are announced in late May.

Of the eight provinces for which results have not been announced, two are in the north (Badakhshan and Baghlan), two in the east (Nuristan and Paktika), central Daykundi, southern Ghazni and Wardak and western Ghor.

Abdullah, who was born to an ethnic Pashtun father and a Tajik mother, is more associated with the northern Tajiks.

More than seven million people defied bad weather and Taliban threats of violence to vote in the April 5 first round of the election, earning praise from world leaders.

Ahead of the vote there were fears that a repeat of the massive fraud which blighted Karzai's re-election in 2009 would undermine the winner's legitimacy at a testing time for the war-torn country. -AFP

Power, water shortages as Cyclone Ita stalks Australia

Posted: 12 Apr 2014 08:47 PM PDT

SYDNEY, April 13, 2014 (AFP) - Thousands of homes were without power and residents of worst-hit Cooktown were warned clean water was about to run out as cyclone Ita rolled along Australia's Barrier Reef coast Sunday.

Downgraded from a category four to a category one storm after making landfall late Friday, Ita continued to bring heavy weather as it tracked along the coast, with roads, power and water cut and warnings of flash flooding from torrential rain.

Some 16,000 homes were without electricity and several roads were shut due to flooding, according to emergency officials. No deaths or major destruction have been reported.

In Cooktown, which bore the brunt of the storm as it barrelled into the coast, water was rationed to drinking and "minimal" sanitation only, with severe shortages due to storm damage.

"Police are around patrolling now because naturally people say 'oh, we've got the water back, we'll hose off our house or driveway or whatever'. That can't happen otherwise we will run out of water this afternoon," Cook shire council CEO Steven Wilton told ABC radio.

Queensland premier Campbell Newman inspected the damage in Cooktown, where four buildings were destroyed and another 50 were damaged by the storm. Banana plantations in the region were flattened.

Elsewhere, Newman said rain had damaged up to 20 homes and another 30 had been cut off in the tourist town of Port Douglas by flooding.

"We can expect significant rainfall right down the coast. Falls of up to 300mm (12 inches) in locations. That means we are going to see significant flooding on various coastal rivers and creek systems," he said.

"It means that roads will be blocked and again I urge people - restrict their travel to only the vital travel.

"The best way people can remain safe is to sit in their homes and wait this one out."

Newman appointed a disaster recovery coordinator to take up residence in the area for the next three months and oversee the clean-up.

Squalling winds and heavy rains lashed towns further south as Ita tracked parallel to the coast, with the weather bureau warning it would remain a "vigorous extra-tropical system" even after being downgraded from cyclone strength. That was expected to occur sometime on Tuesday.

On Sunday, rainfall of up to 400mm (16 inches) was expected in some areas, bringing flash flooding, and "abnormally high tides" were forecast with wind gusts of up to 110kph (68mph), the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Before weakening offshore, Ita had threatened to be stronger than the monster Cyclone Yasi system that tore through the region just over three years ago, ripping homes from their foundations and devastating crops.

Marine researchers said they expected extensive damage to the Great Barrier Reef's corals in Ita's path. When Yasi crossed in 2011 coral cover on exposed reefs was reduced to less than two percent.

Tropical cyclones are common in Australia's northeast and northwest during the warmer months. - AFP

India PM hopeful Modi reassures Muslims on traditions

Posted: 13 Apr 2014 12:24 AM PDT

New Delhi (AFP) - Hindu hardliner Narendra Modi, tipped to be India's next premier, sought Saturday to reassure Muslims he would respect their religious traditions, as 14 people died in the worst violence since the start of a marathon election.

Modi's statements in a rare television interview aired late Saturday came as police confirmed Maoist rebels in insurgency-hit central India killed 14 people, most of them involved in staging election.

Protection of India's secular status has surfaced as a key election issue with critics worrying Modi's Hindu nationalist rhetoric could stoke religious tensions in a country where 13 percent of the 1.2-billion population is Muslim.

While India is majority Hindu, it also has one of the world's largest Muslim populations.

Modi, leading the campaign of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said he refused to don a skullcap presented to him by a Muslim cleric three years ago because he did not want "to hoodwink people".

"I believe in respecting traditions of all religions. But at the same time, I have to respect my own tradition as well although I respect all traditions. I can't hoodwink people by wearing such skullcaps.

"But I believe in taking action against those who show disrespect to other's caps... they should be given the strictest punishment," said Modi, chief minister of the western of Gujarat. Many Muslims wear skullcaps.

He added: "Every citizen has the same rights as Narendra Modi."

Modi, whose state has prospered under his leadership, paints himself as a pro-business reformist who alone can revive the economy of the world's largest democracy and opinion polls favour the BJP to win the elections, ousting the scandal-tainted Congress party after a decade of rule.

- election security issues -

But Modi, a solitary figure remains a divisive figure after being accused of failing to swiftly curb 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in which at least 1,000 people died.

Modi has repeatedly rejected accusations of wrongdoing and investigations have never found grounds to charge him.

Meanwhile, two landmine blasts left 14 dead in impoverished Chhattisgarh state, marking the deadliest violence since polling began last Monday and highlighting security issues around the election.

Seven polling officials died when Maoists blew up their bus, police officer Gurjinder Pal Singh told AFP.

Five security men carrying out an election safety sweep who hitched a ride in an ambulance were killed in another attack. The ambulance driver and a paramedic were also killed.

"The Maoists triggered the landmine blasts," Singh, a key official in ensuring election security in the state, a hotbed of Maoist activity, told AFP.

The blasts came on a day when Indians cast ballots in the southern resort state of Goa and in the troubled northeast -- the latest round of the multi-phase elections that wind up May 12 with results due four days later.

Maoist and separatist insurgencies occupy large swathes of India's northeast, northwest and central regions. The vote is being held in stages to allow security forces to move to protect voters.

Modi also told the TV station he favoured upward mobility for Muslims, who official figures show generally are poorer, more illiterate and have lower access to education and smaller representation in public and sector jobs than their Hindu peers.

He suggested Muslims should enjoy the fruits of India's economic progress.

- 'Koran In One Hand, Computer in Other'-

"I believe their children should get better educations. They should have a Koran in one hand and a computer in the other hand," Modi said.

Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi dynasty which has given India three prime ministers, and who is leading the left-leaning Congress's campaign, told India's Aaj Tak television station in a separate interview that Modi has a divisive agenda.

"He represents an ideology that's to make Indians fight one another," Gandhi said.

In the last weeks, religion has become an increasingly explosive issue.

India's election authorities Friday ordered police to investigate remarks by a Modi top aide allegedly aimed at inciting religious violence.

The powerful Election Commission also barred Modi's aide Amit Shah, 50, from holding rallies to keep a check on what it called his "undesirable activities".

The Modi confidante has been in the eye of a storm since he reportedly told several Hindu leaders to seek "revenge" at the ballot box.

He was speaking in a part of northern Uttar Pradesh state torn by Hindu-Muslim violence last September that left about 50 people dead.  -  AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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