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The Star Online: World Updates

Third poll gives Zuluaga edge over Santos in Colombia presidential race

Posted: 16 May 2014 08:30 PM PDT

CARTAGENA (Reuters) - Colombia's right-wing presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga is edging ahead of President Juan Manuel Santos in three voter polls after a survey published on Friday also showed Santos's recently comfortable lead has evaporated nine days before elections.

But the poll was conducted before Friday's announcement that the government had reached a deal with Marxist FARC guerrillas on ending the illegal drug trade. That key advance in peace talks that Santos started with the rebels in 2012 could prop up his support from those eager to see a peace deal.

The FARC and their smaller counterpart, the ELN, also announced a week-long ceasefire on Friday for the elections. Though in talks with the government in Cuba, the FARC are still in combat with government forces at home in Colombia.

Pollster Ipsos Napoleon Franco said Zuluaga, a former finance minister who is sceptical of the peace talks and would impose tougher conditions to continue them, would receive 29.5 percent of first round votes versus 28.5 for Santos. The Ipsos poll was published on the website of broadcaster RCN.

It said both candidates would receive 32 percent of the vote in a run-off ballot in mid-June, which now looks inevitable with both candidates far from the 50 percent needed to secure victory in the first round of the election on May 25.

Two other surveys on Thursday, by pollsters Gallup and by Cifras y Conceptos, also put Zuluaga slightly ahead, but the narrow leads in each, within the surveys' margin of error, technically mean they are tying in the polls.

Santos and Zuluaga differ little on economic issues, both favour investor-friendly policies, so the choice for many voters is likely to come down to their stances on the peace negotiations with Marxist FARC rebels.

While many Colombians have never known peace in their lifetimes and back the talks, some are fearful of the rebels gaining a foothold in politics through a peace deal and that its members will face little or no punishment for years of murder and abduction. The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people.

None of the other candidates in the race would be a direct threat to either Santos or Zuluaga in the first round, with former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa in third-place. He was ahead of Zuluaga in one April poll, but has slipped to 9.4 percent.

The number who would make a blank or protest vote, choosing no candidate, was 12.8 percent in Ipsos' survey, much higher than the 5.9 percent in a Gallup poll on Thursday.

The Ipsos poll of 1,799 people was carried out from May 13 to 15 and has a 2.3 percent margin of error. Santos had gained 5.5 percent more support than Ipsos' April poll while Zuluaga's previous 15 percent support had almost doubled.

(Editing by Matt Driskill)

U.S. judge halts force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoner

Posted: 16 May 2014 07:25 PM PDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked the military from force-feeding a Syrian prisoner on hunger striker at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

It was the first time a judge ordered a halt to force-feeding of a prisoner in Guantanamo, where last year during a hunger strike, as many as 46 of 166 inmates were force-fed at least some of their meals. Several sued.

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the U.S. government to stop force-feeding Abu Wa'el Dhiab until a hearing on May 21. She also ordered the military to stop extracting him from his cell if he refuses to go to feedings.

The judge said the government also must preserve all videotape evidence of forcible cell extractions and force-feeding until the hearing next Wednesday.

Human rights advocates and many doctors call force-feeding a violation of personal liberty and medical ethics. The procedure, designed to keep hunger strikers alive, involves feeding them liquid meals via tubes inserted into their noses and down into their stomachs.

"While the Department follows the law and only applies enteral feeding in order to preserve life, we will, of course, comply with the judge's order here," Defense Department spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale said in reaction to the ruling.

Last July, Kessler, based in Washington D.C., denied Dhiab's request to halt the force-feeding, saying she would be overstepping her authority if she issued an injunction and adding that only President Barack Obama had the power to intervene.

But in February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Guantanamo prisoners have the right to sue over force-feeding and that judges have the authority to consider petitions challenging aspects of how the U.S. military treats them.

Dhiab's attorney's hailed the decision as a turning point.

"This is a major crack in Guantanamo's years-long effort to oppress prisoners and to exercise total control over information about the prison," one of Dhiab's attorneys, Cori Crider said.

"I am glad Judge Kessler has taken this seriously, and we look forward to our full day in court to expose the appalling way Dhiab and others have been treated," Crider added.

(Reporting by Sandra Maler; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington and David Ingram in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Colombia a step closer to peace with pact to fight drugs

Posted: 16 May 2014 07:15 PM PDT

HAVANA/BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's FARC rebels reached a landmark agreement with the government toward eliminating the illegal drug trade and called a week-long ceasefire on Friday, giving a political boost to President Juan Manuel Santos in his re-election bid.

The unilateral ceasefire includes the first round of presidential elections on May 25. It was announced after Santos, once a clear favourite, began to falter in public opinion polls.

The centre-bit president's lead has evaporated with the rise of right-wing rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, now tipped to win in two recent surveys if, as expected, the voting goes to a second-round runoff on June 15.

While Santos has staked his political future on the talks, Zuluaga has threatened to end them if he wins.

Friday's agreement puts the two sides one step closer to ending Latin America's longest-running guerrilla war. Rebel and government negotiators meeting in Havana are seeking to end a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people since 1964.

They agreed to cooperate on eradicating illicit drug cultivation through crop substitution, a departure from the forced destruction of coca fields, often by spraying herbicide and with the help of billions of dollars in U.S. anti-drug aid.

They also reached a deal on the prevention of drug use and a solution to the production and sale of narcotics.

The FARC, which has turned to coca growing to finance its operations, agreed to help convince farmers to plant other crops. The FARC opposes the chemical destruction of coca, and the government promised to spray fields only as a last resort.

Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle called the deal a "landmark" and celebrated what he called a "dream," the possibility that the entire country would "work toward the same goal, in this case, a country without illegal crops and without drug trafficking."

Negotiators have now reached accord on three of the five phases of the talks. Agricultural reform and the rebels' participation in politics were agreed last year, while reparations for war victims and the mechanics of ending the conflict remain the outstanding issues.

In its unilateral ceasefire, the FARC announced it would stop all attacks from the start of May 20 to the end of May 28. The National Liberation Army (ELN), another leftist guerrilla group, also said it would call a ceasefire during the period.

Elections have historically been marred by rebel attacks as the guerrillas sought to intimidate voters.

Santos has sought to sell the idea that without his re-election, peace talks could collapse and Colombia would remain at war indefinitely.

"This is the furthest we have ever come on the path to ending our war," Santos said in a televised speech. "Can you imagine a Colombia without coca? This is within reach of our hands if we implement these agreements."

Zuluaga, an ally of influential former President Alvaro Uribe, has condemned the negotiations and promised to suspend them until the rebels call a definitive ceasefire and accept jail time.

Uribe rose to popularity by taking a hard line against the guerrillas.

(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota, Peter Murphy in Cartagena and Nelson Acosta in Havana; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by W Simon, Bernadette Baum, Andrew Hay, Paul Simao, Jan Paschal and Ken Wills)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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