Violence, Confusion Surround Afghan Parliamentary Elections

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by RAHIM FAIEZ, AMIR SHAH and KATHY GANNON / The Associated Press.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in eight years suffered from violence and chaos Saturday, with a multitude of attacks killing at least 36 people, key election workers failing to show up and many polling stations staying open hours later than scheduled to handle long lines of voters.

Problems surrounding the elections — already three years overdue — threaten to compromise the credibility of polls which an independent monitoring group said were also marred by incidences of ballot stuffing and intimidation by armed men affiliated with candidates in 19 of the country’s 32 provinces. Some areas have yet to vote, including Kandahar, where the provincial police chief was gunned down Thursday.

Stakes were high in these elections for Afghans who hoped to reform Parliament, challenging the dominance of warlords and the politically corrupt and replacing them with a younger, more educated generation of politicians. They were also high for the U.S., which is still seeking an exit strategy after 17 years of a war there that has cost more than $900 billion and claimed more than 2,400 U.S. service personnel.

Deputy Interior Minister Akhtar Mohammed Ibrahimi said 36 people were killed in 193 insurgent attacks across the country: 27 civilians, eight police officers and one Afghan soldier. He said attackers used everything from grenades to small arms fire to mortars and rocket launchers, and that security forces killed 31 insurgents.

The most serious attack on the polls was in a northern Kabul neighborhood where a suicide bomber blew himself up just as voting was about to end, killing three people and wounding another 20, many of them seriously, said Dr. Esa Hashemi, a physician at the nearby Afghan Hospital. Interior and defense ministry officials said 15 people were killed or wounded, including several police.

Polling stations also struggled with voter registration and a new biometric system that was aimed at stemming fraud, but instead created enormous confusion because many of those trained on the system did not show up for work. Also, the biometric machines were received just a month before polls and there was no time to do field testing.

Many polling stations opened as much as five hours behind schedule. The Independent Election Commission was uncertain how many of the estimated 21,000 polling stations closed by 4 p.m. local time, the original closing time. Polling was extended until 8 p.m. local time for all those polling stations that opened late, and those that could not open before 1 p.m. local time will open Sunday.

Afghanistan’s deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq expressed outrage at the chaotic start to polling and assailed election preparation by the country’s election commission.

“The people rushed like a flood to the polling stations, but the election commission employees were not present, and in some cases they were there but there were no electoral materials and in most cases the biometric systems was not working,” he said.

“The widespread reports today of confusion and incompetence in the administration of the elections … suggest that bureaucratic failures and lack of political will to prioritize organizing credible parliamentary elections may do more to delegitimize the election results than threats and violent attacks by the Taliban and Daesh,” said Andrew Wilder, vice-president of Asia Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, using the Arabic acronym name for the Islamic State group.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani marked his ballot at the start of voting. In a televised speech afterward, he congratulated Afghans on another election and praised the security forces, particularly the air force, for getting ballots to Afghanistan’s remotest corners.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said, also reminding those elected that they are there to serve the people and ensure the rule of law.

North of Kabul, thousands of outraged voters blocked a road after waiting more than five hours for a polling station to open, said Mohammad Azim, the governor of Qarabagh district where the demonstration took place.

Election Commission Commissioner Abdul Badi Sayat said dozens of teachers who had been trained in the new biometric system had not shown up for work at the polling stations. It wasn’t clear whether that was related to a Taliban warning directed specifically at teachers and students telling them to stay away from the polls.

“The long lines at many polling stations today, despite the threats and violent attacks by the Taliban and Daesh, clearly demonstrate that the problem with Afghan elections is not the enthusiasm of Afghan voters for a democratic future,” said Wilder.

The Defense Ministry said it had increased its deployment of National Security Forces to 70,000 from the original 50,000 to protect polling stations.

Elections in the provinces of Kandahar and Ghazni have been delayed as well as in 11 of the country’s nearly 400 districts.

The Independent Election Commission registered 8.8 million people. Wasima Badghisy, a commission member, called voters “very, very brave” and said a turnout of 5 million would be a success.

At a polling station in crowded west Kabul, Khoda Baksh said he arrived nearly two hours early to cast his vote, dismissing Taliban threats of violence.

“We don’t care about their threats. The Taliban are threatening us all the time,” said 55-year-old Baksh, who said he wanted to see a new generation of politicians take power in Afghanistan’s 249-seat Parliament. He bemoaned the current Parliament dominated by warlords and corrupt elite. “They have done zero for us.”

In the run-up to the elections, two candidates were killed while polling in Kandahar was delayed for a week after a rogue guard gunned down the powerful provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq. In the capital of Kabul, security was tight, with police and military personnel stopping vehicles at dozens of checkpoints throughout the congested city.

Commission deputy spokesman Aziz Ibrahimi said results of Saturday’s voting will not be released before mid-November and final results will not be out until later in December.

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Trump, Biden Campaign on Opposite Sides of Nev. Senate Race

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ZEKE MILLER / The Associated Press.

ELKO, Nev. — Campaigning on opposite sides of a pivotal Senate race, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden appealed to party loyalists in Nevada as early voting began Saturday in the state.

Wrapping up a three-day visit to Western states with midday rally in rural Elko, Trump lent support for Dean Heller, considered the most vulnerable GOP senator on the Nov. 6 ballot as Republicans hope to retain their Senate majority. The GOP-leaning region of the battleground state is crucial to Trump’s hopes of protecting or expanding Republicans’ 51-49 edge in the Senate.

“If you want to protect America’s laws borders, sovereignty and even your dignity, you need to go out today and vote,” Trump said as he asked supporters to raise their right hands in a pledge to go to the polls.

A short time earlier and 400-plus miles south, Biden headlined a Las Vegas rally at a union local to promote Heller’s challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen, and other Democratic candidates, as he encouraged Nevada residents to get out and vote.

“This election is literally bigger than politics. It’s bigger than politics,” Biden said. “No matter how old or young you are, you have never participated in an election that is as consequential as this election national and locally.”

Trump struck much the same theme throughout the week, as he has tried to frame the choices for voters in the upcoming election. He has sought to focus on immigration as one of the defining election issues and has falsely accused Democrats of wanting “open borders” and encouraging illegal immigration.

“They’ve gone loco,” Trump said.

Trump referenced Biden’s appearance in Las Vegas, mocking the smaller crowd drawn by his potential 2020 rival, compared with the thousands he gathered on an airport tarmac in the more sparsely populated part of the state.

Trump deployed a refrain he had fine-tuned during his Western swing, declaring that “Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs.”

“That’s called hashtag,” he said to the crowd. “That’s a new hashtag. That’s a hot one.”

Trump branded Heller’s opponent “Wacky Jacky,” as he sought to cast Rosen as beholden to Democratic coastal elites, including Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

In Las Vegas, Biden criticized Trump for his approach to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, his equivocating on white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., and his immigration policies, including the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border

American values, “are being shredded,” Biden said. “They’re being shredded by a president who is all about himself. It’s all about Donald.”

In a tweet before leaving Arizona, Trump called Heller “a man who has become a good friend” and said he needed the senator’s “Help and Talent in Washington.”

Trump praised Heller for his votes for conservative Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The later faced allegations of decades-old sexual assault during his confirmation hearings, prompting impassioned Senate hearings and fraught votes.

“We stuck with Justice Kavanaugh, because he was the right man,” Trump said.

But Heller himself once had rocky relations with Trump and had returned a campaign donation from then-candidate Trump over Trump’s immigration rhetoric. Last year, Trump threatened Heller’s re-election chances when the senator held up GOP efforts to repeal the Obama-era health law. But Heller has since become an ally of the president, who has made two fundraising stops for him in Nevada this year already.

Heller and Rosen held their first and only debate of the campaign on Friday. Heller accused her of making a visit to see separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border in order to stage a “photo-op,” while she described Heller a “rubber-stamp” for Trump, whose tax plan she said benefits the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

In a further sign of the state’s importance in the midterms, former President Barack Obama scheduled a stop Monday in Las Vegas.

He won Nevada in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the state by 2 percentage points over Trump in 2016. But during the last midterm elections in 2014, many Democrats stayed home and Republicans won key races across the state, which has a 29 percent Latino population.

The country’s immigration system has long vexed politicians from both parties, and Republicans themselves have torpedoed near-compromises in recent years. Yet Trump tweeted Saturday that “we could write up and agree to new immigration laws in less than one hour” if Democrats “would stop being obstructionists and come together.”

“Call me,” he told the Democratic leaders in Congress, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. It seemed reminiscent of the time last year when Trump cracked open the door of bipartisanship with those leaders, who emerged from a White House meeting to say Trump had agreed to work toward a deal on protection young immigrants. But no agreement came to pass.

The Biden-Trump circling of one another in the same state happened recently in Kentucky, where Biden campaigned for a Democratic congressional candidate on a Friday night and Trump held a rally the next evening.


Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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Nearly A Million People Protest For A Brexit Revote

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Hundreds of thousands of people in London took to the streets to protest the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union. 

Organizers estimated about 700,000 protesters took part in Saturday’s “People’s Vote March.”

The protesters are demanding that a second referendum take place, saying that new information like the cost and complexity of the exit may impact people’s desire to leave.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has passed on the idea of a revote. At a recent speech she remarked, “We had the people’s vote and the people chose to leave.”

In the region’s first referendum, 52 percent of voters favored leaving the EU. May has struggled to negotiate a withdrawal deal with the trading bloc, but warned the she’s open to leaving with no deal at all.

 Britain is currently slated to exit the EU on March 29.

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN

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Greek Prime Minister Welcomes Macedonia Name-Change Vote

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says Macedonia's recent decision to change its name will bring the country closer to joining "international organizations."

On Friday, the Macedonian Parliament took the first step toward changing the country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia. The full name-change procedure requires two more rounds of voting in Parliament and could take months.

Greece has historically rejected Macedonia's name, which it argues belongs to the northern Greek region of the same name. It has subsequently blocked the country's attempts to join the EU and NATO.   

The former Yugoslav republic hopes changing its name will open the door for Macedonia to join those organizations. While Tsipras welcomed the move, other members of his own government have been less receptive. 

The leader of the right-wing Independent Greeks party that's part of Tsipras' governing coalition has threatened to break up the coalition if the Greek Parliament also approves the name change. 

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Russian National Charged With Interfering In Upcoming Election

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The Justice Department has accused a Russian national with interfering in the upcoming November election. It says a Russian woman named Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova from St. Petersburg managed a multimillion-dollar budget for online propaganda to "sow division and discord" ahead of the midterms. 

The unsealed criminal complaint describes a Russian effort to use topics like immigration, gun control, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBTQ issues, the Women's March and the NFL national anthem debate to "inflame passions." The social media posts allegedly manipulated multiple political viewpoints but frequently targeted the GOP.

The complaint says Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin and his companies funded the $35 million budget. Prigozhin is currently facing a criminal charge from special counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly funding a similar attack on the 2016 election.

The New York Times reports unsealing the complaint on Friday is the Trump administration's latest attempt to make Americans aware of election interference. 

Khusyaynova lives in Russia, so she can avoid extradition to the U.S. Typically, these charges wouldn't become known until she traveled to a country where she could be detained.

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.

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Report: Israeli Cybersecurity Tools Used for Repression Abroad

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Naomi LaChance.

Israeli cybersecurity companies sold lucrative surveillance systems to countries that then committed human rights violations, according to a report by Haaretz published Friday. The programs were used to prosecute LGBT citizens, detain human rights activists and discriminate against Muslims, according to 100 sources in 15 countries.

Intelligence experts who previously served in the Israeli Defense Force’s Unit 8200 went on to take new products to market, according to the report. A sprawling, lucrative, largely unregulated industry, based in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Herzliya Pituah, sells to foreign governments that then use the products to spy on their citizens’ electronic communications.

One source who worked for the company Verint, which makes a range of surveillance products, in Latin America: “There was one time that I was teaching people how to collect information from the social networks. I’m working with the trainees and explaining things to them, when suddenly they ask me to run a check on [political] demonstrators. Just like that, in the middle of the training session.”

Israeli equipment has been used to monitor dissidents in South Sudan, Nigeria and Colombia. It was also used to monitor social networks in Angola and Malaysia.

According to an anonymous source who works in the Israeli cybersecurity field:

<blockquote>Even when limitations are placed over the capabilities of the computer programs, the companies don’t know who they will be used against. Everyone in this field knows that we are manufacturing systems that invade people’s lives and violate their most basic rights. It’s a weapon— like selling a pistol. The thing is that in this industry, people think about the technological challenges, not about the implications. I want to believe that the Defense Ministry supervises exports in the right way.</blockquote>

“I can’t constrict my client’s capabilities,” another Israeli cybersecurity expert said. “You can’t sell someone a Mercedes and tell him not to drive faster than 100 kilometers an hour. The truth is that the Israeli companies don’t know what use will be made of the systems they sell.”


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Hundreds of Thousands March in London to Demand New Brexit Vote

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by SYLVIA HUI / The Associated Press.

LONDON—Hundreds of thousands of protesters opposed to Britain’s impending exit from the European Union marched through central London on Saturday, demanding a new referendum and to have a say on the government’s final Brexit deal with the EU.

Organizers say another public vote is needed because new facts have come out about the costs and complexity of Britain’s exit from the bloc since voters chose to leave in 2016.

They estimated that some 700,000 people took part Saturday in the “People’s Vote March,” which saw 150 buses of marchers pour into the British capital from all across the country. Police did not provide an attendance estimate.

“What’s clear is that the only options on the table now from the prime minister are a bad Brexit deal, or no deal whatsoever,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who joined the march, told the BBC. “That’s a million miles away from what was promised 2 1/2 years ago.”

Khan said Saturday’s protest was a “march for the future” for young Britons, including those who were too young to vote in Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum, when those who favored leaving the EU won narrowly by 52 percent.

The mayor, from the opposition Labour Party, has previously backed mounting calls for a fresh referendum so the public can have a say on whether they accept Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal or choose to stay in the EU.

May, the leader of Britain’s Conservatives, has ruled out another public vote on the subject.

That didn’t stop the crowds on Saturday from demanding one. Among them was “Lord of the Rings” actor Andy Serkis, who marched with his son and wife. Serkis said he believes there should be a second referendum “now that people are more informed.”

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but negotiations over the divorce have been plagued by disagreements, particularly over the future border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It will be the U.K.’s only land border with the EU after Brexit, for Ireland is part of the EU and Northern Ireland is part of the U.K.

One of the great accomplishments of the 1998 peace deal that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland was to dismantle the police and military presence at the border with Ireland. Many on both sides do not want a “hard” border again.

There are also growing fears of a “no-deal” British exit, which could create chaos at the borders and in the EU and the British economies.

May, speaking at an inconclusive EU summit in Brussels this week, said she would consider extending a proposed 21-month post-Brexit transition period for the U.K — one that could keep Britain aligned to EU rules for more than two years after its March departure.

The EU has said extending that period would give more time to strike a trade deal that ensures the Irish border remains friction-free. Pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, however, saw it as an attempt to bind the country to the bloc indefinitely.

“This week’s fresh chaos and confusion over Brexit negotiations has exposed how even the best deal now available will be a bad one for Britain,” said Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the House of Lords. “Voters will neither forgive nor forget if (lawmakers) allow this miserable Brexit to proceed without people being given the final say.”

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Afghans Head To The Polls, Despite Taliban Attacks

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Afghans headed to the polls Saturday, even as violent attacks in the country looked to discourage participation. 

A suicide bombing at a polling place in Kabul reportedly killed at least 15 people and injured dozens more. Attacks leading up to the vote have left several candidates and more than 30 other civilians dead.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for many of those attacks, including one in Kandahar province that left Kandahar's police chief dead. The group says the election is an American-orchestrated sham.  

Aside from violence, the election — which the government has delayed for three years, citing security concerns — has also been plagued by allegations of fraud from critics of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. Opposition parties had argued for an additional delay to the vote to implement anti voter-fraud measures.  

Additional reporting by Newsy affiliate CNN.

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75,000 People’s Data Compromised Signing Up For The ACA

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75,000 people have had their data compromised through one of the Affordable Care Act's enrollment portals. That's according to a statement released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Friday.

The Associated Press reports credit and personal information like "Social Security numbers, income, and citizenship or legal immigration status" are all details people provide to seek coverage.

8.7 million people used to sign up for health plans in 2018, so the affected 75,000 is actually a small percentage. But the statement said the department considers any breach unacceptable. 

This comes a few weeks before the six-week enrollment period for Affordable Care Act health care coverage starting in November. The hacked system was reportedly shut down and officials are hoping to get it back up and running in time.

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US Moves To Leave Nuclear Weapons Treaty With Russia

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The U.S. is reportedly planning on leaving a major nuclear weapons treaty with Russia that's been in place for more than 30 years. 

The New York Times reports National Security Advisor John Bolton planned to share the U.S.'s plans to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russian officials on his visit to Moscow Saturday. 

President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty in 1987. It prohibits land-based nuclear missiles with ranges from 310 to 3,420 miles. 

Since 2014, the U.S. has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing and deploying banned missiles near its borders with former Soviet countries. 

One motivation for the U.S.'s withdrawal is reportedly China. The country isn't part of the treaty and administration officials have said that gives Beijing an advantage in the pacific. 

Additional reporting by Newsy affiliate CNN.

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