1) Voters in Georgia Deciding Fate of Government
Voters in Georgia are choosing a new parliament in a heated election Monday that will decide the future of the pro-Western government of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Emotions are running high in an election that is competitive not only for Georgia but for much of the former Soviet Union.
If Saakashvili’s party loses, it would be the first time in Georgia’s post-Soviet history that a government has been changed not through revolution but at the ballot box. The governing party, which has dominated parliament, is up against a diverse opposition coalition led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire businessman who has posed the most serious challenge to Saakashvili since he came to power almost nine years ago. With the opposition accusing the government of violations aimed at manipulating the vote, Saakashvili is under pressure to prove his commitment to democracy by holding a free and fair election.
Both sides have promised to respect the results if the election receives the approval of international observers. About 1 million of Georgia’s 3.6 million eligible voters live in Tbilisi, the capital, where opposition support is strongest. Lines formed outside some polling stations in the morning, and the Central Election Commission said turnout in the first four hours of voting had surpassed 25 percent. The U.S. ambassador joined calls for a peaceful election. “I encourage the public to remain calm, have faith and be patient while all the results are counted and any challenges are properly evaluated,” Ambassador Richard Norland said. Under Saakashvili, the former Soviet republic has aligned itself with the United States, while striving to join the European Union and NATO one day.
2) Somali and African Union troops ‘enter Kismayo’
The first Somali government and African Union troops are reported to have entered the strategic Somali port of Kismayo, witnesses have told the BBC.
They have been battling the al-Shabab militia for control of the city. On Saturday, the al-Qaeda aligned militants said they had withdrawn from Kismayo after an AU military assault.
Kenyan and Somali forces had launched an attack on the Islamist group’s last major bastion the day before. Reports as to the size and make up of the AU contingent have been mixed. One resident told the BBC Somali Service that a small infantry unit of 11 Somali soldiers had entered the city from the west and were patrolling on foot on the main roads of Kismayo, while another said he had seen both Kenyan and Somali troops entering the city centre from the airport.
A spokesperson for the Somali government forces, Mohamud Farah, told the Reuters news agency that they had sent “450 [troops] to patrol the town and settle the police headquarters”. Kenyan troops are part of an African force trying to wrest control of Somalia from militants for the new United Nations-backed president. After resisting the AU and Somali advance on Friday, al-Shabab announced it had shut its five-year administration in Kismayo the next day for strategic reasons. A spokesperson for the Kenyan military told the BBC last week that he feared the withdrawal might be a trap, making the army reticent to enter Kismayo. There have been unconfirmed reports that al-Shabab may have mined parts of the town.
Correspondents say the loss of Kismayo will be a major blow to the Islamists. Somalia’s second largest port is a significant source of revenue for whoever controls it and al-Shabab had also used the port to bring in weapons. African Union troops pushed al-Shabab from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011. Along with other pro-government forces they have gone on to take control of most of the major towns previously in militants hands. But the al-Qaeda-linked group’s fighters are still highly active in much of the countryside in southern and central Somalia and have carried out attacks in cities they no longer control. Since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has seen clan-based warlords, Islamist militants and its neighbours all battling for control.
3) Army deployed, 150 held after Buddhist sites torched in Bangladesh
Bangladesh today deployed army to keep vigil in coastal Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong cities as police arrested 150 suspected rioters, who torched nearly a dozen Buddhist temples over an alleged anti-Islam post on Facebook, sparking communal tension in the Muslim majority country.
“So far 150 suspected rioters were arrested and a manhunt is on for others… law enforcement agencies have been asked to enforce a strict vigil for against outbreak of any fresh violence,” Home Minister Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir said. He said security agencies were particularly asked to enforce a vigil against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingyas who took refuge in Bangladesh after an ethnic conflict with majority Buddhist community at their home in eastern Rakhine state. Additional police superintendent of Cox’s Bazar Babul Akhtar said 118 suspects were arrested from Ramu and adjacent areas alone while police chased and tracked them down also at the port city of Chittagong.
“Most of the suspects were arrested from areas outside Ramu as the rioters fled their homes to evade justice,” Akhtar told PTI over phone. Besides police, the authorities have deployed anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion, Border Guards Bangladesh and army personnel in the affected areas. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered a high- level probe to identify the perpetrators of the attacks. “An investigation is going on at the highest level to find out those associated with such a heinous act. The law enforcers have been instructed to handle firmly with any such situation,” she said in New York on the sidelines of UNGA session.
Authorities also ordered punitive actions against the attackers who also damaged or set ablaze several dozens of homes of followers of Buddhist faith after midnight Saturday and yesterday at Ramu and neighbouring Ulhia. Witnesses said army troops provided tents and offered food to Buddhists who were rendered homeless overnight after the attack and while military and paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh convoys patrolled the streets in Ramu. “The Buddhists who had fled their homes to evade the attackers returned but the situation is tensed while police and RAB officials said they are looking for the bigots,” said a journalist from the scene.