Afghanistan's election day has already borne witness to a gun battle in Kabul between police and suspected suicide bombers, rockets falling in Kandahar, a series of attacks in Logar, Ghazni, Baghlan and Takhar and reports that the ink used to dye the fingers of those who have voted, and prevent them from doing so again, is actually not indelible.
The ToD Verdict: It was clear that, with steadily escalating violence and threats from the Taleban, today's elections posed extreme challenges. Many parties have also acknowledged that these elections would not and could not be free and fair to the degree that international observers would normally hope for. With results not due in until Saturday, it is difficult to estimate turnout and the effect of the reported violence. While an electoral official in Kandahar expected turnout in the troubled province to be 40% below that of previous elections in 2004, the UN Mission to Afghanistan has reported a good turnout, especially amongst women.
Meanwhile, it is unclear how accurately those votes that are registered will reflect the will of the electorate. Doubts regarding the ink used to identify voters will only heighten suspicions that these elections will be critically flawed. Suspicions will by no means evaporate after a result is announced; one candidate has already gone so far as to request that voting be stopped. Reports earlier this week that voting cards were being bought and sold may be validated by today's suggestion that a large number of voting cards had been filled out prior to the opening of the polls and concerns over checks at polling stations will be heightened by a report that a thirteen-year-old boy had been able to vote.
Baghdad suffers worst casualties in over a year
Further violence has shaken Iraq just one day after the bloodiest bombings in Baghdad for over a year. Wednesday's blasts reportedly killed around 100 people when a string of explosions, including two truck bombs, went off near the Green Zone in central Baghdad. Today's bomb, which was reportedly attached to a bicycle, was detonated in a market, killing two and injuring eight.
In response to the massive loss of life yesterday the Iraqi Defence Ministry acknowledged a mistake had been made and blamed the negligence of security forces for the attacks. Their announcements were followed by the arrest of ten security personnel.
The attacks come just weeks after the withdrawal of US troops and during the phased removal of blast walls, an act which signalled a, now seemingly misplaced, optimism about the security situation in Iraq.
Somalia imposes martial law as insurgents retake lost ground from government forces
On Wednesday parliamentarians of the Somali transitional government discussed and approved President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's proposal to impose martial law. Whether such a move will be sufficient to restore order in a country wracked with violence is unclear. However, the decision, coupled with a spate of military action by the Somali government, may signal a renewed push by the government to take back control of the country.
As the implementation of martial law was being discussed, government forces drove Islamist fighters from Luq, the second district in the southern region to be captured this week. News of renewed fighting in an attempt by al-Shabab to take back Bulahawa, the first district secured by government forces this week, and the return of Islamists to Luq casts doubt on the ability of the government to take control for long.
Dozens of al Qaeda suspects arrested in Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday that 44 al Qaeda suspects had been arrested and a large number of guns, ammunition and detonators seized in an operation that lasted over a year and ended on 2 August. Forty-three of those arrested were Saudi nationals. Since a series of bloody attacks between 2003 and 2006, Saudi Arabia has clamped down on individuals involved in what they call "deviant groups" with considerable success; it is believed that 991 people have been charged with being involved in terrorist attacks in the last five years. Most recently, in July 2009, 330 people were charged with offences relating to 179 incidents. However, Human Rights Watch puts the number of those detained much higher and has raised concerns about the justice system and the treatment of suspected terrorists in Saudi Arabia.
IAEA accused suppressing information about Iran's nuclear aims
Israeli newspapers have accused the IAEA of suppressing evidence of Iran's nuclear weapons plans. On Wednesday Haaretz reportedthat the IAEA had knowingly omitted an annex from its report on Iran. The annex supposedly contained information about Iran's attempts to obtain nuclear weapons capabilities. Haaretz cited Western and Israeli sources for its information, but Israeli authorities failed to confirm its reports and it is not clear who the Western sources were.
It remains to be seen whether the accusations will derail an apparent about-turn by the Iranians regarding their willingness to take part in nuclear talks.
North Korea sends good will delegation to new Mexico
North Korea will send a delegation to the funeral of former South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, later this week. Kim Dae-jung is widely known for his efforts in improving relations between North and South Korea, two countries officially at war for over half a century. North Korea also sent a message of condolence. The decision by North Korea to send a delegation is the latest of several efforts seemingly aimed at bettering relations with its Southern neighbour and the international community in general. This week North Korean diplomats travelled to the US to meet with the governor of New Mexico, reportedly to discuss renewable energy technology. Although neither recent talks with Bill Clinton nor the upcoming talks with the governor of New Mexico have had White House involvement, it is suspected that discussions have and will embrace broader issues in US-North Korean relations than official press releases suggest.
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