Polls close in #Kazakhstan – video

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The polls have closed in Kazakhstan’s election in a vote designed to boost the country’s democratic credentials by giving a non-ruling party a toehold in parliament for the first time.

The image of the former Soviet republic and its veteran President Nursultan Nazarbayev was badly tarnished last month when a long-running protest in a remote oil town was brutally suppressed.

There is no doubt that his governing party will again win by a landslide.

But this time the party coming second will be guaranteed seats – although of several contesting the election, only the Social Democrats are described as real opposition.

The party’s general secretary Amirzhan Kosanov said:

“Parliament’s image needs to be raised, the word MP or ‘deputy’ should become respectable, so that it’s not thought to mean ‘lobbyist’ for a particular oligarch group. It should become part of the public consciousness that all citizens can solve their problems via their deputy.”

No previous Kazakh election has been recognised as democratic by the OSCE, whose observers are again on the ground. The opposition has complained that its monitors have been denied access to numerous polling stations.

Nazarbayev’s strongest critics have been barred from standing.

The president though remains extremely popular in the oil-rich country, despite growing complaints that only an elite few benefit from Kazakhstan’s relative wealth.

Polls close in Kazakhstan’s democratic test – YouTube.

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Headlines 19 Dec 2011

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In addition to news from Palestine, Syria, Egypt and the Bradley Manning trial, these are the headlines of the day.

Ship sinks: Rescuers battled high waves Sunday as they searched for 200 asylum seekers missing and feared dead after their overcrowded ship sank off Indonesia’s main island of Java. So far 33 people have been rescued. Nearly 250 people fleeing economic and political hardship in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Turkey were trying to reach Australia when they ran into a powerful storm 20 miles off Java’s southern coast on Saturday. The ship – carrying more than twice its capacity – broke apart, survivors said.

Platform collapses: An oil drilling platform capsized and sank amid fierce storms off Russia‘s east coast Sunday, plunging dozens of workers into the churning, icy waters. Four were confirmed dead and 49 were missing off the coast of Sakhalin Island, the Emergencies Ministry said. Fourteen were rescued by a ship. There were no immediate reports of environmental damage.

Deadly riot: Violence between striking oil workers and the authorities in western Kazakhstan spread over the weekend, bringing the death toll to 14, the country’s general prosecutor said Sunday. The clashes began Friday in Zhanaozen, where police officers opened fire on workers who had occupied a city square for six months demanding better wages. On Saturday, protesters blocked railroad tracks in nearby Shetpe.

Pakistan protest: More than 30,000 Islamists rallied Sunday against the United States in the Pakistani city of Lahore following NATO air strikes last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The protest was organized by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely believed to be a front group for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba militant organization. Hafiz Saeed, the head of Jammat-ud-Dawa, demanded Pakistan cut off ties with the United States.

Yemen violence: Four Yemeni soldiers and two al Qaeda-linked militants were killed in clashes in the country’s south, officials said Sunday. The fighting took place overnight outside the city of Zinjibar, the Abyan province capital, which Islamic militants seized this year. Fighting with the militants has continued as Yemen tries to emerge from its political crisis. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is due to step down by the end of the month.

Pilots strike: Spanish airline Iberia canceled a third of its flights Sunday because of a strike by pilots fearing job losses when company planes are diverted for use by Iberia’s planned new budget carrier. Iberia said it scrapped 91 flights, mostly domestic routes. Iberia, Spain‘s flagship carrier, insists that no job cuts are planned among its 1,600 pilots.

Election discord: Etienne Tshisekedi, Congo‘s opposition leader, on Sunday declared himself winner of the presidential vote, despite placing second in official election results. Tshisekedi said incumbent President Joseph Kabila’s government “is dismissed starting today.” The declaration came two days after the country’s supreme court upheld Kabila’s victory in the November vote.

Oil deal: Russia‘s Tatneft and Iran have signed a $1 billion preliminary deal to develop the Zagheh oil field, state TV reported Sunday, deepening Moscow’s business links with Iran despite U.S. calls for further sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program. The field, located outside the town of Deilam on the shores of the Persian Gulf, contains an estimated 3 billion barrels of heavy crude oil.

SYRIA: The government agreed Monday to an Arab League plan to send foreign monitors, bowing to growing international pressure to end its bloody crackdown on a nine-month uprising. However the opposition saw the deal as a stalling tactic, especially given reports by activists that more than 100 people were killed on the same day.

EGYPT: Military police and Central Security Forces (CSF) killed three protestors in a failed attempt to clear protesters from Tahrir Square on Sunday night. Protesters accused security forces of using sewage water mixed with kerosene gas during the attack. Two protesters were shot dead by security forces. It is unclear precisely who fired the fatal bullets but video taken from the scene shows both military police and CSF officers shooting into the crowd.

PALESTINE: Celebrations marking the release of 550 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails stretched into the early hours of yesterday morning, but life outside prison will not necessarily mean freedom from the long arm of Israeli authorities.

BRADLEY MANNING: A government digital forensic examiner retrieved communications between accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning and an online chat user identified on Manning’s computer as “Julian Assange,” the name of the founder of the secret-spilling site that published hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables.

MORE NEWS SUMMARIES:

Syria tweets from today http://snup.us/DC Videos: http://snup.us/fde

Mauritania tweets from today: http://snup.us/MRT – Mauritanie nouvelles – الأخبار الأخيرة

Iran Prisoner List http://snup.us/DG and tweets from today http://snup.us/DH

Yemen tweets from today http://snup.us/YF

English: Kim Jong-il, North Korean leader

via News of the Day From Across the Globe.