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Many Afghans too scared, skeptical to vote

International | Saturday’s election outcome could exacerbate the country’s unrest
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 10/01/19, 06:21 pm

Fears about terror attacks and disillusionment with an ineffective government kept many Afghans home during this past weekend’s national election.

“I voted last time, but the result just made the country worse,” 36-year-old Farhad Azimi said. Only about 20 percent of 9.66 million registered voters turned out, the country’s lowest participation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Those who did vote chose from 18 contenders for the presidency, including incumbent Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive and Ghani’s toughest competition. Preliminary results are expected by Oct. 17. If no candidate wins 51 percent of the vote, the top two will enter a runoff.

Ahead of the election, the Taliban vowed to target polling stations and warned civilians to stay away. The government deployed security troops numbering more than 70,000 to polling centers and some major cities.

Interior Minister Massoud Andarabi said authorities recorded 68 Taliban attacks during voting, including in the capital, Kabul. The Afghanistan Analysts Network, a research organization, counted about 400 attacks. The violence killed at least five people and left dozens of others injured. In the southern city of Kandahar, a bomb attack at a polling station injured at least 15 people.

Afghans who braved the insecurity complained of incomplete voters’ lists, malfunctioning biometric identification systems, and fraud. Election officials closed 431 polling stations because they couldn’t guarantee voters’ safety.

Complaints of election irregularities marred the last vote in 2014, and the United States mediated a power-sharing deal between the same top contenders after months of disagreements. Ghani became president and Abdullah served as chief executive, although tensions remained between the two. So far, both men have claimed victory in Saturday’s vote.

The timing is direr this year since the election comes only weeks after U.S. negotiations with the Taliban failed.

Graeme Smith, a consultant with the International Crisis Group, said the Taliban likely will try to use the low turnout to legitimize its claim that the ruling government does not reflect the will of the people. But the resumption of talks also depends on the willingness of the United States. “Unfortunately for the people of Afghanistan, they’re still stuck in the war,” Smith said.

Getty Images/Photo by Alex Wong (file) Getty Images/Photo by Alex Wong (file) Members of the Chinese Church of Almighty God gather to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4 in Washington.

China cracks down on state-run church

Having the official backing of the government has not protected China’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches in recent months. Communist authorities ordered many of the Protestant churches to replace displays of the Ten Commandments with quotes from President Xi Jinping.

The human rights news site Bitter Winter reported last week that officials closed some churches that refused and threatened to blacklist others. An unidentified pastor from a state-run church called it the last stage of government efforts to erode Christian doctrine.

“The Communist Party’s ultimate goal is to ‘become God,’” he told Bitter Winter. “This is what the devil has always done.”

The Chinese government threatened one church in the city of Luoyang even after it replaced its Ten Commandments display with the president’s quotes. “The party must be obeyed in every respect,” United Front Work Department authorities warned the church. “You have to do whatever the party tells you to do. If you contradict, your church will be shut down immediately.”

Chinese religious persecution isn’t limited to Christians. Last week brought further confirmation of China’s abuse of Uighur Muslims. UCA News reported that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute verified “chilling” drone footage showing police leading hundreds of blindfolded and shackled Uighur Muslim men from a train in Xinjiang. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Nariman El-Mofty Associated Press/Photo by Nariman El-Mofty Protesters in Cairo on Sept. 21

Egyptians challenge al-Sisi’s leadership

Mass demonstrations continue roiling Egypt after protests challenging President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s leadership began two weeks ago across the north African nation.

Authorities have arrested more than 1,900 people since the uprising began. On Friday, police fired tear gas to disperse about 1,000 protesters who gathered on Cairo’s Warraq Island in the Nile River, shouting, “Leave, Sisi.”

The protests began after Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian exiled in Spain, accused al-Sisi of corruption and called for a revolution. Al-Sisi came to power after the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Al-Sisi has since led a crackdown on dissent across the country as he tightens his grip on power.

Egyptians have also faced stringent austerity measures, including subsidy cuts and increasing prices for basic goods. An estimated 32.5 million people live below the poverty line, according to government figures published in July.

Authorities stepped up their security presence across the country, and the Interior Ministry warned it “will confront any attempt to destabilize the country with decisiveness.” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Egyptian authorities to “radically change their approach to any future protests.” —O.O.

iStock/Andrew Marcus iStock/Andrew Marcus The coastal resort area of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, along the Red Sea

Saudi Arabia now a vacation spot?

Saudi Arabia is now open to tourists from 49 countries, including the United States, China, and nations in Europe.

The announcement last week was the latest attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to steer the economy away from the oil sector. The country previously restricted visas to pilgrims and business travelers.

But the allowance also comes with “public decency” rules and fines for breaking them. The kingdom relaxed mandatory coverings for women but still requires them to wear “modest clothing.” It will also restrict access to Mecca and Medina, cities with high significance in Islam. Other barred activities include public displays of affection and playing music during prayer time.

Saudi Arabia hopes to welcome 100 million foreign visitors by 2030, which could create up to 1 million jobs. In 2017, authorities announced a multimillion-dollar project to transform 50 islands and other prime locations on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.

The crown prince is also working to minimize accusations of extremism and human rights abuses. Earlier in September, he met with nine evangelical Christians from the United States. And on Sunday, he told CBS News’ 60 Minutes he took full responsibility for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but he denied he ordered the murder. —O.O.

Extremists kill Nigerian aid worker

An offshoot of Boko Haram has executed one of six Nigerian aid workers kidnapped in July.

Extremists from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) abducted Grace Taku, a Christian and a staff member of Action Against Hunger, along with three health workers and three drivers as they traveled in northeastern Borno state.

The aid group condemned the killing, saying it “urgently calls for the release of the hostages, with a reminder that they were present in the northeast of the country only to help the most vulnerable.”

ISWAP and Boko Haram continue sporadic attacks in the region 10 years after the insurgency began. Last week, ISWAP shot and killed two other Nigerian Christians abducted in Borno state. In September, the Nigerian army ordered the closure of Action Against Hunger, accusing the group of supplying extremists with food and medical aid. And last week, Mercy Corps announced it will suspend operations in Borno and Yobe states following similar closures of four of its field offices. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Wed, 10/02/2019 12:58 pm

    It seems to me that the ideals of Democracy and the beliefs of Islam are always going to be in conflict. 

    Might be a mistake to think every group everywhere should be governed in a democratic fashion.