Bangkok, Mar 24 (AP/UNB) — Voters in Thailand were heading to the polls Sunday in the country's first election since the military ousted an elected government in a 2014 coup.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who led the coup, is hoping to extend his hold on power after engineering a new political system that aims to stifle the influence of big political parties not aligned with the military.
About 51 million Thais are eligible to vote. Leaders of political parties opposed to military rule have urged a high turnout as the only way to derail Prayuth's plans.
The junta leader was among the first to vote in the Thai capital Bangkok, arriving in a Mercedes, after polling booths opened at 8 a.m.
Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, Prayuth said, "I hope everyone helps each other by going to vote today as it's everyone's right."
The election is the latest chapter in a nearly two-decade struggle between conservative forces including the military and the political machine of Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon who upended tradition-bound Thailand's politics with a populist political revolution.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in exile abroad to avoid a prison term, but parties allied with him have won every election since 2001. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who led the government that was ousted in 2014, also fled the country after what supporters said was a politically motivated corruption prosecution.
Thailand's powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn issued a statement on the eve of the election that said the role of leaders is stop "bad people" from gaining power and causing chaos.
Invoking a speech by his father, the previous Thai king who died in 2016 after reigning for seven decades, Vajiralongkorn said not all citizens can be transformed into good people so leaders must be given support in ruling to create a peaceful nation.
He urged government officials, soldiers and civil servants to look after national security.
It was the monarch's second notable intervention in politics recently. Last month, he demanded his sister Princess Ubolratana Mahidol withdraw as a prime ministerial candidate for a small Thaksin-allied party within 24 hours of her announcement.
One of the first people to vote, 92-year-old Prabha Svarachorn, echoed the royal statement.
"I come to vote whenever there is an election," she said. "I think it's our duty to vote for good people. I would like people to come to vote."
Political parties and their main leaders held their final major rallies on Friday evening in Bangkok.
Sudarat Keyuraphan, leader of the main pro-Thaksin party, Pheu Thai, said it would fight to overcome constitutional hurdles erected against it by Prayuth's regime.
"In 2014, they took power with the barrel of a gun, by a coup," she said. "In 2019, they are trying to take away the people's power again through crooked regulations under the constitution."
Concerns about a slowing economy under Prayuth's rule have been an issue in the campaign. Sudarat told the crowd, "Every time we come back, the economy improves, right?"
When it seized power in 2014, the military said it was to end political unrest that had periodically turned violent and disrupted daily life and the economy. The claim has been a major selling point for Prayuth.
London, Mar 24 (AP/UNB) — Anti-Brexit protesters flooded into central London by the hundreds of thousands, demanding that Britain's Conservative-led government hold a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.
The "People's Vote March" on Saturday snaked from Park Lane and other locations to converge on the U.K. Parliament, where the fate of Brexit will be decided in the coming weeks.
Marchers carried European Union flags and signs praising the longstanding ties between Britain and continental Europe. The protest drew people from across Britain who are determined to force Prime Minister Theresa May's government to alter its march toward Brexit.
Independent legislator Chuka Umunna and others supporting a second Brexit referendum estimated the crowd at 1 million.
Around 100 British expats have rallied in the Spanish capital against Britain leaving the European Union.
The protesters chanted slogans against Brexit and many also held up homemade signs, including "17,410,742 people need a good spanking," in reference to the number of Britons who supported leaving the EU in a 2016 vote.
The gathering in Madrid's Margaret Thatcher Plaza on Saturday comes before what is expected to be a massive march in London in favor of a second Brexit referendum.
Protesters are gathering in central London before what is expected to be a massive march in favor of a second Brexit referendum.
The march will conclude outside Parliament, where the fate of the Brexit plan hangs in the balance.
Organizers are hoping to convince lawmakers to back a new referendum on whether Britain should follow through on plans to leave the European Union.
Britain opted to leave in a 2016 referendum, but the process has been stalled by political discord.
Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and other political figures are scheduled to address the crowd.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is not expected to attend. He has not been a strong supporter of the movement seeking a second vote.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has told lawmakers she may not seek passage of her Brexit withdrawal plan in Parliament next week.
The embattled leader wrote to lawmakers Friday night saying she would bring the bill back to Parliament "if it appears that there is sufficient support."
She also says she would need the approval of House Speaker John Bercow to bring the plan back for a third time despite his objections.
Lawmakers have twice rejected the deal. Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on April 12 if no deal is approved.
She told lawmakers Britain still has options including an extension that would require taking part in European Parliament elections in May.
In a conciliatory note, she also offered to meet with lawmakers to discuss Brexit policy.
Somalia, Mar 23 (AP/UNB) —A Somali police officer says security forces have ended a siege by Islamic militants of a government building in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Capt. Mohamed Hussein confirmed that at least five people were killed in the siege that began Saturday morning, including the East African country's deputy minister of labor.
He said at least 10 other people were wounded in the attack that started with a suicide car bombing and then gunfire as five attackers stormed the Mogadishu building that houses the ministries of labor and public works.
The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
A Somali police officer says five people, including the country's deputy labor minister, have been killed in an Islamic extremist attack on a government building in the capital.
Capt. Mohamed Hussein said the minister, Saqar Ibrahim Abdalla, was killed in his ground-floor office shortly after gunmen stormed the building in Mogadishu.
At least five gunmen stormed the building after a suicide car bombing at the gates.
Somali security forces, fighting to take control of the building, were exchanging fire with the militants.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.
Dozens of people in Somalia's capital are believed to be trapped inside a government building amid an Islamic extremist attack.
Gunmen stormed Somalia's ministries of labor and works after a suicide bombing at the gates of the building in Mogadishu, which is near the headquarters of the country's intelligence agency. There has been no word on casualties. Saturday is a working day in Somalia.
Police say five gunmen are involved in the attack and that security forces are fighting to neutralize them. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group has claimed responsibility, saying it has fighters inside the building.
An explosion has been heard in the Somali capital, scene of frequent attacks by Islamic extremist fighters.
Witnesses said Saturday the blast was heard near the headquarters of the Somali intelligence agency in Mogadishu.
Somali police didn't immediately provide more information.
The Somali Islamic extremist group al-Shabab frequently carries out suicide bomb attacks targeting public places and government offices.
Baghouz, Mar 23 (AP/UNB) — U.S.-backed forces in Syria announced Saturday they have liberated the last area held by the Islamic State in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz, declaring victory over the extremist group and the end of its self-declared Islamic caliphate.
"Baghouz is free and the military victory against Daesh has been achieved," tweeted Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, referring to the group by its Arabic acronym.
Elimination of the last IS stronghold in Baghouz marks the end of the militants' self-declared caliphate, which at its height blanketed large parts of Syria and Iraq. The campaign to take back the territory by the U.S. and its partners has spanned five years and two U.S. presidencies, unleashed more than 100,000 bombs and killed untold numbers of fighters and civilians.
But the weekend announcement, in a tweet, was anti-climactic, and on the ground sporadic gunfire continued. A day earlier, President Donald Trump declared that Islamic State militants no longer control any territory in Syria.
Associated Press journalists in Baghouz on Saturday reported hearing mortars and gunfire directed toward a cliff overlooking Baghouz, where U.S.-led coalition airstrikes were carried out a day earlier. SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told the AP Friday that there were still IS fighters hiding in caves near Baghouz and that clearing operations were still underway.
At its height, the Islamic State group ruled a third of both Syria and Iraq, holding millions of people hostage to its harsh and violent interpretation of Islamic law. The group carried out large-scale massacres and documented them with slickly produced videos circulated online. During a rampage through Iraq's Sinjar region in 2014, it captured thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority and forced them into sexual slavery. Many remain missing to this day.
The group also used its caliphate as a launchpad for attacks around the globe, including the assaults in Paris in 2015 that killed more than 130 people.
While it imposed an unforgiving version of Islamic law through public beheadings and crucifixions, the group also carried out the mundane duties of governance in its territories, including regulating prices at markets and building infrastructure.
IS no longer controls any territory in Syria or Iraq, but continues to carry out insurgent attacks in both countries. It also maintains affiliates in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
New Delhi, March 23 (Xinhua/UNB)- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote a letter to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan, greeting him on the occasion of Pakistan's national day, confirmed an official source in the Indian external affairs ministry on Saturday.
Pakistan's national day is celebrated every year on March 23.
Received msg from PM Modi: "I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that ppl of Sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence"— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 22, 2019
"Prime minister sends customary message on national days to other heads of state or government. His message to Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the importance of a terror free Asia," said the official source.
Imran Khan also tweeted about receiving message from Modi. "Received message from PM Modi: 'I extend my greetings and best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that people of sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive and prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.'"
The letter assumes significance in the wake of escalating tension between the two countries since February.