New Delhi, May 22 (AP/UNB) — India's Election Commission rejected opposition fears of possible tampering of electronic voting machines ahead of the counting of votes Thursday that will determine the outcome of the country's mammoth national elections.
Authorities on Wednesday tightened security at counting centers where the electronic voting machines have been kept in strong rooms across the country. The winners of most of the 545 seats up for grabs in India's lower house of Parliament are expected to be known by Thursday evening.
The Congress and other opposition parties were stunned by mainstream TV channels' exit poll projections on Sunday of a decisive victory for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies.
Top opposition leaders met with Election Commission officials on Tuesday after videos appeared on social media showing some electronic voting machines being moved in north Indian states. They alleged that an attempt was being made to tamper with the verdict in favor of the BJP by replacing electronic voting machines, or EVMs, in some areas.
The Election Commission rejected the allegations in a statement Tuesday.
"The visuals seen viral on media do not pertain to any EVMs used during the polls," it said, explaining that the footage showed reserve, unused machines being put into storage.
The three-person body said that after the close of polls on Sunday, all voting machines used in the election were brought under security cover to designated strong rooms, which were sealed with double locks.
The Indian elections, the world's largest democratic exercise, ended May 19 after seven rounds of polls staggered over six weeks. Some 900 million people were registered to vote.
Jakarta, May 22 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said on Wednesday the clashes between police and demonstrators that occurred around 5 hours from midnight until morning has killed 6 persons, injured around 200 others.
"As of 09:00 a.m. today, some 200 were injured and 6 were killed," the Jakarta governor said in Tarakan hospital in central Jakarta.
He added that the killed ones are placed in central Jakarta's hospitals of Tarakan, Pelni, Budi Kemuliaan and Mintoharjo.
The clashes between police and protesters who rejected results of presidential election occurred in several spots in downtown central Jakarta area, near the election supervisory body (Bawaslu) building.
Police shot tear gas to disperse the groups of protesters who supported the defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. Some 20 protesters were arrested by police during the clashes, reports said.
Protesters burned down a police housing facility and several vehicles in KS Tubun Street in central Jakarta in the morning.
Jakarta Police Headquarters Spokesperson Argo Yuwono called on people to refrain from instantly trusting information that freely circulated in the social media related to the clash.
"What have been circulated in the social media give no benefit. You can cross check it with the police to find out whether the information is correct or not. People need to filter it first before use it as information," Argo said in his office on Wednesday.
Police have identified that the protesters involved in the clash with police were not residents of the capital city.
Police arrested five terrorist suspects in their operation held in West Java regency of Garut on Tuesday afternoon. They confiscated weapons from those suspects who rode a van to get to Jakarta.
More demonstrations are scheduled to be staged on Wednesday, consisted of several groups of Prabowo's supporters.
Indonesian authorities have closed down train stations near the demonstration areas, advising the passengers to board the train from other stations.
Prabowo has planned to lodge a lawsuit to the Constitutional Court related to results of real count carried out by General Elections Commission that puts incumbent President Joko Widodo as the winner of presidential election.
United Nations, May 22 (AP/UNB) — The U.N. envoy for Libya warned Tuesday that the oil-rich nation "is on the verge of descending into a civil war" that could divide the country and imperil the security of its neighbors and the wider Mediterranean region.
Ghassan Salame told the Security Council that extremists from the Islamic State and al-Qaida are already exploiting the security vacuum sparked by the offensive to take the capital Tripoli launched April 4 by the self-styled Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter.
He said the black flags of the Islamic State extremist group are appearing in southern Libya and there have been four attacks by its fighters in the south since April 4 that together have killed 17 people, wounded more than 10 and led to eight kidnappings.
"Libyan forces that had in the past courageously defended their country against these terrorist groups are now busy fighting each other," Salame said.
Besides innocent Libyans being increasingly subjected to the increasing wrath of Islamic State extremists, he said, "there will be spillover of this violence to Libya's immediate neighbors."
Civil war in Libya in 2011 toppled and later killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and the chaos that followed resulted in a divided country, with a U.N.-aligned, but weak, administration in Tripoli overseeing the country's west and a government in the east aligned with Hifter. Each is backed by an array of militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.
Salame lamented that when Hifter launched the offensive on April 4 "the capital was enjoying a measure of increased security, the population a much more stable currency and an improved economic outlook, and the political process, despite many obstacles, was moving forward" with a national conference 10 days away to chart a roadmap to elections and a united future for Libya.
But 48 days into Hifter's offensive, he said, more than 460 people have died, including 29 civilians, over 2,400 mainly civilians have been wounded, and over 75,000 civilians have been forced from their homes.
Humanitarian officials estimate that "over 100,000 men, women and children remain trapped in immediate frontline areas, with over 400,000 more in areas directly impacted by the clashes, he said. And "nearly 3,400 refugees and migrants are trapped in detention centers exposed to, or in close proximity to, the fighting."
Salame said there are also numerous reports of extremists, people on U.N. sanctions blacklists, and people wanted by the International Criminal Court "appearing on the battlefield on all sides."
He called on the Security Council to support the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry "to determine who has taken up arms and support the establishment of mechanisms to ensure the exclusion of unwanted elements." And he urged all parties to hand over those sought by the ICC.
Salame also said that "arms are pouring in again to all sides" from many countries that he did not name, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo against Libya. He urged the U.N. to enforce the embargo, saying the amount and sophistication of new weapons "are already causing greater numbers of casualties."
"I am no Cassandra, but the violence on the outskirts of Tripoli is just the start of a long and bloody war on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, imperiling the security of Libya's immediate neighbors and the wider Mediterranean region," Salame said.
However, the U.N. envoy said "full civil war is not inevitable," though "it may occur by the will of some parties, and by the inaction of others."
He called on the Security Council to urge an immediate cease-fire and return to a U.N.-led political process.
"A better future is still possible, but we all must be seized with the fierce urgency of now while the front lines remain on the outskirts of Tripoli and before the battle moves, God forbid, to the capital's more densely populated neighborhoods," Salame said.
Washington, May 22 (AP/UNB) — Tamping down talk of war, top Trump administration officials told Congress on Tuesday that recent actions by the U.S. deterred attacks on American forces. But some lawmakers remained deeply skeptical of the White House approach in the Middle East.
After a day of closed-door briefings on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said their objective over recent days has been to deter Iran. Now they want to prevent further escalation, Shanahan said.
"We're not about going to war," Shanahan told reporters.
"Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation," said Shanahan, flanked by Pompeo, after back-to-back briefings for the House and Senate. "We do not want the situation to escalate."
The officials arrived on Capitol Hill as questions mounted over President Donald Trump's tough talk on Iran and sudden policy shifts in the region. Skeptical Democrats sought out a second opinion, holding their own briefing with former Obama administration officials, former CIA Director John Brennan and Wendy Sherman, an architect of the Iran nuclear deal.
The competing closed-door sessions Tuesday came after weeks of escalating tensions that raised alarms over a possible military confrontation with Iran.
Trump, veering between bombast and conciliation in his quest to contain Iran, threatened Monday to meet provocations by Iran with "great force," but he also said he's willing to negotiate.
The results of the meetings Tuesday were mixed, with views settling largely along partisan lines.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the action taken by the Trump administration "is totally appropriate" and sends a message that "if you attack our people, there will be a response."
Romney characterized it as defensive in nature and meant to deter Iran from "malign" actions.
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, a veteran of the Iraq War, left the classified House briefing, saying: "What I heard in there makes it clear that this administration feels that they do not have to come back and talk to Congress in regards to any action they do in Iran."
Democrats are particularly concerned the Trump administration may try to rely on nearly 20-year-old war authorizations rather than seek fresh approval from Congress for any action.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he told Pompeo and the others their consultation with Congress has been "inadequate." Shananan said he and the others heard that message and vowed to better communicate with lawmakers and the public.
In recent weeks, the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier strike group, four bomber aircraft and other assets to the region, and is moving a Patriot missile battery to an undisclosed country in the area. The Trump administration has evacuated nonessential personnel from Iraq, amid unspecified threats the administration says are linked to Iran.
Shanahan said the recent U.S. actions in the region were based on "credible threats" to U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East.
"We have deterred attacks based on our repositioning of assets, deterred attacks against American forces," he said.
Pompeo said he tried to put the Iran situation in the country's 40-year history of "malign" actions.
Pompeo, a former congressman, has become somewhat of a polarizing figure on Capitol Hill, and some lawmakers left the meeting saying he was lecturing and arrogant.
Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he interjected at one point during the briefing: "We know Iran is bad, OK? What is the policy going forward? There wasn't enough information on that."
Smith said Pompeo was asked why it took so long to brief Congress. The congressman said the secretary's answer was, "We were busy." He said it was not an acceptable answer.
Earlier, Brennan told House Democrats that while Tehran wants to avoid conflict, the country's leadership will not capitulate to Trump. Sherman warned that reckless behavior by the Trump administration in Iran is hurting the U.S.'s credibility and undermining moderates in the country. Their comments were conveyed by a person in the room who was not authorized to discuss the private meeting by name.
Top Democrats say Trump escalated problems by abruptly withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, a complex accord negotiated during the Obama administration to prevent Iran from nuclear weapons production.
"I have yet to see any exhibited strategy," said Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a former CIA officer. She said she finds many of the administration's recent statements on Iran to be "deeply troubling."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said, "What I'm interested in more right now is what the administration's strategy is — if they have one — to keep us out of war."
Republicans and Trump's allies in Congress said the threats from Iran are real. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., suggested lawmakers who say otherwise are doing so for political reasons. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina urged Trump to "stand firm."
The U.S. military appears to have concluded that Iran was behind the reported attack May 12 on four commercial vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. A U.S. official said Monday a probe into the attack was finished and evidence still pointed at Iran, although the official did not provide details. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone of Iraq's capital of Baghdad, days after nonessential U.S. staff were ordered to evacuate from diplomatic posts in the country. No one was reported injured.
Defense officials said no additional Iranian threats or incidents had emerged in the days since the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group arrived in the Arabian Sea late last week.
Iran, meanwhile, announced that it has quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity. Officials said it remains set to the limits of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, making it usable for a power plant but far below what's needed for an atomic weapon.
Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build them.
Anchorage, May 22 (AP/UNB) — An Alaska air carrier involved in two deadly floatplane crashes in a week has voluntarily suspended operations, federal officials said Tuesday.
The halt of flightseeing and commuter flights is in place indefinitely, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The action comes after the passenger and the pilot of a Beaver floatplane operated by Taquan Air were killed when the single-engine aircraft crashed in Metlakatla Harbor on Monday afternoon during a 22-mile (35-kilometer) commuter flight from Ketchikan.
Witnesses reported to federal investigators that one of the two floats on the plane dug into the water during landing, causing the right wing to hit the water and then the aircraft to cartwheel several times, according to Clint Johnson, chief of the National Transportation Safety Board in Alaska.
Johnson said witnesses also reported the Beaver floatplane landed upside down and became submerged in water. An NTSB investigator arrived at Metlakatla late Tuesday morning, he said.
In a statement, Taquan Air confirmed it suspended all operations. The company said it "was reeling" from not only Monday's crash, but a midair collision last week involving another Taquan plane that killed six.
"It's been a really heavy and heartbreaking time for us," the company wrote. "Our priority has been our passengers and their families and our internal staff, and pilots."
The passenger was identified by her employer and relatives in California as Sarah Luna. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium said in a statement that Luna joined the group nearly a year ago as a senior epidemiologist in the liver disease and hepatitis program. Luna, 32, had flown to Metlakatla to provide health services to the community.
"Sarah embodied the characteristics most valuable to our team, as a person committed to improving the health and well-being of Alaska Native people," the organization wrote. "For those who worked most closely with Sarah, this loss is immeasurable."
Metlakatla Police Chief Bruce Janes identified the pilot as 51-year-old Ron Rash of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The crash occurred in light winds and 10-mile (16-kilometer) visibility, Johnson said. The plane also was carrying a load of cargo and was supposed to also pick up other passengers after landing.
Johnson said it was "way too early" to determine a cause. He anticipates the preliminary report into the crash to be released by the end of the week.
Monday's crash followed the May 13 midair collision of a Taquan Air Otter floatplane with another floatplane. Six people died in that crash and another 10 people were injured. Both planes were carrying sightseeing cruise ship passengers.
Johnson said the NTSB is investigating both crashes as separate cases.
Last summer, all 11 on board another Taquan Air flight survived when the 72-year-old pilot confused snow on a mountain with a body of water and crashed on a rocky mountainside on Prince of Wales Island near the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula.
A pilot and eight cruise ship passengers died June 25, 2015, when a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter operated by Promech Air Inc. crashed into mountainous terrain about 24 miles (38 kilometers) from Ketchikan, also as it was returning from Misty Fjords.
The NTSB later determined that pilot error, the company's culture and lack of a formal safety program were among the causes of that crash. Taquan Air purchased the assets of Promech in 2016, and currently employs three pilots who worked for Promech, a company spokeswoman said last week.