San Salvador, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — Salvadorans are choosing Sunday from among a handful of presidential candidates all promising to end corruption, stamp out gang violence and create more jobs in the Central American nation.
The Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies, a think tank based in Guatemala, found great similarities in the four candidates' proposals. Top of the agenda is public safety: roughly 67,000 Salvadorans belong to gangs that terrorize their communities via extortion, murder and other forms of violence. The candidates have touched on ways to generate economic opportunities and restore social values to dissuade Salvadorans from engaging in criminal behavior.
Leading in the polls is Nayib Bukele, the 37-year-old former mayor of the capital, San Salvador. Bukele has campaigned on promises to create a commission to tackle impunity and corruption. He also proposes taxing property and idle agricultural land, levying higher taxes on luxury goods and combating tax evasion.
His election would put an end to decades of two-party rule in El Salvador.
Bukele made his political debut in 2012 with the ruling FMLN party, which arose from a leftist guerrilla movement after peace accords ended El Salvador's civil war. Today he is the standard bearer of the Grand Alliance for National Unity — its initials, GANA, mean "win" in Spanish — and he's challenging the political dominance that has reigned since the 1992 peace accords.
A recent poll gave Bukele support from about 40 percent of Salvadorans, compared with 23 percent for businessman Carlos Callejas of the conservative Arena coalition. He was even further ahead of the FMLN's Hugo Martinez, a former foreign minister.
More than 4,500 election observers, including representatives of the Organization of American States and the European Union, will be on hand when Salvadorans go to the polls.
If none of the contenders clinch more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff in March.
El Salvador is small both in size and population, with just 6.5 million people. Close to a third of its households live in poverty, while the World Bank says per capita income is $3,560.
Salvadorans searching for a better life have joined recent caravans of migrants trekking through Mexico toward the U.S.
Richmond, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — Resisting widespread calls for his resignation, Virginia's embattled governor on Saturday pledged to remain in office after disavowing a blatantly racist photograph that appeared under his name in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
In a tumultuous 24 hours, Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday apologized for appearing in a photograph that featured what appeared to be a man in blackface and a second person cloaked in Ku Klux Klan garb. In a video posted on Twitter, he said he could not "undo the harm my behavior caused then and today."
But by Saturday, he reversed course and said the racist photo on his yearbook profile page did not feature him after all. The governor said he had not seen the photo before Friday, since he had not purchased the commemorative book or been involved in its preparation more than three decades ago.
"It has taken time for me to make sure that it's not me, but I am convinced, I am convinced that I am not in that picture," he told reporters gathered at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, calling the shot offensive and horrific.
While talking with reporters, Northam admitted that he had previously worn blackface around that time, saying he once had used shoe polish to darken his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume he fashioned for a 1984 dance contest in San Antonio, Texas, when he was in the U.S. Army. Northam said he regrets that he didn't understand "the harmful legacy of an action like that."
His refusal to step down could signal a potentially long and bruising fight between Northam and his former supporters, which includes virtually all of the state's Democratic establishment.
After he spoke, both of Virginia's U.S. senators said they called Northam to tell him that he must resign. In a joint statement Saturday night, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and the dean of Virginia's congressional delegation, Rep. Bobby Scott, said the recent events "have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders."
Since Friday, groups calling for his resignation included the Virginia Democratic Party and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, and top Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly also urged Northam to resign, as have many declared and potential Democratic presidential candidates.
"He is no longer the best person to lead our state," the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus said in a statement.
If Northam does resign, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would become the second African-American governor in the state's history. In a statement, Fairfax said the state needs leaders who can unite people, but he stopped short of calling for Northam's departure. Referring to Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said he "cannot condone actions from his past" that at least "suggest a comfort with Virginia's darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation."
Northam conceded Saturday that people might have difficulty believing his shifting statements.
He was pushed repeatedly by reporters to explain why he issued an apology Friday if he wasn't in the photograph.
"My first intention ... was to reach out and apologize," he said, adding that he recognized that people would be offended by the photo. But after studying the picture and consulting with classmates, Northam said, "I am convinced that is not my picture."
Walt Broadnax, one of two black students who graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School with Northam, said by phone Saturday he also didn't buy the class's 1984 yearbook or see it until decades after it was published.
Broadnax defended his former classmate and said he's not a racist, adding that the school would not have tolerated someone going to a party in blackface.
The yearbook images were first published Friday afternoon by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. An Associated Press reporter later saw the yearbook page and confirmed its authenticity at the medical school.
In an initial apology about the photograph on Friday, Northam had admitted to being in the photograph but did not say which of the two costumes he had worn.
That evening, he issued a video statement saying he was "deeply sorry" but still committed to serving the "remainder of my term." Northam's term is set to end in 2022.
The scars from centuries of racial oppression are still raw in a state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy.
Virginians continue to struggle with the state's legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and Massive Resistance, the anti-school segregation push. Heated debates about the Confederate statues are ongoing after a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. A state holiday honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson is a perennial source of discontent.
Northam spent years actively courting the black community in the lead-up to his 2017 gubernatorial run, building relationships that helped him win both the primary and the general election. He's a member of a predominantly black church on Virginia's Eastern Shore, where he grew up.
"It's a matter of relationships and trust. That's not something that you build overnight," Northam told the AP during a 2017 campaign stop while describing his relationship with the black community.
Northam, a folksy pediatric neurologist who is personal friends with many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, has recently come under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.
In a tweet late Saturday, President Donald Trump called Northam's actions related to the photo and abortion debate "unforgiveable!"
Last week, Florida's secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.
London, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — Germany's foreign minister is calling for "clear proposals" from Britain as it seeks to avoid a chaotic withdrawal from the European Union and underlining the EU's insistence that the Brexit divorce deal rejected by British lawmakers is "already a compromise," particularly in regards to Northern Ireland.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, with or without a Brexit deal. U.K. lawmakers voted last week to seek changes to the agreement but the EU is adamant that it cannot be renegotiated. How to handle the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is one of the Brexit dilemmas.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tells the Funke newspaper group published Sunday that "we need clear proposals from London" and rejected a suggestion that the EU's position is increasing the risk of a no-deal Brexit. He says "if the British want to avoid an unregulated Brexit, our offer is on the table. We negotiated a fair Brexit agreement."
Nissan has cancelled plans to make its X-Trail SUV in the UK — a sharp blow to Brexit supporters, who had fought to have the model built in northern England.
The move, first reported on Saturday by Sky News, was confirmed by the company in a letter to workers Sunday. The next generation X-Trail will instead be made in in Japan.
Nissan employs about 7,000 workers in the English city of Sunderland.
Nissan had previously announced plans to build the model at its plant in Sunderland after the British government sent a letter of undisclosed reassurances in 2016 after the Brexit vote about the company's ability to compete in the future.
Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29, but U.K. politicians are divided over Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Feb 3 (AP/UNB) — Heavy snow in Germany has forced organizers to cancel the last World Cup skiing race before the world championships.
Organizers on Sunday called off a men's giant slalom at Garmisch-Partenkirchen a day after they also had to cancel a downhill for the same reason.
Course workers started at 4 a.m. but failed to clear up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) of fresh snow from the Kandahar course because it kept snowing during the morning.
FIS race director Markus Waldner said efforts had to be stopped as "we started to damage the race line with the machines."
Skiing's governing body was looking to reschedule both races after the Feb. 5-17 world championships, which begin Tuesday in Are, Sweden.
Dhaka, Feb 3 (UNB) - British officials have revived cold war emergency plans to relocate the royal family should there be riots in London if Britain suffers a disruptive departure from the European Union, reports local media on Sunday newspapers.
“These emergency evacuation plans have been in existence since the cold war but have now been repurposed in the event of civil disorder following a no-deal Brexit,” the Sunday Times said, quoting an unnamed source from the government’s Cabinet Office, which handles sensitive administrative issues.
The Mail Online on Sunday also said it had learnt of plans to move the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth, to safe locations away from London.
In January an annual speech by the Queen, 92, to a women’s group was widely interpreted in Britain as a call for politicians to reach agreement over Brexit.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative MP and keen supporter of Brexit, told the Mail on Sunday he believed the plans showed unnecessary panic by officials over a no-deal Brexit as senior royals had remained in London during bombing in the second World War.
But the Sunday Times said an ex-police officer formerly in charge of royal protection, Dai Davies, expected Queen Elizabeth would be moved out of London if there was unrest. “If there were problems in London, clearly you would remove the royal family away from those key sites,” Davies was quoted as saying.