CONCERNS MOUNT OVER PAKISTAN ELECTION RESULTS DELAY AMIDST VIOLENCE AND BLACKOUT
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) faced backlash for the delay in announcing the initial results of the 2024 polls, sparking concerns over transparency and fairness. After voting concluded at 5 pm on Thursday, the ECP took more than 10 hours to release the results, prompting criticism amidst allegations of rigging and sporadic violence. Political parties raised questions about the delay, leading the ECP to instruct provincial election commissioners and returning officers to announce the results promptly or face consequences.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's largest-ever general elections were overshadowed by a blanket blackout of mobile phone and internet services. The communication shutdown, justified by the interior ministry citing recent terror attacks, hindered voters from locating polling stations, drawing condemnation from critics who deemed it undemocratic. Amidst the blackout, violence marred the electoral process, resulting in at least 11 casualties nationwide, including security officials and civilians.
Critics slammed the polls as lacking credibility, accusing the military establishment of engineering the process to sideline Imran Khan and his party. Despite Khan's disqualification and the removal of his party's symbol, former PM Nawaz Sharif expressed confidence in Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)'s victory, dismissing the need for a coalition government. However, concerns lingered over the fairness and transparency of the electoral process as the results unfolded.
As Pakistan navigates through post-election uncertainty, the delayed announcement of results, coupled with violence and communication blackout, underscores challenges to democracy and raises questions about the integrity of the electoral process.
US SUPREME COURT HESITANT ON TRUMP DISQUALIFICATION CASE
The US Supreme Court signaled reluctance to uphold Colorado's decision to disqualify Donald Trump from the 2024 presidential race over insurrection allegations. Justices from both ideological wings expressed apprehension about the implications of allowing states to determine a candidate's eligibility based on insurrection charges. They highlighted concerns about potential interstate conflicts and the erosion of national unity.
Liberal justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Jackson Brown also worried about states dictating national election parameters. Meanwhile, conservative justices raised questions about the repercussions if other states followed suit, suggesting a possible tit-for-tat scenario where rival candidates could be targeted for disqualification based on political motives.
US DRONE STRIKE KILLS PRO-IRAN MILITIA COMMANDER IN BAGHDAD
A US drone strike targeted a car in Baghdad, killing a senior commander of the Kataib Hezbollah militia responsible for planning attacks on American troops. The precise blast occurred in the Mashtal neighborhood, prompting the closure of the Green Zone amid concerns of potential protests targeting the US embassy.
Conflicting reports emerged regarding casualties, with US officials initially reporting one death, while sources from Iran-backed militias claimed three casualties, including the commander Abu Baqir Al-Saadi. These strikes are fueling calls from the Iraqi government to end the US-led coalition's mission, citing it as a destabilizing factor that risks further conflict in Iraq.
ISRAELI RAIDS KILL 13 IN GAZA’S RAFAH
Israeli air strikes killed over a dozen people overnight and into Thursday in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. More than half of strip’s population has fled to Rafah. The overnight strikes killed at least 13 people, including two women and five children, according to the Kuwaiti Hospital, which got the bodies. At the scene of one of the strikes, residents used their cellphone lights as they dug through the rubble with pick-axes and bare hands to look for loved ones.
BLINKEN ENDS W ASIA TRIP AFTER ISRAELI SNUB
US secretary of state Antony Blinken left West Asia on Thursday after public divisions between the US and Israel. Blinken was returning to Washington after getting a virtual slap in the face from Israeli PM Netanyahu, who said the war would continue until Israel is completely victorious and rejected Hamas’s proposed truce plan. PM’s public dismissal of a plan the US says has merithighlighted the divide between the two allies.
ZALUZHNYI BOWS OUT, UKRAINE GETS NEW MILITARY CHIEF
Kyiv : President Volodymyr Zelensky replaced Ukraine’s popular army chief with his ground forces commander on Thursday, a huge gamble at a time when Russian forces are gaining the upper hand nearly two years into their war.
The shakeup ushering in a new military leadership follows months of speculation about a rift between Zelensky and army chief General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who many Ukrainians see as a national hero.
“As of today, a new management team takes over the lea dership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
He named Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi as the new head of the Armed Forces. Syrskyi, commander of the ground forces, takes the helm amid deep uncertainty as Kyiv awaits vital military aid from the US that has been delayed by political infighting.
With Ukraine struggling to rapidly reform its army mobilisation programme, the sacking of Zaluzhnyi could deal a blow to the morale of troops on a1,000 km front. It could also backfire politically, hurting Zelensky’s ratings. Polling surveys put the public’s trust in Zaluzhnyi, known by some as the “Iron General”, at over 90% — significantly higher than Zelensky’s 77% late last year.
The military shakeup unfolded over a series of state ments in which Zelensky said he had met Zaluzhnyi to discuss changes to the military leadership. He had asked the general to remain “on his team”, he said. In his own statement, Zaluzhnyi said he had an “important and serious conversation” with Zelensky and that a decision had been made to change battlefield tactics and strategy. “The tasks of 2022 are different from the tasks of 2024. Therefore, everyone must change and adapt to new realities as well. To win together too,” his statement said.
XI AND PUTIN ACCUSE US OF ‘INTERFERENCE’ IN CALL
Moscow : Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin accused the US of “interfering” in their countries’ affairs during during an hour-long call on Thursday, the Kremlin said.
“The leaders of the two countries realise that the US is practically implementing a policy of double containment, (toward) both Russia and China,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said.
Moscow has looked to Beijing as a crucial economic lifeline since the West hit Russia with unprecedented sanctions over its military assault on Ukraine. China has meanwhile benefited from cheap Russian energy imports and access to vast natural resources. Trade bet- ween them has surged in the last two years, hitting $240.1 billion in 2023 — a 26%annual rise —as per Chinese customs data.
China has itself been criticisedby the US over increasingly belligerent behaviour toward self-ruled Taiwan. “The Russian president reaffirmed his principled position on the Taiwan issue, which is to support the ‘one China’ policy,” the Kremlin said.
Xi said the two countries “should closely collaborate strategically, defend the sovereignty, security and development interests of their respective countries, and resolutely oppose interference in internal affairs by external forces”, according to the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
RUSSIA BLOCKS REMAINING ANTI-PUTIN CAMPAIGNER NADEZHDIN FROM POLL
MOSCOW: Russia’s election commission on Thursday blocked pro-peace politician Boris Nadezhdin from next month’s presidential election, ending his surprise bid to oust President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin. Only three other candidates — all from ceremonial Opposition parties backed by the Kremlin — will take part.
RUSSIA STORMS UKRAINE’S AVDIIVKA
Large numbers of Russian forces are storming the frontline Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, its Ukrainian mayor said on Thursday, escalating a months-long effort to capture the industrial hub.
Moscow launched a costly bid in October to seize the town, which has been caught up in fighting since 2014, when it briefly fell to Moscow-backed separatists.
The capture of Avdiivka would provide a much needed victory for Russia, in the run-up to its much-awaited presidential election in March.
FIRE & FURY: ICELAND VOLCANO ERUPTS AGAIN
A volcano in southwestern Iceland erupted on Thursday for the third time since Dec, sending jets of lava into the sky and triggering the evacuation of the Blue Lagoon spa (above), one of the island nation’s biggest tourist attractions. The eruption began along a 3km fissure northeast of Mount Sýlingarfell, the Icelandic meteorological office said.
The eruption site is about 4km northeast of Grindavik, acoastal town of 3,800 people that was evacuated before a previous eruption on Dec. 18. The met office said there was no immediate threat to the town on Thursday. However, the lava flow hit the thermalbased water pipes in the region, disrupting the supply of hot water to over 20,000 people.
ETHIOPIA NAMES INTELLIGENCE CHIEF TEMESGEN AS NEW DEPUTY PM
ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian lawmakers on Thursday approved the appointment of intelligence chief Temesgen Tiruneh as deputy to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in a shake-up that followed the ouster of Demeke Mekonnen. Mr. Abiy’s office described the Cabinet changes as a “step towards strengthening the nation’s leadership”.