Malaysian election violence spikes with bombing

Updated 24 April 2013
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Malaysian election violence spikes with bombing

KUALA LUMPUR: Hundreds of cases of Malaysian election violence including a bomb explosion have been reported since campaigning for tightly contested May 5 polls got under way four days ago, police said Wednesday.
In the latest incident a bomb exploded in northern Penang state late Tuesday near a political gathering of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, resulting in a 35-year-old security worker being injured by flying debris.
“It was a time bomb. But it did not contain any splinters or shrapnel,” Rosli Chik, local police spokesman told AFP.
Police later found a second bomb in the area and detonated it.
Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim condemned the culprits responsible for planting the bombs.
“The timing of the explosion and location of these devices are highly suspicious and are clearly meant to create fear and provoke disorder,” Anwar said in a statement.
A total of 387 incidents were reported in the first three days of the two-week campaign, which kicked off Saturday, and at least 15 people have been arrested over the violence, national police spokesman Ramli Yoosuf told The Star newspaper.
“They were in possession of weapons such as machetes and suspected of slashing rival party supporters and criminal intimidation, mostly while putting up flags and banners,” Ramli was reported to have said.
He added that hundreds more incidents had been reported earlier, between the April 13 dissolution of parliament and the official start of campaigning.
The pro-government newspaper gave no indication of who was carrying out the acts of violence. The opposition has complained that their supporters have been victims in most of the attacks, although AFP has been unable to confirm this.
Malaysia is bracing for long-anticipated elections that experts say could herald the country’s first change of regime since independence from Britain in 1957.
The vote pits a coalition — dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that has ruled Malaysia with a tight grip for 56 years — against an upstart opposition promising a more liberalized society.
The independent group Bersih, which advocates clean elections, had previously warned that political violence and intimidation could potentially sway the expected close vote.
Ramli said the cases of violence included individuals attempting to run down rival political supporters in cars, adding that one election operations center in a northern state was set on fire, but giving no other details.
No deaths have yet been reported, but Malaysian media last week reported a man was left in a coma after a beating by ruling party supporters in the north of the country. The man was later reported to have regained consciousness.


Eritrea responds to Ethiopia PM’s olive branch

Updated 5 min 28 sec ago
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Eritrea responds to Ethiopia PM’s olive branch

ADDIS ABABA: Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is dispatching a delegation to Addis Ababa for “constructive engagement” with arch-foe Ethiopia after peace overtures this month from its new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, a senior Eritrean diplomat said on Wednesday.
Isais made the annoucement — a potentially significant breakthrough in one of Africa’s most protracted conflicts — earlier on Wednesday, Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan, Estifanos Afeworki, said on Twitter. He gave no further details.
Eritrean information minister Yemane Ghebremeskel did not respond to requests for comment.
Eritrea and Ethiopia remain bitter foes after a 1998-2000 conflict that drew comparisons to the First World War, with waves of conscripts forced to march through minefields toward Eritrean trenches, where they were cut down by machine gun fire.
Casuality figures are disputed in both countries although most estimates suggest 50,000 Ethiopian soldiers died, against 20,000 on the Eritrean side.
Even after the end of the war, the border remains heavily militarised and disputed, most notably the town of Badme which was part of Eritrea, according to a 2002 international arbitration ruling.
Since then, Addis has ignored the ruling and refused to pull out troops or officials, to the fury of Asmara.
However, Abiy, a 41-year-old former soldier who has embarked on a radical economic and political reform drive since taking over in March, stunned Ethiopians this month when he said Addis would honor all the terms of the settlement between the two countries, suggesting he was prepared to cede Badme.
In parliament this week, Abiy also acknoewledged the tensions continued to inflict a heavy economic cost on both countries and said Addis should no longer hide this price tag from the Ethiopian people, another stunning departure with the past.
There has so far been no official response to Abiy’s overtures from Eritrea, one of the Africa’s most closed states.