Obama ‘to arrive in Jerusalem on March 20’

Updated 12 February 2013
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Obama ‘to arrive in Jerusalem on March 20’

JERUSALEM: US President Barack Obama is expected to arrive in Jerusalem on March 20 for a three-day trip which will also take him to the West Bank city of Ramallah, media reports and a Palestinian official said.
According to a draft itinerary published in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot, Obama will begin his first-ever visit to Israel as president on March 20.
He was expected to land at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv then hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day. The next day, he would spend the morning holding talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
“President Obama will visit our area for two days. He will be in Israel on March 20 and March 21 in Palestine,” a Palestinian official said.
Yediot said that after the Ramallah talks Obama would return to Jerusalem and address the Israeli public.


Top Iraq court orders manual vote recount after latest elections

Updated 6 min 4 sec ago
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Top Iraq court orders manual vote recount after latest elections

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s supreme court on Thursday ordered a manual recount of May 12 legislative elections, a process expected to take weeks although parliament’s mandate runs out at the end of this month.
The recount due to suspicions of electoral fraud, however, would not significantly affect the overall outcome, according to experts on Iraqi politics.
The court ruled that parliament’s decision on June 6 to order a manual recount in response to allegations of irregularities did not violate the constitution, its president Medhat Al-Mahmud told a news conference.
All of the roughly 11 million ballots, including those of voters living abroad, displaced persons and security forces, must be recounted, he said, referring to the three categories whose results MPs had decided to annul because they were allegedly the most suspect.
Last month’s ballot was won by cleric populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr’s electoral alliance with communists, as long-time political figures were pushed out by voters seeking change in a country mired in conflict and corruption.
The result was contested mainly by the political old guard following allegations of fraud in the election, Iraq’s first since the defeat of the Daesh group.
According to intelligence services, tests of electronic voting machines used for the first time in Iraqi elections produced varied results, appearing to give credence to the fraud claims.
The vote saw a record number of abstentions as Iraqis snubbed the corruption-tainted elite that has dominated the country since the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein.
Many of Iraq’s longtime political figures seemingly irremovable since the dictator’s fall were pushed out of their seats by new faces.
The supreme court, whose rulings are final, also ratified parliament’s decision to dismiss Iraq’s nine-member electoral commission and have them replaced by judges.
The recount is unlikely to produce a major change in the number of seats won by rival lists, according to experts, but rather modify the rankings of candidates within the same lists.
“The major blocs could win or lose three seats,” said judicial expert Haidar Al-Soufi.
Tarek Al-Marmori, another expert, said that even if a manual recount takes weeks, “there will be a legislative but no constitutional vacuum” because Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s government would stay on in a caretaker capacity.

When Sadr’s bloc scooped the most seats in May’s election it was seen as a blow for Tehran, long the dominant foreign player in conflict-hit Iraq.
The Shiite firebrand had railed against both the influence of Iran and the United States, even drawing closer to Tehran’s arch-foe Saudi Arabia.
But on June 13, he announced an alliance with pro-Iranian Hadi Al-Ameri, head of a rival list made up of former members of the mainly Shiite paramilitary units which helped the Iraqi armed forces defeat Daesh militants.
It is in the multi-ethnic, oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk that the challenge to the election results has been the strongest, and the most potentially explosive.
Kirkuk’s population made out of Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen pushed Iraqi authorities to impose a curfew on the night of the results.