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Monday, March 4, 2013

Kenyan Elections: High Turnout amid Violence

Millions of Kenyans poured into polling stations today to elect a president, members of parliament and senators, county governors and members of the newly formed county assembly, as well as female representatives, despite violence that killed at least 15 people. These are the first elections since the brutal conflict that followed a 2007 contested election, which killed more than 1,200 and displaced around 600,000. The turnout was estimated at 70 percent as counting began, giving a slight lead to Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who will face trial in April at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague over violence in the 2007 contest. Gangs wielding machetes killed 15 people before the vote began on the coast. To prevent controversy after the vote, the election commission has used technology to prevent fraud and increase transparency.

Syrian Soldiers Killed in Iraq

More than 40 Syrian soldiers and government officials who had sought refuge in Iraq died today in a rebel attack as they were being taken to the Syrian border by Iraqi authorities. At least seven Iraqis were also killed. Iraq Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki described the attack as an ambush, saying it was carried out by “armed groups from the Iraqi and Syrian side.” While he didn’t specify what groups he was talking about, the implication was that those were Sunni groups associated with Al Qaeda in Iraq in association with the Al Nusra Front, also close to the terrorist organisation. The news came as opponents of the Syrian regime said they took over Raqqa, a city in the north, turning it into the first provincial capital under rebel control. The residents tore down a statue of Syrian Prime Minister Bashar al-Assad.

Israel Launches Segregated Bus Following Complaints from Jewish Settlers

Israel introduced today Palestinian-only bus lines in the West Bank after Jewish settlers complained that Arabs who crossed the settlements posed a security risk. The new buses run from the West Bank into central Israel, catering to Palestinians who have to cross the border to get to work. The government said the buses were intended to help Palestinians who, despite the fact that they are authorized to work in Israel and use public transportation, are regularly ordered off buses at checkpoints. They also often use “pirate” services, which are expensive and unreliable. “The two new lines that will be run as of tomorrow (Monday) are intended to improve the services to Palestinian workers that enter Israel via the Eyal Crossing,” said Israel’s Transportation Ministry, which refused to use the term “segregated.”

Obama Appoints 3 More to Cabinet

U.S. President Barack Obama made three more cabinet nominations today, for budget, energy, and to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Obama picked EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy, who is an expert in air quality, to replace Lisa Jackson as administrator. Ernest Moniz, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Energy Initiative, was appointed to replace Steven Chu at the head of the Department of Energy. Silvia Mathews Burwell, of the Walmart Foundation in Arkansas and former member of the Clinton administration, was Obama’s pick for the White House Office of Management and Budget.”I hope the Senate will confirm them as soon as possible,” said the president. McCarthy and Moniz are “going to be making sure that we’re investing in American energy, that we’re doing everything that we can to combat the threat of climate change, that we’re going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity in the first place,” he added, preempting Republican criticism that environmental regulations hinder economic growth.

French Scientists Ask for ‘Caution’ on Baby HIV Cure

After U.S. scientists said they have cured a baby born with HIV for the very first time, two specialists in France, including Luc Montagnier, who discovered the AIDS virus, have urged “caution” in interpreting those results. A little girl, who was born of an HIV-infected mother who wasn’t aware of her illness, was treated with the most common antiretroviral drug within 30 hours of her birth. The researchers, led by Deborah Persaud, of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, Maryland, called it a “functional” rather than a complete cure, as the virus is still present in the girl’s body at very low levels. Montagnier said the dormant virus could be reactivated at any time. He underscored the difficulty of extrapolating such results as the little girl’s medical profile is rare. “Only one third of babies born from HIV-positive mothers who have not been treated are infected by the virus,” he told France 24. Virus suppression with antiretrovirals still happens seldom enough that these findings are significant. The only fully cured AIDS patient is Timothy Brown, also known as the “Berlin patient.”

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