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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Spike in Afghan Civilian Casualties

As international troops depart and hand over security to Afghans, there has been a marked rise in civilian casualties. In the past six months alone, over 1,300 Afghan civilians have been killed and twice as many injured, up 23% from the same period last year. For women and children, however, casualties have jumped 38%. The highest cause of civilian casualties is bomb attacks; most bomb victims have been children.

The shifting political and security dynamics, an increased indiscriminate use of IEDs, and attacks that deliberately target civilians all contributed to the increase. In its report released Wednesday, the UN recommends that these things stop. Insurgents have especially stepped up attacks in areas where international forces have withdrawn, and have focused increasingly on civilian administrative structures and personnel.

NSA’s Reach Broader Than Thought (Again)

Today, the Obama administration declassified documents detailing the NSA’s no-longer-secret program that collects records of all domestic phone calls made in the United States and The Guardian published a still-classified document leaked by Edward Snowden on the agency’s web and internet spying.

The program revealed in the leaked document, XKeyscore, allows analysts to search the e-mails, online chats and browsing histories of millions of individuals with no prior authorization (proving Snowden’s assertions correct). They simply submit an on-screen form giving a broad justification for the search, which is then processed without being reviewed by a court or NSA personnel. The program allows ”searches within bodies of emails, webpages and documents”, including the “To, From, CC, BCC lines” and the ‘Contact Us’ pages on websites.” Additionally, analysts can search by name, telephone number, IP address, language and type of browser used.

Senior intelligence officials are scheduled to testify before the Senate judiciary committee later today.

Indian Government Approves New State

India’s ruling coalition government approved the creation of a 29th state, Telangana, which would be carved out of the northern portion of Andhra Pradesh state. Protests demanding a separate state for Telangana have erupted sporadically since the 1950s and have gained strength since 2009.

Supporters of Telangana say the drought-prone region is underdeveloped and often ignored by politicians in the more prosperous southern Andhra Pradesh. Residents from all of Telangana’s 10 districts say they have been discriminated against in the allocation of state funds, water and jobs. Anti-Telangana protesters gathered in Anantapur district and ransacked the Congress party’s office there. Most oppose the split because the new state of Telangana would include Hyderabad, the state’s capital and a major technology and pharmaceutical hub.

Three other regions face similar statehood movements, although the government has not indicated it would support additional states.

Egypt Orders Police To Break Up Pro-Morsi Sit-Ins

Declaring the continued pro-Morsi rallies a “national security threat” that has lead to “terrorism” and “road blockages,” Egypt’s military-backed government ordered the police to take “all necessary measures” to end the protests. A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said the protesters had no option but to stay put and warned that the decision was “paving the way for another massacre.”

Protesters at the two major sit-ins in Cairo armed themselves with sticks and makeshift body armor, placed sandbags and erected makeshift gates to control who can enter the encampment. Many feel that this is their last, and only, bargaining chip in the face of the military’s onslaught.

Minutes earlier, the government had referred three senior Muslim Brotherhood officials to trial for inciting violence.

Zimbabweans Vote Amid Fraud Fears

Almost all polls have closed in Zimbabwe’s presidential election, which marks one of the biggest challenges to Robert Mugabe’s grip on power in 33 years. Zimbabweans waited on long lines for hours and a few polling stations were prepared to stay open all night to accommodate all those that had queued by 7pm. Polling agents and party officials brought blankets, so they could sleep next to the polling boxes, to ensure no one tampered with them.

Despite the huge voter turnout, concerns that the election may be rigged remain. Observers reported registered voters being turned away from polls and there have been irregularities across several districts. The African Union has officially approved of the vote, saying that none of the irregularities have been proven. The vote counting will begin tonight and final results are expected by Monday.


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