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BOGOTA, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Colombians vote on Sunday in a deeply divisive presidential runoff that pits candidates offering polar opposite views and has stirred fears the winner will upset a fragile peace process or derail the economy.

Ivan Duque, the business-friendly protege of hardline former president Alvaro Uribe, wants to alter a peace deal he deems too lenient on Marxist FARC rebels, while keeping Colombia’s largely orthodox economic model.

His rival, leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, has pledged to take on political elites, redistribute land to the poor and gradually eliminate the need for oil and coal in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” said financial planner Juan Jose Mojica, 21. “They’re two extremes that could destroy the development that the country has made over the last years.”

From the sweltering Caribbean coast to the frigid heights of the Andes, some 11,230 polling stations will open at 13:00 GMT. Polls close at 21:00 GMT and results are expected within hours.

These are the first elections since a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which ended their part in a five-decade conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

Duque wants to change the accord with tougher punishments for FARC war crimes, while Petro promises to support the existing deal and continue a peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) - Colombia’s last active rebel group.

“Duque doesn’t want peace. He wants war to continue and prevent Colombia getting ahead,” said Jorge Andres Sanchez, 31, selling World Cup goods in a Bogota shopping center. “Let’s put it behind us and start again.”

A lot is at stake too for Colombia’s $324 billion economy. Duque has promised to keep investors happy by cutting business taxes, bolstering the oil and coal sectors - top exports - and helping manufacturing.

Petro, a one-time member of the now defunct M19 insurgent group, wants a new economic model that ditches reliance on extractive industries for renewable energy and a land reform that promotes an increase in productive use.

His policies have prompted rivals to compare him to Venezuela’s former Socialist President Hugo Chavez.

“The markets and the productive sector see Duque as someone who guarantees the continuity of the current economic model, while they see Petro as someone who would break it down,” said Carlos Sepulveda, dean of economics at Rosario University.

State-run oil company Ecopetrol SA is responsible for almost 60 per cent of Colombia’s oil production of around 830,000 barrels per day and operates export pipeline infrastructure.

Petro would shift its emphasis toward wind and solar power.

“I really don’t like either of them, but as I have to choose, it has to be Duque,” said Carlos Mora, a 52-year-old lawyer. “With Petro, I really think we’ll end up like Venezuela.”

Some candidates from the first round have asked Colombians to cast blank ballots – a means for voters’ to demonstrate dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates.

“The blank vote will be higher than usual because the two candidates are from the most extreme positions on right and left, leaving the moderate centrist electorate with no obvious option,” said political analyst Yann Basset.

MADRID, June 4 , 2018 (News Wires) - A close aide to new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday rejected any prospect of early elections, despite his Socialist party being well short of a majority in parliament.

Sanchez, whose party holds just 84 of 350 seats, was propelled to head of government on Friday after convincing an unlikely alliance of anti-austerity and nationalist parties to oust the conservatives over a corruption scandal.
 
“It’s clearly unusual to govern with 84 lawmakers but the political situation remains very fragmented and everything suggests a new election wouldn’t fix that,” Jose Luis Abalos, often described as Sanchez’s right-hand man, told COPE radio.

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, June 3, 2018 (News Wires) — Slovenians are voting Sunday in a parliamentary election with polls predicting that an anti-immigrant party will win the most votes but not enough to form a government on its own.

The ballot is being held a few weeks earlier than the country’s regular four-year span following the sudden resignation in March of outgoing Prime Minister Miro Cerar over a failed railway project.

Slovenia, once part of former communist-run Yugoslavia and the home nation of U.S. first lady Melania Trump, joined the European Union in 2004. It has been using the shared euro currency since 2007.

The right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Janez Jansa has seen strong support ahead of Sunday’s ballot, followed by an anti-establishment party led by ex-comedian Marjan Sarec and several moderate groups from the outgoing ruling coalition.

But observers also say many of the country’s 1.7 million voters were still undecided.

Jansa’s rising popularity in the traditionally moderate Slovenia is seen as a reflection of a wider surge in right-wing populism in central and eastern Europe amid an influx into Europe of migrants from the Mideast and Africa.

Jansa has allied himself with Hungary’s firebrand prime minister, Viktor Orban, who participated in one of the SDS party’s election rallies.

Orban built a razor-wire fence on Hungary’s border with Serbia to keep migrants away.

The latest opinion polls predict Jansa’s SDS party could get around 25 per cent of the votes. Former satirist Sarec’s list and the Social Democrats are trailing with around 12 per cent each while Cerar’s Modern Center Party stands below 10 per cent.

Since no group is expected to gain an absolute majority in the 90-member parliament, negotiations to form a coalition government are likely after the vote.

Despite being the front-runner, Jansa won’t be able to return to power. More likely, other groups will form a coalition and keep him out of government.

MILAN, May 31, 2018 (News Wires) — Financial markets have calmed amid signs that Italy may avoid imminent elections after President Sergio Mattarella gave two populist parties time to figure out whether they can agree on an alternative to a euroskeptic economy minister.
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The leader of the 5-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, has proposed moving the contested ministerial candidate to a different Cabinet post.

League leader Matteo Salvini, meanwhile, said he isn’t closing the doors on any solution. But he’s also showing some resistance to the change, saying “if someone in Berlin or Paris wakes up in a bad mood that doesn’t mean that an Italian minister gets kicked out.”

Mattarella gave the leaders time to form a coalition government after markets plunged on news of an interim administration that would take Italy to new elections.

 By the Gazette Editorial Board

The Declaration of the four Libyan rivals in Paris this week set the political framework for ending the country's seven-year-old conflict.

 

One cannot claim, however, that matters will be simple and that all parties will co-operate on reaching the main goal, that of holding presidential and parliamentary elections on December 10, the results of which would hopefully end the serious division the country has suffered since the toppling of Gaddafi.

 

The statement has been endorsed, but not signed, by Fayez al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli; the military leader of the east of the country, Khalifa Haftar; the president of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh; and the head of the Council of State, Khaled al-Mishri.

 

According to the Paris statement, the four parties would by September 16, establish the constitutional basis and adopt the necessary laws for the elections.

 

This timetable seems very optimistic as it puts too much emphasis on elections as a solution to the neglect of the military, security and economic dimensions governing conditions in Libya. There is also doubt that the chief factions based in the east and west of the country would be able to agree on a constitutional base for the elections in such short period of time when they have failed to make a new constitution for two years.

 

The biggest dilemma, however, is the instability the country suffers. This results from the presence of a huge number of military factions. Some are controlled by local powers, others by foreign powers who work on destabilising Libya and its Arab neighbours. This could impede such an agreement.

 

Herein emerges the importance of unifying the Libyan military institution to work on restoring stability of the country and ending presence of the foreign militias such as those affiliated to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda who won't spare any effort to abort the Paris agreement.

 

The international community, especially Europe seems more than ever serious about settling Libya's chaotic situation today. It is true that Europe and other Western powers are partially responsible for the state of chaos that overtook the North African country since the Nato-supported military operation that toppled Gaddafi. This is not, however, why Europe, especially France's Macron, moves today to bring a peaceful settlement to the Libyan crisis.

 

One couldn't deny the catastrophic impact of the Libyan crisis on the entire Mediterranean region. Europe, especially, faced a tsunami of illegal migrants. Around 400,000 Africans were trafficked through Libya to reach the southern European countries, especially Italy, by boat.

 

The negative effect of this flow of illegal migrants to Europe brought power to rule within the reach of populist and far-rightist groups in some countries in Europe.

 

This could justify the major interest the different world powers show today in attending Paris conference. It could be the start of having the international community, led by the UN playing a bigger role in forcing the different Libyan factions to end the turmoil which had allowed fanatic militants to gain a foothold and migrant smugglers to flourish.

 

The Paris conference should be the start, not the end of this international push to restore security and stability to war-torn Libya.

 

The Declaration of the four Libyan rivals in Paris this week set the political framework for ending the country's seven-year-old conflict.

 

One cannot claim, however, that matters will be simple and that all parties will co-operate on reaching the main goal, that of holding presidential and parliamentary elections on December 10, the results of which would hopefully end the serious division the country has suffered since the toppling of Gaddafi.

 

The statement has been endorsed, but not signed, by Fayez al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli; the military leader of the east of the country, Khalifa Haftar; the president of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh; and the head of the Council of State, Khaled al-Mishri.

 

According to the Paris statement, the four parties would by September 16, establish the constitutional basis and adopt the necessary laws for the elections.

 

This timetable seems very optimistic as it puts too much emphasis on elections as a solution to the neglect of the military, security and economic dimensions governing conditions in Libya. There is also doubt that the chief factions based in the east and west of the country would be able to agree on a constitutional base for the elections in such short period of time when they have failed to make a new constitution for two years.

 

The biggest dilemma, however, is the instability the country suffers. This results from the presence of a huge number of military factions. Some are controlled by local powers, others by foreign powers who work on destabilising Libya and its Arab neighbours. This could impede such an agreement.

 

Herein emerges the importance of unifying the Libyan military institution to work on restoring stability of the country and ending presence of the foreign militias such as those affiliated to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda who won't spare any effort to abort the Paris agreement.

 

The international community, especially Europe seems more than ever serious about settling Libya's chaotic situation today. It is true that Europe and other Western powers are partially responsible for the state of chaos that overtook the North African country since the Nato-supported military operation that toppled Gaddafi. This is not, however, why Europe, especially France's Macron, moves today to bring a peaceful settlement to the Libyan crisis.

 

One couldn't deny the catastrophic impact of the Libyan crisis on the entire Mediterranean region. Europe, especially, faced a tsunami of illegal migrants. Around 400,000 Africans were trafficked through Libya to reach the southern European countries, especially Italy, by boat.

 

The negative effect of this flow of illegal migrants to Europe brought power to rule within the reach of populist and far-rightist groups in some countries in Europe.

 

This could justify the major interest the different world powers show today in attending Paris conference. It could be the start of having the international community, led by the UN playing a bigger role in forcing the different Libyan factions to end the turmoil which had allowed fanatic militants to gain a foothold and migrant smugglers to flourish.

 

The Paris conference should be the start, not the end of this international push to restore security and stability to war-torn Libya.

HARARE, May 30, 2018 (News Wires) - Zimbabwe will hold its general elections on July 30, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Wednesday, the first since the army forced 94-year-old former president Robert Mugabe to resign last November.

Mnangagwa, who became president following the military take-over, has promised to deliver on free and fair elections to win over Zimbabwe’s critics at home and abroad.

Missing from the July ballot for the first time in 20 years will be Zimbabwe’s foremost political gladiators, Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, who died from cancer in February.

The vote will pit Mnangagwa against a clutch of opponents including 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa from the MDC.

In a brief statement in an official government gazette, Mnangagwa said that he had fixed July 30 “as the day of the election of the president, the election of members of the national assembly and election of councillors.”

Prospective candidates will be registered on June 14.

The 75-year-old Mnangagwa is seeking a victory that will give him a fresh mandate and the legitimacy that will strengthen his political hand after Mugabe was ousted in a coup.

Nicknamed “Crocodile” for his secretive and insular demeanor before taking office, Mnangagwa goes into the election with the advantage of incumbency. He has promised to break with Mugabe’s policies and says Zimbabwe is opening up to foreign investors.

Mnangagwa has officially applied for Zimbabwe to re-join the Commonwealth it left in 2003 under Mugabe and has invited the grouping of former British colonies to send observers to its elections. The Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe over accusations of having flawed elections in 2002.

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