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BAGHDAD, June 30, 2018 (News Wires) - Iraq will begin a manual recount of May national election votes on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Independent High Electoral Commission said in a statement on Saturday.

Only those problematic ballots flagged in formal complaints or official reports on fraud allegations will be recounted, the statement said.

The recount will start in Kirkuk province on Tuesday, and will extend to six further provinces: Sulaimaniya, Erbil, Dohuk, Nineveh, Salaheddin and Anbar, the statement said.


ANKARA, June 26, 2018  (News Wires) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan won sweeping new executive powers on Monday after his victory in elections that also saw his Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist allies secure a majority in parliament.

Erdogan's main rival, Muharrem Ince of the Republican People's Party (CHP), conceded defeat but branded the elections unjust and said the presidential system that now takes effect was "very dangerous" because it would lead to one-man rule.

A European rights watchdog also said the opposition had faced "unequal conditions", adding that restrictions on media freedom to cover the elections were accentuated by a continuing state of emergency imposed in Turkey after a failed 2016 coup.

Erdogan, 64, the most popular - yet divisive - leader in modern Turkish history, told jubilant, flag-waving supporters there would be no retreat from his drive to transform Turkey, a NATO member and, at least nominally, a candidate to join the European Union.

He is loved by millions of devoutly Muslim working class Turks for delivering years of stellar economic growth and overseeing the construction of roads, bridges, airports, hospitals and schools.

But his critics, including rights groups, accuse him of destroying the independence of the courts and press freedoms. A crackdown launched after the coup has seen 160,000 people detained, and the state of emergency allows Erdogan to bypass parliament with decrees. He says it will be lifted soon.

Erdogan and the AK Party claimed victory in Sunday's presidential and parliamentary elections after defeating a revitalized opposition that had looked capable of staging an upset.

"It is out of the question for us to turn back from where we've brought our country in terms of democracy and the economy," Erdogan said on Sunday night.

His victory means he will remain president at least until 2023 - the centenary of the founding of the Turkish republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan's foes accuse him of dismantling Ataturk's secular legacy by bringing religion back into public life.

Erdogan responds to such criticism by saying he is trying to modernize Turkey and improve religious freedoms.

ANKARA, Turkey, June 25, 2018 (News Wires) — The head of Turkey's electoral board says 99.91 per cent of the ballots cast in Sunday's dual presidential and parliamentary elections have been "processed" so far.

Sadi Guven on Monday described the elections, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a new five-year term with vastly increased powers, as "healthy" and said the results would be opened for public scrutiny in 10 days.

According to unofficial results, Erdogan won 52.6 percent of the votes in the presidential race, avoiding a second-round runoff vote. His ruling Justice and Development Party garnered 42.5 per cent of the parliamentary vote.

The board is scheduled to confirm the results on June 29 after reviewing complaints.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has become one of the first world leaders to congratulate Recep Tayyip Erdogan on being re-elected as Turkey's president.

Turkey's national electoral board has declared Erdogan the winner of the country's presidential election with an absolute majority of valid votes.

Putin sent Erdogan a telegram to congratulate him on the victory, the Kremlin said in a statement on Monday.

Putin told Erdogan that the results of the election were a testament to his political authority and the broad support for his leadership.

Turkey and Russia have put aside their traditional rivalries and differences on regional issues to forge closer ties. Putin and Erdogan have met several times in the past year and regularly speak on the phone.

Also Monday, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci congratulated Erdogan in a tweet, adding: "Looking forward to our continued good co-operation."

Turkey has been a main supporter of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

ANKARA, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) -- Turks began voting on Sunday for a new president and parliament in elections that pose the biggest challenge to Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party since they swept to power more than a decade and a half ago.

The elections will also usher in a powerful new executive presidency long sought by Erdogan and backed by a small majority of Turks in a 2017 referendum. Critics say it will further erode democracy in the NATO member state and entrench one-man rule.

More than 56 million people were registered to vote at 180,000 ballot boxes across Turkey. Voting began at 8 am (0500 GMT) and will end at 5 pm (1400 GMT).

Erdogan, the most popular but also divisive leader in modern Turkish history, moved the elections forward from November 2019, arguing the new powers would better enable him to tackle the nation's mounting economic problems - the lira has lost 20 percent against the dollar this year - and deal with Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

But he reckoned without Muharrem Ince, the presidential candidate of the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), whose feisty performance at campaign rallies has galvanized Turkey's long-demoralised and divided opposition.

Addressing a rally in Istanbul on Saturday attended by hundreds of thousands of people, Ince promised to reverse what he and opposition parties see as a swing towards authoritarian rule under Erdogan in the country of 81 million people.

"If Erdogan wins, your phones will continue to be listened to ... Fear will continue to reign ... If Ince wins, the courts will be independent," said Ince, adding he would lift Turkey's state of emergency within 48 hours of being elected.

Turkey has been under emergency rule - which restricts some personal freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with emergency decrees - for nearly two years following an abortive military coup in July 2016.

Erdogan blamed the coup on his former ally, US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, and has waged a sweeping crackdown on the preacher's followers in Turkey. The United Nations say some 160,000 people have been detained and nearly as many more, including teachers, judges and soldiers, sacked.

The president's critics, including the European Union which Turkey still nominally aspires to join, say Erdogan has used the crackdown to stifle dissent. Few newspapers or other media openly criticise the government and he has received far more election coverage than other presidential candidates.

Erdogan, who defends his tough measures as essential for national security, told his supporters at rallies on Saturday that if re-elected he would press ahead with more of the big infrastructure projects that have helped turn Turkey into one of the world's fastest-growing economies during his time in office.

Polls show Erdogan falling short of a first-round victory in the presidential race but he would be expected to win a run-off on July 8, while his AK Party could lose its parliamentary majority, possibly heralding increased tensions between president and parliament.

Other presidential candidates include Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), who is now in jail on terrorism-related charges that he denies. If the HDP exceeds the 10 percent threshold of votes needed to enter parliament, it will be harder for the AKP to get a majority.

In a final appeal for votes in a video clip from his high security prison, Demirtas said: "If the HDP fails to get into parliament, all Turkey will lose. Backing the HDP means supporting democracy."

WARSAW, Poland, June 23, 2018 (News Wires) — Poland's former president and pro-democracy leader, Lech Walesa, says he is joining forces with the opposition to prevent the right-wing ruling party from winning a string of upcoming elections.

The 74-year-old Walesa addressed a meeting of opposition parties and activists Saturday in the Baltic city of Gdansk, at the center dedicated to the Solidarity movement that he led in the 1980s and that brought democracy to Poland.

He said the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party is threatening democracy, and that a joint effort was needed to prevent the party from winning local and presidential elections.

The meeting comes as questions are being raised about the future of Law and Justice due to the illness of its leader and strategist, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

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.

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