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MUMBAI, August 12, 2018 (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would be re-elected with an even bigger majority in parliament in 2019, dismissing opposition attempts to rouse opinion against his government for failing to deliver on promises of swift economic development and more jobs for young people.

Modi told the Times of India in an interview published on Sunday that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government is committed to improving the lives of all citizens regardless of faith.

Concerns have grown that his administration has been unable to rein in right-wing fringe groups that are trying to undermine India's secular constitution by targeting the nation's large Muslim minority.

"We will definitely get more seats than we got the last time and I am confident that we will break all records of the seats won by NDA (National Democratic Alliance) in the past and achieve greater glory.

"The people are with us and we have nothing to fear," Modi told the newspaper in an email interview.

Opinion polls show he remains the front runner to win another five-year term, but the party has suffered reverses in some local elections in the past few months that have energised the opposition.

The BJP failed to win power in southern Karnataka in May, the first big state to elect a new assembly this year in a contest widely seen as a test of its popularity after four years in office. It also lost a few races in the big heartland state of Uttar Pradesh in the north.

But Modi said voters wanted a strong and decisive central government to deliver on India's promise as a big economy and one of the potential drivers of global growth.

"My platform will be development, fast development and development for all...We have worked very hard in the last four years and we will go to the people with our track record of development," Modi said.

The opposition, led by the Congress party, is trying to pull together a grand alliance of regional parties and even communist groups to mount a joint campaign against Modi, who is seen as a divisive figure pushing a partisan, Hindu-first agenda.

Attacks on Muslims who are engaged in the cattle trade by Hindu vigilante groups who are opposed to the slaughter of cows have fueled fears that the government is either unable or unwilling to restrain them.

Modi's party denies any bias against Muslims and he told the Times of India that his government believes in equality in the rule of law for all citizens.

The BJP won 282 seats in the 2014 general election, giving it a simple majority in the lower house of Parliament. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 336 seats out of 543.

The opposition last month moved a no-confidence vote against the government but Modi easily survived thanks to his parliamentary majority.

BRASILIA, August 9, 2018 (News Wires) - Brazil stages its first presidential election debate on Thursday with eight of the crowded field locking horns but also one notable absentee -- jailed frontrunner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Thirteen candidates have officially entered the election, which starts with a first round on October 7 and is almost sure to go to a runoff two weeks later.

With deeply unpopular President Michel Temer not seeking a new term and Latin America's biggest country in a deep funk after years of recession and corruption scandals, it is the least predictable election in decades.

The debate on TV Bandeirantes will not feature four of the candidates, who have too small a presence in Congress to qualify.

But the real missing piece in the puzzle will be former two-term president Lula, who leads in opinion polls but is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption and looks almost sure to be barred from the ballot.

A court rejected his request to take part in the debate by jail cell video link.

So far, TV Bandeirantes has not responded to requests from Lula's leftist Workers' Party to mark his absence with an empty chair at the debate, or to allow his vice presidential pick, former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, to take his place.

But for the Workers' Party, even an absent Lula is a powerful weapon. With around 30 per cent in the polls, he would lead a first round and easily win a runoff.

Because he has lost an appeal to his corruption conviction, he in theory will be barred under the Brazilian clean slate law.

But Lula's lawyers are pushing for an escape route in the courts.

The main candidates due to appear during the debate include right-winger Jair Bolsonaro, who is polling in second place after Lula, and his next biggest rivals: centre-right former Sao Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin and environmentalist Marina Silva.

The October polls will also see elections for 27 governors, all 513 congressional lower house deputies and two thirds of the 81 senators.

BAGHDAD, August 6, 2018 (News Wires) - Iraq's election commission has completed a manual recount of votes from a parliamentary election held in May after the process was cut short in Baghdad, state television said on Monday.

The recount was ordered by parliament in June after a government report concluded there were serious violations in an initial count using an electronic vote-counting system.

However, a fire that broke out in the warehouse where the votes were stored had made a complete recount impossible, leading the electoral commission to cancel the remaining half of the capital, the state broadcaster said.

The commission's leadership had been suspended and replaced with a panel of judges who oversaw the recount. It is expected to announce its results in the coming days.

The winning parties are currently embroiled in negotiations over forming the next governing coalition. Influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc came first in the election, followed by a group of Iran-backed Shi'ite militia leaders, with incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's bloc in third place.

The political uncertainty has fueled tensions at a time when public impatience is growing over poor basic services, unemployment and the slow pace of rebuilding after a three-year war with Islamic State which cost tens of billions of dollars.

LONDON, August 4, 2018 (News Wires) - Britain's government said on Saturday that it was deeply concerned by violence following Zimbabwe's elections and by the "disproportionate response from the security forces."

"We have urged all parties to work together to ensure calm," Harriett Baldwin, minister of state for Africa, said in a statement. "It is vital that any appeals against the results or the process are handled swiftly and impartially."

Meanwhile, United States Arizona Senator Jeff Flake yesterday called on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to stand by its word on transparency and release all polling data.

Flake said in order to instil confidence in the July 30, election results, ZEC must make good on its commitment to release comprehensive polling data in a transparent manner that includes results from each polling station signed off by party agents who were present for the casting of ballots and the tabulation of results.

“Challenges to the results must be pursued through legal channels,” he said.

Flake, who is also chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-committee on African Affairs, also said the post-election violence in Zimbabwe rekindled the memories of the oppressive days of former president Robert Mugabe.

“The use of the Zimbabwean military to respond to political protests, or the use of the police force to disrupt press conferences, does not signal a new era. Rather, it echoes a dreadful past,” he said.

“After decades of misrule by Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe deserves to have a government worthy of its people.”

Flake was in Zimbabwe to observe the elections and said that on July 30, citizens walked for miles for the chance to cast a vote that mattered.

“During my visit to nearly a dozen polling stations scattered throughout rural Zimbabwe … I saw representatives of Zanu-PF and MDC-Alliance sitting together, chatting amicably and helping each other keep proper tallies,” he said.

In another development, members of Zimbabwe's defeated opposition party appeared in court yesterday on violence charges, a day after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared winner of the historic first elections following the downfall of Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe ally, has called for unity after presidential rival Nelson Chamisa rejected the results, insisting he was the real winner of an election marred by a deadly crackdown on opposition supporters.

At least six people died after troops in the capital Harare opened fire on demonstrators Wednesday, sparking an international outcry and raising grim memories of post-election violence under Mugabe's repressive rule.

Mnangagwa has accused Chamisa's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of fomenting the unrest, but said he would set up an independent commission to investigate the killings.

The 24 opposition members appearing in court were charged with "public violence" during the protests, accused of smashing windows at offices of the ruling ZANU-PF party, throwing stones and setting fire to vehicles.

HARARE, Zimbabwe, August 2, 2018 (News Wires) — Zimbabwe’s president said Thursday that his government has been in touch with the main opposition leader in an attempt to ease tensions after election-related violence in the country’s capital.

As the African nation awaited results from its presidential election on Monday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted that “we have been in communication” with challenger Nelson Chamisa and that “we must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear.”

Mnangagwa’s conciliatory remarks came a day after soldiers occupied the streets of Harare, shooting live rounds and beating demonstrators, many of whom were throwing rocks and setting fires to protest alleged fraud in Monday’s election. Three people were killed.

The violence erupted after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said the ruling ZANU-PF party won a majority in parliament. The commission, which must announce the presidential results by Saturday, has said the vote was free and fair.

In a series of tweets, Mnangagwa also called for an “independent investigation” into the violence in Harare, saying those responsible “should be identified and brought to justice.”

Mnangagwa previously said the opposition was to blame for the violence, though some international observers criticized the military for opening fire on unarmed civilians.

On Thursday, the streets of Harare were quiet as soldiers on foot and in trucks moved around, instructing vendors and other people to leave the city centre by noon. There was a heavy police presence around the headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, which had sought to dislodge the ruling party at the polls after decades of rule by former longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

The military deployment was the first time that soldiers had appeared in the capital’s streets since a military takeover led to the ouster of Mugabe in November. At that time, residents welcomed the soldiers as liberators.

Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said late Wednesday that the military will remain in the capital until “this situation is over.”

HARARE, July 30, 2018 (News Wires) - Zimbabweans voted on Monday in the first election since the removal of former president Robert Mugabe, a watershed moment they hope will rid the country of its pariah status and spark a recovery in its failed economy.

The election pits 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long-time Mugabe ally, against 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor vying to become Zimbabwe’s youngest head of state.

On the eve of the election, Mugabe emerged from eight months of obscurity since the military ousted him in a bloodless coup, to announce he would vote for the opposition, surprising former ally Mnangagwa who accused him of striking a deal with Chamisa.

Voting started at 7 a.m. (05:00 GMT) and will end at 7 p.m.

Opinion polls give former intelligence chief Mnangagwa, who took over as president after the army ousted Mugabe, only a slim lead over Chamisa.

There will be a runoff on Sept. 8 if no candidate wins more than half the votes.

Nicknamed “the Crocodile”, an animal famed in Zimbabwean lore for its stealth and ruthlessness, Mnangagwa, of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), has pledged to revive the moribund economy, attract foreign investment and mend racial and tribal divisions.

Queues of eager voters snaked around the streets of the capital Harare from before sunrise.

“ZANU-PF is the only party that I have voted for,” said Elizabeth Kamhunga, 67, after casting her vote at a school in the Harare suburb of Malbereign.

“We may have made some mistakes but I think President Mnangagwa is the only person who has the interests of Zimbabwe at heart.”

Chamisa, who honed his rhetorical skills in the courtroom and the pulpit, has attracted young and unemployed voters frustrated with nearly four decades of ZANU–PF rule.

“This is a historic day,” said Fabian Matsika, a security guard who woke at 4:30 a.m. to travel to his polling station on the outskirts of the capital.

“I’ll vote for Chamisa because it is a vote for change, it is a vote for the youth. Tomorrow we will have a new president.”

Mugabe, one of the last “Big Men” of African politics, still looms large over Zimbabwean society and his comments may yet influence the first vote without his name on the ballot paper since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980.

For Zimbabwe to be welcomed back into the international fold, end painful sanctions and secure the donor funding it needs to stem chronic cash shortages, observers have to sign off on the vote as being credible.

Several elections under Mugabe were marred by intimidation, rigging and widespread violence but the consensus is the build-up to this vote has been better than before.

There have been reports of intimidation and coercion and state media are biased towards ZANU–PF. Chamisa’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has questioned the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Mnangagwa has welcomed foreign media and international observers from the European Union, the United States and the Commonwealth, who are watching polling stations across the country.

There remain concerns that people may be intimidated into voting a certain way by party members.

“It is exciting to see so many Zimbabweans casting ballots,” said former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, co-leader of the National Democratic Institute’s observer mission.

“However the public’s faith in the secrecy of the ballot is essential for the credibility of the process. We urge the authorities to do everything possible to ensure the secrecy of today’s vote.”

Mnangagwa has made a big effort to win over foreign opinion; hosting Western ambassadors, courting investors and patching up relations with white commercial farmers who were violently evicted from their farms under Mugabe.

Whoever wins will face the mammoth task of putting Zimbabwe back on track after 37 years of Mugabe rule that was tainted by corruption, mismanagement and diplomatic isolation, sending one of Africa’s most promising economies into crisis.

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