S/Korea ferry: Bad weather hampers search for survivors
India holds biggest day of voting Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to launch re-election bid
Millions of Indians cast their ballots in 121 constituencies across 12 states to choose next parliament.
Millions of Indians have cast their ballots in country’s biggest day of general election to choose the next parliament, with the ruling Congress party struggling to hold ground against the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatya Janta Party.
More than 65 percent of the nearly 200 million eligible voters turned up on Thursday to exercise their franchise, with eastern West Bengal state registering about 80 percent voting, while about 67 percent came out to vote in southern Karnataka state - home to India’s software hub. The politically crucial Uttar Pradesh state witnessed 56 percent voter turnout, while the Maoist-hit regions ofJharkhand registered about 60 percent turnout.
The fifth phase of voting was conducted in 121 constituencies across 12 states, including northeastern state of Manipur and Indian-administered Kashmir, which saw 74 percent and 69 percent polling respectively.
“We want Modi to win this time. That’s why we are here early in the morning, doing our best for him,” said Preetham Prabhu, a 32-year-old software engineer who was the first to cast his vote in a polling station in a residential suburb of Bangalore.
Officials had been deployed on Wednesday at thousands of polling booths where they checked voter documents in several constituencies.
“You can see that all the preparations to keep the elections fair, free, transparent and error-free are done,” said District Commissioner of Doda district in Jammu and Kashmir, Mubarak Singh.
Security was beefed up and paramilitary forces set up as some of the most threatened states get set to vote, including the violence-affected Indianadministered Kashmir and the recently riot-hit state of Uttar Pradesh.
Bharat Tamang, a voter in eastern Darjeeling town, told Al Jazeera: “Earlier we voted for our leaders but this time we have voted for our identity.”
The election has turned into a face-off between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, who has been lauded by Indian corporate leaders and foreign companies for his business-friendly policies.
Modi is Chief Minister of Gujarat, which witnessed one of India’s worst antiMuslim riots in 2002.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposition party and its allies are expected to win a narrow majority, defeating the ruling Congress party, in the world’s largest democratic election, the latest opinion poll showed on Monday. The BJP and its allies have until now been forecast to win the largest chunk of the 543 parliamentary seats, but fall short of the 272-seat mark needed for a majority.
The Congress party, led by the NehruGandhi dynasty, and its allies were forecast to win just 111 seats.
Congress faces a struggle to be re-elected after a decade in power due to public anger over the economic slowdown, high inflation and a string of corruption scandals.
Voter turnout has averaged 68 percent so far, the Election Commission said on Wednesday, versus 58 percent across the whole election in 2009. Aljazeera Bad weather, murky water and strong currents are hampering the search for survivors of the South Korean ferry disaster.
Emergency services are still searching for almost 280 people missing after a ship carrying 475 people sank.
Officials say 179 people have been rescued. Most of the passengers were pupils at the same high school.
South Korea’s president visited the wreck and urged rescuers to “hurry”.
Park Geun-hye said that time was running out and that every minute and every second was critical.
Eighteen people are confirmed to have died, with dozens more injured.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported earlier that one Russian and two Chinese were among the missing.
Military divers have been fighting high winds and waves to try to access the vessel but were not able to get into any of the cabins, the Chief of the West Regional Headquarters of the South Korean Coastguard, Kim Soo-hyun, said.
At a press conference on Thursday, Mr Kim said reports that the ferry went off its course were being investigated.
It is not yet clear what caused the ship to list at a severe angle and flip over, leaving only a small part of its hull visible above water, but some experts have suggested the ship may have hit an underwater obstacle.
Passengers’ relatives are also questioning the role of the captain, who is being quizzed by police.
Capt Lee Joon-seok was shown apologising on television. “I am really sorry and deeply ashamed. I don’t know what to say,” he said.
It comes amid reports he was one of the first to escape the doomed ship. BBC Toronto’s embattled mayor is set to kick off his re-election campaign at an event his brother and campaign aide has called “history in the making”.
Rob Ford is expected to deliver a 20-minute speech at the Toronto Congress Centre, where he celebrated his mayoral win in 2010.
Mr Ford has been stripped of many of his powers after admitting to using and purchasing drugs while mayor.
He faces two major challengers in the 27 October election.
His brother and campaign manager City Councillor Doug Ford said he expected “thousands” to turn out after the campaign sent automated phone invitations to many Toronto residents.
Mr Ford was first elected in 2010 to lead Canada’s largest city on a pledge to tackle wasteful spending at city hall. He draws much of his support from the suburban areas of Toronto.
He soon privatised rubbish collection across much of the city and did away with a vehicle tax, but quickly became bogged down in disputes with the council.
And over the past year, he has admitted smoking crack cocaine “in a drunken stupor” and to purchasing illegal drugs while mayor, while videos have emerged appearing to show him ranting obscenely in an intoxicated state.
Allegations have also surfaced in police documents that Mr Ford used racially abusive language, threatened staff, sexually propositioned a female colleague, and snorted cocaine in a restaurant.
In the fallout from the drugs scandal, the city council stripped Mr Ford of most of his mayoral powers and his budget, rendering him effectively mayor in name only, analysts say. Aljazeera