S/Korea ferry: Bad weather ham­pers search for sur­vivors

In­dia holds big­gest day of voting Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to launch re-elec­tion bid

Daily Trust - - INTERNATIONAL - In­di­ans wait­ing to cast their votes

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

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