20 October 2005 Edition

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News in Brief

Iraq's referendum

About 61% of the Iraqi electorate have voted in a referendum on a controversial constitution that will shape the future of the country. The referendum took place on Saturday 14 October. After weeks of escalating violence — at least 450 people were killed during the week before the vote — Saturday was a quiet day.

The draft constitution has been put together mostly by the Shia-majority(60% of Iraq's 27-million population) and Kurds (another 20%). Sunni Muslims complain the document does not represent their interests, saying it paves the way for devolved governments for the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south, leaving Sunnis isolated in the poorer centre. However, last-minute amendments, allowing for future changes to the text have divided the Sunni community, with some parties calling for a "yes" vote.

Putin hard-line on Chechnya

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised further repression and military action to respond to the latest incident involving Chechen rebels. In the latest confrontation on Thursday 13 October police tried to arrest suspected Chechen activists in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria province.

Up to 1,500 Russian troops and 500 special forces soldiers were sent to the city after Putin ordered that any rebels found be shot if they resisted. Estimates of the number of Chechen troops involved in the attacks range from 60 to 300. An aide to the President of Kabardino-Balkaria said 17 had been detained. Authorities say those killed include 72 rebels, 12 police and 12 civilians, with dozens wounded.

Earthquake survivors victimised

Death from exposure and disease is the future faced by millions of survivors who lost everything but their lives to the earthquake that devastated Kashmir on Saturday 9 October.

More than a week after the tremor many have received no assistance. When this arrives its always too little and too late. And while tragedy has unfolded at both sides of the border between India and Pakistan, instead of solidarity or a co-ordinated relief effort, what has developed is a new stand-off between both states.

Pakistan has not sent the needed equipment to the border area nor allowed Indian military help the inhabitants of Pakistani Kashmir. As a result Kashmiris are turning for help to well-organised Islamic militant groups, officially banned by President Musharraf. The United Jihad Council, a loose alliance of pro-Pakistan Kashmir militant organisations, warned it wouldn't allow Indian troops to carry out relief work in their territory

Call for end to Cuban blockade

The 17 leaders who attended the Ibero-American summit that took place in the Spanish city of Salamanca on the second week of October called on the US to comply with 13 consecutive United Nations resolutions and "bring an end to the economic, trade and financial blockade it maintains against Cuba".

They also issued a separate resolution in which they called for the extradition of the Venezuelan citizen responsible for a 1976 attack on a Cuban plane flying between Caracas and Havana which claimed 73 lives. Luis Posada Carriles, who was not mentioned by name, is currently detained in the United States, but Venezuela has sought his extradition. Several leaders did not attend the meeting, including Cuban President Fidel Castro and the presidents of Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, as some of them were co-ordinating rescue efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Stan.

Politician murdered

Francesco Fortugno, Vice President of the Regional Council of Calabria, was assassinated in the southern Italian city of Locri as he went to vote to select a candidate to lead the Union, the centre-left coalition confronting Berlusconi in the next general election. The killing is being blame on the Mafia organisation 'Ndrangheta, one of the most powerful in the country.


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