Yuschenko Takes Over in Ukraine, Ends Election Struggle
Hundreds of thousands of voters celebrated on Sunday as Viktor Yuschenko took his oath as president of Ukraine. Eight heads of state witnessed the celebration together with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. The new president declared “victory of freedom over tyranny, law over lawlessness” and made promises of closer integration with the European Union.
The Supreme Court of Ukraine annulled the results of the previous round of presidential elections, won by incumbent Viktor Yanukovych, under pressure from millions of protesters in all bigger cities. Yanukovych was provided with political support from Russia, while Yuschenko campaigned with the promise of Westernization.
However, the initially cold relations between the new leader and Russia may soon return to normal. During Yuschenko’s first visit to the Kremlin, he assured Russian President Vladimir Putin about his commitment to close cooperation. However, issues of contention between the two governments still remain: the new premier of Ukraine, Julija Timosenko, is charged by the Russian courts with bribing high-ranked Russian military officials.
Snowstorm Stuns New England
Three states, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, declared states of emergency during what was said to be the fifth heaviest snowstorm of the century last weekend. The weather system poured more than three feet of snow on Massachusetts and interrupted electricity in Nantucket for several hours.
The damage caused by the blizzard was relatively small as everybody had ample time to prepare after the severe weather arrived to the Midwest on Wednesday. Still, at least 15 people lost their lives in the storm, including a 10-year old girl who was hit by a snow plough in Brooklyn, NY. Travel was also severely interrupted, and thousands of flights were cancelled. All major airports in the Northeast were closed, causing significant losses of income to several airlines in already precarious financial conditions, such as United and US Airways.
Iraqi Violence Escalates Before Sunday Election
Iraq prepares to host its first democratic elections ever as insurgents’ threats become increasingly serious. An audio recording attributed to the United States’ most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, threatened further violence and called for more support from the Sunni minority. Accordingly, the government will implement extreme security measures for the weekend: Baghdad’s airport and the country’s borders will be closed for two days, curfews will be extended, people will be barred from carrying weapons and the location of the polling places will be kept secret until the last minute.
The violence started to escalate as early as Monday when a series of car bombs exploded in northern Iraq around political party offices, US military convoys and schools that may be designated as polling stations. Three election workers were also kidnapped by rebels in the city of Mosul.
Another concern for election organizers is the possibility of low turnout: it is highly likely that the Sunni minority will boycott the elections and in some areas, even setting up poll stations seems to be an impossible task considering the security situation. As American soldiers will not be seen around the polling station, all responsibility will lie on the shoulders of Iraq’s own recently trained security forces.
The approximately 15 million eligible voters will select the 275 members of the Transitional National Assembly. The members of this assembly will elect the new Prime Minister. Counting the votes may take up to seven days.
(Sources: BBC, South China Morning Post, NYTimes, LATimes, CNN)