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Iraqi Kurds Await Results of Crucial Vote


IRAQ-KURDS: An official vote count is under way following elections in Iraqi Kurdistan that could have a lasting impact on the autonomous region and its relationship with Baghdad. The ballots are being tallied in the Iraqi capital. Results are expected within two to three days, but the region's electoral chief (Faraj al-Haidari) has warned that technical problems could delay official results for weeks. Local election officials say preliminary figures show more than 78 percent of eligible voters cast ballots Saturday. Northern Iraq's Kurdistan region has been locked in a bitter feud with Baghdad over land and oil.

US-MIDEAST: The U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Sunday in Damascus as part of a U.S. push for peace in the region. Mitchell said the conversation was "very candid and positive." The diplomat said he told Mr. Assad that U.S. President Barack Obama is determined to facilitate a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. He said peace is the only way to secure "stability, security and prosperity" in the region and that in order to succeed, both Arabs and Israelis will have to work with the U.S. Mitchell said a "near-term goal" is resuming negotiations between Syria and Israel. Syria suspended peace talks with Israel after Israel launched a military offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas last December.

IRAN: Demonstrators gathered in dozens of cities around the world Saturday for what organizers called a "day of action" to protest alleged human-rights violations in Iran, in the aftermath of the country's disputed presidential election last month. Iranian (2003) Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi urged hundreds of demonstrators in Amsterdam to reject the outcome of the Iranian election. She called for a new vote, monitored by the United Nations.
In Geneva, about 80 demonstrators who protested in front of the United Nations European headquarters wore green, the color of Iran's protest movement. In New York, hundreds of chanting demonstrators marched from Times Square to U.N. headquarters. Demonstrators in several cities carried pictures of Neda Agha-Soltan, a 27-year-old woman who died in a post-election protest in Tehran.

VATICAN-VIETNAM: Pope Benedict on Saturday named three new bishops for Vietnam, where the Vatican is working to restore ties with the communist government. The Vatican said the pontiff had selected Monsignor Joseph Vu Duy Thong as bishop of the southeastern city of Phan Thiet and Monsignor Pierre Nguyen Van De as bishop of the northern city of Thai Binh. The pope also selected Reverend Joseph Nguyen Nang as bishop of Phat Diem, a town south of the capital, Hanoi. Earlier in the week Vatican-affiliated news agencies quoted Vietnamese Cardinal Pham Minh Man as saying a Vietnamese government delegation will visit the Vatican in November. Vietnamese communist leaders cut ties with the Vatican after they took power in 1954, and they confiscated much of the Catholic church's property.

BURMA-CLINTON: A Burma state-run newspaper has accused U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of interfering in the affairs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, after she urged its members to pressure Burma to initiate more democratic reforms. The Sunday edition of Burma's Myanma Ahlin daily newspaper says if ASEAN goes along with Clinton's wishes, the regional bloc "would become the follower of the United States." The newspaper also said Clinton's call for the release of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi showed a "reckless regard for the law." Clinton attended the ASEAN regional forum last week in Thailand where she urged ASEAN to work for change in Burma. She also said that Aung San Suu Kyi's fate would determine the future of bilateral relations between the United States and Burma.

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