Right-wing Israeli political parties form super bloc for election

JERUSALEM -– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Thursday night that their political parties would run on the same ticket in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu creates a potentially powerful right-wing super bloc that many predict will form the foundation of the next coalition government.

"We must join forces for the sake of Israel’s future," Netanyahu said at a news conference announcing the alliance, which came as a surprise to many of both parties’ members. "A clear mandate will allow me to focus on what’s really important."

Though the two parties have worked together in the same coalition since Netanyahu’s election in 2009 and were widely expected to continue that partnership, the closer alliance marks the first time that the parties will offer a consolidated list of candidates.

"This move will sharpen the differences between right and left, and it will boost our capacity to govern, and to grapple with the challenges facing Israel," said Education Minister Gideon Saar, a Likud member.

He said the parties would not be formally merging.

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China media: Quiet on Communist Party Congress, gaga for U.S. election

If you picked up a Chinese newspaper in the past week, here's a smattering of the details you could have learned about the U.S. presidential campaign: Mitt Romney might be tanning himself in a bid to appeal to minorities; at 7-Eleven convenience stores, Barack Obama mugs are outselling Romney mugs by a 60%-to-40% margin; and Candy Crowley is known as a tough debate moderator
BEIJING -- If you picked up a Chinese newspaper in the past week, here's a smattering of the details you could have learned about the U.S. presidential campaign: Mitt Romney might be tanning himself in a bid to appeal to minorities; at 7-Eleven convenience stores, Barack Obama mugs are outselling Romney mugs by a 60%-to-40% margin; and Candy Crowley is known as a tough debate moderator.

The two candidates have turned China into a political football this fall, waging verbal war over issues such as outsourcing and currency manipulation. And to be sure, this "China-bashing" element of the contest has not gone unremarked upon in the Chinese media.

"Politicians who always look for scapegoats are either stupid or cowardly," Ding Gang wrote an Op-Ed article in the Global Times. "If Barack Obama or Mitt Romney really won more votes by slandering or playing tough on China, it would be a shame for the American politics and trouble for the world."

But among ordinary Chinese, there appears to be only the mildest concern about the issues of the election. What's of much greater interest, it seems, is just how the whole contest -- and the surrounding hoopla -- works.

Ahead of the second U.S. presidential debate, the Chengdu Business Daily in Sichuan province devoted a full page to the event. The paper outlined the seven major rules of the debate, published a brief biography of Crowley, and explained the whole notion of "cookie bake-offs" between the wives of the candidates and how accurate a predictor they are of actual election results.

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Fatah dominates West Bank election amid low turnout

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Amid a lackluster voter turnout, Palestinians largely elected the dominant Fatah Party to represent them in local councils throughout the West Bank, election officials said Sunday.

But rather than strengthening Fatah’s credibility as its leaders had hoped, the election -- the first municipal poll held since 2005 -- exposed internal party divisions and a deep public apathy.

Only about 55% of eligible voters went to the polls Saturday, down from 70% when municipal elections were last held seven years ago.

Analysts said the low turnout reflected a public frustration over the lack of new leaders and choices.

Fatah’s main rival -- the Islamist party Hamas, which controls Gaza Strip -- boycotted the West Bank election, saying its members were being harassed. No voting occurred in Gaza.

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Latin American governments congratulate Chavez win in Venezuela

MEXICO CITY -- Governments in Latin America quickly congratulated Hugo Chavez on his reelection Sunday as president of Venezuela, a sign of his convincing win over strong opposition challenger Henrique Capriles.

With Chavez's victory, Venezuela's socialist government is set to remain in power at least through 2019 and maintain its position as a regional leader for leftist governments that are Bolivarian ideological allies or depend on Venezuela's oil and subsidies.

The congratulations were effusive and personally directed at the president who has been in office for more than 13 years, making Chavez, 58, the longest-serving leader in Latin America.

"Your decisive victory assures the continuation of the struggle for the genuine integration of Our America," said Cuban President Raul Castro, in a statement released by the communist country's embassy in Mexico City.

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Municipal elections in Brazil provide welcome news for President Rousseff

Voters in Sao Paulo, Brazil
SAO PAULO, Brazil – Municipal elections throughout Brazil on Sunday saw Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes easily reelected, while in Sao Paulo two mayoral candidates faced a second round runoff.

Paes, a popular incumbent who won with an outright majority, will serve as mayor as Rio hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics. He is a member of the centrist Democratic Movement Party.

In Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city, election results left Jose Serra of the Social Democratic Party and Fernando Haddad of the governing Workers’ Party looking at a second round of voting Oct. 28.

For most of the election season, pollsters watching the Sao Paulo race predicted Celso Russomano, a television personality widely believed to be backed by evangelical Christian churches, would fair well with voters. Russomano, who continually denied any links to the churches, faced political attacks in the last weeks of the campaign and finished in third place Sunday.

Brazilians voted largely to keep the major parties in charge of their cities, providing welcome news to President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party.

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Voter turnout heavy in Venezuela; Chavez vows to respect results

CARACAS, Venezuela — Voter turnout was reported heavy across Venezuela in Sunday’s presidential election in which leftist President Hugo Chavez is seeking a fourth term against challenger Henrique Capriles, a youthful center-right former governor who says the incumbent’s socialist experiment has failed.

After casting his vote at in a poor neighborhood in western Caracas, Chavez saluted supporters who were present, including Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu and Hollywood actor Danny Glover.

"We will respect the decision of the people, whether it's by 3 million votes or just one," Chavez said,  expressing confidence in Venezuela's ballot-counting system, calling it "the best in the world."

Capriles voted in the affluent Mercedes zone of eastern Caracas and afterward said he too would respect the will of the electorate. "I'm very emotional and very happy," he said. "Something good is happening." 

Support for the two candidates seemed to break down along demographic lines. It came as no surprise that backing for Capriles seemed almost unanimous in the middle- to upper-class Santa Rosa barrio in eastern Caracas, where many express a visceral dislike of Chavez and his “Bolivarean Revolution.”

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Awakened in Venezuela capital by reveille, voters head for polls

Venezuela election
CARACAS, Venezuela — As President Hugo Chavez promised, many residents of Venezuela's capital awoke early Sunday to the sounds of "El Toque de Diana," a recorded version of military reveille blaring over loudspeakers. It was literally a wake-up call to vote in Sunday’s presidential election.

In his closing campaign rally Thursday, Chavez, a former army colonel, said he wanted to roust Venezuelans to vote early so that his “irreversible” victory would be plain by midday. Most pollsters, however, expect an exceedingly tight vote and that the ballot count could extend into tonight’s wee hours. Although Chavez leads in most polls, some indicate challenger Henrique Capriles could eke out a victory.

In any case, residents in Caracas responded in droves; by 8 a.m., lines a half-mile long or longer were snaking around many of the capital’s polling places, a reflection of the significance of the election in this highly polarized country.

The nation's 19-million eligible voters face a stark choice. If Chavez is reelected to a fourth term, Venezuela will continue along the socialist path he has charted. The redistribution of the country’s oil wealth, housing, ranches and farmland will continue and more private enterprises almost certainly will be nationalized.

If Capriles wins, the takeovers will stop and private property will be more respected, although the former Miranda state governor has promised to retain Chavez’s social welfare programs called Missions, even seeking to make them more efficient.

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As 'Chavismo' sputters, a charismatic challenger woos Venezuelans

Henrique Capriles has united and mobilized opposition forces
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has loomed larger than life over his oil-rich country for nearly 14 years, doling out healthcare and houses and university admissions to supporters of his “Bolivarian Revolution” aimed at creating history’s first affluent socialist state.

A barrel-chested former paratrooper who has tapped Venezuela's oil revenues to court a loyal following among the country’s poor, Chavez has handily outpolled disorganized opponents in past elections and harnessed people power to defeat a 2001 coup d’etat and win a recall vote three years later.

GlobalFocusBut much of the revolutionary fire that stirred the masses into a political phenomenon known as Chavismo has gone out of the cancer-stricken president. For the first time since his 1998 election victory, he faces a viable competitor with a message of unity and a track record of efficient management as governor of the state that surrounds Caracas.

Few neutral observers are yet convinced that Chavez will fall to Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles in Sunday’s presidential election. They are as dubious of polls showing the 40-year-old challenger with a slight edge as they are of the Chavez-commissioned surveys depicting the incumbent at least 10 percentage points ahead. 

Still, there is a solidifying impression among political analysts that Chavez's "missions" to eradicate illiteracy, improve healthcare, provide government jobs and build housing for the homeless have benefited too few for the vast sums squandered on the programs. A Reuters news agency report this week on its investigation into the opaque ledgers of a massive slush fund under Chavez's control identified more than $100 billion in off-budget spending over the last seven years.

While the social programs are popular and have made dents in poverty and illiteracy, Venezuelans are tiring of unfulfilled promises after 14 years, said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. He believes that Chavez "has run his course."

Violent crime has skyrocketed -- including at least two fatal shootings of Capriles supporters at campaign events this week. Infrastructure is crumbling, as seen in deadly refinery explosions this summer. Power shortages afflict much of the country, and "there is a sense that Chavez's rhetoric has lost its magic," Shifter said.

A cult of personality enveloped Chavez through most of his presidency, with his visage ubiquitous on posters and billboards. Broadcast media have been obliged to carry every one of his 2,300 speeches. If aired end to end 24/7, they would run for 72 days, according to the calculations of two prominent Latin American statesmen in a report for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The report, by career Chilean diplomat Genaro Arriagada and former Mexican Federal Electoral Institute chief Jose Woldenberg, also noted that Venezuela’s high-tech balloting machines that identify voters by fingerprint are suspected by a third of the population -– and a majority of Chavez supporters -- of creating a record of how they voted, despite official demonstrations to the contrary.

Voters in line for new housing or other government perqs fear they'll be bumped from the waiting lists if they are found to have voted for the opposition, said Charles Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and now president of the Institute of the Americas in La Jolla.

Hugo Chavez campaigning Tuesday"What is true is not as important as what people think is true," Shapiro said of voters' enduring  suspicions that their votes won't be secret.

Opinion polls in Venezuela are a poor gauge of voter intentions, said Shapiro, who wouldn't hazard a guess as to whether an end to the Chavez era might be on the horizon.

"What I do know is that Capriles has run a terrific campaign. Chavez has been president for 14 years, and in any country a certain weariness sets in," Shapiro said. "While Chavez is a very good campaigner, he clearly is not as vigorous as in past campaigns."

Chavez, 58, has had three cancer operations in Cuba in 15 months and often has been absent, uncharacteristically, from the public spotlight.

The 40-year-old Capriles, by contrast, has projected a dynamic image, plunging headlong into Chavista territory to assure the poor that as president he would maintain popular social programs but run them better.

"Capriles has been extremely smart in his campaign, in a way that would suggest there's not going to be a period of vengeance against Chavez supporters in the government," Shifter said. "The mistake the opposition has made in the past is saying that everything Chavez has done is bad."

It remains to be seen whether the young governor's message is strong enough to overcome the considerable powers of incumbency, with Chavez in control of the airwaves and the oil treasure chest, Shifter said. There are also concerns about whether a Capriles victory would be respected by Chavez loyalists on the electoral council, in the courts and among the armed forces.

"Capriles is the new generation," whether he wins this time or not, Shifter said. "People are obviously responding to his message and giving him a serious look."


Georgia President Saakashvili concedes election defeat

Assailants kill at least 25 students in northeastern Nigeria

Hong Kong police arrest 7 in harbor collision that killed 38 people

Follow Carol J. Williams at www.twitter.com/cjwilliamslat

Photo: Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, at a campaign rally on Monday, has united the country's scattered opposition forces to confront President Hugo Chavez with the first serious challenge of his 14-year tenure in Miraflores Palace. Credit: Leo Ramirez / AFP/GettyImages

Insert: President Hugo Chavez, at a campaign rally in Yaracui state on Tuesday, still draws enthusiastic crowds but has been less in the public spotlight this election year because of long absences for cancer treatment in Cuba. Credit: Juan Barreto / AFP/GettyImages

Georgia President Saakashvili concedes election defeat

Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western president of Georgia faced with increasing protests among his people, conceded defeat after preliminary election returns showed the opposition had won control of parliament and the right to name a powerful new prime minister
TBILISI, Georgia -- Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western president of Georgia faced with increasing protests among his people, conceded defeat Tuesday after preliminary election returns showed the opposition had won control of parliament and the right to name a powerful new prime minister.

In a televised address, the 44-year-old leader acknowledged that the Georgian Dream coalition led by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili had won, and said his own United National Movement would become the opposition.

"You know well that the views of this coalition were and still remain fundamentally unacceptable for me," he said, "but democracy works in a way that allows the Georgian people to make a decision by a majority."

With nearly half the ballots counted by Tuesday afternoon, the Central Election Commission reported that Georgian Dream had 54.1% of the vote to 41% for Saakashvili's movement.

Ivanishvili said Tuesday in televised remarks that after all the votes are counted, his coalition would most likely control at least 100 of the 150 seats in parliament. The tycoon said he would seek the post of prime minister and that the entire Cabinet would be replaced.

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Italy's (unelected) prime minister hints he might stay on

ROME -- Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, given the job less than a year ago of rescuing Italy from economic crisis, upset the political apple cart Thursday by saying that he would consider continuing as the nation's leader beyond elections planned for next year.

The statement, while couched in conditional terms, was made in New York, where he has been meeting with other world leaders gathered at the United Nations.

Mainstream political leaders, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, reacted quickly and coldly, saying that governments are chosen through elections, while Monti’s unelected cabinet was brought in as an interim solution to an emergency situation late last year.

At a briefing at the Council on Foreign Relations, Monti said, "I hope there will be a clear result with a clear possibility for whatever majority to be formed and for a government led by a political leader,” in elections next spring.

But, he added, "should there be circumstances in which they were to believe that I could serve helpfully after that period of elections, I will be there.”

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