Nigerians Cast Ballots in Presidential Elections

Stockbyte(ABUJA, Nigeria) -- Nigerians headed to the polls Saturday to vote in the country's presidential elections. Many are hoping that it will be the first credible presidential election in decades.

President Goodluck Jonathan is the front runner with two main challengers: former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu.

Jonathan took office in May, breaking a tradition of alternating power between the Christian south and mostly Muslim north every two terms. Jonathan hails from the southern portion of the nation.

The divergence from that pattern has spurred demands for a leader from the North.

There were no serious spats of violence as of midday Saturday, but two explosions in Maiduguri prompted increased security measures. No one was reported injured.

Nigeria is scheduled to hold state level elections on April 26.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FBI Counter-Terror Official: Al Qaeda 'Thrives' After Dictators Fall

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- On the same day reports emerged of a new al Qaeda video that praised the revolutions sweeping the Arab world, one the U.S.'s top counter-terror officials warned the terror organization "thrives" in the political unrest that follows.

"The governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have drastically changed in the last six months," FBI Assistant Director of Counter-Terrorism Mark Giuliano said Thursday. "They are now led by transitional or interim governments, military regimes, or democratic alliances with no established track record on counterterrorism efforts. Al Qaeda thrives in such conditions and countries of weak governance and political instability -- countries in which governments may be sympathetic to their campaign of violence."

Giuliano made the comments at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy just hours before the first reports emerged of the new al Qaeda video, which features separate appearances by al Qaeda's number two commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and American-born key commander in al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula (AQAP), Anwar al-Awlaki, each praising the recent uprisings. In the hour-plus long video, al-Zawahiri orders Muslims in Egypt to create an Islamic state there and calls for the Arab armies of the Middle East to intervene in Libya to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi before "Western aid... turns into invasions."

If Guiliano is wary of Islamic militant influence in the uprisings, especially in Libya, he's is not alone. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her fears the revolt in Libya would be exploited by terror groups at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting in early March.

When President Obama authorized the U.S. government to provide covert support for the Libyan rebels later that month, the deal did not include arms provisions.

"We don't know as much as we would like to know and as much as we expect we will know," Clinton said at the time of the rebels the U.S. was supporting.

Eastern Libyan towns now associated with the rebel cause were just a few years before considered by the U.S. as havens for al Qaeda fighters, according to government documents.

Still, one U.S. official saw the new al Qaeda video as just another attempt in al Qaeda's recent, belated efforts to spin the spreading Arab-world protests in their favor.

"Al Qaeda must be pretty damn frustrated these days," the official told ABC News Thursday in response to the video. "Calls for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa don't exactly square with their extremist views. They've been on the wrong side of history -- and humanity -- for years."

Whether their spin on the Arab revolutions is working or not, Guiliano said al Qaeda's ability to reach millions around the globe through such video propaganda and al-Qaeda's English-language online magazine "Inspire" -- which dedicated its whole last issue to supporting the revolutions -- is a serious threat to U.S. security.

In fact, Guiliano said that al-Awlaki's AQAP, which produces "Inspire" in addition to online videos, has become "the most serious threat to the homeland today" -- even more so than Osama Bin Laden's "core" al Qaeda group. That's in part due to their media savvy, he said.

"AQAP... understands and expertly exploits social media to share their knowledge with others of similar mindsets," he said. "They realize the importance and value of reaching English speaking audiences and are using the group's marketing skills to inspire individuals to attack within the homeland."

One U.S. official told ABC News that by having al-Awlaki's message appear with that of senior al Qaeda leadership in the new video -- which is unprecedented -- the "core" al Qaeda group may be using al-Awlaki to reach a "more Western audience."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Clinton: Iran Trying to Exploit Middle East Unrest

Alex Wong/Getty Images(BERLIN) -- Friday, in a press conference in Berlin, Clinton said there are signs Iran is trying to exploit the unrest in the Middle East.
“We do see activities by Iran to try to take advantage of these uprisings.  They are trying to exploit unrest.  They are trying to advance their agenda in neighboring countries.  They continue to try to undermine peace and stability to provoke further conflict,” she said.
Earlier this week, Clinton urged Arab countries to consolidate gains from recent unrest and to push towards democracy, or else they might turn into Iran, whose 1979 revolution was hijacked by religious extremists.
“We want people in the region to understand that the Iranian Government’s motive here is to destabilize countries, not to assist them in their democratic transitions,” Clinton added, “in an era of instant communication, we hope that people will not be fooled by their tactics.”
“We’re very watchful,” she said.
Clinton also had strong words for Syria.
“We call upon the Syrian authorities once again to refrain from any further violence against their own people.  The arbitrary arrests, the detentions, the reports of torture of prisoners must end now.  The free flow of information must be permitted once again.  We have to allow journalists and human rights monitors the opportunity to enter Syria, to be free to report, to independently verify what’s happening on the ground, because, as you know, it’s very difficult to get accurate information as to what is going on,” she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Egypt: Mubarak's Arrest 'Calmed' the Streets


(CAIRO) -- It's a relatively quiet Friday in Cairo so far.

The military’s move against the Mubarak family worked. It calmed the streets. For now.

The arrest of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and his sons was widely seen as another revolutionary milestone here -- a first in the long history of Egypt: A ruler facing justice.

A few score protesters have gathered in Tahrir Square, which has become a kind of Speakers Corner for this city. As the traffic snakes and snarls and honks by, people chant, holler, proclaim and discuss their opinions. It's a scene full of good feeling, actually, full of natural dignity.

And their message Friday may surprise you: the people and the army are still one.

The idea of President Mubarak on trial is deeply stirring to Egyptians, and a lot rides on what happens next. If the trial is a vicious farce, like Saddam Hussein's trial, it will damage this revolution. But people here seem to want true justice, and President Mubarak's arrest and his (fair) trial can be, it is hoped, a cornerstone of a new Egypt.

While human rights activists can point to specific and disturbing violations by the military government here -- especially the case of blogger Mikeil Nabil, sentenced to three years in prison for "insulting the military"-- most people still seem willing to give this awkward process towards democracy more time, and give the generals the benefit of the doubt. For now.

The bottom line: The military has power. But so do the people in the street. And there is a tricky, sometimes tense balance between the guns of the soldiers and the demands of the people.

So it wasn't really the military that arrested President Mubarak. It was the people.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Kate Middleton Spotted at Westminster Abbey

Chris Jackson/Getty Images(LONDON) -– Just two weeks until the royal wedding and Kate Middleton is hoping that practice makes perfect.

Palace officials confirmed that the bride-to-be was at Westminster Abbey for a wedding rehearsal on Friday with her soon to be brother-in-law and the ceremony's best man, Prince Harry. All of the bridesmaids and page boys were also in attendance.

But where was the groom? Prince William, who serves as a search and rescue pilot for the Royal Air Force, was at work. His office said he did not attend because he was in Wales during the royal rehearsal tending to his RAF duties.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Afghanistan: Kandahar Police Chief Killed in Attack

ABC News(KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan) -- The police chief of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province was killed in a suicide attack Friday, local officials confirmed to ABC News.

Khan Mohammad Mujahid died and two others were wounded, when the bomber, wearing a police uniform, detonated his device at police headquarters.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NATO Allies Say Gadhafi Cannot Remain in Power in Libya

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The leaders of the U.S., Great Britain and France have issued a collective statement saying there can be no peace in Libya as long as Moammar Gadhafi remains in power.

The statement is in a letter signed by President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and published in the U.K., France and here in the U.S. in the Washington Post.

The leaders stated while NATO has no mandate to remove Gaddafi by force, “It is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gadhafi in power."  The letter stated that to allow Gadhafi to remain in charge “would be an unconscionable betrayal of the Libyan people.”

The heads of state called on NATO to continue military operations to put pressure of Gadhafi’s government and protect civilians.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told foreign ministers in Berlin that the alliance would continue “day by day, strike by strike” to target Gadhafi’s forces.

NATO forces dropped bombs on military installations in Tripoli Thursday as Gadhafi's forces responded with anti-aircraft and machine gun fire.  Later in the day, Libyan TV broadcast video of Gadhafi standing in the open sun roof of a car driving through Tripoli, pumping his fist in the air as supporters cheered.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Thailand's Annual Water Festival Underway in Bangkok

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BANGKOK) -- Thailand's annual water festival kicked off in Bangkok Wednesday, bringing with it a country-wide party and massive water fights.

For three days every April, Thailand celebrates its traditional new year.  Businesses close and people take to the streets to drink, dance, eat food, and douse each other with squirt guns and buckets of water.

This year, nearly 3,500 people squared off with water pistols outside a Bangkok shopping mall Wednesday.  Organizers say it was a world record for the biggest-ever water fight, beating a 2007 gathering in Spain.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Death Toll from Japan Earthquake, Tsunami Tops 13,000

Sankei via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japan’s National Police Agency says the death toll from last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami now stands at 13,498, with 14,734 others still missing.

On Thursday, workers searching for the missing moved for the first time to within six miles of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  The searchers are wearing white outfits to shield them from radiation that has leaked from the facility since the twin disasters.

Japanese media reports about 1,000 bodies may be within the six-mile zone surrounding the nuclear plant.  Search crews had stayed away because of high radiation levels, but authorities ordered them to recover bodies before they become a health hazard and impossible to identify.

Japan’s Trade Ministry says it has ordered the operators of the damaged nuclear power plant to pay approximately $12,000 to each household forced to evacuate because of radiation leaks.  A Trade Ministry spokesman said approximately 48,000 households within 19 miles of the plant would be eligible for payments from the Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Meanwhile, Japanese doctors have urged workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant to have their blood stem cells stored, in case they're exposed to life-threatening levels of radiation.

In a letter to the medical journal The Lancet, the doctors said it made sense to store blood from the hundreds of workers fighting to save the plant because the process to completely shut down the reactors could take years, during which time the risk of accidental radiation exposure will accumulate.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Time Travel in China to Become a Thing of the Past?

Comstock/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- Imagine a world with no Star Trek, no Terminator, no Back to the Future, no Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  For the 1.3 billion people of China that gray, empty existence could well become their reality.

It’s no secret that many topics get the Chinese government’s goat.  Falung Gong, the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace Prize -- all are strictly taboo in this tightly controlled society.  But now, China’s censors have a new target: time travel.

In a statement issued on March 31, the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) denounced movies and shows that contain "fantasy, time-travel, random compilations of mythical stories, bizarre plots, absurd techniques, even propagating feudal superstitions, fatalism and reincarnation, ambiguous moral lessons, and even a lack of positive thinking."

In recent years, time-travel television dramas have become increasingly popular but authorities are now making it clear that history, and who gets to dictate it, is no laughing matter.

"Time-travel dramas are becoming a hot theme for television and films.  But the content and exaggerated performance style are questionable," Li Jingsheng of SARFT said.  "Producers and writers are treating serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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