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Sep. 5th, 2008


EU: Historic Angolan election 'a disaster'

 LUANDA, Angola (AP) -- War-ravaged Angola's first election in 16 years is a disaster of poor planning and insufficient infrastructure in the capital, a European Union observer said after visiting several polling stations on Friday.
An Angolan woman walks in Kuito, Bie province, central Angola, on Monday.

An Angolan woman walks in Kuito, Bie province, central Angola, on Monday.

Officials blamed technical problems as hundreds of people waiting for hours for stations to open.

Luisa Morgantini, chief of the EU observer mission, said problems included lack of ballots and of the ink used to mark voters' fingers and prevent multiple voting. In some cases, she said, polling officials failed to show up.

"Voting was a disaster in Luanda following woeful organization," she said. She said the situation was better outside the capital, though there also were problems there.

Angola is rich in diamonds and oil, but little of that money has trickled down to repair dilapidated roads or antiquated power stations, and most people still live in poverty.

Caetano de Souza, president of the National Election Commission, acknowledged "logistical deficiencies" and asked voters to be patient. He said voting stations would stay open past the planned 6 p.m. closing to accommodate all those in line.

More than 8 million people in this southern African nation of over 16 million were registered to vote. Differences over the results of the last national vote in 1992 led to a resurgence of the civil war.

This time, the campaign had been relatively peaceful, stoking hope that Angola may finally be on the way to peace and prosperity. Members of the 220-seat parliament were being chosen Friday. Angola's presidential elections are expected next year.

Results of this election were expected next week.

"We have now started a new political era, a new way of using politics to obtain our goals," President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who had repeatedly put off the vote citing logistical difficulties, said as he voted inLuanda. He said the new era would be built on "respect for freedom and the rights of everyone to express their point of view."

Dos Santos' Popular Liberation Movement of Angola is accused by international human rights groups of corruption and mismanagement, but it campaigned on promises to keep transforming a nation destroyed by civil war, and was expected to retain control of parliament.

Angola's oil output is projected to surpass 2 million barrels a day next year and increase by 90 percent from 2005 levels by 2010, according to conservative estimates of the International Monetary Fund. It says that would double Angolan government revenues, even allowing for a price drop. Chevron produces just over 500,000 barrels a day and plans to double production in the next five years.

This year, Angola, the newest member of OPEC, overtook Saudi Arabia as the leading source of crude oil for China.

The opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola -- or UNITA -- has urged impoverished Angolans to vote for change. But UNITA is linked in the minds of many Angolans to the horrors of war that left an estimated 1 million dead and hundreds of thousands orphaned or maimed.

One war legacy is the 8 million or so land mines still buried here, which kill or injure at least 300 people a year, according to the United Nations.

Fighting broke out at independence from Portugal in 1975 and ended in 2002 when the army killed UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi.

Dos Santos beat Savimbi in the first round of the 1992 presidential election, but Savimbi refused to accept defeat and returned to war before the second round could be held.

  • Technical problems at polling stations in Angola's capital delay start of voting 
  • Some stations in Luanda were not open hours after voting was due to begin
  • European Union observer blames poor planning and insufficient infrastructure
  • Differences over results of last national vote in 1992 threw Angola into civil war


BREAKING NEWS: Members of Pakistan's parliament begin voting to elect a new president.

Members of Pakistan's parliament begin voting to elect a new president. more to come when details become available.


Oil prices sink to five-month low

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil prices sank to a five-month low Friday as a jump in the U.S. unemployment rate signaled to traders that Americans might keep paring back their energy use to save money.

Investors are waiting to see if OPEC decides to restrict oil output at its meeting next week in Vienna.

Investors are waiting to see if OPEC decides to restrict oil output at its meeting next week in Vienna.

The Labor Department said the economy lost jobs in August for the eighth consecutive month -- and at a faster-than-expected pace. The unemployment rate spiked to 6.1 percent from 5.7 percent in July, above the 5.8 percent rate that analysts forecast.

"There's been a terrific amount of growing concern about the outlook for demand globally," said John Kilduff, senior vice president of risk management at MF Global LLC. "Today's employment report emboldened that concern."

Light, sweet crude for October delivery fell $1.66 to settle at $106.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange -- its lowest settlement since early April. During the session, it fell as low as $105.13.

Since surging to a record $147.27 a barrel on July 11, crude has tumbled by over $40, or more than 27 percent.

What could possibly stanch the drop is a cutback in production. Investors are waiting to see if OPECdecides to restrict oil output at its meeting next week in Vienna in response to the two-month plunge in prices.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has indicated it may take action to defend the $100-a-barrel level for crude.

But with the dollar on the rebound, many analysts say even a production cutback could prove ineffectual in boosting oil prices.

The dollar weakened modestly against the euro and pound on Friday after the employment report, but rose against the yen. The dollar's recent comeback has helped accelerate oil's price decline.

Commodities were bought by many funds to hedge against inflation and weakness in the U.S. currency, so when the dollar rebounded, funds unwound those hedges, thereby driving commodities prices lower.

The jump in the dollar and the decline in oil has also been driven by signs of economic weakness around the world -- particularly those in Western Europe.

"It's sort of a race to the bottom among the leading economies -- Europe is ahead at the moment. That's pumping up the dollar, or making the dollar economy seem much less worse," Kilduff said.

Heating oil futures fell 5.59 cents to $2.9678 a gallon on the Nymex, where gasoline prices dropped 6.19 cents to $2.6785 a gallon. Natural gas for October delivery edged up by 4.1 cents to $7.363 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, October Brent crude fell $2.25 to $104.14 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

In addition to economic indicators and OPEC, traders are keeping an eye on storms developing in the Atlantic. Forecasters do not expect Hanna, Ike or Josephine to head for key oil facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, but the hurricane season is not officially over until the end of November. 

  • Oil prices sink to settle at $106.23 -- lowest level in five months 
  • U.S. economy lost jobs in August for the eighth consecutive month 
  • Investors waiting to see if OPEC decides to restrict output at meeting next week


U.S. may pull nuclear deal to punish Russia, source says

  • Source: Bush could withdraw deal because of Russian action against Georgia
  • Pact would clear way for trading of nuclear goods, technology and services
  • Both U.S. and Russia have agreed to deal, but it still needs approval from Congress
  • Russia analyst says it is unlikely agreement would be signed this year anyway

  • WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is poised to withdraw an agreement with Russia on nuclear trade as punishment for Russia's military action last month against U.S. ally Georgia, a State Department source said Friday.

    President Bush and Condoleezza Rice have been critical of Russia's use of military force against Georgia.

    President Bush and Condoleezza Rice have been critical of Russia's use of military force against Georgia.

    The pact, known as the 123 Agreement, would clear the way for more trade of nuclear goods, along with services and technology, between the United States and Russia. Both countries had accepted the agreement, but it is awaiting congressional approval.

    But as early as next week President Bush could deep-freeze the agreement, withdrawing it from congressional deliberations, the source said.

    Russia analyst Jon Wolfsthal at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington noted that the 123 Agreement has been having trouble winning approval on Capitol Hill and said, "I think they are making a virtue out of a necessity.

    "It was unlikely Congress was going to approve the agreement this year," he said. "It was too tempting a target for the administration not to pull it back."

    In general, Wolfsthal said, the administration needs to move carefully, signaling to Russia that its behavior in Georgia is unacceptable but that cooperation on mutual issues such as Iran and combating terrorism should continue.

    "We have to be careful to calibrate our actions," he said.

    The United States is frustrated that Russia is dragging its feet on the Georgia cease-fire agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. 

    There is also new friction between Washington and Moscow over U.S. emergency aid shipments to Georgia. That heat was seen again Friday when the Russians protested against a top-of-the-line U.S. warship coming into the Georgian port of Poti, where Russian forces are still stationed.

    The ship, the USS Mount Whitney, is the Navy's only Joint Command Ship and is considered to be the most sophisticated ship ever commissioned in terms of communication, control, command, computers and intelligence capabilities, according to the Navy's Web site.

    State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood brushed off the Russian accusation that the U.S. warship was bringing in arms.

    "The USS Mount Whitney has arrived in Poti," Wood said at his midday briefing. "It's bringing humanitarian supplies such as, I believe, 4,000 blankets, juice, diapers, hygiene products. There's absolutely no foundation to this Russian charge."

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been vague about how the United States could signal its displeasure with Moscow without ratcheting up tensions too far. Again Friday she said the United States and Europe find it extraordinary that Russia is refusing to live up to its cease-fire obligations.

    "I am quite certain that Russia will understand that it is deepening its isolation and that it will have no way out unless it honors its commitments and unless it begins to change its behavior," Rice said in Portugal on her way to North Africa. "I'm also confident, by the way, that the Russians are beginning to understand that there are costs to this kind of behavior, in rallying the world against this kind of behavior."

    On August 25, asked specifically about the 123 Agreement with Russia, she would only say, "we're going to continue to review what we will do about the various elements of the relationship with Russia."

    The "123" refers to the section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 about what the United States must do before it can engage other countries in commercial nuclear activities. 
     Meanwhile, the United States continues to work through a similar civilian nuclear agreement with India. A 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group has been meeting in Austria over whether to clear the way for the United States to sell India nuclear material and technology for civilian use.

    Before she left for North Africa, Rice held a formal announcement ceremony of a $1 billion aid package for Georgia, the latest signal that the U.S. would stand by its ally and stand up to Russia.


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