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Britons go to polls

(CNN) The worst kept secret in British politics is now officially confirmed and the UK will go to the polls for a general election on May 6 to elect 650 members of the House of Commons.
It will be a far closer contest than many had expected a year ago. Then a huge lead for the Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, made it look a racing certainty that the Tories, as they are known, would be heading back to government for the first time since 1997.

The depths of the recession, the unpopularity of Britain’s rather dour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the parliamentary expenses scandals -- which the public seemed to blame more on the ruling Labour Party, although all were tainted -- had led to widespread predictions of a Conservative landslide.
But over the past few months the opinion poll gap has closed. As an election approaches people think less “Do I like the present government?” and more “Who do I trust to run the country for the next five years?” as they answer pollsters’ questions.

UK’s next leader?
David Cameron has spent more than four years tipped as a prime minister in waiting as leader of the opposition Conservative Party -- a period he has called “the longest job interview in the world.”
But with the election campaign finally under way, polls suggest Cameron -- credited by his supporters with rehabilitating his center-right party after three successive defeats -- has yet to seal the deal with British voters.
When Cameron launched the Conservatives’ election campaign in January by calling for a “year for change,” it seemed the political pendulum was poised to swing in his favor.

Polls indicated a comfortable advantage for the Conservatives over a Labour Party showing all the wear and tear of its 13 years in government and itself apparently still unconvinced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s merits as leader.

Even with his party needing to gain more than 100 additional seats -- a near-seven percent landslide -- to secure a winning majority in the House of Commons, Cameron appeared on course for Downing Street.
But recent polls suggest the gap between the UK’s two main parties has narrowed.

Iran calls for new nuclear body

(Al-jazeera) Iran’s president has called for the formation of a new international body to oversee nuclear disarmament as the country opened a two-day summit on civilian nuclear energy in the capital, Tehran.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the call on Saturday at a summit seen as a counterpoint to a major conference in Washington earlier this week, in which Barack Obama, the US president, outlined his nuclear strategy.
Ahmadinejad said his proposed organisation would provide a balance to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“An independent international group which plans and oversees nuclear disarmament and prevents proliferation should be set up,” he said.
“This group should act in a way where all independent countries and governments could have a say and role in running the affairs of that group.
“Until now the presence and political domination of the agency has prevented them from carrying out their duties and has diverted the agency from performing its legal obligations.”
As such, Ahmadinejad said the US should not be allowed to be on the IAEA’s board of governors.
“[Those who] possess, have used or threatened to use nuclear weapons [should] be suspended from the IAEA and its board of governors, especially the US which has used a weapon made of atomic waste in the Iraq war,” he said.
The head of the North American Studies department at the University of Tehran Mohammad Marandi said Ahmadinejad’s speech was targeting a global audience.
“Most countries in the world do feel that the UN Security Council as well as the IAEA board of governors is not democratic, so it is something that most people in the south have a great deal of sympathy with,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The problem that Iran is facing right now is the fact that western countries are very much biased against the country.
“So he is using this opportunity to point out Iran’s position and show that it is a very reasonable and logical one and the reason that Iran is unable to get its voice across is because these bodies are undemocratic,” he added.
Twenty-four foreign and deputy foreign ministers were expected to attend the summit, dubbed “Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for No One”, state media reported.

The names of the countries represented were not given in the report, but European and other Western officials were not thought likely to attend.
Speaking to Al Jazeera in advance of the meeting, Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, said that the Iranian government was stressing the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
“Last week, we celebrated successful steps in nuclear activities for Iran, and in that meeting with Ahmadinejad [the president], we stressed that nuclear energy must be for everybody,” he said.

She could have been alive today

(CNN) Not only did Pakistani authorities fail to provide former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto the security that could have saved her life, but elements within the powerful military establishment may even have played a role in her December 2007 assassination. Those are some of the chilling conclusions of a U.N. inquiry, published Friday, April 16, into the killing that rocked Pakistan in the final months in power of former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf.
The three-member U.N. investigation panel — appointed by the international organisation at the request of the Pakistani government — concluded that Pakistani authorities had “severely hampered” police investigation of the case. Furthermore, it concluded that the Pakistani authorities’ failure to effectively examine Bhutto’s death had been “deliberate.” Drawing on a nine-month period of interviews and study of evidence, the commission’s 65-page report does not finger anyone for the murder. Its heavily circumscribed parameters were never going to allow for that. But its findings suggest that there had been a determined effort to deny her adequate security, prejudice the investigation, withhold evidence and block access to key officials.
The report’s claims against the Musharraf government have been denounced by Musharraf’s spokesman as a “pack of lies.” After twin suicide bombers attacked Bhutto’s homecoming procession in October 2007, killing 149 people, the threats to her life were plain to see. But according to the report, the Musharraf government, though “fully aware and tracking” such threats, did little more than pass them on “to her and to provincial authorities, and were not proactive in neutralising them.” The Musharraf government also failed to provide Bhutto the security it granted two other former Prime Ministers from Musharraf’s party.
“Not giving Benazir Bhutto adequate security was a deeply cynical, deliberate decision,” says a respected analyst Cyril Almeida with the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “The assassins may have been intent, but they were given an opportunity.”
Bhutto might have survived the attempt on her life had proper security measures been in place, the report says; it places particular emphasis on the chief police officer Saud Aziz on duty in Rawalpindi that day. Arrangements made by him were deemed “ineffective and insufficient.” The security plan drawn up on Dec. 27, 2007, the day of her assassination, was “flawed” and in many respects not even implemented. Too few police officers had been deployed to the political rally where she delivered her last speech and there was poor coordination with her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) security. The PPP’s security arrangements — headed by Rehman Malik, now the Interior Minister — are also heavily criticised in the U.N. report.

Thai protest leaders to surrender, but the rally goes on

(Sydney Morning Herald) Leaders of Thailand’s anti-government “Red Shirt” protesters said Saturday they would surrender to police next month, but refused to end their rally in the capital’s commercial heartland.
One week on from deadly clashes between the Red Shirts and security forces, the protesters said they expected a new push by the army to disperse them after its chief was put in charge of security in the strife-torn capital.
“On May 15, 24 of us will surrender. All of the leaders,” said one of the top Red Shirts, Nattawut Saikuar. “For now the 24 of us will keep rallying to show sincerely that we won’t run away,” he said.
“I’m sure the order to suppress us will come out soon.”
The Red Shirts, who are seeking immediate elections, have so far ignored repeated calls by authorities to disperse from the capital’s commercial heartland, despite arrest warrants outstanding against core leaders.
They support fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and accuse the government of elitism and being undemocratic as it came to power after a parliamentary vote that followed a court verdict ousting Thaksin’s allies.
Late Friday embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva put his army chief Anupong Paojinda in charge of security, after a bungled operation to arrest some protest leaders at a hotel in Bangkok’s northern outskirts.
“There will be an effort to retake the area. We can’t allow protests there because it damages the country,” army spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told reporters late Friday.
Abhisit said that he was replacing his deputy as head of security operations in the capital, giving Anupong broader powers to tackle “terrorism”.
The decision came after commandos earlier Friday stormed a hotel where leaders of the Red Shirt protest movement were hiding, but the mission ended in dramatic failure after the suspects managed to flee.
One Red Shirt leader climbed down an electric cable from the third floor of the hotel in Bangkok’s northern outskirts before being rushed away by jubilant supporters, despite the presence of dozens of riot police nearby.
The operation “was not a success but the government will carry on”, Abhisit said.

Crowds gather for Polish crash memorial

(CNN) Thousands of people gathered to mourn publicly Saturday in the Polish capital for the 96 victims of last weekend’s plane crash.
The crash killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, dignitaries and top military leaders.They were on their way to a service commemorating Polish prisoners of war massacred in Russia during World War II when their plane crashed in bad weather.
An estimated 1.5 million people are expected to turn out Sunday to bid farewell to Kaczynski, first at a state funeral and then at a church service in the historic city of Krakow
Polish national unity blossomed after the crash but discord surfaced over a decision to bury the late president and his wife in a crypt previously reserved for monarchs and saints.
There was concern also about worldwide air traffic disruptions cause by the volcanic ash from Iceland.
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But the funeral Sunday will proceed as scheduled, said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky.
Images of Poland’s collective grief
The services “will not be postponed, but they will be affected,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
“The papal legate who was supposed to lead the funeral mass has apparently canceled,” he said. “And quite frankly we can’t blame people for not wanting to take even the smallest risk to the security of air traffic in the circumstances.”
U.S. President Barack Obama still plans to attend.