For the night of 21 April 2014
Afghanistan: With about half the ballots counted, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah leads the vote count in the presidential election. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that Abdullah had 44.4 percent and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani had 33.2 percent of the votes counted so far from the 5 April election.
If no candidate gains more than 50 percent, a second-round election between the two leading contenders is tentatively scheduled for 28 May.
Comment: A brilliant and extremely well-informed Reader provided the best explanation for the relatively low level of Taliban attacks on election day. His sources reported a surge in deal-making between candidates and the Taliban to keep attacks down.
The daily number of attacks remains low. The Taliban have not announced their annual spring offensive. If an offensive does not take place, that would suggest heavy deal making.
The parties are maneuvering to prepare for the post-NATO period which will include Taliban participation, directly or indirectly. After 13 years of fighting, it is striking how little the political landscape has changed.
Syria: For the record. The speaker of the parliament announced that presidential elections will be held on 3 June. President Bashar al-Asad already has said he will seek a third term in office.
Comment: No opponent of the Ba'athist government will credit an election outcome. Nevertheless, the determination to hold elections after three years of fighting speaks for itself that the opponents have failed.
Ukraine: On 21 April a mediator from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held his first meeting with the leader of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk,
OSCE mediator Mark Etherington said he asked the pro-Russian self-proclaimed "people's mayor" of the town, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, whether he would comply with the 17 April Geneva agreement, but did not relay the response.
Ponomaryov later told a news conference, "We did not negotiate; we talked. We told them our position, what happened here, and they told us about their plans."
Authorities in Slovyansk imposed a curfew, Ponomaryov said, following the shooting incident on Sunday in which at least three people died. He also made a public appeal for Russian President Putin to send soldiers or send arms.
Comment: As expected, the pro-Russia activists refused to comply with the 17 April Geneva document because they were not included in the discussions.
No party has claimed responsibility for Sunday's shooting, but it already has prompted Russian accusations that the ultra-nationalists were responsible and should have been disarmed by the Kiev regime, as being illegal armed gangs. Russia claims Kiev already has reneged on its responsibility.
Kiev regime fires back. The Russian side is not showing any signs of readiness to implement the Geneva agreement, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued on the evening of 21 April. Excerpts follow.
"Due to the lack of support for the separatists among the population of the eastern regions of Ukraine, Russia is looking for new means to destabilize the situation in the region, and preparing and carrying out through its agents multiple acts of provocation... Illegal armed formations controlled by the Russian special services are continuing to act to destabilize the situation in the eastern regions of our country and create the grounds for a new stage in Russia's military aggression."
"The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry demands that, in line with the Geneva agreement, the Russian side should publicly distance itself from the armed separatists and provocateurs; call on them to lay down arms immediately and vacate seized administrative buildings; and condemn their seizure of hostages, particularly journalists, as well as the instances of xenophobia and anti-Semitism that are widespread among the separatists".
"Ukraine is openly and transparently implementing the Geneva agreement, keeping the media and the public constantly informed, and coordinating closely with the special monitoring mission of the OSCE in Ukraine, representatives of the Swiss chairmanship of the OSCE, the USA, the EU and the Russian Federation," it said.
"Ukraine insistently urges the Russian side to stop dodging responsibility, put an end to constant efforts to block the implementation of the Geneva agreement, and take real steps to ensure the fulfilment of the obligations that were assumed," the Foreign Ministry concluded.
Comment: The exchanges of public statements are the best evidence that the parties reached no agreement in Geneva last week.
Luhansk. Delegates at the "people's assembly" in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine adopted a decision to hold a referendum in the region on its status and its territorial allegiance.
A local news service reported that this was announced from an improvised stage outside the seized building of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on Monday evening, 21 April.
According to the delegates, the referendum should be held in two stages. The first should be held on 11 May, when the question will be whether the region should retain its current status as a region or become autonomous. In the second stage on 18 May, the question will be whether the Luhansk region should be independent or join the Russian Federation as a subject of federation.
Comment: Luhansk is a border town with Russia, just north of Donetsk, which has been the center of pro-Russia activism. With this announcement, assuming it is not rescinded for some reason, Luhansk has moved in the same political direction that Crimea moved last month. That is a portent for additional fragmentation of Ukraine.
Nigeria: Bombing. The Boko Haram Islamist terrorists "claimed responsibility" for the bombing of a bus station "packed with morning commuters" on Monday, 14 April in Abuja, the capital. At least 75 people died in what is described as the "deadliest attack ever in Nigeria's capital." according to news services.
In a video message, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said, "We are the ones who carried out the attack in Abuja. We are in your city, but you don't know where we are."
Kidnappings. The video did not mention Boko Haram's mass kidnapping of teenage girls from a school in Borno state hours after the bombing. Education officials said that 85 girls were taken. Al Jazeera reported the actual number is 234, based on a list drawn up by the parents of the missing children.
Comment: The sensational bombing in Abuja is important. Boko Haram's fighters have tended to commit atrocities in the far northern periphery of Nigeria. Their ability to operate with impunity in the national capital represents a significant increase in the threat they pose to Nigeria.
Violent instability is always centripetal in that it seeks the center of power. Boko Haram just proved that maxim. It also showed that Nigerian security forces cannot protect the capital. There will be more such attacks. Their frequency and gravity will be indirect measures of Boko Haram's capability to reach beyond the border marches to inflict terrorism.
Algeria: For the record. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a fourth term with 81.5 percent of the vote, according to the government's announcement of preliminary results on 18 April. The main opponent, Ali Benflis, claimed the election was subject to "fraud on a massive scale" and refused to accept the results after the government said he earned 12.8 percent of the votes.
Comment: The elections were held on 17 April. Bouteflika is seriously sick, confined to a wheel chair and reportedly has dementia, but observers claim the election outcome signifies a vote for stability. Claims of massive voter fraud are almost certainly accurate and small opposition parties boycotted the election. Thus it is foolhardy to judge what the vote signified, other than to be left alone.
There is no Arab spring on the horizon yet in Algeria.
End of NightWatch for 21 April.
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