WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama hailed the start of elections in Sudan on Sunday, congratulating voters in the south for heading to the polls despite the threat of violence.
The weeklong referendum that's expected to split the troubled African nation into two parts and create the world's newest country.
"We know that there are those who may try to disrupt the voting," the president said in a statement. But he called on those who oppose the poll to allow it to go forward without "intimidation and coercion," and he warned that "the world will be watching."
The south, which is mostly Christian, is expected to secede from the mainly Muslim north, dividing Africa's largest country in two.
Obama wrote in Sunday's New York Times that not every generation has the opportunity to "turn the page on the past and write a new chapter in history."
"Yet today after 50 years of civil wars that have killed two million people and turned millions more into refugees this is the opportunity before the people of southern Sudan," he said.
Obama said the vote and the action of the leaders of Sudan will help determine whether Sudan will "move toward peace and prosperity, or slide backward into bloodshed."
The referendum, he said, will have consequences not only for Sudan, but also for sub-Saharan Africa and the world.
Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan who's facing charges for alleged genocide and war crimes in the western Darfur region, has pledged to honor the outcome of the vote and let go of the oil-rich south. His government tried for years to derail the referendum now taking place under massive international scrutiny.
"Now, the world is watching, united in its determination to make sure that all parties in Sudan live up to their obligations," Obama said.
The south is one of the poorest regions in the world and the people who live there have long accused the northern Arab-dominated government of taking their oil revenues and not putting anything back.
"A successful vote will be cause for celebration and an inspiring step forward in Africa's long journey toward democracy and justice," Obama said.
But, he cautioned, lasting peace in Sudan will demand far more than a credible referendum.
He said the peace pact agreed to in 2005 must be fully implemented and that border disputes need to be peacefully resolved.
Obama also said there can be no lasting peace until the situation in Darfur is resolved. He said that the government of Sudan must live up to its obligations and stop the attacks on civilians in the region.
"The United States," Obama said, "will not abandon the people of Darfur."
WEST CHESTER, Ohio – House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday that the shooting of an Arizona congresswoman won't stop representatives in Washington from their duties.
In a brief statement, the newly sworn speaker said flags on the House side of the Capitol in Washington would be flown at half staff to honor Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' slain aide, Gabe Zimmerman. Zimmerman, 30, was among six killed Saturday in a Tucson, Ariz., shooting rampage that left the Democratic congresswoman among 13 wounded.
He urged fellow House members to keep Giffords and her staff in their prayers and called the shootings outside a supermarket a reminder that public service "comes with a risk."
He said normal House business this week is postponed to focus on any necessary actions in the shooting aftermath, and didn't say whether any security changes are planned.
"This inhuman act should not, and will not, deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and to fulfill our oaths of office," Boehner said. "No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duties."
The Republican speaker didn't take any questions before leaving the township government building near his West Chester, Ohio, home.
PASADENA, Calif. – In a Jan. 6 story, The Associated Press reported CNN anchor Piers Morgan's claim that his interview with then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown turned the tide of Gordon's election campaign in his favor. Brown subsequently lost the 2010 election to a Conservative Party-led coalition with the liberal democrats.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Protesters parade an altered photo of President Barack Obama sporting an Adolf Hitler-like mustache. A candidate for the Senate muses about gun "remedies" if election results don't go the right way. Members of Congress are spat on and taunted with racial epithets before casting votes for a healthcare reform bill.
Welcome to politics American-style.
For the past few years, some public officeholders and pundits have warned that the political rhetoric has gotten a little too overheated in a country known for its loose gun laws and history of presidential assassinations.
Now, in the aftermath of Saturday's Arizona shooting rampage that left a congresswoman in critical condition from a gunshot to the head, six people dead and 13 others wounded, some are saying it's time to reset the tone of America's political discourse.
A suspect in the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, of Tucson, is in custody but his motives are unclear. The FBI is investigating whether the man is the same person who posted a rambling Internet manifesto accusing the government of mind control and demanding a new currency.
Pending clarity on the reasons for the shooting, senior politicians have called for calm.
"We ought to cool it, tone it down," said Senator Lamar Alexander, a member of the Senate's Republican leadership, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
An angry America is no doubt the result of economic woes underscored by an unemployment rate that has been stuck at nearly 10 percent for a prolonged period.
The Tea Party movement -- a loose union of conservatives who have mostly supported Republican candidates or have run as Republicans -- has capitalized on the uncertain times, winning dozens of seats in the House of Representatives and Senate.
Some Tea Party "town hall meetings" have included angry confrontations with incumbent members of Congress.
Republicans, however, point out that the suspected shooter might not have been acting out of political motivations.
"We just have to acknowledge that there are some mentally unstable people in this country; who knows what motivates them to do what they do," said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, interviewed on CBS' "Face the Nation."
But 10 months ago, in the midst of a tough re-election campaign, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who was gunned down on Saturday, warned that she had been receiving violent threats. Shortly after she voted for Obama's healthcare reform bill, a window in one of her Arizona offices was smashed.
"Our office corner has really become an area where the Tea party movement congregates and the rhetoric is really heated. Not just the calls but the e-mails, the slurs," Giffords said at the time.
A local sheriff in southern Arizona does not believe the shooting occurred in a vacuum.
"When the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates, and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has impact on people especially who are unbalanced personalities," said Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
A TIME-OUT FOR ANGER?
In the aftermath of the Arizona shooting, there could be a pause in Washington's harsh talk and infighting, according to some analysts.
"Temporarily, politicians are really going to be careful about what they say," predicted Paul Sracic, chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
But, he added, "American politics has a very short memory" and issues that deeply divide the country -- from immigration policy to healthcare -- are likely to stoke political anger again.
Furthermore, the carnage in Arizona likely will have an impact far beyond Giffords and the other shooting victims, according to Sracic.
"I certainly think in the short-term it damages (Sarah) Palin's political cache," Sracic said.
Palin, the failed 2008 Republican candidate for vice president who has hinted at a possible run for president in 2012, has used some highly charged language in fund-raising efforts and other forums and has sometimes been depicted toting a rifle.
"Commonsense conservatives & lovers of America: "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" she tweeted amid the healthcare debate last year.
On a Facebook site in early 2010, Palin posted a map of the United States with cross hairs over 20 congressional districts held by Democrats she hoped would be thrown out of office. It included the seat held by Giffords. "It's time to take a stand," the posting said.
"That's going to be hard for her to overcome," Sracic said, adding, "With this, she comes across as irresponsible. It has damaged her chances as a nominee" for president.
Palin aide Rebecca Mansour, speaking on conservative radio host Tammy Bruce's show on Saturday, tried to play down the cross hairs image.
"The graphic is ... we never ever ever intended it to be gun sights. It was simply cross hairs like you'd see on maps ... a surveyor's symbol," she said.
There also can be political winners after such tragedies, Sracic noted. "We should expect President Obama's popularity to rise after this," he said, adding that "Americans look to the president" after any tragedy that is viewed as "an attack on the country as a whole."
House Speaker John Boehner -- only five days into his new job after Republicans gained control of the House in the November elections -- also could see a boost, Sracic said.
"He may be the right person at the right time for this," saying that Boehner is not the polarizing figure that former speakers Newt Gingrich or Nancy Pelosi have been. "He doesn't have that kind of edge. He may become somewhat of a unifying figure in Congress."
(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Tabassum Zakaria and John O'Callaghan; Editing by Jackie Frank)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, looking to bolster his foreign policy credentials, is on a Mideast swing that included a visit to Afghanistan on Sunday.
Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney met the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 only to lose to John McCain. He has shown multiple signs of planning to seek his party's nomination again for the right to oppose Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.
Romney could be among as many as a dozen Republicans seeking the party's nomination.
"The purpose of the trip is not to conduct private diplomacy but to give Governor Romney a first-hand look at what is happening in an important region of the world," Fehrnstrom said.
Romney visited the United Arab Emirates on Saturday. He will also visit Israel and Jordan on the week-long trip.
He had a series of high-level meetings planned, including talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah.
Fehrnstrom said the trip is being paid for by a combination of private sources.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Eric Beech)