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Polls Open In World’s Largest-Ever One-Day Elections In Muslim-Majority Nation



Jakarta (AFP) – Indonesia kicked off one of the world’s biggest one-day elections Wednesday, pitting president Joko Widodo against ex-general Prabowo Subianto in a race to lead the Muslim-majority nation.

More than 190 million Indonesians are set to cast a ballot as polls opened shortly after 7:00 am local time (2200 GMT Tuesday) in restive Papua. The vote is slated to end at 1:00 pm (0600 GMT) in Sumatra at the other end of the volcano-dotted archipelago.

Some voters went to their local mosque before casting ballots, as the daily call to prayer sounded across a nation that is nearly 90 percent Muslim.

A record 245,000 candidates are running for public office, from the presidency and parliamentary seats to local positions — the first time all are being held on the same day.

Opinion polls show Widodo, 57, is a clear favourite — but he faces a tough challenge from Subianto, 67, who has leaned on a fiery nationalist ticket and warned he will challenge the results over voter-list irregularities if he loses.

Subianto narrowly lost to Widodo in 2014 elections, and unsuccessfully challenged those results.

Voters will flock to more than 800,000 polling stations where they’ll punch holes in ballots — to make clear their candidate choice — and then dip a finger in Muslim-approved halal ink, a measure to prevent double-voting in a graft-riddled country where ballot-buying is rife.

The polls present a huge logistical challenge in a country stretching 4,800 kilometres across more than 17,000 islands with a population of more than 260 million, including hundreds of ethnic groups and languages.

Officials were moving cardboard ballot boxes by motorbikes, boats and planes — as well as elephants and horses — to reach mountaintop villages and communities deep in the jungle.

A series of so-called “quick counts” are expected to give a reliable indication of the presidential winner later Wednesday. Official results are not expected until May.

– ‘Indonesia First’-

The poll has been punctuated by bitter mudslinging and a slew of fake news online that threatens to sway millions of undecided voters.

Widodo has campaigned on his ambitious drive to build much-needed roads, airports and other infrastructure across Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

But his rights record has been criticised owing to an uptick in discriminatory attacks on religious and other minorities, including a small LGBT community, as Islamic hardliners become more vocal in public life.

His choice of conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate has also raised fears about the future of Indonesia’s reputation for moderate Islam.

Raised in a bamboo shack in a riverside slum, the soft-spoken Widodo stands in stark contrast to Subianto, whose strongman image is underscored by a penchant for slamming lecterns as he accuses Jakarta of selling the country off to foreign interests.

Subianto — joined by running mate Sandiaga Uno, a 49-year-old wealthy financier -– has courted Islamic hardliners, promised a boost to military and defence spending and, taking a page from US President Donald Trump, vowed to put “Indonesia first” by reviewing billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

Subianto’s long-held presidential ambitions have been dogged by strong ties to the Suharto dictatorship, which collapsed two decades ago, and a chequered past.

He ordered the abduction of democracy activists as the authoritarian regime collapsed in 1998, and was accused of committing atrocities in East Timor.

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Helicopter Crashes Into Manhattan Skyscraper, Kills Sole Person On Board




The Fire Department said it was deploying over 100 emergency workers to the scene in Midtown Manhattan. Credit:James Estrin/The New York Times

A helicopter crashed onto the rooftop of a 51-story building in Midtown Manhattan on Monday afternoon and burst into flames.

Only one person was aboard the aircraft when it crashed on the roof of 787 Seventh Avenue at 51st Street at 1:43 p.m, city officials said. That person was reported to have been killed, according to two city officials.

A police official characterized the incident as a “hard landing.’’

The Fire Department said it was deploying over 100 emergency workers to the scene.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was at the scene, said there was no indication of terrorism. He said the helicopter seemed to have made an emergency landing.

Mr. Cuomo acknowledged that the initial reports of the accident unsettled New Yorkers. “If you’re a New Yorker, you have a level of P.T.S.D., right, from 9/11,’’ Mr. Cuomo said. “I remember that morning all too well.”

Andrew Heath, 37, was working on the fifth floor of the building where the helicopter crashed.

“We heard an explosion — it sounded like a manhole cover had exploded,’’ he said. “I heard and felt it. It was like a thud. I was wondering if a really heavy truck was driving by, but it was a little too much.’’

The site of the accident, the AXA Equitable Center, is an office tower that is more than 750-feet tall. It was built in 1985.

(Reporting by New York Times)

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One Killed In Vehicle Accident, Injuring Over A Dozen Cadets Near U.S. Military Academy




(Reuters) – At least two people were killed on Thursday morning in a vehicle accident involving more than a dozen cadets near the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, CBS News reported, citing unnamed sources.

The accident occurred in the vicinity of Camp Natural Bridge, a summer training site for cadets, the academy said on Twitter.

The report did not identify the dead or say if they were West Point cadets.

Representatives for the military academy could not be immediately reached for further comment.

At least 20 cadets were involved in the crash, which occurred around 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT) and at least one was airlifted to a hospital with serious injuries, NBC News reported.

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Missouri’s Only Abortion Clinic Will Remain Open, Judge Rules




ST. LOUIS (AP) — A judge has issued an order allowing Missouri’s only abortion clinic to continue providing the service.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer ruled Friday, just hours before the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire. He issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Missouri from allowing the license to lapse.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services had declined to renew the license. It cited concerns with “failed abortions,” compromised patient safety and legal violations at the clinic. Agency officials also wanted to interview additional physicians at the clinic.

Planned Parenthood officials had said that if the license lapsed, Missouri would become the first state without an abortion clinic since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

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