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US midterms saw ‘widespread disinformation’ affecting voters: monitors

Photo: Olivier Touron / AFP

| Bye AFP |

Midterm elections in the United States saw free but highly polarized campaigns and voter disinformation was widespread, international observers said Wednesday.

The comments by observers with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors elections in Western nations and the former Soviet Union, came a day after Americans headed to the polls — with outcomes set to shape the political fortunes of President Joe Biden.

Biden’s Democrats are facing a struggle to hold on to control of Congress, after a race that he has cast as a defining moment for US democracy.

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For now, Republicans are edging towards a slim majority in the US House of Representatives, but their hopes of a “red wave” appear dashed as the Democrats outperformed.

“Campaigning was free but highly polarized,” and involved harsh rhetoric, said Margareta Cederfelt, leader of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s short-term observer mission.

“Polarization and widespread disinformation affected voters’ ability to inform themselves,” she told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the intimidation of election workers was concerning as well.

The election campaign has seen a gush of misinformation, with far-right Republican candidates endorsing former president Donald Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Some have also seized on isolated voting machine glitches to launch what many saw as preemptive efforts to discredit the results.

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A number of Republican candidates in key races, including those who, if elected, will have responsibility in overseeing future elections in their states, had challenged or refused to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 results, the OSCE noted in a statement on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately… baseless allegations of fraud continued to have a serious result, in harassment of and threats against election officials,” Cederfelt added.

She noted that the vocal refusal by some in accepting the legitimacy of the 2020 results had a “harmful effect” on public discourse, lowering confidence in the system.

Accusations of rigging sprung up on social media platforms and were amplified by Trump after an Arizona county reported a minority of tabulation machines were not working during Tuesday’s vote.

Officials have since said there was no criminality involved in voting machine issues, and the OSCE added on Wednesday that it planned to follow up on the concerns in coming days.

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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