World digest 12/21/04

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Group: Russia's status declines to 'not free'

MOSCOW -- Russia has restricted rights to such an extent that it has joined the countries that are not free for the first time since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Freedom House said Monday. "This setback for freedom represented the year's most important political trend," the U.S.-based non-governmental organization wrote in its annual study, Freedom in the World 2005. Freedom House noted increased Kremlin control over national television and other media, limitations on local government, and parliamentary and presidential elections it said were neither free nor fair.

Few register for first Saudi city elections

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- During 30 minutes at a Riyadh voter registration center, only two people -- an old man and a prince -- walked in to sign up for the kingdom's first nationwide elections. At another center, a mere eight people registered in 45 minutes. Despite a campaign urging residents to register before Thursday's deadline, Saudi men -- women are barred from voting -- have shown little enthusiasm for elections. By Sunday, only about 100,000 of 600,000 eligible voters in the Riyadh area had registered since the centers opened Nov. 23. The three-stage municipal council elections begin in the capital Feb. 10.

Iraqi prime minister warns of civil war danger

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's interim prime minister warned Monday that insurgents are trying to foment sectarian civil war as well as derail elections, while thousands of mourners turned out for funerals in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala a day after car bombs killed 67 people. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents, blamed for Sunday's bloody attacks, want to "create ethnic and religious tensions, problems and conflicts ... to destroy the unity of this country." He added that his administration would not be deterred despite expecting more strikes before key Jan. 30 parliamentary elections.

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