The NewsFuror

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Democrats vote in South Carolina

Hillary Clinton signs a supporter's shirt in Columbia, SC
Hillary Clinton has kept a lower profile in this stage of the campaign
Polls have opened in South Carolina for Democratic Party voters in the state to choose their party's candidate for this year's US presidential elections.

Barack Obama has a comfortable lead in the opinion polls ahead of Hillary Clinton, with John Edwards third.

This is the final contest for the Democrats before Super Tuesday in 10 days' time, when more than 20 states will vote in primary contests.

Republicans are campaigning for their next contest in Florida on Tuesday.

In a televised debate at the start of this week, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, clashed over their records, with what the BBC's Kevin Connolly says was a touch of real nastiness.

John Edwards in Bennettsville, South Carolina
Edwards needs a good result to stay in the race

Mr Obama accused Mrs Clinton of saying anything to get elected, after earlier accusing her husband Bill Clinton of making false statements about him.

For her part, Mrs Clinton told Mr Obama it was hard to debate with someone who never took responsibility for any vote he cast.

Our correspondent says there seems little doubt that Mr Obama will win.

The idea of the first African-American nominee of a major party also is exhilarating, and so is the prospect of the first woman nominee
New York Times

Around half of the registered Democrats in South Carolina are African-Americans, and most are expected to support him.

On Thursday, the New York Times formally endorsed Mrs Clinton as its preferred Democratic candidate for the White House.

It said it was hugely impressed by Mrs Clinton's knowledge, the force of her intellect and her experience.

"The idea of the first African-American nominee of a major party also is exhilarating, and so is the prospect of the first woman nominee," it said in an editorial. "'Firstness' is not a reason to choose."


A win by a comfortable margin for Mr Obama would help dull the memory of Mrs Clinton's recent victories in primaries in New Hampshire and Nevada. Mrs Clinton has spent part of the week campaigning elsewhere signalling that she is not expecting to win.

In her absence her husband loomed larger in the campaign, attacking Mr Obama as thin-skinned and inexperienced.

The third candidate John Edwards won South Carolina in his failed run for the presidential nomination in 2004 but he has no real chance of winning this time.

This, our correspondent says, raises further doubts about how long he will stay in the race.

Egypt watches Gaza traffic go on

Gazans cross the border into Egypt on Saturday
Vehicles are now commonly crossing the border
Thousands of Gazans are pouring into Egypt for a fourth day, despite Egyptian attempts to reseal the border.

For the first time many Palestinians were using cars to cross, rather than going on foot.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, reacted to Israeli attempts to isolate the hostile territory with a blockade by blowing open Gaza's border with Egypt.

Hopes for talks between Hamas and its rival Fatah to tackle the crisis have been dealt a blow.

In a speech, President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated he would only talk to Hamas if it retreated from its June takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, which had indicated it would accept an invitation to talks, says this insistence effectively sabotages any prospect of negotiations.

This Gaza crisis began nine days ago, when Israel cut off the seaside territory, denying it supplies. It said it was aiming to subdue rocket fire from Gaza, but its actions were widely condemned.

'Let us live'

On Saturday, Gazans continued to stream over the border to Egypt.

Egyptian riot police failed in a bid to close the border on Friday, and the news agency Associated Press said on Saturday that another attempt by riot police to deny access to the border by forming human chains was also abandoned.

"If only they would let us live, breathe a bit. Don't shut the border on us," shouted Mariam al-Shal, a Palestinian woman from the Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza, according to AFP news agency.

Hundreds of thousands of people have surged into Egypt to buy supplies since the first breaches in the border wall were made on Wednesday.

The UN has estimated that as much as half of Gaza's 1.5 million population has crossed the border in defiance of Israel's blockade, which was recently tightened leading to acute shortages.

Israel alarm

Israel, alarmed at the ongoing breakdown in security on the Egypt-Gaza border, has closed the main road running along the border. Tourism sites and hiking trails have been closed.

Bulldozer at Gaza-Egypt border
17 January: Israel seals border following rise in rocket attacks
20 January: Gaza's only power plant shuts down
22 January: Israel eases restrictions
22 January: Egyptian border guards disperse Palestinian protest against closure
23 January: Border wall breached

Security measures have been increased, according to the Israeli military, on fears that Israeli citizens could be vulnerable to attacks by Palestinians now free to travel in the area.

The breaching of the border has blown a big hole in the policy of trying to weaken Hamas by isolating it and sealing it in, says BBC analyst Sebastian Usher.

Some new system of controlling the border must now be found and it seems unlikely that this can be achieved without Hamas's involvement and agreement, he says.

But in his speech on Saturday, Mr Abbas reduced the prospect of talks with his Hamas rivals when he repeated demands that they reverse their takeover of Gaza, which he called a "crime".

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denounced the move, saying it amounted to a "rejection" of a talks initiative.

Mr Abbas also urged Gazans to stop firing rockets into southern Israel, saying it gave Israel an "excuse" to punish the territory.

He said he would renew his offer to take control of Gaza's border crossings instead of Hamas during talks with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday.

The two are engaged in a new US-backed peace process that has excluded - and is rejected by - Hamas.

Gaza map

Orkut At 4!

You may have noticed that the orkut logo looked a little different when you signed in today -- and if the four candles on the cake didn't give it away already, it's our fourth birthday. That's right, 2/5ths of a decade ago, orkut launched. It has grown up pretty fast, with many more features, communities, friends and photos since it first opened as an invite-only community. Whether you've been with us for years or days, thank you for being a part of the orkut community!

orkut trends: Who sends scraps?

When orkut launched, we had no idea that scrapbooks would be the primary way members would interact. Billions of scraps later, we've learned that scraps are a huge hit, and have added ways to make them even more fun by enabling you to add videos, photos and HTML.

We've been wondering (and perhaps you have too): Which orkut users are scrappiest? In our recent sample, members from the island nation of Grenada had the highest scrap counts at an average of 1877 scraps. Of the biggest orkut nations, Pakistanis came in first, followed by Americans, Indians, and Brazilians. (All of these statistics are based on current scraps that have not been deleted by the recipients.)

Women receive just under half (48%) of all scraps. Women from the Cayman Islands receive the most, followed by those from the British Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, San Marino, and the Northern Mariana Islands. (What is it about those islanders?) Albanian women had the fewest scraps (81) -- still a pretty substantial number when you think about it.

On the male side, islanders still rule: men from Grenada averaged a whopping 2569 scraps each. Here's the full chart:

Country (gender)
Scraps received
Scraps received (women)
Scraps received (men)
Cayman Islands
United States

Who's sending these scraps? The scrappiest users hail from Pakistan, followed immediately by Madagascar and the Central African Republic. Among women, the most scraps come from Jamaica, then Madagascar, followed by the nation of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Among men, Pakistanis sent the most, then Qatar.

And what are people saying in scraps? Some messages occurred again and again. Out of a sample of 1,000,000 short scraps, the following were among the most common:

# of occurrences
oi [hi]
parabens [congratulations]
vlw [thx]
blz [ok]

Not only was the word "hi" common, it also appeared frequently followed by extra "i"s. For example, "hiiiiiiiii", "hiiiiiiiiiiiii", and "hiiiiiiiiiii" each occurred more than 90 times in our 1,000,000 scrap sample.

Until next time, our 46th most popular scrap: "bye"!

Annan hits out at Kenya 'abuses'

Benadi Mbawa, 32, who was attacked by men with machetes, sits bandaged on a hospital bed, in Nakuru, Kenya
The Rift Valley town of Nakuru has seen some of the worst violence
Former UN head Kofi Annan has condemned "gross and systematic abuses of human rights" in Kenya, after a visit to violence-hit parts of the country.

Mr Annan said conflict may have been triggered by disputed elections, but it had evolved into "something else".

The facts had to be established and those responsible held to account, Mr Annan said on his return to Nairobi.

On Saturday, police brought 16 badly burnt bodies to the mortuary in Nakuru, the capital of Rift Valley province.

Mr Annan - in Kenya to mediate attempts for a political solution - was flown over Nakuru on Saturday as part of a tour that also included visits to Eldoret and Molo district.


Hospital staff in Nakuru said they had received the bodies of nine more people, hacked by machetes or killed by arrows.

Earlier the authorities had imposed an overnight curfew across the city in the wake of renewed inter-ethnic conflict.

Rival gangs of young men battled with machetes, metal bars, bows and arrows, while thick smoke billowed up from burning buildings.

The violence came despite hopes of progress after President Mwai Kibaki met opposition leader Raila Odinga for the first time on Thursday since December's disputed polls.

Burnt forests

Mr Annan set off from Nairobi shortly after first light on Saturday to see for himself some of the destruction and human misery caused by more than three weeks of violence.

Kofi Annan
On Friday Mr Annan held talks with religious leaders

He visited some of the thousands of people in Eldoret whose homes have been destroyed or who moved to the town to try to find shelter.

The former UN chief also boarded a helicopter to fly to Molo district where many have been killed.

Speaking in the capital, Nairobi, Mr Annan said: "What we saw was rather tragic. We visited several IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, we saw people pushed from their homes, from their farms, grandmothers, children, families uprooted.

"And I think it is important that all Kenyans respond with sympathy and understanding, and not try to revenge."

He also said there needed to be fundamental changes to Kenya's institutions to prevent a repetition.

"We cannot accept that periodically, every five years or so, this sort of incident takes place and no-one is held to account. Impunity cannot be allowed to stand," Mr Annan added.

Tanzania's former President, Benjamin Mkapa, travelling with Mr Annan, said: "The political crisis in the country [has caused] a state of agony and despair. We console the people."

On Friday Mr Annan held talks with Kenyan election officials and religious leaders in Nairobi, urging them to use their leadership to encourage people to work for peace.

"The leaders may not be able to do it alone. We all need to play our part," he said.


Nakuru is said to be relatively quiet following the overnight curfew. But there has been sporadic gunfire in the city on Saturday.

The BBC's Adam Mynott says that some protesters erected a barricade across the main road and many homes have been burnt in the town.

Hundreds of people have sought refuge in churches or friends' homes.

There are also reports of truckloads of many young men being moved overnight to a village on the outskirts of the town.

The unrest triggered by the election on 27 December has driven 250,000 people from their homes. Mr Odinga says he was robbed of the presidency.