Former president alleges fraud in Madagascar election

Vote marred by ‘invalid electoral register, intimidation and pre-ticked ballots’, says Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

    Former Madagascar president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has alleged “many voting irregularities” in this week’s election, raising fears of protests and a disputed result.

    In a statement on Thursday, Rajaonarimampianina said a number of “anomalies” have been detected, including an “invalid electoral register, intimidation [and] the presence of pre-ticked ballots”.

    “All indications are that the votes of the Madagascan people have been stolen,” Rajaonarimampianina, who held office from 2014 to September 2018, said.

    “We will not let the people be robbed of their vote,” he added.

    As of the latest count, Rajaonarimampianina had won about three percent of the vote based on results from nearly 300 of Madagascar’s 24,852 polling stations.

    Election frontrunners and fellow former presidents Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana, meanwhile, had about 45 percent and 40 percent of support respectively.

    Provisional results are expected by November 20 which must then be confirmed by the High Constitutional Court by November 28.

    If none of the three-dozen hopefuls wins more than 50 percent of the votes, a runoff between the two best performers will be held on December 19.

    The new president will serve a five-year term beginning in January 2019.

    Election officer, Ernest Razafindraibe, told Reuters news agency that turnout on Wednesday, a vote considered to be an acid test of the impoverished island’s democratic credentials, was about 45 percent. Nearly 10 million people were eligible to take part in the ballot.

    Allegations of irregularities

    Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from capital Antananarivo, said Rajaonarimampianina had yet to substantiate his allegations regarding possible irregularities.

    “He is warning people to be vigilant and cautious of the preliminary results and complaining about the late arrival of electoral material and equipment,” Miller said.

    “[But] they [his team] have not provided any evidence regarding some of his claims, including about ballots already being marked,” she added.

    The former leader’s claims came after a number of the less-fancied candidates expressed concern prior to the election over alleged irregularities in the voters’ roll. They also demanded that the poll be delayed, which was turned down.

    History of upheaval

    The apparent disagreements over the validity of Wednesday’s vote marked the latest instance of political upheaval on the Indian Ocean island – the world’s fourth-largest and home to about 25 million people – since it became independent from France in 1960.

    It has struggled to overcome political divisions after a disputed 2001 election that sparked clashes and a 2009 coup.

    Earlier this year, attempts by then president Rajaonarimampianina to change the country’s electoral laws backfired and sparked nearly three months of bitter protests.

    Political opponents claimed the proposed changes were aimed at barring their candidates from taking part in Wednesday’s poll.

    Following the demonstrations, in June, the Constitutional Court ordered the 60-year-old to form a government of national unity with a “consensus prime minister” in order to avert a full-blown crisis.

    Two months later, on September 7, Rajaonarimampianina resigned from office to compete in Wednesday’s election.

    The Madagascar head of state must step down 60 days prior to a presidential poll if he or she wishes to compete in the ballot, according to the country’s constitution.

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    France says no homage to Nazi collaborator Petain after outcry

    PARIS (AFP) – President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday (Nov 8) there would be no official homage to Nazi collaborator Philippe Petain as part of World War I ceremonies this week, a day after sparking outrage by saying his inclusion would be “legitimate.”

    “It was never a question of celebrating him individually,” Macron said in Maubeuge as he toured WWI sites in northern France this week ahead of the 100th anniversary of the armistice on Sunday (Nov 11).

    Petain was hailed as a national hero after WWI for leading French forces to victory, but during World War II he became head of the French government which collaborated with occupying German forces and helped deport thousands of Jews to death camps.

    Macron had indicated Wednesday that Petain would be among the eight army chiefs honoured at the Invalides military museum on Saturday, saying he had earned the nation’s gratitude.

    “He was a great soldier, it’s a fact,” he said, though he stressed that Petain had made “disastrous choices” during World War II.

    His comments were denounced by rival politicians and Jewish leaders, and set off a flurry of criticism on Twitter.

    “The only thing we will remember about Petain is that he was convicted, in the name of the French people, of national indignity during his trial in 1945,” Francis Kalifat of the CRIF association of French Jewish groups.

    Macron said Thursday that it was necessary to make a distinction between Petain’s WWI contributions and his crimes of WWII, while criticising what he called a “useless controversy”.

    “We have to recognise the historical truth, but also our duty to remember, and the consequences of the indignity which was established” at Petain’s treason trial in 1945, he said.

    Uneasy legacy

    French army officials had announced this week that all eight WWI marshals would be commemorated, with Macron represented by the general who is his top military adviser.

    However Petain is not among the marshals at the Invalides, having been buried on the Ile d’Yeu off the Atlantic coast.

    “The marshals whose honour has not been tarnished, and only those, will be honoured by the republic,” spokesman Benjamin Griveaux posted on Facebook late Wednesday.

    “If there was a confusion, it’s because we weren’t sufficiently clear on this point,” he said.

    For years French leaders have treaded lightly when dealing with Petain’s legacy, which continues to divide the nation decades on.

    Historians generally consider the marshal a brilliant tactician during World War I, not least for halting the German advance at Verdun in 1916.

    He also earned soldiers’ admiration by advocating strategies which avoided pointless fighting and deaths – though he nonetheless condoned the execution of attempted deserters.

    Hailed as a hero after the armistice, Petain would be called on to lead again after Germany invaded in 1940, taking over much of France.

    But as head of the Vichy regime, he actively collaborated with the Nazi occupiers, pursuing French resistance fighters while enacting second-class status for Jews and helping German soldiers round them up for the death camps.

    After the war’s end he was arrested for treason and given the death sentence, which was commuted to life imprisonment given his age. He died in 1951, aged 95.

    The debate over his legacy reflects a longtime divide along political lines, with rightwing groups often praising Petain’s endorsement of what he considered traditional Catholic values.

    As head of Vichy France, he replaced the country’s motto of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” with the more imperious “Work, Family and Country”.

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    Center-right set to remain top in EU parliament: poll analysis

    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European People’s Party will remain the biggest group in the European Parliament come elections in May, giving the center-right EPP’s lead candidate Manfred Weber a shot at succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker as EU chief executive, according to a Reuters analysis of polls.

    Weber, who leads the EPP in the EU legislature, easily won a party congress ballot to be its “Spitzenkandidat”, or official nominee to be president of the European Commission — although many EU member state leaders say they will not be bound by May’s election results in choosing Juncker’s successor.

    The analysis is based on polls in the 27 EU states or actual election results where these are more recent. Where available, the polls used are those collected by the European Parliament in its monitoring of national political trends, which can be found here: here .

    The analysis indicates that the EPP would remain the biggest party, extending its lead over the center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), whose Spitzenkandidat is Juncker’s Dutch deputy Frans Timmermans. But reflecting recent national trends, the two mainstream groups would together drop below half the seats as anti-EU nationalists and a range of other small parties do well.

    Most countries use simple proportional representation in EU elections, so calculating seats from votes is straightforward. Regional voting in Italy, Ireland and Belgium entails making some assumptions to project seats from voting percentages.

    The polls make varying claims of accuracy and the analysis provides only a rough snapshot of sentiment; it is a method used by some EU officials internally – including at the EU assembly itself – to get a sense of the shape of the next parliament.

    According to the Reuters analysis, the EPP stands to gain about 177 of the total 705 seats, down from 219 in the current 751-seat chamber. The parliament is shrinking next year because Britain is leaving the EU in March.

    The S&D would still be second with 141 seats, down from 189. An informal “grand coalition” with the EPP would be short of a majority, however, suggesting the new Commission head will have to build broader support to steer legislation through.

    The Greens, doing well in Germany, are set to hold steady in the EU legislature. Latest polls show them winning 23 of Germany’s 96 seats, or 48 seats in total, down from 52 today.

    The liberals of ALDE, assuming an eventual alignment with President Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist En Marche party in France, would become the third largest party with 83 seats, overtaking the ECR group, which will lose out from the departure of its founders from Britain’s ruling Conservative party.

    The far-right EFDD and ENF groups, aided by the popularity of the now ruling League and 5-Star in Italy, stand to gain 20 seats, to a total of 98, despite the departure of Brexit campaigners the UK Independence Party. Though the future line-up in the parliament of anti-immigration parties including France’s National Rally and the Dutch Freedom Party is unclear, the broad far-right bloc could grow to 14 percent from 10 percent.

    That could challenge the established parties and crack open internal divisions after Britain leaves the bloc next March.

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    ‘My son went camping and never came home’

    The Louisville Courier Journal newspaper in Kentucky has been documenting the opioid crisis since it first gripped the state. The BBC followed a reporter in Lawrenceburg as she grappled with its impact on her own community.

    ‘They need to go to prison.”

    On a Sunday evening in September, Emily Walden spoke at a moving candlelit vigil organised by Parents of Addicted Loved Ones in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

    “‘They'” are pharmaceutical company executives – she holds responsible for the prescription drugs epidemic which claimed over 72,000 drug related overdose deaths last year.

    “Money’s not enough we need to show enough is enough – putting them in prison will deter the next company from doing this”, she said, calling on US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to file criminal charges.

    Since 2012 Emily has been campaigning after she lost her 21-year-old son, TJ, to an overdose of the drug Opana.

    “My son went on a camping trip with friends. The next day a police officer knocked on my door and told me he had passed away.

    He was 21 years old. He was almost 18 when he first was offered an OxyContin. It was a short period of time, he went into treatment. He went through periods of time when he was doing well, then others when it was not.

    “He told me he wanted to get better. He didn’t fight me a lot – he said I know you want to help me – even when I was mean and took things away or drug tested him – he knew I wanted to help him,” she recalls.

    Despite her efforts – including tracking down and speaking to his drug dealers – Emily lost her son, and since then has focused relentlessly on the drug, Opana, and the company that manufactured it.

    “Every day I think about him and everything that could have been. When he went to treatment he told everybody in the centre when I was going to visit – he said whatever you do don’t mention Opana in front of my mom because she will go crazy.

    “So, I think he’d look down on me a few times and laughed about it because even back then I was very upset and couldn’t understand why he had access to such a dangerous drug. Oxymorphone should never have been put back on the market, ever.”

    She took her case to Andy Beshear – now Kentucky’s Attorney General – and before he was elected, Emily asked him to investigate.

    A year ago, November 2017, Kentucky filed its first lawsuit against an opioid manufacturer and now has seven lawsuits in total against different manufacturers. The state wants the cases to be heard in Kentucky – not as part of a bigger multi-action case being heard in Cleveland, Ohio.

    According to Wes Duke, assistant director Medicaid fraud control unit at the Attorney General’s office Kentucky, if the state’s civil cases are successful they would want any payments for financial damages from the pharmaceutical companies to pay for drug prevention education, law enforcement and treatment.

    He points out that these are civil cases – to meet Emily’s hopes for a criminal case against the company’s executives, he says, “You would have to prove criminal liability that the executives were aware. That possibly could exist but these cases are civil.”

    In the early days of her campaigning, Emily was inspired by an article written by Laura Ungar, an investigative journalist with the Louisville Courier Journal, who has written extensively on the opioid epidemic since 2011.

    Several years back she told Laura that it had been one of her articles which inspired to start a local pressure group called Fed Up at the start of her campaign.

    “I met Emily at a forum the Courier Journal held in 2016 – Emily just came up to me and said, ‘hey I have read some of your stories and want to talk to you because I lost my son,'” says Laura.

    “I had travelled to Florida to write about the pill pipeline which was a huge problem. A woman there set up a group called Stop Now. Emily read my story and focussed on that group and contacted the woman and ended up starting a chapter in Kentucky because of the connection she made based on reading my story.

    “She has kind of taken it upon herself to do all she can to stop pill abuse and particularly do something about the regulatory side of things. She goes to Washington to get the [US Food and Drug Administration] to crack down more on pharmaceutical companies because she things that can stop other kids from dying.

    “I was very touched that my story did this. And I would have never known that my story made this change without her coming up to me. It’s always gratifying that when you put something out that it is doing something. And you think about those times when you put your stories out in the world and you didn’t know about it.”

    This summer Laura travelled back to a town called Austin, in nearby Indiana, researching a follow-up to her 2015 story which exposed how the town had suffered rural America’s worst drug-fuelled HIV outbreak in recent history.

    People had found a way to inject Opana ER multiple times while sharing needles.

    In returning in 2018, the Courier Journal wanted to tell the story of how Austin was trying to recover – “a beacon of hope” as editor Rick Green described it to his team who were working on this project.

    As part of her campaign, Emily Walden testified last year to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) against Opana ER.

    In July 2017, the FDA asked Endo to withdraw the drug in what was the first time the agency had taken steps to remove a currently marketed opioid pain medication from sale due to the public health consequences of abuse.

    Emily makes a point of clarifying her motive.

    “I am not going after this because my son died of that drug. The research I did and what I found out about that drug is the reason I pursued it. He should have never had access to it. Many, many other people should not have. It’s a very dangerous drug that should have not been put back on the market.”

    Emily estimates she puts in 40 to 50 hours a week, voluntarily, on top of her full-time job. She says addressing meetings is not something she had done before her son died.

    “I struggle each and every time,” she says.

    The difficulty of reporting on the opioid and addiction epidemic is also something that is taken personally by Laura.

    She recalls the most “heart-wrenching” story she has covered in almost 30 years of reporting – when she visited the local hospital where drug-dependent babies were being treated.

    “It not only shows how addiction affects not only the people using drugs, but their families and the most innocent members of our society.

    “As a mom of two who has held my babies, holding these babies when they were shaking and crying and could not be consoled -I’ll never forget It – it was more than your normal day doing journalism. That human connection I felt- this is just a terrible thing.”

    Laura says Kentucky has been so hard hit in terms of drug-dependent babies.

    “When I went to University Hospital’s neonatal [intensive care unit], I saw about half the babies there were born dependent on drugs – which was just shocking to me.

    “I get over days like that by really realising I am a human being and need to decompress and have some downtime to deal with my feelings. When these things are hurting me, I am hopeful that I am bringing some change to the situation – and that makes it worthwhile to show other people what is happening.”

    Over the years the stories Laura has reported on about the opioid epidemic have changed.

    When she first started reporting on “opioids” the newspaper felt it necessary to define the word for readers. No longer.

    The story has moved on – what started with over-prescribing for pain relief became a different problem when legislation was introduced to make it more difficult to get opioids – and consequently those who had become addicted turned to street heroin.

    Now the concern is deadly fentanyl.

    The Jefferson County Coroner, Barbara Weakly-Jones, explained how the overdose numbers have increased – from 218 deaths in 2015 to 323 in 2016, and reaching 424 deaths in 2017. By mid-September this year the total had reached 205.

    In 2016 12% of heroin overdoses included fentanyl or an analogue – in 2017 that number was 62%, and in 2018 to date, it’s 70%.

    As Barbara put it – “you don’t have any idea whether there is fentanyl in the heroin or not – until it is too late.”

    To put it into context, she compared the death toll from drugs with the number of homicide deaths – 58 in 2018.

    There are signs that the response to the epidemic in Louisville is having an impact – the overdose deaths may be stabilising, in part due to the efforts to make anti-overdose Narcan available to first responders, as well as family members and the public.

    A needle exchange has expanded its numbers, while recovery centres such as the Healing Place have increased their capacity. But for all the steps forward, the scale of the crisis can seem overwhelming.

    “Even when I feel like I did a good job on a story I always feel this problem is huge, its much bigger than me, bigger than this town. All the country is struggling with this problem,’ says Laura.

    Emily Walden says she is pleased that the state cases are progressing, but says the federal government is not doing enough.

    “From the first time, I was there in Washington, there was zero legislation and now there is lots of legislation being proposed. But we are not nearly hitting what we should. There were 72,000 people died last year, we need to step it up.

    I am just a mom. I want this fixed. I want people to stop dying and I don’t think that is too much to ask.”

    Find out more by listening to Everyday Americans: Opioids and the Next Generation, on BBC World Service

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    RCMP investigations net child porn convictions in northern Manitoba

    Two Manitobans have been convicted of child porn-related offences thanks to the efforts of the RCMP’s Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) unit.

    Manitoba RCMP acted on a tip in January of last year from the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre (NCECC) that an image had been uploaded to a social media app from an IP address in Churchill.

    Joshua Proulx, 21, was arrested and charged with several child porn offences, as well as a sexual assault (on a sleeping adult woman) and voyeurism.

    He was sentenced Oct. 23 to two years less a day for the assault, and six months for voyeurism.

    The NCECC gave RCMP a similar tip in May 2017, of child porn that had been uploaded to the Google + social network from an address in Flin Flon.

    ICE officers arrested Darwyn Wasylciw, 21, who was found to be breaching his probation by possessing a device that could connect to the Internet.

    Wasylciw pled guilty to the breach of probation and to possessing and accessing child porn. He was sentenced to two years less a day and ordered to register with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act for 20 years.

    “Manitoba RCMP ICE unit investigators work tirelessly on extremely difficult cases,” said Sgt. Steve Rear, head of the unit.

    “We can’t always talk about what we’re investigating, because our first priority is always the victim.

    “We’re working hard to see these offenders end up in court and are held accountable for their actions.”

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    Fast-Moving Fire in Northern California Forces Evacuations

    A sudden, fast-moving fire in Northern California forced a scramble of evacuations and road closings, burning at least 5,000 acres from a start early Thursday morning near Chico, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

    The blaze was threatening the town of Paradise, population about 27,000, where a hospital was evacuated and gridlock had forced some people to flee vehicles on foot, according to a report on Wildfire Today, a website that covers fire news across the country.

    The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on its website that the fire, called Campfire, began near the town of Pulga, which is on the western edge of the Plumas National Forest.

    The Butte County sheriff tweeted that shelters had opened in Chico and Oroville. A red flag warning was issued by the state for a wide area of the county, as strong winds and low relative humidity were elevating fire conditions.

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    Young smuggler who died for a few euros

    A sudden cold snap in the Pyrenees cost a young man his life as he slogged through the snow, smuggling cigarettes for a few €10 notes.

    The 20-year-old Algerian was found unconscious in the snow by a French police patrol last week. He died of hypothermia.

    One hundred cigarette cartons were found nearby which he had likely been paid less than €50 (£43) to carry.

    His family identified him on Thursday, after he had been missing for days.

    The tragic fate of the young smuggler highlights the continuing problem of cigarette trafficking on the mountain routes between Andorra and France, for which those risking their lives are paid little and the traffickers orchestrating the operation remain beyond the reach of customs officers.

    “Traffickers are the ones who benefit from these weak people who are impoverished, and who are ready to take any risk for a few dozen euros,” Perpignan prosecutor Jean-Jacques Fagni told France 3 TV.

    “That is how they are paid by these unscrupulous men, who exploit the poverty of others.”

    Mr Fagni told AFP that he had opened a manslaughter investigation on the basis that others may have endangered the man’s life or neglected their duty of responsibility to him.

    The 20-year-old man was found on Monday 29 October, and appeared to have made some attempt to stave off the mountain cold, with a coat and several layers of clothing on his legs.

    But the night before, a cold snap had caused the season’s first snowfall on the mountain.

    When customs officers found him, he was wrapped in three different coats – which may have been left behind by other smugglers who, apparently startled by the arrival of the gendarmerie, fled back towards the border with Andorra.

    The local gendarmerie posted of photo to their Facebook page the following day, showing the discarded boxes of contraband cigarettes that had apparently been left behind by the smugglers.

    The French officers called the nearby town across the border for assistance. But despite an emergency helicopter being dispatched and an evacuation to Meritxell Hospital in Andorra, the young man died.

    With no identity papers on his body, it took more than a week before he was identified by members of his family who travelled to the morgue in Andorra on Thursday.

    Police and customs officials have been warning about the risk to life these cigarette smugglers have been taking for more than a year.

    Regional newspaper La Depeche reported in August 2017 (in French) that tonnes of tobacco had been seized in the previous two years – far more than usual.

    And France 3 reported one incident of a smuggler being intercepted in January 2016.

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    Opinion | Real America Versus Senate America

    Everyone is delivering post-mortems on Tuesday’s elections, so for what it’s worth, here’s mine: Despite some bitter disappointments and lost ground in the Senate, Democrats won a huge victory. They broke the Republican monopoly on federal power, and that’s a very big deal for an administration that has engaged in blatant corruption and abuse of power, in the belief that an impenetrable red wall would always protect it from accountability. They also made major gains at the state level, which will have a big impact on future elections.

    But given this overall success, how do we explain those Senate losses? Many people have pointed out that this year’s Senate map was unusually bad for Democrats, consisting disproportionately of states Donald Trump won in 2016. But there was actually a deeper problem, one that will pose long-term problems, not just for Democrats, but for the legitimacy of our whole political system. For economic and demographic trends have interacted with political change to make the Senate deeply unrepresentative of American reality.

    How is America changing? Immigration and our growing racial and cultural diversity are only part of the story. We’re also witnessing a transformation in the geography of our economy, as dynamic industries increasingly gravitate to big metropolitan areas where there are already large numbers of highly educated workers. It’s not an accident that Amazon is planning to put its two new headquarters in New York and the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, both places with an existing deep pool of talent.

    Obviously not everyone lives — or wants to live — in these growth centers of the new economy. But we are increasingly a nation of urbanites and suburbanites. Almost 60 percent of us live in metropolitan areas with more than a million people, more than 70 percent in areas with more than 500,000 residents. Conservative politicians may extol the virtues of a “real America” of rural areas and small towns, but the real real America in which we live, while it contains small towns, is mostly metropolitan.

    But here’s the thing: The Senate, which gives each state the same number of seats regardless of population — which gives fewer than 600,000 people in Wyoming the same representation as almost 40 million in California — drastically overweights those rural areas and underweights the places where most Americans live.

    I find it helpful to contrast the real America, the place we actually live, with what I think of as “Senate America,” the hypothetical nation implied by a simple average across states, which is what the Senate in effect represents.

    As I said, real America is mainly metropolitan; Senate America is still largely rural.

    Real America is racially and culturally diverse; Senate America is still very white.

    Real America includes large numbers of highly educated adults; Senate America, which underweights the dynamic metropolitan areas that attract highly educated workers, has a higher proportion of non-college people, and especially non-college whites.

    None of this is meant to denigrate rural, non-college, white voters. We’re all Americans, and we all deserve an equal voice in shaping our national destiny. But as it is, some of us are more equal than others. And that poses a big problem in an era of deep partisan division.

    Not to put too fine a point on it: What Donald Trump and his party are selling increasingly boils down to white nationalism — hatred and fear of darker people, with a hefty dose of anti-intellectualism plus anti-Semitism, which is always part of that cocktail. This message repels a majority of Americans. That’s why Tuesday’s election in the House — which despite gerrymandering and other factors is far more representative of the country as a whole than the Senate — produced a major Democratic wave.

    But the message does resonate with a minority of Americans. These Americans are, of course, white, and are more likely than not to reside outside big, racially diverse metropolitan areas — because racial animosity and fear of immigration always seem to be strongest in places where there are few nonwhites and hardly any immigrants. And these are precisely the places that have a disproportionate role in choosing senators.

    So what happened Tuesday, with Republicans getting shellacked in the House but gaining in the Senate, wasn’t just an accident of this year’s map or specific campaign issues. It reflected a deep division in culture, indeed values, between the American citizenry at large and the people who get to choose much of the Senate.

    This divergence will have profound implications, because the Senate has a lot of power, especially when the president — who, let us not forget, lost the popular vote — leads the party that controls it. In particular, Trump and his Senate friends will spend the next couple of years stuffing the courts with right-wing loyalists.

    We may, then, be looking at a growing crisis of legitimacy for the U.S. political system — even if we get through the constitutional crisis that seems to be looming over the next few months.

    Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

    Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

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    U.N. aims for Yemen talks by year-end, not end of month

    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths is aiming to convene the country’s warring parties for peace talks by the end of the year, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday, after last week saying he would try to bring them together by the end of the month.

    A proxy war is playing out in Yemen between Iran and Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-allied Houthi group. Iran has denied supplying weapons to the Houthis.

    The United States and Britain last week stepped up calls for an end to the nearly four-year war that has driven impoverished Yemen to the verge of famine, raising pressure on Saudi Arabia as it faces a global outcry over the murder of a prominent Saudi journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

    Griffiths, who is due to brief the Security Council on Nov. 16, is trying to salvage peace talks that collapsed in September. He said in a statement last week that he hoped to bring the parties to the negotiating table within a month.

    However, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Thursday the goal was for political consultations before the end of the year.

    “There’s always different challenges to bringing the parties together,” Haq told reporters. “What we’re trying to do is clear up any issues so that we can get a successful round of talks as soon as possible.”

    An attempt to hold peace talks in Geneva in September was abandoned after three days of waiting for the Houthi delegation.

        The Houthis had said they wanted U.N. guarantees their plane would not have to stop in Djibouti for inspection by the Saudi-led coalition. They also wanted the plane to evacuate some of their wounded to Oman or Europe.

    An aide to Griffiths said work to re-launch the political process was proceeding as planned.

    “We are in constant consultation with the parties to finalize the logistical arrangements for holding the talks. We are committed to convening the talks as soon as those arrangements are finalized,” said the aide.

    Houthi fighters battled Saudi-led forces in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Thursday and posted gunmen on the roof of a hospital, leaving doctors and young patients in the line of fire, rights groups and military sources said.

    British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Monday he would push for new action at the U.N. Security Council to try to end hostilities in Yemen and find a political solution.

    U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Britain was working with the United States on a draft resolution to stop the fighting in Yemen.

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