Analyst: GOP hopefuls’ budgets unrealistic

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Proposals by Republican U.S. presidential hopefuls to lop off a chunk of the federal budget may be popular but are unrealistic, a budget watchdog group says.

The proposals would, in some fashion, ratchet spending back to levels not seen in decades and would require actions akin to ending a major program such as Medicare or cutting the entire defense budget, The Washington Times reported Monday.

The plans include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s pledge to cap government spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product — down from the current 24 percent — and pledges by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas that would cut more than 40 percent from current spending to levels unseen since the 1950s.

Such proposals are “totally unrealistic,” Robert Bixby, executive director of the bipartisan budget watchdog Concord Coalition, a fiscal responsibility advocacy group.

“It may look good on paper, but I don’t think they realistically confront the automatic cost growth that is built in for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and a realistic plan is going to have to deal with that,” Bixby said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s goal to limit the federal government to 18 percent of GDP would mean a spending reduction of 6 percent of GDP — more than the combined cost of Medicare and Medicaid in 2011, or more than the cost of Social Security or more than the entire defense budget.

“If you are going to keep spending at 20 percent of GDP, you are going to have to find a way to cut other spending by that much to offset the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” Bixby said. “If you are going to cut 5 [percent] or 6 percent of GDP out of discretionary programs, that means cutting about 75 percent of what we spend on everything else — all the appropriations, including defense.”

While the candidates’ plans generally proffer lower spending targets while pushing the concept of reshaping entitlement programs to save money, they lack what specific changes would be made to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the fact that real savings from gradually increasing the retirement age or means-testing programs would be beyond the 10-year budget cycle, the Times said.

“You are certainly not going to get big savings this decade,” Bixby said. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it because you want to get the savings in the out years.”

N. Koreans told: Don’t return from Libya

SEOUL, Oct. 31 (UPI) — North Korean President Kim Jong Il has banned North Koreans in Libya from returning home, media reports said.

The ban reflects Kim’s concern word of Arab uprisings could foment social unrest in North Korea, South Korean media have reported, the Los Angeles Times said.

About 200 North Koreans are in Libya, including doctors, nurses and construction workers sent there to bring hard currency back to their poverty-stricken country, where food shortages have been reported as winter approaches.

Kim had close ties with Moammar Gadhafi before the late Libyan leader’s regime collapsed.

North Korea refuses to recognize Libya’s National Transitional Council as the nation’s governing body and has reportedly remained silent about Gadhafi’s death.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports North Korea also has banned the return of its officials in two other countries that have had anti-government uprisings, Tunisia and Egypt, the Times said.

It remained unclear whether defectors from North Korea planned to send news of the Arab Spring rebellions into the North from South Korea via helium balloons.

An editorial published recently in the Seoul-based Korean Herald newspaper estimated less than 1 percent of North Koreans are aware of the uprisings and said all of them are top party and administration officials with satellite TV access or among those allowed to travel to China on business.

“Pyongyang’s silence about the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and the bloody death of Gadhafi reveals Kim Jong Il’s awareness of the vulnerability of his regime in the process of a third-generation dynastic succession of power,” the editorial said.

“Despite their boasting of the perfect loyalty of the 23 million people to the party and its leader, the ruling elite are afraid of what effect the information on the fates of overseas dictatorships will have on the oppressed people of the country.”

Ankara frustrated with PKK efforts

ANKARA, Turkey, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Germany’s tolerance for the activity of Kurdish separatists makes it a key recruitment ground for terrorist funding, a Turkish analyst said.

Turkey ramped up efforts against the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish initials PKK, following a series of high-profile attacks in the Kurdish south of the country. Turkish lawmakers early this year backed a measure permitting cross-border raids into northern Iraq to strike PKK targets there.

Turkish lawmakers have complained that the PKK is simultaneously launching a terrorist campaign in Turkey while seeking favors from European countries.

Suleyman Ozeren, an associate professor at the Turkish National Police Academy, told Turkish daily newspaper Today’s Zaman that Germany’s tolerance for Kurdish separatist groups complicates Ankara’s counter-terrorism efforts.

“We do not see the German government taking effective measures to make it difficult for the terror organization to raise money or recruit new militants,” he said. “The country has turned out to be the best place for the PKK to run terror propaganda openly and without any difficulty.”

Washington, Iraq and Turkey are among the countries that have designated the PKK a terrorist organization.

Cain Accused Of Harassment, Doesn’t Deny

When businessman Herman Cain was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, he was reportedly accused of sexually inappropriate behavior by at least two female coworkers.

According to POLITICO, the women described “unwanted sexual advances” made by Cain while he was running the association. The women reportedly left the organization after receiving “sealed settlements” to avoid formal legal actions.

The Presidential candidate is largely disregarding the story as an attempt at a smear campaign by members of the mainstream establishment who fear his frontrunner status.

A statement on Cain’s website responds to the attacks: “Since Washington establishment critics haven’t had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain’s ideas to fix a bad economy and create jobs, they are trying to attack him in any way they can.”

The statement also calls the allegations “thinly sourced” attempts to “cast aspersions” on Cain’s character.

Cain said in a later interview that he was “falsely accused” of sexual harassment during his time at the National Restaurant Association and that he had “never sexually harassed anyone,” according to The Washington Post.

POLITICO is standing behind the story despite the criticism from Cain’s campaign and notes that while the candidate is attacking, he is not denying the allegations.

Poll: Middle class shrinking

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A majority of U.S. voters say the country’s middle class is shrinking, The Hill Poll indicated Monday.

The poll, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research last Thursday, said two-thirds of likely voters think the middle class is being reduced and 55 percent said income inequality is at least a moderate problem.

The findings, which come in the wake of a recent Congressional Budget Office report asserting the wealthy are seeing their income rise much faster than the middle and lower class, crossed nearly all income levels, and all political, philosophical and racial lines.

Recent Occupy protests have highlighted the issues of income distribution and corporate wealth.

The poll findings suggest the current tax code, which the CBO credited with the increasing income disparity, is not popular with voters, The Hill said.

Nearly seven in 10 voters said the income tax system is either somewhat or very unfair, but only 35 percent said they supported a flat tax.

The margin of error for the survey of 1,000 likely voters was not provided.

U.S. denies it knew of Afghan prison abuse

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 31 (UPI) — The United States denies it knew of abuse at Afghan prisons before a United Nations report was released in August, The Washington Post reported.

Afghan and Western officials with knowledge of the situation told the newspaper U.S. officials had received multiple warnings about abuses to detainees transferred to Afghan intelligence service custody, but continued to send prisoners to Department 124, which was rebuilt last year with the help of U.S. funds, the Post said Sunday.

Afghan sources said CIA officials regularly visited the facility, and while Americans never participated in the torture the officials should have known about it.

The International Committee of the Red Cross told Afghan and U.S. officials of its concerns about detainee abuse at the detention center and other Afghan facilities before the U.N. investigation started in October 2010, sources told the newspaper.

U.S. officials deny they ignored credible warnings of abuse. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, halted detainee transfers to Afghan intelligence in Kandahar in July.

“Anyplace that we’ve had a concern in the past, we’ve taken the appropriate steps, I’m confident of that, and we’re taking the appropriate steps now,” Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told the newspaper.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the United States has a “longstanding policy against transferring individuals to torture.”

Yemeni prisoners go on hunger strike

SANAA, Yemen, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A group of protesters detained in Yemen announced the start of a hunger strike to denounce what they say is an illegal detention by the government.

A Yemeni human rights organization known by its Arabic acronym Hood said around 500 protesters, including around one dozen women, were arrested by authorities backing Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

A letter from the prisoners published by the independent Yemen Post said they started a hunger strike to protest their detention.

“We are announcing the beginning of our hunger strike as we wish to denounce the illegality and baseless grounds upon which we were arrested,” the letter read. “Please deliver this message with the utmost speed.”

Hundreds of Yemeni women called on tribal leaders to come to their aid after several women were killed allegedly by pro-regime fighters.

Washington has expressed frustration with Saleh on a regular basis. Last week, he summoned the U.S. envoy to Yemen to tell him he would sign a resignation deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council but hasn’t fulfilled the promise.

Saleh has made similar pledges as far back as March.

NATO ends Unified Protector op in Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya, Oct. 31 (UPI) — NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen traveled to Libya Monday to mark the end of the alliance’s Operation Unified Protector in the country.

The air operation ends at midnight Monday, seven months after it began, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a release.

Rasmussen met National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil and other members of the new Libyan leadership, as well as representatives of Libya’s civilian population.

“Libya is finally free — from Benghazi to Brega, from Misurata to the Nafusa mountains and Tripoli,” Rasmussen said during a news conference. “Your courage, determination and sacrifice have transformed this country and helped change the region.”

NATO provided air support for forces that ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as part of a U.N. resolution calling on NATO to protect Libyan civilians from elements loyal to Gadhafi.

“At midnight tonight, a successful chapter in NATO’s history is coming to an end,” Rasmussen said. “But you have already started writing a new chapter in the history of Libya. A new Libya, based on freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and reconciliation.”

The secretary-general said NATO could assist Libyan officials with defense and security matters, if asked. He also expressed the hope that a democratic Libya would join NATO “one day soon,” if that is what the Libyan people want.

Official: Law used as ‘political weapon’

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A law meant to keep politics out of the federal workplace often prevents would-be state and local candidates from seeking office, a U.S. official says.

Carolyn N. Lerner, the head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act of 1939, wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times that she has asked Congress to revise the law by removing restrictions on state and local government employees who want to run for elected office.

Lerner wrote the law prohibits candidates from running in state and local elections if their job is linked to federal funds “no matter how trivially.”

She cites examples including a police officer for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority unable to run for the school board because his bomb-sniffing dog is funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security.

In another case, the chief financial officer at the Port of Albany in New York could not run for the county Legislature because the port got federal stimulus funds. And sheriff’s deputies are often ineligible to run because their offices receive federal money.

“Increasingly, the act is being used as a political weapon to disqualify otherwise well-qualified candidates, even when there is no indication of wrongdoing,” Lerner wrote. “An allegation that a candidate has violated federal law — simply by stepping forward to run — can cast a cloud.”

She noted would-be candidates’ rely on the income from their regular jobs and many of the elective offices they seek pay little or nothing.

“Forcing people to resign in order to participate in the democratic process is unfair and bad policy,” she wrote.

Lerner said her office’s caseload has more than quintupled to 526 complaints in the 2010 fiscal year from 90 in 2000 .

Clinton role called critical in Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya, Oct. 31 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a key role in the success of the revolution that toppled the regime of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, observers say.

The Washington Post reports her pivotal role began early in the uprising when France sent warplanes in March to attack the Libyan city of Benghazi, 3 hours before the NATO campaign officially began. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi complained France upstaged NATO and he threatened to cut off access to Italian air bases critical to the alliance’s planes.

“It nearly broke up the coalition,” a European diplomat told the Post.

But Clinton mended fences behind the scenes in the coalition’s Libya air campaign, now seen as a major foreign policy success for the Obama administration.

The Post said she intervened in differences between Obama Cabinet members and NATO partners, won key backing from Arab countries and helped the rebels in conveying their message.

Early in the rebellion, Clinton, like others in the administration, held out hopes Gadhafi could fall without Western intervention. But after the former leader’s loyalists defeated rebels in towns across Libya, the rebels appealed for help from the West, including a military no-fly zone. Other countries in Europe supported intervention and began work on a U.N. Security Council resolution allowing use of force in Libya.

But the Obama administration remained unconvinced, and then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposed military intervention while Clinton told aides the no-fly zone in itself could worsen the situation in in Libya.

Clinton came up with conditions including a formal request by Arab states asking for U.N. Approval of the no-fly zone. She then met in Paris in March with foreign ministers of the Group of Eight countries, Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the National Transitional Council, and Arab states, about their willingness to send warplanes into the no-fly zone.

She also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country could block U.N. intervention through a veto.

When she left for Paris, a State Department official said, she had no instructions from the White House on whether to support “strong action” in Libya.

But she soon became a “strong advocate” for U.S. Intervention, an administration official said.

And in early July when rebels said they had run out of money for weapons, good and supplies, Clinton went against the advice of State Department lawyers and persuaded Obama to grant full diplomatic recognition to the rebels, giving them access to billions of dollars in Gadhafi’s frozen accounts.

Bachmann popular in Iowa despite poll drop

DES MOINES, Iowa, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota still draws crowds to her events in Iowa despite her single-digit showing in the latest poll.

The candidate won the Iowa Straw Poll in August only to see her polling number drop to below 10 percentage points recently, but her campaign says the polls haven’t captured the key pockets of her support, The Des Moines Register reported Sunday.

“I don’t think polling ever really reflects enthusiasm and grassroots organization,” Iowa campaign manager Eric Woolson said. “What we’ve seen is the grassroots folks that are supporting Michele Bachmann make a great foundation for victory for us on Jan. 3 [party caucuses]. I’m very comfortable with that.”

Lyle DeWild of Ames was among those surveyed in the latest Iowa Poll who said Bachmann was his least favorite candidate. Poll results released on the newspaper’s Web site Saturday indicated Bachmann garnered 8 percent, well behind leader Herman Cain’s 23 percent.

In a follow-up interview Sunday, DeWild told the Register he thought she was the weakest conservative candidate in terms of electability.

“I don’t think she’s strong enough to win the election,” DeWild said. “I don’t think the independents will vote for her.”

Peter Waldron, Bachmann’s director of outreach to religious voters, said one area where her support may be under-reported is among “values voters” concerned about issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage and who usually turn out in large numbers at the caucuses. The campaign has reached out to at least 100 churches and conducted more than 40 “pastor meetings” involving 15-30 ministers, he said.

“They will carry her to victory,” Waldron said. “There’s no question about it.”

U.S. settles anthrax lawsuit for $50M

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Oct. 31 (UPI) — A Florida woman whose husband died in a 2001 anthrax attack will receive $50 million from the U.S. government, her attorney said.

Maureen Stevens of Lantana had sued, alleging lax security at the federal government’s biological weapons research laboratory in Maryland led to the anthrax attack on American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., that killed her husband, National Enquirer photo editor Robert Stevens and four others.

Attorney Jason Weisser said the settlement, which must be formally approved by the U.S. Justice Department, was hashed out last week in mediation, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post reported Monday.

Weisser said the trial would have also tested FBI claims that the attacks were carried out solely by Bruce Ivins, a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md.

Ivins killed himself in 2008, just days before he was to be charged in connection with five anthrax-laced letters sent to the National Enquirer, congressional offices in Washington and news organizations in New York City.

High court reverses in shaken baby case

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court Monday voted 6-3 to reverse an appeals court ruling in favor of a California woman convicted in the shaking death of her grandchild.

At Shirley Ree Smith’s state trial, experts on both sides presented conflicting evidence on whether 7-day-old Etzel Glass’ death was caused by sudden infant death syndrome or by shaken baby syndrome. Smith was convicted and sentenced to 15 years, and her state appeals were denied.

But on constitutional review, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit repeatedly ruled that there was insufficient evidence for the conviction.

Without hearing argument, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.

“The decision below cannot be allowed to stand,” the majority said in an unsigned opinion handed down Monday. “This [Supreme] Court vacated and remanded this judgment twice before, calling the panel’s attention to this court’s opinions highlighting the necessity of deference to state courts in [constitutional] cases. Each time the panel persisted in its course, reinstating its judgment without seriously confronting the significance of the cases called to its attention.”

The unsigned opinion cited 1979’s Jackson vs. Virginia, which “makes clear that it is the responsibility of the jury — not the court — to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial. A reviewing court may set aside the jury’s verdict on the ground of insufficient evidence only if no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the jury. What is more, a federal court may not overturn a state court decision rejecting a sufficiency of the evidence challenge simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court. The federal court instead may do so only if the state court decision was ‘objectively unreasonable.'”

The justices suggested that Smith look to clemency rather than the federal courts because of the number of years she has served in prison.

The case was sent back down to the appeals court for a new ruling consistent with the majority opinion.

Iowa Poll shows Cain, Romney in lead

DES MOINES, Iowa, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A two-man race has emerged between Republican presidential hopefuls Herman Cain and Mitt Romney in Iowa, a new Iowa Poll indicated.

The poll results released Sunday indicate the absence of Cain and Romney from Iowa hasn’t hurt them so far, but they will need to invest more personal time in the state to translate their current popularity into success in the Jan. 3 party caucuses, The Des Moines Register reported Sunday.

The Iowa Poll indicated Georgia businessman Cain led the GOP field with 23 percent, followed by Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, with 22 percent.

The rest of the candidates were at least 10 percentage points behind Cain and Romney, results indicated, but 59 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers said they could switch to another candidate.

Results indicated Rep. Ron Paul of Texas drew 12 percent and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, winner of the Iowa Straw Poll during the summer, pulled 8 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were at 7 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had 5 percent

Five percent said they’d back former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out after finishing third in the straw poll, and 12 percent would consider him their second choice. But 66 percent said it would not matter.

Results are based on telephone surveys of 400 likely Republican caucus-goers conducted Oct. 23-26. The margin of error is 4.9 percentage points.

Cain campaign: Allegations unsubstantiated

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Two women accused Republican U.S. presidential candidate Herman Cain of inappropriate behavior while he headed a trade group, allegations his campaign attacked.

The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, several sources confirmed to Politico.

When asked about its reporting, Politico said Cain has had “thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and would not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.”

The women said Cain’s behavior made them angry and uncomfortable, Political reported Sunday.

They said they signed agreements that led to payouts to leave the association, the report said.

The agreements included language that barred the women from discussing their departures, it said.

The Hill reported Cain’s campaign painted the story as an attack by “inside the Beltway media” on the Georgia businessman, who became a top-tier candidate because of his solid performances at GOP debates and his 9-9-9 tax plan, which would replace the current tax system by imposing 9 percent income, sales and corporate taxes.

“Fearing the message of Herman Cain who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain,” his campaign said in a statement.

“Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain’s tenure as the chief executive officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts,” the statement said.

Politico reported that Cain and his campaign in recent days have declined to respond directly to questions about whether he ever was accused of sexual harassment while at the restaurant association. They also declined to answer questions about specific reporting that confirmed financial settlements in two cases in which complaints were made.

Politico said the incidents included allegedly innuendo-laced conversations or questions of a sexually suggestive nature that occurred during conferences at hotels and other sanctioned restaurant association events, and at the association’s offices. Sources also described physical gestures that weren’t explicitly sexual but made women who saw them uncomfortable and said they considered the gestures improper in a professional relationship.

Politico said it learned of allegations against Cain and pieced together accounts of what happened by talking to former board members, current and past staffers and other people familiar with the trade group when Cain was there. The Washington publication also said it was shown documentation describing the allegations and showing the restaurant association formally resolved the matter. Both women got five-figure separation packages.

Several leaders of National Restaurant Association board of directors at the time of Cain’s departure said they hadn’t heard about any complaints regarding Cain making unwanted advances.

“I have never heard that. It would be news to me,” said Denise Marie Fugo, who runs a Cleveland catering company. “He’s very gracious.”

Treasures stolen from Libyan bank

TRIPOLI, Libya, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Several hundred ancient, priceless coins stolen from a Libyan bank early in the country’s 2011 uprising may have turned up in Egypt, officials in Libya said.

The National Transitional Council said the coins were among more than 10,000 artifacts, including small statues and jewelry, taken from a Benghazi bank in May by thieves who drilled through the concrete ceiling, the BBC reported.

A fire at the bank had been blamed on fighting between rebels and forces loyal to former leader Moammar Gadhafi but the fire is now believed to be linked to the theft.

The collection, known as the Treasure of Benghazi, included coins dating to Greek, Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic times.

Most of the treasures had been discovered during the Italian occupation of Libya and were taken from the country but returned in 1961 after Libya’s independence.

Fadel al-Hasi, Libya’s acting minister for antiquities, said authorities suspect the theft could have been an inside job and the bank’s employees had been questioned several times.

He said several hundred coins from the collection may have been recovered in Egypt but that hasn’t been confirmed. Al-Hasi said he or a colleague would travel to Egypt in the next week or two.

The BBC said precious coins also have reportedly appeared at a daily gold market in Benghazi.

The British broadcaster said al-Hasi alerted Interpol about the theft in July and international antiquities markets were being monitored

Report: Airstrike kills 5 at refugee camp in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A military airstrike hit a refugee camp in the southern part of Somalia, killing five people and wounding more than 50, Doctors Without Borders said.

The aid group did not identify the aircraft in the attack Sunday in an area of fighting between the Kenyan government and the Islamic militant organization al-Shabaab, The New York Times reported.

Officials in Kenya confirmed an airstrike in the area but said it hit an al-Shabaab training camp, not a humanitarian site. They said 10 militants were killed and 47 injured.

“We hit an al-Shabaab camp. Five hundred meters [about 546 yards] from that camp is an internally displaced-persons camp,” Kenyan military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir said.

The militants were responding to the strike when a vehicle armed with an anti-aircraft gun was hit and errantly drove into the humanitarian camp, Chirchir said.

“It was already burning, and because of all the ammunition it exploded,” Chirchir said.

Kenya has blamed al-Shabaab for a rash of kidnappings of Westerners from Kenya. Kenyan troops, tanks and gunships crossed the border into Somalia last month.

Atambayev wins Kyrgyz post-coup election

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev had an outright majority of votes amid charges of foul play in the country’s presidential election, officials said.

The results, with nearly all votes counted, avoid the need for a second round of voting, they said.

Officials said Atambayev collected more than 60 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election but some of his rivals made accusations of foul play, Euronews.net reported.

Former boxer Kachimbek Tashiyev, one of 15 other candidates, accused officials of fabricating the results, Voice of America reported. Other candidates complained of voting irregularities that included people voting more than once, ballot-box stuffing and voters not being allowed to register.

International observers said they noted some flaws but were “cautiously optimistic” about the future of democracy in the central Asian nation.

Demonstrators gathered in the main square of Jalal-Abad to protest the results and express support for other candidates, Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty reported.

Atambayev was favored to win in the voting, which resulted from reforms enacted after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled the country following rioting in April 2010. Bakiyev’s overthrow sparked violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks, leaving hundreds dead and entire towns in ruins.

Israel evasive on Iran plans

TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said there are no plans to strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities but all options remain open.

Despite growing concern over Iran’s nuclear development, Barak told Israeli Army Radio he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have not decided whether Israel would conduct a military strike against Iran, Haaretz reported Monday.

“It does not take a genius to understand that in Israel in 2011 two people cannot decide to do something on their own,” Barak said. “That may have been appropriate in Israel in 2006. In the Defense Ministry, there are thousands of pages of discussion on this subject, in the presence of dozens of ministers, military personnel and experts.”

Barak said Iran poses a threat to stability in the Middle East.

“I think that one has to use diplomatic pressure and sanctions on Iran,” he said.

Israel agrees to release weapons dealer

TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Nahum Manbar, a weapons dealer convicted of selling chemicals to Iran, will be released from prison early after serving 14 years, Israeli officials said.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein told a prisoner-release committee he does not object to Manbar’s early release from prison on good behavior, The Jerusalem Post reported Monday.

Manbar was sentenced to 16 years after he was convicted in 1997 of signing a $16 million deal with the Iranian government to supply chemicals to Iran’s military and help establish factories to produce chemical weapons.

3 dead, 3 missing in grain-elevator blast

ATCHISON, Kan., Oct. 31 (UPI) — Three men were trapped inside an Atchison, Kan., grain elevator that exploded and killed three others during the weekend, officials said.

Hopes had dimmed that the trapped men were alive, rescuers said.

Recovery efforts for the them were called off Sunday after the structure was determined to be too unstable for search crews to enter, the Atchison (Kan.) Globe reported.

Rescuers were expected to resume their search Monday.

Authorities identified three men who were killed as Chad Roberts, 20, Ryan Federinko, 21, and John Burke, 24. They were all Bartlett Grain Co. employees.

State grain inspector Travis Keil, 34, of Topeka, Kan., Curtis Fields of Atchison and a third man — identified as a 43-year-old grain inspector — were still inside Sunday night, officials told the newspaper.

The explosion was felt for miles around, officials said.

Atchison City Manager Trey Cocking said a grain fire that ignited Saturday night could continue to smolder for up to 30 days.

Employees were loading a rail car when the explosion occurred.

Decorated Pakistani cop dies in attack

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A suicide bomber killed a decorated Pakistani police officer and his driver during a routine daylight patrol in northwest Pakistan.

Station Chief Inspector Ajmeer Shah, who had arrested and killed several militants, and driver Taqrimul Haq were pronounced dead at the scene where their car had slowed down to negotiate a speed bump.

Six passers-by were also injured — two critically — in the blast around noon near a central market in the city of Risalpur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, around 30 miles east of Peshawar and 60 miles from the Khyber Pass.

In a telephone call to reporters in Peshawar, a man claiming to be a spokesman for the rebel group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan said the TTP was responsibility for the attack and will carry out more suicide attacks, a report in The Nation newspaper said.

“Our target was Ajmeer Shah who had killed our commander Jannat Gul in a raid in Akora Khattak last month,” the TTP spokesman said.

Shah, 36, was born in the district. He received the Presidential Pride of Performance Award for his part in tracking down Gul and for foiling many attempted terrorist attacks. For his efforts Shah had been receiving regular death threats from suspected terrorists.

Gul, who also went by the names Jamaluddin and Qari Basit, was killed in a shootout with police in late September.

Gul was wanted by police for his involvement in a bomb attack in the northwestern garrison city of Kohat. He was also blamed for a militant attack on police in Peshawar in August to free convicted Taliban commanders Zaqeem Shah and Nadeem Abbas.

Three policemen were killed in the August attack carried out when a police team was taking the Taliban commanders from their prison to a dentist.

Also in August, a bomb blast in Nowshera district targeted Pakistani military personnel at a restaurant, killing 10 people, including several air force personnel.

Shah entered the police force as a constable in 1995 and was later appointed an instructor at the Police Academy in the city of Hangu, northwest Pakistan. He later served in Peshawar before transferring to Risalpur and marrying last year.

TTP leaders hope to impose a strict interpretation of Koranic instruction throughout Pakistan and to expel Coalition troops from Afghanistan.

Islamabad has blamed TTP for most attacks within Pakistan, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, according to data from the U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center.

“TTP also targets U.S. interests within Pakistan, claiming responsibility for arson attacks against NATO supply convoys in December 2008, a bomb blast in the northwest that killed U.S. soldiers in February 2010 and an assault against the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar in April 2010.”

Baitullah Mahsud, the first TTP leader, was killed in an explosion in August 2009 and was succeeded by Hakimullah Mahsud.

Israeli airstrike kills two in Gaza

JERUSALEM, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Israeli aircraft, retaliating after the firing of projectiles into Israel, struck a rocket-launching cell in Gaza, killing two cell members, officials said.

Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip confirmed the strike east of Khan Yunis and said two members of the al-Ahrar movement’s military unit were killed, Ynetnews.com reported. The bodies were found Monday.

The Israeli military action came after three Kassam rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel landed in the Eshkol Regional Council area late Sunday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Army Radio Monday Israel won’t honor a cease-fire as long as rockets are fired from Gaza. He said the Israeli military isn’t interested in returning to Gaza but will respond if Israelis are attacked, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Concerning Iran’s nuclear program, Barak said Israel has “no reason to fear anything” because it is the strongest country in the Middle East.

“Israel doesn’t have to allow a nuclear Iran, the world doesn’t have to allow a nuclear Iran,” he said.

Also Monday, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i told Israel Radio he thinks the current round of violence in the Gaza Strip is coming to an end.