Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Flame-outs," May 8, 2010

National tragedy

Polish citizens head to the polls June 20 for an early presidential election prompted by an April 10 plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 96 other passengers en route to a ceremony in Russia to commemorate another tragedy-the Katyn forest massacre of 22,000 Polish soldiers by Soviet secret police in 1940. The crash victims included Kaczynski's wife and dozens of high-ranking Polish officials. Three days after thousands of mourners packed Krakow for an elaborate funeral mass for Kaczynski and his wife, acting president Bronislaw Komorowski moved up elections, originally scheduled for the fall. Election observers expect Komorowski to run against Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late president's twin brother. The plane crash-likely caused by pilot error-also killed the national bank president, deputy foreign minister, national security head, deputy parliament speaker, army chief of staff, and the navy chief commander-and stunned Polish citizens into national mourning.

Not over yet

Kyrgyzstan's interim administration led by Rosa Otunbayev will hold elections and a referendum on an amended constitution later this year, following the overthrow of the government in the former Soviet republic last month. The votes provide "a wonderful opportunity for religious liberty to be restored," says Religious Liberty Commission's Elizabeth Kendal. "The churches have been active throughout the crisis caring for the injured, visiting hospitals, holding prayer vigils, assisting with efforts to clean up the streets, and repairing damage to public facilities," she writes. But Kyrgyz ethnic-religious nationalism is a serious threat. On April 19, a violent mob of 1,000 ethnic Kyrgyz rampaged through the village of Mayevka, burning homes and seizing land that belonged to ethnic Russians and Turks. Five were killed as local Kyrgyz reportedly intervened to defend their neighbors. Kendal warns that Islamic militants in southern Kyrgyzstan may take advantage of the current instability.

States' rights

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A new law in Nebraska bans late-term abortions on the basis of a new legislative argument: that the fetus feels pain. Pro-abortion advocates disagree that unborn babies feel pain; but researchers like Australian Nicholas Fisk say it's safe to assume unborn babies can feel pain at 20 to 24 weeks. Kansas also passed a bill strengthening its ban on late-term abortions-vetoed by Gov. Mark Parkinson. This bill would have required doctors to list an exact medical diagnosis to perform a late-term abortion, and it would have broadened the definition of viability to allow an unborn baby to live if there's a "reasonable probability" it would survive outside the womb. Oklahoma also has passed and signed legislation to ban gender-selective abortion, to give conscience protections to pro-life employees, and to regulate the abortion pill RU486.

Pro-life advocates also are taking to state capitols a fight to ban elective abortion coverage in health insurance exchanges that states must create under the new federal healthcare law. Americans United for Life has published an 832-page model legislation guide for state legislatures on how to opt out of the federal abortion mandates in the act-and more than 30 states have requested this model bill. Even though these exchanges don't crank up until 2014, lawmakers in states including Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Missouri are attempting to fast-track the bills through this year's legislatures. "We had a setback on this fight at the federal level, but together we can defeat taxpayer-funded abortion state by state," said AUL president Charmaine Yoest.

Hanging parliament

A young, charismatic politician with the slogan "Vote for Change"-only this time it's a candidate across the pond with the British Conservative Party. Leader David Cameron has been polling well ahead of the Labour Party of current Prime Minister Gordon Brown. If Labour loses in parliamentary elections May 6, it will be out of power for the first time in 13 years. But in a first-ever for Britian televised debate, a previously unknown third-party candidate, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, became an overnight hit. Typically Clegg's Liberal Democrats wind up in third place in polls, but one recent poll from the conservative Sun showed the party ahead of both Labour and the Conservatives. It's the first time the LibDems have been ahead leading up to an election in over a century. The Conservatives are right on the party's heels or slightly outpacing it in polls, though, and a second debate April 22 could swing numbers again. Clegg is likely to take more votes away from Brown than Cameron. But the swings in the polls have politicos contemplating a hung Parliament, where party leaders have to negotiate to form a new government-with Clegg's Liberal Democrats likely holding the keys to a coalition.

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