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Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/Landov

Haiti elections

and other news briefs

Issue: "After the revolution," Feb. 26, 2011

Haitian voters are set to cast ballots on March 20 for the country's first presidential runoff in 25 years. But experts worry that the nation may face the same chaos and fraud that launched days of violent protests after last year's elections. Officials announced on Feb. 3 that President René Préval's handpicked candidate, Jude Celestin, won't be on the ballot. Instead, pop singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly will face former first lady Mirlande Manigat. The announcement ended months of intense speculation over how the Haitian government would handle international calls for Martelly to replace Celestin on the ballot after widespread fraud tainted the November elections.

But a central question remains: Can election officials effectively prepare for a presidential runoff in 40 days? Scores of Haitians complained that massively disorganized and incorrect voter lists blocked fair voting in the November contests. Haitian officials haven't announced a detailed plan for preventing the same problems in the March runoff. One thing seems certain: If already-tense Haitian voters face another chaotic vote, the country could face another descent into worsening chaos.

Protection needed

Indonesian Christians increasingly are the target of angry religious mobs. On Feb. 8, Muslims set two churches on fire and raided a Christian school and health center, beating a parish priest who tried to stop them. The attacks occurred after a Christian received a five-year sentence for calling Islam a cruel religion-a sentence the attackers considered too lenient. The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace found that attacks against Indonesian churches have risen from 12 incidents in 2009 to 75 incidents in 2010. U.S. ambassador to Indonesia Scot Marciel noted "with concern" the church bombings and asked the Indonesian government to "protect the rights of all communities."

Bowing out

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Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., surprised constituents by announcing that she plans to resign this month to become the president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Smithsonian think tank. Her solidly Democratic district means party members will line up for a spot in a June special election. Also resigning from the House: New York Republican Christopher Lee after a report that the 46-year-old husband and father had emailed a shirtless photo of himself to a woman in response to her personal ad on Craigslist. "I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents," Lee said in a statement. "I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all."

Adoptions in decline

The U.S. State Department reported in January that American adoptions of foreign children dropped last year by 13 percent-the lowest level for international adoptions since 1995. Americans in 2010 adopted 11,059 children from overseas, a dramatic decline from an all-time high of 22,990 in 2004. Factors contributing to the downturn:

• Guatemala, once the No. 1 source for international adoptions, halted most overseas adoptions in 2008.

• China remained Americans' top source for foreign adoptions in 2010, but a series of tougher restrictions on adoptive parents cut the numbers of adoptions from 5,900 in 2008 to 3,400 last year. (Americans adopted 14,500 Chinese children in 2005, according to UNICEF.)

• Russian authorities have limited international adoptions, drastically reducing the number of American adoptions since 2004.

At least one country saw an increase: Ethiopia ranked second for U.S. adoptions, placing 2,500 children last year.

Time of prayer

The 59th annual National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington on Feb. 3 included heartfelt discussions on a topic that, according to keynote speaker and Hollywood film director Randall Wallace, has sometimes been missing at previous NPB gatherings: prayer.

Saying prayer "sifts our souls like sand," Wallace, who wrote Braveheart and directed Secretariat, challenged the audience of more than 3,000 from 140 nations to "open your heart before God almighty and say I will lose my life and I will win it, loving in all the ways you lead my heart to love."

President Barack Obama then provided the nation with a rare glimpse into his own religious beliefs, describing how "my Christian faith . . . has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years." Obama said that he "came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my Lord and Savior" two decades ago while working as a community organizer for a group of churches in Chicago. In a speech that seemed designed to confront questions surrounding his religious beliefs, Obama, often paraphrasing Scripture, outlined his daily prayer life in detail. He said he regularly prays for humility, wisdom, the ability to show compassion and help those who are struggling, and that he might walk closer to God.

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