KABUL, Afghanistan — Despite accusations of widespread fraud and threats of protests, Afghanistan’s election commission announced preliminary presidential runoff results Monday, then followed them with a huge caveat: that there was no winner yet, with the prospect that millions of votes would be subjected to a special audit for fraud.
In an announcement delayed for hours by negotiations, the country’s Independent Election Commission reported that Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was more than a million votes ahead of Abdullah Abdullah, with a total of more than 8.1 million votes counted. That tally was far higher than previously estimated, and immediately cast even more doubt on an election already marred by weeks of conflict and accusations.
The U.S. State Department, in its most strongly worded statement on the election yet, emphasized that the preliminary results were “not final or authoritative” and demanded that Afghan election officials “implement a thorough audit whether or not the two campaigns agree.”
Ukraine rebels brace
KIEV, Ukraine — Separatist rebels retreated Monday from positions throughout eastern Ukraine, apparently blowing up bridges as they went, and began building barricades in the two largest cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, in anticipation of a final stand against advancing government troops.
Ukrainian officials said Monday that they had succeeded in sealing the previously porous border with Russia, stopping the influx of new weapons and fighters and prompting bitter complaints from separatist leaders about being sold out by their patrons in Moscow.
Mobsters given communion
ROME — A Roman Catholic priest, Marco Colonna, told la Repubblica newspaper in an article published on Monday that he was continuing to give Holy Communion to mafia bosses at a high-security prison in Italy, even after Pope Francis said members of organised crime groups were “excommunicated.”
During a trip to one of Italy's most mafia-infested regions last month, Pope Francis for the first time described mafiosi as “excommunicated” — totally cut off from the Church — because “their lives follow this path of evil.”
The Vatican has said the pope's use of the word “excommunication” last month had not amounted to a formal decree under church law.
Quake rocks Guatemala, Mexico
GUATEMALA CITY — A strong earthquake shook the border between Guatemala and Mexico on Monday, killing at least five people, including a newborn boy, damaging dozens of buildings and triggering landslides.
Much of the damage from the 6.9-magnitude quake was reported in the Guatemalan border region of San Marcos, where it downed power lines, cracked buildings and triggered landslides which blocked roads.
Same-sex weddings recognized
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Monday that the United Nations will recognize all same-sex marriages of staff members at the world body.
Previously, a staff member's personal status was determined by the laws of their country of nationality, said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq. But now the United Nations will recognize all same-sex couples married in a country where it is legal, regardless of their nationality.
Sissi regrets conviction
CAIRO — President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt expressed regret in remarks published Monday at the convictions of three journalists from Al-Jazeera’s English-language service, saying that the sentences had “negative consequences” and that he preferred the journalists had been deported rather than put on trial.
Mr. Sissi’s comments were his first public criticism of a case that has focused international condemnation on the Egyptian government, and they appeared to raise the possibility of a presidential pardon for the journalists, who were all sentenced last month to at least seven years in prison on charges that they had conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false news.
— Compiled from news services