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Somali militants shut down more aid operations

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The al-Shabab militant group, which has already blocked many aid agencies from reaching starving people in Somalia’s famine zones, ordered 16 more aid agencies to shut down Monday. Heavily armed al-Shabab fighters then raided the offices of several aid groups, looted equipment and accused the aid workers of being spies.

An al-Shabab spokesman said his group, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, had conducted a “meticulous yearlong review” that detailed “the illicit activities and misconducts of some of the organizations.”

Many of the aid organizations were helping to deliver lifesaving assistance to millions of Somalis suffering from food shortages brought on by drought. Although heavy rains and a surge of aid supplies have eased the situation somewhat in the past month, tens of thousands of people have died and 250,000 still face imminent starvation.

—Mohammed Ibrahim and Jeffrey Gettleman,
The New York Times

Millions vote in Congo despite violence

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Ballot boxes on fire, rebel fighters gunning down poll workers and outbursts of mob violence marred Congo’s national elections Monday, only the second time this vast and troubled country has held anything resembling a democratic vote.

Few here predicted these elections would be easy. President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 10 years, is reviled in many parts of the country, and his security forces have already killed many opposition supporters and used a mix of repression and bribery to squeeze out votes.

Analysts say Kabila, 40, could eke out a thin plurality — he had the Constitution changed earlier this year to eliminate a second round. Although Tshisekedi seems to be the most popular opposition figure nationwide, he has company; nine other presidential challengers. Once again, Congo’s opposition failed to unite.

Election officials intimated over the weekend that voting may continue for a few more days, especially in places where the ballots arrived late. Results are not expected until next week.

—Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times

Iran moves to downgrade diplomatic ties with Britain

Iran enacted legislation Monday to downgrade relations with Britain, in retaliation for intensified sanctions imposed by Western nations last week to punish the Iranians for their suspect nuclear development program. Britain promised to respond “robustly.”

The Guardian Council, an Iranian clerical body that has oversight on bills passed by Parliament, unanimously endorsed a bill approved Sunday to expel Britain’s ambassador and reduce diplomatic contacts, Iranian news agencies reported.

The council determined that the legislation was “not in violation of Islamic principles or articles of the Iranian Constitution,” the Fars News Agency quoted a council spokesman as saying.

The United States and the European Union imposed harsher sanctions on Iran on Nov. 21 after the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring agency released a report on Nov. 8 that said Iran might be working on a nuclear weapon and missile delivery system.

Iran has denied those accusations, and insists its nuclear program is peaceful. It has called the U.N. report a false and shameful propaganda display done at the behest of the United States and its allies.

—Rick Gladstone, The New York Times