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Monday, April 28, 2014

Iraq’s Ailing President Talabani Is Shown Casting a Vote

A video from Kurdsat Broadcasting Corporation published on April 28 that is said to show President Jalal Talabani voting in Iraq’s parliamentary elections.

Video of a rare appearance of the ailing president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, has surfaced on social media pages, just as some voting gets underway for the first parliamentary elections since the United States withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

A Facebook page affiliated with the news organization connected to Mr. Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Party posted the video, as did the one belonging to the Kurdsat Broadcasting Corporation channel, which originally released it.

It showed a few seconds of Mr. Talabani seated in a wheelchair, at one point smiling weakly. A close-up shot is then edited in showing a ballot being cast, and then subsequent footage shows the Iraqi president holding up the index finger on his left hand, stained blue as confirmation that he had voted, as those gathered around him applaud. His right hand is immobile, and appears to be clutching a cane.

One Iraqi official said that a ballot box had been brought to the medical facility in Berlin where Mr. Talabani is being overseen by doctors.

The footage during the few seconds that he appeared was unremarkable. But by showing Mr. Talabani alive, holding up his hand, and responding to those around him, some of them dressed in traditional Kurdish clothing, his party is apparently intending to impart a message of political significance for its parliamentary candidates as voters go to the polls.

Violence erupted in the wake of the video, news agencies in Iraq reported. Agence France-Presse said that a suicide bomber killed about 20 people who had gathered in the mostly Kurdish town of Khanaqin in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad, to celebrate the Talabani video. The agency quoted security and medical officials in its report.

Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, suffered a stroke and was flown to Germany for treatment at the end of 2012. As president, his influence in mediating disputes among the country’s many factions far outweighed the limited powers of the office, and his illness added a new level of uncertainty to the country’s divided politics.

Since then, many in his party have demanded information, but he has not appeared publicly, and his closely knit circle of family, aides and medical personnel has been guarded about his medical condition and progress.

On Twitter on Monday, local media, political parties and other observers reported that, after Mr. Talabani’s appearance in the video, more than a dozen people were injured when weapons were fired into the air in celebration in the city of Sulaimaniya, one of the biggest cities in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

Before the video was released, local media had reported that Mr. Talabani would be voting in the German city.

Iraqis started voting on Sunday, including those living outside of the country, and police and security forces voted on Monday. But the full elections inside Iraq are scheduled for April 30. As my colleagues Tim Arango and Duraid Adnan reported last week, Iraqis are going to the polls against the backdrop of worsening sectarian tensions.

Tim Arango contributed reporting from Baghdad.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Images of the Destruction Left By Tornadoes in the Midwest and South

A lethal storm system rumbled over a broad swath of the United States over the weekend, spawning several tornadoes that damaged homes and buildings and left authorities scrambling to find the dead and help the injured.

As I report with my colleague Alan Blinder, at least nine people died after tornadoes ripped through parts of Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas on Sunday, setting the tornado-prone Midwest and South on edge on the third anniversary of one of the deadliest tornado streaks in history.

A baby boy who was injured in North Carolina died Sunday, two days after the force of a tornado collapsed the roof of his home, his uncle said on a webpage set up to raise money for the boy’s family. Richard Bain said that his nephew Gavin had been in a coma since Friday at a hospital in Norfolk, Va.

“My sister is a single mother of two trying to go to school and now has had everything taken away from her,” he said. “I wish I could do something more than this.”

Mr. Bain said his nephew was home with his niece, Brylee, and the children’s mother, Ashley Bain, who is Mr. Bain’s sister, when the roof of their home caved in on them. The storm lifted the house 30 feet into the air, then dropped it, he said. Ms. Bain and Gavin were pinned underneath a ceiling beam, but Brylee was able to escape and get help.

The tornadoes severely damaged a firehouse in Quapaw, Okla., and reduced to rubble parts of Mayflower and Vilona, Ark. Many people took to social media to show the extensive path of destruction left behind by the storms.

Thomas Gounley, a business reporter for the Springfield News-Leader, snapped a photo of the Quapaw firehouse before a tornado cut through the city of 900, killing one person.

After the storm passed, Kade Witten posted a photo showing the damage to the firehouse from the rear. Other photos showed firefighters carrying out equipment.

The damage appeared to be much worse in Arkansas, where the number of fatalities was still being counted and was expected to climb overnight. Garrett Johnson posted a panoramic view of the leveled homes and buildings just off I-40 in Mayflower.

Residents of the River Plantation, an residential area between Mayflower and Palarm, Ark. posted photos of the tornado.

Part of Vilona was destroyed in April 2011, when a tornado killed four people during one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in history. Over a span of three days, more than 350 people in six states.

Mayflower was the site of an oil spill in 2013, when an Exxon Mobil pipeline carrying tar sands from Canada ruptured and spilled several thousand barrels of crude oil.

The National Weather Service confirmed that six tornadoes touched down in eastern North Carolina on Friday. Hunter Pridgen filmed one of them as it moved over Washington, a city about 20 miles east of Greenville on the Pamlico River.

Post by Hunter Pridgen.

More storms were expected overnight Sunday, including hail and severe thunderstorms.