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New Afghan President Tore Page Straight from Obama-Like Playbook


Zoonar/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The road to a new Afghan government has been paved with confusion over election results, accusations of fraud and the shape of a new unity coalition. But for newly inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani, his campaign strategy was just the opposite, largely mimicking those of successful Western politicians like President Obama, Ghani’s social media guru and longtime adviser said.

“We did take cues from other campaigns; we studied up on them,” Hamdullah Mohib said in an interview with ABC News before Ghani’s victory was certified Sunday by a United Nations-supervised election audit.

The exact vote tally is being withheld for now but, as of Monday, Ghani was officially the new president. During Mohib’s visit back in July, he shared some keys to his candidate’s victory, which bears a striking resemblance to those that netted Obama two terms in office.

1. Keep it simple.

Ghani’s background as an academic and technocrat meant he was used to speaking with high-level officials, not throngs of everyday Afghans. So he had to work on appealing to voters without speaking down to them. “His language is not as simple,” Mohib said. “He had to work on that to make sure he can simplify what he says so he can reach the masses.”

Plus, not everyone in the country is literate. To make the balloting process simple, Ghani campaign workers passed out cards with symbols that would show them what to do, as in showing which box they would need to tick next to a picture of Ghani’s face. That was a lesson learned after a preliminary round of voting in which Ghani lost handily to Abdullah. “We had problems in the first round,” Mohib said.

2. Network, network, network.

Like successful U.S. campaigns, the Ghani team first targeted the support of influential voices within individual communities. In Afghanistan, those tend to be the leaders of mosques and, Mohib said, Ghani’s campaign won the coveted clerical vote. “The day before this election, in these provinces the imams told people it’s their civic duty to vote,” Mohib said.

The campaign also used a robust social media presence (like Obama, Ghani signs his personal tweets with his initials -- “AG” -- and his team routinely live-posted about his campaign events) to reach better connected, more educated Afghans who, in turn, would sway their family members toward whom to support. “When we reach one influential, educated person who has access and can afford Internet in the country, [he] has influence over the rest of the family,” Mohib said. “It’s a conservative society where people go by what others say.”

3. Keep that network.

Like the Obama campaign, which converted its Obama for America campaign apparatus into “Organizing for Action,” a second-term organization that focused on implementing the president’s policies, the Ghani campaign wants to apply its Election Day(s) network to the business of governing. “We have a way for [Ghani] to know what’s happening and how [voters] feel” down to the tiniest village, Mohib said. “Once you build a network, you don’t let a network go.”

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Government Robots Will Decide If Your Thai Food Tastes Right


iStock/Thinkstock(BANGKOK) -- Pad Thai dishes don’t always taste the same. But they could from today onward.

Thailand is unveiling two new robots that can evaluate whether Thai food around the world is made according to government-standardized recipes, according to a spokeswoman from the Thai National Innovation Agency (NIA), which was tasked by the Ministry of Science and Technology to promote Thai food.

"It is found that the flavors of Thai food in many standalone restaurants and in hotels abroad are deviated from the authentic ones," the NIA said in a written statement.

To resolve the issue, the agency developed equipment to measure and analyze flavors of Thai food.

Dr. Krit Chongsrid, who developed the robots, told ABC News the biggest challenge was syncing the taste analysis to the smell analysis.

"There is a 5 to 10 percent error probability," Chongsrid said.

The first robot is called e-Delicious, according to a report provided by the NIA to ABC News.

The machine, equivalent to a human food critic, is composed of an electronic nose made with 16 gas sensors and an electronic tongue made to detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (meat or savory) flavors.

The second robot is called ESenS, according to the same report. It’s a smart application on Android, and is the size of a printer that uses micro-sensors to compare samples to an existing database of recipes.

It took Chongsrid's team about a year to develop the two robots. He told ABC News the team hoped to develop at least 100 or more.

So far, samples can be compared to 11 recipes approved by the Thai government and its “Thai Delicious Committee.”

The recipes include Tom Yum Kung, Pad Thai, Mussaman Curry and Golek Chicken Sauce, according to the NIA. The agency is currently working on standardizing 10 more recipes.

The NIA also launched an iPad and iPhone app called “Thai Delicious” for users to download recipes.

Many university laboratories and nanotechnology companies around the world have joined the race to develop "taste robots."

For example, Spanish researchers recently managed to distinguish between different varieties of beer using an “electronic tongue.” According to the journal Food Chemistry, the beer tasting technology is accurate in 82 percent of cases.

Similarly, in Denmark, scientists have inaugurated a nano-sensor that evaluates a wine's quality by measuring its astringency. They've called it "mini-mouth."

While Thailand’s goal to preserve its culinary reputation is understandable, questions remain on the government’s ability to market the new robots and make sure it is used properly -- or to get restaurants to use them at all.

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Hong Kong Protests Grow Over Demands for Reforms


PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is showing no signs of receding as demonstrators continued filling the streets Tuesday to protest Beijing's attempt at quashing reforms.

At issue is mainland China's determination to run its own candidate in Hong Kong's 2017 leadership election with most in the financial hub of seven million demanding open nominations.

Up to now, Chinese soldiers have not intervened as demonstrators are condemning what they say are heavy-handed tactics by police that include tear gas and billy clubs.

Massive protests are rare in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. However, fears are growing that Beijing is increasingly trying to wield more influence in what has long been an autonomous city.

If Beijing doesn't respond by Wednesday, leaders for reform say they will announce new civil disobedience rules.

Meanwhile in Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest urged Chinese authorities to "exercise restraint," adding, "The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong" and residents should have "a genuine choice of candidates."

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Nigerian Ebola Hoax Results in Two Deaths


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two people have died and at least 20 were hospitalized, all because of a social media prank urging Nigerians to drink excessive amounts of salt water to avoid catching the Ebola virus.

The hoax started with a text message sent by a Nigerian student at the beginning of August, according to Edwin Ikhuoria, a development consultant for U2 frontman Bono’s ONE campaign who lives in Nigeria.

"Once the word was out, it spread like wildfire," Ikhuoria told ABC News.

Within hours of the first text being sent, Ikhuoria said that everyone he knows had received the message multiple times on social media -- including the Minister of Health.

The Nigerian newspaper Vanguard News reported two dead and 20 more hospitalized due to excessive consumption of salt water. The deceased were believed to have had high blood pressure, a condition that is especially sensitive to high salt intake.

"Please ensure that you and your family and all your neighbours bath with hot water and salt before daybreak today because of Ebola virus which is spreading through the air," the text said in part, according to Ikhuoria.

The message also urged people to drink as much salt water as possible as protection against catching the deadly virus, which has killed nearly half of the more than 6,000 infected throughout West Africa.

Symplur, a company that tracks health information trends on Twitter, said that Nigerians first began sending tweets using the words "Ebola," "salt water" and "drinking" starting on Aug. 4 with social network activity ramping up to a peak of about 450 tweets on the day of Aug. 8.

"People seem to [have been] woken up by friends and relatives in the early morning in order to drink and bathe with salt because the local town doc said you needed to do this before sunrise," said Thomas Lee, co-founder of Symplur, noting that much of the activity took place overnight.

And then, just as quickly as the rumors proliferated, they were quashed.

Ikhuria said as soon as the government got wind of the hoax, it immediately began its own campaign using both traditional and social media to reiterate the fact that there is no vaccine or cure for the virus.

"Other people also amplified the message from the ministry and it was all over," he said.

By Aug. 10, there were almost no tweets mentioning the bogus treatment, Symplur data revealed.

"The power of social media to rapidly spread information, both accurate and inaccurate, is enormous, and nowhere is that more impactful than on topics related to our health," said Lee.

According to Informa Telecoms, nearly 70 percent of the Nigerian population owns a cell phone, a typical onramp to popular social media platforms such as texting, Twitter and Facebook. The ability to mobilize information quickly through social channels has contributed to an effective campaign against the Ebola virus in that country, Lee speculated.

Nigeria had only 17 confirmed cases of Ebola and there are currently no new cases, the Nigerian Health Ministry reports. Nearby Sierra Leone, where under 2 percent of the population uses the Internet, has seen nearly 2,000 Ebola cases, according to the World Health Organization.

Toheeb Ojulari, a Nigerian blogger who also received the salt water tweets, said that when the prankster realized what she had done, she immediately took to social media again to apologize.

"All efforts to tell people that I was the one who started the joke failed," reads the message Ojulari and thousands of other Nigerians reposted. "Even my mum [called] me this morning, I did not know what to tell her."

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US Doing 'Everything Possible' to Avoid Civilian Deaths in Airstrikes


Hope Milam/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- The Pentagon was unable to corroborate reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and coalition airstrikes in Syria.

According to Pentagon spokesperson Col. Steve Warren, the U.S. and partner nations are doing "everything possible to mitigate the risk to civilians." Still, when reports of civilian deaths come out, "we'll certainly look into them," he said.

Air Force Deputy Director of Operation Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan spoke to reporters Monday to discuss the role the U.S. Air Force has had in the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. He noted that 74 percent of those missions in Iraq and 50 percent in Syria have been conducted by the U.S. Air Force.

In total, the U.S. and coalition forces have conducted 224 strikes in Iraq and 66 in Syria.

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University of Hong Kong Condemns Violence at Protests, US Not Taking Sides


Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- The University of Hong Kong issued a statement on Monday condemning violence that occurred at protests between police and citizens.

"The University of Hong Kong profoundly regrets the escalation of events in recent days," the statement said. "We condemn violence of any kind by any party. We cannot understand the use of tear gas yesterday: the police and the government are accountable for that decision."

The school also implicitly allowed students and staff to participate in peaceful pro-democracy protests, saying that they "will be flexible and reasonable in understanding the actions of students and staff who wish to express their strongly-held views."

The U.S. consulate general in Hong Kong said on Monday that it wouldn't take sides in the ongoing protests.

In a statement, the consulate general said that the U.S. "strongly supports Hong Kong's well-established traditions and Basic Law protections of internationally recognized fundamental freedoms." As such, the U.S. will not offer its support to either side of the debate, "nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it."

The consulate general did say, however, that it would urge "all sides to refrain from actions that would further escalate tensions, to exercise restraint, and to express views...in a peaceful manner."

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Pentagon's Field Hospital Arrives in Liberia to Help with Ebola Outbreak


U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kelly Goonan(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. military 25-bed field deployable hospital arrived in Monrovia, Liberia, this weekend, three weeks after the Pentagon announced plans to send the hospital there to help with the Ebola outbreak.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Monday the hospital was shipped to the African country aboard three C-17’s. Additional military personnel also arrived in Liberia this weekend, pushing the total up to 150.

The extra 40 personnel who arrived include 34 who will set up the hospital and six who will set up a mobile lab. The plan all along has been that military personnel will set up the facility but not staff it or treat Ebola patients.

The hospital, which is intended to be used to treat health care workers who become infected with Ebola, is expected to be up and running in mid-October.

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Netanyahu Stresses Iran's Nuclear Capabilities Must Be Dismantled


Uriel Sinai/Getty images(NEW YORK) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said "the world's hopes for peace are in danger" because of Iran's nuclear weapons program.

"Iran, the world's most dangerous regime, in the world's most dangerous region, would obtain the world's most dangerous weapons. Allowing that to happen would pose the gravest threat to us all," Netanyahu said, addressing the United Nations General Assembly.

He said Iran must not be allowed to acquire the ability to make atomic bombs.

"Iran's nuclear military capabilities must be fully dismantled," the prime minister stressed.

While he acknowledged "ISIS must be defeated," Netanyahu said having Iran as a nuclear power would be a graver threat than the militant group.

"[T]o defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war," he said.

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US Mission in Yemen Has 'Had Success' Despite Weekend RPG Attack


Jon Gorr/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SANA'A, Yemen) -- State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Monday that even though an al-Qaeda splinter group fired a rocket-propelled grenade near the U.S. embassy in Yemen over the weekend, the American mission there is still "successfully" fighting back against terrorism there.

"We still believe that we've had success, and of course going after core al-Qaeda and the elements that have been in Yemen," Psaki said. "It doesn't mean that there's not more concerns about security and stability that we need to continue to address."

The attack came just days after the U.S. moved much of its staff from the Sana'a embassy.

Ansar al-Sharia, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

A State Department official told ABC News on Monday that no U.S. personnel were harmed in the attack. Psaki noted that the attack was not targeted at the embassy, and that it simply occurred nearby.

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Battle of Kobane: ISIS, Kurdish Fighters Battle Along Turkey-Syria Border


iStock/ThinkstockREPORTER'S NOTEBOOK By ABC News' Terry Moran

(KOBANE, Syria) -- It was another surreal day on the hills overlooking the Syrian border, watching the battle for city of Kobane, inside Syria.

ISIS is tightening its grip here. Kobane is a Kurdish city and it is nearly surrounded. Tens of thousands of residents have fled across the border, and the Kurdish defenders left behind seem both outgunned and outmanned.

But they are tough. And this place is their home.

This morning, ISIS fighters shelled the city. It was very strange and very sad to stand on a hill less than a mile away and watch the shells fall on the downtown streets and into the neighborhoods of the city. There is no targeting, no military objective here; ISIS is just raining fire on civilians.

This whole campaign -- now more than a month old -- has shown again how ruthless and efficient is the ISIS playbook for taking territory.

First, a lightning advance seizes roads, villages and key points and shapes the coming battle. Then, ISIS forces move forward slowly and engage on the ground, probing the defenses, looking for opportunities to advance further. Next come the bombardment and that is followed by the final assault -- and the slaughter.

In the past few days, the city's Kurdish defenders have finally gotten some help. The U.S. and it's allies have carried out air strikes against ISIS -- apparently targeting ISIS positions and supply lines. In fact, we saw what seemed to be several air strikes to the west of the city today. Kobane's defenders say these strikes have not stopped the jihadist advance.

Perhaps that is because ISIS may be getting some help here, too, from Turkey.

Turkey has long been concerned about Kurdish separatists in its southeastern provinces and their allies across the border in Syria -- in Kobane. There were reports earlier this year of arms shipments from Turkey crossing the border into ISIS-controlled Syria. The Turkish government called these shipments "humanitarian aid" -- and slapped a court order banning any further press coverage of the issue.

The politics are murky. But the progress of the battle is clear.

A few miles west along the border, we watched the Kurdish defenders of Kobane try to hold a key approach to the city. As night fell, the ISIS fighters moved forward, trying to flank the Kurdish positions. The fighting grew fierce, as the crack-and-thump of tracer rounds, the thud of mortar fire and the increasingly desperate snapping and pinging of small-arms exchanges filled the narrow valley. The jihadist fighters just kept pushing ahead.

In the gathering darkness, we could hear the wind carry across the barren hills chorus after chorus of their ancient, piercing cry: "Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!"

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US, Partners Launch 11 Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria and Iraq


Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock(TAMPA, Fla.) -- The U.S. military, with the help of partner nations, conducted 11 new airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said Monday.

Eight of the strikes were conducted throughout Syria on Sunday and Monday. According to CENTCOM, two near Dayr ar Zawr destroyed an ISIS armed vehicle and anti-aircraft artillery transport vehicle; two near Aleppo targeted a compound and an ISIS-held airfield; two were conducted on compounds near Ar Raqqah; and two more struck a training camp and vehicles near Manbij.

Fighter and remotely piloted aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, United Arab Emirates and Jordan participated in these eight strikes and all managed to exit the areas safely.

In Iraq, the U.S. military destroyed two ISIS vehicles near Kirkuk in one strike and two armed vehicles near Sinjar in another. CENTCOM said a third strike against an armed vehicle in the northwestern part of the country was unsuccessful.

The attack and remotely piloted aircraft used in these attacks, which were carried out on Sunday and Monday, also managed to exit the areas safely.

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Why Hong Kong Residents Are Taking to the Streets


Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Image(HONG KONG) -- Hong Kong police on Sunday night fired tear gas into a rowdy but largely peaceful crowd of pro-democracy protesters, which seemingly ballooned and spread across the city only after the moment the tear gas was released from its shell.

The crowds -- for which there were no official numbers, although activist groups were estimating them to be in the tens of thousands -- effectively brought parts of the international financial hub to a virtual standstill for the second straight day Monday.

The student protests and the Occupy Central movement were initially about electoral reforms. Beijing said in August that it would allow Hong Kong to elect its own leader if the candidates were pre-screened and friendly to Beijing. That did not sit well with some of the electorate.

When the Hong Kong government and its police force decided to respond to protesters with force, some locals who did not initially support the week-long student protest or the plan to disrupt Hong Kong’s financial district seemed to galvanize behind the two movements. A new movement and hashtag arose from the tear gas: the #UmbrellaRevolution, named after the accessory of choice the protesters chose to defend themselves.

In the brief, unexpected violence, moderate Hong Kong residents may see a future that resembled any other mainland Chinese city, where dissent is removed by a show of force.

‘Hong Kong Exceptionalism’


Hong Kong, a self-governed southern Chinese territory, prides itself on its freedom of speech and assembly -- a freedom its cousins in mainland China do not share.

There lies the heart of the issue: Call it “Hong Kong exceptionalism,” or, at least, the perception of it -- because, after all, Hong Kong is part of China. It was this “Hong Kong identity” that people seemed to be flooding into the streets to defend.

When Hong Kong was handed back over to China from British colonial hands in 1997, the former colony was promised eventual “full democracy” under a “one country, two systems”-type of governance. Authorities also guaranteed the Hong Kong way of life would be preserved until at least 2047.

Despite its freedoms,  full democracy and universal suffrage was something that Hong Kong never enjoyed as a British crown colony and something no Chinese citizen had on the mainland.

Seventeen years on, pro-democracy activists believe China is reneging on its promise.

Public opinion in Hong Kong is divided. Many residents remain politically conservative and opt for stability above all else.

Cantonese Worry About Mandarin-ization

Despite that, relations between Hong Kong and the mainland are at their frostiest since the 1997. Hong Kong has flourished as an international financial hub since the handover but the mostly Cantonese-speaking population is also going through an identity crisis. Their idea of “Hong Kong exceptionalism” is under threat.

Some Hong Kong residents are feeling squeezed out of opportunities by what they believe is a “Mandarin-ization” of the Hong Kong economy, where the highest wages are going to Mandarin-speakers with extensive mainland Chinese connections, creating an increasing wealth gap. They also believe wealthy business elites are pandering to the Chinese government in order to access the mainland market at the expense of everyday Hong Kong residents.

Changing Demographics

In 1984, when it was decided Hong Kong would return to China, the city of Shenzhen, which sits on Hong Kong’s border with the mainland, had roughly 200,000 residents. Shenzhen is now dwarfs Hong Kong’s 7.2 million residents as megacity of 15 million people.

The influx of mainland Chinese investors and tourists into Hong Kong have also raised property prices and a strain on some consumer goods.

When the Hong Kong police, held up as heroes in local films and on TV, fired tear gas at its own people, some may not have recognized the city they called home.

The New York Times quoted a recent university graduate Steve Lee in the thick of the tear gas saying, “Hong Kong has gone crazy. It is no longer the Hong Kong I know, or the world knows.”


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Ashraf Ghani Sworn in as New Afghan President


Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Afghanistan swore in its newly elected president on Monday, marking the first peaceful transition of power since the fall of the Taliban.

Wearing a traditional Afghan turban, Ashraf Ghani took the oath of office inside the presidential palace. The inauguration was attended by more than 1,000 local and international delegates and was kicked off by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, who thanked the international community for its support over the past 13 years.

Ghani is a technocrat who was educated in the United States. He inherits a Taliban insurgency that's growing and an economy rife with corruption that's almost entirely dependent on foreign aid.

For his part, the new president says he'll tackle those problems head on and quickly sign a new military deal allowing foreign troops to stay in the country.

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At Least 30 Believed Dead Near Peak of Japanese Volcano


seiiiiico/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- At least 30 people are believed dead near the peak of Mount Ontake in Japan.

Thirty-one lifeless bodies were found high up on the volcano after its Saturday eruption. Fire and Disaster Management Agency officials believe as many as 250 people may have been on the volcano at the time, but that most made it down safely. Japan's national public broadcasting organization NHK reports that officials had been working to confirm the whereabouts of approximately 45 people.

The eruption is the first in seven years. The Japan meteorological agency warned hikers to stay away, issuing a level three out of five warning.

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Has the Luster Worn Off Kate Middleton?


Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Kate Middleton, otherwise known as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is among the most admired women in the world.

However, when polled in a survey by Newsweek Europe, it appears that virtually all the women of Britain are comfortable in their own skin when asked if they wished they could be Kate.

Just one percent said they would while 89 percent of the female respondents admitted they wouldn't want to be the 32-year-old duchess even for a single day.

Perhaps even more incredibly, just six percent of the men polled in England, Scotland and Wales said they'd like to be married to Kate while six percent wanted to date her.

And while news of Kate's second pregnancy made international headlines, just two percent of those surveyed cited it as the most important story of the day.

About 2,100 people responded to the survey.

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