Erdogan in lose-lose situation after Istanbul vote

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech on the stage of the conference room at Huber Mansion in Istanbul, on March 31, 2019, following local elections. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 June 2019

Erdogan in lose-lose situation after Istanbul vote

  • Local elections around Turkey on March 31 showed Erdogan's ruling party remained the most popular overall, but it suffered a shock defeats in Istanbul and Ankara
  • Main opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu’s success was short-lived in Istanbul after Turkey’s top election body accepted claims of fraud by the AKP and called a re-run for June 23

Voters in Istanbul will take part in a re-run of the mayoral election on Sunday after a vote in March was annulled over alleged irregularities.

Local elections around Turkey on March 31 showed the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remained the most popular overall, but it suffered a shock defeat in Istanbul, as well as losing the capital Ankara.

It was the first time in 25 years that neither Istanbul nor Ankara were under the control of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) or its predecessors.

However, the main opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu’s success was short-lived in Istanbul after Turkey’s top election body accepted claims of fraud by the AKP and called a re-run for June 23.

It did not annul the votes for the city council that were cast at the same time, and where the majority of seats went to Erdogan’s party.

Why is there another Istanbul election?

The AKP’s Binali Yildirim, an Erdogan loyalist and former premier, lost by around 13,000 votes to Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in March.

After two weeks of multiple recounts, the AKP applied in April to the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) to annul the vote, claiming there was widespread corruption and theft at the ballot box.

There were also claims some of the ballot box committee chairmen and members were not civil servants as required by Turkish law.

Critics of the ruling party claim the AKP pressured election authorities into calling the re-run in Istanbul because it is Turkey’s economic powerhouse, home to 15 million people, and vital to the AKP’s political machine.

“The municipality spends billions of US dollars on public tenders and services, which puts the AKP in direct contact with voters. In short, it’s the gasoline on which the AKP machine runs,” said Berk Esen, assistant professor of international relations at Ankara’s Bilkent University.

But Abdullah Guler, an AKP lawmaker in Istanbul, dismissed the allegations.

“If the AKP looked at the situation like this, it would have done the same (in other big cities like Ankara and Antalya),” he told AFP. “Why didn’t we? Because there was open corruption in Istanbul.”

Why is Erdogan campaigning less?

Before the March vote, Erdogan’s face and voice was everywhere. He held 102 rallies in 50 days in 59 provinces across the country despite not being on the ballot paper.

At first, it appeared he would continue this approach for the Istanbul re-run, with the Hurriyet daily reporting he would hold 39 rallies in the city’s 39 districts.

But that has not happened. On Wednesday, Hurriyet said Erdogan would make speeches in just four districts.

Guler said this was normal for a single-city election.

“Generally we would have a big rally in Istanbul before an election to send messages to the whole of Turkey. But there is only an election in Istanbul, not all of Turkey.”

But others, like Esen, believe Erdogan is avoiding a major presence “so that he would not be the face of defeat, which seems very likely according to the opinion polls.”

“He did not want to campaign heavily because he is a polarising figure and they tried a reconciliatory strategy,” Esen said, in the hopes of having a broader appeal.

But now, Esen added, “Erdogan is the last tool left at their disposal.”

What risk does Erdogan face?

The vote still remains highly significant for Erdogan -- to keep alive his reputation as an unbeatable political force as well as to ensure divisions in the party are kept under wraps.

Ayse Ayata, a professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, said if Imamoglu won, it would be “major chaos” for the AKP with members realising the party can lose.

But a victory for the AKP would be greeted with suspicion by Erdogan’s critics at home and abroad, where the order to replay the election has already drawn criticism.

“The whole democratic world will lose further faith in the process and in Turkey,” said Ayata.

A growing distrust in the West would then increase concern for investors over the trajectory of Turkey, whose economy was hit by tensions with the US last summer. The Turkish lira lost nearly 30 percent in value against the US dollar in 2018.

“It’s a lose-lose situation,” Esen said. “If he wins, he’ll only slow down the haemorrhage of votes for the time being. But if he loses a second time, it’s going to be a mortal blow to his regime and party.”

Guler, the AKP lawmaker, denied there was any risk to Erdogan or the party.

“The AK Party continues to have the support of the public,” he said, pointing to its control of 760 of Turkey’s 1,389 local authorities.


Explosions in two Somalia cities kill at least 5

Updated 10 April 2021

Explosions in two Somalia cities kill at least 5

  • A bomber was targeting the Bay region governor who was outside the Suez Cafeteria, officials reported
  • Another explosion went off in the Huriwa district of Mogadishu, killing one government soldier and wounding a bystander

MOGADISHU: A suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside a cafe in Somalia’s city of Baidoa on Saturday, killing at least four people and wounding more than six others, police said.
The bomber was targeting the Bay region governor, Ali Wardhere, who was outside the Suez Cafeteria, officials reported. The governor escaped the explosion unharmed, according to the official government news agency, SONNA, which reported that at least two of his bodyguards, who were also policemen, were among the wounded.
“The explosion which was heard all around the town of Baidoa has terrorized the people and had created a momentary confusion,” said Amin Maddey, who witnessed the explosion and spoke to The Associated Press by telephone.
The Al-Qaeda linked group Al-Shabab has claimed the responsibility through a report they published on their website and radio Andalus which advocates for their extremists campaigns.
“The target was a convoy accompanying Mr. Ali Wardhere, the governor of Bay region, which was hit hard,” the Al-Shabab statement said, “three of Ali Wardhere’s bodyguards have died in the attack and the target which was Ali Wardhere himself got wounded,” added the statement.
The police have cordoned off the area for investigation as many bystanders gathered around to check whether their family members or friends are among the victims.
Meanwhile, another explosion went off in the Huriwa district of Mogadishu Saturday, killing one government soldier and wounding a bystander, police said.
It is not known whether the two explosions in Baidoa and Mogadishu are related. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing in Mogadishu.
The people of Somalia are seeing major security lapses as leaders remain in deadlock over the political situation after elections were delayed earlier this year.
“The meeting between the federal government and the federal member states has ended in total failure,” said the Minister of Information, Osman Abokor Dubbe, who blamed the two leaders of Puntland and Jubbaland for that failure.
However, both leaders of Puntland and Jubbaland have denied reports of a failed meeting.
There have been fears that the Al-Qaeda-linked group would be emboldened by Somalia’s current political crisis as President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is under pressure to step aside.


Artillery guns fire across UK in solemn tribute to Prince Philip

Updated 10 April 2021

Artillery guns fire across UK in solemn tribute to Prince Philip

  • On its official Twitter feed, the royal family put up a tribute paid by the queen to her husband on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997
  • The armed forces marked Philip’s death at noon (1100 GMT) with a Death Gun Salute

WINDSOR: Gun salutes were fired across Britain on Saturday to mark the death of Prince Philip as tributes flooded in for a man who was a pillar of strength for Queen Elizabeth during her record-breaking reign.
Members of the public laid flowers outside royal residences, paying their respects to the 99-year-old prince, who died on Friday.
On its official Twitter feed, the royal family put up a tribute paid by the queen to her husband on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997.
“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know,” she said. The queen has been on the throne for 69 years.
The armed forces marked Philip’s death at noon (1100 GMT) with a Death Gun Salute. Artillery units in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and Gibraltar, and some navy warships, fired their guns.
Buckingham Palace is expected to announce details of the funeral later on Saturday.
It is likely to be a small, private affair, stripped of the grandeur of traditional royal occasions by COVID-19 restrictions and by the prince’s own dislike of people making a fuss.
Despite a request from the royal family for the public to obey pandemic social distancing rules and avoid visits to its residences, people laid cards and bouquets outside Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace through the night.
“What a life! Thank you for serving our country,” read one tribute outside Buckingham Palace.
“We’re all weeping with you, Ma’am,” read the front page of the Sun tabloid, while its rival the Daily Mail ran a 144-page tribute to Philip, who died at Windsor Castle.
The death of “her beloved husband,” announced by the queen, robs the 94-year-old monarch of her closest confidante, the one person she could trust and who was free to speak his mind to her. They had been married for 73 years and he would have turned 100 in June.
Messages of condolence have poured in from world leaders.
The Duke of Edinburgh, as Philip was officially known, was credited with helping to modernize the institution and supporting his wife as the monarchy faced repeated crises during her reign.
The tenor bell at London’s Westminster Abbey tolled 99 times, a traditional marking of the death of a royal family member.
Flags at Buckingham Palace and at government buildings across Britain were lowered to half-mast and billboard operators replaced adverts with a photo and tribute to the prince.
The BBC canceled programming across all of its television and radio channels on Friday, and aired a special program with interviews with the queen and Philip’s children, including heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles.
Philip “probably wanted to be remembered as an individual in his own right,” said Charles.
“He didn’t suffer fools gladly, so if you said anything that was in any way ambiguous, he would say: ‘Make up your mind!’ Perhaps it made one choose one’s words carefully,” Charles said.
A Greek prince, Philip married Elizabeth in 1947 and broke the news of her father’s death five years later while they were in Kenya, meaning that she was queen at the age of 25.
He went on to play a key role helping the monarchy adapt to a changing world in the post-World War Two period.
“I think he’ll be remembered as a modernizer in many ways, as someone who both inside the palace and outside the palace was a force for change,” Simon Lewis, the queen’s communications secretary from 1998 to 2001, told Reuters.
He said Philip’s loss would be a terrible blow to the queen.
“I think they were the most extraordinary partnership and that’s going to be a huge, huge, gap,” Lewis said. “I think he always saw himself partly as the eyes and the ears of the queen — that’s gone forever.”


Myanmar’s UN envoy urges action against junta as bloodshed continues

Updated 10 April 2021

Myanmar’s UN envoy urges action against junta as bloodshed continues

  • Country has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February
  • More than 600 people have been killed by security forces trying to quell protesters

YANGON: Myanmar’s own ambassador to the United Nations has urged “strong action” against the junta, as reports emerged of scores killed in the military’s latest crackdown.
The country has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, with protesters refusing to submit to the junta regime and continuing to demand a return to democracy.
With more than 600 people killed by security forces trying to quell the movement, the international community has increasingly raised the alarm on the crisis.
During a UN Security Council meeting on Friday, Myanmar’s ambassador pushed for more concrete action – proposing a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and more targeted sanctions against members of the military and their families.
“Your collective, strong action is needed immediately,” Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told the meeting.
“Time is of the essence for us,” he said. “Please, please take action.”
An independent analyst with the International Crisis Group also warned the council that Myanmar was “at the brink of state failure.”
“The vast majority of the population does not want military rule and will do whatever it takes to prevent that outcome. Yet the military seems determined to impose its will,” said Richard Horsey.
“Its actions may be creating a situation where the country becomes ungovernable. That should be of grave concern to the region and to the broader international community.”
China and Russia wield veto power at the Security Council and generally oppose international sanctions.
However, Beijing – the top ally of Myanmar’s military – has voiced growing concern about instability, and has said it is speaking to “all parties.”
There have been reports that China has opened contact with the CRPH, a group representing the ousted civilian government.
At least 618 civilians have been killed in the military’s crackdown on protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.
Efforts to verify deaths and confirm news of crackdowns have been greatly hindered by the junta’s throttling of mobile data within the country – effectively shunting most of the population into an information blackout.
News emerged Saturday morning of more violence in the city of Bago, 65 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Yangon – the site of a day-long crackdown that forced residents into hiding in nearby villages.
AFP-verified footage shot early Friday showed protesters hiding behind sandbag barricades wielding homemade rifles, as explosions could be heard in the background.
A resident said that the military crackdown killed at least 40 protesters, and authorities refused to let rescue workers remove the bodies.
“They piled up all the dead bodies, loaded them into their army truck and drove it away,” he said, adding that authorities then proceeded to arrest people around the community.
Local media reports have put the death toll for Bago’s crackdown at far higher.
The junta had branded the victims of anti-coup unrest “violent terrorist people,” putting the total death toll since February 1 at 248, according to a spokesman Friday.
Despite the daily bloodshed, protesters have continued to take to the streets, with dawn strikes sprouting across the country Saturday.
Demonstrators are also manifesting their discontent in pointedly creative ways.
In commercial hub Yangon, crimson paint – representing the blood already spilled – was splashed across the streets in view of the historic Shwedagon Pagoda.
“Let us unite and boldly show in red that the dictatorial regime will not be allowed to rule us at all,” a student activist announced on Facebook.
Flyers with the words “They will not rule us” were scattered across Yangon neighborhoods.
In Mandalay, activists pasted the same flyers on the statue of General Aung San.
The father of Suu Kyi, he is a national hero who is widely regarded as having wrested Myanmar from under the yoke of British colonialism.
Suu Kyi is currently facing a series of charges from the junta – including accusations of corruption and for having unregistered walkie-talkies.
The military has repeatedly justified seizing power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.


India’s COVID-19 infections hit another record

Updated 10 April 2021

India’s COVID-19 infections hit another record

  • India’s overall case load has swelled to 13.21 million, the third-highest globally
  • The government blames the resurgence mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks
NEW DELHI: India reported a record 145,384 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and the highest number of deaths in more than five months, as it grapples with an overwhelming second-wave of infections that has forced the state of Maharashtra to impose a weekend lockdown.
Deaths rose by 794 to a total of 168,436, health ministry data showed.
India’s overall case load has swelled to 13.21 million, the third-highest globally, behind the United States and Brazil. India has reported the most number of cases in the world in the past week, breaching the 100,000 mark for the first time on Monday and four times after that.
The government blames the resurgence mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks as businesses have nearly fully reopened since February, only to be partially shut again to control the current surge.
Maharashtra, the Indian state with the most cases, has already shut down restaurants, malls and places of worship and barred the movement of most people to control the outbreak that has threatened to overrun medical facilities and created vaccine shortages, officials said. Its weekend lockdown will end on early Monday.
In India’s financial capital Mumbai, hundreds of poor migrant workers crammed onto trains this week to flee the city, potentially risking a wider outbreak in smaller towns and villages.
The railways department denied people were fleeing cities because of the surge, calling it a usual rush this time of year because of holidays and as workers move to harvest crops.
Many states, meanwhile, have complained of a shortage of vaccines.

Coronavirus lockdowns around the world as vaccine efforts stumble

Updated 10 April 2021

Coronavirus lockdowns around the world as vaccine efforts stumble

  • Maharashtra’s 125 million people will be confined to their homes unless traveling or shopping for food or medicine
  • Argentina entered a night-time curfew Friday running from midnight to 06:00 a.m. every day until April 30

MUMBAI: Fresh lockdowns and curfews were imposed on tens of millions of people from India to Argentina on Saturday, as COVID-19 infections surged again and vaccine roll-outs were hampered by shortages and scares over side effects.
In India, the worst-hit state of Maharashtra was running out of vaccines as the health system buckled under the weight of the contagion, which has killed 2.9 million people worldwide.
Having let its guard down with mass religious festivals, political rallies and spectators at cricket matches, the world’s second-most populous nation has added more than a million new infections since late March.
Every weekend from Saturday until the end of April, Maharashtra’s 125 million people will be confined to their homes unless traveling or shopping for food or medicine.
“I’m not for the lockdown at all but I don’t think the government has any other choice,” media professional Neha Tyagi, 27, said in Maharashtra’s megacity Mumbai.
“This lockdown could have been totally avoided if people would take the virus seriously.”
The crisis is being exacerbated by a shortage of vaccines.
India has so far inoculated 94 million of its 1.3 billion people, but The Times of India reported Friday that states on average had just over five days of stock left, citing health ministry data, with some regions already grappling with severe shortages.
Stay-at-home orders were also set to come into force for the eight million inhabitants of Bogota, as the Colombian capital battled a third wave of infections, adding to curfews already covering seven million across four other major cities.
Elsewhere in South America, Argentina entered a night-time curfew Friday running from midnight to 06:00 a.m. every day until April 30.
It will be in force in the country’s highest-risk areas, mainly urban centers, where bars and restaurants will close at 11:00 p.m.
Both Argentina and Colombia have recorded about 2.5 million coronavirus cases, numbers surpassed only by Brazil in the region.
All of France is subject to restrictions of some form, while the German government’s attempts to curb movement and commerce have been stymied by several states refusing to go along with the proposals.
Now Berlin is changing the rules to centralize power, adjustments likely to usher in night-time curfews and some school closures in especially hard-hit areas.
But some countries were in the process of opening up.
Italy was set to end lockdowns from next week for Lombardy, the epicenter of its coronavirus pandemic, and several other regions with improving contagion statistics.
Neighboring Slovenia announced it would ease coronavirus restrictions and suspend a six-month-long curfew starting Monday.