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Erdogan strengthens grip on Turkey

Turkey | Analysts say Sunday election will push Turkey further from democracy
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/26/18, 04:52 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in Sunday’s presidential race paves the way for the country’s 15-year leader to broaden his control. His reelection ultimately means increased executive powers for Erdogan, whom analysts and opponents fear will launch a full-fledged authoritarian regime.

The High Electoral Board declared Erdogan the winner with an unofficial count giving him 53 percent of the vote. Muharrem Ince, the major opposition contender from the Republican People’s Party, received 31 percent of the vote.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party also won 43 percent of the vote for seats in parliament. Sadi Guven, head of the electoral board, said five parties had passed the 10 percent mark necessary to enter the Grand National Assembly. The Justice and Development Party and its ally, the National Movement Party, together won a 59 percent majority in the 600-member legislative body.

In a victory speech delivered from his party’s office in Ankara, Erdogan welcomed the victory as “an example to the rest of the world” and vowed to combat terror groups and “liberate Syrian lands.”

“We have received the message that has been given to us in the ballot boxes,” he said. “We will fight even more with the strength you provided us with this election.”

In April, Erdogan had called for snap elections, which analysts described as an attempt to act ahead of the country’s worsening economy. The vote came after a referendum last year that narrowly ushered in constitutional reforms to concentrate more power in the office of the president. The new system means Erdogan will assume the powers of the prime minister, maintain control of the Cabinet, and make decisions on security policies, all with limited checks and balances.

Ince welcomed the electoral outcome, but criticized the new presidential system. “Turkey has cut off its ties with democratic values,” he said, adding that the country has transitioned “to a one-man regime in the fullest sense.”

Already, Erdogan has exercised increased autonomy, keeping the country under a state of emergency after a failed coup in 2016. The restriction brought a crackdown on tens of thousands of dissidents, with the government shutting down or seizing control of media outlets. One presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, staged his campaign from a prison cell while facing terrorism charges. Demirtas’ pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party passed the 10 percent vote threshold required to secure parliamentary seats.

The Turkish government also continues to hold American pastor Andrew Brunson, detained since 2016 on terror and espionage charges.

Gönül Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, said Erdogan’s new tenure will bring “more of what we have seen since 2015: polarization along ethnic lines, anti-Western rhetoric, and a hawkish Kurdish policy at home and in the region.”

Creative Commons/Photo by Carsten ten Brink Creative Commons/Photo by Carsten ten Brink Christian churches in Keren, Eritrea

Finally free in Eritrea

Authorities in Eritrea this month released an evangelical Christian pastor imprisoned without formal charges for more than a decade, according to Voice of the Martyrs. Pastor Oqbamichel Haiminot had been in prison for 11-plus years, a victim of a wave of religious persecution that began in 2002 in the East African nation.

While human rights advocates expressed gratitude at the pastor’s release, as of June 21, Haiminot’s health was still “in serious need of help,” according to International Christian Concern regional manager Nathan Johnson.

Haiminot is the senior pastor of Kale Hiwot (Word of Life), an evangelical church. Eritrea cracked down on religions 16 years ago, banning all but Roman Catholicism, Eritrean Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Sunni Islam. It also required religious citizens to swear oaths of loyalty to the government, restricted Bibles to homes and churches, and outlawed missionary activity.

Since then, government officials have arrested and imprisoned many violators of those laws. The U.S. State Department estimates Eritrea has between 1,200 and 3,000 religious prisoners.

“It’s one of the hardest-hit churches in the world. In the [nongovernmental organization] community we call it the North Korea of Africa,” said Johnson. “There is a church thriving there but it is very, very well-hidden.”

In 2003, Haiminot became the first senior Eritrean church leader to be arrested under the crackdown. He was released within weeks but was frequently rearrested until 2007, when authorities imprisoned him until this month. World Watch Monitor reported that during part of his imprisonment Haiminot was held at Mitire Camp, a place sometimes called a “military concentration camp” and known for abuses. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press Associated Press Injured people lay on the ground following the explosion at a political rally in Bulawayo on Saturday.

Assassination attempts in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia

At least two people died and 49 others sustained injuries when an explosion struck a campaign rally Saturday in the Zimbabwean town of Bulawayo. The blast occurred soon after President Emmerson Mnangagwa delivered a speech: Video footage from the scene showed the explosion happening as he walked off a stage. Although the president emerged without injury, two of the country’s vice presidents were hurt.

The country’s presidential election on Saturday will be the first without former President Robert Mugabe on the ballot since the country’s independence. The two major contenders are Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change. Vice President Constantino Chiwenga called the attack an act of terrorism and said nothing would stop the election.

In a similar attack during a unity rally Saturday in Ethiopia, an explosion killed at least two people and injured more than 150 others. Witnesses said a man in the crowd attempted to throw a grenade at Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed before the explosive went off as people tried to restrain him. Authorities arrested more than 30 suspects, including the deputy head of the capital city’s police commission. State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation reported that U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce Gilbert Kaplan said the United States would send FBI officials to assist in the investigation. —O.O.

Nigerian communal clashes kill dozens

Nigerian authorities on Sunday imposed a curfew on parts of central Plateau state after deadly clashes between Christian farmers and Muslim herders killed at least 86 people. Police spokesman Terna Tyopev in a statement said an attack Saturday in the Barkin Ladi local government area also left at least five other people injured and destroyed at least 50 houses. Some residents placed the death toll at more than 120 people.

Danladi Ciroma, regional chairman of a national cattle breeders association, condemned the attack but said it was a retaliatory move after perpetrators rustled hundreds of cattle from the region in recent weeks. Communal clashes between the herders and farmers have persisted across central Nigeria as changing climate conditions drive more herders across the country.

State Gov. Simon Bako Lalong imposed a dusk-till-dawn curfew in the region in response to the attack. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in a Twitter post called the attack “painful and regrettable” and said the government would find the culprits.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide said herdsmen have staged at least 106 attacks across central Nigeria in the first quarter of 2018, killing at least 1,061 people. —O.O.

China combats sex-selective abortion

The Chinese province of Jiangxi set up new measures to reduce sex-selective abortions. The guidelines, released by the province’s health and family planning commission, require mothers seeking an abortion after 14 weeks to obtain approval from at least three medical practitioners confirming the procedure is medically necessary. For nonmedical cases, the measures require women to show their birth control certificates. The measures only apply to women at least 14 weeks pregnant, which is when many parents find out the sex of their baby by ultrasound. China is currently trying to recover from its now-scrapped one-child policy, which has helped drive a cultural preference for male children. —O.O.

Divine insult

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sparked outrage in his predominantly Catholic nation for lambasting God and Christianity during a televised speech last Friday. In the speech, Duterte mocked the Christian theology of original sin and the Genesis account of Adam and Eve’s creation and fall. “Who is this stupid God?” he asked. “What kind of religion is that? I can’t accept it.” Catholic Bishop Arturo Bastes called Duterte a “madman” and asked Filipinos to pray for an end to his “blasphemous utterances and dictatorial tendencies.” —Daniel James Devine

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Tue, 06/26/2018 07:16 pm

    It would be great to see an investigative piece regarding our NATO alliance with Turkey, and our reliance upon this apparently less-than-reliable partner which is quite friendly with some countries that are far less than friendly with us.  Issues include Turkey's participation in the development of our most advanced new fighter aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the imminent sale of those same 5th generation fighter aircraft to Turkey... while they are also buying Russian military equipment such as the S-400 anti-aircraft systems.  Recall Erdogan's bodyguards rushing and attacking peaceful demonstrators during a recent visit to the United States.  It certainly appears that they, at least the current leadship, have no respect for us.