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Comedian Who Plays Ukrainian President on TV Elected as Actual President

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  • Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political experience, won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide Sunday, beating President Petro Poroshenko.
  • Zelensky is best known for playing a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine in a popular TV show
  • Zelensky has promised to crack down on corruption and end the war with Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but has not outlined any specific ways to do so
  • Many are worried he will be susceptible to Russian pressure.

Volodymyr Zelensky Wins Election

Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide on Sunday, defeating incumbent president Petro Poroshenko with over 73 percent of the vote.

Zelensky has no political experience and is most famous for starring in a television show that translates to Servant of the People, where he plays a teacher who unintentionally becomes the president of Ukraine. He declared victory last night after the results came in.

“To all Ukrainians, no matter where you are, I promise that I will never let you down,” Zelensky said in his victory speech. “Though I’m still not president, I can say as a Ukrainian citizen to all the countries of the former Soviet Union: Look at us. Everything is possible.”

Poroshenko for his part readily conceded his post as president. “Next month, I will leave the post of the head of state,” said Poroshenko in his formal concession. “That’s how the majority of Ukrainians decided, and I accept this decision.”

Poroshenko also applauded the election process itself in a tweet where he wrote: “Ukraine has put a new high standard for the democratic electoral campaign.”

What Next?

Poroshenko’s concession seems to signal there will be a smooth transition of power when Zelensky assumes office next month.

With this historic election, many are wondering what this means for Ukraine. In many ways, Sunday’s election was a sort of referendum for how Ukrainian’s see the political establishment. Specifically, how they perceive the establishment five years after the 2014 Ukranian Revolution overthrew the government and Russia annexed Crimea, which was part of Ukraine.

Given the results of the election, it is clear that many Ukranian’s are unhappy with the current state of affairs and how the government is handling them. Zelensky is extremely popular because he is viewed as a fresh new leader who does not have ties to Ukraine’s political elite.

He campaigned on promises to crack down on corruption and uproot the political elites that have a ton of political influence. He also promised to end the war in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian separatists, which has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

However, Zelensky has not said exactly how he will achieve these goals at all.

The Russia Question

In addition to not having outlined policies and plans, many people are also worried that Zelensky is unqualified to deal with Russia. One of Poroshenko’s main criticisms during the campaign was that Zelensky would be unprepared for a confrontation with Russia.

Zelensky has said he will have open dialogues with Russia and has promised not to give away any Ukranian-owned territory in negotiations with Vladimir Putin. However, both experts and politicians are worried he will make Ukraine more susceptible to Russian influence.

Russia has reportedly been careful not to show outright support for Zelensky because if they did, they would likely tank his popularity. However, experts have said that it is fairly evident that Putin wanted Poroshenko out.

Poroshenko addressed the Russia question in a tweet Sunday night writing that the Kremlin “believe that with a new inexperienced Ukrainian President Ukraine could be quickly returned to Russia’s orbit of influence.”

Questionable Ties to Ihor Kolomoisky

Despite his promise to crack down on corruption and elites, Zelensky has been criticized for his close ties to a wealthy oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky.

Some have even said that Zelensky is just the surrogate for Kolomoisky, who is a well-known rival of Poroshenko. Kolomoisky moved to Israel after he was involved in a multi-billion dollar banking scandal.

Kolomoisky and Zelensky have been business partners through their work on television. The television show Zelensky stars in is broadcasted on Kolomoisky’s TV channel, and Zelensky even announced his candidacy on the channel.

Both men have denied that Kolomoisky has any connections to Zelensky’s campaign. Zelensky has promised that he will not be influenced by Kolomoisky while in office.

Regardless of what happens next, Zelensky’s win represents part of the broader global trend of political outsiders using television and social media to win elections against more traditional establishment candidates.

Ukraine’s election will also likely effect Russia and other former-Soviet Union countries, many of which do not have democratic electoral systems. However, unlike other underdog leaders that have been elected recently, Zelensky has come out against populist ideas that have become more and more prominent, like hostility toward immigrants and minorities.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The Washington Post) (The Guardian)

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Amnesty International Condemns LGBTI Discrimination in South Korea Military

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  • A report by Amnesty International outlines the discrimination and abuse that gay men serving in South Korea’s military experience. 
  • Article 92-6 in South Korea’s Military Criminal Act criminalizes sex between two men in the military. 
  • Amnesty International says that this law opens the door for gay soldiers to be mistreated, which has included verbal taunting and sexual assault. 
  • Soldiers who spoke to Amnesty International said their experiences have been humiliating, have taken a toll on their mental health, and have even led to some attempting suicide. 

Amnesty International Releases Report

Amnesty International is calling on South Korea to appeal its law that bans same-sex relationships between men in the military after their report shows that soldiers experience abuse, assault, and humiliation as a result of it. 

In a report published Thursday titled “Serving in Silence: LGBTI People in South Korea’s Military,” Amnesty International speaks to several soldiers from South Korea’s military who detail personal experiences with discrimination. 

According to Article 92-6 of the South Korea Military Criminal Act, sexual relations between two men in the military, either on or off duty, fall under the “indecent acts” clause. This can be punishable by up to two years in prison.  

While it is still illegal for same-sex couples to marry and adopt in South Korea, homosexuality is not criminalized for all citizens. This article only applies to those serving in the military. 

Amnesty International says that by having this law, South Korea is opening the door to discrimination.

“Criminalization creates an environment where discrimination is tolerated, and even encouraged,” the report says.

“Homophobic and transphobic individuals can view this law as tacit permission to target LGBTI people inside and outside the military,” it continues. 

The report also said that the first step to ending this discrimination is removing the article.

Decriminalization does not solve the entire issue, but it is a crucial first step towards respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of LGBTI people,” the report states. 

Charges Made Under Article 92-6

People have been charged under this article in the past. In 2017, authorities actively looked to identify soldiers who they believed were engaging in sexual acts with other men. They ended up charging over 20 soldiers as a result. 

One man who was charged in this, who the report identifies as “Yeo-jun Kim” told Amnesty International that investigators asked him personal questions throughout the process. 

“The investigators barraged me with outrageous questions, questions about what sex positions I used and where did I ejaculate,” he said. 

He also said that they looked through his phone and asked him to identify other LGBTI people. 

“The authorities came to me like peeping Toms,” he added. “They should have maintained confidentiality. I have lost faith and trust in people.”

Soldiers Face Abuse

In addition charges, gay soldiers are often subject to physical and verbal abuse.

The report outlines the story of one soldier they identify as “U” who served around a decade ago. 

“One night, I saw a soldier being sexually abused,” U told Amnesty International. “When he got angry, the person abusing him who was his senior started to beat him fiercely and forced him to drink from the toilet bowl. A few days later, the abused soldier made up his mind to report the incident and approached me for my help.”

When the superior learned about the possible report, he threatened to beat U. 

“I was then subjected to physical violence and humiliation for three hours,” U continued. “Which included being forced to have oral and anal sex with the original victim while the senior soldier made taunting remarks, such as: ‘Don’t you want to have sex with a woman-like man?’”

U added that this assault and humiliation drove him, and three others who experienced similar situations, to attempt suicide, which resulted in them being taken to a psychiatric hospital. Three of them were dishonorably discharged, while U was taken back to his squad and labeled as a “soldier of interest.”

Toll on Mental Health

Many soldiers say that the harassment and assault they are subject to takes a mental toll on them, resulting in many going to military health facilities. The report says that the facilities often have poor conditions, cramped spaces, and soldiers often question the qualifications of those working there. 

One soldier, identified as “Jeram” was regularly groped and assaulted. He was labeled as a soldier of interest when his unit learned he was gay. He told Amnesty International that he ended up in one of these facilities.  

The hospital deemed him “rebellious” after he did not comply with some of their requests, resulting in him losing the right to make phone calls or walk out in fresh air once a week. 

“The hospital tried to diagnose me as ‘unfit for service’ with staff members even instructing me how to act mentally incompetent so that I could get discharged,” Jeram said. “I refused to be labelled in this way. I felt I had lived my life well prior to the military and knew that I was not the source of the problem. This whole experience led me to attempt suicide because I lost the will to live.”

He then said that one panelist, who he did not think was a licensed medical professional, told him during one of his reviews, “You are so disobedient. Even if I shoot you here, it will simply get covered up as a suspicious death and that will be it. Then, the compensation your family would receive will be even lower than for a military dog.”

Amnesty International’s report is the latest in international organizations fighting for rights for gay soldiers in South Korea. In March, Human Rights Watch submitted an amicus brief urging the country to repeal Article 92-6.

“Article 92-6 violates the rights of LGBT persons in two distinct ways,” the brief said. “First, it violates the substance of fundamental rights. Second, it discriminates against service members based on their sexual orientation. The criminalization per se of consensual adult same-sex conduct is a violation of the right to privacy under international law.”

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CNN) (New York Times)

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Sudan Military and Opposition Reach Power-Sharing Deal

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  • Sudanese opposition and military leaders agreed Friday to set up a joint military-civilian council that will rotate power between the two groups until elections are held in three years.
  • The agreement comes after weeks of stalled negotiations between a coalition of opposition groups and the Transitional Military Council that came to power after President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by a military coup in April.
  • Mediators stepped up negotiation efforts earlier this week after tens of thousands of demonstrators staged the largest protest since the violence on June 3.
  • Thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate the agreement as leaders on both sides expressed optimism, but others called for continued protests over concerns that the military will not hold up its end of the deal.

Agreement Reached

Sudan’s military and opposition leaders reached an agreement to share power until elections can be held, mediators announced Friday.

The deal comes after weeks of stalled negotiations between civilian opposition leaders and the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took power after Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a military coup in April.

Al-Bashir’s removal followed months of protests dating back to December 2018. Those protests continued after the TMC installed itself, with demonstrators demanding that the military rulers hand over power to a civilian-led government.

The new power-sharing deal will establish a joint military-civilian sovereign council that will govern Sudan until elections are held in three years. 

Military and civilian leaders will rotate control of the council, with the military leading the council for the first 21 months, and the civilians leading the council for the remaining 18 months.

The council will be composed of five members of the military, five civilians, and an 11th seat that will be agreed on by both sides. The agreement also stipulates the appointment of a cabinet of ministers and the formation of a legislative council.

Leaders on both sides expressed optimism about the agreement. 

“This agreement opens the way for the formation of the institutions of the transitional authority,” said Omar al-Degair, a leader of the opposition coalition who negotiated with the military. “And we hope that this is the beginning of a new era.”

“This agreement is comprehensive and does not exclude anyone,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the TMC.

Protests

Opposition leaders and the TMC also agreed to launch an independent investigation into the violence that began in early June, after a military crackdown on protesters left mass casualties.

On June 3, paramilitary forces attacked a long-standing protest camp outside military headquarters that had been the site of ongoing demonstrations against military rule since al-Bashir was toppled. 

Opposition medics said that more than 100 people were killed in the violence, while the government has said the death toll was 62.

General Dagalo, known as Hemeti, leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces that protest leaders have accused of perpetrating the crackdown.

Following the attack, the TMC said they would no longer negotiate with the protestors, and called for snap elections. They later went back on that decision and said they wanted negotiations, but were rebuked by the protest leaders, who refused to negotiate with them after the attack.

They later went back on that decision and said they wanted negotiations, but were rebuked by the protest leaders, who refused to negotiate with them after the attack.

However, the African Union and leaders in neighboring Ethiopia stepped in to lead mediation between the two. 

Those efforts ramped up earlier this week, after tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Sudanese cities, marking the biggest protests since the June 3 crackdown. Seven more were killed in Sunday’s protests, and more than 100 were injured.

Skeptical Hope for the Future

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum to celebrate the agreement. 

However, many protestors called for continued demonstrations to put pressure on the military to follow through with the deal. 

“We would like to see many more guarantees from the TMC because they’ve made many promises on handing over power only to backtrack later on,” a protester named Mohamed Ismail told Al Jazeera.

Another protester named Lena al-Sheikh told BBC that the demonstrators “definitely wanted much more” from the deal, and added that many are a “little bit” skeptical regarding the details.

“The military council has shown that […] there was brutality against protesters,” she said. “People died, people were hurt and we were thinking maybe this is never going to happen, maybe we are never going to reach an agreement.”

Other experts say the deal falls short of opposition demands for a fully-civilian led council. Sudan-based journalist Yousra Elbagir pointed out in a tweet that many people in Sudan do not know the details of the deal, because of the ongoing internet blackout in the country. 

The internet has been shut off for a month now in Sudan, as military leaders have attempted to suppress communications and public gatherings.

Others, however, expressed excitement and optimism for the future.

“We have won a victory against injustice,” a protestor named Shihab Salah told Reuters. “Our goal is to achieve freedom and justice and to find jobs for young people. Civilian rule and democracy are the future of Sudan.”

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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Roma in America: Why Europe’s Most Discriminated Group Is Coming To The US…

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There is a thriving international community of women who claim to have supernatural abilities. Abilities like possessing the power to see the future, cast spells, and lift curses. One of the largest witch communities in the world exists in Romania. There, these women are commonly referred to as “vrajitoare,” or witches. Most of these witches belong to an ethnic minority known as Roma, or Romani.

For centuries, Roma people have been stigmatized, discriminated against, and in some cases, even feared. But while this may be the case abroad, in the United States, their mysticism and craft appear to be welcomed. This is one of the reasons why the most well known among the vrajitoare, Mihaela Minca, recently brought her business overseas to California.

Watch the video for the full story. 

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