- Former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim conceded to opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in a re-run election for mayor of Istanbul Sunday.
- Yildirim had been championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his defeat comes as a stunning blow to the president, who many believe is losing his extensive grip on power in the country.
- Imamoglu had previously won the same election back in March by a slim margin of 13,000 votes, but Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) called for a re-run, citing voting irregularities.
- Imamoglu won Sunday’s election by more than 800,000 votes, representing a dramatic political shift in Turkey’s largest city, which has been under AKP control for 25 years.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suffered what experts are calling his biggest political defeat ever Sunday when his candidate for the mayor of Istanbul conceded a highly anticipated re-run election.
Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister and close ally of Erdogan formally conceded the election late Sunday after polls showed that opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu received 54 percent of the vote.
“As of now, my competitor Imamoglu is leading,” Yildirim said in a televised concession speech. “I congratulate him, wish him success. I wish our friend Ekrem Imamoglu will bring good services to Istanbul.”
Imamoglu celebrated his win during a news conference last night, telling reporters, “16 million Istanbul residents refreshed our belief in democracy and confidence in justice.”
“I am ready to work with you in harmony,” he continued. “I put myself up for that, and I announce this in front of all Istanbul people.”
Erdogan, for his part, congratulated Imamoglu on Twitter, adding that he wished the election result “will be beneficial for our Istanbul.”
While Imamoglu’s win represents a decisive and landmark victory, it is technically not the first time he has won the election for mayor of Istanbul.
He first was elected mayor of Istanbul on March 31, by a small margin of around 13,000 votes. However, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, contested the results, claiming that votes had been stolen and voting officials had not been legally approved.
Turkey’s High Election Council responded by annulling the election and ordering a do-over in a rare move that greatly angered the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP.
The CHP condemned the move, arguing that it undermined the democratic foundations of Turkey and that it was clearly just a power move by the AKP to try to maintain their foothold in Istanbul.
The CHP also claimed that the High Election Council’s members were beholden to the AKP for their jobs and so they could be easily manipulated.
However, holding the election again appears to have backfired on Erdogan and the AKP. Imamoglu won Sunday’s election by over 800,000 votes, a huge victory compared to the 13,000 he got last time.
Additionally, voter turnout even went up one percentage point from the March election.
Erdogan’s Decreasing Power
The increased voter turnout and the massive support for the opposition party are hugely significant because the AKP has held power in Istanbul for 25 years.
Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city and its main commercial hub, which alone makes the election a big defeat for the AKP on a populous level. It is also a massive blow to Erdogan personally because he is from Istanbul and considers it his political base
Erdogan even started his political career there, serving as the mayor himself. Now, experts are saying that this could be a sign that his long-running grip on power is weakening.
Erdogan has been the ruler of Turkey since 2003, first serving as prime minister and then as president. He has largely been perceived as an invincible strongman and has been considered by many to be Turkey’s most dominant politician since its founder almost a century ago.
During his rule, Erdogan has significantly expanded his authoritarian reach by strengthening his own powers under Turkey’s Constitution. He has also consolidated his power by jailing journalists, isolating opponents, and purging Turkey’s police, the military, and courts.
Despite all of that, Erdogan has largely been popular. His party has a lot of support among religious and conservative populations, and under his rule, Turkey’s economy has grown significantly.
However, recently, Turkey has been experiencing an economic recession and a financial crisis. This has shaken Erdogan’s support significantly, along with that fact that some voters are concerned about his efforts to increase his control over the government.
In fact, Istanbul is not the only place where Erdogan and his party are losing power. The AKP had a poor showing in many parts of Turkey in the March election.
Notably, the party also lost to the opposition in Ankara, the capital of Turkey and its second biggest city.
The recent loss in Istanbul really cannot be understated. Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city by far, with a population of more than 15 million people, which is basically triple Ankara’s 5.4 million.
With the opposition also in control of Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir, Turkey’s three largest cities are now fully in the hands of opposition parties. As a result, analysts and experts say this will likely usher in a new chapter in Turkish politics.
Some members of the AKP could splinter off and even form new parties. Others who previously had supported Erdogan or had been allies could run against him in 2023.
Additionally, the election in Istanbul could trigger a cabinet reshuffle in the capital, as well as a shift in Turkey’s foreign policy.
Regarding foreign policy, the election also comes amid tense relations between Erdogan and the U.S.
The Donald Trump administration objected to Turkey re-doing the Istanbul election, arguing that it disrupted important negotiations on Syria and other issues. The U.S. has also objected to Turkey’s plans to install Russian missile systems, over which the U.S. has even threatened sanctions.
Turkey’s close economic ties with Iran are also not doing them any favors in the eyes of the Trump administration.
Erdogan is set to meet with Trump at the Group of 20 summit meeting this week. Already, Erdogan is trying to shift the focus of the election, outlining his upcoming diplomatic trips.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul, tens of thousands of people celebrated Imamoglu’s win. Fireworks were set off, and the streets of Istanbul were packed with his supporters waving national flags and hanging out of car windows. Street parties continued on into of Monday morning.
Many believe the election has re-invigorated the young people in Istanbul. One university student told BCC, “Many young people desperately want to leave Turkey, but now, we might consider staying here. We are hopeful once again.”
However, there are others who are not happy with the outcome of the election. Another student told Al Jazeera that Imamoglu was less qualified than his opponent. “People just voted for the promises […] Because they appeal to them,” the student said. “But I don’t think they’ll be able to get what they want from Imamoglu.”
Additionally, throughout the whole election, Turkey’s state-run media outlets have been openly against Imamoglu, and have been quick to attack him while also reporting favorable news about his opponent.
Regardless, many think this is the beginning of the end for Erdogan, who himself once said, “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (Reuters)
Pro-Democracy Demonstrators Attacked After Violent Protests in Hong Kong
- Protests in Hong Kong over the weekend became violent after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who vandalized the Chinese liaison office.
- Protestors in a train station returning home were later attacked by a group of men who beat them with batons and metal pipes, leaving at least 45 injured.
- Many were outraged by the attack and claimed that it had been initiated or at least supported by pro-government authorities and the police.
- Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned both the vandalism and the attacks during a press conference Monday.
Violent Attack in Train Station
A mob of men attacked antigovernment protestors in a Hong Kong train station on Sunday, after protests turned violent when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who had vandalized the Chinese government’s liaison office.
Pro-democracy protestors were reportedly returning from a demonstration when they were attacked by a group of men wearing white t-shirts who chased after them and beat them violently with bats and metal bars.
The protestors tried to flee, and the attackers chased some people into open train cars, where they continued to beat them. The attackers reportedly injured 45 people, leaving one in critical condition.
Those injured included pro-democracy protestors, as well as journalists and pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.
“They repeatedly went into the train and were using batons to indiscriminately attack all the people in the train,” the lawmaker later told reporters. “Many journalists, even a pregnant woman, all ordinary citizens of Hong Kong, were attacked by those gangsters.”
It is not clear who the attackers were. Many believe they were members of organized crime groups known as triads. The incident angered people across the country, with critics and protestors accusing pro-government officials of hiring the men to launch the attack.
Video footage that has surfaced showed pro-China lawmaker Junius Ho, shaking hands with some men in white and giving them a thumbs-up. Ho later denied that he had any connection to the attacks and was just greeting people who approached him.
Many also accused the police of ignoring the attack and not doing enough to help. Some argued that it was hypocritical for the authorities to crack down on the pro-democracy protestors but not the men who attacked them.
Lam Cheuk-ting told reporters that the police response was slow and inadequate. He said that the men were seen gathering hours before the attack, so the police should have had time to properly assess the situation and respond.
He also said that the police did not show up until after the attack, and when they did come, it nearly an hour and a half after the first emergency call. When the police finally did show up, they initially reported that they did not find any weapons and let the attackers leave without making any arrests.
However, footage taken by photojournalists showed the riot police speaking with two men in white shirts holding metal bars or sticks, and then patting one on the shoulder before walking off.
Some have even argued that the attackers colluded with the police, but during a press conference on Monday, police officials denied that they conspired with the men, and said they later arrested some people associated with the attacks.
The police also claimed that they were slow to show up because they were busy responding to the protests.
However, pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan pointed out in a tweet that “Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest cop to population ratio.”
The attacks at the train station came after a long day of protests took a violent turn.
Over the last few months, Hong Kong has seen massive and ongoing protests over a bill that would let the government extradite people accused of committing specific crimes to countries or territories that Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements with.
Many oppose the bill because it would allow extraditions to China, and see the bill as Beijing attempting to extend its authority over the people of Hong Kong and their personal freedoms.
Lam suspended the bill in June, and earlier this month she said the bill was “dead,” but protesters have continued to call for a full withdrawal.
They have argued that even if Lam’s administration keeps its promise to not pursue the bill, any leader after Lam could still take up the bill and pass it unless it is withdrawn.
In addition to calling for the bill to be withdrawn, the demonstrators have also expanded their list of demands to call for Lam’s resignation, an investigation into the police’s actions against demonstrators, amnesty for arrested protestors, and universal suffrage, among other things.
As the protestors’ demands have changed, so have the nature of the protests. While the first wave of protests were largely peaceful, over the last few weeks they have become increasingly violent.
Protestors have clashed with police, who used pepper spray and hit the demonstrators with batons and shields as well as other forceful tactics.
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets for a previously planned peaceful march.
However, the demonstration escalated when thousands of protestors marched past the point where the police had said the demonstration should end. The police had tried to keep the protestors away from an area with government buildings, but the protestors went past them.
Many of the protestors went to the Chinese government’s liaison office where they reportedly covered the office with spray paint and graffiti. They also threw ink and eggs on the crest of the Chinese government that is displayed on the building.
The protestors were eventually pushed back by police who used tear gas and rubber bullets. It was also reported that the protesters threw eggs and other things at the police as well.
The Hong Kong government condemned the protests in a statement.
“The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government strongly condemns the protesters who blatantly challenged the national sovereignty by maliciously besieging and storming the CPGLO building as well as defacing the national emblem,” the statement said.
“The HKSAR Government is concerned that a small number of radicals incited the masses in an organised manner, challenged the rule of law, and even stormed the CPG’s office in Hong Kong,” it continued. “Such acts threaten the law and order in the SAR and ‘one country, two systems.’”
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam responded on Monday, condemning both the attacks and vandalizing of the liaison office, which she said: “hurt the nation’s feelings.”
“Violence will only breed more violence,” she later added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (BBC)
Ebola Outbreak in Congo Declared Global Health Emergency
- The World Health Organization declared the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
- Since the outbreak began in August 2018, over 1,600 people have died.
- WHO does not see Ebola as a current global threat, but wants to draw international attention to the outbreak to increase global engagement.
- This is the worst outbreak of the disease since the one between 2014-2016, which killed over 11,000 people.
The World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Wednesday.
The outbreak began in August 2018 and has killed over 1,600 people, with over 2,500 confirmed cases. It is considered the worst outbreak since the one that began in 2014 and ended in 2016, which killed over 11,000 people.
On Monday, the outbreak escalated when the city of Goma, which sits on the border of Rwanda, saw its first confirmed case. Goma is home to nearly 2 million people and has an international airport. This put pressure on the WHO to evaluate the situation.
“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts,” WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system. Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders — coming from not just WHO but also government, partners and communities — to shoulder more of the burden.”
By declaring it an emergency of international concern, the WHO is hoping to draw worldwide attention to the outbreak so that global efforts can help to stop it.
The WHO also released recommendations for the DRC to follow during this emergency. This includes strengthening at-risk populations, conducting cross-border screenings and screenings at main internal roads, and using optimal vaccine strategies, among other practices.
They also listed recommendations for neighboring countries, which includes working urgently with partners to improve their preparedness, and mapping population movements and sociological patterns that can predict the risk of disease spread.
As of now, the WHO is not concerned about a global outbreak.
“Risk remains very high at national and regional levels but still low at global level,” their statement continued.
Because the risk is not yet global, the organization wants to emphasize that countries should not restrict trade and other business with the DRC. In fact, they believe that if countries do so, the outbreak would only worsen.
“No country should close its borders or place any restrictions on travel and trade,” their statement encourages. “Such measures are usually implemented out of fear and have no basis in science. They push the movement of people and goods to informal border crossings that are not monitored, thus increasing the chances of the spread of disease,” WHO’s statement reads.
Setbacks in Treatment
The DRC has faced many challenges while dealing with this outbreak. Earlier this week, Dr. Tedros spoke about how attacks on Ebola responders have made things difficult. Since January there have been almost 200 attacks resulting in seven deaths.
“We are dealing with one of the world’s most dangerous viruses in one of the world’s most dangerous areas,” he said in a statement. “Every attack sets us back. Every attack makes it more difficult to trace contacts, vaccinate and perform safe burials. Every attack gives Ebola an opportunity to spread.”
According to a New York Times report, some of this violence comes from mourners who are upset with responders after losing loved ones to the disease. One person who works in burials told the Times that mourners have threatened to throw workers into open graves. The report also said that in once instance, a mourner brandished a hand grenade, resulting in everyone scattering and a 3-year-old Ebola victim not being buried.
Mourners are not the only ones believed to be behind the violence, however, the DRC is still looking into who else is participating in attacks and why.
The WHO has also criticized for being slow to respond to the outbreak. This was their fourth meeting discussing whether or not to declare an international emergency of this kind. Many believe they should have declared it at one of their earlier meetings.
Still, progress has been made in treating the outbreak. Right now there is no complete cure for Ebola, however, research published earlier this month showed that two experimental treatments were found to be effective.
Vaccines have also been effective during this outbreak. According to the WHO, over 161,000 people in the DRC have been vaccinated and over 10,000 people in three surrounding countries have been vaccinated as well.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The Atlantic) (USA Today)
Amnesty International Condemns LGBTI Discrimination in South Korea Military
- 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.”