- Turkey formally started a military offensive in Syria Wednesday, launching airstrikes, bombs, and sending in ground troops.
- Numerous civilian and military deaths have been reported, and an estimated 60,000 Syrians have fled the region.
- The move comes after the Trump administration announced it would step aside to let Turkey launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.
- Many world leaders and U.S. lawmakers, including Republicans who have been staunch supporters of President Trump, condemned the move, with some arguing that Trump will be responsible for the fallout.
Turkey Launches Offensive
Turkish military forces have entered the second day of an offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.
The assault started on Wednesday with Turkish forces launching airstrikes, bombing and shelling the territory. Several hours later, Turkish troops crossed the border into Northern Syria, officially starting a ground offensive.
The move comes just days after the White House announced that the U.S. would be stepping aside to allow Turkey to go forward with the long-planned operation while also removing U.S. troops from the region.
The announcement appeared to follow a call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has said that this military operation is necessary to secure Turkey’s border with Syria and clear groups Turkey believes are terrorists. The operation targets the Kurdish groups that largely control that region of Northern Syria.
Specifically, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) which makes up most of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey claims that those groups are allied with a separatist movement called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been responsible for violent attacks in Turkey.
While Turkey considers the SDF a terrorist group, the U.S. does not. U.S. forces in Syria have recruited and trained the SDF for years to fight alongside them, and the SDF has done the majority of fighting on the ground against ISIS fighters in the region.
For a while, the U.S. has discouraged Turkey from launching a military operation against the Kurdish forces who have been fighting ISIS with them. But now, many have argued that the U.S. has basically given Turkey the green light to launch a military offensive against their own key allies.
The Numbers So far
Shortly after the operation began, pictures and videos began circulating showing civilians fleeing amid smoke from the sites of the bombings.
The New York Times reported that the airstrikes on the first day alone hit in or near at least five towns along more than 150 miles of the border, while Turkey’s Defense Ministry claimed on Thursday that it has hit 181 of its “terrorist” targets.
The Defense Ministry also said Thursday that 174 militants have already been killed, but that has not been independently verified.
Others have reported lower numbers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 23 SDF fighters were killed though dozens more were injured
As for civilians, the Kurdish Red Crescent reported that at least 11 civilians have been killed so far, including two children.
The Syrian Observatory also said that more than 60,000 Syrians have already fled the immediate region.
The fact that so many are already fleeing is likely to worsen the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria.
It also appears to complicate Erdogan’s plan to carve out a so-called safe zone at the border where he would return Syrian refugees. Now, many are saying that the military operation will just create more refugees.
World Leaders Respond
Concern over refugees and other humanitarian issues have been raised by numerous world leaders who have condemned Turkey’s actions.
European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the EU “calls upon Turkey to cease the unilateral military action,” continuing that the operation will “undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements.”
A spokesperson for the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also emphasized the need for civilian protections in a statement.
“Civilians and civilian infrastructure should be protected. The secretary-general believes that there’s no military solution to the Syrian conflict,” the spokesperson said.
A number of Middle Eastern leaders have also publicly criticized the move. In a statement, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry condemned “the aggression launched by the #Turkish army.”
“The seriousness of this aggression on northeastern Syria has negative repercussions on the security and stability of the region, especially undermining the [international] efforts in combating ISIS organization,” the statement continued.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also took to Twitter, where he said that Israel “strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies.”
U.S. Leaders Criticize Trump
After Turkey officially launched the military operation, President Trump was swiftly met with outrage by U.S. lawmakers, including notable Republicans who have been staunch supporters of the president.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) directly blamed Trump for the violence in a tweet on Wednesday.
“News from Syria is sickening,” she wrote. “Turkish troops preparing to invade Syria from the north, Russian-backed forces from the south, ISIS fighters attacking Raqqa. Impossible to understand why @realDonaldTrump is leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has also been very vocal in his opposition to the Trump administration’s decision.
“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration,” he said in a tweet. “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke out on the issue as well, and added that Congress could take action against Trump’s decision,
“[The Kurds] actually fought on the ground. They had people dying. To just abandon them like that so the Turks can come in and slaughter them is not just immoral, it taints our reputation all over the world,” he said.
“It’s a terrible mistake. We’ll have to think of what options there are. I’m sure the Senate will, potentially, take some vote to disagree with that decision.”
Trump Defends Decision
But Trump, for his part, has continued to defend his decision.
In a statement to the media, Trump said that the U.S. “does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” and added that Turkey is “committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”
During a press conference on Wednesday, Trump also reiterated that he would crack down on Turkey economically if they did something he did not like in Syria.
However, several of his later remarks received some backlash.
When asked about the U.S. alliance with the Kurds, Trump said: “As somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example. They mentioned names of different battles. But they’re there to help us with their land and that’s a different thing.”
He was also asked by reporters whether he was concerned about ISIS fighters breaking free from Kurdish custody, to which he responded, “Well they’re going to be escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go, they want to go back to their homes.”
Hong Kong Police Battle Protesters on College Campus as Chinese Students Flee the City
- University students in Hong Kong won control of a bridge from riot police Tuesday night after a day of dramatic and violent clashing.
- The situation follows the first official death in Hong Kong where a student fell from a parking garage while protesters were being dispersed by police.
- Some universities have canceled their semesters early and others have suspended classes, prompting many students originally from mainland China to flee over the Hong Kong border.
Battle at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong gained control over a bridge near the Chinese University of Hong Kong Tuesday night after a day-long dramatic clash with police.
The incident started when police began to occupy the bridge, signaling a shift in an unspoken rule to leave universities alone.
Student protesters then set up a barricade on campus to keep police from entering. Following that, the two groups began to clash, with students throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails while police fired multiple rounds of tear gas at the protesters. Police also physically wrestled some of the protesters to the ground as students yelled at police to leave the campus.
After the first clash, the protesters retreated to an athletic field and locked the gate. Police then continued to fire tear gas by lobbing it over the gate. At one point, the field reportedly caught fire and the students retreated to bleachers.
The ongoing violence then prompted the university’s president, Rocky Tuan, to try and act as a common ground between students and police.
At one point during those negotiations, a man walked down the street while revving a chainsaw, but a group of protestors then convinced that man to put down the chainsaw and enveloped him in a hug.
Later, Tuan struck a deal with police, saying that university security would guard the bridge instead of police if students dispersed and stopped throwing objects onto the highway below the bridge. That then prompted students to ask why police were even on campus. Refusing to disperse, protesters then asked about the safety of those who had been arrested.
The battle over the bridge continued into the night as more clashes broke out with protesters carrying umbrellas, shields, barricades while police filled the area with tear gas and fired rubber bullets.
Other protesters threw more Molotov cocktails at police in an attempt to gain ground while people used leaf blowers to blow away the tear gas. Some students even practiced firing flaming arrows from bows.
We’re almost to the other side of the bridge now pic.twitter.com/oELMRXlGnk— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Students later retreated after police fired a water cannon.
We’re almost to the other side of the bridge now pic.twitter.com/oELMRXlGnk— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Soon after, however, they then came back and ultimately forced police to retreat. Students pushed forward and built more barriers with golf carts and a burned-out car to hold their ground gained.
I legit don’t even know how they did this but protesters just carried the burnt out car that was on fire earlier this afternoon to the bridge?? And added it to the barrier, and cheered when they lifted it and tipped it on its side pic.twitter.com/sEs5yHslDR— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Protesters remained on the bridge throughout the night while passing supplies to each other and making more Molotov cocktails in case police came back.
Chinese Students Flee Hong Kong
On Wednesday morning, the Chinese University of Hong Kong ended its semester early. It was originally scheduled to end its semester on Nov. 30.
Another university also suspended its on-campus semester and switched to online classes. At the same time, other universities suspended classes for a week.
Additionally, Hong Kong canceled all schools in the city on Thursday due to transportation and safety reasons.
As universities canceled classes, students originally from mainland China fled over the Hong Kong border with the help of police.
While those students said they had felt safer on campus than in the streets, some said many of them didn’t openly express pro-China views on campus. Those students also said they felt the need to avoid talking loudly in Mandarin, which is the main language in China.
On the other side of the border, hotels offered those students free rooms, with some of those hotels filling to near capacity.
What Led to Tuesday’s Clash?
Tuesday’s clash between student protesters and riot police comes after the death of student Chow Tsz-lok, who went by the name Alex. Chow’s death is the first death from clashes that have been consistently escalating since they began nearly six months ago.
Chow died while demonstrating with other protesters at a parking garage on Nov. 4. When police tried to break up that crowd, Chow reportedly fell one story from the structure.
Chow sustained head and pelvis injuries and was rushed to the hospital; however, he died from his injuries on Nov. 8.
Later that same day, students at Chow’s university held a vigil and an on-campus march for him. Protesters held other vigils across the city, including at the parking garage where Chow fell.
Protesters called for an investigation into the use of force by riot police, which has been one of the five key demands of the protesters.
As protesters called for revenge, some of the demonstrations that night once again became violent.
On Monday, another protester was shot several times, this time at point-blank range. Other protesters shouted at that officer and called him a murderer. That officer then doused the crowd with pepper spray.
That same day, protesters set a different man on fire after he reportedly yelled at them, telling them they lacked patriotism for mainland China.
Hospital officials said both those men were in critical condition.
In October, both an 18-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy were shot by police.
What is the Hong Kong Government Doing?
Last month, the extradition bill that sparked the protests was finally formally withdrawn. Still, that’s not enough for these protesters. They are also calling for complete amnesty, a retraction of the official characterization of the protests as “riots,” and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
On Nov. 24, Hong Kong is scheduled to hold elections; however, those elections have also faced controversy as Hong Kong has barred a prominent pro-democracy activist from running. Other pro-democracy lawmakers and candidates have been arrested, and one pro-China lawmaker was stabbed.
Also because of all of the violence, there is some worry that those elections might not end up happening. Lam has said she will do everything possible to ensure that elections are fair and safe, saying on Tuesday that the government “hopes that the elections can continue as planned.”
Also on Tuesday, the pro-China newspaper The People’s Daily—which has acted as a mouthpiece for Beijing—said that elections should only proceed if calm is restored to Hong Kong.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Wall Street Journal) (BuzzFeed News)
As Two Australian States Declare Emergencies, Scientists Warn that Climate Change is Making the Country’s Fire Season Worse
- Fires raging in Australia have forced officials to declare a state of emergency in New South Wales and Queensland.
- The greater Sydney area is facing a “catastrophic” level warning, the highest level in the country and the first time it has been issued in the city since implemented after the 2009 Black Saturday fires.
- While scientists have said the fires are a result of worsening climate change, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister has said the concern should be on people losing their homes, not “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city Greenies.”
States of Emergency Declared
Nearly 90 fires are raging in New South Wales, Australia, with more than half of them considered uncontained, promoting Australian officials to declare a state of emergency Monday.
Fear mounted on Tuesday over a concern that a cold front might shift the direction of the fires that span along 620 miles of Australia’s eastern coastline.
The fires, which began in early September, have forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes with more being warned to be prepared to leave, if necessary. More than 150 properties have been destroyed since the beginning of the fire season.
Over the weekend, the death toll rose to three people.
According to the BBC, authorities called this week “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.”
Alongside New South Wales’ state of emergency, around 600 schools have shut down. Planes are spraying some homes and trees with flame retardant.
On Tuesday, as the fires encroached upon Sydney, Australia’s most populous city. The city’s skyline sat under a blanket of smoke as some of the fires reportedly reached suburbs as close as nine miles away from the city center.
Experts compared the day’s forecast to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria, which killed 173 people.
The greater Sydney area is now under a “catastrophic” level-warning, which is the highest level warning for fires. It is also the first time Sydney has been hit with such a grave warning since the system was implemented after the Black Saturday Fires.
Queensland, which has also declared a state of emergency, reported 55 fires on Tuesday. While its fires were not considered as severe at the moment, officials warned that could change with little notice.
Bushfires Start as Bad “Omen” in September
While the bushfires started as part of Australia’s expected fire season, they were exacerbated by drought and high winds.
This season’s drought is particularly bad, but Australia’s east coast has actually seen below-average rainfall over the past two years.
In Queensland, more than 50 fires burned in early September.
Reports estimated more than 20 buildings destroyed within days of the start of the season. The destroyed property also included the historic Binna Burra Lodge in Lamington National Park.
“We’ve never seen this before in recorded history, fire weather has never been as severe this early in spring,” Andrew Sturgess, an inspector with Queensland emergency services, said in September.
Sturgess also called the fire a potential omen for worse to come, which proved to be true.
How Are the Fires Related to Climate Change?
Climate scientists have associated Australia’s worsening fire season with climate change. Those scientists predict Australia’s bushfires will only continue to become more frequent and more intense as climate change worsens.
They also say that Australia is particularly susceptible to climate change because of its vast interior desert combined with rapidly-heating ocean currents surrounding the country.
“There’s a human fingerprint on the temperature increases since 1950 — all the weather patterns are occurring in a planet that is warming and warming because of human activity,” Joëlle Gergis, a climate scientist and writer from the Australian National University, told the New York Times.
“We’re really missing the opportunity to prepare for future life in Australia. It’s going to be a lot warmer, and we’re going to see a lot of prevalence of extreme fire conditions,” she added. “The further we kick the can down the road and avoid these conversations, we’re really missing the opportunity to get the Australian public ready for what is upon us.”
Australia’s Reliance on Coal
On top of climate change, Australia is at odds with its deep ties to coal, with the country’s primary energy consumption still being dominated by coal.
According to the Australian government, the country still relies on coal for 40% of its energy. It’s also the largest coal exporter in the world and has fallen behind on its promise in the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions.
Because of that, Australia has seen a number of dramatic protests over the last couple of months. In October, a man chained himself to railroad tracks while holding a sign reading, “Australia has the worst record of species extinction in the whole world.”
A couple of weeks ago, protesters locked arms to stop people from entering a mining conference. They were then forcibly dispersed by police using pepper spray.
Speaking with ABC Radio National on Monday, however, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack denied that these fires are related to climate change.
“We’ve had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance – they need help, they need shelter,” he said.
“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlighted, and woke capital city Greenies at this time when they’re trying to save their homes,” he added after he was asked why it was wrong to discuss climate change while the fires raged.”
Following McCormack’s interview, the mayor of the New South Wales town of Glen Innes challenged his statement.
“It is not a political thing — it is a scientific fact that we are going through climate change,” Mayor Carol Sparks said. “I think that Michael McCormack needs to read the science.”
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Weather) (Sydney Morning Herald)
Bolivia’s President Resigns After Report Finds “Clear Manipulation” of Votes
- Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned Sunday after the Organization of American States released an audit saying it had found “clear manipulation” of election results that secured him a fourth term.
- Morales has called the situation in Bolivia a “coup” orchestrated by his rival, Carlos Mesa.
- A slew of Morales’ senior officials also resigned, with Second Vice President of the Senate Jeanine Añez saying she will assume the role as transitional president while new elections are held.
Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned Sunday following the release of an audit by the Organization of American States, which said it had found evidence of the “clear manipulation” of electoral votes.
Morales had faced strong opposition since he was elected for his fourth term on Oct. 20. That opposition came to a blistering head on Sunday after the OAS’s report led to the national police and heads of Bolivia’s armed forces calling on Morales to step down.
In the report, auditors said the voting transmission system had not been “100% monitored” and that at one point, information was redirected. Because of this, auditors couldn’t have certainty over the results.
Auditors also said that “good practices” were not used when conducting the official vote count because the voting system allowed someone to take control of parts of the process that were intended to be secure. Auditors even said that at one point, the system was frozen and fixed in a way that violated “essential principles of security.”
The OAS then concluded that 78 of the total 333 evaluated vote counts from polling stations showed irregularities, noting that the last 5% of votes were especially odd because they showed an increase for Morales while his opponent, Carlos Mesa, dropped significantly.
Still, prior to the report’s publication, Morales had promised to stand by it and hold new elections if it found evidence of fraud.
In his resignation, Morales claimed he was leaving to ease the violence that has plagued Bolivia since the election last month.
“We resign because I don’t want to see any more families attacked by instruction of Mesa and [opposition leader Luis Fernando] Camacho,” he said Sunday. “This is not a betrayal to social movements. The fight continues. We are the people, and thanks to this political union, we have freed Bolivia. We leave this homeland freed.”
“Mesa and Camacho have achieved their objective,” he added. “Now stop burning the houses of my brothers and sisters.”
On Twitter, Morales also threw a shot at a police officer who he said was attempting to “illegally” arrest him; however, the head of the national police denied that any warrants had been issued for Morales.
“The coup mongers are destroying the rule of law,” Morales also said on Twitter.
Mesa, on the other hand, celebrated the news of the audit and Morales’ resignation.
“To Bolivia, its people, the young, the women, to the heroism of peaceful resistance. I will never forget this unique day. The end of tyranny. I’m grateful to the Bolivian people for this historic lesson. Long live Bolivia!”
“We shall not permit the ex-president to use the excuse of a coup,” Mesa told reporters. “This was not a coup.”
Protesters Ransack Government Officials’ Homes
While some media outlets in Bolivia reported celebrations in certain areas, there were also widespread reports of violence against senior members of Morales’ Movement for Socialism party.
According to Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, the Mexican embassy in the city of La Paz sheltered 20 of Morales’ senior officials on Sunday as protesters ransacked and burned their homes.
Video posted to Twitter also shows people walking through Morales’ home after it had been ransacked. Mexico has now offered him political asylum.
Some protesters even went so far as to reportedly kidnap the brother of Victor Borda, the President of the Chamber of Deputies.
In the city streets, police withdrew from La Paz following Morales’ resignation. While some people celebrated by chanting “Yes, we could!” and by setting off fireworks, others looted stores. Other people started what appeared to be politically-motivated fires.
Other Countries React
Morales’ resignation has ignited a firestorm of reactions from other countries.
In addition to offering Morales political asylum, the Mexican president called the situation regrettable, while Foreign Secretary Ebrard echoed Morales’ calls of a “coup.”
Like Mexico, Nicaragua came to Morales’ defense, with President Daniel Ortega saying, “The government of Nicaragua … denounces and strongly condemns the coup d’etat that was realised today.”
Similarly, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro took to Twitter to call the situation a “coup,” also saying that rallies would be held to defend “the life of the Bolivian native people, victims of racism.”
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, described Morales as the leader of a powerful movement and said that he “has brought so much social progress.”
I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice and independence,” Corbyn said.
In the U.S., the reaction has been mixed.
Along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) denounced the situation as a coup.
“We must unequivocally oppose political violence in Bolivia. Bolivians deserve free and fair elections,” Omar said.
On the other hand, President Donald Trump celebrated Morales’ resignation, calling it a “significant moment for democracy.”
“After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard,” Trump said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also commended the OAS in supporting a new election.
Additionally, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lent his support to holding new elections.
Who Will Lead Bolivia?
Following Morales’ resignation, his vice president, the Senate president, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, and the first vice president of the Senate also resigned. Respectively, those resignations eliminate the first through the fourth people in line to succeed Morales.
In terms of succession, the next in line is Second Vice President of the Senate Jeanine Añez, who said she would step up as a transitional president, but she also needs quorum from the national assembly. Currently, the Movement for Socialism Party controls both houses and Añez has been described as strongly anti-Morales.
As for a new election, under the Bolivian constitution, elections must be held within 90 days of a constitutional crisis. Should she get transfer of power, Añez has said she’ll work to hold that election.
At the same time, Morales is reportedly hiding out, but that has not stopped him from reaching out to his supporters on social media and urging to resist forming a transitional government
“You never abandoned me and I will never abandon you,” he said Monday morning.