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Turkey faces runoff election with Erdogan leading

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2023)

Turkey headed for a runoff vote after President Tayyip Erdogan led over his opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Sunday’s election but fell short of an outright majority to extend his 20-year rule of the NATO-member country, Reuters reported.

Neither Erdogan nor Kilicdaroglu cleared the 50% threshold needed to avoid a second round, to be held on May 28, in an election seen as a verdict on Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian path.

The presidential vote will decide not only who leads Turkey but also whether it reverts to a more secular, democratic path, how it will handle its severe cost of living crisis, and manage key relations with Russia, the Middle East and the West, read the report.

Kilicdaroglu, who said he would prevail in the runoff, urged his supporters to be patient and accused Erdogan’s party of interfering with the counting and reporting of results.

But Erdogan performed better than pre-election polls had predicted, and he appeared in a confident and combative mood as he addressed his supporters.

“We are already ahead of our closest rival by 2.6 million votes. We expect this figure to increase with official results,” Erdogan said.

With almost 97% of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan led with 49.39% of votes and Kilicdaroglu had 44.92%, according to state-owned news agency Anadolu. Turkey’s High Election Board gave Erdogan 49.49% with 91.93% of ballot boxes counted, Reuters reported.

Thousands of Erdogan voters converged on the party’s headquarters in Ankara, blasting party songs from loudspeakers and waving flags. Some danced in the street.

“We know it is not exactly a celebration yet but we hope we will soon celebrate his victory. Erdogan is the best leader we had for this country and we love him,” said Yalcin Yildrim, 39, who owns a textile factory.

The results reflected deep polarization in a country at a political crossroads. The vote was set to hand Erdogan’s ruling alliance a majority in parliament, giving him a potential edge heading into the runoff.

Opinion polls before the election had pointed to a very tight race but gave Kilicdaroglu, who heads a six-party alliance, a slight lead. Two polls on Friday showed him above the 50% threshold.

The country of 85 million people – already struggling with soaring inflation – now faces two weeks of uncertainty that could rattle markets, with analysts expecting gyrations in the local currency and stock market, Reuters reported.

“The next two weeks will probably be the longest two weeks in Turkey’s history and a lot will happen. I would expect a significant crash in the Istanbul stock exchange and lots of fluctuations in the currency,” said Hakan Akbas, managing director of Strategic Advisory Services, a consultancy.

“Erdogan will have an advantage in a second vote after his alliance did far better than the opposition’s alliance,” he added.

A third nationalist presidential candidate, Sinan Ogan, stood at 5.3% of the vote. He could be a “kingmaker” in the runoff depending on which candidate he endorses, analysts said.

The opposition said Erdogan’s party was delaying full results from emerging by lodging objections, while authorities were publishing results in an order that artificially boosted Erdogan’s tally.

Kilicdaroglu, in an earlier appearance, said that Erdogan’s party was “destroying the will of Turkey” by objecting to the counts of more than 1,000 ballot boxes. “You cannot prevent what will happen with objections. We will never let this become a fait accompli,” he said.

But the mood at the opposition party’s headquarters, where Kilicdaroglu expected victory, was subdued as the votes were counted. His supporters waved flags of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and beat drums.

The choice of Turkey’s next president is one of the most consequential political decisions in the country’s 100-year history and will reverberate well beyond Turkey’s borders, Reuters reported.

A victory for Erdogan, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most important allies, will likely cheer the Kremlin but unnerve the Biden administration, as well as many European and Middle Eastern leaders who had troubled relations with Erdogan.

Turkey’s longest-serving leader has turned the NATO member and Europe’s second-largest country into a global player, modernised it through megaprojects such as new bridges and airports and built an arms industry sought by foreign states.

But his volatile economic policy of low interest rates, which set off a spiralling cost of living crisis and inflation, left him prey to voters’ anger. His government’s slow response to a devastating earthquake in southeast Turkey that killed 50,000 people earlier this year added to voters’ dismay.

Kilicdaroglu has pledged to revive democracy after years of state repression, return to orthodox economic policies, empower institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan and rebuild frail ties with the West.

Thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released if the opposition prevails, read the report.

Critics fear Erdogan will govern ever more autocratically if he wins another term. The 69-year-old president, a veteran of a dozen election victories, says he respects democracy.

In the parliamentary vote, the People’s Alliance of Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AKP, the nationalist MHP and others fared better than expected and were headed for a majority.

World

US, British forces carry out more strikes against Houthis in Yemen

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2024)

U.S. and British forces carried out strikes against more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, officials said, the latest round of military action against the Iran-linked group that continues to attack shipping in the region.

The United States has carried out near daily strikes against the Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen and have said their attacks on shipping are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza, Reuters reported.

The strikes have so far failed to halt the Houthis’ attacks, which have upset global trade and raised shipping rates.

A joint statement from countries that either took part in the strikes or provided support, said the military action was against 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes were meant “to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.”

“We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries,” Austin said.

The strikes were supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by the Houthi movement, said on Saturday that U.S. and UK forces carried out a series of strikes in the capital, Sanaa.

It quoted an unnamed Houthi military source as saying the renewed raids were “a miserable attempt to prevent Yemen from providing support operations to the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Earlier this week the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack on a UK-owned cargo ship and a drone assault on a U.S. destroyer, and they targeted Israel’s port and resort city of Eilat with ballistic missiles and drones.

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15 dead, 44 injured in residential building fire in China’s Nanjing city

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(Last Updated On: February 24, 2024)

At least 15 people were killed and 44 injured in a fire at a residential building in eastern China’s Nanjing city, local authorities said.

The fire broke out early Friday morning, officials said at a press conference, with a preliminary investigation suggesting the blaze started on the building’s first floor, where electric bikes had been placed, The Guardian reported. 

The building is located in the Yuhuatai district of Nanjing, a city of more than 8 million about 260km north-west of Shanghai.

By 6am (2200 GMT) the fire had been extinguished, and a search-and-rescue operation ended about 2pm Friday, authorities said.

The 44 injured people were sent to hospital for treatment, they added.

China has seen a spate of deadly fires in recent months, prompting calls from President Xi Jinping last month for “deep reflection” and greater efforts to “curb the frequent occurrence of safety accidents”.

In January dozens died after a fire broke out at a store in the central city of Xinyu, with state news agency Xinhua reporting the blaze had been caused by the use of fire by workers in the store’s basement.

That fire came just days after a late-evening blaze at a school in central China’s Henan province killed 13 schoolchildren as they slept in a dormitory.

A teacher at the school told the state-run Hebei Daily that all the victims were from the same third-grade class of nine- and 10-year-olds.

Domestic media reports suggested the fire was caused by an electric heating device.

In November, 26 people were killed and dozens sent to hospital after a fire at a coal company office in northern China’s Shanxi province.

The month before, an explosion at a barbecue restaurant in the north-west of the country left 31 dead and prompted official pledges of a nationwide campaign to promote workplace safety.

In April, a hospital fire in Beijing killed 29 people and forced desperate survivors to jump out of windows to escape.

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US targets Russia with hundreds of sanctions over Ukraine war, Navalny death

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(Last Updated On: February 24, 2024)

The United States on Friday imposed extensive sanctions against Russia, targeting more than 500 people and entities to mark the second anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and retaliate for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

President Joe Biden said the measures aim to ensure Russian President Vladimir Putin “pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home,” Reuters reported.

The sanctions targeted Russia’s Mir payment system, financial institutions and its military industrial base, sanctions evasion, future energy production and other areas. They also hit prison officials the U.S. says are linked to Navalny’s death.

“Doesn’t Washington realize that sanctions won’t take us down?” Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, was quoted as saying on his embassy’s channel on the Telegram messaging app.

The United States later on Friday also imposed sanctions on Russia’s leading tanker group, Sovcomflot, accusing it of being involved in violating the G7’s price cap on Russian oil. Also targeted were 14 crude oil tankers in which it has an interest.

“Sovcomflot as a whole, as a parent company, has been implicated in price cap violations in addition to deceptive activity,” a senior Treasury official said.

The Biden administration is seeking to continue supporting Ukraine as the country faces acute shortages of ammunition, with the approval of more U.S. military aid delayed for months in the U.S. Congress. The European Union, Britain and Canada also took action against Russia on Friday.

The U.S. Treasury Department targeted nearly 300 people and entities, while the State Department hit over 250 people and entities and the Commerce Department added over 90 companies to the Entity List.

The United States and its allies have imposed sanctions on thousands of Russian targets since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The war has seen tens of thousands killed and cities destroyed.

However, Russia’s export-focused $2.2-trillion economy has proved more resilient to two years of unprecedented sanctions than either Moscow or the West anticipated.

“We must sustain our support for Ukraine even as we weaken Russia’s war machine. It’s critical that Congress steps up to join our allies around the world in giving Ukraine the means to defend itself,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Brian O’Toole, a former Treasury official, said the action, while involving a lot of names, was short on impact, because the majority of the entities targeted are Russian rather than foreign firms, and are easily replaceable as Moscow seeks to skirt sanctions.

But former senior Treasury official Ben Harris said the magnitude of the sanctions imposed by the United States alone was formidable.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday’s move was Washington’s largest number of designations in a single Russia action.

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