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Turkey votes in pivotal elections that could end Erdogan’s 20-year rule

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(Last Updated On: May 14, 2023)

Turks voted on Sunday in one of the most important elections in modern Turkey’s 100-year history, which could either unseat President Tayyip Erdogan and halt his government’s increasingly authoritarian path or usher in a third decade of his rule.

The vote will decide not only who leads Turkey, a NATO-member country of 85 million, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed amid a deep cost of living crisis, and the shape of its foreign policy, which has taken unpredictable turns, Reuters reported.

Opinion polls give Erdogan’s main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads an alliance of six opposition parties, a slight lead, but if either of them fail to get more than 50% of the vote there will be a runoff election on May 28.

Voters will also elect a new parliament, likely a tight race between the People’s Alliance comprising Erdogan’s conservative Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP) and the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance formed of six opposition parties, including his secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), established by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Polls opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and will close at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT). Under Turkish law, the reporting of any results is banned until 9 p.m. By late on Sunday there could be a good indication of whether there will be a runoff vote for the presidency.

In Diyarbakir, a city in the mainly Kurdish southeast which was hit by a devastating earthquake in February, some said they had voted for the opposition and others for Erdogan.

“A change is needed for the country,” said Nuri Can, 26, who cited Turkey’s economic crisis as the reason for voting for Kilicdaroglu. “After the election there will be an economic crisis at the door again, so I wanted change.”

But Hayati Arslan, 51, said he had voted for Erdogan and his AK Party.

“The country’s economic situation is not good but I still believe that Erdogan will fix this situation. Turkey’s prestige abroad has reached a very good point with Erdogan and I want this to continue,” he said.

Queues formed at polling stations in the city, with some 9,000 police officers on duty across the province.

Many in the provinces affected by the earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people, have expressed anger over the slow initial government response but there is little evidence that the issue has changed how people will vote.

Kurdish voters, who account for 15-20% of the electorate, will play a pivotal role, with the Nation Alliance unlikely to attain a parliamentary majority by itself.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is not part of the main opposition alliance but fiercely opposes Erdogan after a crackdown on its members in recent years.

The HDP has declared its support for Kilicdaroglu in the presidential race. It is entering the parliamentary elections under the emblem of the small Green Left Party due to a court case filed by a top prosecutor seeking to ban the HDP over links to Kurdish militants, which the party denies.

If Turks do oust Erdogan it will be largely because they saw their prosperity, equality and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation that topped 85% in Oct. 2022 and a collapse in the lira currency.

Kilicdaroglu, a 74-year-old former civil servant, promises that if he wins he will return to orthodox economic policies from Erdogan’s heavy management.

Kilicdaroglu also says he would seek to return the country to the parliamentary system of governance, from Erdogan’s executive presidential system passed in a referendum in 2017. He has also promised to restore the independence of a judiciary that critics say Erdogan has used to crack down on dissent.

In his time in power, Erdogan has taken tight control of most of Turkey’s institutions and sidelined liberals and critics. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2022, said Erdogan’s government has set back Turkey’s human rights record by decades.

If he wins, Kilicdaroglu faces challenges keeping united an opposition alliance that includes nationalists, Islamists, secularists and liberals.

The final days of the campaign were marked by accusations of foreign meddling.

Kilicdaroglu said his party had concrete evidence of Russia’s responsibility for the release of “deep fake” online content, which Moscow denied. Erdogan accused the opposition of working with U.S. President Joe Biden to topple him. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Washington does not take sides in elections.

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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2024)

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south Hamas attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armour had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance, Reuters reported.

“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.

Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Hamas re-grouping there.

In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.

“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north towards the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.

As the fighting raged, the U.S. military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land – disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah – were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.

“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

U.S. aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.

Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade”.

The White House said U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.

A group of U.S. medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

HUMANITARIAN FEARS

The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive”.

A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

“The 7th Brigade’s fire control centre directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.

Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.

In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honourable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”

Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

‘TRAGIC WAR’

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

UNRWA, the main U.N. aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.

“They’re moving to areas where there is no water – we’ve got to truck it in – and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.

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EU adds Russian media outlets to sanctions list despite Kremlin warning

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2024)

European Union countries on Wednesday agreed in principle to add four Russian state media outlets to the EU’s list of entities under sanctions, accusing them of propaganda, as the Kremlin vowed repercussions for Western journalists in Moscow, Reuters reported.

“Four Kremlin-linked propaganda networks (have been) added to the sanctions list: Voice of Europe, RIA Novosti, Izvestija and Rossiyskaya Gazeta”, EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said on social media platform X.

The outlets include newspapers and online media, read the report.

Russia earlier warned the European Union against the move. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the Kremlin would retaliate against Western correspondents in Moscow.

“If these measures are taken against the Russian media, Russian journalists, then, despite the fact that Western correspondents will not want to, they will also have to feel our retaliatory measures,” Zakharova said.

“We will respond with lightning speed and extremely painfully for the Westerners,” she said.

The EU did not immediately specify the measures applying to the media outlets but media sanctioned previously lost broadcasting rights in the EU, Reuters reported.

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Manhunt underway after gunmen ambush French prison van to free drug dealer

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2024)

Gunmen wearing balaclavas ambushed a prison van in northern France on Tuesday to free a drug dealer known as “The Fly,” killing two prison guards, severely wounding three and triggering a major police manhunt.

The brazen, morning attack at a toll booth in Incarville in the Eure region of northern France underlines the growing threat of drug crime across Europe, the world’s No.1 cocaine market, Reuters reported.

It came on the same day that France’s Senate released a major report on drug trafficking, warning that the country faces a “tipping point” from rising narco violence that represents “a threat to the fundamental interests of the nation.”

The fugitive inmate, named Mohamed Amra, is a 30-year-old drug dealer from northern France, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office and police sources.

He had been convicted of burglary by a court in Evreux on May 10 and was being held at the Val de Reuil prison, Reuters reported.

Amra had also been indicted by prosecutors in Marseille for a kidnapping that led to a death, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.

A police source in Marseille told Reuters Amra was a drug dealer with ties to the city’s powerful “Blacks” gang.

Images on social media showed gunmen in balaclavas circling near an SUV that was in flames. The SUV appeared to have been rammed into the front of the prison van.

Amra’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier, told BFM TV that the violence of the incident did not correspond with the person he knew. He said Amra had tried to escape from prison on Sunday by sawing at the bars of his cell.

“This element suggests that there was an escape attempt in preparation,” Vigier said.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said a major manhunt had been launched, with several hundred officers involved.

Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti said the prison van was attacked while Amra was being driven to meet an investigating judge in Rouen. He said two of the injured officers were in critical condition.

“Absolutely everything will be done to find the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” he told BFM TV. “These are people for whom life means nothing. They will be arrested, judged and punished according to the crime they committed.”

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