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Editors' Picks

Turkey: heading towards a democratic dictatorship

Erdogan got what he wanted. His narrow victory in the referendum held this Sunday will dramatically transform the Turkish constitution, greatly enhancing the powers Recep Tayyip Erdoğan enjoys and consequently allowing him to become an omnipotent president. This will simultaneously wipe out Turkey’s current system of parliamentary democracy and limit the capacity of the opposition. We are, thus, on the verge of an unprecedented democratic regression in a country that has hitherto been a symbol of coexistence between Islam, secularism and democracy.

Relations with the European Union are also becoming increasingly strained. Erdoğan clashed with EU countries such as the Netherlands, which banned Turkish ministers entering the country to hold rallies before the vast Turkish diaspora during the referendum campaign, and unwittingly ended up boosting support for the president. The spat, which involved Erdogan comparing parts of European politics to Nazism, has deeply soured the relationship with Brussels, which avoided congratulating Erdoğan on the victory, preferring to highlight concerns in voting irregularities and warning that Turkey’s application to the European Union is at stake.

Yet, with a slim margin of 51.3% of voters voting „yes“ for constitutional reform as proposed by the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the victory has been too tight to allow Erdoğan an unhindered path to complete, centralised power. The Turkish opposition has already called for the referendum to be annulled, with the main opposition party, Social Democrats CHP denouncing „wide irregularities“ in the vote.

Undoubtedly, the result of the referendum shows that Turkey is a sharply divided nation. Worryingly for Erdoğan is the fact that „no“ has won in the main cities: Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. This evidently strong and stark polarisation in Turkey, unfortunately, foresees an unstable future in an already very divided country, with a precarious economy and recently hit by a spate of terrorist attacks.

Call the electrician

Easter celebrations always seem to be a little less ritualistic than Christmas – there’s no presents under the tree, etc. You may have found yourself on an egg-hunt, or perhaps in a Church, or even found yourself just getting hammered with a bunch of mates until the early hours. So many days off, why not use them, eh? Over the weekend, the US and North Korea celebrated the holidays by almost bringing the world to a nuclear, or semi-nuclear conflict, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on a small group of ISIS fighters, Turkey’s Erdogan swept the board and took a whole range of new powers for himself through a dodgy-looking referendum, and the French election race which could decide the fate of the European Union, took a sharp swing to the socialist left. 

Well, those were the headlines, what about the news? Well, it seems that due to a small electrical mishap, about 80,000 years of Earth history went up in – not smoke exactly – but it melted. 

„A freezer malfunction at the University of Alberta in Edmonton has melted part of the world’s largest collection of ice cores from the Canadian Arctic, reducing some of the ancient ice into puddles.“

The ice cores contained evidence of atmospheric change, which in turn could tell scientists about the history of the globe’s climate and why and when climactic events occurred. By melting the ice, the team unfortunately lost the opportunity to do that. 

It seems that just a few days after drilling and transporting the ice at an enormous cost to the university’s new facility, where the freezer tripped a high-heat alarm, melting the ice. While none of the cores were completely destroyed, around 22,000 years of history was melted off one, and 16,000 melted off another. 

It might not seem like the biggest tragedy, considering all that’s going on in the world, but I thought it was a fitting metaphor for the way in which the planet is changing right now – heat melting all the ice, even accidentally, and melting, along with it, all of recent history. 

But it’s not to depress you – you know what you can do to help combat climate change, and there’s still time. Enjoy the rest of the holidays!

Law of the jungle; student lynched over alleged blasphemy

A young and promising student in Pakistan has been lynched by an angry mob of his fellow students over alleged blasphemy this week.

Mashal Kha, the 23-year-old student of journalism and Mass Communication department of the Abdul Wali Khan University in northwest of the country is latest victim if this spree. The bizarre incident took place in the bright day light on the university premises in which another student was seriously injured by a vigilante mob for allegedly „publishing blasphemous content online”.

According to the police, the deceased student, Mashal, had been accused of running Facebook pages „which allegedly published blasphemous content“. “The charged students then wanted to burn his body, before police intervened. Video footage of the incident showed Mashal lying on the floor surrounded by men. The student was not moving and his body bore marks of severe torture. Men could be seen kicking his lifeless body and beating it with wooden planks.

Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan. In many cases, an accusation alone is enough to inspire vigilante action against suspects. This is not the first incident of the sort in the Muslim-majority country of over 200 million inhabitants when an angry mob or fanatic individual has taken the law in hands, and claimed the lives of others. A former governor, a federal minister and scores of common citizens have borne the brunt of this law.

Usually, it has been the minorities facing the wrath, but this time a Muslim man lost his life to the mob-mentality. Father of the deceased student told the local media that his son was not a ‘blasphemer’, and he just used to criticize the corrupt political culture of the country. The fact that this mob-lynching took place on a university premises, and youth were involved, one can easily predict a bleak future for the country in terms of law and order, and tolerance towards others’ opinions and rights.

Silent disaster in Pakistan’s metropolis

Amid the scorching summer, citizens of Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi are faced with acute shortage of water and electricity that could potentially claim hundreds of lives.

We continue to be fed with a daily dose of information about a number of natural and manmade disasters that are causing deaths and destruction in the world that we share. While such sensitization does help build-up public opinion to overcome it, some ‘silent disasters’ that remains out of news leave the people facing it on their own.

Two years ago, a severe heat wave with temperatures as high as 49 °C (120 °F) struck Karachi and adjacent areas that caused the deaths of about 2,000 people from dehydration and heat stroke. Experts fear it might reoccur this year.

The city has two main sources of water supply, the Hub Dam and the Kenjhar Lake, and the supply from both is too little to meet the demand. According to the city’s Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KW&SB), the supply of drinking from the Hub Dam has been cut by more than half by the federal Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) due to a dispute in outstanding dues between the federal and city’s water management boards. Water supply from the Kenjhar Lake is also affected by little rain.

Karachi requires a 1000 million gallons per day but unfortunately the poor, inefficient system is only able to supply half or maybe less of that amount to Karachi. Pilferage of water, poor maintenance of water pumping stations and extremely worn out water pipeline network are among other factors contributing to the crisis in the metropolis. This water shortage combined with electricity blackouts are causing large protests in various parts of the city on almost everyday basis.

The fact that nothing substantial has been done since 2015 to avoid the catastrophe from recurring speaks volumes about the apathy of Pakistani government towards the masses. The Islamabad government seems only care about issues that make it to the news headlines.

Paying the true price: Africa whistleblowers an endangered lot

At a time when systemic corruption seems to have graduated from Africa’s public sector to corporate and businesses, further fanning a cancer that is blamed for defeating the continent’s development resolve, whistle blowing remains Africa’s saving grace.

From the multimillion Goldenberg scandal orchestrated by top mandarins in Kenyan government, to earth shattering revelations of tax avoidance by multinationals operating in Africa, a select group of bold men and women have fought the temptation of money and trappings of ill gotten wealth to expose ills that have crippled the continent.

Yet for their sacrosanct and audacious duty, and by preferring to lean on the side of truth, they have paid the ultimate price including persecution, harassment and even death. But in this pursuit, they have inspired a new generation. Still these gallant children of the soil remain unsung, in a system that has normalized sleaze. Little wonder then that a 2015 investigation by Forbes Africa magazine into the place of whistleblowers in Africa revealed that while most of the people in power are beneficiaries of corruption, those who speak about it are rewarded with death. It detailed the horrific murder of Grishen Bujram, a resident of KwaZulu- Natal area in South Africa who was murdered for revealing the mayor’s active role in defrauding the country through self allocation of government houses meant for the poor.

Grishen remains one among many agents of truth who sadly live in fear or have sought asylum out of the continent for fear of reprimand and can no longer call Africa home. In fact, of the 54 African countries, just seven have passed whistle-blower laws or have offices of ombudsman that seek to protect those with information that can fight malfeasance, depicting how risky it is to blow a whistle in Africa.

It therefore calls for the concerted efforts by global community and the media to step up measures that promote demand for truth and accountability. Already technology is playing a pivotal role in ensuring whistleblowers can do so anonymously and has their security guaranteed.

We still have a long way to go, but sustained debate and action stemming from all corners of the earth is enough to sound the wake up call to regimes suppressing truth with impunity. For prosperity of the continent, the whistleblowers; the champions of truth must get the support they desperately need.

Important step towards peace in the Basque Country

Five and a half years after announcing the end of violence, ETA unilaterally handed over their remaining weapons to the French authorities in an act last weekend. It is a landmark that, although late, will be important to return political and social normality to the Basque Country.

Although the move was welcomed by Basque society, its clear that the final goal has yet to be fully achieved: the total dissolution of the armed group that during 43 years of activity caused more than 800 deaths in the name of Basque independence.

ETA’s defeat was inflicted mainly by the Spanish and French security forces. But at the same time, the struggle of a civil society that increasingly refused to accept the use of violence to achieve political objectives was also crucial. However, the absence of an official peace process in the Basque Country, such as in Northern Ireland with the IRA or in Colombia with the FARC, adds to the difficulty of achieving such purposes.

To a large extent, the incumbent Popular Party’s unwillingness to negotiate with the Basque separatist group has indeed been an obstacle to the peace process. It was, moreover, the only Spanish party to disqualify the handing over of ETA’s weapons. While all other parties spoke of a „historical moment,“ the PP simply referred to the disarmament as „a media stunt.“

Despite clearly supporting the peace process in Colombia, PP does not show the same tolerance within its own territory. Acting in a narrow-minded way, instead of defending the general interest, the PP has not only refused to collaborate but has even obstructed the peace process in the Basque Country. For decades, the conservative party has tried to use ETA’s violence to garner political support in their hard-line opposition and consequently continues to take no part in peace negotiations.

In order for Basque and Spanish society to finally close the chapter of decades marked by bloodshed and violence, it’s vital that both sides are willing to move on from the violent past. If, on one hand, ETA must take the final step of apologising for the atrocities committed, it would be, on the other hand, beneficial in facilitating the closure of the peace process if Madrid changed its penitentiary policy in dealing with ETA prisoners and recognised victims of violence carried out by the State itself.

A by-election in Kashmir

Admittedly, it’s not the best title, but this article has been called something deliberately banal – something dull and descriptive for an uneventful thing. By-elections are normally not anything special, but the one which took place yesterday has left six people dead, and many more injured.

Protestors stormed polling stations in the Srinagar district, causing damage to electronic voting machines and other equipment – but it has not emerged whether they directly injured any other citizens. Paramilitary forces (an extra 20,000 Indian troops were deployed to the region for the election – just to give you an idea of what is at stake during a Kasmiri by-election) then opened fire on the crowds in several separate areas. They used bullets and shotgun pellets to fire into crowds of protestors – leaving six people dead. 

The protestors were challenging Indian-rule – a decades long struggle for millions of Kashmiris, who feel more closely aligned with Pakistan. The division of the region into Indian- and Pakistani-administered zones has been a point of high controversy since India achieved independence and Pakistan was created in 1947. Indeed, the first war between the nations took place in 1947 and was precipitated by the problem of Kashmir’s sovereignty. Since then, two other wars have been fought over the region. 

A by-election therefore, is not a banal issue. 

Kashmiri separatists are diverse in their aims; With many favouring handing over control of the region to Pakistan, and others seeking to create a totally independent state. In some sense however, the region is more than a flashpoint between two nuclear nations (and potentially three, since China administers a third, smaller portion of Kashmir) – but it represents the classic conflict of our time: How does identity shape politics? 

Identity politics might have come to denote ‚micropolitics‘ and ’structural bias‘, and related concepts, but in many parts of the world, identity politics is politics. It is the entire way in which politics is conceived – from Northern Ireland to Northern India, the ways in which people come to understand and relate to history shapes the entire way they think about the future. This is why people who do not want to be politically aligned with India fight against it – they see a history of oppression, of religious intolerance and exclusion: Not the multicultural paradise India projects itself as. Some more troubling news might be that India has recently hardened in its attitudes towards political expression, with Modi’s Far-Right party in charge. The flashpoint of Kashmir will ignite again, and it will be caused by an argument over who we are, and who we want to be. 

Image: Getty/ BBC

Attacks on humanitarian aid workers appalling and unacceptable

News of the recent killings of six humanitarian aid workers in South Sudan has shaken the international community but reignited debate on the growing threats aid workers face even as they work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of humanity in the wake of catastrophes.

In one of the most atrocious and brazen attacks to have been meted on humanitarian workers since the civil war erupted in 2013, the aid workers, some who had barely worked for a month in their new stations, were accosted by armed militia who forced them out of their cars, ransacked and looted before shooting them in the head and back and leaving them in the streets of one of South Sudan’s hinterlands.

This ambush is the latest in a series of attacks that have now killed 12 aid workers this year alone and 79 since the war broke out in 2013. Ironically the aid workers have been in the country to address the twin catastrophes of the effects of war and the unprecedented hunger that has put over 7.5 million lives at risk of starvation.

In the same week in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two foreign UN contractors who were in the country to understand the causes and sources of conflict with a view to looking at lasting peace, had earlier been kidnapped and were later found dead with one of them having been decapitated, an incident that has sparked international furore.

Growing conflicts occasioned by emergence of new threats to peace like mutating terror groups, scramble for limited resources and climate change have exacerbated humanitarian needs especially in Africa. Indeed according to statistics global humanitarian aid spending has skyrocketed to unprecedented highs, reaching 400 per cent since 2000 to hit over $30 billion currently. The number of international aid workers has also tripled during the same period.

As the aid workers navigate unforgiving terrain and work under harsh conditions to ameliorate the suffering of those affected, it is unacceptable that they have to face torture and death.

The international community must step forward and make a strong case, which goes beyond stern warnings, to parties to conflicts to respect those who have taken up the unenviable yet noble cause of offering humanitarian aid. The firm assertion by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres following the attacks that the body would do everything possible to bring justice to the case must move beyond rhetoric to tough action. It is unimaginable what life would be without the aid workers who have rescued children caught in cross fires and spent nights in the cold to give those affected shelter and warmth. The International community must rally behind aid workers if we are to have a safe world.

Gibraltar: yet another Brexit headache

The complex process of the UK exiting the European Union has repeatedly highlighted the British government´s lack of foresight in dealing with the dire consequences of Brexit. The greatest geopolitical issues have arisen in regions that voted „remain” and are being forced to leave such as Scotland, whose claims for independence have strengthened and Northern Ireland, where the possibility of a returning „hard border“ threatens stability in the region and the achievements of the peace process, started 20 years ago.

In recent days, however, another British region has been hitting the headlines. With little more than 30,000 inhabitants, the often-forgotten territory of Gibraltar, situated on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, has become the latest Brexit headache, threatening to put a spoke in the wheel of negotiations with the EU. An overwhelming 95% of Gibraltarians voted to remain in the EU. Now, the possibility of border control between “the Rock” and mainland Spain has once again ignited the on-going conflicts with Madrid, backed up by Brussels.

Spain has never given up on claims to sovereignty over Gibraltar, but for several decades, the fact that both countries were in the European Union, subject to the same rules, relieved tensions. In a dramatic twist to the countries’ relations British politicians have even threatened Spain with war, reminding how the UK once confronted Argentina to keep the Falkland Islands. Once again, in order to overcome such hurdles, representatives from the UK and the EU must negotiate in a pragmatic and sensible way. Safeguarding the rights of the local population must be regarded as a priority ahead geopolitical disputes.