Turkish Opposition stuns Erdoğan with historic victory

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 1st April 2024

The local elections in Turkey saw the Opposition mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, defeat the candidates supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in what has been described as “a historic victory”. Erdoğan’s protégés had already lost in the two largest Turkish cities in the consultations five years ago.

With almost 65% of the votes counted, Imamoglu is leading in Istanbul with 50.2% of the votes and the challenger supported by Erdoğan, Murat Kurum, is stuck at 41%. In the capital, Ankara, Yavas leads the race with 58.5% of the vote, leaving Erdoğan’s candidate at 33%, with 38% of the votes counted.

“Today our voters made a very important decision: they decided to establish a new policy in Turkey,” said Ozgur Ozel, secretary of the main Opposition party CHP, whose mayors in Istanbul and Ankara maintained control in both cities in the local elections, beating the candidates supported by Erdoğan. “The CHP has achieved a historic result and has decided how to govern our country and our municipalities,” added Ozel, in a speech broadcast on TV.

“We won!” exclaimed Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul who, with over 85 per cent of the ballots counted, obtained more than 50 per cent of the votes, being reconfirmed as first citizen and therefore beating Murat Kurum, the candidate supported by Erdoğan, stuck at 40 per cent. “The people of Istanbul gave us the authority,” Imamoglu said as he declared victory, during a speech at the headquarters of the main opposition CHP party in Istanbul. “You have opened the door for the future,” said Imamoglu, thanking the voters and criticising Erdoğan’s “authoritarian system”.

“We did not get what we wanted” – Erdoğan

“Unfortunately we couldn’t get the result we wanted in the elections,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech from the headquarters of his AKP party in Ankara, broadcast by state TV TRT. Erdoğan admitted defeat, after his party’s candidates lost in Ankara and Istanbul and in all the major cities of the country. “God willing, we will continue our path by winning,” the Turkish president added.

Tens of thousands rally against Netanyahu

Tens of thousands of people, waving blue and white Israeli flags and chanting “Elections now!”, demonstrated in Jerusalem on Sunday against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and against exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from military service, in scenes reminiscent of last year’s mass street protests. Protest groups, including some that led the mass demonstrations that rocked Israel in 2023, organised the rally outside parliament, the Knesset, calling for a new election to replace the government. The protesters also want a more equal share in the burden of army service that binds most Israelis. Around 600 soldiers have been killed so far since the Hamas attack of October 7 and the ensuing war in Gaza – the military’s highest casualty toll in years. In Tel Aviv, some families of hostages and their supporters, blocked a main highway, protesting against what they described as “Netanyahu’s failure to return our loved ones”.

Israel’s N12 News said it appeared to be the largest demonstration since the war began. Haaretz and Ynet news sites said it drew tens of thousands of people. Netanyahu’s cabinet has faced widespread criticism over the security failure of the Hamas attack on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage to Gaza. Many see the government as “a complete and utter failure”which could lead the country “into an abyss”.

Israel’s war in the Palestinian enclave has aggravated a longstanding source of friction in society that is also unsettling Netanyahu’s coalition government – exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students from service in the country’s conscript military. With a March 31 deadline looming for the government to come up with legislation to resolve a decades-long standoff over the issue, Netanyahu filed a last-minute application to the Supreme Court last week or a 30-day deferment. In an apparent accommodation, the Supreme Court gave government officials until April 30 to submit additional arguments. But, in an interim ruling, it also ordered a suspension of state funding for seminary students who would be liable for conscription, as fo today, April 1. At a news conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he was confident a solution would be found. He also said that holding an election at the height of war, when he said Israel was so close to victory, would paralyse the country for months.

Netanyahu operated on “successfully

Prime Minister Netanyahu underwent “successful” hernia surgery, his office said today. He was “in good shape and beginning to recover”, his office said in a statement after the operation on Sunday evening, which was closely watched as the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip nears six months. Doctors discovered the hernia on Saturday during a routine check-up, and after consultations the decision was made for the premier to undergo surgery after completing his daily schedule, his office said. Ahead of his surgery, Netanyahu vowed that Israel would invade Rafah, despite pressures from Ramadan and Washington. The 74-year-old premier said he had approved the IDF’s “operational plan” for Rafah, saying the force was “prepared for the evacuation of the civilian population and for the provision of humanitarian assistance”. This was the fourth time in the past two months that Netanyahu said he had approved the plans. The prime minister added an invasion of Rafah is the right thing both operationally and internationally.

Israeli strike on Gaza hospital kills four, wounds 17 – WHO

An Israeli airstrike on a Gaza hospital yesterday killed four people and wounded 17 others, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a post on X. The strike at Al-Aqsa hospital was witnessed by a World Health Organisation team sent there to assess needs and to collect incubators for the north of Gaza, Tedros wrote. “A WHO team was on a humanitarian mission at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza, when a tent camp inside the hospital compound was hit by an Israeli airstrike today,” the WHO chief wrote. He gave no details of the victims, but added: “WHO staff are all accounted for.” Tedros renewed his appeal for patients, health professionals and aid workers to be protected during the conflict, and for attacks on hospitals to stop. Tedros urged all parties to the conflict to comply with the UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. There are 10 hospitals in the Gaza Strip still functioning at a minimum level, compared to 36 before the start of the war, according to the WHO. As well as air strikes there has also been fierce ground fighting in and around hospitals in the territory, where many Gazans fleeing the violence have taken shelter inside the buildings. Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,782 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

In a message posted on X, the Israeli army denied that the hospital was damaged. It said one of its planes “struck an operational Islamic Jihad command centre and terrorists positioned in the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in the area of Deir al Balah. Following the precise strike, the Al-Aqsa hospital building was not damaged and its function was not affected,” it added.

US, Israel to hold meeting on Rafah today, Axios reports

The US and Israel are expected to hold a virtual meeting on today to discuss the Biden administration’s alternative proposals to an Israeli military invasion of Rafah, four Israeli and US officials told Axios in an exclusive. The meeting, which was supposed to to take place last week, has become a contentious issue between the Israeli Prime Minister and President Biden. After the US last week didn’t veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all hostages, Netanyahu announced he was cancelling the meeting in protest. A day later, he sent quiet messages to the White House asking to reschedule. After the the White House made Netanyahu’s request public, he denied such a delegation would be going to the White House.

The Biden administration has said an operation in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering, could lead to mass casualties and exacerbate the humanitarian disaster on Gaza. Netanyahu’s closest confidant, Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, told Netanyahu several times in recent days he needed to send the delegation to Washington as soon as possible to avoid further escalation of tensions with Biden. Senior Israeli fficials said holding a virtual meeting was a way for Netanyahu to “save face” and have a discussion with the White House about Rafah without sending a delegation to Washington.

The meeting will take place on a secure video onference call, Israeli and US officials told Axios. White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan is expected to lead the US side in the meeting, with representatives from the Pentagon, State Department and the US intelligence agencies participating. Dermer and Netanyahu’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi are going to lead the talks from the Israeli side with senior Israeli defensce and intelligence officials participating. A senior Israeli official said a second meeting, this time in person, is planned to take place as soon as next week.

Pope calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap

In his Easter blessing, Pope Francis omce again made a strong appeal for a cease-fire in Gaza and a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine. Despite health concerns, the 87-year-old pontiff presided over Easter Sunday Mass in a flower-decked St Peter’s Square and then delivered a heartfelt prayer for peace in his annual roundup of global crises. In between, he made several loops around the piazza in his popemobile, greeting tens of thousands of well-wishers. “Peace is never made with weapons, but with outstretched hands and open hearts,” Francis said from the loggia overlooking the square, to applause from the wind-swept crowd below. He appeared in good form, despite having celebrated a two-and-a-half-hour nighttime Easter Vigil just hours before. The pontiff has been battling respiratory problems all winter and his full participation in Easter services was not entirely guaranteed, especially after he skipped the traditional Good Friday procession.

King Charles attends Easter service

Britain’s King Charles attended a church service on Easter Sunday in his most significant public appearance since he was diagnosed with cancer. ITV News filmed him shaking hands with members of the public once the service was over. Charles, 75, joined Queen Camilla and other members of the royal family at the annual Easter Mattins Service at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. The service was a smaller version of the annual gathering, with fewer members of the royal family, as the King has paused public-facing duties while he continues treatment for cancer himself. The Easter service came just over a week after Kate, Princess of Wales, released an emotional video message disclosing that she had started a course of preventative chemotherapy. Kate and her family did not attend. The family are spending the Easter holidays together as they adjust to Kate’s diagnosis, which was discovered in post-operative tests after major abdominal surgery.

UK price hikes this month

As April 1 heralds the new financial year for the British, many service providers will be increasing their bills. Council tax, road tax, broadband, mobile, water and even stamps are all about to jump in price on or around the first days of the month, with households urged to check for savings by shopping around and investigating if they are entitled to any discounts. The average annual council tax bill will rise by £106 this year as local authorities seek to maximise revenue to pay for struggling frontline services. The bill for an average property will increase by five per cent to £2,171, according to statistics released by the Housing Department. The average household water and sewerage bill in England and Wales will rise by six per cent or about £27 to £473 a year from today.

Most broadband deals, mobile phone contracts, and streaming service will rise by 7.9 per cent. Many of the biggest broadband firms – such as BT, EE, Plusnet, Shell Energy, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Vodafone – raise prices every April in line with the Consumer Price Index or the Retail Price Index – announced as February as four per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively – plus an additional three, 3.7 or 3.9 per cent. Separately, the annual cost of a TV Licence will rise to £169.50 from April 1, up from £159, which viewers need to pay to watch or record live TV shows on any channel, regardless of the device used.

The Government confirmed in the Autumn Statement that vehicle excise duty, or road tax, will rise in line with the RPI from April 1. However, older vehicles or vehicles which emit higher levels of carbon dioxide will pay more. The price of stamps will increase on April 2: first-class stamps by 10p to £1.35 and second-class stamps by 10p to 85p. On a more positive note, the average household energy bill is to fall to its lowest point in two years as of today after Ofgem lowered its price cap in response to wholesale prices.

Moscow massacre: chips implanted in attackers’ brains

The former head of the Russian Interpol office, retired police Major General Vladimir Ovchinsky, said on federal television that chips may have been implanted in the brains of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall in Krasnogorsk, Moscow region. “The consciousness of these attackers was disabled: most likely psychotropic substances, neuro-psychological programming and perhaps chips were inserted, because now neurobiology allows control over a person,” Ovchinsky said during a broadcast on Russian TV’s First Channel.  The attack on a suburban Moscow concert hall killed at least 137 people and left the sprawling venue a smouldering ruin with a collapsed roof. The Islamic State group (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Canada to make contraception for women free

Canada will cover the full cost of contraception for women, the government said Sunday as it highlighted the first part of a major health-care reform. The government will pay for the most widely used methods to avoid pregnancy, such as IUDs, contraceptive pills, hormonal implants or the day-after pill, for the nine million Canadian women of reproductive age, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a news conference in a pharmacy in Toronto. “Women should be free to choose the contraceptives they need without cost getting in the way. So, we’re making contraceptives free,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Tennis: Sinner wins final in Miami and becomes no. 2 in the world

Italian tennis player Jannik Sinner won the ATP 1000 tournament in Miami by beating the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-1 in the final. With this success, as of today the 22-year-old from South Tyrol will be the world’s no. 2 as he will overtake the Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. No Italian tennis player has ever reached such a position in the international ranking. The final in Miami was described as one “without history”, just like the semi-final against Daniil Medvedev. Jannik Sinner increasingly seems to be the new master of world tennis, and in the meantime, at the expense of the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, ‘executioner’ in the previous rounds of Alcaraz and Zverev, he also takes victory in the Masters 1000 in Miami played on the hard court outside of the NFL Dolphins stadium. Now in Sinner’s sights is the first position in the ranking occupied by Novak Djokovic, absent in Florida. The Serbian is just over 1,000 points away, but will have to defend 2,315 on clay against Sinner’s 585.

Photo: Reuters

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