Turkey’s Ruling Party Suffers Heavy Losses in Key Local Polls

VOA’s Turkish and Kurdish services contributed to this report.

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party suffered heavy losses in Sunday’s local elections, losing critical cities across the country, while the main opposition party is on course to win the capital Ankara.

In Istanbul, election results remain too close to call, with opposition claims of voter manipulation.

Erdogan, speaking in Istanbul to reporters, acknowledged his Justice and Development Party (AKP) had suffered setbacks and vowed to learn “lessons” from the poll.

“We had some wins; we had some losses,” he said.  Erdogan went on to promise to introduce measures to boost the economy, which is mired in recession.

Possible defeat in Ankara

Some analysts see Erdogan’s avoidance of his traditional fiery rhetoric against the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) as a sign of accepting defeat in the capital Ankara.

Ankara’s CHP candidate, Mansor Yavas, appears set for a historic but narrow victory for the opposition.

In addressing thousands of supporters gathered in the heart of the capital, Yavas gave a conciliatory speech, promising to focus on services, adding there would be no purge of workers with ties to the AKP.

In Istanbul, the contest remains mired in controversy. AKP candidate Binali Yildirim claimed victory in a short speech. However, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu immediately shot back, saying it was shameful to claim success, given that only a few thousand votes separate the candidates and some ballots remain uncounted.

Imamoglu called on his supporters not to sleep for the next 48 hours, warning their victory was being stolen from them.

Earlier Sunday evening, Imamoglu challenged the integrity of the counting of the vote, claiming there were disparities in results in the announced elections.

With 98.5% of votes counted in Istanbul, results appeared frozen with no update for several hours. Most of the outstanding uncounted ballots are in CHP strongholds.

Recent elections in Turkey have been marred by controversy over voter manipulation and outright fraud allegations by the opposition, a charge denied by the governing AKP. Critics, however, claim the Supreme Electoral Board, which administers elections, is run by the government and presidential appointees.

Sunday evening, the electoral board stopped sending results to the opposition parties for 40 minutes, claiming it was upgrading its system. Leading members of the opposition party went to the electoral board headquarters, demanding an explanation.

Beyond Ankara and Istanbul, the AKP lost several key provincial cities, while narrowly avoiding defeat in many others. Several other important results remain in the balance.

Recession, inflation

The AKP appears to be paying a heavy price for an economy in recession and soaring inflation.

“Our economy is getting worse and worse because of their (government) bad management,” said Erdem, an engineer, speaking before voting in Istanbul. “Most of my friends are now looking for a job and some my friends lose their job because of economic crisis.”

Voters in Ankara spoke about the country’s economic problems.

“The youth in this country are unemployed. We know the hardships of people who don’t have a job. The only solution to this is creating jobs,” Orhan Kurubacak told VOA.

“I don’t think things are going well. There is nothing more else to say. There are a lot of economic factors,” Hakan Akyürek said.

Diyarbakir AKP candidate, Cumali Attila, told VOA’s Kurdish service, “I hope these elections would end with gumption. It is our responsibility to claim democracy.”

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) heavily defeated Attila. However, the AKP scored some crucial victories in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, winning key provinces. In Sirnak, the AKP won with a 30 percent swing to the party from the HDP.

Such success will likely do little to soften the blow Erdogan has suffered in the Sunday polls. Even though Erdogan was not on the ballot, he took personal control of the local election campaign. In the last few days held more than a dozen rallies across Istanbul in a bid to consolidate his party’s support.

Realities in country

Despite such efforts, analysts say Erdogan could not escape the economic realities facing the county.

“I think that the most powerful and effective opposition parties are not the classical parties, like the Republican People’s Party or the Good Party. However, the key issue for the elections is the increasing prices of vegetables. Let’s say the prices of cucumbers or tomatoes. These are the most effective oppositions of Turkey,” Doster added.

The loss of Ankara and possibly Istanbul is the worst electoral defeat for Erdogan, who has enjoyed unparalleled success. Analysts say  Erdogan’s reputation of electoral invincibility has received a significant blow.

Meanwhile, HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan said votes cast Sunday for her party “will contribute to peace, freedom and equality.”

Buldan said, however, obstacles their party faced, such as receiving no television coverage during the election, might not be enough to win.

“Every day we tried to clear and explain the truths told our people about the lies, slanders, threats and the perception that created against us. We did our duty today. I believe that our people will do their duty at the polls, too,” she said.

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Rock Superstar Elton John Joins Brunei Hotel Boycott

Rock superstar Elton John is joining actor George Clooney in calling for a worldwide boycott of hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who plans to enforce the death penalty for homosexuality this week.

Brunei-owned hotels include some of the world most luxurious inns, such as the Beverly Hills Hotel in Hollywood and the Dorchester in London.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexuality is plain wrong and has no place in my society,” John said in a statement. “I believe that love is love, and being able to love as we choose is a basic human right. … My husband, David, and I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Brunei, a Muslim monarchy, has adopted strict Sharia law, which would allow LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people to be stoned to death.

Clooney called for his hotel boycott last week, pointing out that every time someone stays at one of the nine Brunei-owned hotels, he is “putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”

The Dorchester Collection, which operates the hotels, says the chain emphasizes “equality, respect, and integrity … we do not tolerate any form of discrimination.”

But others say they support Clooney’s call for a boycott, including Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden, Republican Senator Ted Cruz and actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

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Pope Defends Decision to Reject Convicted French Cardinal’s Resignation

Pope Francis on Sunday defended his decision to  refuse to accept the resignation earlier this month of French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was convicted of failing to report sexual abuse allegations to police.

Francis, who spoke with reporters on his return from a two-day trip to Morocco, said a final decision wouldn’t be made until Barbarin’s appeal process was completed.

“I can’t accept it (resignation) because in juridical terms, in classic world jurisprudence, there is the presumption of innocence as long as the case is open, and he has appealed,” the pope said.

Barbarin offered his resignation on March 18. He said at the time the pope “spoke of the presumption of innocence and did not accept” it.

Francis instead asked Barbarin, the most senior French cleric involved in the Catholic Church’s worldwide pedophilia scandal, to do what Barbarin believes is best for the Lyon archdiocese. The 68-year-old cardinal has decided to take a leave of absence and has asked his assistant to assume leadership of the archdiocese until the appeal process is over.

Barbarin was sentenced to a six-month suspended sentence earlier this month for failing to report a predator priest to authorities. The priest, Benard Preynat, allegedly sexually abused boy scouts in the 1980s and 1990s.

The pope has previously defended Barbarin, saying in 2016 that his resignation before a trial would be “an error, imprudent.”

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Police: Ride-Share Mistake Led to Death of South Carolina College Student

The man accused of killing a woman who got into his car thinking it was her Uber ride had activated the child locks in his backseat so the doors could only be opened from the outside, police in South Carolina say.

Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook also said investigators found the victim’s blood in Nathaniel David Rowland’s vehicle. Rowland, 24, was arrested and charged in the death of 21-year-old Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina student from Robbinsville, New Jersey.

Investigators would not say what they think Rowland did to Josephson from the time she got into his black Chevrolet Impala in Columbia’s Five Points entertainment district around 1:30 a.m. Friday until her body was dumped in woods off a dirt road in Clarendon County about 65 miles (105 kilometers) away.

Josephson had numerous wounds to her head, neck, face, upper body, leg and foot, according to arrest warrants released Sunday by the State Law Enforcement Division. The documents didn’t say what was used to attack her.

Josephson’s blood was found in the trunk and inside Rowland’s car along with her cellphone, bleach, window cleaner and cleaning wipes, Holbrook said.

“This was a bad scene,” the police chief said at a news conference late Saturday.

Hunters found Josephson’s body Friday afternoon just hours after it was dumped, despite being left in an area that was “very difficult to get to unless you knew how to get there,” Holbrook said.

Rowland has recently lived in the area, he said.

The night after Josephson was kidnapped, a Columbia police officer noticed a black Chevrolet Impala about two blocks from the Five Points bars where Josephson was kidnapped. The driver ran, but was arrested after a short chase, Holbrook said.

Rowland is charged with kidnapping and murder, Holbrook said. He was being held in the Richland County jail. It wasn’t known if he had a lawyer.

Rowland decided not to appear at a hearing in jail Sunday. The judge allowed Josephson’s mother to speak, The State newspaper reported.

Marci Josephson said her daughter was planning to go to law school after graduating in May and described her as “bubbly, loving, kind and full of life.”

“Unlike him, Samantha had love within her heart and purpose in her life,” Marci Josephson said.

Safety advocates urged college students to match the vehicle color and model, the license tag number, and the photo of their ride-share drivers before getting in a vehicle and make the driver say their names to them before they introduce themselves.

“She simply, mistakenly, got into the car thinking it was an Uber ride,” Holbrook said.

The crime shook Columbia, the state capital where the University of South Carolina is one of the main economic engines.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and his wife, Peggy, asked on a message on Twitter for prayers for Josephson’s family.

“Peggy and I are devastated and crushed over the Josephson family losing their beautiful daughter Samantha. She was one of the brightest young stars,” McMaster wrote.

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One of Russia’s Richest Women Dies in Plane Crash in Germany

One of Russia’s richest women, S7 Group co-owner Natalia Fileva, has died in a small plane crash in Germany, the Russian airline operator said Sunday.

Fileva, 55, was aboard a single-engine, six-seat Epic LT aircraft that crashed and burned in a field as it approached the small airport at Egelsbach, a town in southwestern Germany, about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, the airline’s press service said in an email.

German police said there appeared to be three people aboard the plane, including the pilot of the flight, which originated in France. They said the two passengers were believed to be Russian citizens but that positive identification of the occupants would require further investigation.

German aviation authorities were probing the cause of the crash. Egelsbach is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of Frankfurt.

The business publication Forbes.ru estimated Fileva’s fortune at $600 million.

“S7 Group team extends sincere and heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Fileva’s family and loved ones,” the company said in a statement. “The memory of her as an inspiring and sympathetic leader and a wonderful person will forever stay in the hearts of all S7 Group employees. It is an irreparable loss. ”

Based at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, S7 is part of the Oneworld alliance and flies to 150 destinations in 35 countries.

The crash was also linked to other deaths in Germany.

The dpa news agency, citing police, reported that two people died Sunday and three others were seriously hurt when a police vehicle that was responding to the plane crash with flashing lights and sirens was struck head-on by another vehicle several kilometers (miles) from the crash site.

Citing police, dpa reported that three injured were in the police vehicle and the two dead were in the other car.

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Trump’s Battle With ‘Obamacare’ Moves to Courts

After losing in Congress, President Donald Trump is counting on the courts to kill off “Obamacare.” But some cases are going against him, and time is not on his side as he tries to score a big win for his re-election campaign.

Two federal judges in Washington, D.C., this past week blocked parts of Trump’s health care agenda: work requirements for some low-income people on Medicaid, and new small business health plans that don’t have to provide full benefits required by the Affordable Care Act.

But in the biggest case, a federal judge in Texas ruled last December that the ACA is unconstitutional and should be struck down in its entirety. That ruling is now on appeal. At the urging of the White House, the Justice Department said this past week it will support the Texas judge’s position and argue that all of “Obamacare” must go.

A problem for Trump is that the litigation could take months to resolve — or longer — and there’s no guarantee he’ll get the outcomes he wants before the 2020 election.

“Was this a good week for the Trump administration? No,” said economist Gail Wilensky, who headed up Medicare under former Republican President George H.W. Bush. “But this is the beginning of a series of judicial challenges.”

It’s early innings in the court cases, and “the clock is going to run out,” said Timothy Jost, a retired law professor who has followed the Obama health law since its inception.

“By the time these cases get through the courts there simply isn’t going to be time for the administration to straighten out any messes that get created, much less get a comprehensive plan through Congress,” added Jost, who supports the ACA.

In the Texas case, Trump could lose by winning.

If former President Barack Obama’s health law is struck down entirely, Congress would face an impossible task: pass a comprehensive health overhaul to replace it that both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Trump can agree to. The failed attempt to repeal “Obamacare” in 2017 proved to be toxic for congressional Republicans in last year’s midterm elections and they are in no mood to repeat it.

“The ACA now is nine years old and it would be incredibly disruptive to uproot the whole thing,” said Thomas Barker, an attorney with the law firm Foley Hoag, who served as a top lawyer at the federal Health and Human Services department under former Republican President George W. Bush. “It seems to me that you can resolve this issue more narrowly than by striking down the ACA.”

Trump seems unfazed by the potential risks.

“Right now, it’s losing in court,” he asserted Friday, referring to the Texas case against “Obamacare.”

The case “probably ends up in the Supreme Court,” Trump continued. “But we’re doing something that is going to be much less expensive than Obamacare for the people … and we’re going to have (protections for) pre-existing conditions and will have a much lower deductible. So, and I’ve been saying that, the Republicans are going to end up being the party of health care.”

There’s no sign that his administration has a comprehensive health care plan, and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus among Republicans in Congress.

A common thread in the various health care cases is that they involve lower-court rulings for now, and there’s no telling how they may ultimately be decided. Here’s a status check on major lawsuits:

‘Obamacare’ repeal

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, ruled that when Congress repealed the ACA’s fines for being uninsured, it knocked the constitutional foundation out from under the entire law. His ruling is being appealed by attorneys general from Democratic-led states to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The challenge to the ACA was filed by officials from Texas and other GOP-led states. It’s now fully supported by the Trump administration, which earlier had argued that only the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions and its limits on how much insurers could charge older, sicker customers were constitutionally tainted. All sides expect the case to go to the Supreme Court, which has twice before upheld the ACA.

Medicaid work requirements

U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington, D.C., last week blocked Medicaid work requirements in Kentucky and Arkansas approved by the Trump administration. The judge questioned whether the requirements were compatible with Medicaid’s central purpose of providing “medical assistance” to low-income people. He found that administration officials failed to account for coverage losses and other potential harm, and sent the Health and Human Services Department back to the drawing board.

The Trump administration says it will continue to approve state requests for work requirements, but has not indicated if it will appeal.

Small-business health plans

U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates last week struck down the administration’s health plans for small business and sole proprietors, which allowed less generous benefits than required by the ACA. Bates found that administration regulations creating the plans were “clearly an end-run” around the Obama health law and also ran afoul of other federal laws governing employee benefits.

The administration said it disagrees but hasn’t formally announced an appeal.

Also facing challenges in courts around the country are an administration regulation that bars federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions and a rule that allows employers with religious and moral objections to opt out of offering free birth control to women workers as a preventive care service.

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