Church bombing in Egypt
A stunned nation watched funerals for victims of the bombings on national TV and citizens raised questions and fears about what some consider lax security at churches. “The state of emergency means absolutely nothing to me,” said Andrew Abdel Shaheed, an Egyptian Copt in Brussels.
EGYPT— On Sunday, two Coptic Christian churches were bombed as worshipers gathered for Palm Sunday celebrations. An estimated 45 people were killed and hundreds were injured in the bombings according to Egyptian authorities. The two explosions occurred within hours of each other. The first struck the northern city of Tanta and killed at least 28 people when a bomb exploded inside a church. Hours later, another blast rocked Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, killing at least 17 and injuring another 125.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via a statement from the Amaq News Agency, an organization that bills itself as the official spokesperson for the Islamic militant group.
The day after the bombings, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi declared a state of emergency and reportedly gave the police and military extra powers to pursue terrorist suspects. It remains unclear exactly what those powers are and the proposal has yet to be approved by Parliament. The government is also considering compensating the bombing victims’ families.
Coptic Christians comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s population and have faced increasing persecution and sectarian violence since the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. Amnesty International issued a report in March detailing such abuses.
Protests in South Africa after Zuma dismisses Finance minister
Thousands of demonstrators have gathered in the South African capital Pretoria for protests urging President Jacob Zuma to step down. Wednesday’s march to Union Buildings, the official seat of government, was organised by a coalition of opposition parties following nationwide rallies against Zuma last week.
SOUTH AFRICA — For the past week, protests have broken out across the country as public anger over corruption, unemployment and public dissatisfaction with current President Jacob Zuma boiled over. Earlier this month, President Zuma dismissed the country’s finance minister and eight other cabinet officials in a move that critics see as an attempt to consolidate power and shift blame away from his own poor leadership.
On Wednesday, thousands descended on Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, to demand that President Zuma step down. Several opposition parties, including the country’s two largest, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance also called for Zuma’s ouster.
Zuma, who is a member of the African National Congress party, which has ruled the country since Apartheid ended in 1994, has been blamed for South Africa’s poor economic situation. Over the past few years, unemployment has increased and the South African Rand depreciated sharply against the dollar. Last week S&P downgraded the country’s debt to junk bond status.
LGBTQ mass arrest in Chechnya
Gay men are fleeing brutal persecution in Chechnya, where police are holding more than 100 people and torturing some of them in an anti-gay crackdown, Russian activists say. Natalia Poplevskaya of the Russian LGBT Network said “we are working to evacuate people”.
RUSSIA — The regional government in Chechnya is reportedly holding more than 100 LGBTQ people in custody amid a widespread anti-gay crackdown. The crackdown reportedly began after several Russian gay rights activists in the country requested permits to hold rallies across the country and were denied.
The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta originally broke the story (link in Russian). According to the Novaya, hundreds of LGBTQ people are being held in concentration camp-like detention centers by the regional security forces. The men were reportedly rounded up over the past few weeks and were believed to be targeted because they were gay or perceived to be gay. Reports of beatings and torture are common. Three deaths in the detention centers have also been confirmed, according to BBC.
Homophobia is extremely prevalent in Chechnya, a Muslim majority region that has been rocked by sectarian violence in recent decades. The region is currently governed by Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin loyalist who has been criticized in the past for his authoritarian tactics and abuses of power.
Several human rights groups, as well as the European Union and the United States Department of State issued statements condemning the alleged atrocities.
Two new Turkish opinion polls show a narrow majority of Turks, between 51 and 52 per cent, would vote “yes” in the referendum and extend the powers of current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Voters in Turkey go to the polls on 16 April to decide whether to change the constitution and create an executive presidency.
TURKEY — On Sunday, voters will cast ballots on a referendum to change the country’s constitution and give the President additional powers. President Recep Erdogan is strongly in favor of the changes, which would transform his office into an executive Presidency with the power to appoint and dismiss ministers, prosecutors and judges without Parliament’s approval. Currently, Turkey functions under a semi-presidential system, where the President shares power with Parliament and the Prime Minister.
Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party have been widely criticized for rolling back democracy since an attempted coup last year by elements within the military. To date, thousands of civil servants and academics believed to be disloyal to the government have been fired and dozens of journalists remain imprisoned.
The most recent polls show public opinion to be sharply divided. A survey by the polling firm Anar showed “yes” votes leading with 52 percent, with about 8 percent of voters remained undecided.