Medical official: air strike kills at least 43 in Ethiopia’s Tigray

By Katharine Houreld

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -An air strike killed at least 43 people in the town of Togoga in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on Tuesday, a medical official told Reuters, after residents said new fighting had flared in recent days north of the regional capital Mekelle.

Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane did not confirm or deny the incident. He said air strikes were a common military tactic and that government forces do not target civilians.

The bomb hit a market at around 1 p.m., according to a woman who said her husband and 2-year-old daughter had been injured.

“We didn’t see the plane, but we heard it,” she told Reuters on Wednesday. “When the explosion happened, everyone ran out. After a time we came back and were trying to pick up the injured.”

The woman said the market had been full of families, and she did not see any armed forces in the area. “Many, many” people had been killed, she said.

Reuters could not independently verify her account. She and other sources asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

The medical official confirmed at least 43 fatalities, citing witnesses and first responders.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the head of a government task force on Tigray did not respond to requests for comment on the incident.

A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that he was “disturbed by reports of bombing yesterday that killed and wounded civilians in a market in Togoga, Tigray.”

“All parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

“I call on the Ethiopian authorities to carry out a prompt and effective investigation into this attack,” he added.

News of the airstrike came as Ethiopian officials counted ballots from national and regional parliamentary elections held this week in seven of the nation’s 10 regions.

No voting was held in Tigray, where the military has been battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party, since November. Security concerns and problems with ballot papers also delayed voting in two other regions.

Residents reported that TPLF forces had entered several towns north of Mekelle in the past three days, withdrawing from one of them within hours.

AMBULANCES BLOCKED

The official and two other health workers helping with the response in Togoga told Reuters on Wednesday that Ethiopian soldiers were blocking the main road from Mekelle to the town and preventing ambulances from reaching the scene.

“Patients are dying right now,” said the official.

He said two ambulances had been able to reach the town via a back road late on Tuesday but did not have the necessary equipment and were not being allowed to leave.

He said the teams had counted at least 40 dead at the scene, three people had died overnight, and there were 44 critically wounded patients needing treatment.

Another medical worker said around 20 health workers in six ambulances had tried to reach the wounded on Tuesday but soldiers stopped them at a checkpoint.

“They told us we couldn’t go to Togoga. We stayed more than one hour at the checkpoint trying to negotiate. We had a letter from the health bureau – we showed them. But they said it was an order.”

Military spokesman Getnet denied that the military was blocking ambulances.

(Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie and Giulia ParaviciniEditing by Toby Chopra, Peter Graff, Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)

Americans want voting to be easier, also worry about election fraud

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans want to make it easier to vote but most adults also favor strict voter identification laws and remain concerned about election fraud, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.

The latest poll, conducted June 11-17, shows that both Democrats and Republicans can claim some degree of popular support as they debate sweeping changes to the way elections are held.

Republican-controlled state legislatures have rolled out a series of voting restrictions this year, including limits on early voting hours and tougher ID requirements. Republicans say their efforts are focused on preventing election fraud.

Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping to counter that with federal protections that would guarantee a minimum number of early voting days, automatic voter registration, and less restrictive voter identification requirements, for example.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a Democrat-backed election reform bill on Tuesday.

The June poll found that 59% of adults, including a majority of Democrats and Republicans alike, oppose election laws that would cut back on early voting.

States that automatically send voters ballots by mail are also relatively popular: 46% of Americans said they approve of them, while 37% are in opposition. The responses were divided along party lines, however, with 70% of Democrats in support of automatic mail-in ballots and 64% of Republicans in opposition.

The poll also showed Americans largely back some restrictions that Republicans have said would protect the integrity of future elections: 72% said they support requirements that prohibit voting without government identification, including 62% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans.

And 55% of Americans support measures that require local election officials to obtain approval from the state legislature before they could set their own voting plans, while 21% were in opposition.

Americans expressed similar opinions last month. A Reuters/Ipsos survey from May showed that 75% adults felt it was “very” or “somewhat” important that “the government place new limits on voting to protect elections from fraud.” At the same time, 82% wanted the government to “make it easier for people to vote”.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 4,420 adults, including 2,015 Democrats and 1,583 Republicans. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Georgia state lawmakers approve new restrictions on voting

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Georgia’s Republican-led House of Representatives passed a sweeping elections bill on Thursday that would impose new restrictions on voting in the state that helped Democrats win the White House and narrow control of the U.S. Senate.

Republicans say the measure, approved in a 100-75 vote, would make voting more secure. Democrats and voting rights activists decry it as among the most damaging attempts to limiting access to the ballot box in the country.

The 94-page bill would add a new ID requirement for absentee ballots; limit ballot drop boxes, including eliminating them on the last four days of an election; and make it a misdemeanor crime to give food or drinks to voters waiting in long lines.

It also would also set up a fraud hotline, forbid local county elections offices from taking any breaks while counting ballots and shorten the runoff election cycle from nine weeks to four weeks.

Early versions of the bill sought to limit Sunday voting, a provision that would have curtailed traditional “Souls to the Polls” voter turnout programs popular in Black churches. Those days were restored after Democrats pushed back, and additional Saturday voting days also were included.

The bill must now be reconciled with a similar measure in the state Senate before it goes before Republican Governor Brian Kemp for his consideration.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

Former felons among battleground Florida voters for the first time

By Simon Lewis

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) – Shikila Calder, 32, thought about voting early this year, but decided to save her vote – the first of her life – for Election Day on Tuesday.

“It made it special. It was exhilarating,” said Calder, one of potentially thousands of people with past felony convictions voting in a general election for the first time this year, after their rights were restored in a 2018 referendum.

Under Florida law, Calder had been denied the right to vote owning to a conviction for which she served time and repaid her debt to society a decade ago, she said after voting at a community center in the city of St. Petersburg.

“I have my voice back,” she said, a beaming smile visible in spite of her face mask. “I’m welcomed back into my community as a person and I don’t have that big label on me as a bad person.”

An amendment to Florida’s constitution was to restore voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million felons in the battleground state, ahead of the crucial election between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

But far fewer former felons were voting on Tuesday after the Republican-led Florida Senate passed a law last year requiring that only those who had paid all legal fines, fees and restitution associated with their convictions could register to vote.

The law was challenged by voting rights groups, which argued the law disproportionately impacted African Americans, who are more likely than whites to have felony convictions and more likely to owe financial obligations.

The U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed the challenge in July, leaving the law in place.

Donors, including NBA star LeBron James and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, have been helping to pay off former felons’ fines so they could vote, but it is unclear how many were able to register ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The Florida Rights Restoration Council, a campaign group that fought for the constitutional amendment, was expected to release an estimate of how many were able to vote.

Calder, who is black, said she has paid all obligations related to her sentence.

She said she voted for Biden because she trusted former President Barack Obama’s vice president to improve education and tackle racism in America.

Since serving prison time, Calder has trained as a phlebotomist and works at a St. Petersburg hospital.

“I don’t regret my past because it made me who I am today,” she said.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Trump orders voting districts to exclude people in U.S. illegally

By Alexandra Alper and Nick Brown

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed a memorandum on Tuesday that would prevent migrants who are in the United States illegally from being counted when U.S. congressional voting districts are redrawn in the next round of redistricting.

U.S. Census experts and lawyers say the action is legally dubious. In theory, it would benefit Trump’s Republican Party by eliminating the largely non-white population of migrants in the U.S. illegally, creating voting districts that skew more Caucasian.

“Including these illegal aliens in the population of the State for the purpose of apportionment could result in the allocation of two or three more congressional seats than would otherwise be allocated,” the memo said.

Responses from Democrats and immigration advocates were swift and condemnatory.

Dale Ho, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, vowed litigation.

“We’ll see (Trump) in court, and win,” he said in a statement.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, derided what he viewed as an “unconstitutional order that has no purpose other than to silence and dis-empower Latino voices and communities of color.”

Proponents of citizens-only voting districts argue each vote should carry the same weight. If one district has far fewer eligible voters than another, they say, each vote there has more influence on election outcomes.

But the move carries major legal questions.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has left the door open for citizen-based voting maps for state legislatures, experts see it as a long-shot at the federal level, because the U.S. Constitution explicitly says that congressional districts must be based on “the whole number of persons” in each district.

In the memo, Trump said the word “persons” “has never been understood to include … every individual physically present within a state’s boundaries.”

Census experts say that is wrong: multiple federal laws have reinforced that apportionment must include everyone, and U.S. Supreme Court precedent has endorsed that view, said Joshua Geltzer, a constitutional law expert and professor at Georgetown Law.

“All of this makes Trump’s position outrageous,” Geltzer said.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Washington and Nick Brown in New York; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington, Mica Rosenberg in New York and Mimi Dwyer and Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis)

Amid coronavirus, reduced voting sites in Kentucky, elsewhere a ‘recipe for disaster’

By John Whitesides

(Reuters) – Kentucky, New York and four other states face another possibly messy day of voting on Tuesday amid the coronavirus outbreak, as officials try to balance a crush of absentee mail ballots with a reduced number of in-person polling locations.

That combination has led to long lines, delays and confusion during primaries in other states, including Wisconsin and Georgia, offering a preview of possible problems if the Nov. 3 general election is conducted under the threat of COVID-19 infections.

Kentucky and New York, which are conducting statewide primaries, encouraged mail-in balloting as a safe alternative to in-person voting during the pandemic, resulting in record numbers of absentee ballot requests. Both also encouraged early voting, while cutting back on polling locations as a safety precaution.

But officials and activists are concerned about the potential for trouble in Kentucky, where polling locations statewide were cut to fewer than 200 from more than 3,000 normally, leaving one each for the biggest counties of Jefferson and Fayette.

“It’s just a recipe for disaster. I fear there will be a lot of people who want to vote but won’t,” said Jason Nemes, a Republican state legislator who joined an unsuccessful lawsuit trying to force the largest counties to open more polls.

A competitive Democratic U.S. Senate nominating battle between progressive Charles Booker and establishment choice Amy McGrath has driven up voter interest in Kentucky. They are vying to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

Nearly 900,000 absentee ballots were issued, or about 27% of registered voters, the Kentucky secretary of state’s office said.

Fayette County Clerk Don Blevin said Kentucky officials pushed mail-in voting in hopes of keeping the numbers down at polling places.

“We have warned people from day one – please don’t do this. It’s not safe,” Blevin, a Democrat, said of voting in person on election day.

New York has seen a similar explosion of interest in absentee ballots, issuing nearly 1.9 million, the board of elections said. In the 2016 primary, about 115,000 absentee ballots were cast.

The board did not provide the number of polling places closed across the state, but activists said consolidations had not been as widespread as in Kentucky and some other states.

There are also primary elections for some congressional, state and local offices in areas of South Carolina, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.

(Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)

Georgia’s election mess offers a stark warning for November

By John Whitesides and Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Georgia’s tumultuous primary elections on Tuesday offer a grim preview of what could happen in November if states move to voting by mail and polling places are sharply reduced due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

A huge increase in absentee ballots overwhelmed officials and many voters did not receive requested ballots. That forced some to crowd into consolidated polling places on election day, exacerbating the hours-long waits for those voting in person.

Unless states expand early in-person voting and make more polling places available, the chaos that plagued Georgia’s voting could become the norm in the Nov. 3 general election, Democrats and voting rights groups warn.

The problems, which also included issues with voting machines rolled out for the first time on Tuesday, were particularly prevalent in minority neighborhoods in Democratic strongholds of Fulton County and DeKalb County in metropolitan Atlanta. That has raised fears among Democrats and voting rights groups that tens of thousands of voters, especially African Americans, could be disenfranchised.

Tuesday’s contests were relatively low-stakes primary elections, featuring nominating battles including the White House race where President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden have already secured their parties’ nominations.

But Georgia, a long-time Republican bastion, has emerged as a vital political battleground in November. Biden is hoping a strong African-American turnout can make him competitive with Trump in Georgia, and two U.S. Senate seats are in play that could be crucial to control of the chamber.

“We have to address these problems now,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a voting rights group. “If we don’t, we’ll be right back in the same place in November.”

The meltdown in Georgia was the latest example of voting problems amid the coronavirus pandemic. Voters in South Carolina and Nevada also encountered long lines on Tuesday.

As in some other states, the final results in some Georgia races were delayed as officials tallied up a record volume of mail ballots. About 1 million voted by mail, roughly 30 times the 37,000 votes cast by mail in the 2016 primary elections.

In Pennsylvania, votes were still being counted on Wednesday a week after its June 2 primary. The state has not reported results for four of more than 9,000 voting districts, according to its election results website.

The delayed results in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia have raised the prospect that November’s winner may not be known on election night.

Counting mail ballots is often slower because a voter’s identity must first be validated, a process handled in a polling center for ballots cast in person, said Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine.

UNPREPARED

Georgia had pushed back it’s voting from March and mailed absentee ballot requests to 6.9 million active voters in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Along with the 1 million Georgians who cast absentee ballots by mail, more than 300,000 voted early.

But Tuesday’s problems suggest officials were unprepared for large numbers also voting in person on election day, particularly in counties with large black populations in and around Atlanta, where dozens of polling stations closed due to COVID-19 concerns.

Fulton, which includes most of Atlanta and is 45% black, was operating only 164 of its planned 198 polling locations. In DeKalb County, which includes part of Atlanta, 27 polling stations in 191 voting precincts were moved because of worries over the novel virus, said county executive Mike Thurmond, a Democrat.

Despite expanded voting by mail, voters of color have been slow to embrace it. A statewide study in May by a University of Florida professor showed Hispanic voters requested absentee ballots at a rate about three times lower than white voters, while black voters requested them at about half the rate of white voters.

“They need to come up with a plan for high voter turnout in person,” said Susannah Scott, the president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.

In Georgia, difficulties with new voting machines slowed the process further. Many workers were not adequately trained on the new equipment, while some polling locations struggled to start the machines or did not receive the equipment in time to start, officials said.

Fulton County’s top election official, Richard Barron, said Tuesday was a “learning experience” and officials would try to improve poll worker training and the absentee ballot process for November.

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who called for probes into the problems in Fulton and DeKalb counties, blamed county officials who did not adequately train workers.

Raffensperger told Reuters he would take a “hard look” at whether to send absentee ballot applications to all active voters for November, as he did for the primary.

“We did that because of the situation with COVID-19, and we don’t know where we will be in November,” he said.

(Reporting by John Whitesides and Jason Lange; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Stephen Coates)

The Jim Bakker Show goes LIVE for Election Night Results, Don’t miss it! Vote!

Election night coverage- November 6th, 7PM central

By Kami Klein

We are Americans.  The United States of America has given us the freedom of choice in voting for who we believe are the right people to lead us.  With this great freedom lies great responsibility. It is YOUR responsibility to VOTE!

These mid-term elections are critical and the outcome is not to be taken lightly which is why The Jim Bakker show will be going LIVE on election night to cover this momentous vote of the people.  There have been multiple guests on the show that have spoken out on the importance of Christians getting out to vote. Many of these amazing teachers and prophets such as Rick Joyner, General Boykin, Lance Wallnau, David Horowitz, Jim Garlow, Carl Gallups and more will be discussing election results with us via Skype.  Connect and pray with us as we discuss the implications and Biblical view on America and what we must be ready for as Believers in Christ RIGHT NOW!

Join us LIVE on election night, Tuesday, November 6th, beginning at 7 pm CT on the PTL Television Network on your Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or by going to jimbakkershow.com or the PTL Television Network at ptlnetwork.com

The Church must be heard in this election.  You must not throw your vote away! Recently in an interview with Dr. David Barton on The Jim Bakker Show, we were amazed at the statistics he brought to us regarding not our “right” to vote but our “responsibility” to make our voice heard.  Please take a few minutes to truly hear this insightful message.

We look forward to election night, Tuesday, November 6th at 7 pm CT as we go LIVE!  Join with us as we exercise our freedom to vote and send a message to the world that God is in control and we believe in His plans for us.  

Please pray for this great country and for God’s continued blessing upon us all.  

 

Counting begins in knife-edge Pakistani elections marred by suicide bomb

Women, clad in burqas, stand in line to cast their ballot at a polling station during general election in Peshawar, Pakistan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

By Gul Yousafzai Jibran Ahmad

QUETTA/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed at least 29 people near a polling center as Pakistanis voted on Wednesday in a knife-edge general election pitting cricket hero Imran Khan against the party of jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Neither Khan nor Sharif is likely to win a clear majority in the too-close-to-call election, with results likely to be known by around 2 a.m. local time on Thursday (2100 GMT Wednesday).

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack that hospital officials said killed 29 people and wounded 35 in the western city of Quetta. Security sources said the bomber drove his motorcycle into a police vehicle.

About 106 million people were registered to vote in polls which closed at 6 p.m (1300 GMT).

Sharif’s party had called for voting to be extended by an hour, saying people were still lining up and could be turned away without casting ballots. TV channels said election officials denied the request.

About 371,000 soldiers have been stationed at polling stations across the country, nearly five times the number deployed at the last election in 2013.

(GRAPHIC: Pakistan Election – https://tmsnrt.rs/2LaIlGt)

Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed 149 people at an election rally in the town of Mastung in Baluchistan province. That attack was also claimed by Islamic State militants.

Security officers gather at the site of a blast outside a polling station in Quetta, Pakistan, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Security officers gather at the site of a blast outside a polling station in Quetta, Pakistan, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Khan has emerged as a slight favorite in national opinion polls, but the divisive race is likely to come down to Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where Sharif’s party has clung to its lead in recent surveys.

The election has been plagued by allegations the powerful armed forces have been trying to tilt the race in Khan’s favor after falling out with the outgoing ruling party of Sharif, who was jailed on corruption charges this month.

“Imran Khan is the only ‎hope to change the destiny of our country. We are here to support him in his fight against corruption,” said Tufail Aziz, 31, after casting his ballot in the north-western city of Peshawar.

ANTI-CORRUPTION CRUSADER

Whichever party wins, it will face a mounting and urgent in-tray, from a brewing economic crisis to worsening relations with on-off ally the United States to deepening cross-country water shortages.

An anti-corruption crusader, Khan has promised an “Islamic welfare state” and cast his populist campaign as a battle to topple a predatory political elite hindering development in the impoverished mostly-Muslim nation of 208 million people, where the illiteracy rate hovers above 40 percent.

“This is the most important election in Pakistan’s history,” Khan, 65, said after casting his vote in the capital, Islamabad.

“I ask everyone today – be a citizen, cherish this country, worry about this country, use your vote.”

Khan has staunchly denied allegations by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party that he is getting help from the military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its history and still sets key security and foreign policy in the nuclear-armed nation. The army has also dismissed allegations of meddling in the election.

People stand in a line as they wait for a polling station to open, during general election in Rawalpindi, Pakistan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

People stand in a line as they wait for a polling station to open, during general election in Rawalpindi, Pakistan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

STRUGGLE TO WIN

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has inched ahead of PML-N in recent national polls, but even if it gets the most votes, it will likely struggle to win a majority of the 272 elected seats in the National Assembly, raising the prospect of weeks of haggling to form a messy coalition government.

Such a delay could further imperil Pakistan’s economy, with a looming currency crisis expected to force the new government to turn to the International Monetary Fund for Pakistan’s second bailout since 2013. PTI has not ruled out seeking assistance from China, Islamabad’s closest ally.

Sharif’s PML-N has sought to turn the vote into a referendum on Pakistan’s democracy and has said it was campaigning to protect the “sanctity of the vote”, a reference to a history of political interference by the military.

“I voted for PML-N because of Nawaz Sharif’s struggle for the rule of constitution and supremacy of the parliament,” said Punjab voter Muhamad Waseem Shahzad, 41, a farmer. “We want to get rid of the system that steals peoples’ mandate.”

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which has been overtaken by Khan’s PTI as the main challenger to PML-N, has also alleged intimidation by spy agencies.

Sharif’s PML-N has been touting its delivery of mega infrastructure projects, especially roads and power stations that helped hugely reduce electricity blackouts, as proof the country is on the path to prosperity.

“If we get the opportunity, we will change the destiny of Pakistan,” said Shehbaz Sharif, brother of Nawaz and the PML-N president, as he cast his vote in Lahore. “We will bring an end to unemployment, eradicate poverty and promote education”.

PML-N’s campaign was reinvigorated by the return to Pakistan of Nawaz Sharif, 68, who was earlier this month convicted and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison over the purchase of upscale London apartments using offshore companies in the mid-1990s. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The election will be only the second civilian transfer of power in Pakistan’s 71-year history.

(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Alex Richardson and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Turkey’s Erdogan wins sweeping new powers after election victory

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters from the balcony of his ruling AK Party headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, early June 25, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Nevzat Devranoglu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan won sweeping new executive powers on Monday after his victory in landmark elections that also saw his Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist allies secure a majority in parliament.

Erdogan’s main rival, Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), conceded defeat but branded the elections “unjust” and said the presidential system that now takes effect was “very dangerous” because it would lead to one-man rule.

A leading European rights watchdog that sent observers to monitor the voting also said the opposition had faced “unequal conditions” and that limits on the freedom of media to cover the elections were further hindered by a continuing state of emergency imposed in Turkey after a failed 2016 coup.

Erdogan, 64, the most popular – yet divisive – leader in modern Turkish history, told jubilant, flag-waving supporters there would be no retreat from his drive to transform Turkey, a NATO member and, at least nominally, a candidate to join the European Union.

He is loved by millions of devoutly Muslim working class Turks for delivering years of stellar economic growth and overseeing the construction of roads, bridges, airports, hospitals and schools.

But his critics, including rights groups, accuse him of destroying the independence of the courts and press freedoms. A crackdown launched after the coup has seen 160,000 people detained, and the state of emergency allows Erdogan to bypass parliament with decrees. He says it will be lifted soon.

Erdogan and the AK Party claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections after defeating a revitalized opposition that had gained considerable momentum recently and looked capable of staging an upset.

“It is out of the question for us to turn back from where we’ve brought our country in terms of democracy and the economy,” Erdogan said on Sunday night.

His victory means he will remain president at least until 2023 – the centenary of the founding of the Turkish republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan’s foes accuse him of dismantling Ataturk’s secular legacy by bringing religion back into public life.

Erdogan responds to such criticism by saying he is trying to modernize Turkey and improve religious freedoms.

With virtually all votes counted, Erdogan had 53 percent against Ince’s 31 percent, while in the parliamentary vote the AKP took 42.5 percent and its MHP nationalist allies secured 11 percent, outstripping expectations.

Turkish markets initially rallied on hopes of increased political stability – investors had feared deadlock between Erdogan and an opposition-controlled parliament – but then retreated amid concerns over future monetary policy.

“MAJOR DANGER”

The vote ushers in a powerful executive presidency backed by a narrow majority in a 2017 referendum. The office of prime minister will be abolished and Erdogan will be able to issue decrees to form and regulate ministries and remove civil servants, all without parliamentary approval.

“The new regime that takes effect from today is a major danger for Turkey… We have now fully adopted a regime of one-man rule,” Ince, a veteran CHP lawmaker, told a news conference.

The secularist CHP draws support broadly from Turkey’s urban, educated middle class. It won 23 percent in the new parliament and the pro-Kurdish HDP nearly 12 percent, above the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

The HDP’s presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, campaigned from a prison cell, where he is detained on terrorism charges he denies. He faces 142 years in prison if convicted.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a rights watchdog, said high voter turnout, at nearly 87 percent, demonstrated Turks’ commitment to democracy. But the OSCE also cited some irregularities and echoed opposition complaints about heavy media bias in favor of Erdogan and the AKP.

“The restrictions we have seen on fundamental freedoms (due to the state of emergency) have had an impact on these elections,” Ignacio Sanchez Amor, head of the OSCE observer mission, told a news conference in Ankara.

The MHP takes a hard line on the Kurds, making it less likely that Erdogan will soften his approach to security issues in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey and neighboring Syria and Iraq, where Turkish forces are battling Kurdish militants.

The Turkish lira and stocks sagged after initial gains, and economists said the outlook was uncertain.

“Any rally could quickly go into reverse if President Erdogan uses his strengthened position to pursue looser fiscal and monetary policy, as we fear is likely,” said Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.

The lira is down some 19 percent since January and investors fear Erdogan, a self-declared “enemy of interest rates”, may pressure the central bank to cut recently hiked borrowing costs to stimulate economic growth despite double-digit inflation.

Seeking to reassure investors, Erdogan’s chief economic adviser, Cemil Ertem, told Reuters the new government would focus on economic reforms and budget discipline. He added that the central bank’s independence was “fundamental”.

The EU’s executive Commission said it hoped Erdogan would “remain a committed partner for the European Union on major issues of common interest such as migration, security, regional stability and the fight against terrorism”.

Turkey’s years-long EU accession bid stalled some time ago amid disputes on a range of issues, including Ankara’s human rights record, especially since the post-coup crackdown.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Erdogan to congratulate him but there were no reports of Western leaders doing so, underlining the chill in relations between Ankara and its traditional NATO allies.

(Reporting by Turkey bureau; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)