May 29, 2024

Politics and Government

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Two guards stand on a dock in front of a large gray ship.
The missile cruiser Peter the Great, part of the Russian Navy’s northern fleet, at its Arctic base in Severomorsk in 2021. Russia, China and the West are all seeking to expand their military presence in the Arctic. Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times

As polar ice melts, Russia, already a major Arctic power, wants to make the region its own. China has ambitions for a “Polar Silk Road.” And NATO is embracing Finland — and Sweden too, Washington hopes — giving the alliance new reach in the Far North.

Climate change is accelerating and amplifying competition in the Arctic as never before, opening the region to greater commercial and strategic jostling just at a moment when Russia, China and the West are all seeking to expand their military presence there.

The rising importance of the region is underscored by the travels of Antony J. Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, who will attend an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Norway on Thursday.

Mr. Blinken is making a point of visiting Sweden and Finland as well, meeting the leaders of all three countries as they press Turkey to ratify Sweden’s quick entry into NATO. He is scheduled to deliver a major speech on Russia, Ukraine and NATO on Friday in Helsinki, the capital of NATO’s newest member.

For a long time, countries were reluctant to discuss the Arctic as a possible military zone. But that is quickly changing.

Russian aggression plus climate change make “a perfect storm,” said Matti Pesu, an analyst at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. There is a new Cold War atmosphere, mixed with melting ice, which affects military planning and opens up new economic possibilities and access to natural resources.

Two men shake hands at the bottom of the stairs to an airplane.
Tobias Billstrom, the foreign minister of Sweden, welcoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday. Credit…TT News Agency/via Reuters

“So all these are connected and are magnifying each other,” Mr. Pesu said. “It makes the region intriguing.”

While NATO has been cheered by Russia’s difficulties in Ukraine, the alliance in fact has significant vulnerabilities in the north.

Russia remains a vast Arctic power, with naval bases and nuclear missiles stationed in the Far North but also along Russia’s western edge: in the Kola Peninsula, near Norway, where Russia keeps most of its nuclear-armed submarines, and in Kaliningrad, bordered by Poland and Lithuania.

change, shipping routes are becoming less icebound and easier to navigate, making the Arctic more accessible and attractive for competitive commercial exploitation, as well as military adventurism.

Russia has said it wants to make the Arctic its own — a fifth military district, on a par with its other four — said Robert Dalsjo, research director at the Swedish Defense Research Agency.

China has also been busy trying to establish itself in the region and use new unfrozen routes, one reason the NATO considers China a significant security challenge.

In its most recent strategy paper, adopted last summer in Madrid, NATO declared Russia to be “the most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and to peace and stability,” but for the first time addressed China, saying that its “stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.”

How to create a “northern bubble” to deter Russia and monitor China is one of NATO’s newest and biggest challenges.

In response to NATO’s enlargement, “Russia is putting increasing emphasis on the Arctic, where they’re stronger and less surrounded by NATO,” said Mr. Pesu of the Finnish Institute. Russia may have drawn down its troops to fight in Ukraine, but retains its air power, northern fleet, nuclear submarines and nuclear-armed missiles in the northern realms.


Rows of colorful houses in a snowy coastal landscape.
Longyearbyen, Norway, in 2022. Fearing the Russian threat, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark are merging their air forces, creating one with more planes than either Britain or France.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

“So it remains a pretty urgent concern,” he said. Finland, Sweden and Norway “see this most urgently,” even if some in NATO do not, he said. As a consequence, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have decided to merge their air forces, creating one with more planes than either Britain or France.

Until now, competition in the region was largely mediated through the Arctic Council, founded in 1996, which includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, and promotes research and cooperation.

But it does not have a security component, and soon all members but Russia will be NATO members. The council has been “paused” since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. When Russia’s chairmanship ended in May, Norway took over, so activity may pick up again.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 caused rethinking throughout NATO, and there was new anxiety about the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — combined with submarine hunts in Sweden and more serious war gaming, said Anna Wieslander, the director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based research institution.

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, then the supreme allied commander Europe, called for “an anti-access area denial” — to deny Russia entry to the Baltic Sea from Kaliningrad, the isolated Russian toehold with access to the sea.


Camouflaged soldiers conduct a training exercise in front of two tanks.
Swedish Army conscripts during a training exercise on the island of Gotland, Sweden, last year. A NATO command created in 2018 defends the Atlantic sea routes, Scandinavia and the Arctic.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
Washington started reinvesting militarily in the Arctic then with more ships, planes and military exercises, as did other NATO countries in the region. In 2018 NATO went so far as to set up a new operational command — a kind of regional headquarters that plans and conducts military operations to defend specific areas of NATO. The new command, based in Norfolk, Va., is navy-focused and defends the Atlantic sea routes, Scandinavia and the Arctic.

There remains a concern that China, which now has even closer ties to Russia, remains active in the Far North, building big icebreakers. “China will reach Europe through the Arctic,” Ms. Wieslander said.

One main question is whether the real Russian threat to Scandinavia will come from the sea, as Norway fears, or from the land, with a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States or Finland, then a move westward.

Both Finland and Sweden, when it joins, want to be part of the same NATO operational command, given their long history of defense cooperation.

Norway belongs to the Norfolk command, and there is a logic to making both Finland and Sweden part of that command, since reinforcements would likely come from the West, across the Atlantic.

But there is perhaps more logic, given the current threat from Russia, for them to join the land-oriented command based in Brunssum, the Netherlands, which is charged with defending Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland and the Baltic nations.


Icebergs near Kulusuk, Greenland, in 2019. Climate change is opening new sea routes and economic possibilities in the Arctic.
Credit…Felipe Dana/Associated Press

“There is logic for both,” said Niklas Granholm, deputy director of studies at the Swedish Defense Research Agency. “It’s not yet resolved.”

According to the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, NATO is recommending putting both countries in the Brunssum command, despite Finland’s early interest in being part of Norfolk, which Sauli Niinisto, Finland’s president, visited in March.

That’s because it is easier for Finland to be reinforced from Norway and Sweden, Mr. Pesu, the Finnish Institute analyst, noted.

The fear is that a modernized Russian Northern Fleet could swing down through the straits between Greenland, Iceland and Britain, a move known in NATO as a “red right hook,” to cut sea lanes and underwater cables and threaten the American East Coast with cruise missiles.

Mr. Dalsjo of the Swedish Defense Research Agency, calling himself a heretic, cautions in a recent paper that this threat is real but may be overblown, especially after Russia’s losses in Ukraine.

Russia is predominantly a land power, and its northern fleet is considerably smaller than it was during the Cold War, when there were worries about the kind of major Soviet naval attack depicted in the Tom Clancy novel “Red Storm Rising.”

“If they didn’t do it then with 150 ships,” Mr. Dalsjo asked, “why would they do it now with 20?”

SEOUL — The emergency siren began wailing at 6:32 a.m. Several minutes later, personal cellphones around Seoul were screeching with a government alert urging residents to “prepare to evacuate,” children and the old and weak first.

For a half an hour on Wednesday morning, confusion and panic swept across this city of 10 million as news spread that North Korea had fired a rocket. Then, the next wave of messages hit: The South’s home ministry issued a notice saying the earlier alert was a “false alarm.”

Anxiety soon turned into anger and exasperation.

“They messed up big time,” said Lee Jae, an office worker in Seoul who woke up to the sirens.

South Koreans, who have grown inured to North Korea’s frequent provocations, were met with a disturbing taste of how their country might respond to a major military attack on Wednesday when their government caused confusion with its public alert system at a time of heightened tension in the region.

The confusion began after North Korea launched a rocket from the northwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula at 6:27 a.m. For days, the North had told the world that it was preparing to launch a rocket that would carry a homegrown military spy satellite into orbit, despite the action violating multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Data the North had released on the rocket’s preprogrammed trajectory showed that it would fly south, over the sea between the Korean Peninsula and China, and over the waters east of the Philippines.

It is rare for a North Korean projectile to fly to the south. In 2016, when a North Korean rocket carrying a satellite flew on a southbound trajectory, South Korea issued an alert on Baekryeongdo, an island near the northwestern border with the North.

Two minutes after the liftoff on Wednesday, South Korea issued a similar alert on Baekryeongdo, but officials were investigating why the same alert was also issued to Seoul, even though the rocket flew hundreds of kilometers west of the city.

After issuing the alert on Baekryeongdo, the home ministry left it to regional governments to decide whether to follow suit, according the Seoul city government. Officials in Seoul said they decided to issue an alert in the city as a precaution, even if they had to retract it. The mayor of Seoul later issued a public apology.

For Chung Sung-hee, 62, the confusing response was infuriating. Ms. Chung said she was preparing breakfast at her home in central Seoul when she heard the phone alert, followed by a loudspeaker broadcast. When she opened the window and trained her ears, all she could make out was that it was “a real situation,” not a drill.

“They should’ve said what was happening, and where to go,” Ms. Chung said. “Who would evacuate with a message like that?” When she got the second alert saying it was a false alarm, Ms. Chung said she couldn’t help but curse the authorities.

“I blurted out, ‘These crazies — isn’t there one thing they can do right?’” she said. “The government should tell you, ‘this is the situation.’ If they out of nowhere just say ‘evacuate,’ what’s anyone to do?”

South Koreans harbor deep skepticism over their government’s ability to handle major disasters. The government of President Yoon Suk Yeol was widely accused of failing to prevent or respond quickly enough to the deadly crowd crush in Seoul that killed nearly 160 people in October.

Critics say that the response on Wednesday was symptomatic of an administration that has championed a tough stance against North Korea yet failed to assure the public of its safety amid the North’s growing nuclear threat.

“It’s right for the Yoon government to have a sense of crisis with North Korea,” said Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “But there has been little training for the general public on how to live with it. The commotion we had this morning encapsulates how the government is failing to understand and respond to this new normal with North Korea.”

Min Yun-geun, a college student in Seoul, feared that false alarms, if repeated, might desensitize people to actual emergencies. “I’m realizing how we are actually not so prepared for war,” he said.

Mr. Yoon’s office condemned the North’s rocket launch as a “grave provocation,” calling it a long-range missile test disguised as a satellite launch.

North Korea confirmed that the launch had failed and that the projectile had tumbled into the sea west of the Korean Peninsula after its second-stage vehicle malfunctioned. The country vowed to schedule another launch as soon as possible. South Korea was collecting debris to glean clues about the North’s rocket technology.

By launching a rocket toward the south and attempting to place a military spy satellite into orbit, the North was escalating its nuclear threat, said Lee Byong-chul, a researcher on nuclear policy at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.

“North Korea has already shown that its missiles are powerful enough to fly the distances it wanted, but what it lacks is an ability to guide them to targets with precision,” Mr. Lee said. “Military spy satellites can help provide the North with that capability.”

Though some were frustrated by the South Korean government’s response to the launch, others said they would rather have officials err on the side of caution in such situations. “It’s better that they did it and get chewed out than not doing anything and getting chewed out,” said Lee Jae-hee, 45.

After he saw the alert, Mr. Lee said he saw a news report that it was about the space launch the North had warned it would conduct and fell back asleep. “If you’re hearing buildings blow up and things roaring, it’s probably too late to go anywhere anyway,” he said with a shrug.

South Korea regularly conducted civil defense drills during the Cold War, with sirens wailing and megaphones urging people to take shelter in subway stations, underground parking lots and basements of large buildings. Streets were vacated of traffic.

The country now has thousands of underground shelters for emergencies.

But those drills have become a distant memory for many across the country, particularly after Seoul began to engage in more diplomacy with North Korea under Mr. Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in. South Korea last conducted an air-raid drill in 2017.

As tensions in the region rise, Mr. Yoon’s government has been slow to reintroduce civil defense drills. On May 16, South Korea conducted its first nationwide civil defense exercise in six years, but it was limited to public servants and schoolchildren.

Jeung Yeon-cheon, 36, who lives on the 18th floor of an apartment building in Seoul, said he participated in the May training, though he thought that any risk of a North Korean attack felt remote. He quickly dismissed the alarm on Wednesday as a blip.

“It didn’t feel that serious,” he said.

People in a crowd waving Turkish flags and looking upward.When Yasemin Oz, a lesbian lawyer in Istanbul, heard President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claiming victory after a runoff election on Sunday, she said she feared for the future. In his speech, he declared “family is sacred for us” and insisted that L.G.B.T.Q. people would never “infiltrate” his governing party.

They were familiar themes, heard often throughout Mr. Erdogan’s campaign for re-election: He frequently attacked L.G.B.T.Q. people, referring to them as “deviants” and saying they were “spreading like the plague.” But Ms. Oz said she had hoped it was just electioneering to rally the president’s conservative base.

“I was already worried about what was to come for us,” said Ms. Oz, 49. But after the speech, she thought, “it will get harsher.”

The rights and freedoms of L.G.B.T.Q. citizens became a lightning-rod issue during this year’s election campaign. Mr. Erdogan, facing the greatest political threat of his two decades as the country’s dominant leader and seeking to woo conservatives, repeatedly attacked his opponents for supposedly supporting gay rights. The anti-Erdogan opposition mostly avoided the topic for fear of alienating some of its own voters.

That left many L.G.B.T.Q. people fearing that the discrimination they have long faced by the government and conservative parts of society could worsen — and feeling that no one in the country had their backs.

“People are scared and having dystopian thoughts like, ‘Are we going to be slashed or violently attacked in the middle of the street?’” said Ogulcan Yediveren, a coordinator at SPoD, an L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy group in Istanbul. “What will happen is that people will hide their identities, and that is bad enough.”

Turkey, a predominantly Muslim society with a secular state, does not criminalize homosexuality and has laws against discrimination. But in recent conversations, more than a dozen L.G.B.T.Q. people said they often struggled to find jobs, secure housing and get quality health care as well as to be accepted by their friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers.

Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrating his victory in Istanbul on Sunday.
An aerial view of a mosque and an election poster for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Kayseri, Turkey in April. Turkey is a predominantly Muslim society with a secular state.

In recent years, they said, they have encountered new restrictions on their visibility in society. Universities have shut down L.G.B.T.Q. student clubs. And since 2014, the authorities have banned Pride parades in major cities, including in Istanbul, where crowds in the tens of thousands used to participate.

That tracks with Mr. Erdogan’s vision for Turkey.

Since the start of his national political career in 2003, he has increased his own power while promoting a conservative Muslim view of society. He insists that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and encourages women to have three children to build the nation.

Rights advocates say that as Mr. Erdogan has gained power, his conservative outlook has filtered down, encouraging local authorities to restrict L.G.B.T.Q. activities and pushing the security forces to crack down on gay rights activism.

Anti-L.G.B.T.Q. rhetoric was more prominent during this election than in past cycles, even though there are no looming legal changes that would expand or limit rights. No political party is trying to legalize same-sex marriage or adoption, for example, or expand medical care for transgender youth.

Instead, Mr. Erdogan and his allies use the issue to galvanize conservatives.

“What they want to impose on society in terms of other values is full of hatred and violence toward us,” said Nazlican Dogan, 26, who is facing legal charges related to participation in pro-L.G.B.T.Q. protests at Bogazici University in Istanbul. “It was really ugly and it made us feel that we can’t exist in this country, like I should just leave.”

A group of people laughing around a table.
Bambi Ceren, right, and other members of a Pride week organizing committee gather in an apartment in Istanbul.
Nazlican Dogan, who is facing legal charges related to pro-L.G.B.T.Q. protests at a university, in Istanbul last week.

During his campaign, Mr. Erdogan characterized L.G.B.T.Q. people as a threat to society.

“If the concept of family is not strong, the destruction of the nation happens quickly,” he told young people during a televised meeting in early May. “L.G.B.T. is a poison injected into the institution of the family. It is not possible for us to accept that poison as a country whose people are 99 percent Muslim.”

In April, his interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, went even further, falsely claiming that gay rights would allow humans to marry animals.

SPoD, the advocacy group, asked parliamentary candidates during the campaign to sign a contract to protect L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Fifty-eight candidates signed, and 11 of them won seats in the 600-member legislature, said Mr. Yediveren, the coordinator.

His group has also tried to expand legal protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people.

While certain laws prohibit discrimination, they do not specifically mention sexual identity or orientation, he said. At the same time, the authorities often cite vague concepts like “general morals” and “public order” to act against activities they don’t like, such as Pride week events.

“This week is very important because we don’t have physical locations we can come together as a community to support each other,” said Bambi Ceren, 34, a member of a committee planning events for this year’s Pride week, which begins on June 19.


A drag performer surrounded by a group of people.
A drag performer who uses the stage name Florence Konstantina Delight at a club in Istanbul.People socialize at Ziba, a gay-friendly bar in Istanbul.
Last year, the police prevented Pride events and arrested people who gathered to take part, committee members said.

SPoD runs a national hotline to field queries about sexual orientation, legal protections or how to access medical care or other services. The group can solve most issues related to services, Mr. Yediveren said, but most callers’ problems are social and emotional.

“People are feeling very lonely and isolated,” he said.

Transgender individuals struggle to find jobs, housing and proper medication and care. And gay men and lesbians are sometimes forced into heterosexual marriages and fear coming out to their families and co-workers.

Worrying about, “‘Will I be caught one day?’ causes a lot of stress for them,” Mr. Yediveren said.

And the threat of violence is real.

Some L.G.B.T.Q. people said they had been beaten by the security forces during protests or met with indifference from the police while being harassed on the street.

A survey last year by ILGA-Europe, a rights organization, ranked Turkey second-to-last out of 49 European countries on L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Another group, Transgender Europe, said that 62 transgender people had been killed in Turkey between 2008 and 2022.

Many L.G.B.T.Q. people fear that the demonization during the campaign will make that threat more acute.

A queer university student from Turkey’s Kurdish minority, who grew up in a smaller city with no significant L.G.B.T.Q. presence, said she feared that bad days were ahead.


People spraying painting prints on a building wall.
Members of a Pride week organizing committee spraying graffiti in Istanbul.
Berat, an openly gay architecture student, works as a hairdresser in Istanbul.

People who would not normally commit violence might feel empowered to do so because the government had spread hatred for people like her, she said, claiming they were sick, dangerous or a threat to the family. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being attacked.

Despite the increased danger, many L.G.B.T.Q. people vowed to keep fighting for their rights and maintaining their visibility in society. To deal with the fear of random attacks, they plan to look out for each other more to ensure they are safe.

In Istanbul, a 25-year-old drag performer who goes by the stage name Florence Konstantina Delight and uses gender-neutral pronouns called the new attention unsettling.

“In the whole history of queer life in Turkey, we could never be that visible,” they said in an interview. “But because of the election, everyone was talking about us.”

They described growing up in Turkey as “full of abuse, full of denial, full of teachers ignoring your existence and what happened to you, like your pals bullying you.”

At age 16, Florence accepted their sexual identity, attended a Pride parade and set up a Facebook account with a fake name to contact L.G.B.T.Q. organizations and make friends, eventually stumbling upon someone at the same high school.

They later moved to Istanbul, where they perform weekly at a rare L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly bar.

Mr. Erdogan’s win on Sunday caused Florence despair.

“I stared into space for a while,” they said.


A woman dancing in a bar.
A woman dancing at a lesbian bar in Istanbul in front of an image of Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, who lost to Mr. Erdogan in the presidential election.

An elderly African man in a suit looks off camera

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has signed into law the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ+ bill, which allows the death penalty for homosexual acts.

The move immediately drew condemnation from many Ugandans as well as widespread international outrage. The UK government said it was appalled by the “deeply discriminatory” bill, which it said will “damage Uganda’s international reputation”.

US President Joe Biden decried the act as “shameful” and “tragic violation of universal human rights”. He said Washington was considering “sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses” – a suggestion that Ugandan officials may face repercussions.

Early on Monday, the speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Anita Annet Among, released a statement on social media confirming Museveni had assented to the law first passed by MPs in March. It imposes the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain same-sex acts, up to 20 years in prison for “recruitment, promotion and funding” of same-sex “activities”, and anyone convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” faces a 14-year sentence.

Described by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, as “shocking and discriminatory”, the bill was passed by all but two of 389 MPs on 21 March. Museveni had 30 days to either sign the legislation into law, return it to parliament for revisions or veto it. He sent it back to MPs in April, with a request for reconsideration. The bill would have still become law without the president’s assent if he returned it a second time.

Among tweeted on Monday morning: “The president … has assented to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. As the parliament of Uganda, we have answered the cries of our people. We have legislated to protect the sanctity of [the] family.

An African woman in an 18th-century white wool wig, lace collar and gown sits at a desk beside a flag
Uganda’s speaker, Anita Annet Among, addresses MPs as the anti-LGBTQ+ bill was passed. She urged the courts to begin enforcing the law immediately. Photograph: Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters

“We have stood strong to defend our culture and [the] aspirations of our people,” she said, thanking Museveni for his “steadfast action in the interest of Uganda”.

The speaker said MPs had withstood pressure from “bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists” and called for courts to begin enforcing the new laws.

Martin Ssempa, one of the main backers of the bill, presented it as a victory against the US and Europe and suggested Uganda needed to push back against groups working to tackle HIV. He said: “The president has shown great courage to defy bullying of the Americans and Europeans. That bullying we shall not give you money. They intimidate and threaten you.”

In a joint statement, the heads of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UN Aids and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) reacted with “deep concern” and said progress on tackling Aids and HIV was “now in grave jeopardy”.

“The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services. Trust, confidentiality and stigma-free engagement are essential for anyone seeking health care,” said the statement.

“LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalization,” added the statement, signed by Peter Sands, Winnie Byanyima and John Nkengasong.

There has been strong condemnation of Museveni. A statement from the UN read: “We are appalled that the draconian and discriminatory anti-gay bill is now law. It is a recipe for systematic violations of the rights of LGBT people and the wider population. It conflicts with the constitution and international treaties and requires urgent judicial review.”

Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, Africa deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said: “Museveni’s signing of the anti-homosexuality bill is a serious blow to the right to freedom of expression and association in Uganda, where instead of being restricted they ought to be strengthened.

“The law is discriminatory and is a step in the wrong direction for the protection of human rights for all people in the region.”

A 2014 anti-gay bill also prompted widespread international criticism and was later nullified by Uganda’s constitutional court on procedural grounds.

“President Museveni’s decision to sign the anti-homosexuality act 2023 into law is deeply concerning,” said Steven Kabuye, a human rights activist in Kampala. “This act violates basic human rights and sets a dangerous precedent for discrimination and persecution against the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda.

“As we have seen in the past, such laws can lead to increased violence, harassment and marginalisation of already vulnerable groups. It is important that we stand together in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda and around the world and fight against bigotry and hate.”

In February alone, 110 LGBTQ+ people in Uganda reported incidents including arrests, sexual violence, evictions and being forcibly stripped in public to the advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug). Transgender people were disproportionately affected, said the group.

“It is wishful thinking to assume a piece of bogus legislation will erase the existence of LGBTQI+ persons in Uganda!” tweeted Sarah Kasande, a Kampala-based lawyer and human rights activist.

Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni.
Ugandan president calls on Africa to ‘save the world from homosexuality’
Read more

“Queers are Ugandans, they belong to Uganda. No stupid law will ever change that!”

Edna Ninsiima, an editor and social critic, said: “We should all be concerned that our collective homophobia as a country has, once again, culminated in the state signing a permission slip for hate and dehumanization.”

On 17 April, a court in the eastern town of Jinja denied bail to six people working for healthcare organizations who had been charged with “forming part of a criminal sexual network”. Ugandan police confirmed that it conducted forced anal examinations on the six and tested them for HIV.

Museveni claimed in March that his government was attempting to resist western efforts to “normalize” what he called “deviations”.

“The western countries should stop wasting the time of humanity by trying to impose their practices on other people,” he said.

Activists plan to petition the court to nullify the discriminatory legislation, “Of course, we are going to march to court and contest this draconian law in every way possible,” said Kabuye.

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Erdogan cements his power with a victory in Turkey's presidential runoff election

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two-decades of dominance over the country’s politics will continue after a win in Sunday’s election. Known for his combative populism and for reshaping the country’s laws to consolidate his power, Erdogan now looks ahead to another five-year term and ongoing concerns about the country’s direction and democracy.

Erdogan won 52.14% of the vote while 47.86% went for his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu, according to Ahmet Yener, the head of Turkey’s Supreme Election Council.

“It is not only us who won, it is Turkey,” Erdogan said, in a victory speech at the presidential palace in Ankara. “It is our nation that won with all of its elements. It is our democracy.”

Now the focus is on the state of that democracy and the country.

Turkey has played an increasingly robust and sometimes contentious role on the global stage as a key NATO member and major military power in the Black Sea.

At home, he still faces soaring inflation, a highly-criticized, sluggish response to massive earthquakes in February and concerns that he’s creating one-man rule.

Erdogan won votes by hyping threats to the country’s stability

Erdogan, 69, led a divisive campaign in which he tapped into the public’s fear of instability following a 2016 coup attempt and multiple conflicts. He accused his opponent of having ties to Kurdish militants, who conduct attacks against Turkish security forces in the southeast. He reminded people of the ongoing civil war next door in Syria. He employed religious, nationalist rhetoric in promising to make the country a global military and industrial power – even working a Turkish-built electric car into his campaign.

That apparently helped counter widespread dissatisfaction with an economic crisis that has seen high inflation and a weakened currency — apparently aggravated by Erdogan’s emphasis on maintaining low-interest rates. And the government’s poor building code enforcement and slow response to February’s earthquakes are still blamed by many for the high death toll — some 50,000 lives lost in Turkey.

Erdogan still benefits from memories of previous governments’ elitism

Two decades ago, Erdogan came into office as a champion of working-class people and religious conservatives who felt neglected and repressed by previous secular governments. For many years, women who wore headscarves were banned from attending schools or working in jobs. Erdogan changed those laws and to this day many people, conservative women in particular, see him as someone who looks after them.

At a polling station in Istanbul on Sunday, a mother and daughter cast their votes for Erdogan.

Supporters of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday.

Emrah Gurel/AP

“I don’t really think he will make anything better, but I have other reasons. I think he is more respectful of my choices and my freedom,” said the mother, Sabiha Dogan, meaning the headscarves she and her daughter wore.

As they entered the polling station, two women who supported the opposition made derogatory comments about their headscarves. Dogan and her daughter Hulya, felt validated in their choice of candidate.

“They only want democracy for themselves and not everyone, they won’t respect our freedoms,” said 24-year-old Hulya.

The survival of Turkish democracy is still at stake

For the millions who voted against him, Erdogan is seen as an authoritarian. He has stacked the judiciary, monopolizes the media and jails perceived opponents — including journalists and critics on social media. He’s accused of allowing corruption to flourish, leading to shoddy, unregulated construction that collapsed in the quakes. He’s replaced opposition mayors even though they won local elections.

This election was hardly a fair fight. Erdogan has near-total control of Turkey’s broadcast media. And while Erdogan made frequent and lengthy appearances on TV, his challenger, Kilicdaroglu, had to make do with social media and YouTube to get his message across. Erdogan also took advantage of government resources to hand out benefits to millions of citizens and raised the minimum wage several times in the last year.

But the election did seem to energize a surge in the country’s democratic culture. Turnout was high — 84% — and many Turks volunteered as citizen witnesses to ensure the safety of ballots. Many vow to continue efforts to push back on any abuses of power.

There are concerns that Erdogan will continue amassing one-man power. And many women and LGBTQ activists worry their freedoms will further decline in the next five years. During his campaign, Erdogan made several comments attacking Turkey’s LGBTQ community.

Rights organizations and activists are calling for unity to protect civil freedoms.

Some Syrian refugees see Erdogan’s win as cause for relief

Syrian refugee Ahmad Al-Ahmad, center, husband of Naziha Al-Ahmad, comforts his daughter as they bury Naziha in a cemetery after she died during an earthquake, in Elbistan, southeastern, Turkey, on Feb. 10, 2023. Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war were once welcomed in Turkey out of compassion. But as their numbers grew, so did calls for their return.

Francisco Seco/AP

Many of Turkey’s nearly 4 million Syrian refugees were among those celebrating Erdogan’s win. A decade ago he oversaw an open-door policy for refugees escaping war in neighboring Syria — though life for many of the refugees has still been difficult.

As the Turkish economy faltered, many began to see refugees as a burden. Opposition politicians, including Kilicdaroglu, scapegoated refugees and Erdogan’s refugee policy, leading to a rise in discrimination and hateful attacks. Kilicdaroglu ran an openly anti-refugee campaign. His promise to send all Syrians back to Syria was one of the most repeated slogans.

Erdogan also gave in to public pressure on the refugee issue. While he condemned Kilicdaroglu for his inflammatory language, the Turkish government has deported hundreds of Syrian men and Erdogan said he would build housing in Turkish controlled parts of Northeastern Syria to “resettle” 1 million refugees voluntarily. But many refugees still see him as being more sympathetic to them.

Erdogan will probably keep playing to East and West in international issues

Turkey is in NATO, sits close to the wars in Ukraine and Syria and often frustrates western powers in how it negotiates those conflicts.

Erdogan has maintained close ties with Russia and refused to participate in Western sanctions, while also supplying weapons to Ukraine. Analysts say Erdogan may eventually approve Sweden’s membership to NATO — which is important to the west in order to counter Russia — in exchange for F16 fighter planes from the United States. He showed Turkey’s usefulness to the West in helping broker a deal with the United Nations between Ukraine and Russia, to allow Ukrainian grain exports through a Russian blockade.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talk to each other on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia summit, in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Oct. 13, 2022.

Vyacheslav Prokofyev/AP

Meanwhile, he’s also expanded the Turkish military’s reach and control over areas in northern Syria — a concern to Kurdish groups allied with the U.S. in the ongoing fight against ISIS remnants.

The next five years will likely see a continuation of Erdogan walking a fine line and his transactional approach to foreign policy.

“There’s absolutely no reason to think that [Erdogan] would reverse course or soften his approach,” said political analyst Selim Koru.

“There is sort of a Western bloc that is broadly geopolitically aligned, and the Bloc wanted Turkey to be in its camp. Turkey essentially has said no, it wants its own camp and isn’t interested in participating in any kind of geopolitical alignment where it isn’t the boss,” said Koru.