Palm Sunday church bombing kills 22 in Egypt

People gather at the Virgin Church in Cairo October 21, 2013. Several people were killed in an explosion near a church in the Egyptian Nile delta city of Tanta today. (REUTERS)
Updated 09 April 2017
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Palm Sunday church bombing kills 22 in Egypt

CAIRO: A bomb blast at a church north of Cairo killed at least 22 people and wounded dozens who had gathered for Palm Sunday mass, officials said, in the latest apparent attack on Egypt’s Coptic Christians.
Some 71 people were wounded in the blast, which struck at a Coptic Church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Cairo, according to a health ministry toll.
Images broadcast by private television stations showed bloodstains smearing the whitewashed walls of the church next to shredded wooden benches.
Palm Sunday is one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, marking the triumphant entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem.
“The explosion took place in the front rows, near the altar, during the mass,” General Tarek Atiya, the deputy to Egypt’s interior minister in charge of relations with the media, told AFP.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s blast.
Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, have been targeted by several attacks in recent months.
Pope Francis is due to visit Cairo on April 28-29 to show solidarity with Egypt’s Christian community.
Jihadists and Islamists accuse Copts of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
In December, a suicide bombing claimed by the Daesh group killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo.
The bombing of the church within a compound that also holds the seat of the Coptic papacy was the deadliest attack against the minority in recent memory.
A spate of jihadist-linked attacks in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also burned, have led some Coptic families to flee their homes.
About 250 Christians took refuge in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya after IS released a video in February calling for attacks on the religious minority.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid called Sunday’s bombing “a failed attempt against our unity.”
“Terrorism hits Egypt again, this time on Palm Sunday,” he tweeted.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also condemned Sunday’s apparent attack, stressing Egypt’s determination to “eliminate terrorism.”
The Cairo-based Al-Azhar, an influential Sunni Muslim authority, said Sunday’s bombing aimed to “destabilize security and... the unity of Egyptians.”
Egypt’s Copts have endured successive attacks since Mursi’s ouster in July 2013.
More than 40 churches were attacked nationwide in the two weeks after the deadly dispersal by security forces of two pro-Mursi protest camps in Cairo on August 14, 2013, Human Rights Watch said.
Amnesty International later said more than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches seriously damaged, adding that at least four people were killed.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who as then army chief helped remove Mursi, has defended his security forces and accused jihadists of attacking Copts in order to divide the country.
In October 2011, almost 30 people — mostly Coptic Christians — were killed after the army charged at a protest outside the state television building in Cairo to denounce the torching of a church in southern Egypt.
In May that year, clashes between Muslims and Copts left 15 dead in the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba where two churches were attacked.
A few months earlier, the unclaimed bombing of a Coptic church killed more than 20 people in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria on New Year’s Day.
Pope Francis will visit the site of the December church attack next to Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral — the seat of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II.


Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

Updated 12 min 53 sec ago
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Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

  • By bringing the vote forward by more than a year, Erdogan hopes to capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria
  • Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling AK Party taunted the main opposition party on Thursday to name a candidate to challenge Recep Tayyip Erdogan for June elections which are expected to tighten the president’s 15-year hold on power.

Government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said the secularist opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) was reluctant to put its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, forward for the June 24 vote “because they do not believe he can compete with our president.”

Erdogan called the snap election on Wednesday, bringing the vote forward by more than a year so that Turkey can switch to the powerful new executive presidency that was narrowly approved in a divisive referendum last year.

While many people expected the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held early, the new date leaves barely two months for campaigning and may have wrong-footed Erdogan’s opponents.

“Our chief has donned his wrestling outfit, so if Mr.Kilicdaroglu says ‘I’m a soldier,’ then he should put on his wrestler’s tights and come out,” Bozdag said. The CHP says it will decide on a candidate in the next 10 days, and the pro-Kurdish HDP said it would convene on Sunday to discuss its plans. The nationalist MHP party has said it is backing Erdogan.

Only former Interior Minister Meral Aksener, who broke away from the MHP last year to form the Good Party, has announced her plans to stand for the presidency.

“A politician does not run from elections,” Bozdag said, adding he believed Erdogan would win in the first round. “We as the AK Party are ready for elections.”

Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president, transforming his poor, sprawling country on the eastern fringes of Europe into a major emerging market.

But Turkey’s rapid growth has been accompanied by increased authoritarianism, which critics at home and in Europe say has left the country lurching toward one-man rule.

Since an abortive military coup in July 2016, authorities have detained more than 160,000 people, the UN says. Nearly two years after the coup attempt Turkey is still ruled under a state of emergency, and the crackdown continues.

The US voiced concern on Thursday about the timing. “During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair and transparent election in a manner that is consistent with ... Turkish law,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing.

Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday authorities had identified 3,000 armed forces personnel believed to be linked to the US-based cleric Ankara blames for the failed coup. He said they would be dismissed in the coming days.

Media outlets have also been shut down and scores of journalists have been jailed.

 

Early advantage

By calling the vote nearly a year and half early, Erdogan can capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria, where they drove out Kurdish YPG forces, said Goldman Sachs senior economist Erik Meyersson.

The tight schedule “also gives less time for the opposition to organize and choose presidential candidates,” Meyersson wrote in a research note.

The head of a Turkish polling company seen as close to the AK Party said a poll conducted this week had put the AKP on 41.5 percent, with 6 percent for its ally, the MHP.

Mehmet Ali Kulat, chairman of MAK Danismanlik, said that in a presidential election support for Erdogan could outstrip support for his party.

Erdogan’s announcement helped the lira, which has plumbed record lows this month on widening concern about double-digit inflation and the outlook for monetary policy. The currency surged 2.2 percent on Wednesday, its biggest one-day advance in a year. Turkish stocks also rose more than 2 percent.

Economists said the lira rally reflected a belief that the quick timeline for the election reduced the prospect of extra stimulus to maintain economic growth ahead of the vote.

The economy expanded 7.4 percent last year, fueled by stimulus measures including tax changes and an increase in government credit support for small businesses. The government forecasts 5.5 percent growth in 2018 though economists polled by Reuters expect more modest growth of 4.1 percent.