Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

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A woman carries a placard as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalising abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. (REUTERS)
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A woman carries her baby as she arrives to vote as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalizing its law on abortion, in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. (REUTERS)
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A woman votes while her children wait in their pushchair as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalizing its law on abortion, in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 May 2018
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Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

  • Exit polls says 68 percent of voters back change
  • The country's leaders support a "yes," an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment

DUBLIN: Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.
An Irish Times exit poll released Friday night projected a landslide victory for those who want to loosen abortion laws, but official results are not expected until Saturday afternoon.
The country’s leaders support a “yes,” an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment requiring authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law. They called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalize some of Europe’s strictest abortion rules.
Voters went to the polls after a campaign that aroused deep emotions on both sides. For advocates of repeal, a “yes” vote would be a landmark in Irish women’s fight for equality and the right to control their own bodies. For opponents, it would be a betrayal of Ireland’s commitment to protect the unborn.
The vote also is a key indicator of Ireland’s trajectory, three years after the country voted to allow same-sex marriages and a year after its first openly gay prime minister took office.
The newspaper exit poll indicated overwhelming support for change. The survey by pollster Ipsos-MRBI says 68 percent of voters backed repeal of the ban and 32 percent opposed it. The pollster says it interviewed some 4,000 people and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The poll is only a prediction.
Theresa Sweeney, a repeal supporter, was one of the first to arrive at a church polling station in Dublin.
“I feel like I’ve waited all of my adult life to have a say on this,” she said.
Emma Leahy said her “yes” vote comes from her firm belief that everyone should be able to make their own choice when it comes to abortion.
“For Ireland, it’s hope for the future,” she said of the referendum. “Whether you agree or disagree, it shouldn’t be the government or anyone else making that decision.”
Vera Rooney voted against repeal.
“It is a hard decision but I just feel I don’t have the right to take life,” she said. “I think life is sacred and for that reason I had to vote no.”
The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place.
The amendment requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception. That effectively bans all abortions in Ireland, except in cases when the woman’s life is at risk. Having an illegal abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighboring Britain.
If citizens vote in favor of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament. The government proposes that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions would be allowed in special cases.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a doctor, voted in favor of repeal.
“Not taking anything for granted of course, but quietly confident,” he said, adding that the upside of a sunny day in Ireland is that people come out to vote.
Thousands of Irish people abroad traveled home to take part in the historic referendum, and supporters of repeal gathered at Dublin Airport to give arrivals an ecstatic welcome.
Some activists held a placard reading “Thank you for making the journey so other women don’t have to” — a reference to the way Irish women seeking abortions have had to leave the country to obtain them.
Tara Flynn, who 11 years ago flew to the Netherlands for an abortion, said she planned to vote “yes” to make sure future generations of women don’t endure what she did, with feelings of isolation and shame.
She said her vote would be one for solidarity and compassion, “a vote to say, I don’t send you away anymore.”
Campaigning was not allowed Friday, but Dublin was still filled with signs and banners urging citizens to vote “yes” or “no.” Many of the anti-abortion signs showed photographs of fetuses.
Voting has already taken place on Ireland’s remote islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.
Letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained several emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.
“If we vote ‘yes’ every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights,” wrote Frances Kelleher, from Killarney. “I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill.”


Unwanted Afghan refugees pin hopes on Pakistan’s Imran Khan

Updated 42 min 49 sec ago
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Unwanted Afghan refugees pin hopes on Pakistan’s Imran Khan

  • Pakistan is home to an estimated 2.4 million people who have fled Afghanistan
  • Under Pakistan’s constitution, anyone born in the country after 1951 has the right to citizenship
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Shahzad Alam has proposed marriage to several women and been rejected each time for the same reason, he says: their discovery that he is not the Pakistani shoe shop owner they thought he was, but an Afghan refugee.
His romantic future could be given a boost by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has ignited a national debate with a controversial vow to grant citizenship to Afghan refugees born in Pakistan — potentially creating more than a million new citizens.
Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world, home to an estimated 2.4 million registered and undocumented people who have fled Afghanistan, some as far back as the Soviet invasion of 1979.
But many Pakistanis view them with suspicion, accusing them of spurring militancy and criminality, and calling for them to be sent home.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, anyone born in the country after 1951 has the right to citizenship. But feeling against the refugees is so strong that no leader has dared take moves to implement the policy — Khan’s promise is the first time any Pakistani premier has made such a vow.
Refugees greeted his words joyfully. Twitter users joked that Khan could now win elections in Afghanistan. “May God bless Imran Khan,” Alam told AFP.
But the announcement has also prompted a national outcry, with columnists claiming he had opened a “Pandora’s Box.” Heads of Pakistan’s main opposition parties quickly condemned it.
As the debate continues in the country’s newspapers and on social media, salesman Alam’s life remains in limbo.
Alam speaks with a Pakistani accent, dresses in Pakistani fashions, and has lived all his life in the northwestern city of Peshawar where he was born after his parents fled Afghanistan in 1979.
Although he says women have asked him to propose marriage in the past, the relationship would always “end the moment we introduce ourselves as Afghan.”

Forced repatriations
The United Nations says there are 1.4 million Afghans registered as refugees in Pakistan, and estimates that some 74 percent were born there.
Many live in camps, while others have created lives for themselves in Pakistan’s cities, marrying and raising children, opening shops and supporting themselves.
In one Peshawar bazaar, thousands of Afghans could be seen running hundreds of shops bursting with local and Chinese goods, fresh fruits, and vegetables — visible signs of their economic contributions.
“I feel like I am in my own village, my own country,” said Ashiqullah Jan, a 43-year-old refugee.
But their status has always been temporary, with deadlines set for them to leave Pakistan repeatedly pushed back as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens.
Many analysts predict security will continue to deteriorate in 2019 despite a renewed push for peace talks.
In 2016 a wave of forced repatriations from Pakistan to Afghanistan sparked fears of a humanitarian crisis. The decision by Khan is a significant departure from such policies.
“When you are born in America, you get the American passport... so why not here? How cruel it is for them,” he said when announcing the measure last September.
Much of the outcry prompted by his words has been centered on security fears. Pakistan has fought a long and bloody war with militancy, with the army often blaming extremists based in Afghanistan and claiming insurgents hide in refugee camps.
Khan has reiterated his support for the measure, but faced with the outcry has not yet formally taken it to parliament.
Analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai warned that even if the prime minister — who has developed a reputation for U-turns since coming to power last July — does push the policy through, implementing it will take time.
“It won’t be easy to give them citizenship or to develop a consensus on the issue in parliament or in the country,” he said.

“I was born here”
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has welcomed the move.
“So many of the young Afghan refugees were born here and they only know Pakistan,” country representative Ruvendrini Menikdiwela told AFP.
Most Pakistanis who spoke to AFP in the bazaars of Peshawar, whose proximity to the Afghan border has made it a center for refugees, remained staunchly opposed.
The government should send the refugees home “as soon as possible,” 42-year-old Rehman Gul told AFP.
Azeem Khan, a fresh produce seller, was one of the few Pakistanis supporting the move — but his stance sparked a heated argument among his customers.
Refugee Khayesta Khan, one of the customers, told AFP there was “nothing left” in Afghanistan but “the Taliban and Daesh and bombs.”
“I was born here... Pakistan is my country and I do not want to leave it,” he said as the fiery debate subsided.