Historic Referendum In Turkey Grants More Power to President

Supporters in Istanbul celebrated the historic referendum that consolidates power under the presidency.

Emrah Gurel/AP

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Emrah Gurel/AP

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim declared victory in the referendum bid to convert Turkey from a parliamentary to a strong president system of government.

The historic referendum, which passed by a narrow margin, grants more power to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who promised when he was elected in 2014 to be a “different kind of president.”

But even as Erdogan’s supporters set off fireworks to celebrate their victory, Turkey’s main opposition party said they will challenge many of the votes.

Erdogan said he hopes the referendum results would benefit Turkey, and that the nation made a “historic decision,” in an address after Yildirim’s declaration.

The vote has divided Turkey, with supporters claiming the change will bring stability and efficiency to the government, while opponents have said that the move is a dangerous step toward one-man rule. Under the changes, President Erdogan could stay in power through 2029.

As NPR’s Peter Kenyon reported in a preview, “the vote comes at a perilous time.”

“Turkey remains under a state of emergency declared last July, following a failed coup that left nearly 300 people dead. The Erdogan government has used the emergency powers to conduct a sweeping purge of the military, judiciary and civil service. More than 100,000 people have been fired or arrested, including more than 100 journalists.”

The opposition to the referendum said it’s been difficult to run an effective campaign in this environment of fear and sweeping arrests. The AP reports that supporters of the “yes” vote have dominated the airwaves, while supporters of the “no” vote have complained of intimidation.

Under the new system, power will be concentrated under the president, who was previously head of state, but not head of government. President Erdogan has taken a more active role than his predecessors, but until the referendum the Prime Minister remained the chief executive.

The new system will no longer require the president to be nonpartisan, so Erdogan can rejoin the party he co-founded, and have increased influence over who runs for Parliament. Critics say there’s also a loophole in the new laws that could allow Erdogan to run for a third term. The prime minister role will also be done away with after the next election in 2019.

NPR’s Peter Kenyon has reported that there is one change pro-democracy groups are applauding though — the end of military courts.

But many also fear that the new system will endanger democracy in Turkey — a key U.S. ally and NATO member.

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More Than 100 Die In Suicide Attack On Syrian Evacuees

A picture taken on April 16, 2017, shows the damage a day after a suicide car bombing attack in Rashidin, west of Aleppo, targeted buses carrying Syrians evacuated from two besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya.

Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images

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Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images

More than 100 people, including women and children, were killed in a suicide attack on Saturday in rebel-held northwestern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the vast majority of the victims were families evacuating from two Shiite villages, Fuaa and Kefraya, long besieged by rebels. They had been promised safe passage out of rebel-held territory, as part of a reciprocal deal to evacuate two besieged pro-rebel towns, Madaya and Zabadani, on the opposite end of the country.

The population exchange stalled on Saturday, amid disagreements over the terms of the evacuation. The line of buses from Fuaa and Kefraya stalled on the outskirts of Aleppo city, still trapped in rebel-held territory.

The situation appeared under control, even serene, in the run-up to the attack. Videos uploaded to YouTube by opposition media outlets show Fuaa and Kefraya families passing the time alongside the line of parked buses. Many children had gotten out of the buses to play in the sun, staying within eyesight of their mothers. Others stayed inside the buses, whether for shelter from the sun or fear for their safety, and those children shouted to their friends outside.

Old men pace back and forth on the curb. Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers survey the scene in their bright red jackets. Further back, rebels on walkie-talkies waited for the final okay to allow the convoy to proceed into government-held Aleppo.

From serenity to pandemonium

Suddenly, the scene goes from serenity to pandemonium. Women are heard screaming and smoke is seen rising in videos filmed in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

As cameramen get closer, body after body is seen strewn on the grassy embankment and the road. Some people are burned to death by the charred buses. The body of a child hangs limp from a bus window.

“There was a car distributing potato chips to the children,” a man in an ambulance, purportedly a witness, tells the opposition media outlet Zaman al-Wasal. “The children started to chase after the car, and then it exploded.”

No group has claimed responsibility.

A powerful al-Qaeda linked rebel alliance holds sway over the region of northern Syria where the attack took place. A separate hardline group, Ahrar al-Sham, was in charge of securing the convoy route.

It was not the first time efforts to relieve pressure on the Shiite villages came under attack. A deal to evacuate Fuaa and Kefraya residents in conjunction with the evacuation of rebels and families from eastern Aleppo was nearly sabotaged late last year. The buses were torched in a rebel-held town en route and at least one driver left dead.

Powerful opposition figures have long rejected a total evacuation of the Shiite villages, one of the last pressure points to be used as leverage in dealings with the government and its powerful Shiite ally Iran. One hardline cleric with more than 3 million Twitter followers recently posted that anyone who allowed the Shiites to leave was either a fool or a sellout.

Dozens of wounded still unaccounted for

Saturday’s evacuations were eventually able to proceed. Videos posted by pro-government media showed the convoy of buses passing into government-held Aleppo by night. Dozens of wounded are still scattered in opposition hospitals or unaccounted for.

Despite fears of reprisals against evacuees from two rebel-held towns, their buses were able to proceed safely to northern rebel-held territory—their security guaranteed by Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

It was only one stage of the evacuation, which foresees the emptying of the isolated Shiite community in the north and the two pro-rebel towns in Damascus countryside.

Residents of the pro-rebel held towns theoretically have the option to remain, but opposition activists say the majority of families will leave to avoid the Syrian military army for their sons, or over fears of detention. Opposition activists have decried the deal as forced demographic change on sectarian lines. But others, with relatives in the besieged towns, say they are tired of hunger and long days hunkered down in basements.

Syrians from the Shiite villages had long expressed hope the army and its allies would advance and break the siege. The evacuation deal was meant to offer them safety from bombs and siege instead. A Facebook page dedicated to Fuaa and Kefraya now displays the silhouette of a child hanging upside down. It asks, “For what sin did they die?”

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Cairo Court Drops Child Abuse Charges Against Egyptian-American Woman

Egyptian-American aid worker Aya Hijazi was held for nearly three years without a verdict, in what human rights groups have called an “arbitrary detention.”

Mohamed el Raai/AP

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Mohamed el Raai/AP

A court in Cairo acquitted Egyptian-American Aya Hijazi of human trafficking and abuse charges Sunday, along with her husband and other aid workers.

Hijazi was working to help street children three years ago when she was charged with human trafficking and sexual abuse at the shelter she and her husband founded. The verdict has been postponed repeatedly as the aid workers continued to be held, in spite of a government forensic report showing no signs of abuse while the children were in the shelter.

According to Reuters, Egyptian law states that the maximum period for pretrial detention is 24 months, while the couple has been held for 33 months.

The case is seen as part of a larger crackdown by the Egyptian government on NGOs, particularly those that receive foreign funding. As NPR’s Leila Fadel has reported, the couple was arrested at a time when civil society organizations were being “demonized and painted as foreign agents.”

Hijazi’s mother spoke with NPR in 2015, saying that the children her daughter had been helping were “back in the streets” while her daughter was being held without trial.

The case has drawn attention from a number of human rights organizations and activists. Last month, when a verdict had yet again been postponed, the deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch called the case a “travesty of justice.” The case was also raised during Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s visit to the White House earlier this month.

Hijazi and her husband, Mohamed Hassanein, founded the Belady Foundation in 2013 to provide services to troubled children in Cairo. Her mother told NPR that Hijazi did not allow her volunteers to refer to the children as “Owlad Shawaraa” — street children — and instead called them Owlad Beladi — the children of my country.

The New York Timesreported Sunday that the couple hopes to return to their work after their release, though they aren’t sure the government will allow that.

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'When I Was Your Age' And Other Pitfalls Of Talking To Teens About Stress

Parents can phrase advice to their teens about coping with stress in ways that also help teenagers imagine the perspectives of others.

Maria Fabrizio for NPR

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Maria Fabrizio for NPR

It’s difficult to have a teenager’s mind. The brain develops rapidly during the adolescent years, which partially explains why teens experience anger, sadness and frustration so intensely.

During these tumultuous years, hormones surge, bodies change and adolescents must face a number of social and academic challenges, such as managing their relationships, coping with peer rejection and,— especially this time of year — graduating from high school or preparing for college admission tests.

These worries can take a definitive toll on a teenager’s emotional health.

“My daughters are dealing with friendship conflicts, school pressures and college applications. My younger daughter has so much homework that she sets her alarm at 5 a.m. to finish it before school begins,” says Cameron Gaeren, a mother of two teen daughters in Chicago, Ill.

A 2014 survey published by the American Psychological Association found that teens report feeling even more stressed than adults, and that this affects them in unhealthy ways. Approximately 30 percent of the 1,018 teens surveyed reported feeling sad, overwhelmed or depressed, and 25 percent said that they had skipped meals because of their anxiety.

Still, Gaeren says, her kids don’t often accept her help in managing their stress. Gaeren and her daughters are not alone. Though all teens need coping skills to help navigate their unique set of stressors, many adolescents either don’t turn to their parents for help or refuse to accept their advice.

This may be partly due to the way parents typically try to help their kids.

Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, a psychologist in Denver, Colo., explains, “When teens are overwhelmed, parents may try to connect with their kids’ feelings by drawing on their own childhood experiences. They may say things like, “When I was fourteen, I had a job, and I still did my homework and made time for my friends. I know that you can do this, too.'”

They mean well when they try to connect with their teens in this comparative way, but often it prompts a communication breakdown.

“Teenagers are looking for proof that their parents don’t understand them and bringing up these examples only confirms that you’re not on the same wavelength,” Ziegler says.

She suggests that parents try to relate to their teen’s feelings by saying things like, “When I was your age, I had difficulty with my friends. I felt confused, and my heart was broken, too.”

She says that these disclosures remind kids that even if technology is different, human emotions are the same. Parents can bond with their kids by focusing on these similarities.

When adolescents are distressed, most parents are inclined to try to solve their problems, but often what teens really need is help developing problem-solving skills of their own. Parents don’t need an entirely new set of tools to impart these lessons to their teenagers. They can adapt lessons about empathy and perspective that they taught their kids earlier in childhood.

It’s particularly important to teach adolescents how to develop a specific type of empathy called cognitive empathy, Ziegler says.

If empathy helps us sympathize with how another person is feeling, cognitive empathy also allows us to try to understand someone else’s perspective and how they perceive the world, even when our feelings differ.

In a 2016 longitudinal study of 497 Dutch teens between the ages of 13 and 18, researchers found that cognitive empathy skills help teens regulate their emotions, improve their listening skills and strengthen their ability to tolerate conflict. They also found that these skills can help kids work through disagreements with their parents more constructively.

Research on teen stress by David Yeager, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, shows that cognitive empathy skills can also help adolescents to realize that people and situations can change, which allows them to face social challenges more easily.

Ziegler says that parents can help their kids strengthen this type of empathy by talking with them about the importance of looking at both sides of the story.

For example, if a teen is upset because a friend didn’t return a text, parents can ask, “What do you think might be going on for her?” or “Remember last week when you didn’t text back right away because you were studying for an exam?”

Because teenagers are so emotionally driven, they may be prone to react in exaggerated ways. Hence, a conflict with a teacher, a clash with a friend or an unanswered text can feel like the end of the world. By strengthening their cognitive empathy, teens can develop an emotional pause button, which reminds them that even when feelings take over, stressful circumstances are temporary.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter@dr_fraga.

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