Fiji’s Great Council of Chiefs returns. Harsh penalties for homosexuality in Uganda. Erdoğan re-elected as Türkiye’s president. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Putin threatens retaliation after Moscow drone strike

A woman stands with a blanket wrapped around her and a dog in her arms. City apartments surround her, with debris scattered across the street.
A woman looks at the damage from a Russian drone strike to her apartment building in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, this week.
Credit: Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Russian president Vladimir Putin this week vowed to avenge a drone strike on Moscow, as Russia’s capital came under large-scale attack for the first time since its invasion of Ukraine. 

According to Russian media, more than 30 drones targeted sites across Moscow, including Rublyovka, an affluent suburb that is home to members of the business and political elite as well as Putin’s state residence. The attack came as a shock to the city, particularly as the Kremlin had presented the conflict as a contained operation against Ukraine that would not spill into Russia.

Putin praised Moscow’s air defences for shooting down the bulk of the drones, saying the attack was “a clear sign of terrorist activity”. At least three drones hit residential buildings, leaving two people injured.

The attack followed almost nightly air strikes on Kyiv in recent weeks. On Tuesday, Kyiv was targeted by three air strikes within 24 hours, involving 40 cruise missiles and 38 drones. The attack – the largest against Ukraine’s capital since the invasion – killed two people and injured at least three.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian official, said he was “pleased” to see Moscow being attacked but insisted Ukraine was not responsible.

“Of course we want those people who wanted to start this big European war to feel what it is like to live in a state of danger,” he said on Breakfast Show, a Ukrainian Russian-language YouTube program.

The neighbourhood

Fiji: The Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) – an advisory body set up in the 1870s by Fiji’s British colonial governor – met last week for the first time in 16 years after being reinstated following the election loss of former prime minister Frank Bainimarama.

The council, which includes hereditary chiefs and representatives from the country’s 14 provinces, is the peak body for Indigenous chiefs in Fiji but has at times been accused of fuelling ethnic divisions and discriminating against non-Indigenous Fijians.

Bainimarama, who seized power in a coup in 2006, suspended the council in 2007 and formally abolished it in 2012, famously telling the chiefs to “go and drink home brew under the mango tree”.

But Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, who defeated Bainimarama in an election last year, revived the council, saying the country needed to embrace its past.

The council met for two days last week on the island of Bau, saying it welcomed a new era in which it would promote inclusiveness and multiculturalism. The meeting was attended by 2000 people.

The chief of Bau, Ratu Epenisa Cakobau, said the council would need to represent the interests of the Indo–Fijian community and other minority groups.

“It’s a new beginning for Fiji,” he told the FijiLive website. “We are not only the GCC for the [Indigenous] iTaukei people. We are the GCC for everybody.”

A government-commissioned review is currently holding consultations about the future role of the council.

Democracy in retreat

Uganda: Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, this week introduced one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQIA+ laws, including imposing the death penalty for a crime deemed “aggravated homosexuality”.

In a move that drew widespread international condemnation and could lead to withdrawals of foreign aid, Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 37 years, introduced a 20-year prison sentence for promoting homosexuality and the death sentence for having gay sex when HIV-positive or with someone under 18. Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, a largely Christian nation.

Museveni, who has urged other African leaders to introduce similar laws, said earlier this year that homosexuality was a threat to procreation and “dangerous for humanity”.

On Monday, the United States described the law as “shameful” and said it would consider aid cuts and sanctions as well as exploring ways to support LGBTQIA+ individuals in Uganda and punish government officials.

“The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights – one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people,” said the US president, Joe Biden, in a statement.

The United Nations human rights chief, Volker Türk, said the law was “among the worst of its kind in the world” and appeared to violate Uganda’s constitution.

Uganda’s information minister, Chris Baryomunsi, rejected the international threats as blackmail. “We do not consider homosexuality as a constitutional right. It is just a sexual deviation which we do not promote as Ugandans and Africans,” he told Reuters.

Homosexuality is banned in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 nations.

Spotlight: Erdoğan wins again

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won another five-year term at a run-off election last weekend that is set to further entrench his authoritarian-style rule.

Following his comfortable win, Erdoğan, who has ruled Türkiye for 20 years, signalled he had no intention of moderating his brand of defiant illiberal nationalism. He used his victory speech to taunt the opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and to criticise the opposition’s pro-LGBTQIA+ policies.

“Could those LGBT elements ever find their way into the [ruling] AK party?” he asked, as his supporters shouted “no”. “Family is holy to us.”

The election was seen as the best chance in years to defeat Erdoğan, who was heavily criticised for his handling of an earthquake in February that killed 50,000 people and for economic policies that left the country facing financial ruin.

Despite an annual inflation rate of more than 40 per cent, Erdoğan has insisted on keeping interest rates low. The value of the lira has plunged, and fell further after Erdoğan won, adding to concerns that Türkiye may soon run out of foreign currency holdings.

But Erdoğan, 69, is a shrewd campaigner who has stirred culture wars to appeal to his conservative base. During his two decades as president and prime minister, he has stifled dissent, jailed critics and tightened his grip on the media. Ahead of the election, he announced plans to provide free gas and 10GB of internet for students as well as increasing the minimum wage and boosting the pay of public servants. He claimed Kılıçdaroğlu was colluding with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed separatist group, and released a video that suggested the PKK’s leader supported the opposition. He later admitted the footage was fake.

Erdoğan received 52 per cent of the vote compared with 48 per cent for Kılıçdaroğlu.

Following his win, Erdoğan told his supporters: “We will be together to the grave.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 3, 2023 as "Putin threatens retaliation after Moscow drone strike".

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