Presidential election results in the Philippines came in May 10, with bombastic anti-crime hardliner Rodrigo Duterte emerging the victor. Ruling-party candidate Mar Roxas quickly conceded defeat. Duterte is the mayor of Davao City in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao—which has been hit by a wave of death-squad terror in recent years. The paramilitaries are ostensibly a response to crime and narco networks on the island, but ecology activists and peasant leaders have also been targeted. Duterte has been named as a mastermind of the paramilitaries, and certainly makes no bones about his intolerant position on drug use. "All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you," he Duterte told a huge cheering crowd in his final campaign rally in Manila. "I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I will kill you idiots."
Peru's President Ollanta Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in response to reports of mercury poisoning by outlaw gold-mining operations. According to country's Environment Ministry, as many as 50,000 people or 41% of the population of Madre de Dios, have been exposed to mercury contamination. The government plans to send hospital ships and loads of untainted fish to the area, where mercury has contaminated local waterways. Illegal gold production has increased five-fold in Peru since 2012, and it is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country, 40% of which are in Madre de Dios. Peru is the world's sixth largest gold producer, but an estimated 20% of its annual output is of unknown origin. (Mining.com, La República, May 24)
Lima was treated to the spectacle of topless women being tear-gassed by police at a protest outside the Congress building against a new law to toughen strictures on abortion. Riot police broke up the semi-nude sit-in organized by feminist groups to oppose the pending legislation, which would impose penalties of 50 days community service on women who seek an abortion. Many of the women wrote "KEIKO NO VA" (Stop Keiko) on their torsos—a reference to right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, who has recently taken a hard line on abortion, now opposing it even in cases of rape. Protesters also recalled her intransigent support for her father, imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, who carried out a campaign of forced sterilization of peasant women during his period in power in the 1990s. (Now This, StarMedia, May 20; El Comercio, May 19; La República, May 3)
A wave of student protests demanding education reform in Chile has been met with harsh repression, leading to charges of "torture" recalling the era of military rule. Clashes with police during President Michelle Bachelet's state-of-the-nation addres in Valparaiso made English-language headlines May 21. Demonstrators set up barricades and hurled fire-bombs, torching a pharmacy and supermarket, while police fired tear-gas and water cannon. A security guard reportedly died from smoke inhalation. Three days later, protesters actually invaded the presidential palace in Santiago, forcing their way past guards. Winning few headlines outside Chile is the controversy over abuse of arrested protesters. Most egregious is the case of Roberto Zambrano Freire, 18, who was arrested at a protest outside the National Institute, the country's most prestigious school, on May 17 and apparently beaten after being made to strip naked while in custody. The student's father, Roberto Zambrano Sepúlveda, says he is pressing for an investigation but is not optimistic, noting that "It is my boy's word against the Carabineros." He added: "The Carabineros of Chile continue operating with the same methods as the under the dictatorship." (TeleSur, BBC News, Diario UChile, BiobioChile, La Tendencia, RPP, Univision)
The apparent killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in a US drone strike May 22 actually took place in Pakistan—and without the consent of Islamabad, which has demanded a "clarification" from Washington in the hit. It was also the first US drone strike in Pakistan's restive province of Baluchistan, rather than in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where they have mostly been concentrated. The US has flown drones out of a base in Baluchistan, but never actually carried out any strikes there until now. The FATA is seen by Islamabad as something of a special case due to al-Qaeda's presence there, and the US has been given a free hand in the Tribal Areas. The insurgency in Baluchistan, in contrast, is seen strictly as Pakistan's internal war—despite the fact that the Afghan Taliban had evidently established it as their new staging area, with FATA getting too hot. This Taliban consolidation in Baluchistan was presumably permitted (if not actually overseen) by the Pakistani state. The strike on Mansour was apparently carried out from Afghan territory, and by the Pentagon rather than the CIA. And there are other ways in which the strike seems to indicate a break between Washington and Islamabad...
Voters in Tajikistan on May 20 approved changes to the country's constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to rule indefinitely. Voters approved amendments to remove presidential term limits, lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 35 to 30 and ban religiously based political parties. The first provision allows Rakhmon, 63, to extend his rule, which he has held since 1992. The second provision would allow his son, Rustam Emomali, 29, to be able to run for president in the next election in 2020. The final provision would continue to ban the main opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, which was declared a terrorist organization and banned last year. Election authorites reported that the 41 proposed amendments were approved by 94.5% of voters, with 92% turnout.
A court on the Greek island of Lesbos on May 20 ruled that Turkey is an "unsafe third country" for asylum seekers, throwing into doubt the EU-Turkey migrant deal. The panel of judges refused to reject an asylum application by a Syrian refugee and have him deported to Turkey. The decision came the same day that 51 refugees and migrants of different nationalities were forcibly returned to Turkey by Greek authorities. (Ekathimerini, May 20) Amnesty International's Giorgos Kosmopoulos hailed the decision, charging that Turkey is not complying with standards of the Refugee Convention. "Until it becomes a safe country nobody should be returned there," he said. He cited violations of the rights to work, medical care and family life, and said there have been "widespread returns of Syrians back to Syria from Turkey." On the pact with the EU, he added: "The whole deal should stop and refugees should be settled in other European countries safely and with dignity." (BBC News, May 21)
At a summit in Vienna this week, world powers agreed to supply arms to Libya to fight ISIS, and to seek an exemption from the UN arms embargo on the country. But few media accounts are emphasizing that Libya now has three rival governments (not counting ISIS and various militia-controlled enclaves), and the "recognized" one is by far the weakest. Attending the summit was Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). An official statement said: "The GNA is the sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance and is charged with preserving and protecting Libya's resources for the benefit of all its people." (Anadolu Agency, EuroNews) A sobering analysis in the Times of Oman, "Libyan quagmire to inevitably continue," calls the GNA "a 'Potemkin Village' lie of epic proportions," noting that it consists of a handful of men ensconced in a naval base outside Tripoli, controlling no territory and commanding no troops. The closest thing to an army it has is "an assortment of militias of varying shades of extremist" that have announced a tenuous recognition of its authority, mostly in Tripoli and Misrata.