A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck early this morning in south central Turkey, killing more than 1,700 people in Turkey and neighboring Syria, though the death toll is expected to keep rising. Dozens of powerful aftershocks followed, including a second, 7.5-magnitude earthquake in southeastern Turkey. The epicenter of the initial quake is near the city of Gaziantep, which houses hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and where the UNHCR runs one its largest operations. Both the government- and rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria reported heavy casualties. This is a survivor speaking from the Aleppo region.
Survivor: “There are 12 families trapped here, and no one managed to get out. They are all inside here. So far no one has come here to see where people are. There is no civil defense. We’ve been working with our hands since 3 a.m.”
The Pentagon shot down a Chinese balloon off the coast of South Carolina Saturday, several days after it was first spotted over Montana — a state that’s home to a major military base and silos holding scores of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The high-altitude balloon’s appearance over the United States prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip to Beijing, accusing China of “unacceptable and irresponsible” spying.
China’s Defense Ministry claimed the balloon was a weather research station that had blown off course, and accused the U.S. of an “obvious overreaction.” On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders were quick to accuse President Biden of “weakness” and said he failed to shoot down the balloon quickly enough. A Pentagon official responded by telling reporters there were at least three similar incursions of Chinese balloons during the Trump administration.
In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces shot and killed at least five Palestinian men earlier today during a raid on the city of Jericho. The killings came as Israeli troops raided the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, which has been under siege for more than a week. This is a camp resident who witnessed the violence.
Jalal Almgaiti: “They went in and did not have a specific house in mind. They targeted the whole camp, and they started from the entrance of the camp onwards with their ill-doing, and then they left. … And in this mess, houses on the sides of the camp were targeted as if they were criminals, while they were asleep in their houses.”
This follows the killing of 26-year-old Palestinian Abdullah Sami Qalalweh, who was unarmed when Israeli soldiers at a military outpost south of Nablus shot him on Friday.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people held rallies in 20 cities across Israel on Saturday to demand Israel’s far-right government cancel plans to severely limit the power of the judiciary. It was the fifth straight week of protests.
In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has pardoned “tens of thousands” of prisoners, including people involved in recent anti-government protests, according to Iranian state news outlets. But rights advocates say the extensive list of exceptions means only a small number are likely to receive amnesty.
In related news, award-winning filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been released from prison on bail after he went on hunger strike protesting his detention. The 62-year-old was arrested in July for speaking up about another director, Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been imprisoned a few days earlier for criticizing police violence.
In Iraq, human rights groups are demanding justice for Tiba al-Ali, a 22-year-old YouTube star who was killed by her father last week. The two were reportedly in a dispute involving al-Ali’s decision to live alone in Turkey. She was visiting Iraq when her father strangled her to death. Rights advocates are calling on the Iraqi government to enact legislation against gender-based violence, as no current laws criminalize domestic violence. This is activist Hafsa Amer speaking from a protest in Baghdad Sunday.
Hafsa Amer: “Tiba is a famous person, well known on social media. Just as there are many women who don’t have a voice and who can’t make their voices heard, we are here to represent the voices of oppressed women, the victims who don’t have a voice.”
In other news from Iraq, loved ones of environmentalist and water protector Jassim Al-Asadi are demanding his safe return, after he was kidnapped by an unknown armed group near Baghdad last week. Al-Asadi is the head of the group Nature Iraq, which fights for the protection of the country’s southern wetlands.
Former president of Pakistan and military chief Pervez Musharraf died Sunday at the age of 79. He died from a rare medical condition in Dubai, where he had been living in exile since 2016. Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup and resigned in 2008. The end of his rule came following a tumultuous year in Pakistan, which saw the growth of militant groups and the assassination of prime minister and political foe Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule in 2007.
Musharraf was a key ally to the U.S. and President George W. Bush in his so-called war on terror following the September 11 attacks. In 1999, he planned an attack in the Kargil region of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Over 500 Indian soldiers were killed, as well as at least 400 Pakistani soldiers, though some estimates place the numbers much higher.
At least one woman and four children drowned Sunday after a boat carrying some 40 refugees from Turkey sank off the Greek island of Leros. This came just days after another eight refugees, including a pregnant woman and a 4-month-old baby, died off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Survivors said they had experienced extreme cold, dehydration and didn’t have food after days at sea. Their boat had departed from Tunisia last week.
In Britain, tens of thousands of nurses and EMTs launched a coordinated strike today, the largest labor action in the history of the government-run National Health Service. More strikes are planned during the week, as health workers ramp up their demands for a living wage amid the U.K.’s worst inflation in four decades. This is a striking nurse.
Ethna Vaughn: “I think we’re going to find it harder and harder to recruit, harder and harder to retain stuff. A lot of people have left the profession already because they’re so disillusioned. I think we’ve got to look to the future, and that’s what this is all about.”
The nurses’ work stoppage comes amid a wave of strikes across various sectors in the U.K.
In Chile, wildfires have killed at least 24 people as some 260 blazes raged in the center and south of the country over recent days, fanned by dry winds and temperatures reaching as high as 104 degrees. Officials said Sunday over 1,000 square miles have been scorched. This is an evacuee in the region of La Araucanía.
Carolina Torres: “I left my house with only the clothes I was wearing. I put on a pair of slippers and some tights and left the house. There was no time to set up a firebreak, nothing. I think everyone here went through the same situation. The wind speed changed very fast, and everything suddenly started to burn. It was all very fast.”
A record-breaking Arctic blast sent temperatures plummeting across much of the northeastern United States and parts of Canada on Saturday. In New Hampshire, Mount Washington recorded the nation’s coldest-ever wind chill at minus-108 degrees Fahrenheit. The death of an infant was reported in western Massachusetts from a falling tree.
Meanwhile, in Texas, the Austin American-Statesman issued a rare front-page editorial condemning officials for their response to last week’s ice storm, which left over 150,000 Austin residents without power. Ten people were killed across the southern U.S. by the storm — seven of them in Texas — and some 460,000 people lost power.
The Democratic National Committee approved a radical overhaul of the primary calendar, making South Carolina the first primary contest of the 2024 presidential election, replacing the Iowa caucus. Primaries in Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan will then follow. The new voting schedule is intended to give more weight to voters of color. But New Hampshire and Georgia continue to oppose the changes and have not yet moved their primary dates. They have until June to do so, and will face sanctions if they refuse to comply, including losing half their delegates.
In Missouri, death penalty abolitionists are calling on Republican Governor Mike Parson to cancel Tuesday’s planned execution of Leonard “Raheem” Taylor, a Black man who has always maintained his innocence. Taylor was convicted on four counts of first-degree murder over the 2004 killing of his girlfriend and her three young children. Witnesses say Taylor was 2,000 miles away from the scene of the crime at the time of the murders. Taylor recently spoke from prison with Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Leonard “Raheem” Taylor: “No, I didn’t. No, I did not. Not only did I not commit the crime, but, one, like I said, there was no motive. You know, I had no reason to commit the crime. I wasn’t even in the state of Missouri when these murders took place.”
Attorneys from the Innocence Project say Taylor’s lawyer “effectively abandoned him,” providing an incompetent defense at trial. They’re asking Governor Parson to delay the execution until a thorough investigation can be completed.
The 65th Grammy Awards were held in Los Angeles Sunday night. Beyoncé won her 32nd statue, making her the most awarded artist in the history of the Grammys. Viola Davis won for the audiobook of her memoir Finding Me and joins the exclusive EGOT club, having won all four major entertainment awards: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. Kim Petras and Sam Smith also made history, becoming the first openly trans and nonbinary duo to win a Grammy, bringing home an award for their hit Unholy.
First lady Jill Biden presented Iranian singer Shervin Hajipour with the new “song for social change” special merit award for Baraye, which has become an anthem for the Iranian uprising. The singer was arrested after the song went viral, and is out on bail awaiting trial.