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South Korea concludes raucous election

Plus civilian deaths in Afghanistan, the birthrate in Thailand, and more

Yoon Suk Yeol in front of the his party headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday Associated Press/Photo by Han Jong-chan/Yonhap

South Korea concludes raucous election

Jeong Eun-yeong, a 48-year-old resident of South Korea’s capital city of Seoul, was conflicted about which leading presidential candidate was the lesser of two evils heading into Wednesday’s vote.

“Nobody around me seems happy about voting,” she told The Japan News. “We need a leader who would be really devoted to improving the lives of working-class citizens.”

The Wednesday vote marks the end of a campaign between two unpopular candidates. Yoon Suk-yeol, a former prosecutor general with the conservative People Power Party, narrowly secured a victory of less than 1 percentage point over Lee Jae-myung, a liberal candidate with the ruling Democratic Party. Voter turnout topped 77 percent.

Yoon will begin his single five-year term in May. He faces significant local and international problems, including widening economic inequality, soaring housing costs, nuclear threats from North Korea, and a U.S.-China rivalry.

Many dubbed the scandal-ridden campaign season "the Squid Game Election,” referencing the hit survival drama on Netflix. Critics accused both sides of negative campaigning, complaining neither offered a clear long-term vision for the country. Yoon compared his rivals to Mussolini and Hitler and threatened to investigate President Moon Jae-in and Lee if he won. Lee and his allies hit at Yoon’s lack of foreign policy experience. 

In his concession speech, Lee asked Yoon to “overcome divisions and conflicts and open an era of integration and unity.”

Yoon, whom some compare to former U.S. President Donald Trump, has pledged to abolish the federal Gender Equality and Family Ministry, an apparent appeal to young male voters who complain of feminism’s influence in the country. On Thursday, “Immigration to Canada” trended on Twitter after his win.

In his victory speech, Yoon vowed to strengthen his alliance with the United States, boost military capacity, and take a firmer stance on North Korea’s provocations.

“Our competition is over for now,” he said. “We have to join hands and unite into one for the people and the country.”

An Afghan boy waits to receive humanitarian supplies in Kabul, Afghanistan.

An Afghan boy waits to receive humanitarian supplies in Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press/Photo by Hussein Malla, file

World Radar:

  • AFGHANISTAN: Nearly 400 Afghan civilians have died since the country’s Taliban takeover in August. A United Nations report said 397 civilians were killed between August and February in attacks mostly blamed on the Islamic State in Khorasan province. The violence included suicide attacks against the Shiite Muslim minority group.

  • THAILAND: Health officials plan to open fertility centers in more locations as the nation battles a slumping birthrate. Authorities hsaid they will ask social media influencers to promote the planned services. Experts point to rising household debt, education costs, and political instability as factors contributing to the birth decline.

  • PHILIPPINES: President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law this week raising the minimum age of sexual consent to 16 years old, up from 12. The Philippines had one of the world’s lowest consent ages, second only to Nigeria’s 11 years, according to UNICEF.

  • HONG KONG: China built a temporary bridge connecting the mainland city of Shenzhen to Hong Kong to support construction of a makeshift COVID-19 hospital. Hong Kong is currently battling a fifth wave of the virus as omicron surges there. Nearly 2,000 contractors with the China State Construction Engineering Corp. are working on a planned facility with quarantine rooms for up to 10,000 people. Officials said the bridge would come down at the end of the project.

  • FRANCE: A court in Paris on Wednesday found four men guilty of aiding in a 2016 attack on a Catholic priest. Two male attackers stabbed 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel as he finished Mass at a church in Normandy. Police killed the attackers as they left the church, but authorities said the four other men helped or encouraged the attack. They received sentences ranging from eight years to life in prison.

  • ISIS: The Islamic State insurgent group named a new leader this week after its former leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi, and spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, died in a U.S. raid in Syria in February. A spokesman said the late ISIS leader had chosen his successor but did not release any information about the new leader.

  • MALI: A long-running project between Google and Mali’s traditional leaders launched this week. Mali Magic, a digital trove of the country’s cultural heritage, features some 40,000 ancient manuscripts on mathematics, medicine, and other topics. The collection also highlights the country’s music, monuments, and modern art. Islamist insurgents burned two libraries in the capital city of Timbuktu in 2013, sparking an effort to smuggle the remaining documents out of the city.

Africa brief

As the world marked International Women’s Day on Tuesday, it reminded me of some of the courageous women I’ve met and spoken to while covering stories across the continent and elsewhere.

In 2017, I visited Rebecca Dali and toured her rehabilitation center for former Boko Haram captives in Nigeria’s Plateau state. More than 350 children were named after her at the time as a tribute to her courage.

Janet Yunana works in rural Nigerian communities to help women give birth safely and has found other creative ways to tackle the country’s high maternal mortality rate. During a reporting project a tad off my usual beat, I spoke with Asako Eguchi, a licensed Christian counselor in Japan. She worked to increase access to counseling services as the pandemic jolted suicide rates in the country. She sees her role as an opportunity to walk with others in their pain and sorrow and to remind them that “even if you suffer much in this world, there’s hope in the next world.”

Editor’s note: This article was edited to reflect the correct title of Mali’s heritage project.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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