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The final votes are still being counted in Turkey's closely watched presidential election, but it looks like it's heading for a runoff between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.


One thing is for certain, though. Whoever wins will define Turkey's role at a vital time for the NATO alliance. Now, so far, none of the candidates were able to get 50% of the total votes to win outright. Erdogan told his supporters that he could still win but would accept a runoff vote if necessary. After two decades in power, he's facing his toughest challenge yet. His rival has been dubbed Turkey's Gandhi, and he's promising big changes, including closer ties with the West.

FADEL: NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now from Istanbul. Good morning, Peter.


FADEL: So, Peter, was this extremely close race and lack of a clear result expected?

KENYON: Well, it was a surprise, I'd say, to some pundits and opposition party supporters, certainly. They were convinced that after 20 years in power, voters were getting tired of Erdogan. Now, this is a politician who was vilified for a sluggish response to a deadly earthquake in southern Turkey just a few months ago. And he's been presiding over an ailing economy. And yet, once again, he seems to have reached beyond his core base of supporters and attracted enough votes to apparently at least avoid losing, if not win outright. We may know more after the final votes are tallied.

FADEL: OK. So Erdogan surprised those who predicted he was finished and made a strong showing despite the economic situation and people's anger over the earthquake response. How did he do it?

KENYON: Well, some of it's being attributed to Erdogan's political skills, which are pretty well-known here, at least. He's a strong orator. Many voters say he projects a strong image. They like that. They say he makes world powers pay more attention to Turkey than they might otherwise. Also, there has been concern in some quarters that the opposition party that Kilicdaroglu leads has a kind of a history of losing to Erdogan's ruling party. These results certainly aren't likely to change that perception.

FADEL: Now, if Erdogan does manage to pull out a victory and win another five years in power, what are the foreign policy implications here, especially when it comes to Turkey's relationship with the U.S. and other NATO allies?

KENYON: Yes, well, exactly. Another Erdogan term would likely continue the contentious relations Turkey's had with its NATO allies and the West in general. He's resisted NATO's attempts to add Sweden and Finland to the alliance. He did eventually agree to support Finland's bid. Sweden is still waiting, as Erdogan demands concessions from Stockholm that they say they can't provide. Turkey's also moved closer to Russia under Erdogan, and that does concern the West. Turkey didn't join other nations in sanctioning Moscow after it invaded Ukraine, for instance, and it refused to give up missiles it acquired from Russia. Turkey also has expanded its influence in many places - Asia, Africa, the Middle East. So the results of this election are being watched closely in a number of capitals.

FADEL: And what's next? It looks like this is going to a runoff, but that's not official yet, right?

KENYON: That's correct. Once all the votes are counted - and that could happen as early as later today - it will be up to the election authorities to declare what comes next. If, as expected, neither Erdogan nor Kilicdaroglu gets more than 50% of the vote, they should square off again in another nationwide vote on May 28th. Then the question becomes, what happens to the votes that were being cast for the two other candidates that were in the race? Meanwhile, voters are watching to see what comes next.

FADEL: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thank you, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Leila.


FADEL: The United Nations is doing something it's never done before. It is officially commemorating the mass displacement of Palestinians when Israel was founded exactly 75 years ago today.

MARTÍNEZ: Palestinians call it the Nakba, which means catastrophe in Arabic. Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan called the U.N. event shameful and is lobbying other countries not to participate.


GILAD ERDAN: Attending this despicable event means destroying any chance of peace by adopting the Palestinian narrative calling the establishment of the state of Israel a disaster.

MARTÍNEZ: And this comes during a cease-fire in fighting between Gaza militants and Israel.

FADEL: To put all this in context, we have NPR's Daniel Estrin, who covers the region. Good morning.


FADEL: So why is this day so contentious?

ESTRIN: You know, quite simply because what one nation calls its triumph another nation calls its catastrophe. And what happened 75 years ago still drives the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. What happened was that in 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, and that sparked a war between Arab and Jewish forces. And by the end, the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs were permanently displaced from their homes. The Jewish state of Israel was established. It destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages. And no Arab state was established.

And today, millions of Palestinians are still classified as refugees. And this is an open wound. I recently met Palestinian refugees who were visiting the ruins of their destroyed village. And Palestinians demand the right to return to the lands that they lost 75 years ago. Now, Israel says no way because that would mean the end of a Jewish state. And this very history, Leila, of Israel's role in the mass displacement of Palestinians is very taboo in Israel. There's even a law here that penalizes groups that commemorate Israel's founding as a day of mourning.

FADEL: How is this being commemorated at the U.N. today?

ESTRIN: So the U.N. is holding an event at the New York headquarters. The Palestinian Authority president is speaking. A Palestinian cellist will perform. And this is going to be streamed online. And Israel has lobbied countries to boycott it. The U.S. and Ukraine and other countries will not be there. But this is just one example of how the history of Palestinian displacement is being wrestled with in new ways. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American to be elected to Congress, wanted to host a Nakba commemoration event at the Capitol. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy blocked it, so they held it across the street in a Senate office building. And today in the West Bank, Palestinians will blare sirens for 75 seconds for the 75-year anniversary.

FADEL: Meanwhile, 75 years later, this conflict keeps deepening.

ESTRIN: It does. There were five days of fighting last week between Gaza militants and Israel. Thirty-four Palestinians, at least, and one Israeli were killed. Just this morning, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian in the occupied West Bank. So the battle continues for this land and the future of this land. You know, 75 years later, the two-state solution that most of the world has been advocating to this conflict, establishing Palestine alongside Israel - that seems more unrealistic than ever. And today, when you speak to many Palestinians, they say they've given up on that idea. And they see their best hope as a future where there's just one state and where Palestinians are equal to Israelis.

FADEL: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin. Thank you for your reporting, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome, Leila.


FADEL: New abortion restrictions may soon become law in North Carolina.

MARTÍNEZ: A bill banning most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper over the weekend. But Republican legislative leaders have vowed to override the Democratic governor's veto.

FADEL: Joining us to talk about where things stand is Colin Campbell, Capitol bureau chief for member station WUNC. Good morning, Colin.

COLIN CAMPBELL, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So the governor brought his veto stamp to a big weekend rally with abortion rights groups. What was the scene like there?

CAMPBELL: So normally, Governor Cooper vetoes bills more privately in his office. And then he sends us out a press release to announce his decision. This time, he did the paperwork on stage in front of a cheering crowd at the state capitol. Cooper argues that the restrictions go beyond banning most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.


ROY COOPER: They say this is a reasonable 12-week ban. It's not. The fine print requirements and restrictions will shut down clinics and make abortion completely unavailable to many women at any time.

CAMPBELL: So the decision to have a rally as a clear sign that Democrats are looking to make these new abortion restrictions a big focus for next year's election here.

FADEL: OK. So he clearly is coming out with a big message there. What's in this bill?

CAMPBELL: So the bill includes some exceptions after 12 weeks in situations involving rape, fetal abnormalities and where the life of the mother is in danger. Women seeking an abortion in the first trimester would have to jump through some additional hoops to have the procedure. And it increases licensing requirements and regulatory fees for abortion providers. Democrats say that abortion clinics could shut down, or providers might choose to move to other states with less restrictive laws. It also requires more in-person doctor visits, even for medication abortions. And this could be a challenge for people in rural areas of the state who may need to take time off work or find childcare or transportation to the doctor.

FADEL: Now, this bill doesn't actually go as far as abortion restrictions in other states. Why did the GOP go with this 12-week limit in North Carolina?

CAMPBELL: I think Republican legislative leaders here saw some of the backlash we've seen in other states and decided they wanted to take a different approach. Here's GOP Senator Vicki Sawyer pushing back against criticism of the bill during a committee hearing.


VICKIE SAWYER: I am confident that this is the best piece of compromise, mainstream legislation that we could put forward. I reject the fact what I'm hearing today that this is anti-woman and anti-democratic.

CAMPBELL: Republican legislators here have a range of opinions about abortion. The ones from the more socially conservative districts pushed for a full ban, while more moderate, suburban Republicans were worried about how that might affect them in next year's election. Ultimately, 12 weeks seemed to be what the Republicans thought would be the middle ground among their caucus. Of course, it's not at all a compromise with the Democrats. Also, in order to get more moderate Republicans to back the bill, they added in some other pretty widely popular family-related provisions, like paid parental leave for teachers and state government workers.

FADEL: Now, despite the veto, this could become law in North Carolina. How soon could that happen?

CAMPBELL: So the legislature will take a veto override vote as early as tomorrow. Republicans in the state have a veto-proof supermajority in both the House and the Senate. If the bill becomes law, most of the new restrictions will be taking effect on July 1. But the battle won't end there. Democrats will be using this new law to rally support to flip seats in the legislature and keep the governor's mansion in Democratic hands in 2024.

FADEL: Colin Campbell covers politics in North Carolina for member station WUNC. Thank you so much for your time.

CAMPBELL: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.