- Erdoğan clinches victory in Turkish constitutional referendum
At least 68 children were among 126 people killed in Saturday’s bomb attack on buses carrying evacuees from besieged Syrian towns, activists say.
A vehicle filled with explosives hit the convoy near Aleppo.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said at least 109 evacuees from government-held towns were killed, along with aid workers and rebel soldiers.
Many more were injured in the attack, the group said.
The explosion shattered buses and set cars on fire, leaving a trail of bodies, as the convoy waited in rebel territory near Aleppo.
Separately, several people, mostly children, are reported to have been injured by shelling in the capital, Damascus.
At least three shells landed near the central Umayyad Square, state and pro-government media outlets reported. State TV blamed “terrorists”.
The evacuees attacked on Saturday were being moved from Foah and Kefraya, mostly Shia Muslim government-held towns which have been encircled by rebels and al-Qaeda-linked Sunni jihadists since March 2015.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bus attack.
In his Easter Sunday address, Pope Francis called the bombing a “vile attack on fleeing refugees”.
“May [God] sustain the efforts of those who are actively working to bring comfort and relief to the civilian population in beloved Syria, who are greatly suffering from a war that does not cease to sow horror and death,” he said.
The bomb went off at Rashidin, west of government-held Aleppo, at about 15:30 local time (12:30 GMT) at the checkpoint where the handover of evacuees was due to take place.
It happened when a vehicle loaded with food arrived and started distributing crisps, attracting many children, before exploding, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Lina Sinjab said.
She said it was not clear how the vehicle could have reached the area without government permission.
But there is also no evidence that rebels were involved in the attack, as the government claims.
It would not be in the rebels’ interest, our correspondent says, as they were waiting for their own supporters to be evacuated from the other towns.
The planned evacuation was part of the so-called “four towns” deal, where thousands of civilians in towns under siege by both sides would be allowed to leave.
It applies to Foah and Kefraya, as well as rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani near Damascus.
In the meantime, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has achieved victory in a historic referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that will grant him sweeping new powers.
Sadi Güven, the head of Turkey’s high electoral board (YSK), confirmed the passage of the referendum on Sunday night, based on unofficial results.
The yes campaign won 1.25m more votes than the no campaign, with only about 600,000 votes still to be counted, Güven told reporters in Ankara, meaning the expanded presidential powers had been approved.
However, disparities persisted into Sunday evening, with the opposition saying not all ballots had been counted and they would contest a third of the votes that had been cast.
Güven said the YSK had decided to consider unstamped ballots as valid unless they were proved to be fraudulent, after a high number of complaints – including one from the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) – that its officials had failed to stamp some ballot papers.
The no campaign said the YSK’s last-minute decision raised questions about the validity of the vote. But Güven said the decision was taken before results were entered into the system and that members of the AKP and the main opposition were present at almost all polling stations and signed off on reports. He said official results were expected in 11-12 days.
The result of the referendum sets the stage for a transformation of the upper echelons of the state and changing the country from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential republic, arguably the most important development in the country’s history since it was founded on the ashes of the Ottoman Republic.
Erdoğan said he would immediately discuss reinstating the death penalty in talks with the prime minister and the nationalist opposition leader, Devlet Bahçeli. The president said he would take the issue to referendum if necessary.
The narrow victory will nevertheless come as a disappointment for the country’s leadership, which had hoped for a decisive mandate for the plan that could see Erdoğan remain in power until 2029 if he wins successive elections.
The result will set the stage for a further split between Turkey and its European allies, who believe Ankara is sliding towards autocracy. The European commission said on Sunday night that Turkey should seek the “broadest possible national consensus” in its constitutional amendments, given the yes campaign’s slim margin of victory.
Results carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency showed the yes vote had about 51.3% compared with 48.7% for the no vote, with nearly 99% of the vote counted. Turnout exceeded 80%.
The country’s three largest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – voted against the changes, and so did the vast majority of Kurdish voters and many of the coastal cities, indicating a general decline in the ruling party’s support.
BBC with additional report from Guardian