TIME Nigeria

Girls Who Escaped Boko Haram Tell of Horrors in Captivity

New Human Rights Watch report details the Nigerian Islamist group's abuse of abducted women and girls

Women and girls kidnapped by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram are raped and forced to marry fighters even if they are underage, according to testimonies from women who have escaped the group.

In its latest report, “Those Terrible Weeks in the Camp: Boko Haram Violence Against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria,” New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates that the militant group has abducted about 500 women and girls from Northern Nigeria since 2009. Earlier this year Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a secondary school in the town of Chibok in the northeast of the country. The mass abduction drew international outrage and sparked a viral social media campaign fuelled by the hashtag #bringbackourgirls. Human Rights Watch spoke to 12 of the 57 of the girls who have escaped; 219 are still missing.

Human Rights Watch explains that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has taken responsibility for abducting women and girls, and has justified the kidnappings as retaliation for the detention of Boko Haram family members held by the Nigerian government. In a 2012 video, Shekau says: “Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women … to your own wives according to Sharia law.”

But there’s also another motive for the kidnappings: punishing women who seek education. One victim who was kidnapped while traveling home from school in Konduga said that when the militants found out that she and her friends were students they said, “Aha! These are the people we are looking for. So you are the ones with strong heads who insist on attending school when we have said ‘boko’ is ‘haram.’ We will kill you here today.” Boko Haram’s name roughly translates to “Western education is a sin.”

The report confirms some of the worst fears about Boko Haram’s treatment of the girls they capture, specifically when it comes to sexual violence. According to interviews with survivors, most of the sexual violence and rape occurs within the context of forced marriages, although there are exceptions.

According to the interviews in the report, Boko Haram does not consider any girls too young for marriage. After one 17-year old prisoner complained that she was not yet old enough to marry a Boko Haram commander pointed to his 5-year-old daughter and said, “If she got married last year, and is just waiting till puberty for its consummation, how can you at your age be too young to marry?”

One woman who was raped in 2013 in a Boko Haram camp told Human Rights Watch that other women (specifically wives of Boko Haram leaders) were often complicit in sexual abuse of female prisoners. “I was lying down in the cave pretending to be ill because I did not want the marriage,” the woman told the researchers. “When the insurgent who had paid my dowry came in to force himself on me, the commander’s wife blocked the cave entrance and watched as the man raped me.”

Another girl was only 15 when she was forcibly married off to a Boko Haram commander after her abduction in 2013. “After we were declared married I was ordered to live in his cave but I always managed to avoid him,” the girl told Human Rights Watch. “He soon began to threaten me with a knife to have sex with him, and when I still refused he brought out his gun, warning that he would kill me if I shouted. Then he began to rape me every night. He was a huge man in his mid-30s and I had never had sex before. It was very painful and I cried bitterly because I was bleeding afterwards.”

The report cites numerous other reports of women being sexually assaulted by Boko Haram militants; some were raped within context of a forced marriage, others for being Christian, another was attacked for a perceived slight against the militants. The report acknowledges, however, that the group’s leaders did make some effort to protect kidnapped girls from random sexual abuses outside the context of “marriage.”

Human Rights Watch notes that rapes by Boko Haram are severely under-reported, largely due to the stigma around sexual abuse and the loss of virginity that sometimes occurs during the rapes in the conservative northeastern part of the country.

The report also delves into some of the specifics of the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls, thanks to testimony from 12 girls who escaped. The escaped girls said that Boko Haram did not discriminate based on religion when they abducted the schoolgirls, and took both Christian and Muslim girls. They said that they believe the militants were originally after the school’s brick-making machine, and only decided to kidnap the girls once they realized they were unguarded the principal, teachers, administrators were not on campus, and the only guard, an elderly man, had fled. One girl described the night Boko Haram arrived: “Two men told us we should not worry, we should not run. They said they had come to save us from what is happening inside the town, that they are policemen. We did not know that they were from Boko Haram. The rest of the men came and started shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and at that moment we realized, they were Boko Haram. We were told to be quiet. One of them told us that the horrible things we heard happening elsewhere, like burning houses, killing people, killing students, kidnapping people, would happen to us now. We all started crying and he told us to shut up.”

Another woman at the camps told Human Rights Watch she saw some of the Chibok schoolgirls forced to work for other women who were selected for “special treatment because of their beauty.”

The report also specifies that of all the girls who have escaped from Boko Haram interviewed by Human Rights Watch, only the Chibok schoolgirls have received any kind of state-sponsored medical aid or counseling. But one Chibok schoolgirl says the aid they received was more like a religious sermon, which is not what she needs.

“I just want someone who will listen to me and help me to stop the fear that takes over my mind when I think of my sisters (school mates) who are still with Boko Haram,” the girl told Human Rights Watch. “I am so afraid for them. Why can’t the government bring them back?”

[Human Rights Watch]

Read next: Boko Haram Kidnaps 30 Children in Nigeria

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Kidnaps 30 Children in Nigeria

File photo shows Rachel Daniel holding  up a picture of her abducted daughter Rose Daniel as her son Bukar sits beside her at her home in Maiduguri
Rachel Daniel, 35, holds up a picture of her abducted daughter Rose Daniel, 17, as her son Bukar, 7, sits beside her at her home in Maiduguri, May 21, 2014. Boko Haram kidnapped an additional 30 boys and girls from a village in northeast Nigeria during the weekend. Joe Penney—Reuters

Latest in a string of abductions despite reports of a cease-fire

Boko Haram militants reportedly abducted at least 30 boys and girls from a remote village in northeastern Nigeria over the weekend, throwing into question a government-declared cease-fire with the insurgents.

The Islamist extremists on Friday raided Mafa, a town in Borno state, CNN reports, and news of the abductions slowly got out because regional telecom service has taken a severe hit during Boko Haram’s five-year campaign of terror. Throughout the weekend, local leaders said the gunmen seized a dozen and a half boys and girls — some as young as age 11 — in what was thought to be an attempt at recruiting child soldiers.

The mass kidnapping in the restive region diminished hopes that the Nigerian government was close to striking a deal with the militants to secure the release of more than 219 schoolgirls abducted by the group in April.

[CNN]

TIME National Security

Nobel Peace Prize Winners Push Obama for Release of Torture Report

US-POLITICS-OBAMA
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking during a rally at Chicago State University Oct. 19, 2014 in Chicago. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

Say American leaders have “eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend”

Twelve winners of the Nobel Peace Prize asked President Barack Obama late Sunday to make sure that a Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of harsh interrogation tactics is released so the U.S. can put an end to a practice condemned by many as torture.

The release of the report, which is the most detailed account of the CIA’s interrogation practices in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, would be an opportunity for the U.S. and the world to come to terms with interrogation techniques that went too far, the laureates said in an open letter and petition. The release of the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has stalled as the Obama Administration the CIA, and lawmakers clashed over how much of it should be redacted.

American leaders have “eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend” by engaging in and justifying torture, the peace prize winners said. The letter was published on TheCommunity.com, a project spearheaded by Peace Prize winner and international peacemaker José Ramos-Horta.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa is among the laureates behind the letter, which also calls for the closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Read next: The Tragic Nobel Peace Prize Story You’ve Probably Never Heard

TIME Iraq

Suicide Attack Kills 11 People South of Baghdad

(BAGHDAD) — A suicide car bomber struck a checkpoint manned by Iraqi troops and pro-government Shiite militiamen south of Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 11 people, officials said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred on the outskirts of the Sunni town of Jurf al-Sakhar, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Baghdad, but the bombing bore all the hallmarks of the Islamic State group.

The IS militants lost control of the town only the previous day, when Iraqi soldiers and the Shiite militia retook Jurf al-Sakhar from the Sunni extremist group. The Islamic State group had seized the town in July, as part of its blitz that captures large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

In Monday’s attack, the bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into the checkpoint, killing at least 11 people and wounding 23, a police officer said.

Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they aren’t authorized to talk to media.

Jurf al-Sakhar is part of a predominantly Sunni ribbon of territory that runs just south of Baghdad and lies on a road usually taken by Shite pilgrims when they head in droves to the holy Shiite city of Karbala further to the south.

Pilgrims will be taking the route again next week in order to commemorate the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein — one of the most revered Shiite martyrs.

The shocking offensive by the Islamic State group, which captured not just territories in Iraq but also roughly a third of neighboring Syria, has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since U.S. troops left at the end of 2011.

TIME indonesia

Indonesia’s New President Appoints a Cabinet of Compromise

INDONESIA-POLITICS-CABINET
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center, adjusts his cap next to Vice President Jusuf Kalla, front right, and surrounded by members of his new Cabinet at the presidential palace in Jakarta on Oct. 27, 2014 Adek Berry—AFP/Getty Images

Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was elected on a mandate of change but must now work within political realities

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo — the first Indonesian from outside the military and political elite to hold the country’s top job — has unveiled the Cabinet that will help him run the world’s fourth most populous nation for the next five years.

However, while the new leader has touted himself as a harbinger of change, his Cabinet includes several figures that reflect compromise and the reality of political patronage, suggesting that the wunderkind of Indonesian politics may need to temper the expectations of voters.

The market appeared unimpressed, with the Jakarta Composite Index falling 0.6% on early Monday afternoon, and the rupiah changing little, Bloomberg reported.

On a positive note, he made his appointments in conjunction with the Corruption Eradication Commission (known by its Bahasa Indonesia initials of KPK) and the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK), the anti-money-laundering agency — a step forward in a nation beset by graft.

“I selected the ministers carefully and meticulously,” he said. “That’s important because this Cabinet will work for the next five years, and we want the chosen people to be clean figures, hence our consultations with the KPK and the PPATK.”

The antigraft commission rejected eight of the candidates submitted by Jokowi, forcing him to find last-minute replacements.

Besides technocrats and newcomers, the 34-strong lineup, which was sworn in Monday, includes clients of his party’s chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri and politicians from other coalition parties.

With Jokowi holding no leadership position in his own party (the Indonesian Democratic Party–Struggle, or PDI-P), and having to rely on coalition partners, appointments from within the political establishment are inevitable if disappointing to some.

“Realistically speaking, Jokowi can’t be fully independent from the political parties’ push and pull,” says Metta Dharmasaputra, executive director of Jakarta-based business research company KataData.

Reducing costly fuel subsidies and lifting economic growth are among the monumental tasks awaiting the new President. His choice to appoint experienced technocrats, such as the Coordinating Minister for Economics Sofyan Djalil and Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro, to key economic posts has won praise. He has also picked a technocrat and anticorruption activist, Sudirman Said, to lead the graft-ridden Energy Ministry.

Signaling his commitment to a more religiously tolerant Indonesia, Jokowi retained the incumbent Religious Affairs Minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, a moderate and highly respected Muslim politician.

Eight female ministers were appointed to the 34-strong Cabinet — a record number. For the first time in history, Indonesia has a female Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, who was ambassador to the Netherlands until recently. Indonesia also has a female Forestry and Environment Minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, a Nasdem Party politician. The appointments have been hailed by women’s activists, but political analyst Philips Vermonte, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said in a tweet, “This is quantity, not quality.”

The public and analysts are also less than impressed with the inclusion of Megawati loyalists in the Cabinet (two of whom are women): her daughter Puan Maharani; her former Trade Minister, Rini Soemarno; and her former army chief, retired general Ryamizard Ryacudu, who is known for his hard-line views on separatist conflicts and who was barred from traveling to the U.S. after his troops were implicated in killings of two American citizens in Papua in 2002.

Puan has been made Coordinating Minister of Human Development and Culture, a senior post, despite her having no experience in administration. Meanwhile, critics have long rejected Rini, the new State-Owned Enterprises Minister, on account of her alleged implication in several scandals, including the Bank of Indonesia Liquidity Assistance (BLBI) case, and a furor over the purchase of Sukhoi fighter jets.

The BLBI scandal revolves around the fate of $71 billion of Bank Indonesia bailout funds given to banks affected by the 1997–98 financial crisis; misuse of the funds led to huge state losses that threatened to bankrupt the central bank. The KPK questioned Rini as a witness last year because it was believed she knew about the so-called “release and discharge” documents that were given to some debtors even though they didn’t fulfill their obligations. In the Sukhoi scandal, she allegedly ordered the State Logistics Agency chief to make a $193 million deal to purchase from Russia four Sukhoi jets and two Mi-35 helicopters, which was outside his jurisdiction, and without involving parliament.

“Jokowi is spreading the patronage around among his coalition,” says Aaron Connelly, Indonesia analyst and research fellow of the East Asia program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

Megawati isn’t the only political figure to have foisted her people on Jokowi. An acolyte of Vice President Jusuf Kalla’s, from his hometown in South Sulawesi, was given the agriculture portfolio.

Some foresee difficulties ahead. Indonesia’s diplomats and defense officials have not traditionally seen eye to eye. With Megawati’s military man Ryamizard as Defense Minister, and Jokowi’s choice of a career diplomat like Retno (who is said not to be very familiar with the military) as Foreign Minister, Connelly says the antipathy will continue and two ministries are likely to “struggle to get on the same page.”

TIME Soccer

South Africa’s Soccer Captain Senzo Meyiwa Has Been Shot Dead

Australia South Africa Soccer Mayiwa Obit
In this file photo dated May 26, 2014, South Africa's goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa makes a diving save against Australia during their friendly soccer match in Sydney Rick Rycroft—AP

Armed men entered a house where Meyiwa was staying, but the motive remains unclear

South African national soccer captain and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa was fatally shot on Sunday by armed men who broke into the house where he was residing.

Two gunmen entered the house, located in the Vosloorus township near Johannesburg, while an accomplice waited outside, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities said there were seven people in the house at the time of the shooting, which reportedly came after an “altercation.” A motive for the murder remains unclear.

Meyiwa, 27, played for South African soccer club Orlando Pirates and also captained the national side in its last four games.

“This is a sad loss whichever way you look at it — to Senzo’s family, his extended family, Orlando Pirates and to the nation,” Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza said.

South Africa lost another prominent sportsman just a couple of days earlier, when athlete Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was killed in an automobile accident on Friday.

[AP]

TIME Afghanistan

An Afghan Cleric Got 20 Years for Rape in a Landmark Judgment

For once, the victim, a 10-year-old girl, is not made to share the blame

A Muslim cleric has been sentenced in a Kabul court to 20 years in prison for raping a young girl in his mosque.

The trial was widely hailed on Saturday as a significant milepost in the fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan, for the fact that the 10-year-old victim was not held responsible for the rape, as is still common in such cases, CNN reports.

The saga began when rights group Women for Afghan Women intervened in the case to shelter the victim and protect her from family members who were overheard contemplating murdering her, in a so-called “honor killing.” The victim has since been returned to her family, who have made promises not to harm her and who attended the proceedings.

It ended with the child confronting her attacker, Mullah Mohammad Amin, in court, shaking, weeping, and saying: “You are a liar…you ruined my life…God will hate you for what you did to me, he will punish you.”

Amin’s lawyers had contended that the victim was 17-years-old and that the sex was consensual, making him culpable not of rape but the lesser crime of adultery — a charge that would make the girl also eligible for punishment. Medical evidence disputed the cleric’s Sharia Law defense.

Amin received a sentence consistent with the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law, which for the first time made rape a crime in Afghanistan.

[CNN]

TIME Canada

Gunman in Canada Attack Prepared Video of Himself

Canada Shooting
This image provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police shows and undated image of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, who shot a soldier to death at Canada's national war memorial on Oct. 22, 2014 Associated Press

Police are investigating Michael Zehaf-Bibeau's interactions with numerous individuals in the days leading up to the attack

(TORONTO) — A gunman who shot and killed a soldier at Canada’s national war memorial and then stormed Parliament before he was gunned down had prepared a video recording of himself that police say shows he was driven by ideological and political motives, police said Sunday.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said in a statement they have “persuasive evidence that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack was driven by ideological and political motives.”

A detailed analysis of the video was being conducted and Paulson said they cannot release the video at this time.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called Wednesday’s shooting a terror attack, and the bloodshed raised fears that Canada is suffering reprisals for joining the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria.

Police are investigating Zehaf-Bibeau’s interactions with numerous individuals in the days leading up to the attack and whether they could have contributed or facilitated it.

Paulson said a knife carried by Zehaf-Bibeau was taken from his aunt’s property in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, and they’re looking into how he got the rifle. Paulson called it an old, uncommon gun that police suspect he could have also hidden on the property.

Paulson said investigators also identified where he got his money for the car he bought and his pre-attack activities. He said Zehaf-Bibeau has been employed in the oil fields in Alberta, saved his money and had access to a considerable amount of funds.

“The RCMP is confident we will have an authoritative and detailed account of the shooting, including a complete reconstruction of the heroic actions of those involved, in the weeks to come,” said Paulson, who also said the Ontario Provincial Police will investigate the shooting inside Parliament.

Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, shot to death Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, who was assigned to the honor guard at the national war memorial. Zehaf-Bibeau was eventually gunned down inside Parliament by the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, Kevin Vickers.

The attack in Ottawa came two days after a man described as an “ISIL-inspired terrorist” ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Quebec, killing one and injuring the other before being shot to death by police. The man had been under surveillance by Canadian authorities, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.

Unlike the attacker in the Quebec case, Zehaf-Bibeau was not being watched by authorities. But Paulson said last week Zehaf-Bibeau, whose father was from Libya, may have lashed out in frustration over delays in getting his passport. Paulson said his mother told police that her son had wanted to go Syria. Susan Bibeau later denied that in a letter published by Postmedia News, saying her son told her he wanted to go to Saudi Arabia where he could study the Qu’ran.

TIME Military

What the Failure of ISIS to Take Kobani Means

US-led coalition forces hit ISIL targets in Kobani
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani following a U.S.-led air strike on Sunday. Sercan Kucuksahin / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

The Kurdish struggle to hold on to Syrian border town isn't all good news

Coming back after two weeks away, it’s surprising that the Syrian town of Kobani hasn’t fallen to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. Pentagon officials were predicting earlier this month that ISIS fighters would overrun the town, near the Turkish border, by mid-October, followed by widespread slaughters among the conquered population.

That hasn’t happened. And while that’s obviously good news in the short term for the city’s 200,000 largely-Kurdish residents, it’s tougher to handicap what it means for the long-term U.S.-led effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

Earlier this month, U.S. military officers were speaking of ISIS’s “momentum,” and how its string of military successes over the past year meant that quickly halting its advance would likely prove difficult if not impossible. Yet, as far as Kobani is concerned, that seems to be what is taking place.

But that raises the stakes for the U.S. and its allies. Having smothered ISIS’s momentum, an eventual ISIS victory in the battle for Kobani would be a more devastating defeat for the U.S. military than an earlier collapse of the town.

There are concerns that the focus on saving Kobani is giving ISIS free reign elsewhere in its self-declared caliphate—that the U.S., in essence, could end up winning the battle while losing the war.

“The U.S. air campaign has turned into an unfocused mess,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote Friday. “The U.S. has shifted limited air strike resources to focus on Syria and a militarily meaningless and isolated small Syrian Kurdish enclave at Kobani at the expense of supporting Iraqi forces in Anbar and intensifying the air campaign against other Islamic State targets in Syria.”

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., expressed frustration that the Obama Administration believes its latest fight against ISIS will yield success when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t. “We understand the definition of insanity: continue to do the same thing and expect something different to happen,” he said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “If we can contain them there, leave them there, I don’t know what else to do. They’re intent on destroying each other, and they’ve been doing it for 1,400 years.”

The chattering classes are likewise not impressed by the fight for Kobani and the overall U.S. strategy against ISIS.

“The town, once dismissed as inconsequential by American commanders, has become not only a focus of the American operation against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, but also a test of the administration’s strategy, which is based on airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and reliance on local ground forces to defeat the militants,” the New York Times said in a Friday editorial. “A setback in Kobani would show the fragility of the American plan and hand the Islamic State an important victory.”

On Sunday, the Washington Post declared Obama’s strategy “unworkable,” and said “the United States will have to broaden its aims and increase its military commitment if the terrorists are to be defeated” (the Post‘s advocacy for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq should be kept in mind while listening to such drumbeats).

For its part, the Pentagon is willing to trade 2003’s “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad for a long-term campaign of modest and persistent air strikes that can stall ISIS until better-trained Iraqi forces and yet-to-be-tapped-for-training Syrian rebels can begin reclaiming territory.

The U.S. military is willing to take its time, not that it has much choice, given the situation on the ground and the curbs placed on it by the White House. “Here we are not three months into it and there are critics saying it’s falling apart; it’s failing; the strategy is not sound,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Friday. “The strategy is sound and it’s working and there’s no plans to deviate it from right now.”

The Pentagon has made clear from the start that the battle against ISIS “will be a years-long effort,” Kirby said. “So I think a little bit of patience is required here.” Patience, of course, has never been an American trait. Democracies in general are ill-suited to waging lengthy wars.

But one thing the Pentagon has on its side is the dearth of casualties so far in what some are calling the third Iraq war. A Marine was killed Oct. 1 when he jumped from a V-22 aircraft in the Persian Gulf because he feared the aircraft was going to crash (it didn’t). A second Marine died in Baghdad Oct. 23 in what the Pentagon called a “non-combat-related incident.”

If the U.S. can turn the campaign against ISIS into a sustained, low-casualty operation like the drone wars it has been secretly waging for years in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, the public may go along. Whether that will be sufficient to degrade ISIS is, of course, a separate issue.

Read next: 19-Year-Old Marine Is First Soldier to Die Fighting ISIS in Iraq

TIME brazil

Brazilian President Rousseff Is Re-Elected

Brazil's President and Workers' Party (PT) presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff gestures to photographers after voting in the runoff election in Porto Alegre
Brazil's President and Workers' Party (PT) presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff gestures to photographers after voting in the runoff election in Porto Alegre, Oct. 26, 2014. Rousseff won re-election. Paulo Whitaker—Reuters

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff was re-elected Sunday in the tightest race the nation has seen since its return to democracy three decades ago, after a bitter campaign that divided Brazilians like no other before it.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Rousseff had 51.5 percent of the ballots, topping center-right challenger Aecio Neves with 48.5 percent.

Rousseff’s victory extends the rule of the Workers’ Party, which has held the presidency since 2003. During that time, they’ve enacted expansive social programs that have helped pull millions of Brazilians out of poverty and into the middle class

The choice between Rousseff and Neves split Brazilians into two camps — those who thought only the president would continue to protect the poor and advance social inclusion versus those who were certain that only the contender’s market-friendly economic policies could see Brazil return to solid growth.

The Workers’ Party’s time in power has seen a profound transformation in Brazil. But four straight years of weak economic growth under Rousseff, with an economy that’s now in a technical recession, has some worried those gains are under threat.

“Brazilians want it all. They are worried about the economy being sluggish and stagnant but they want to preserve social gains that have been made,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. “The question is which candidate is best equipped to deliver both of those.”

Rousseff and Neves have fought bitterly to convince voters that they can deliver on both growth and social advances. This year’s campaign is widely considered the most acrimonious since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985, a battle between the only two parties to have held the presidency since 1995.

Neves has hammered at Rousseff over a widening kickback scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras, with an informant telling investigators that the Workers’ Party directly benefited from the scheme.

Rousseff rejected those allegations and told Brazilians that a vote for Neves would be support for returning Brazil to times of intense economic turbulence, hyperinflation and high unemployment, which the nation encountered when the Social Democrats last held power.

“We’ve worked so hard to better the lives of the people, and we won’t let anything in this world, not even in this crisis nor all the pessimism, take away what they’ve conquered,” Rousseff said before voting in southern Brazil.

In Rio de Janeiro, 43-year-old lifeguard Marcelo Barbosa dos Santos voted in the Botafogo neighborhood and said he’s been a Rousseff backer from the beginning.

“Many things changed for the better during Dilma’s administration,” he said. “The poor have seen our lives improved and we want that to continue.”

But Paula Canongia, a 34-year-old hotel owner, said she voted for Neves because of “the current state of our country.”

“He’s not an ideal candidate, far from it … but we desperately need change and hopefully he can provide that,” she said.

Officials from Brazil’s top electoral court said voting went smoothly through late afternoon. However, there was a shooting at a polling location in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, when a man was shot and killed inside a school where ballots were cast. Police said it appeared to be gang-related.

 

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