Archive for January 5, 2014

November 26, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s police fired water cannons Tuesday to disperse dozens of activists protesting police brutality in Cairo, the security forces’ first implementation of a controversial new law forbidding protests held without a permit from authorities.

The unrest points to the growing backlash against the law, which imposes heavy restrictions on protests, among the secular political factions that rallied behind the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Now some in the loose coalition are growing impatient with signs the military-backed interim government is taking the country down a more authoritarian path. Many non-Islamist activists say the law aims to silence any dissent ahead of a referendum on an amended constitution and other key elections. Those activists oppose provisions in the revised constitution entrenching greater powers for the military and the president, and curtailing rights to free trials and assembly.

The government says the law is needed to restore security and stability and rein in near daily protests by Morsi supporters demanding his reinstatement. The Islamist rallies have often descended into bloody clashes with security forces, leaving hundreds dead since Morsi’s ouster in July. The government’s message has a strong resonance among a public weary of constant protests and unrest.

But rights groups and activists say the law, issued Monday by the interim president, will stifle Islamists and non-Islamists alike. They say it is harsher than restrictions on protests during the rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011 in an uprising calling for greater democratic freedoms.

“They don’t want anyone in the streets any more. Not us, not the Islamists,” said Rasha Azab, a political activist who took part in Tuesday’s rally that was broken up by security forces. International criticism of the law has also been growing.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday that the law raises concerns because it does not meet international standards and will not move Egypt’s transition forward. “We urge the interim government to respect individual rights and we urge that the new constitution protect such rights,” she said.

Skeptical of both Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group and the military, activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Mubarak have been organizing limited but rare non-Islamist protests in recent weeks demanding justice from police officials who killed hundreds of protesters during the tumultuous past three years. The activists have openly clashed with the military before — when generals directly ruled Egypt following Mubarak’s fall — and then with the Brotherhood during Morsi’s one year in office.

On Tuesday, around 100 secular protesters held a rally in downtown Cairo to commemorate the death of protester Gaber Salah, known by the nickname “Gika,” at the hands of police a year ago. Police quickly deployed to the area.

As protesters gathered, a police officer came out in front of an armored vehicle and told the crowd that they had no permit, the activist Azab said. He gave two warnings before the police fired water cannons, sending the protesters running into sidestreets, she said.

Azab said she was briefly detained, and an officer told her that while he has the right to arrest her, he was letting her go to tell her colleagues that no protests will be allowed to take place without permits any more.

“I told him: You want me to take a permit after January 2011? He said: This is what the moment calls for,” she said. “They want to bring us back” to before 2011. She said for the authorities, the secular activists — though smaller in numbers — “are more of a nuisance than the Brotherhood because we don’t have a central leader like the Islamists’ guide to tell us what to do.”

A police spokesman, Maj. Gen. Abdel-Fattah Othman, told the private CBC station that the rally was dispersed because organizers had not sought a permit from security officials as required by the new law.

“This behavior is a challenge to the state and its prestige. The protesters want to embarrass the state. But the state is capable,” Othman told the station. “Any gathering without a permit will be dealt with according to the law.”

Security forces had heavily deployed across town where Morsi supporters had planned to hold a rally later Tuesday.

November 24, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s interim president on Sunday banned public gatherings of more than 10 people without prior government approval, imposing hefty fines and prison terms for violators in a bid to stifle the near-constant protests roiling the country.

The new law is more restrictive than regulations used under the rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, overthrown in Egypt’s 2011 uprising that marked the start of unrest in the country. Rights groups and activists immediately denounced it, saying it aims to stifle opposition, allow repressive police practices and keep security officials largely unaccountable for possible abuses.

“The law is giving a cover to justify repression by all means,” said Bahy Eddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, one of the local groups that had campaigned against the law.

The military-backed government first floated the law in October. Interim President Adly Mansour approved a slightly amended version Sunday, which removed a proposed ban on sit-ins and a draft portion criminalizing “insulting the state.”

The law requires three-day prior notice for protests. It grants security agencies the right to bar any protests or public gatherings, including election-related meetings of political parties, if they deem it a threat to public safety or order. Protesters can appeal the decision, but the law doesn’t force judges to rule ahead of scheduled protests.

The new law also bars gatherings in places of worship, a regular meeting place for all protests in Egypt and one heavily used by Islamist groups. The law also says the police have the right — following warnings — to use force gradually, including the use of water cannons, tear gas and clubs.

Rights groups say the law also gives police unrestricted use of birdshot to put down protests, omitting an article that prohibited the use of force in excess. Penalties in the law range from seven years in prison for using violence in a protest. It calls for one year in prison for covering the face in a country where many women wear full-face veils. It calls for a similar prison sentence for protesting in or around a place of worship.

The law sets fines of $44,000 for being violent at a protest. It sets fines of $1,500 for protesting without a permit, a hefty sum in Egypt, where the minimum monthly salary for public employees has finally been raised to 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($175).

The law comes 10 days after authorities lifted a three-monthlong emergency order that granted security forces sweeping powers. Rights groups and political forces campaigned heavily against the law. “The law is labelled one that regulates protests rights, but in essence it is regulates the repression of the right to protest,” Hassan said.

Hassan said government officials and supportive media outlets promoted the law as means to halt protests by supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who was removed by the military in July. Morsi’s supporters hold near-daily protests that often turn violent, though the size of the demonstrations have dropped due to an intense security crackdown targeting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Shaima Awad, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, said protests would continue, calling the new law “nonsense.” “How can I notify them three days before the protests and give the names of organizers? It would be like handing myself in,” Award said. The law “unifies revolutionaries afresh. … We can now all agree that the military authorities are trying to strangle any voice that says no. We won’t accept and others won’t accept that either.”

A similar law to regulate protests was hotly contested when Morsi was in office. It never passed. Gamal Eid, a civil rights lawyer, said Mansour’s approval of the law “wasted a right that was seized through much bloodshed” in the past three years.

“I would have imagined that as a temporary president he would have issued a law that grants rights instead of denies them,” Eid said. Hassan said the protest law, along with a proposal allowing for civilians to be tried by military courts and other legislation aimed at combating terrorism, “are all steps to reinforce the basis of the police state that was threatened after the January 2011 uprising.”

“The law can’t be viewed separately from what happens in other domains,” he said. “The worst is yet to come.” Meanwhile Sunday, a public prosecutor referred Mubarak to a new trial on charges of embezzling some $18 million worth of state funds to build and renovate family homes. The prosecutor also referred two of Mubarak’s sons, two government officials and two contractors to stand trial with the ex-leader.

No date for the trial has been set yet. Mubarak already faces a retrial for his alleged role in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 uprising against him and separate corruption charges.

November 23, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt downgraded diplomatic relations Saturday with Turkey and expelled its ambassador from Cairo, a sharp escalation in tensions between the two countries that mounted after a military coup ousted the country’s Islamist president this summer.

In a quick reaction, Turkey reciprocated by declaring the Egyptian ambassador “persona non grata” and downgrading relations with Egypt to the same level. Egypt’s ambassador hadn’t been in the country since August over the turmoil.

Saturday’s decisions, which fall short of closing diplomatic missions in the two countries, are a dramatic reversal of the warming relations between the two countries over the past year. Egypt’s interim government vehemently has protested remarks by Turkish leaders criticizing the popularly backed military coup that toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The decision Saturday followed another critical comment by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters in the Black Sea coastal city of Trabzon, Erdogan appeared unfazed by the diplomatic snub. He said there would be no shift in his position toward Egypt’s new rulers. “I will never have respect for those who come to power through coups,” Erdogan said Saturday.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said it considered the Turkish envoy “persona non grata” and asked him to leave the country. The ministry said it will scale back its diplomatic relations with Turkey to the level of charge d’affaires.

“This (Turkish) leadership has persisted in its unacceptable and unjustified positions by trying to turn the international community against Egyptian interests and … by making statements that can only be described as an offense to the popular will,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

A Turkish ministry statement said Egypt’s interim government, “which came to power in exceptional circumstances,” was responsible for the deteriorating relations. “The deep-rooted ties and bonds of brotherhood between the people of Turkey and Egypt will remain,” the statement said. “We hope that stability and democracy in Egypt is restored as soon as possible and that relations between the two countries are normalized.”

Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters that he hoped the two country’s relations “will be restored soon.” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he believed ties would be restored “once a government elected by the will of the people” comes to power in Egypt.

Since Egypt’s 2011 uprising against Morsi’s predecessor, autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Turkey sought to strengthen ties with the country’s new political order. The Turkish president was the first to visit Egypt after the fall of Mubarak in February 2011. Trade between the two countries increased by about 27 percent in the following year to $3.8 billion in the first nine months of 2012. Turkey also increased its investment in Egypt and currently has some 26 development projects in Egypt.

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party strongly backed toppled Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi — a leading figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — as an example for the Arab world of a democratically elected Islamist leader. Turkey criticized his popularly backed July 3 overthrow by Egypt’s military, while also criticizing the West for what it deemed as a weak response to the coup.

Turkey and Egypt previously recalled their ambassadors in August after Turkey condemned the ouster and a subsequent bloody crackdown on pro-Morsi protests. Turkey’s ambassador returned weeks later, but Egypt declined to return its envoy to Ankara.

Saturday’s decision comes after Erdogan renewed his criticism of Egypt’s new leaders, dismissing the trial of Morsi on charges of inciting murder of his opponents while in office and describing the situation in Egypt as a “humanitarian drama.” He had previously called for the trial of Egypt’s new leaders for the crackdown.

At a speech Saturday, Erdogan made the four-finger gesture that refers to a sit-in near a mosque in Cairo where a bloody security crackdown killed hundreds of Morsi supporters in a show of solidarity with Islamists.

Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour has said that Turkey should have relations with “Egypt and its people — and not with leaders of a certain group.” Egyptian officials and media have repeatedly accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders of meeting in Turkey to plan protests and other ways to undermine the new government in Cairo.

On Saturday, the independent Egyptian daily newspaper al-Watan reported on its front page that the international members of the Muslim Brotherhood continued “their plotting” against Egypt in a meeting in Istanbul. The paper was referring to a human rights conference in which participants said they will take legal actions against Egypt’s new leaders for what it said were “massacres” against supporters of Morsi.

Frazer reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writer Desmond Butler in Istanbul contributed to the report.


CAIRO – Egypt’s interim rulers gave police on Thursday the power to enter university campuses to quell protests without seeking prior permission, after a student was killed in clashes.

Students who support the new military-installed authorities and those who oppose it have clashed regularly in Cairo and elsewhere since the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on July 3.

The military-installed cabinet said police may now enter campuses “without seeking permissions in case of threats and to confront protests that could harm students.”

Previously, police had to obtain permission from the prosecutor general or university authorities before entering campuses or dormitories to deal with demonstrators or fighting.

Thursday’s move came after a student was killed overnight at an Al-Azhar University dorm in Cairo’s Nasr City district, a security official and a medic said.

The student had been hit by birdshot in the chest and neck.

The clashes were between supporters and opponents of the new army-installed authorities, security officials said, adding that groups of students also confronted each other at Cairo University on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a court in the capital sentenced 38 Al-Azhar University students to 18 months in prison for “participating in violence” at the campus in October, state news agency MENA reported.

The authorities are engaged in a crackdown on Morsi’s Islamist supporters in which more than 1,000 people have been killed since the middle of August and thousands more arrested.

Among initiatives announced by the cabinet on Thursday was boosting the powers of the police and military to help fight “terrorism.”

Islamist militants have stepped up attacks in the restive Sinai since Morsi’s ouster and have also targeted security forces outside the peninsula.

On Wednesday, a car bomb in the Sinai killed 11 soldiers and wounded 34, and another blast in Cairo wounded four policemen.

The Sinai attack was the deadliest in the region bordering Gaza and Israel since an August 19 ambush on a security convoy killed 25 police in the north Sinai town of Rafah.

And on Thursday, a police officer was shot dead north of Cairo while on a mission to arrest militants suspected of assassinating a senior security official on Sunday.

Captain Ahmed Samer Mahmoud was killed at dawn in an operation in the Nile Delta town of Qulubiya when a Special Forces team exchanged fire with militants, the interior ministry said.

The team was chasing “terrorist elements” wanted for Sunday’s murder of Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Mabruk, it said.

Mabruk, an officer involved in the crackdown against Islamists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood to which Morsi belonged was shot dead in Cairo.

A Sinai-based group linked to Al-Qaeda, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, said its militants had killed him.

The group had previously claimed it bombed the interior minister’s convoy in a failed assassination attempt in September.

Also on Thursday a police officer was shot dead while on patrol in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya, security officials said, adding that one of the two assailants had been arrested.

The cabinet also said it has decided to review recent citizenship offered to non-Egyptians, referring mainly to the nearly three years since long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak quit in February 2011.

The media has reported that Morsi’s government had stepped up efforts to grant Egyptian nationality to Palestinians staying in the country.

Source: Middle East Online.

Beijing (AFP)
Dec 31, 2013

An exile Uighur group on Tuesday demanded Chinese authorities allow independent investigations into a clash in Xinjiang where eight “attackers” were shot dead by police, the latest deadly incident in the largely Muslim region.

The Xinjiang regional government should “fully disclose all information” on the Monday violence and allow “an independent investigation to be conducted by international organs”, the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said in a statement.

It also called on Beijing to open Shache county, where the conflict took place, to foreign media and government representatives “to allow transparency surrounding the narrative of the incident”.

The area, around 200 kilometers (124 miles) south-east of Kashgar, is known as Yarkand in the Uighur language.

Chinese authorities have described the incident as an “organized and premeditated terrorist attack” on a local police station by a total of nine “terrorists” armed with knives and explosive devices, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

One of the “attackers” was held in the clash, it said, adding police confiscated 25 explosives and nine knives at the site of the “attack”.

The group, led by two apparent Uighurs identified as Usman Barat and Abdugheni Abdukhadir, had gathered to watch terrorist videos and promoted religious extremist ideas since August, Xinhua quoted Xinjiang police as saying. They had also raised funds and made and tested explosives for planned terrorist attacks, it added.

Uighurs, who have followed Islam for centuries, are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, a sprawling and resource-rich region four times the size of Japan and rich in oil and natural gas.

The WUC alleged that the incident was another case of the government silencing dissent by killing Uighurs under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

“This incident testifies to a recent trend of state-sponsored violence used to quell Uighur dissent, whereby authorities ignore due process of the law, shoot and kill Uighurs, label them terrorists, and then use counter-terrorism to justify the unlawful killings,” said WUC president Rebiya Kadeer in the statement.

Authorities have blamed “terrorists” for a series of similar incidents this year in Xinjiang.

Rights groups and outside scholars, however, say unrest is spawned by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and a wave of immigration by China’s Han majority.

Information in the area is tightly controlled and difficult to independently verify.

In the worst outbreak of sectarian violence in recent years in China, around 200 people died and more than 1,600 were injured while hundreds were arrested in riots in the Xinjiang regional capital Urumqi in July 2009.

Source: Space War.

January 05, 2014

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Many Bangladeshis stayed away from polling stations in Sunday’s general elections, marred by an opposition boycott and relentless violence that threatens to deepen the crisis in the South Asian nation.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s refusal to heed opposition demands to step down and appoint a neutral caretaker to oversee the election led to the boycott, undermining the legitimacy of the vote. Opposition activists responded with attacks, strikes and transportation blockades in unrest that killed at least 275 people in 2013.

“We never expected such an election. For such a situation both the government and opposition are responsible. They don’t want to establish democracy,” said Aminul Islam, a Dhaka resident who refused to vote.

Police opened fire to stop protesters from seizing a polling center in northern Rangpur district, killing two people. In a similar incident in neighboring Nilphamari district, police fired into about two dozens of protesters, leaving one person dead.

Police gave no further details, but Dhaka’s Daily Star newspaper said the three men belonged to the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party. Elsewhere, police said suspected opposition activists stabbed to death a polling official, and local media reported that attackers torched more than 127 school buildings across the country in overnight attacks. The buildings were to be used as polling stations.

The voting began at 8 a.m. but local television stations showed mostly empty polling stations, still wrapped in early morning winter fog. By midmorning, polling was suspended in at least 120 centers because of attacks, burning of ballots and election materials, an election official said on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to reporters.

At a polling station in Dhaka’s Mirpur district, only 25 out of 24,000 registered voters cast their ballot in the first two hours, with polling officials saying fear of violence and absence of any strong opposition kept people away.

The chaos could exacerbate economic woes in this deeply impoverished country of 160 million and lead to radicalization in a strategic pocket of South Asia, analysts say. Hasina’s refusal to quit and name an independent caretaker administration, which resulted in the boycott by opposition parties, means the election will mainly be a contest between candidates from the ruling Awami League and its allies. Awami League candidates are running unchallenged in more than half of the country’s 300 parliamentary constituencies.

Bangladesh has a grim history of political violence, including the assassinations of two presidents and 19 failed coup attempts since its independence from Pakistan in 1971. “I am fearful that deadly violence could return, people would continue to suffer, political forces with extreme views could emerge in the face of government crackdown and repressive measures,” said Asif Nazrul, a law teacher and analyst. “This election will just pollute our very new democracy by shrinking the space for opposite views.”

The squabbling between Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia — known as the “Battling Begums” — has become a bitter sideshow as both women, who have dominated Bangladeshi politics for two decades, vie to lead the country. “Begum” is an honorific for Muslim women of rank.

Zia urged people to boycott what she called “farcical” elections. “None at home and abroad will legitimize it,” she said. The bickering between the two longtime rivals caused an uproar in October, when the women spoke for the first time in years in an acrimonious telephone call.

“I called you around noon. You didn’t pick up,” Hasina said, according to a transcript published in the Dhaka Tribune, an English-language newspaper. Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said the prime minister was wrong.

“You have to listen to me first,” Zia snapped. Last weekend, after authorities barred Zia from leaving her home to join a rally, she told police that she would change the name of Gopalganj, Hasina’s home district, if she came to power. Her outburst was broadcast live on TV while roads around her home were heavily guarded and sand-laden trucks were parked to obstruct her movement.

A key factor in the latest dispute is the role of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic political party. The party is a key ally of Zia, and was a coalition partner in the government Zia led from 2001 to 2006.

Opponents of Jamaat-e-Islami say it is a fundamentalist group with no place in a secular country. Bangladesh is predominantly Muslim, but is governed by largely secular laws based on British common law.

The execution last month of Abdul Quader Mollah, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader and a key member of the opposition, exposed the country’s seething tensions. Mollah was the first person to be hanged for war crimes in Bangladesh under an international tribunal established in 2010 to investigate atrocities stemming from the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators including Mollah, killed at least 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war. The case remains politically volatile because most of those being tried are connected to the opposition.

The European Union, the United States and the British Commonwealth said they would not send observers for the election. U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Washington was disappointed that the major political parties have not reached a consensus on a way to hold free, fair and credible elections.

By Justin Salhani
Dec. 13, 2013

Dec. 13 (UPI) –The senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, Abdul Kader Mullah, was buried after his execution by hanging for 1971 war crimes in Bangladesh’s war of liberation against Pakistan.

Described as the Butcher of Mirpur, Mullah, 65, has been alleged to have massacred unarmed civilians and killed intellectuals, who were supporting the independence from Pakistan.

Mullah was the first person convicted by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal.

Before his death, Mullah’s family was allowed to meet him one last time. “He told us that he is proud to be a martyr for the cause of the Islamic movement in the country,” his son Hasan Jamil said.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

December 13, 2013

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — An Islamist political party has vowed to deepen the role of Islam in Bangladesh to avenge the execution of a party leader who was hanged for war crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, was hanged Thursday night in a case that has exacerbated the explosive political divide in Bangladesh, an impoverished country of 160 million. Mollah was a leader of the party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and a key member of the opposition.

Opponents of Jamaat-e-Islami say it is a fundamentalist group with no place in a secular country. Bangladesh is predominantly Muslim, but is governed by largely secular laws based on British common law.

The execution sparked violent protests Friday as activists torched homes and businesses belonging to government supporters in a fresh wave of bloodshed ahead of elections next month. At least five people died in the violence.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people rejoiced in the streets of the capital, Dhaka, and said justice had been served. In an editorial, Bangladesh’s English-language Daily Star newspaper congratulated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for trying and executing Mollah “40 long years” after he committed his crimes.

A Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Makbul Ahmed, said in a statement late Thursday that “people would take revenge on this killing by establishing Islam in Bangladesh, which is stained with the blood of Abdul Quader Mollah.”

“I urge all the people who support the cause of the Islamic movement to show utmost patience to build a strong resistance,” Ahmed said. Jamaat-e-Islami says Mollah’s trial was politically motivated and an attempt to eliminate Islamic parties. Those who support the execution say he was hanged for serious crimes, and that the punishment had nothing to do with Islam.

An analyst said attempts by the government to neutralize Jamaat-e-Islami could backfire, and that the party could become more radicalized despite Hasina’s determination to suppress fundamentalist groups.

“Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party has been in operation for a long time, so it’s natural that it will hit back with what it has in its possession when you hit it in an extreme way,” political analyst Ataur Rahman said.

Mollah was the first person to be hanged for war crimes in Bangladesh under an international tribunal established in 2010 to investigate atrocities stemming from the independence war. Jamaat-e-Islami activists on Friday attacked ruling party supporters and minority Hindus in parts of Bangladesh, torching their homes and shops. At least five people died in the violence, local TV stations reported. Hindus are believed to be supporters of Hasina.

In Dhaka, Jamaat-e-Islami activists torched at least four cars and a motorcycle near the country’s main railway station, said Shahzadi Sultana, a fire official. Several homemade bombs were detonated during the attack, Somoy TV reported.

Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators including Mollah, killed at least 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war against Pakistan. The case remains politically volatile because most of those being tried are connected to the country’s opposition. Mollah was a key member of Jamaat-e-Islami, which is barred from taking part in next month’s national elections. But the group is closely tied to the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

The special tribunal convicted Mollah of killing a student and a family of 11, and of aiding Pakistani troops in killing 369 other people during the war. The court had stopped his execution at the last minute Tuesday night — just hours before he was due to be hanged — before rejecting his final appeal.

The execution could complicate an already tense political situation in Bangladesh, where the opposition has carried out violent protests that have left nearly 100 people dead since October, demanding an independent caretaker government to oversee the Jan. 5 general election.

The government has rejected that demand, and an opposition alliance led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia plans to boycott the vote.

January 04, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is considering legal arrangements that could lead to the re-trial of hundreds of military officers and other people who were convicted of plotting to topple the government, the head of Turkey’s bar association said Saturday.

Hundreds of people have been jailed in Turkey for separate alleged plots to overthrow the government soon after it came to power in 2002. They include the country’s former military chief and other top commanders.

But the legitimacy of their trials was questioned recently after Erdogan’s top political adviser suggested that those officers had been framed by groups within the police and judiciary whom the government is now accusing of orchestrating a massive corruption probe that has targeted the prime minister’s allies.

The military this week filed a legal complaint, asking prosecutors to look into the claims as well as accusations by government officials that the corruption probe is a conspiracy by a group that has allegedly infiltrated the judiciary and police.

Metin Feyzioglu, the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, told reporters after a meeting with Erdogan that the two discussed a set of legal proposals that could lead to the re-trial of the military officers and other people accused of plotting against the government.

Erdogan responded in a “warm and positive” manner to the proposals and instructed Turkey’s justice minister to work with the Union on possible legal changes, said Feyzioglu. He said under his group’s proposal, cases currently being assessed by a high court of appeals would be returned to a lower court for a review, while new trials would be opened for cases which have already been finalized by the higher court.

All cases would be heard by ordinary criminal courts, instead of the more controversial special courts that oversee terror and security cases, Feyzioglu said. The military officers and their supporters have long complained of unfair treatment and of fabricated evidence during trials.

The government has pointed fingers at the followers of a U.S.-based moderate Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, for the corruption investigation, which has ensnared the sons of three former government ministers and the head of a state-owned bank. Gulen, who is based in Pennsylvania and commands a global empire of business, media and education interests, has denied any involvement in the investigation.

Turkey’s secular military has staged three military takeovers since the 1960s, but has seen its powers curbed by the decade-long rule of Erdogan’s Islam-based government. The trial of the military officers helped end its hold on politics.

Turkish media reports said the military chief has requested the government’s help for a review of the officers’ cases. Some analysts see that as a sign of an uneasy alliance forming between Erdogan’s government and the military against the Gulen movement.

In a separate legal development on Saturday, three Kurdish legislators were released from prison after the country’s highest court ruled that the lawmakers’ long detention periods pending trial were against the constitution. A similar ruling on Friday led to the release of two other legislators who were on trial for alleged links to Kurdish rebels.

Two legislators from Turkey’s main opposition secular party who had been jailed for allegedly plotting against Erdogan’s government were released late last year and in August in a similar high court ruling.

December 27, 2013

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish riot police blasted opposition protesters with water cannons, tear gas and plastic bullets in Istanbul on Friday in scenes reminiscent of the summer’s mass anti-government demonstrations.

Some of the protesters threw rocks and firecrackers at police, shouting, “Catch the thief!” in reference to a widening corruption scandal gripping Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Similar protests were held in the city of Izmir, and in Ankara where police also fired water cannons to disperse the crowds.

At least 31 people, including three lawyers, were detained in Istanbul, according to the Istanbul Bar Association. Thousands of Erdogan backers, meanwhile, gathered at other spots showing their support for the embattled Erdogan.

A Turkish high court on Friday blocked the government from changing the rules on how corruption investigations are initiated, dealing another blow to Erdogan’s government. Twenty-four people, including the sons of two former government ministers and the head of the state-owned financial institution, Halkbank, have been arrested on bribery charges.

Media reports say the probe is over alleged illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery for construction projects. Erdogan was forced to reshuffle his government this week after the three ministers, whose sons were detained for questioning as part of the corruption and bribery probe, resigned. Erdogan says the probe is part of a wider conspiracy aimed at bringing his government down.

But his government has also removed police officers from posts and changed police regulations to ensure that corruption investigations are initiated by top police and judicial officials — some of whom are believed to be close to Erdogan. Critics have accused Erdogan of trying to stifle the investigation.

The High Administrative Court ruled Friday that the government revert to previous protocols on investigations pending further deliberations on the issue — a case that was prompted by complaints by Turkey’s bar association.

Before Erdogan’s government changed the regulations, prosecutors could launch investigations and order police to carry out detentions without seeking approval from superiors. Asked to comment on the court’s move, Erdogan said the government would do “whatever is necessary” but did not elaborate.

Earlier, he verbally attacked a prosecutor involved in the investigation, calling him a “disgrace” and accusing him of smearing innocent people. Some Turkish media reported that the prosecutor, who has said he was being prevented from expanding the corruption probe, wanted to summon Erdogan’s son for questioning.

The prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, complained that police officers had not carried out orders for another wave of arrests. In a written statement he distributed to reporters outside the courthouse late Thursday, he said that the chief prosecutor and police were hampering his probe.

Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, Turan Colakkadi, later removed Akkas from the case for allegedly leaking information to the media, and said Akkas was carrying out “random investigations.” Aydinlik newspaper and its sister television station both published on their websites what they said was a copy of the prosecutors summons for Erdogan’s son, Bilal, to testify as a “suspect” in the investigation. According to the document, the prosecutor would have questioned him on Jan. 2 on suspicion of “forming a criminal gang.”

There was no immediate government statement disputing the authenticity of the document, which was also printed in Cumhuriyet newspaper. Akkas could not be reached for comment or to verify the document while officials at the prosecutors’ office refused comment.

Erdogan said earlier this week that he believed he was the target of the corruption probe, maintaining that there were efforts to get to him through his son and through an educational foundation, of which Bilal is a board member. He also said that the efforts would fail.

The foundation, TURGEV, which is involved in the building and running of student residences, refused to comment. Erdogan repeated claims of a foreign conspiracy to destabilize Turkey and its economy in four separate speeches on Friday and slammed the prosecutor.

“A prosecutor who distributes press releases to journalists outside a courthouse is a disgrace to the judiciary,” Erdogan said. “How can you smear innocent people?” he said. Earlier, three legislators from Erdogan’s party, who have been critical of the government’s handling of the scandal, resigned over what they said was the government’s pressure on the judiciary.

The leader of the opposition also accused the government of protecting “thieves.” “We have entered an era where the thieves are being protected and prosecutors who are going after the thieves are rendered ineffective,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party.

Erdogan vowed to fight the graft allegations. “We will go if the people tell us to go, but we will ignore those who tell us to go while the people tell us to stay,” Erdogan said in Sakarya. The Turkish currency continued to plunge over the turmoil with the lira reaching new lows against the euro and the dollar.

The military meanwhile, said in a statement that it would not be dragged into politics amid the scandal. The statement came after one of Erdogan’s advisers raised the possibility in a regular column published in Star newspaper that the scandal may be a plot to trigger a coup.

Turkey’s military has staged three military takeovers since the 1960s but has seen its powers curbed under Erdogan’s decade in power.