Archive for August 9, 2014

March 30, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a central role in Turkey’s local elections Sunday even though his name won’t be on the ballots.

The elections are widely seen as a referendum on Erdogan’s tumultuous rule of more than a decade, and the prime minister has been campaigning as if his own career were on the line. High-profile races for mayor of Istanbul and Ankara with incumbents from Erdogan’s Justice or Development Party, better known by its Turkish acronym AKP, will be watched closely for signs of whether his influence is waning. The Turkish elections board says more than 50 million people are eligible to vote.

Although quality polling is hard to come by in Turkey, it is widely expected that the AKP will outstrip opposition parties Sunday, winning a plurality of the vote. But how much of a plurality will matter. Erdogan’s party has already been trying to lower expectations. His party has pointed to the 39 percent they received in the 2009 local elections as a benchmark.

Erdogan and his party have dominated Turkish politics over the last decade in a period of great prosperity. The party came to power backed by a pious Muslim base looking for greater standing in a country that had favored a secular elite. But AKP, whose party symbol is a light bulb, has also cultivated an identity of pragmatism and competency.

That image has been rocked by a corruption scandal with a series of leaked tapes that have brought down four ministers with revelations of bribe-taking and cover up. One tape allegedly involves Erdogan and family members, but he and his allies have rejected the allegations as a plot orchestrated by followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who has split with him.

Erdogan has been suggesting at rallies of hundreds of thousands of supporters that the election will let the people decide if the tapes are significant.

30 Mar 2014

PM Erdogan turns to the ballot box that has favored him over a decade in his battle to ward off graft allegations.

Over 50 million eligible voters cast their ballots in Turkey’s local elections, amid corruption allegations and damaging security leaks that have shaken the 12-year rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

The municipal elections have become a crisis referendum on the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, and his religiously conservative AKP.

The party, which swept to power in 2002 on a platform of eradicating the corruption that blights Turkish life, hopes on Sunday to equal or better its overall 2009 vote of 38.8 percent.

Erdogan has been crisscrossing the nation of 77 million during weeks of hectic campaigning to rally his conservative core voters, during which he temporarily lost his voice.

“They are all traitors,” Erdogan said of his opponents at a rally in Istanbul, Turkey’s commercial capital and the most-populated city, on Saturday.

“Let them do what they want. Go to the ballot box tomorrow and teach all of them a lesson… Let’s give them an Ottoman slap.”

Erdogan has purged thousands of people from the judiciary and police following the anti-graft raids in December targeting businessmen close to Erdogan and sons of ministers.

The prime minister said that those behind the investigations were trying to form a “state within a state” or “parallel state”, blaming the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the United States-based Turkish cleric whose followers are apparently highly influential in Turkey’s police forces and judiciary. Many analysts say that the two sides used to be allies in the past in their struggle against Turkey’s politically dominant military.

“There are no other parties apart from AKP and no leader apart from Erdogan that can get this country out of its difficulties,” said, Mustafa Hayir, a 35-year-old supermarket employee from the conservative Istanbul neighborhood of Yeni Sahra on the Asian side of the city.

Ali Toprak, a 33-year-old engineer from the European Istanbul district of Levent, disagrees: “I want Erdogan to take his hands away from my lifestyle, religion, and core values of my nation. I am fed up with his hypocrisy in all policy areas.”

Lira loses value

Uncertainty has taken its toll on the stock market and on the Turkish lira, which has lost four percent of its value this year. Many foreign and domestic investors are awaiting the elections and their aftermath before making decisions.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), portrays Erdogan as a corrupt “dictator” ready to hang on to power by any means. Capture of the capital Ankara or Istanbul would allow them to claim some form of victory.

Erdogan formed the AKP in 2001, attracting nationalists and centre-right economic reformers as well as religious conservatives who form his base. Since his 2011 poll victory, he has in his statements, moved more towards these core supporters.

The corruption scandal, also involving anonymous Internet postings of tapped state communications implicating Erdogan in corrupt actions he denies and media interventions he confirms, was all but eclipsed in recent days by the leaking of a recording of a top-level security meeting.

YouTube and Twitter blocked

In the recording, the intelligence chief, foreign minister and military commanders discussed possible armed intervention in Syria. The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, allegedly talked about staging a fake attack on Turkish soil in order to start an operation on Syria.

Turkey has blocked YouTube and Twitter, and has reportedly intercepted various Domain Name Systems after tens of leaks had been shared on the two online platforms.

It is unclear who recorded the meeting and posted it on YouTube – though officials point a finger at Gulen’s movement.

Erdogan describes the movement as a terrorist organization in an “alliance of evil” with major opposition parties.

Source: al-Jazeera.


Sat Mar 29, 2014

Turkey’s president has slammed the leaked recording of top security officials on possible military operations in Syria as an act of espionage against the security of his country.

In his first public statement regarding the incident on Friday, Abdullah Gul described the wiretapping as a “huge audacity” and vowed to punish the perpetrators.

“What’s necessary will be done and those who planned, organized, participated, contributed to and carried out this act will by all means be found. There will absolutely be no tolerance,” Gul said.

“This is an act of espionage, because it is directly related with the security of the state. Those who were at the meeting are the top officials of the bureaucracy,” he added.

The Turkish president made the remarks a day after an audio recording was uploaded on the video-sharing website YouTube revealing a discussion among top Turkish security officials about the military operations in neighboring Syria.

The audio file is a recording of Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Deputy Chief of Military Staff Yasar Guler, and other senior officials.

Ankara reacted to the anonymous posting by blocking users’ access to YouTube throughout Turkey, saying the leaking of the controversial recording had created “a national security issue”.

The YouTube ban came a week after the government imposed a ban on Twitter, accusing the social networking website of violating Turkey’s laws.

Turkish media reports say initial investigations suggest that although the office of the foreign minister was wiretapped for over a year, the bugs could never be found because they were removed and replaced periodically.

Other government officials also condemned the incident and declared it to be an imminent threat to national security.

Earlier on Friday, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan censured the leaking of the recording as “villainous”.

On Thursday, Davutoglu also denounced the leak as a “declaration of war” against the Turkish government and nation, saying, “A cyber attack has been carried out against the Turkish Republic, our state and our valued nation.”

Source: PressTV.


Sat Mar 29, 2014

Turkey has revoked “green passport” of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen after it was revealed that he obtained it “via deceitful means.”

Turkish media reported on Friday that Gulen has been accused of “illegally” obtaining the passport in the eastern province of Erzurum in 1990 and using it to immigrate to the United States in 1999.

Turkey’s “green passport” is a special passport that allows the owner to travel visa-free to certain countries.

Reports say Turkish authorities may seek an Interpol “red notice” for the extradition of Gulen from the United States.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of using his influence in the country’s police and judiciary to prompt a corruption probe to bring down his government.

Gulen’s Hizmet (Service) movement was an important supporter of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) when it came to power 11 years ago.

The alliance, however, shattered after dozens of the prime minister’s political and business allies were arrested in police raids in a graft probe last December.

The scandal, which has turned into a very serious challenge to Erdogan’s 11-year-rule, brought down four ministers and led to a cabinet reshuffle.

Erdogan has denounced the corruption investigation as a “dirty plot” by Gulen’s backers to undermine his government ahead of local elections on March 30 and a presidential vote in August. Gulen has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Erdogan has also dismissed hundreds of police and prosecutors believed to be linked to the cleric.

The Turkish parliament, which is dominated by the AKP, has approved a law to close a network of private preparatory schools, many of which are run by Hizmet.

Source: PressTV.


June 23, 2014

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian police say they have so far destroyed some 43 tons of marijuana and 133,000 cannabis plants in a lawless southern village that they fought their way into last week.

In a statement they said searches of more than 500 homes in Lazarat also turned up 26 heavy guns, 218 light weapons, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, explosives and other weapons. Police also destroyed five drug-processing laboratories and made 23 arrests. The operation is continuing.

Last week, about 800 police come under sustained gunfire from automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars for four days. One policeman and three villagers were injured during the operation.

Lazarat, 230 kilometers (140 miles) south of Tirana, has been the center of marijuana production in Albania, which is also a transit country for hard drugs.

June 17, 2014

LAZARAT, Albania (AP) — Until ten years ago, Lazarat was a regular farming community. Now the village in southern Albania is Europe’s biggest illegal marijuana producer, raking in billions of euros every year from the plants openly cultivated in fields and house gardens.

Set in a green plain overlooked by high hills, this sprawling southern village of 5,000 is believed to produce about 900 metric tons of cannabis a year, worth some 4.5 billion euros ($6.1 billion) — just under half of the small Balkan country’s GDP.

The lucrative business has left its marks on society. Today flashy cars and expensive homes dot the village, where many residents were left unemployed after the political purges that followed changes of government in Albania in the late 1990s. Ironically, many had previously worked for the customs service, handling nearby border crossings with Greece.

The marijuana-farming has grown constantly since then, encouraged by strong demand in neighboring Greece and Italy, while Albania has also become a major transit point for other drugs coming in to Europe from Asia and Latin America.

Previously, authorities left the drug gangs pretty much to their own devices, as police visits tended to be met with gunfire. But change has come with the new Socialist government, which came into power last year with a clear aim to stamp out the marijuana economy and persist with efforts to seek Albanian membership in European Union. The country’s application for candidate member status in the 28-nation bloc has already been turned down three times, with organized crime and corruption always cited as a stumbling block.

In their most ambitious effort so far, 500 police officers were deployed this week to impose law and order in Lazarat as part of a nationwide anti-drug operation— only to be hailed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortar shells and heavy machine gun fire once they reached the outskirts of the village. With local television broadcasting the events live, police and the Interior Ministry urged residents to stay indoors and warned others to stay away from the area, some 230 kilometers (140 miles) south of the capital, Tirana.

Police chief Artan Didi told reporters in Tirana that police were targeting a “very well-structured and organized criminal group that is keeping the village in its claws.” On the second day of operations Tuesday, police numbers were reinforced to 800 and officers took control of about a quarter of the village, seizing “considerable quantities” of marijuana and ammunition, as well as drug-processing machinery. Amid near-continuous gunfire, they also destroyed 11,000 cannabis plants, and were planning to gingerly advance into gang-defended areas.

Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri vowed to persist until “every square centimeter in Lazarat is under state control.” According to the Socialists, Lazarat — a stronghold of the former ruling Democratic party — previously benefited from links with the political elite.

“Time is over for the links of the world of crime in Lazarat with parliament, with politics, with those they exploited until yesterday,” Tahiri said. “What you are seeing today is the best example of our determination to install the rule of law in every corner of Albania.”

The Democrats issued a statement saying that, while they support anti-drugs operations, the government’s response was too heavy-handed and “exerts psychological terror on the civilian population.” Six men have been arrested in the village on suspicion of participating in an earlier shootout and of attacking and robbing a television news crew.

Police said most of the shooting was coming from two houses that apparently had stockpiles of weapons. Dozens of heavily-armed drug gang members were firing from vantage points inside the community and drawing from at least four underground former army weapons dumps that are easily accessible from the village.

Albania, a small mountainous country on the Adriatic coast opposite Italy, has just over 3 million people. It was for decades Europe’s most isolated country until a student uprising toppled the communist regime in 1990 and Albanians emigrated en masse to Greece, Italy and other western countries.

Another uprising in 1997 led to the extensive looting of military installations, flooding Albania with weaponry, most of which is still unaccounted for. Lazarat’s access to the underground depots dates to that period.

“We are afraid that if we enter (the village) and respond to the shooting, we may cause casualties,” a special police officer dressed in camouflage and wearing a bulletproof vest told an Associated Press photographer at the scene. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not officially authorized to speak to the media.

“Moreover, (they) have all the weapons and equipment we have,” he said. Four people — a policeman and three villagers — have been hurt so far, suffering light gunshot injuries.

Llazar Semini reported from Tirana.

June 16, 2014

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Authorities say suspected gang members have fired rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine guns at hundreds of police officers who tried to enter a lawless village in southern Albania as part of a crackdown on marijuana production.

Police said nobody was hurt in the pre-dawn attack Monday outside Lazarat, where authorities believe gangs produce about 900 metric tons of cannabis a year. The drug production is estimated to be worth about 4.5 billion euros ($6.1 billion) — roughly half of the small Balkan country’s GDP.

They said around 500 lightly-armed police, including special forces officers, surrounded the village overnight after a smaller force was repelled over the weekend by light-arms fire that injured one villager.

Police said they would continue the crackdown on the drug producers and “liberate Lazarat from criminals.”

June 21, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets Saturday to protest against alleged fraud in last week’s presidential runoff, forcing a closure of the airport road amid escalating tensions over what Western officials had hoped would be a smooth transfer of power.

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is running against Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister, has accused electoral officials and others of trying to rig the June 14 vote against him.

Abdullah announced this week that he was severing ties with the Independent Election Commission and would refuse to recognize any results it releases. He also suggested that the U.N. step in, an idea supported by President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

The IEC’s official timetable says initial results are due on July 2. Around a thousand demonstrators gathered in Kabul to protest against the electoral commission, accusing it of fraud and chanting: “Our vote is our blood and we will stand up for it!”

Hundreds of anti-riot police surrounded the demonstration, which was peaceful. “We gather today to protest against the election commission, which is not an independent commission at all. They are conducting fraud for a specific candidate,” said Mohammed Ghani Sharifi, a 23-year-old protester. “The people are so upset and they cannot tolerate such fraud because the people took risks to cast their votes.”

While the vote was relatively peaceful, the Taliban had warned people not to participate and carried out a handful of attacks in different parts of the country. In a separate demonstration, hundreds of protesters marched from the northern part of the capital toward the airport, where they were stopped by a police roadblock that closed the road, preventing anyone from entering or leaving Kabul’s international airport.

“This is not about who becomes the leader of the country, but our protest is because of the fraud. No fraud should have happened for either candidate,” said Mohammed Essa, 23, who took part in the second protest, which was also peaceful.

“This is just the beginning of our protests,” he added. The U.N. representative to Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, told a press conference that people had a “democratic right” to protest while urging them to remain peaceful and “refrain from inflammatory statements.”

Afghanistan’s next president is expected to sign a long-delayed security pact to allow nearly 10,000 American troops to remain in the country after most foreign forces withdraw by the end of the year. Both candidates have promised to sign the pact, but the next president must be sworn in first.

Earlier on Saturday, a suicide car bombing in Kabul aimed at a senior government official killed one civilian and wounded three others but did not harm its apparent target, Afghan security officials said.

Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said the bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle alongside the armored car of Mohammed Masoom Stanikzai, a senior official in the High Peace Council, a government body tasked with peace talks with the Taliban insurgency. The two men are not related.

Shafiullah, a police officer at the scene, said Stanikzai, who also serves as an adviser to President Hamid Karzai, was not harmed because he was traveling in an armored car. He said that while the explosion was “very strong” it took place early in the morning when the streets were relatively empty. Like many Afghans, the police officer only has one name.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban frequently launch suicide attacks against Afghan civilians, government officials and security forces. In the western Herat province, one civilian was killed and another was wounded when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb, provincial police spokesman Raouf Ahmadi said, adding that the two were on their way to the district bazaar.

June 07, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Flooding in a remote part of northern Afghanistan has killed more than 50 people and forced thousands to flee their homes, officials said Saturday.

It was the latest in a string of deadly flash floods, landslides and avalanches in Afghanistan’s rugged northern mountains, where roads are poor and many villages are virtually cut off from the rest of the country.

Lt. Fazel Rahman, the police chief in the Guzirga i-Nur district of the northeastern Baghlan province, said 54 bodies have been recovered, including the remains of women and children, but many others are still missing. He said the death toll could climb to 100 and called for emergency assistance from the central government.

“So far no one has come to help us. People are trying to find their missing family members,” Rahman said, adding that the district’s police force was overstretched by the scale of the disaster. An exact death toll remained unclear. A statement from President Hamid Karzai’s office said 58 people had been killed, while others put the toll higher.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said two Army helicopters were sent to the area to provide assistance. The Afghanistan Natural Disaster Management Authority began shipping out stockpiles of food and other supplies in Baghlan province to the affected area, said Mohammad Aslim Sayas, deputy director of the agency.

He said a delegation was sent to the affected villages to their assess needs. Guzirga i-Nur district is located more than 140 kilometers (85 miles) north of the provincial capital, Puli Khumri. Jawed Basharat, the spokesman for the Baghlan provincial police, said they were aware of the flooding, but that it would take eight to nine hours for them to reach the area by road.

Afghans living in the northern mountains have largely been spared from the country’s decades of war, but are no strangers to natural disasters. Last month, a landslide triggered by heavy rain buried large sections of a remote northeastern village in the Badakhshan province bordering China, displacing some 700 families. Authorities have yet to provide an exact figure on the number of dead from the May 2 landslide, and estimates have ranged from 250 to 2,700. Officials say it will be impossible to dig up all the bodies.

A landslide in Baghlan province in 2012 killed 71 people. After days of digging unearthed only five bodies, authorities decided to halt the recovery effort and turn the area into a memorial for the dead.

Aab Bareek, Afghanistan (AFP)

May 04, 2014

Aid groups on Sunday rushed to help survivors of a landslide in northern Afghanistan that entombed a village, killing hundreds of people and leaving 700 families homeless in the mountains.

Much of Aab Bareek village in Badakhshan province was swallowed on Friday by a fast-moving tide of mud and rock that swept down the hillside and left almost no trace of 300 homes.

Government officials said the current death toll was at least 300 and warned it could rise by hundreds more, after initial reports suggested that as many as 2,500 people may have died.

Large crowds gathered at the remote disaster site, where rescue efforts were abandoned due to the volume of deep mud covering houses.

Only a few bodies have been pulled from the debris.

“Around 1,000 families are thought to have been affected with some 300 houses totally destroyed,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement.

“Assessments to determine priorities on immediate child protection and water, sanitation, and hygiene needs for (displaced) families are continuing.”

It added that 700 families were displaced, with many fleeing their homes in fear the unstable hillside could unleash more deadly landslides.

Tents, emergency food supplies, health services and support for children who lost parents were being organized after many survivors spent another night in the open…

Source: Terra Daily.