Archive for August 17, 2014

August 08, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) — For the first time in its history, Turkey is directly electing its president on Sunday in a contest considered a turning point for the country of 76 million people — with its prime minister the strong favorite for a job he has pledged to transform from a symbolic role into one of real power.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s dominant politician over the last decade, is seen by many as aiming to solidify his grip on power after serving three consecutive terms as prime minister at the head of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party. An absolute majority is needed to avoid a runoff on Aug. 24.

The 60-year-old Erdogan is revered by many as a man of the people who ushered in a period of economic prosperity, reviled by others as an increasingly autocratic leader trying to impose his religious and conservative views on a country with strong secular traditions.

His campaign has been bold and bitter. A gifted public speaker, he has poured scorn upon his rivals, casting doubt upon their Turkish identity and even accusing his main challenger of being part of a shadowy coup conspiracy he says is run by a former associate living in the United States.

“This is a critical juncture for democratization,” said Ersin Kalaycioglu, political science professor at Istanbul’s Sabanci University. “We are not only voting for one guy over another. We’re voting for whether Turkey is going to be authoritarian versus whether Turkey is going to improve on its democratic record.”

If he wins, many fear he will appoint a pliant prime minister he can control — and concentrate all true power in his own hands. Erdogan already tried and failed to change the constitution to give the presidency more clout. But he has vowed to activate latent powers he says already exist for the position, such as calling and chairing cabinet meetings.

“He doesn’t seem to appreciate that even if you have the majority behind you, that does not necessarily give you power to do whatever you want,” said Ilter Turan, professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. “In the event he wins, which he appears likely to do, he will push this line to dominate the system.”

Erdogan’s two challengers are Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a 70-year-old academic who enjoys the support of nearly a dozen opposition parties, including the main republican and nationalist parties; and Selahattin Demirtas, 41, a Kurd who heads a left-leaning party and has already made a name for himself on the minority Kurdish political scene.

A religious man who supports Turkey’s deep traditions of secularism, Ihsanoglu headed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for a decade until this year. In contrast to Erdogan’s divisive, often abrasive campaign, he has run on a platform of unity and has promised not to engage in party politics.

“I stand for democracy, for secularism, for pluralism and transparent democracy,” Ihsanoglu said after the start of campaigning last month. “I am against the accumulation of power in one hand. I think that would lead to more centralized government and an unwelcomed totalitarian regime that Turks don’t want to have.”

But while he enjoys the backing of several parties, those parties’ supporters have not all united behind the political newcomer. “The republicans suspected that he was too much religion, the nationalists thought that he was not nationalist enough,” said Turan, the political analyst. “But in fact, this is precisely the type of candidate you actually needed, because … Turkish society is divided right in the middle” between the more pious and conservative, and those with a more secular, Western and liberal outlook.

Demirtas is expected to trail in third place, but could be instrumental in potentially leading the election to a second round by attracting part of the Kurdish vote away from Erdogan. The prime minister has enjoyed support among the minority, estimated at 20 percent of the population, for relaxing restrictions such as the right to be educated in Kurdish or give children Kurdish names.

There have been several incidents, however, that sparked widespread outrage and potentially put Erdogan’s popularity with his electoral base at risk. The most recent was the mining disaster in the western town of Soma, where 301 miners were killed in a fire blamed on poor safety standards. Erdogan’s response was seen as callous, including a dismissive comment about mine accidents being commonplace; images emerged in the media of one of his aides kicking a Soma protester held down by armed police. Anger at his handling of the disaster led to violent protests and calls for his resignation.

Many were also infuriated by his reaction to demonstrations last year, where an environmental protest against his plans to replace central Istanbul’s Gezi Park with a shopping mall spiraled into nationwide anti-government protests following a heavy-handed police response. Several people were killed in clashes with police.

Critics also point to what they say was a massively one-sided election campaign where Erdogan used his clout and the funding he enjoys from his premiership to ensure blanket coverage for himself. “It became a very unfair process from the very beginning,” said Kalaycioglu.

Yet Erdogan still commands near adoration from his core supporters — mainly, but not only, the more conservative and religious Turks who feel he has given them a voice and improved their daily lives with better access to health care, education and infrastructure.

Few doubt he will emerge victorious in these elections.

August 06, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the unquestionable front-runner in Turkey’s first direct presidential election on Sunday. And critics accuse him of using his position as premier to make the contest even more lopsided.

Erdogan, a skilled public orator who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade, enjoys far more popularity than his rivals: a newcomer on the political scene supported by several opposition parties and an ambitious young Kurdish politician. Most predict an Erdogan victory; the key question is whether he would win an outright majority on Aug. 10 or have to go to a runoff on Aug. 24.

Critics say his position as prime minister has helped him dominate the airwaves during the campaign, banishing his opponents further to the shadows. Official inaugurations of public works such as rail links and airports morphed into Erdogan campaign speeches even before the July 11 start of the official campaigning period. His appearances — elaborate affairs that attract hundreds of thousands of flag-waving supporters — are televised live in their entirety and his face adorns posters across the country.

Rivals Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a mild-mannered 70-year-old academic supported by several opposition parties, and Selahattin Demirtas, a 41-year-old Kurd who leads the left-wing People’s Democratic Party, have been far less visible — and media watchdogs have stepped in.

Last month, Turkey’s Press Council called for the resignation of the head of state-owned broadcaster TRT, Ibrahim Sahin, after Demirtas complained of unequal airtime for opposition candidates — and Sahin allegedly threatened to take the candidate off air if he criticized the channel again.

“TRT, which continues to exist through taxes paid by the people, has no right to make such statements,” the Council said. Last Sunday, the channel also cut the live broadcast of a speech by Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Movement Party that backs Ihsanoglu, after he criticized TRT’s election coverage.

“TRT has been conducting a propaganda campaign for Recep Tayyip Erdogan from morning to night every day,” Bahceli told his supporters. Seconds later, he was knocked off air. “It’s a very lopsided campaign process,” said Ersin Kalaycioglu, professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University. “The democratic credentials of this election are in grave doubt.”

An official from Erdogan’s office rejected accusations of unfair campaigning, saying the Turkish leader’s campaign adhered to the electoral law. He spoke on condition of anonymity because civil servants are barred from speaking to journalists without authorization.

The official said election laws ensuring equal campaigning and barring the use of state resources kick in 10 days before the elections. Erdogan had not used any state funds since the end of July, he said, and was using privately hired planes and vehicles for his campaign movements.

An interim report issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is sending observers for the vote, noted that the country’s election board postponed the application of key regulations to ensure equal campaigning opportunities to July 31, though the official campaign period began on July 11.

“Campaign activities of the prime minister are large-scale events, often combined with official government events,” said the report, which looked at the period of July 9-28. “While other candidates actively campaign, the public visibility of their campaigns is limited.”

It said children’s toys and women’s scarves were distributed after at least one of Erdogan’s July pre-election speeches, and an official from his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, told the OSCE the party was conducting a door-to-door campaign distributing boxes of food and other small items.

“Elections have been turned into an extremely ugly race in which the AKP’s candidate is competing unfairly with the backing of all benefits of the state, financial power, media power,” Demirtas said during a speech in Istanbul last Sunday — only parts of which were broadcast live on TV; a live Internet feed was available.

About 53 million people are eligible to vote in Turkey. Another 2.8 million are registered abroad, where voting began July 31. Until now, Parliament elected Turkey’s president.

Ezgi Akin and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.

July 31, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turks living abroad began voting Thursday to choose Turkey’s first directly elected president. It is also the first time expatriate Turks are voting in their countries of residence for Turkish elections.

Close to 2.8 million expatriate Turks in 54 countries — about half of them in Germany — are eligible to vote. Only about 250,000 of them however, have registered to vote, according to Turkey’s High Election Board. Polls opened in Germany and several other countries on Thursday.

In Berlin, hundreds of Turks went to a polling station inside the city’s Olympic stadium to vote. A large Turkish flag was put up over the door. “I think it is a great thing for us Turks that we can also vote,” said Duygu Yapar, a 23-year-old woman from Berlin.

Many of those holding Turkish passports in Germany are the children or grandchildren of immigrants and have never lived in Turkey. Seven polling stations were set up across the country. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the strongest contender in the elections to be held in Turkey on Aug. 10. The former head of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas are also running.

Previously, parliament elected the president, a largely symbolic post. But Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, has suggested that he could rule with almost as much authority as the prime minister by activating latent presidential powers, including the right to call Cabinet meetings.

A Pew Research Center poll published Wednesday found Turks are evenly split on how they feel about Erdogan, with 48 percent saying he has a good influence on the country and the same percentage saying he has a bad one. The survey polled 1,001 people from April 11-May 16 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Erdogan’s party won around 43 percent of the votes in local elections in March, despite a government corruption scandal and last year’s crackdown on anti-government protests. If no candidate wins a majority of votes in the first round, a run-off will be held on Aug 24.

Markus Schreiber in Berlin contributed to this report.

12 July 2014 Saturday

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on the international community to intervene immediately to help stop Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

Erdogan said in a phone conversation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, that the ceasefire agreement signed between Israel and Palestine in 2012 should be reinstated, according to Turkish Foreign Ministry officials.

He said that the Israeli government needed to understand that national security could only be ensured through a fair and comprehensive peace.

Following the conversation, Erdogan also had a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, during which the two leaders agreed that the Israeli offensive must end.

Erdogan and Rouhani both stressed the urgent need for a ceasefire and provision of humanitarian aid to the Gazans.

‘Revenge attack’

The two leaders also agreed that the foreign ministers of both countries would stay in close contact in order to take the initiative in helping halt the attacks and provide humanitarian aid.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 121 Palestinians have been killed and 904 injured since Israel’s operation began on Tuesday, following a rise in tensions after three Israeli teenagers were found murdered last month and a Palestinian teenager was killed days later in a suspected revenge attack.

Israeli jets have carried out air attacks while Hamas has reportedly fired rockets into Tel Aviv and as far north as Haifa, 130km away from Gaza.

There have been no reports of Israeli fatalities.

“It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next aerial attack,” Ban said in an emergency UN Security Council session convened pm Thursday amid fears of a ground invasion by Israeli forces in Gaza.

Embattled enclave

Ban warned of the risk of “an all-out escalation” of conflict in Gaza amid Israel’s four-day-old offensive and called for a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians, adding that the threat of an Israeli ground offensive was “palpable”, and an escalation was “preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing (rockets).”

Israeli warplanes have pounded the Gaza Strip over the past four days as part of a military offensive – dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” – with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the embattled coastal enclave.

Gaza-based resistance factions, meanwhile, have continued to fire short-range rockets into Israel – without causing any fatalities – in response.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed on Thursday that at least 681 rockets had been fired at Israel from Gaza since 7 June.

Source: World Bulletin.


July 10, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) — The former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation kicked off his campaign to become president of Turkey Thursday, highlighting his credentials as a champion of the Palestinian cause and promising to be a uniting force.

Launching his campaign in Istanbul, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu — considered the underdog in the August elections where he will face Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — emphasized the strides he made toward Palestinian reconciliation and their international recognition during his nine-year tenure at the OIC. He promised to be a uniting force, in contrast to Erdogan’s often divisive and confrontational style.

Erdogan this week accused Ihsanoglu of advocating “neutrality” and not siding with the Palestinians. “How can one say that I did not serve the Palestinian cause?” Ihsanoglu said during the campaign launch, adding that he was the “first and only Turk” to be decorated by the Palestinians.

Ihsanoglu, a soft-spoken academic and diplomat, was nominated by Turkey’s two main opposition parties. Three smaller parties have also endorsed his candidacy. It is the first time a Turkish president is being elected directly by the people rather than by parliament.

Turkish lawmakers on Thursday, meanwhile, voted 237-37 in favor of legislation to push forward troubled peace efforts with the Kurdish rebels, which could help Erdogan win Kurdish votes in the two-round elections on Aug. 10 and 24.

The bill, which needs to be ratified by current President Abdullah Gul, allows the government to take steps it deems necessary to advance the talks, including granting amnesty to Kurdish fighters who lay down arms. Officials involved in talks with the rebel group would be immune from prosecution.

Turkey began talking to the rebels in 2012 in a bid to end the bitter conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.


ANKARA – Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday he would visit the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan this week, the first such trip by the top Turkish diplomat in 13 years amid efforts to improve troubled relations.

“Uzbekistan is a friendly and brotherly country at the heart of Central Asia,” Davutoglu, who will begin his visit on Thursday, told reporters in Ankara.

Turkey was the first country to recognize in 1991 the independence of Uzbekistan, a fellow overwhelmingly Turkic-speaking nation and the most populous state in ex-Soviet Central Asia.

But relations with Uzbekistan took a nosedive in 2005, when Uzbek troops killed hundreds of demonstrators in the town of Andijan, provoking an international outcry.

Turkey had backed a UN resolution condemning Uzbekistan over human rights violations in Andijan, provoking the ire of strongman Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Uzbekistan has since snubbed a number of regional summits hosted by Ankara in recent years.

Davutoglu said the two sides had demonstrated political will to overcome the “stagnation” in bilateral ties in recent years, hoping that the trip would invigorate dialogue channels and give a boost to relations.

The minister is also due to visit the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara as well as the capital Tashkent.

Ankara has sought to expend its influence across Central Asia in recent years and the region has proved to be a key market for Turkish companies.

Source: Middle East Online.