Archive for August 20, 2014


August 11, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was convening his ruling party leadership Monday to find a new premier for Turkey following his victory in the country’s historic first direct vote for president.

Unofficial vote tallies by the Turkish media showed Erdogan won about 51.9 percent in Sunday’s election, with his main challenger Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu following with 38.3 percent. Selahattin Demirtas, a young Kurdish politician running on a left-wing platform, was in third place with 9.7 percent.

The election commission was expected to issue official vote figures on Monday. In his victory speech Sunday night, Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone toward critics who fear he is bent on a power grab as he embarks on another five years at the country’s helm. Erdogan has already served three terms as prime minister.

“Today is a milestone for Turkey. Today is the day Turkey is born from its ashes and a new Turkey is built,” he told thousands of cheering, flag-waving supporters from the balcony of his Justice and Development Party headquarters in the capital, Ankara.

“I will not be the president of only those who voted for me. I will be the president of 77 million,” he said, in stark contrast to his mostly bitter, divisive election campaign. Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, has vowed to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into a powerful position. He has said he will activate the post’s rarely used dormant powers — a legacy of a 1980 coup — including the ability to call parliament and summon Cabinet meetings.

Whoever replaces Erdogan as prime minister would hold the position ostensibly until next year, when a general election is scheduled. Many believe Erdogan will appoint a pliant premier and retain true power for himself.

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August 11, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s first direct presidential election Sunday, striking a conciliatory tone toward critics who fear he is bent on a power grab as he embarks on another five years at the country’s helm.

“I will not be the president of only those who voted for me, I will be the president of 77 million,” Erdogan said in a victory speech delivered from the balcony of the Ankara headquarters of his Justice and Development Party , or AKP.

“Today the national will won once again, today democracy won once again,” he told thousands of flag-waving, cheering supporters. “Those who didn’t vote for me won as much as those who did, those who don’t like me won as much as those who do.”

The three-term prime minister’s message of unity was in stark contrast to his mostly bitter, divisive election campaign, when he poured scorn on his opponents, cast doubt on their Turkish identity and even accused his main challenger of being part of a shadowy coup conspiracy he said was run by a former associate living in the United States.

“I want to build a new future, as of today, with an understanding of a societal reconciliation, by regarding our differences as richness, and by pointing out not our differences but our common values,” he said.

Erdogan, 60, has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade. Revered by many as a man of the people who ushered in a period of economic prosperity, he is reviled by others as an increasingly autocratic leader trying to impose his religious and conservative views on a country with strong secular traditions.

His critics have accused him of running a heavily lopsided, unfair campaign, using the assets available to him through his office as prime minister to dominate media exposure and travel across the country. His office has rejected these claims.

“Erdogan did not win a victory today, he moved to (the presidential palace of) Cankaya through chicanery, cheating, deception and trickery,” said Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Action Party which backed Erdogan’s main rival, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

“This person is too questionable and dubious to be seen as president,” he said. With 99 percent of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan had 51.9 percent of the vote, according to figures from the state-run Anadolu news agency, which had reporters at ballot counting stations across the country. Ihsanoglu had 38.3 percent and the third candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, had 9.7 percent.

Ihsanoglu, the 70-year-old former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and a political newcomer, conceded defeat in a brief speech in Istanbul. “I hope that the result is beneficial for democracy in Turkey,” he said. “I congratulate the prime minister and wish him success.”

Official results were expected Monday. “The result was not a surprise. Opinion polls had indicated that Erdogan would obtain around 54 to 58 percent of the vote. He had dominated the election campaign,” said Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London.

“Mr. Erdogan will perceive this result as a decisive mandate to push ahead with his plans for an executive form of presidency,” he said. Erdogan has vowed to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into a powerful position — something his detractors say proves he is bent on a power grab. He has said he will activate the post’s rarely used dormant powers — a legacy of a 1980 coup — including the ability to call parliament and summon and preside over Cabinet meetings.

Hakura said the result would not alter Turkey’s course. “Nothing will change much,” he said. “Neither his style of governance, neither domestic policy nor Turkey’s external policy.” Legislator Huseyin Celik, the AKP spokesman, said the party — which now must elect a new party leader and designate a prime minister to replace Erdogan — would hold a meeting during the night and another on Monday. Erdogan is widely expected to appoint a compliant prime minister so he can continue to exert control.

Party rules barred Erdogan from serving another term as prime minister. Turkish presidents used to be elected by parliament but Erdogan’s government pushed through a constitutional amendment in 2007, changing the procedure to a popular vote.

Yet the past year-and-a-half has been a turbulent one for Erdogan, who faced widespread anti-government protests in 2013 triggered by a violent police crackdown on demonstrators objecting to a construction plan in central Istanbul.

More anti-government protests erupted in May after 301 miners died in a coal mine fire blamed on shoddy safety practices. Erdogan and his son have also been implicated in a corruption scandal that he has dismissed as a coup plot by a moderate Islamic preacher and former ally living in the United States, Fethullah Gulen.

Dozens of judicial and police officials involved in the probe against him have been dismissed or re-assigned, and dozens of police have been arrested and jailed. Nevertheless, his popularity clearly endures. He has been credited with Turkey’s good economic performance in recent years, as well as broadening welfare access, Hakura said before the vote.

The third reason, he said, was that Erdogan is seen by a large segment of the Turkish population who feel they have been ostracized and marginalized by the previous secular establishment as representing their interests.

Becatoros reported from Istanbul.

August 10, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country has started to evacuate wounded people from Gaza to Turkey for treatment.

Erdogan did not provide details, but the state-run Anadolu Agency said a Turkish air ambulance left for Israel late on Sunday to transport four people to Turkey for treatment in hospitals in the capital Ankara. The agency said a child was among the wounded.

Erdogan made the announcement during a victory speech hours after he was elected president in Turkey’s first direct vote for the position. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this week that Turkey was working to establish an air corridor to bring the seriously wounded to Turkey.

August 10, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turks were voting in their first direct presidential election Sunday, a watershed event in the 91-year history of a country where the president was previously elected by Parliament.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey’s politics for the past decade, is the strong front-runner to replace the incumbent, Abdullah Gul, for a five-year term. Erdogan, who is serving his third term as prime minister, has been a polarizing figure in Turkey. Fervently supported by many as a man of the people who has led the country through a period of economic prosperity, he is viewed by critics as an increasingly autocratic leader bent on concentrating power and trying to impose his religious and conservative views on a country founded on strong secular traditions.

Party rules barred him from serving another term as prime minister. Erdogan is running against two other candidates. His main challenger is Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a 70-year-old academic and former chief of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation who is backed by several opposition parties, including the two main ones: a pro-secular party and a nationalist one. The third candidate is 41-year-old Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, a rising star on the minority Kurdish political scene.

Some 53 million people are eligible to vote; a candidate needs an absolute majority for victory. If none wins enough ballots, a runoff between the top two will be held on Aug. 24. Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won local elections in March with about 43 percent of the vote, is widely expected to be elected, although it is unclear if he can avoid a runoff.

“The key criteria, or litmus test, will be what percentage of the votes does Prime Minister Erdogan secure in the first round of presidential elections,” said Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London. “I think the key figure here will be 45 percent.”

A percentage below what his party won in local elections could indicate Erdogan’s popularity is starting to wane, he said. After a bitter and divisive pre-election campaign, Erdogan sounded a more conciliatory, unifying note in his final campaign speech Saturday.

“This country of 77 million is our country, there is no discrimination,” he said. “We own this country all together.” Erdogan’s critics have pointed to a vastly one-sided election campaign dominated by the prime minister. He has been criticized for using the resources of his office to monopolize media coverage and crisscross the country on the campaign trail. He has denied any inappropriate use of state assets.

Although largely a ceremonial role, Erdogan has vowed to transform the presidency into a powerful position — something his detractors point to as proof he is bent on a power grab. He has said he will activate the post’s rarely used dormant powers, including the ability to call Parliament and summon and preside over Cabinet meetings. The powers are a legacy of a 1980 military coup.

Ihsanoglu, whose campaign focused on a message of unity, disagrees with changing the role of the president. “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,” he said.

Polls close at 1400 GMT (noon EDT) and only unofficial results are expected to be released on Sunday night.

Fraser reported from Ankara.

August 09, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the front-runner in Turkey’s first direct presidential election on Sunday, says that if elected he will be an active head of state who “sweats, runs and rushes around” — not just a ceremonial figurehead as presidents have been in the past.

It’s the kind of talk that leaves detractors, already alarmed at how much power Erdogan has concentrated in his hands, in a cold sweat. Until now, Turkey’s presidents have played a largely symbolic role although they can call general elections, approve or reject laws passed by Parliament and appoint prime ministers, the Council of Ministers and some high court judges.

The position also has some dormant powers, including the power to call Parliament, summon Cabinet meetings and preside over them. Those powers are a legacy of Turkey’s 1980 military coup and have seldom been used.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, says he intends to use these constitutional prerogatives to the full, effectively shaping the presidency into a more powerful position. He is widely expected to appoint an amenable prime minister, which would allow him to continue to rule Turkey pretty much in the same way as he did while premier.

The Turkish leader, who has steered Turkey toward relative economic prosperity and enjoys widespread support in the Turkish heartland, argues that — as the first president to be directly elected by voters — he would have the mandate to rule with strengthened powers as head of state.

Such comments by a leader who has displayed an increasingly authoritarian bent are raising concerns over democracy. In the past year, Erdogan has purged thousands of police and prosecutors, increased the powers of the intelligence agency and banned access to YouTube and Twitter as he fought off corruption probes that implicated the government and family members.

Nihat Zeybekci, the economy minister, suggested in comments printed in Hurriyet newspaper on Thursday that the position of prime minister could become obsolete if Erdogan is elected. “There wouldn’t be a prime minister, there would be a chairman of the Council of Ministers. Someone who chairs the Council of Ministers, who summons it to meetings,” he said.

The latent constitutional powers were devised as safeguards to allow the president to intervene in exceptional circumstances. They were largely formulated to allow the 1980 coup leader — who became president in a referendum — to take command if necessary.

The power to chair the Cabinet “is essentially meant to be used under conditions of emergency. If there is a war or something,” said Ilter Turan, a professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. “It is not one in which the president calls a session and says: Let’s build a bridge. That’s not the idea.”

Presidents take an oath to remain neutral when they come to power and the Constitution says they have to sever all ties with their political parties. It also states that the prime minister — not the president — is head of the executive.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Erdogan’s main rival in the presidential race, has vowed to uphold the president’s traditional role. He says he is against the accumulation of too much power in one person’s hands and insists it is not up to the head of state to be involved in day-to-day running of politics.

“It is not the president’s role to build roads and bridges,” he said as he launched his campaign in July. Erdogan has derided those comments. “Some of the other candidates say ‘we won’t be involved in (building) roads, with energy,'” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara on Thursday. “I ask them to take a look at the Constitution … They should look at the president’s responsibilities.”

“We are not placing an ornament or a vase in the presidency. (The president) will be responsible for many things, from this country’s development to its unity and integrity. He will convene the Cabinet when it is necessary,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan orchestrated the constitutional change for a direct vote as part of a two-stage move toward a presidential system similar to that of the United States, albeit without all of the checks and balances of the U.S. model. The second step — a new constitution that increases the powers of the presidency — stalled after he failed to muster big enough support to bring about the change.

Elena Becatoros in Istanbul contributed.

by Khaled Neimat

Aug 17, 2014

AMMAN — Members of the Jordan Teachers Association (JTA) on Sunday started an open-ended strike amidst parliamentary efforts to resolve the issue one week before students return to school.

The association issued a statement on Sunday reporting that the majority of teachers around Jordan have joined the strike.

No major incidents took place, according to the statement, but, the JTA claimed that security agencies sent agents to nine schools to collect information on participants, describing such actions as “unjustified”.

Moreover, some school principals attempted to pressure teachers to prevent them from participating in the strike, the statement said, adding that “they threatened teachers with salary deductions if they don’t go back to work.”

“The strike, on its first day, went according to plan,” the statement quoted JTA Spokesperson Ayman Okour as saying.

Teachers showed up at schools across the country, but did not carry out any duties, he added, noting that this week marks the return of teaching and administrative staff to work.

Students return to school next Sunday.

“We hope that the government will meet our demands before students go back to school,” Okour said.

Meanwhile, the Lower House Education Committee on Sunday met with a delegation from the JTA, in the presence of Education Minister Mohammad Thneibat, to discuss the demands of the association and to find a way out of the current situation.

The meeting did not bring about any positive results, but the parties agreed to meet again to further discuss the demands and set a timetable for implementation.

Deputy Mohammad Qatatsheh, who heads the House’s Education Committee, said the majority of the JTA’s demands are “valid”, but noted that “we in the Lower House will support the public interest.”

The JTA demands focus mainly on issues relating to reforming the education sector in the country, JTA Vice President Ghaleb Mashaqbeh said, dismissing claims that the syndicate is “playing politics”.

The JTA wants the government to amend the civil service by-law, improve teachers’ health insurance, draft laws to protect them, offer them more financial benefits, endorse the private schools by-law, and refer the education security fund case to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/teachers-begin-nationwide-strike-as-mps-seek-to-broker-solution.