Archive for December 15, 2014

December 14, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Police conducted raids in a dozen Turkish cities Sunday, detaining at least 24 people — including journalists, TV producers and police — known to be close to a movement led by a U.S.-based moderate Islamic cleric who is a strong critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It was the latest crackdown on cleric Fethullah Gulen’s movement, which the government has accused of orchestrating an plot to try to bring it down. The government says the group’s followers were behind corruption allegations that last year that forced four Cabinet ministers to resign.

Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, denies the accusations. During a speech on Saturday, Erdogan vowed to “bring down the network of treachery and make it pay.” EU foreign affair chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European enlargement negotiations, said the raids “are incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy.” They suggested the issue could reflect on Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman issued a written statement of concern. “As Turkey’s friend and ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions do not violate these core values and Turkey’s own democratic foundations,” she said.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said a court issued a warrant to arrest 32 people connected to the movement, and that 24 of them were detained in raids in Istanbul and other cities across Turkey on Sunday. They included Ekrem Dumanli, the chief editor of Zaman newspaper, who was taken into custody at his paper’s Istanbul headquarters, which was broadcast live on television.

Those with arrest warrants included Hidayet Karaca, the chief executive of Samanyolu television, as well producers of two of its TV shows. Both Zaman and Samanyolu are affiliated with the movement. Anadolu said those detained are suspected of “using intimidation and threats” to try to wrest control of state power. The state-run news agency said some of the police officers detained are suspected of fabricating crimes and evidence while investigating an organization close to the al-Qaida terror network back in 2010.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside Zaman’s headquarters to protest the detention of Dumanli and other suspects, shouting: “Free press cannot be silenced.” Turkey’s journalism associations also denounced the raids targeting journalists, while Human Rights Watch said the detentions look “like another attempt to crack down on critical media.”

Several police officers believed to be close Gulen’s movement were arrested earlier this year for alleged illegal wiretaps and other charges. The government has said it wants Gulen extradited to Turkey from the United States. Many see his moderate movement as an alternative to the more radical interpretations of Islam.

December 14, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Defying insurgents, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday condemned the wave of militant attacks striking his country ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops, vowing: “We will never surrender.”

In a televised speech, Ghani called on all religious, political and social leaders to condemn the violence. At one point, he even shouted: “Enough! No more!” “This is unacceptable, it is un-Islamic, it is inhuman,” he said, referring the death of a university student in an attack targeting parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai and the suicide bombing of a volleyball tournament that killed about 50 people last month.

Ghani’s words come just two weeks ahead of the withdrawal of most international combat troops, 13 years after the U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11 terror attacks removed the Taliban from power.

Ahead of the pullout, Taliban insurgents have launched a series of high-profile attacks across the country, including those targeting foreigners in the capital, Kabul. On Saturday alone, insurgents killed at least 19 people, including 12 clearing land mines in the country’s south and a senior official of the country’s Supreme Court shot dead outside his home in Kabul.

Ghani has made few public remarks about the violence that has intensified since he took office in September, though regularly visits victims of attacks in the hospital and at their homes. In his speech Sunday, Ghani offered no specifics about his plans to combat the surging insurgents. His administration has embarked on a top-to-bottom review of the country’s military and security strategy, promising to remove provincial governors and other security officials. His foreign policy aims to pressure Pakistan into halting cross-border attacks by the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

The uptick in Taliban attacks comes after Ghani signed a bilateral security agreement with Washington and a status of forces agreement with NATO that his predecessor Hamid Karzai declined to sign. U.S. President Barack Obama also has approved an expanded combat mission authorizing American troops to engage Taliban insurgents — not just al-Qaida — and to provide air support when needed.

December 14, 2014

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Islamic militant group Hamas displayed rockets and other heavy weapons Sunday during a rally marking the 27th anniversary of its founding.

It also launched a drone that prompted Israel to scramble fighter jets in a precautionary measure, the Israeli military said. Several thousand people attended the show of force in Gaza City, a lower turnout than in previous Hamas anniversary rallies.

The group’s leaders watched from a stage, including former Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who brandished an assault rifle and flashed a V-for-victory sign. Sunday’s march came three-and-a-half months after the end of a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. It was the third and bloodiest round of fighting between the two since late 2008, with some 2,200 people killed on the Palestinian side and 72 on the Israeli side.

Despite claims of victory by both Israel and Hamas, the fighting failed to resolve underlying conflicts that contributed to the summer war. Israel says it launched the operation in response to nonstop Hamas rocket fire. Hamas said it was fighting to lift an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade first imposed on Gaza after the Islamic militant group violently seized the territory from forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

With Sunday’s weapons display, Hamas appeared to be sending a message to both Israel and the residents of Gaza that another round of fighting is an option. Hamas also released a video with brief narration purported to be from Mohammed Deif, the shadowy leader of the group’s military wing and the target of repeated Israeli assassination attempts.

Israel tried to kill Deif in an August airstrike on a Gaza City home that killed one of his wives and two of the couple’s young children. Deif’s fate has remained unclear, though Hamas said at the time that he had survived.

The man in the recording identified as Deif said, “We will return to them (Israelis) with fighters that they cannot fight and will drive them out … God willing.”