Archive for August, 2016


August 18, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities have returned to neighboring Turkey 14 migrants over the past two days, bringing to nearly 500 the total of people sent back under this year’s deal between the European Union and Turkey.

The public order ministry says four Pakistani and two Algerian nationals who had entered Greece illegally were taken back by boat from the eastern island of Lesbos Thursday. Another eight Syrians were returned Wednesday on a chartered plane, again from Lesbos.

More than a million refugees and other migrants have reached Greece in smugglers’ boats from Turkey since the beginning of 2015, on their way to Europe’s prosperous heartland. Since the EU-Turkey deal came into effect on March 20, the flow has slowed down to just over 10,000 people — 482 of whom have been returned.

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August 21, 2016

LONDON (AP) — A summer rainstorm pounded down on the eaves of Christ the Saviour church hall in London as Fardous Bahbouh poured tea and set up the makeshift classroom where she teaches some 25 Syrian refugees how to ask for directions in English, shop for groceries and navigate British norms in making new friends.

Bahbouh’s class is part of a larger Facebook community called “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” — Arabic for welcome — one of many small local efforts that have sprung up across Britain to help migrants who have made their way to the country after fleeing civil war in Syria.

“Being a refugee myself, I know how it feels to be away from home and having no option to return,” said Bahbouh on a recent Thursday. A language teacher in her 30s from Syria, she was studying for a master’s degree here when war broke out and prevented her from going home. Now she teaches others as a way of giving back to those who helped her.

As the U.K. struggles to implement its commitment to resettle more than 20,000 Syrians, the government is counting on charities and community groups to help the newcomers adjust to life in Britain. The Home Office has for the first time set up a program to allow local organizations to sponsor refugees and the agency’s website directs volunteers to migrant charities that need their help.

While Britain initially resisted international pressure to accept large numbers of refugees, more than 9,000 Syrians have filed for asylum in the U.K. since 2011. That is a tiny fraction of the 1.1 million Syrians who registered throughout Europe during the same period, including almost 377,000 in Germany alone, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Local groups say they can be incubators for programs, providing a blueprint for transition that will help larger efforts succeed. After all, local communities are fundamental to the success of any resettlement effort, said Maurizio Albahari, author of “Crimes of Peace: Mediterranean Migrations at the World’s Deadliest Border,” and a social anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

“By working to facilitate every aspect of refugee resettlement, local communities quietly but steadily demonstrate to all levels of government that the arrival of refugees is neither unwanted nor impractical, and that xenophobia cannot be taken for granted,” Albahari said.

One of the groups that is already serving refugees is Citizens UK, which helps them get health care, schooling and housing. Bekele Woyecha, a community organizer and former refugee from Ethiopia, said individuals — not the central government —have taken the lead.

“This is a county known for offering sanctuary,” Woyecha said. “We want to keep that tradition.” In addition to language classes, Ahlan Wa Sahlan hosts social events, such as recent communal meal during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Such occasions are important, because they offer the newcomers a chance to talk about home and speak with others who share similar stories about the war and the treacherous journey they faced to get here.

All ages and walks of life are represented in Ahlan Wa Sahlan: An elderly painter pulled from the rubble of Aleppo, a shy newlywed couple, and Karam AlHabbal, who dreams of going to a British university and becoming a pilot.

Confident and funny, his English is already so good that he volunteers to help others. He has just turned 18 and gained residency status but will reveal few details of his travels to Britain for fear of endangering others.

“I have a normal life now I’ve come to a safe country.” he said. “My country has been destroyed.” At a picnic in London’s Regent’s Park, in the shadow of the golden dome of London’s Central Mosque, Bahbouh’s group meets once again. This time, bikes and biscuits replace notepads and pens.

Bahbouh arrived with two decorated cream cakes to celebrate AlHabbal’s birthday and new residency status, and the aspiring pilot rushed to upload photos on Instagram. Some of the young men took selfies in the sunshine, while another sat on the grass and broke into a melancholy Arabic song.

From the outside, they looked like any other group of Londoners enjoying a picnic on a rare day of sun, but they were also compatriots helping one another navigate a new society and piece together a new life.

While Bahbouh’s group can’t replace the jobs, property and prospects the refugees left behind in Syria, she is trying to replenish the intangible assets of love, hope and confidence. “I am optimistic,” Bahbouh said. “No war lasts forever.”

17 August 2016 Wednesday

Turkey’s ties to Africa are centuries-old and based on a “win-win relationship”, Esra Demir, Turkish ambassador to the Ivory Coast has told Anadolu Agency.

“Since 2002, the number of our embassies in Africa has risen from 17 to 39. It is therefore obvious that we show great interest in our African friends. But it is not only economically – we are in a win-win relationship which will continue and intensify,” she said.

Talking about economic cooperation, the ambassador said:

“The Turkish and Ivorian presidents had set a goal – a trade volume of one billion dollars by 2020. We have noticed that we are moving towards this direction. During the first half of 2016, the trade volume increased from $183 to $219 million, an increase of 20 percent compared to last year.”

Demir also welcomed the solidarity of shown by several African leaders to Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt.

She sincerely thanked the Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara and Foreign Minister Albert Toikeusse Mabri for their messages of support.

On another level, the Turkish diplomat denounced the reservations of some Western countries on measures taken by the state against those accused of involvement in the attempted coup, stressing that the Turkish people expected a different reaction from those who say they “are apostles of democracy”.

“The Turkish people showed maturity and courage by taking to the streets. There were 240 people who died in the shootings but the citizens did not give up and they were successful… It was later expected that countries should show solidarity.

“But this was not the case. Instead of support; the heroic struggle of the Turkish people has seen a lot of criticisms. That is not easy to digest,” Demir said.

She added that “none of these countries who present themselves as apostles of democracy came to visit the half-destroyed parliament or the people who had gathered spontaneously under bombardment the night of the coup attempt”.

Terrorism

Regarding the fight against terrorism, Demir said that Turkey and several African countries, including the Ivory Coast, have to cooperate in the exchange of information in order to maintain stability and security.

In this regard, she said she had informed the Ivorian authorities of the presence in the country of “dangerous nuclei,” namely the Fetullah Terrorist Organization or FETO, accused of being the instigator of the Turkish coup attempt. She added it is the Ivorian decision makers who will settle on what measures are to be taken.

“Children who come out from the institutions of this conspirator [a reference to Fetullah Gulen] become his unconditional followers… We must therefore be vigilant,” warned Demir.

Asked whether Turkey would be able to overcome difficulties in securing the closure of Gulen-linked institutions in the Ivory Coast, the ambassador said that her country was always ready to support friendly states.

Focusing instead on obstacles related to Gulen’s extradition by the United States, Demir said that procedure is still ongoing.

“We have prepared the file, there are a lot of confessions and many testimonies are in it. We have not yet received a negative response but it will continue. We expect his extradition as soon as possible,” she said.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/176264/turkey-in-africa-for-a-win-win-relationship.

August 17, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey issued a decree Wednesday paving the way for the conditional release of 38,000 prisoners, the justice minister said — an apparent move to reduce its prison population to make space for thousands of people who have been arrested as part of an investigation into last month’s failed coup.

The decree allows the release of inmates who have two years or less to serve of their prison terms and makes convicts who have served half of their prison term eligible for parole. Some prisoners are excluded from the measures: people convicted of murder, domestic violence, sexual abuse or terrorism and other crimes against the state.

The measures would not apply for crimes committed after July 1, excluding any people later convicted of coup involvement. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on his Twitter account the measure would lead to the release of some 38,000 people. He insisted it was not a pardon or an amnesty but a conditional release of prisoners.

The government says the July 15 coup, which led to at least 270 deaths, was carried out by followers of the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who have infiltrated the military and other state institutions. Gulen has denied any prior knowledge or involvement in the coup but Turkey is demanding that the United States extradite him.

The Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on Gulen’s supporters in the aftermath of the coup. Some 35,000 people have been detained for questioning and more than 17,000 of them have been formally arrested to face trial, including soldiers, police, judges and journalists.

Tens of thousands more people with suspected links to Gulen have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs in the judiciary, media, education, health care, military and local government. The government crackdown has raised concerns among European nations and human rights organizations, who have urged the Turkish government to show restraint.

August 16, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s state-run news agency says police have launched simultaneous raids on 44 companies suspected of providing financial support to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen’s movement.

Turkey accuses Gulen of being behind the July 15 failed coup, a claim Gulen denies. The Anadolu Agency says Tuesday’s raids in Istanbul’s Umraniye and Uskudar districts came after authorities issued warrants to detain 120 company executives as part of the investigation into the coup attempt. The agency did not identify the companies searched.

The government has launched a massive crackdown on suspected supporters of Gulen’s movement. More than 35,000 people have been detained for questioning while tens of thousands of others have been dismissed from government jobs, including in the judiciary, media, education, health care, military and local government.

August 14, 2016

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi Kurdish forces say they have retaken five villages east of the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in an operation launched early Sunday. U.S.-backed Kurdish forces known as peshmerga aim to “clear several more villages” in “one of many shaping operations” that will increase pressure on the extremist group, the Kurdish region’s Security Council said in a statement.

Peshmerga Brig. Gen. Dedewan Khurshid Tofiq described the operation outside Mosul as “ongoing.” Rudaw, a local television network, showed footage of smoke rising from a village in the distance as armored vehicles pushed across a field.

The council’s statement said the area cleared is about 50 square kilometers (20 square miles). It said the U.S.-led coalition is supporting the operation with airstrikes, one of which destroyed a car bomb.

Iraq’s Health Ministry meanwhile said a fire which swept through the maternity ward of a hospital in Baghdad last week was a “crime” and not an accident, without providing further details. The blaze in the capital’s Yarmouk hospital killed 13 people, according to the ministry’s statement.

Also on Sunday, Iraqi President Fuad Masoum approved the death sentences of 36 men sentenced to hang over the June 2014 massacre of hundreds of military recruits based near the central city of Tikrit. The Islamic State group massacred the soldiers and buried them in mass graves during its lightning advance across Iraq that summer.

Iraqi forces have made steady progress against the extremists in recent months, and Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, is the group’s last remaining urban stronghold in the country.

Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq contributed to this report.

August 15, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s state-run news agency says police teams are conducting operations at three Istanbul courthouses as part of an investigation into the July 15 abortive coup. Anadolu Agency said the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office had issued a detention order for 173 personnel working at Istanbul’s Caglayan, Bakirkoy and Gaziosmanpasa courthouses.

The moves are part of the government’s ongoing investigation into the movement led by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Ankara alleges Gulen was responsible for the violent coup attempt that left over 270 people dead.

Gulen denies any involvement. Police entered the courthouses Monday morning to detain the suspects and conduct searches of their offices and computers, while other teams were searching their homes. Four courthouse personnel were detained last week as part of the same investigation.

August 15, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish investigators call it the ultimate long game. In 1986, the Turkish military expelled dozens of cadets suspected of loyalty to a young Muslim cleric named Fethullah Gulen, seen as a potential threat to the country’s strict secular rule. Officials, a magazine reported at the time, said an alleged recruiter had told the students to work their way through the ranks and wait for instructions that would come in a few decades.

Fast forward 30 years to July 15, when renegade officers staged a failed coup and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Gulen of orchestrating it. Gulen, now based in Pennsylvania, denies any involvement, but a rising tide of allegations challenges the moderate image promoted by his Islamist movement and casts it as a cover for secret designs on Turkish power that included efforts to infiltrate state institutions decades ago.

In the 1970s, when Turkey was run by a military-backed, secular government, the group seemed like a conventional religious movement that attracted young, middle-class recruits through a successful network of schools and dormitories.

Gulen, who had been associated with Islamic mysticism, promoted a message of tolerance and charity along with Turkish patriotism. His group — known as Hizmet, Turkish for “service” — raised money through donations from individuals and businesses. By the early 1990s, it was expanding into other countries with a network of schools, burnishing an international reputation as an advocate of interfaith harmony.

The movement’s benevolent message initially enabled its followers to dodge the harshest persecution of Turkey’s secular rulers. But as it grew in influence, the government began to view the movement with suspicion.

Authorities alleged its supervisors — known as “brothers” — helped followers cheat on exams to land government jobs. Once they were in place, according to Hanefi Avci, a former national police chief who investigated the group, they “acted in a coordinated effort to promote and protect one another and eliminate opponents.”

The group enjoyed wide influence in schools, the news media and police forces in an expanding power base, and authorities began to crack down on pieces of the movement such as the 1986 purge of military cadets.

Authorities point to Gulen’s own words as evidence of his designs. In comments recorded in the 1980s, Gulen referred to crackdowns on Islamists in Syria and Egypt and told a group of followers to bide their time, saying: “You must move within the arteries of the system, without anyone noticing your existence, until you reach all the power centers.”

Gulen, who later said those remarks were misinterpreted, moved to the United States in the late 1990s while facing trial on charges of plotting to overthrow Turkey’s government. His movement continued to grow, and eventually helped to topple the staunchly secular leaders who had been so wary of it.

In 2002 elections, Gulen’s followers supported the candidacy of the former Istanbul mayor, who himself had been jailed for several months by secular authorities and won with the backing of a pious Muslim class that had been sidelined to decades.

His name was Erdogan. Erdogan insists he put up with the Gulenists as a practical matter: He needed all the help he could get to defeat the secularists. “We tolerated them for the sake of the widespread aid, education and solidarity activities — inside and outside of the country — that they seemed to be conducting,” he said this month. “We tolerated them because they said ‘Allah.'”

The military leadership remained unconvinced. Ilker Basbug, who was Turkey’s military chief from 2008 to 2010, said in a recent interview with CNN Turk television that he warned Erdogan about the threat from Gulen’s backers in the military, which had stopped purging suspected Islamists.

“Today this threat is to us, tomorrow it’s to you,” he says he told Erdogan. According to Basbug, Erdogan responded: “My commander, you are exaggerating.” After he retired, Basbug was jailed on charges of plotting to overthrow the state, one of hundreds of people associated with the old secular order who were targeted by alleged Gulen sympathizers in the police and judiciary. Avci, the former national police chief who had written a book about the alleged threat from Gulen’s supporters, was also imprisoned.

Erdogan initially supported some of the investigations, but he eventually disowned them amid revelations of forged evidence and other irregularities. Meanwhile, the Turkish leader’s alliance with Gulen was unraveling as he sought to dismantle what he described as a “parallel state” in the police and other institutions. In what Erdogan later described as an attempted coup, prosecutors believed to be loyal to Gulen launched a high-profile corruption probe in December 2013, embarrassing the government.

Tensions rose further in 2014, when Erdogan switched from prime minister to president in a move seen by critics as a bid to amass even more power. Finally, on July 15, elements of the military rose up. They occupied airports, bridges and military bases, took the military chief hostage and accused the government of eroding democracy and the rule of law. Rival forces clashed, and Erdogan supporters took to the streets in support of their president. Some protesters were cut down by gunfire from mutinous soldiers, but by morning it was clear that the coup had failed. In all, 272 people were dead.

Erdogan was quick to point the finger: He said the coup was the work of Gulenists. Gulen condemned the coup, although he conceded that some of his sympathizers might have been involved. “You can think about many motivations of people who staged this coup. They could be sympathizers of the opposition party. They could be sympathizers of the nationalist party. It could be anything,” Gulen told reporters at his Pennsylvania compound the day after the coup.

Yet he still had harsh words for Erdogan, whom he called an authoritarian figure, and his government. He said it has shown “no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organization that is not under their total control.”

Torchia reported from Johannesburg. He was The Associated Press’ bureau chief in Turkey from 2007-13, and covered the aftermath of the attempted coup last month.

August 13, 2016

Turkey’s government has decided to deploy surface-to-air missiles at 11 civilian airports across the country, CNN Turk reported on Friday. The move comes after the failed coup last month and will be carried out by the ministry of transport, maritime affairs and communication in collaboration with the armed forces.

Radar and observation equipment for the army and air force is also going to be installed inside airport control towers. Such units will notify the armed forces of any hostile or unidentified aircraft and prompt an immediate military response.

On 29 June, Turkey’s largest airport, Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, was attacked by three suicide bombers who were, the government believes, affiliated to Daesh. Thirty-six civilians were killed in the arrivals terminal at the airport during the attack.

Ataturk International, along with Turkey’s other major airports, also witnessed dramatic incidents during the failed coup attempt on 15 July, when rebel tanks tried to take control of key installations.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160813-turkey-to-deploy-surface-to-air-missiles-at-airports/.

By Michel Arseneault

13-10-2011

President Omar al-Bashir says Sudan will go ahead with plans to adopt an entirely Islamic constitution. Bashir had already said that Sudan would adopt an Islamic constitution if the south seceded. But many southerners had hoped he would not go ahead.

Bashir says that 98 per cent of the Sudanese population is Muslim, and that the new constitution should reflect this.

Speaking to students in Khartoum, he said the official religion would be Islam and that Islamic law would be the constitutional source of future legislation.

Under the comprehensive peace agreement signed between north and south, Sudan’s constitution recognizes “the cultural and social diversity of the Sudanese people”.

But many southerners say they no longer feel welcome in the north since the two separated in July.

The General Secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, says Sudan must recognize religious diversity. Reverend Ramadan Chan Liol adds that it should explicitly protect the non-Muslim minority in the north.

Reverend Chan Liol adds he was surprised to hear Bashir claim that 98 per cent of the population is Muslim because the Sudanese census does not ask citizens to state their religion.

Source: RFI.

Link: http://en.rfi.fr/africa/20111013-sudan-islam.