Archive for December 15, 2016


Monday 12 December 2016

Little is left standing in Bashiqa, a formerly Christian town now gutted of both its infrastructure and inhabitants.

After two years of Islamic State occupation, it is little more than a skeleton, a name on a map. But sitting to the east of the city of Mosul the town, or what remains of it, encapsulates the precipice on which Iraq, and perhaps even the wider Middle East, sit.

Having besieged the city for months on end, Kurdish forces have drawn a new line in the sand here. The town, formerly outside of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, represents the western frontier of a new Kurdistan.

The official line had always been that Arab towns such as Bashiqa would be returned to Arab rule, but this was, perhaps unsurprisingly, tossed in the air when Kurdish Premier Massoud Barzani made a defiant speech in the town last month asserting that the Kurds would never relinquish control over towns for which Kurdish blood had been spilt.

Indeed these tensions are already visible in rhetoric. Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi, a senior Shia politician and former commander of the Badr organisation, the country’s largest Shia militia involved in fighting near Mosul, has threatened to attack Kurdish forces with the militia if it wasn’t returned to Arab control.

To add to this, a searing report from Amnesty International released last month accused Kurdish authorities of forcibly displacing Arabs from the contested city of Kirkuk.

If there is one thing we can learn from Iraq’s traumatic history, it is the power of memory. Barely a conversation passes in Kurdish circles without a reference to the Halabja massacre conducted by Saddam Hussein in 1988. In a similar vein, the expulsion of Arabs by Kurdish forces from Kirkuk and towns and villages to the east of Mosul is something that will remain entrenched in the Iraqi psyche for many years.

Return of ‘the man who ruined Iraq’?

As the largely Shia Iraqi army enters the city, many are also fearful of a sectarian backlash. Rasha Al Aqeedi, a Mosul native now based in Dubai as a research fellow at Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Centre, writes: “Mosul’s alienation from post-2003 Iraq can be partially understood within the context of a general Sunni distaste for Shia ascendency.”

Despite being a minority, Sunnis ruled Iraq from 1932 until Saddam Hussein’s toppling in 2003 when elections put Iraq’s Shia majority in charge of the government, and with that the army. Al-Aqeedi is cautiously optimistic that Haider al-Abadi’s Shia government is doing enough to fight this fearfulness “thanks to the professional conduct of the Iraqi army and [Abadi’s] calming leadership” but, as she warns “that could easily change”.

But al-Abadi’s efforts have made him deeply unpopular and none more so than with disgraced tyrant and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. With the world’s and particularly the US’s attention understandably focused on the fight for Mosul, al-Maliki is on maneuvers, and scheming a return to power.

It was under al-Maliki that the Sunni disenfranchisement capitalized on by Islamic State reached its apex – a result of his intensely sectarian rule. Now, under the pretext of an anti-corruption drive, he is picking off al-Abadi’s ministers one by one through secret ballot. A tragic irony considering his alleged siphoning off of billions from the Iraqi treasury during his time in office, something some have described as “the greatest political corruption scandal in history”.

His first target, former defense minister Khaled al-Obeidi, who had successfully overseen the recapture of the strategically critical Qayyarah airbase in July, was forced from office as a result of a secret ballot orchestrated by al-Maliki in late August. Then in late September under almost identical circumstances finance minister Hoshyar Zebari was also forced from his ministry.

Neither has been replaced and some believe that the next target is the country’s minister of foreign affairs Ibrahim al-Jaafari. If successful, Haider al-Abadi’s government would be untenable, and the stage would be set for “the man who ruined Iraq” to return.

‘My daily life was the same’

The other elephant in the room remains IS’s ideology. It goes largely unchallenged on an intellectual level within Iraq and hundreds of thousands of children have spent some of their most formative years having it drilled into them.

Liberated towns such as Qayyarah and Hamam al-Alil to the south of Mosul are undoubtedly grateful to be freed from the gratuitous violence of the jihadists. But these deeply conservative areas remain susceptible to the ideological underpinnings of the jihadists.

Four months after the town’s liberation, women in Qayyarah are rarely seen outside the house and the ones that are remain clad in niqabs. As one woman fleeing the eastern Mosul suburb of Gogjali said to me: “I can’t tell you how things changed, because for me, apart from the violence, they haven’t, there were bombs and beheadings, but my daily life was the same, my faith was the same.”

IS is undoubtedly on the decline, the group’s unofficial motto of “remaining and expanding” is now as expired as their treatment of women. But the opportunism of Iraq’s Kurds, coupled with unaddressed Sunni grievances and Shia expansionism, are a deadly cocktail.

Al-Abadi is stretched in every imaginable direction, but if al-Maliki’s efforts to topple his government and return to power are a success, then the fall of Mosul will likely just spell a new chapter of trauma for Iraq.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/iraq-post-islamic-state-837887658.

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December 7, 2016

Iraqi army units launched fresh attacks towards the center of Mosul yesterday in an offensive from the city’s southeastern edges that could give fresh impetus to the seven-week-old battle for Daesh’s last major Iraqi stronghold.

Campaign commander Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah was quoted by Iraqi television as saying troops had entered the Al-Salam Hospital, less than a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the Tigris River running through the city center.

If confirmed, that would mark a significant advance by the Ninth Armored Division, which had been tied up for more than a month in close-quarter combat with Daesh on the southeastern fringes of the city.

Some residents of Daesh-controlled districts of east Mosul said by telephone the army had punched deep into the east bank of the city getting close to the Tigris, while others said that the army was still some distance away.

“The fighting right now is very heavy – Iraqi forces have gone past our neighborhood without entering it. Our area is now practically surrounded by the river and the Iraqi forces,” said a resident of the Hay Falasteen neighborhood.

On Sunday, Reuters reported residents inside Mosul as saying that the Intisar neighborhood, claimed by the Iraqi military as being under their control, was still Daesh-controlled.

“Daesh still controls our neighborhood, and the Iraqi forces have not taken a single step forward in three weeks. We’re in despair,” a resident living in Intisar told Reuters.

Although still unconfirmed, Daesh’s Amaq news agency said that they had launched three car bomb attacks that struck troops trying to breach Al-Salam hospital. Reuters reporters saw thick black smoke rising from the area around the hospital.

Army struggling to advance in Mosul

The army says it is facing the toughest urban warfare imaginable – hundreds of suicide car bomb attacks, mortar barrages, sniper fire and ambushes launched from a network of tunnels. More than a million civilians are still in the city.

“The quality of the enemy we are facing now is markedly declined from a month ago,” said Brigadier General Scott Efflandt, a coalition deputy commander, adding that the number of militants in the city had probably fallen to around 3,000, from around 5,000 at the start of the campaign.

Although the Iraqi government does not publish its casualty figures, a number of sources, including the UN, appeared to confirm Daesh’s own kill count of close to 4,000 Iraqi and allied forces.

Mosul is by far the largest city under Daesh control in either Iraq or Syria, and defeat there would roll back the territorial gains the self-styled caliphate managed in 2014.

Some 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and mainly Iran-backed Shia paramilitary forces are participating in the Mosul campaign that began on 17 October with air and ground support from a US-led coalition.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161207-iraq-army-creeps-deeper-into-mosul/.

December 02, 2016

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — At least 200,000 conservative Muslims rallied in the Indonesian capital on Friday in the second major protest in a month against its minority Christian governor who is being prosecuted for alleged blasphemy.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who is a political ally of the Jakarta governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, and angered hard-liners by being out of the city during the first protest, unexpectedly went to the national monument to join Friday prayers with the sprawling crowd. He called for protesters to disperse peacefully. They cheered and then broke into chants calling for Ahok’s arrest, but later people were streaming peacefully out of the area into a main thoroughfare of the city.

Organizers had agreed to concentrate the protest around the vaulting monument to reduce disruptions but the area quickly overflowed. National Police spokesman Rikwanto, who goes by one name, said police estimated 200,000 people were on the streets. Police say 22,000 officers and 5,000 soldiers can be called on to ensure the demonstration stays orderly.

A protest Nov. 4 against Ahok, the first ethnic Chinese to be Jakarta governor and the first Christian in half a century, attracted about 100,000 people. After nightfall, it turned violent, with one death and dozens injured. Police want Friday’s protest to disperse in the early afternoon following prayers.

The crowds massed in the area of the national monument formed a sea of white that spilled into surrounding streets while gridlocked motorists sat on the sidewalks. Some held huge banners calling Ahok a blasphemer who should be jailed while others chanted and prayed. The blasphemy controversy erupted in September when a video circulated online in which Ahok criticized detractors who argued the Quran prohibits Muslims from having a non-Muslim leader.

It has challenged the image of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, as practicing a moderate form of Islam and has shaken the government of Jokowi, who accused unnamed political actors of trying to undermine him. The son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is vying against Ahok for Jakarta governor in elections set for February.

Separately, police said they had arrested eight people suspected of treason including Rahmawati, who is a younger sister of former President Megawati Sukarnoiputri, and a well-known musician turned politician Ahmad Dani. Two other people were arrested for alleged crimes under Indonesia’s law on electronic information and transactions.

Lisnawati Djohar, a resident of West Sumatra’s Padang city, said she flew to Jakarta with a dozen friends for the protest. “I’ve been called to defend Islam,” she said. “As a Muslim, I feel guilty if I refuse a demand to defend my religion. I believe Ahok insulted the holy Quran and it’s hurt us.”

Rizieq Syihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, a vigilante group that helped organize the demonstrations, gave a fiery speech to the protest in which he asserted Indonesia would be peaceful if there was no blasphemy and other problems such as gays.

Roads leading into the city were clogged in the early morning as white-robed protesters walked to the city center from corners of the sprawling metropolis. Speaking on the main stage at the national monument, National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian called for the protesters to support the legal process in the blasphemy case.

“We have worked to finalize the dossier and have handed over to the prosecutors. Therefore, I request support from all of you so that the legal process goes well,” he said as the crowd cheered “God is Great.”

The accusation of blasphemy has animated the political opponents of Ahok and Jokowi, including hard-liners who have used the issue to seize a national stage for their extreme agenda, which includes Shariah law.

Ahok’s blasphemy case took a step forward Thursday when it was formally accepted for trial. The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison. Police say Ahok can’t leave the country during the case. However, hard-line Muslim groups continue to demand he be arrested.

December 14, 2016

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) — Up to a thousand people gathered Wednesday in Sarajevo — the Bosnian city that survived a brutal 44-month siege during the Balkan wars of the 1990s — to rally against the carnage in Syria.

Representatives of Bosnia’s Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities said they felt a moral responsibility to voice outrage at the international failure to stop crimes against civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria.

“Here in Sarajevo, we must do everything in our power to show to (Syrian) people that we understand them and to call on humanity to wake up and raise their voices against war,” Eli Tauber, the leader of Bosnia’s small Jewish community, said.

Participants recalled their own suffering and the sense of having been abandoned by the rest of the world during the 1992-95 interethnic war that left 100,000 people dead and another 2 million homeless.

“I was born during the war in Sarajevo in a hospital that was under mortar fire,” said Smirna Kulenovic, 22, a Bosnian Muslim student. “I am here today to raise my voice against all war crimes, equally those that were committed here 20 years ago and those that are now being committed in Syria.”

December 12, 2016

JERUSALEM (AP) — Turkey’s ambassador to Israel has submitted his credentials as part of reconciliation efforts following a five-year spat. Mekin Mustafa Kemal Okem met President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on Monday, where both spoke of opportunities ahead.

Israel appointed an ambassador to Turkey last month. Relations declined after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey’s Islamist movement, became prime minister in 2003. They imploded in 2010 after an Israeli naval raid on a Turkish activist ship trying to breach the blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish activists were killed and a 10th later died of his wounds.

December 12, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey declared a national day of mourning and paid tribute to the dead Sunday after two bombings in Istanbul killed 38 people and wounded 155 others near a soccer stadium. The carnage was claimed by a Turkey-based Kurdish militant group.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK, said two of its members had sacrificed their lives in the Saturday night attack that targeted security forces outside the Besiktas stadium shortly after the conclusion of a match.

“Two of our comrades were heroically martyred in the attack,” according to a statement posted on TAK’s website. It described the blasts as reprisal for state violence in the southeast and the ongoing imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. TAK is considered by authorities as a PKK offshoot.

The twin car-and-suicide bombings near the stadium enraged top officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who vowed to hunt down the perpetrators. The attack was the latest large-scale assault to traumatize a nation confronting an array of security threats.

Turkey is a NATO member and a partner in the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State group. The attack targeted police officers, killing 30 of them along with seven civilians and an unidentified person, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters. He said 13 people had been arrested in connection with the “terrorist” act.

In an address at a funeral for the slain police officers before TAK’s statement was released, a furious Soylu condemned Kurdish rebels and their allies in the West, referring to the PKK as “animals.” “Have you accomplished anything beyond being the servants, pawns and hit men of certain dark forces, of your dark Western partners?” he asked.

Turkish officials didn’t make any further comments after the TAK claim of responsibility was posted. The battle between the PKK and the Turkish state has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of citizens. Turkish officials frequently accuse the West of supporting the Kurdish insurgency and of interfering in Ankara’s fight against the militants.

Erdogan vowed his country would fight “the curse of terrorism till the end” after paying a visit to some of the wounded at Haseki Hospital in Istanbul. Hundreds of flag-carrying demonstrators marched along Istanbul’s coastline toward the stadium at the heart of the blast area. Flags flew at half-staff across the country and at Turkey’s foreign missions. Passers-by placed flowers on barriers surrounding the soccer stadium.

The first and larger explosion took place about 10:30 p.m. Saturday after Besiktas beat Bursaspor 2-1 in the Turkish Super League. Erdogan said the attack’s timing aimed to maximize the loss of life, but most fans had left before the detonation.

Soylu said the first blast was caused by a passing vehicle that detonated in an area where police special forces were located at the stadium exit. A riot police bus appears to have been the target. Moments later, a person who had been stopped in nearby Macka Park committed suicide by triggering explosives, according to the minister.

He said 136 people remained hospitalized Sunday after the attack, including 14 in intensive care. TAK claimed the Turkish people weren’t their target but warned “no one should expect a comfortable life” as long as the ruling party “continues to torture the mothers of Kurdistan every day.”

Armed conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants resumed in July 2015 after peace talks unraveled. While much of the violence has concentrated in the impoverished and pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast, it has also spread to other cities, including the capital, Ankara, where TAK has claimed February and March suicide bombings.

Experts have determined that up to 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of explosives were used in the car bomb, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told CNN Turk. To the mournful sound of trumpets, funeral services were held at Istanbul’s police headquarters for some of the slain officers. Their comrades solemnly carried the coffins, which were draped in the Turkish flag, as a sea of mourners wept around them.

Erdogan presided over a security meeting after the funeral ceremony and hospital visit. Soccer fans proved their resilience by showing up to watch a game pitting Istanbul’s Galatasaray and Gaziantepspor at a different stadium.

“What happened last night was extremely saddening but they need to know that Turkish people will not yield to such things,” Galatasaray supporter Erkan Duman told The Associated Press. “It’s not like we will give up things, especially things we love, just because they want us to.”

Turkey has witnessed a spate of IS and Kurdish-linked attacks this year. Saturday’s bombings were one of the bloodiest to hit Istanbul, a city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, until recently a popular tourist destination.

That changed after a series of IS-linked suicide bombings targeting tourists, including a sophisticated attack on the city’s Ataturk Airport in June that killed 44 people and wounded scores of others. PKK-linked militants have claimed other deadly attacks in Ankara, Istanbul and areas in southeast Turkey.

A state of emergency is in force following a failed July 15 coup attempt and the resulting government crackdown on alleged coup sympathizers has landed thousands in jail and forced tens of thousands of people from their jobs. Critics call the move a witch hunt.

Cinar Kiper, Ayse Wieting and Bulut Emiroglu contributed to this report.

December 11, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey declared a national day of mourning and began to bury its dead Sunday after twin blasts in Istanbul killed 38 people and wounded 155 others near a soccer stadium. It was the latest large-scale assault to traumatize a nation confronting an array of security threats.

The bombs Saturday night targeted police officers, killing 30 of them along with seven civilians and an unidentified person, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters Sunday. He said 13 people had been arrested in connection with the “terrorist attack.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Turkey would overcome terrorism while Prime Minister Binali Yildirim ordered flags to fly at half-staff Sunday across the country and at Turkey’s foreign missions.

“We have once again witnessed tonight in Istanbul the ugly face of terror, which tramples on every value and decency,” Erdogan said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but two officials said suspicions were focused on Kurdish militants.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told the private news channel CNN Turk that “arrows point to the PKK.” He was referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency. That preliminary assessment was echoed by the interior minister.

The first and larger explosion took place about 7:30 p.m. Saturday after the home team Besiktas beat visitor Bursaspor 2-1 in the Turkish Super League. Erdogan said the timing of the attack aimed to maximize the loss of life.

Soylu said the first explosion was caused by a passing vehicle that detonated in an area where police special forces were located at the stadium exit. A riot police bus appears to have been the target.

Moment later, a person who had been stopped in nearby Macka Park committed suicide by triggering explosives, according to the minister. The civilian death toll was lower because fans had already left the newly built Vodafone Arena Stadium after the soccer match when the blasts occurred. Witnesses also heard gunfire after the explosions.

Soylu said 136 people remained hospitalized Sunday after the attack, including 14 under intensive care. Forensic experts in white uniforms worked overnight, scouring the vicinity of the stadium and the vast park where the suicide bombing took place. Glass from the blown-out windows of nearby buildings littered the pavement.

Authorities have determined that about 300-400 kilograms of explosives were used in the attack, Kurtulmus told CNN Turk. Vehicle and pedestrian traffic tentatively resumed Sunday in the blast area, which municipal workers rushed to clean up.

At noon, to the mournful sound of trumpets, funeral services were held at Istanbul’s police headquarters for some of the slain police officers with the country’s top brass in attendance. Their comrades solemnly carried the coffins, which were draped in the Turkish flag, as mourners wept.

This year Istanbul has witnessed a spate of attacks attributed by authorities to the Islamic State group or claimed by Kurdish militants. A state of emergency is in force following a failed July 15 coup attempt.

Saturday’s incident marked one of the bloodiest to hit the bustling city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. A triple suicide-and-gun attack on the city’s Ataturk Airport in June killed 44 people and wounded scores of others. Kurdish-linked militants have claimed other deadly attacks in Ankara, Istanbul and areas of the southeast.

The steady stream of violence has delivered a bitter blow to Turkey’s tourism sector, a mainstay of the country’s economy. Soylu acknowledged the country was struggling against “many elements” trying to compromise its fight against terrorism.

Turkey is a partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and its armed forces are active in neighboring Syria and Iraq. It is also facing a renewed conflict with an outlawed Kurdish movement in the southeast.

Condemnations of the attack came from a range of Turkish politicians, sports leaders and clubs and U.S. and EU officials. Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People Democratic Party, or HDP, issued a statement “strongly condemning” the attacks and saying it “felt great sadness and shared in the sorrow.”

Turkish authorities, particularly the president, have routinely accused the party of being linked to the PKK and backing terrorism. The party, which had both of its leaders detained in terror probes and multiple elected officials arrested or removed from public service in the southeast, denies the charge.

The chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party also condemned the attack. Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Washington condemned the attack in “the strongest terms.”

“We stand together with Turkey, our NATO Ally, against all terrorists,” Price said. The Besiktas sports club “strongly condemned” the attack and said a store employee and a security official were among the fatalities. Bursaspor issued a statement wishing “a speedy recovery to our wounded citizens.”

Aleksander Ceferin, president of European soccer’s governing body UEFA, and European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn also condemned the attack. “Violence has no place in a democratic society,” Hahn wrote on Twitter.

The U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul urged its citizens to avoid the area in Istanbul. Turkey’s radio and television board issued a temporary coverage ban citing national security concerns. It said “to avoid broadcasts that can result in public fear, panic or chaos, or that will serve the aims of terrorist organizations.”

Cinar Kiper and Bulut Emiroglu in Istanbul contributed.

December 10, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s ruling party on Saturday submitted proposed constitutional amendments that could greatly expand the powers and extend the mandate of the country’s president. Private news channel NTV broadcast images of the parliament speaker receiving the proposal, which garnered 316 supporting signatures from the 550-seat assembly. If cleared by a constitutional committee and approved by parliament, the reforms would pave the way for a referendum on granting the largely ceremonial presidency full executive powers.

Critics feared the proposed reforms would allow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has retained outsized influence over his party and the levers of government, to rule unchecked. “This is a regime change, plain and simple: one-man rule,” lawmaker Seyit Torun of the Republican People’s Party was quoted as saying.

Erdogan, who was prime minister before becoming the president in 2014, has been pushing for a presidential system. The changes would allow the president to appoint the government, retain ties with his party, propose budgets and declare states of emergency.

The amendments were proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, with the newly won agreement of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. AKP Secretary General Abdulhamit Gul said the bill reflected “a national agreement, a proposition based on Turkey’s needs and experience of government, proposed by two parties.”

Turkey has faced a tumultuous year, rocked by a wave of bombings, renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast and a failed coup attempt. The botched July 15 coup, blamed by Ankara on a movement led by a U.S.-based cleric, set the stage for a sweeping purge of state institutions that has alarmed rights groups and Western governments.

Turkey is a key member in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group but is at odds with Western governments over the role of Syrian Kurds in that fight. The draft constitutional bill, according to media reports, proposes a local election for March 2019, a presidential election and a general election for November 2019, and concentrated executive powers in the hands of the president.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the proposed constitutional amendment would be reviewed by the four political parties and the government over two parliamentary sessions. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters that each article would be voted on separately and would require 330 votes for approval, then the entire bill would be voted on. A referendum would take place 60 days after the parliamentary process is completed.

“The final decision will be given by the nation,” said Yildirim. “We are starting a process that will bring strong political power that also comes with stability.”

Bulut Emiroglu in Istanbul contributed reporting.

December 08, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s leader has renounced foreign currencies in favor of the ailing lira currency in keeping with his appeal to Turkish citizens to do the same, his spokesman said Thursday, as a new measure was unveiled to help struggling businesses.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “exchanged all of the foreign currency in his accounts into Turkish liras,” spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said. Last week, Erdogan had urged his citizens to give up the dollar and euros at a time the economy is teetering. Erdogan called on Turkish citizens to convert savings held in foreign currencies into gold and Turkish lira to help boost the ailing currency, which recently dropped above 3.5 lira per dollar, the weakest exchange rate in more than a decade.

Turkish citizens often hold their money in dollars, euros and gold to mitigate the risk of a rapid devaluation of their currency. Many Turkish businesses have their debts denominated in dollars. In the wake of Erdogan’s call, small business owners have posted pictures of themselves on social media advertising free goods ranging from bread to small carpets for those who can prove the exchange of a significant dollar amount into Turkish lira.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced the establishment of a fund of up to 250 billion lira ($74 billion) to help alleviate cash shortages. He said the measure would help “normalize business across all sectors that fuel the economy, including small, medium and large enterprises, and exporters.”

Both leaders have promoted the Turkish lira in in recent days with Erdogan, suggesting last week that Turkey should trade with countries like Russia, Iran and China in local currencies. The Turkish lira has been struggling in a year marked by political instability, including a failed coup attempt in July, bombings by Kurdish and Islamic State militants, and yo-yoing relations with the European Union and the United States.

Exchange risk is also a concern for Turkey due to its large current account deficit and high inflation rate. Foreign direct investment, which helps keep the economy afloat, has faltered in 2016. Tourism revenue, another mainstay of the economy, has also dropped dramatically.

December 01, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s prime minister on Thursday moved closer to an agreement with the country’s nationalist party over constitutional reforms that would usher in a system expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s government is seeking the support of Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, for a vote in parliament that would pave the way for a referendum giving the largely ceremonial presidency full executive powers.

Opposition parties have opposed a presidential system, since they fear it would allow Erdogan to rule unchecked. But MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has switched positions and recently voiced his party’s support.

Speaking after the meeting “to smooth over” differences on the proposed changes, Bahceli said the talks had been positive. The prime minister said the ruling party would be putting the final touches of a proposal that will be submitted to parliament next week with the agreement of the MHP.

“The laws are clear. They foresee a referendum 60 days after the parliamentary process is completed,” Yildirim said. “If everything goes to plan, God willing, (a referendum) can take place in the beginning of summer.”

The most important change envisaged, Yildirim said, is removing a constitutional requirement for the president to have no party affiliation. Erdogan founded the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, but gave up his post as party leader last year when his term as prime minister ended and his mandate as president began. Although he now holds a traditionally ceremonial post, Erdogan has retained outsized influence over the ruling party and the levers of government.

Critics see efforts to transform Turkey into a presidential system as a bid to entrench Erdogan and his supporters at the expense of democracy and political diversity. The proposed political changes come in the wake of a failed military coup that paved the way for a sweeping crackdown on dissent.