Archive for April, 2017


January 21, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament on Saturday approved a contentious constitutional reform package, paving the way for a referendum on a presidential system that would greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office.

The decision marks a victory for Erdogan, a polarizing but overall popular figure, who critics view as increasingly autocratic. In an all-night session that ended early Saturday, lawmakers voted in favor of a set of amendments presented by the ruling party, founded by Erdogan. The reform bill cleared the minimum threshold necessary to put the measures to a national referendum for final approval.

The vote took place with 488 lawmakers in the 550-seat assembly in attendance. A total of 339 parliamentarians voted yes, 142 no, five cast empty ballots and two were ruled out as invalid. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim celebrated the result saying the decision was now in the hands of the Turkish people who would make the right choice.

“Don’t you ever doubt that the people will most certainly make the best decision regarding the constitutional reforms,” he told lawmakers. “Our people will head to the polls, will vote with their hearts and minds and make the best choice for Turkey.”

A public vote on the issue is expected as early as March 26, and no later than mid-April, according to officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. In addition to changing the system of government, the reform bill would allow the president to keep ties with his party and restructure the nation’s highest judicial body.

It increases the number of seats in the assembly to 600, lowers the minimum age of lawmakers to 18 and foresees simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections every five years. Ruling party officials argue a strong presidency is needed for a strong Turkey capable of surmounting a broad array of internal and external security threats.

Opposition lawmakers see the changes as a bid to cement the powers of Erdogan, who has established a de-facto presidential system since coming into the office in 2014. Some complained that restrictions on the press and intense pressure to toe the line had left no space for them to air their views.

Lawmaker Bulent Tezcan warned parliament was “creating a one-man regime that will take (Turkey) wherever his appetite desires.” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the opposition Republican People’s Party, regretted the assembly’s decision to “hand over its own authority” and “betray” its history. He vowed to lead a “struggle for democracy” to have the reforms rejected in the referendum

Saturday’s decision concludes almost two weeks of heated debates in the assembly, where lawmakers traded barbs and came to blows on more than one occasion. In one dramatic scene, a lawmaker handcuffed herself to the rostrum in a bid to stop deliberations.

With the almost full backing of the ruling party and newly allied nationalist party, the bill passed. The result is a win for Erdogan, a founder of the Islamist-leaning AKP and the country’s first directly elected president. He served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014.

Analysts predict the reforms would pass a national referendum as much of the public buys into the argument that a strong president would equal a stronger Turkey. Turkey expert Jonathan Friedman of Stroz Friedberg, a global risk consultancy, says the debate “comes down to whether or not you support Erdogan.”

He warns that the proposed changes would make permanent powers that the presidency has gained through a state of emergency introduced last year. “These added powers do not appear to have improved Turkey’s security and stability,” he told AP.

The parliamentary vote comes six months after a violent attempt to unseat the Turkish president. The polarizing leader survived the July 15 coup attempt thanks to thousands of supporters who took to the streets to confront tanks and round up rogue soldiers.

Those dramatic events and more than a decade of success at the ballot box are a testament to the popularity enjoyed by Erdogan and the party he founded. But the failed coup attempt set the stage for a state of emergency and a sweeping purge of state institutions that has alarmed rights groups and Western governments.

Critics see Erdogan as an Islamist-leaning populist, authoritarian leader who has ruthlessly purged opponents from every institution and threatens Turkey’s secular traditions. Rights groups have sounded the alarm over what they see as a widening, accelerating crackdown on dissent that has crippled the media and decimated the pro-Kurdish party.

In the wake of the coup, more than 100,000 civil servants have been dismissed for their alleged ties to Fethullah Gulan, a U.S.-based cleric Ankara blames for the revolt. Turkish authorities say they are tackling an array of terrorists — from Gulen’s movement to backers of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Islamic State group.

The country is a member of the NATO alliance and a partner in the U.S. led-coalition against IS. Its armed forces are active in neighboring Syria and Iraq. In the past year, Turkey suffered dozens of bloody attacks in violence linked to IS and Kurdish militants who have waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Soguel reported from Basel, Switzerland. Cinar Kiper in Istanbul also contributed.

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January 17, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police captured the gunman who carried out the deadly New Year’s nightclub attack in Istanbul, with officials saying Tuesday that he’s an Uzbekistan national who trained in Afghanistan and confessed to the massacre.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters in Ankara that the man was being questioned by police and expressed hope that the interrogation would unveil the “forces” behind the attack, which killed 39 people and has already been claimed by the Islamic State group.

“The vile terrorist who attacked the place of entertainment on New Year’s eve and led to the loss of so many lives has been captured,” Yildirim said. He added: “What is important is for the suspect to be captured and for the forces behind it to be revealed.”

The premier wouldn’t provide further details on the arrest or the investigation, saying authorities would provide specifics “in time.” Moments later in separate remarks, Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said that the suspect is an Uzbekistan national who trained in Afghanistan. He is believed to have entered Turkey in January 2016. Sahin identified him as Abdulkadir Masharipov, saying he was born in 1983 without giving an exact birthday. Turkish media are reporting the suspect’s first name as Abdulgadir.

Sahin said that the man, captured late Monday, confessed to carrying out the massacre and that his fingerprints matched those of the attacker. The suspect, according to Sahin, was a well-educated terrorist who speaks four languages and had clearly carried out the attack in the name of IS.

The police operation to apprehend him drew on the review of 7,200 hours of security camera footage and involved around 2,000 police officers, including special units, the governor said. Authorities seized nearly $200,000 during the suspect’s arrest.

The statements come hours after police began questioning the suspect after he was caught in a police operation at a luxury residential complex in Istanbul. The state-run Anadolu Agency said that a man from Kyrgyzstan and three women — from Somalia, Senegal and Egypt — were also detained in the raid, while the gunman’s 4-year-old son was taken into protective custody.

Hurriyet newspaper earlier reported that the alleged gunman’s wife and 1-year old daughter were caught in a police operation on Jan. 12. IS group has claimed responsibility for the nightclub massacre, saying the attack in the first hours of Jan. 1 was in reprisal for Turkish military operations in northern Syria. The man identified as the suspect had been on the run since the attack.

Anadolu said police have also carried out raids on members of a suspected Uzbek IS cell in five Istanbul neighborhoods, and detained several people. Photographs from raids, widely published in the Turkish media, showed a bruised, black-haired man in a gray, bloodied shirt being held by his neck. NTV television said the gunman had resisted arrest.

Hundreds of people were gathered at the swanky Reina nightclub to celebrate the end of a tumultuous 2016 only to become the first victims of 2017. The gunman shot a police officer and a civilian outside the club, before storming the premises.

Most of the dead in the attack on the upscale club were foreign nationals, mainly from the Middle East.

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, and Dominique Soguel in Basel, Switzerland, contributed to this report.

January 10, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s central bank has moved to support the currency after it hit another record low amid investor concerns that the country might concentrate political power under its president. The central bank effectively freed up $1.5 billion in foreign cash liquidity for the banks by allowing them to reduce the amount of foreign currency they have to hold in reserve.

Concerns over Turkey’s financial system have grown in recent weeks as investors worry about the country’s political future. The government has cracked down on dissenters since a coup attempt this summer and is debating whether to further concentrate power.

Parliament started to deliberate Monday on constitutional amendments that would concentrate power President in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hands. Critics say it would turn the country into a de facto “dictatorship.”

The currency, the lira, is down almost 7 percent on the day at 3.71 per dollar, having touched a record low of 3.78 earlier in the day. Because Turkey relies on a lot of foreign investment in its economy, the currency’s drop can make it harder to pay back foreign debt. The central bank could support the currency by raising interest rates, but that would also hurt the economy by making borrowing costs higher for businesses and consumers.

So Tuesday’s move is a way to ease pressure in the financial system and currency markets, though economists are skeptical they will be enough. “With policymakers clearly spooked by the decline in the lira and today’s moves likely to have only a short-term impact, outright hikes in official interest rates look increasingly likely,” said William Jackson, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London.

January 09, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament is kicking off a debate Monday on a set of draft constitutional amendments that would hand Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s largely ceremonial presidency sweeping executive powers, and the possibility of serving two more five-year terms.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 14 years, has long been pushing for greater political powers to the presidency, arguing that a strong leadership will help Turkey grow. The main opposition party fears that if approved, the reforms will concentrate too much power in Erdogan’s hands, turn the country into a system akin to a dictatorship and move Turkey away from democracy and its anchor in the West.

“They are trying to turn the democratic parliamentary regime into a totalitarian regime,” said main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Debate on the proposals is expected to last two weeks. The reforms must clear two rounds of balloting in the general assembly, gaining at least 330 of the 550 votes. If passed, the government will submit the package to a referendum for a final approval — possibly in the spring.

The ruling party, founded by Erdogan, is 14 votes short of the required 330 but has secured the backing of the country’s nationalist party. The changes would make the president the head of the executive, allow him to appoint the government, retain ties with his party, propose budgets and declare states of emergency. They would also allow Erdogan to serve a further two terms, ending in 2029.

Other proposed amendments would increase the number of seats in the 550-member parliament to 600, reduce the minimum age of legislators from 25 to 18 and set parliamentary and presidential elections on the same day.

The debate comes at a difficult time for the country which has been rocked by a wave of bombings, renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, a military offensive in Syria and a failed coup attempt.

The botched July 15 coup set the stage for a sweeping purge of state institutions that has alarmed rights groups and Western governments. The government says the strong presidential system will reduce instability.

“They ask, why are you keeping yourselves occupied with constitutional amendments (when) there is terrorism?” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said last week. “Look, it’s today that we have the greatest need for a constitutional reform.”

Critics say the changes would allow Erdogan to rule with limited checks and balances. Erdogan is already accused overstepping the limits of presidential powers as set by the constitution, ruling behind the scenes and ignoring laws that require him to be neutral.

Erdogan argues that the fact that he was elected by the people directly — and not through parliament as previous presidents were — gives him greater authority. The draft amendments were approved following 10 days of tense debate that at times resulted in altercations between the ruling party and main opposition party members on the committee. Debate in the general assembly is expected to be equally tense.

08 January 2017 Sunday

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was named 2016’s “Person of the Year” in a survey by Al Jazeera’s Arabic service on Saturday.

According to Al Jazeera’s Arabic service website, around 130,000 people voted in the survey carried out on the Doha-based network’s Facebook page.

Erdogan came out as 2016’s “Person of the Year” by bagging 40 percent of the votes.

Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old Syrian child who was photographed in August 2016 with his face covered in dust and blood after an attack by regime forces, came in second with 34 percent votes.

Slain Tunisian aviation engineer Mohamed Zouari, who was reportedly behind the drone program of Palestinian group Hamas, came in third with 17 percent votes.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/182817/al-jazeera-survey-names-erdogan-person-of-the-year.

2017-01-07

ISTANBUL – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday announced that some of the millions of Syrian and Iraqis who have fled to Turkey would be given Turkish nationality.

“Our interior ministry is carrying out work, and under this work, some of them will be granted our nationality after all the necessary checks” have been carried out, Erdogan said in a speech broadcast on television.

“There are highly qualified people among them, there are engineers, lawyers, doctors. Let’s make use” of that talent, he argued.

“Instead of letting them work illegally here and there, let’s give them the chance to work as citizens, like the children of this nation,” he said.

Erdogan said the interior ministry “is ready to implement the measure at any time.” But he gave no further details, notably about how many would gain Turkish nationality.

According to Turkish government figures, the country is hosting more than three million Syrians and Iraqis who have fled war.

Erdogan outlined a naturalization plan last summer but the idea met with angry protests and xenophobic comments on social media.

The country’s political opposition saw the plan as a scheme to widen Erdogan’s electoral basis at a time when he is pushing for constitutional reform that will strengthen his powers.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80716.

January 03, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — At least 39 people were killed and nearly 70 injured in the mass shooting that took place in front of and inside a popular Istanbul nightclub in the first hours of New Year’s Day. The victims included citizens of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, France, Tunisia, India, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Canada, Israel, Syria, Belgium, Germany and Russia.

Among them was a police officer and a security guard employed to keep revelers safe, a tour guide escorting visitors during a night on the town and young adults who had traveled to Turkey for the holidays.

A look at what is known so far about the victims and their nationalities.

Alaa Al-Muhandia has been identified as the Canadian woman killed, the Canadian government confirmed. She was a 29-year-old mother of two from Milton, Ontario.

Mehmet Kerim Akyil, 23, had traveled from Belgium to Istanbul for a New Year’s vacation. His father, Ali Akyil, told state-run Anadolu news agency that they were a Turkish family who loved their country.

Bulent Sirvan Osman, 38, a married father of two from Erbil, Iraq, was in Istanbul for business, according to Anadolu.

Abdullah Ahmed Abbolos, a 32-year-old Palestinian living in Saudi Arabia, had come to Istanbul to celebrate the new year, Anadolu reported.

Abis Rizvi from Mumbai was one of two Indian victims of the attack. The 49-year-old builder wrote, produced and directed a Bollywood movie “Roar: The Tigers of Sunderbans,” in 2014 aimed at spreading awareness about tigers.

The other Indian victim was named as Khushi Shah, a fashion designer from Vadodara, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Hatice Karcilar, a 29-year-old private security guard, was among the Turkish victims of the attack, state-run Anadolu news agency reported. She is survived by her husband and a 3-year-old daughter, it said.

Turkish police officer Burak Yildiz was shot and killed outside the Reina nightclub, Anadolu reported. The 22-year-old from the southern city of Mersin had been on the force for 1½ years.

Ayhan Arik, a 47-year-old Turkish travel agent and a father of two, was shot in the head outside the club, reported the private Dogan news agency.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry identified three of its citizens among the dead as Elias Wardini, Rita Shami and Haikal Musalam. The wounded included Bushra El Douaihy, the daughter of parliament member Estephan El Douaihy, it said.

Leanne Nasser, an 18-year-old Arab-Israeli from the town of Tira, was celebrating with friends when the gunman broke in and opened fire. Ruaa Mansour, also 18, was moderately wounded in the attack. Two other friends were unharmed.

The U.S. State Department confirmed that a 35-year-old Delaware businessman originally from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, wounded in the attack.

William Jacob Raak told the Dogan news agency that he was in the club with nine people, seven of whom were shot. Raak suffered a leg wound.

France’s foreign minister says one French citizen was killed and three others wounded in the shooting.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement that a woman with both French and Tunisian citizenship died in the attack early Sunday. The woman’s Tunisian husband also died, he said.

Dubai-based broadcaster Al Arabiya reported that seven people from Saudi Arabia were killed and 10 were wounded in the attack.

Two people from Bavaria are among the dead, according to Germany’s Foreign Ministry.

Spokesman Martin Schaefer declined to name them, but said it appeared one was a German-Turkish dual citizen and the other was believed to have had only Turkish nationality. Three German citizens were wounded in the attack, he said.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said two of its citizens were killed and six were wounded in the attack.

Kuwait’s Consul-General Mohammad Fahad al-Mohammad said one Kuwaiti was killed and five others were wounded in the shooting.

January 01, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A deadly New Year’s assault on an Istanbul nightclub follows a long string of attacks in Turkey over the past year. A look at the most significant attacks:

— Jan. 12, 2016, Istanbul: Suicide bomber kills 12 German tourists in historic district. Authorities say attacker was linked the Islamic State group.

— Feb. 17, Ankara: A suicide car bomb apparently targeting military personnel kills 29 people in an attack claimed by TAK, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

— March 13, Ankara: Kurdish woman blows herself up in a car at a busy transport hub, killing 37 people in an attack claimed by TAK, also known as the Kurdish Freedom Falcons.

— March 19, Istanbul: Turkish suicide bomber kills five people in the city’s main pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal. Turkish officials say bomber was linked to IS.

— March 31, Diyarbakir: Car bomb kills seven police officers and wounds 27 people, including 13 police.

— April 12, Gaziantep: Syrian journalist dies from gunshot wounds from attack claimed by IS.

— April 27, Bursa: Female suicide bomber wounds 13 in a historic district of Turkey’s fourth largest city.

— May 1, Gaziantep: Car bomb at the entrance of a police station kills two officers, 22 other people wounded.

— May 10, Diyarbakir: Car bomb strikes police vehicle carrying officers escorting seven detained Kurdish militants, killing three people and wounding 45 others.

— May 12, Istanbul: Car bomb targeting a military garrison explodes during rush hour, wounding eight people.

— June 7, Istanbul: Car bomb hits a riot police bus during the morning rush hour, killing 11 people and wounding 36. A Kurdish militant group claims responsibility.

— June 8, Midyat: Kurdish suicide car bomber kills five people and wounds 51, including 23 civilians, outside a police headquarters near Turkey-Syria border.

— June 17, Istanbul: Car bomb explodes as a police vehicle passes by, killing 11 people.

— June 28, Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport: Three suicide bombers armed with assault rifles storm airport, killing 44 people and wounding nearly 150.

— July 15: About 270 people die in military coup attempt.

— Aug. 17, Van: Car bombing at a police station kills a police officer and two civilians; 53 civilians and 20 police officers wounded.

— Aug. 18, Elazig: Car bomb at police headquarters kills at least five people and wounds more than 140.

— Aug. 20, Gaziantep: Suicide bomber — possibly as young as 12 — kills at least 51 people at an outdoor Kurdish wedding party. IS suspected of directing attack.

— Aug. 26, Cizre: Kurdish suicide bomber rams an explosives-laden truck into a police checkpoint, killing at least 11 officers and wounding 78 other people.

— Sept, 12. Van: Car bomb wounds 50 people outside ruling party’s municipal headquarters.

— Oct. 6, Istanbul: Motorcycle bomb explodes near a police station, wounding at least 10 people.

— Oct. 8, Ankara: Two suicide bombers blow themselves up after refusing to surrender to police. No one else was hurt.

— Oct. 9, Hakkari province: Kurdish militants detonate car bomb outside a military checkpoint in the southeast, killing 10 soldiers and eight civilians.

— Oct. 10, Dicle: A top local official of the ruling Justice and Development Party is killed when attackers open fire at a gas station he owned.

— Nov. 4, Diyarbakir: Car bomb near a riot-police bus kills at least 11 people, including two police officers. A Kurdish militant group and IS both claim responsibility.

— Nov. 24, Adana: Car bomb targeting a government building kills at least two people and wounds 33 others.

— Dec. 10, Istanbul: A double bomb attack outside soccer stadium kills 44 people and wounds 149.

— Dec. 17, Kayseri province: Suicide car bomber targeting a public bus transporting off-duty soldiers kills 13 troops and wounds 56 other people.

— Dec. 19, Ankara: A Turkish riot policeman assassinates Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov at a photo exhibition.

— Jan. 1, 2017, Istanbul. An assailant opens fire at a crowded nightclub during New Year’s celebrations. Istanbul’s governor says the attack killed at least 35 people and wounded 40 others.

January 01, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — An assailant believed to have been dressed in a Santa Claus costume opened fire at a crowded nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations, killing at least 39 people and wounding close to 70 others in what the province’s governor described as a terror attack.

Gov. Vasip Sahin said the attacker, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club at around 1:45 a.m. Sunday before entering and firing on people partying inside. He did not say who may have carried out the attack.

“Unfortunately (he) rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate New Year’s and have fun,” Sahin told reporters. Private NTV news channel said the assailant entered the Reina nightclub, in Istanbul’s Ortakoy district, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the man was still on the run, adding: “efforts to find the terrorist are continuing.” “Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing he will be caught in a short period of time,” the minister said.

At least 16 of the dead were foreign nationals, Soylu said, without providing information on their nationalities. Five of the victims were identified as Turkish nationals while authorities were still trying to identify 18 of the victims. At least 69 people were being treated in hospitals, four in serious condition, Soylu said.

Some customers jumped into the waters of the Bosporus to escape the attack, the report said. Sinem Uyanik was inside the club with her husband who was wounded in the attack. “Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me,” she said outside Istanbul’s Sisli Etfal Hospital. “I had to lift several bodies from top of me before I could get out. It was frightening.” Her husband was not in serious condition despite sustaining three wounds.

Police with riot gear and machine guns backed up by armored vehicles blocked the area close to the Reina nightclub, one of the most popular night spots in Istanbul. Several ambulances flashing blue lights arrived on the scene, some taking wounded to hospitals.

The White House condemned what it called a “horrific terrorist attack” and offered U.S. help to Turkey. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack by his national security team and asked to be updated as the situation developed. Obama is vacationing in Hawaii this week with his family.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the attack on “innocent revelers” celebrating New Year’s shows the attackers’ savagery. “Our thoughts are with victims and their loved ones. We continue to work to prevent these tragedies,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini tweeted.

An estimated 600 people were celebrating inside the club that is also frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and sports stars. Several shocked revelers were seen fleeing the scene after the attack and the music fell silent.

The country has been rocked by a series of deadly attacks in 2016 carried out by the Islamic State group or Kurdish militants, killing more than 180 people. On Dec. 10, a double bomb attack outside soccer stadium — located near the Reina nightclub — killed 44 people and wounded 149 others. The attack was claimed by Turkey-based Kurdish militant group, the Kurdish Freedom Falcons. Nine days later, an off-duty Turkish riot policeman assassinated Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov at a photo exhibition in the capital, Ankara. The government has suggested that a movement led U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the killing — an accusation the cleric has denied.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag vowed that Turkey would press ahead with its fight against violent groups. “Turkey will continue its determined and effective combat to root out terror,” Bozdag said on Twitter.

Security measures had been heightened in major Turkish cities, with police barring traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and the capital Ankara. In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers were put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported.

Dusan Stojanovic and Mehmet Guzel in Istanbul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.

December 30, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish parliamentary commission on Friday cleared a set of draft constitutional amendments that would greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The constitutional commission approved the reforms at the end of a 17-hour session that lasted into the early hours of Friday, opening the way for deliberations and a vote in the full assembly in January, with a possible referendum in the spring.

The proposals would turn the largely ceremonial presidency into one where the president enjoys full executive powers. Erdogan, who was prime minister before becoming president in 2014, has long advocated a presidential system, arguing it would give the head of state flexibility to make Turkey one of the top 10 powers in the world by 2023, when the Turkish Republic marks its centenary.

Critics fear the proposals would allow Erdogan, who is increasingly accused of authoritarian behavior, to rule with limited checks and balances. The draft amendments were approved following 10 days of tense debate that at times resulted in altercations between the ruling party and main opposition party members on the committee. The 21 articles that were initially submitted to the committee were reduced to 18, over some objections by ruling-party legislators.

“This is the greatest democratic move in the history of the (Turkish) republic,” said Resat Petek, a legislator from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, following the committee’s vote. The main opposition party, the Republican Peoples’ Party, CHP, said the draft amendments amount to a “regime change.”

“It is a constitution that will destroy the century-old gains of the democratic republic,” said CHP legislator Bulent Tezcan. “It is a constitution that will create a tyrannical state.” The amendments were proposed by the AKP with the newly won support of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. The nationalist party was expected to back the amendments in the general assembly as well.

Erdogan enjoys popularity and has rallied support following a failed military coup blamed on a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The changes would allow the president to appoint the government, retain ties with his party, propose budgets and declare states of emergency. They would also allow Erdogan to serve a further two terms, ending in 2029.

Other proposed amendments would increase the number of seats in the 550-member parliament to 600, reduce the minimum age of legislators from 25 to 18 and set parliamentary and presidential elections on the same day.

The changes come at a tumultuous time for Turkey, which has been rocked by a wave of bombings, renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, and the failed coup attempt. The botched July 15 coup set the stage for a sweeping purge of state institutions that has alarmed rights groups and Western governments.

On Friday, the government closed down 94 associations with alleged links to terror organizations, using powers from a state of emergency that was declared after the coup. The Interior Ministry said 42 of the associations were connected to Gulen’s movement, 26 were linked to the Kurdish rebels, four were connected to the Islamic State group while 21 were tied to various far-left groups.

The closures raise the number of associations disbanded since the coup to more than 1,400.