Archive for August 7, 2017


June 14, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced a prominent opposition lawmaker to 25 years in prison on espionage charges, prompting an outcry from his party. Enis Berberoglu, a 61-year-old former journalist and a member of the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, was convicted of revealing state secrets, Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said.

The case stems from a May 2015 report in the Cumhuriyet newspaper suggesting Turkey’s intelligence service had smuggled weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria a year earlier — which the government denied. Berberoglu was accused of giving journalists images used in the report.

He faced a life sentence but the court reduced it for “good behavior.” Berberoglu said justice had been “slaughtered” as he was led out of the court following the verdict. “I know you won’t forget me and I won’t forget you,” he told reporters.

His lawyer said the verdict would be appealed. Can Dundar, Cumhuriyet’s then editor-in-chief who is now abroad, and its Ankara representative, Erdem Gul, are also on trial on similar charges. Separately, the three are being tried for “aiding a terror organization without being members,” referring to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who Turkey claims orchestrated last summer’s bloody coup. Gulen has denied the claims.

CHP lawmakers left parliament to protest the verdict Wednesday. “Can there be a country with no justice, can there be a state with no justice?” party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu asked. “They are putting dynamite to the foundations of the state.”

He said he would begin a protest in Ankara on Thursday and also organize a march to the Istanbul prison where Berberoglu has been incarcerated. Earlier this year, the Istanbul court said the leaked images — also blamed on Gulen — aimed to manipulate international opinion and “have Turkey put on trial as a country supporting terror,” Anadolu said.

Cumhuriyet said the images were from 2014 and showed local authorities searching Syria-bound trucks carrying mortar rounds and getting into a standoff with Turkish intelligence officials. Turkish leaders denied supporting Islamic rebels and said the trucks contained aid to Turkmens in Syria.

Last year Berberoglu told Turkish media that Cumhuriyet’s story was accurate but would not confirm he was the source of the images. CHP leader Kilicdaroglu tweeted, “In this country, the punishment for covering the news of a truck filled with weapons heading to terror groups is 25 years in prison but illegal arm shipments are allowed!”

Berberoglu is the first CHP legislator to be imprisoned since a constitutional amendment stripped parliamentary immunities last year. A dozen pro-Kurdish lawmakers are already in prison for allegedly supporting terror and more than 50,000 people have been arrested for purported links to Gulen.

Separately, Cumhuriyet’s online editor Oguz Guven was released from prison pending trial after his arrest last month for allegedly spreading “terror propaganda” for Gulen.

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2017-06-09

ANKARA – Turkey on Friday warned that a decision by Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to hold an independence referendum would be a “grave mistake.”

Iraq’s Kurdish region, with which Turkey has forged close trade ties, announced this week that it would vote on whether to split from the rest of Iraq and form an independent region.

“We believe that the announcement by the (Iraqi Kurdish region) to hold an independence referendum on September 25 … will constitute a grave mistake,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kurds are touted as the world’s largest stateless people after being denied their own country in the wake of World War I and they are spread between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

Turkey has a large Kurdish minority with which the government has been engaged in a multi-decade armed conflict, and Ankara fears that Iraqi Kurdish independence could fuel increased calls for a similar move within its territory.

Ankara had in the past shared worries over the independence plan of Iraqi Kurds, saying it would not be beneficial for Iraq and would cause further instability, the ministry said.

“To preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity and political unity is one of Turkey’s fundamental Iraq policies,” it said.

Ankara also said the major issue faced by Iraq was the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group and to rebuild the country after the offensive, which appeared to be reaching a conclusion soon.

The solidarity shown in the fight against IS “should be pursued in the post-Daesh period and the issues that concern the future of the country should be tackled with international and constitutional legitimacy,” the foreign ministry said, using the Arabic name for IS.

“It is clear that under those extraordinary conditions, a referendum on regions whose status are disputed will be far from reflecting the people’s will.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83461.

May 21, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan returned as leader of Turkey’s ruling party Sunday, pushing back criticism that his tenure has curtailed freedoms and polarized the country as he vowed to serve the nation and combat terror.

The Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, re-elected Erdogan, its co-founder, at a congress where he was the only candidate for chairman. A narrow victory in a referendum last month to expand the powers of the Turkish presidency allows him to be both the head of state and of a political party.

Speaking to tens of thousands of people in Ankara, Erdogan said he was back after “998 days of separation” from the party and outlined a vision for its immediate future and elections scheduled for November 2019 with new executive and grassroots teams.

“This congress is the AK Party’s rebirth,” he said before the vote. “AK Party is not just its voters’ party, it’s the party for all of our 80 million citizens.” Elected with 1,414 votes, Erdogan set the party’s course for what he called a “new era” of reforms.

“The upcoming months will be a period of soaring in all areas, including combatting terror, the economy, expanding rights and freedoms and investments,” the president said. Erdogan was forced to cut his formal ties to the party when he became the country’s first directly elected president in 2014. Last month’s referendum eliminated a constitutional requirement mandating that presidents be neutral and cut ties with their political parties.

Critics say the referendum transforming Turkey’s parliamentary governing system to an executive presidency was marred by allegations of election fraud. The vote took place under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of last year’s failed coup.

Erdogan defended the state of emergency and said it would remain in place “until the situation reaches peace and welfare.” He said it had not affected civil rights. Turkey blames the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for the July 15 coup attempt that left nearly 270 dead— a charge Gulen has denied.

Under the state of emergency, more than 47,000 people have been arrested and 100,000 dismissed from public service for alleged connections to the cleric and groups Turkey deems terror organizations. A dozen lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish opposition party, including its co-presidents, are behind bars along with some 160 journalists.

Calling the purge necessary for the country’s survival, Erdogan said, “Nothing in Turkey will be like what it was before July 15. A new era has begun in combatting terror organizations inside and outside our country’s borders.”

Hours before the congress convened, 2 suspected Islamic State militants were killed in an Ankara police operation. Police said they recovered weapons and explosives. Turkey’s state-run news agency said the men were believed to be planning an attack in the capital.

The operation follows a string of attacks blamed on the Islamic State group, which led to Turkey’s cross-border operation into northern Syria to combat both IS and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militants.

Erdogan’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump last week resolved little of the discord over his administration’s decision to more heavily arm Syrian Kurdish militants as part of the fight against IS.

Turkey considers the considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria a terror organization and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency against the Turkish state and is blamed for multiple deadly bombings since 2015.

Erdogan has said he would retaliate if the YPG posed a security threat, signaling more cross-border operations. “Those who use terror organizations to keep us in line will soon recognize their mistakes,” he said. “We would be glad to solve our problems with our friends and our allies. But if that option is no longer there, we cannot sit with our hands tied.”

Erdogan also criticized Turkey’s European allies, saying, “We do not have to tolerate the European Union’s two-faced attitude.” Erdogan called on the EU to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens, give promised aid for migrants hosted in Turkey and to speed up Turkey’s accession bid in return for the country’s work in curtailing the flood of migrants to Europe.

“Despite everything, our choice is still to continue with the EU,” he said. “The decision here belongs to the EU.”

August 02, 2017

SARANDA, Albania (AP) — Descending beneath the waves, the cloudy first few meters quickly give way to clear waters and an astonishing sight — dozens, perhaps hundreds, of tightly packed ancient vases lie on the seabed, testament to some long-forgotten trader’s unfortunate voyage more than 1,600 years ago.

A short boat ride away, the hulking frame of an Italian World War II ship appears through the gloom, soldiers’ personal items still scattered in the interior, its encrusted railings and propeller now home to growing colonies of fish and sponges.

Off the rugged shores of Albania, one of the world’s least explored underwater coastlines, lies a wealth of treasures: ancient amphorae — long, narrow terracotta vessels — that carried olive oil and wine along trade routes between north Africa and the Roman Empire, wrecks with hidden tales of heroism and treachery from two world wars, and spectacular rock formations and marine life.

“From what I’ve seen so far, you can’t swim more than a few meters without finding something that’s amazing, whether it’s on the cultural history side or the natural history side, here in Albania,” said Derek Smith, a coastal and maritime ecologist and research associate who has been working with the non-profit RPM Nautical Foundation to explore the Albanian coastline for the past decade.

Now Albania’s National Coastline Agency is examining how best to study and protect its sunken attractions while opening them up to visitors in a nation that is virgin territory for the lucrative scuba diving industry.

“The idea of presenting the Albanian underwater heritage is a new idea for the country, because so far there is very little known about the rich history of the Albanian coastline, and in particular the shipwrecks,” said agency head Auron Tare, who has been involved for the past 12 years with RPM Nautical Foundation’s underwater research. “I believe the time has come now that we should present to the world the wealth of this heritage that we have in our waters.”

Once more isolated than even North Korea, Albania has gradually opened up to international tourism and shrugged off its former image as a hermit state that briefly turned into lawless bandit territory in the late 1990s. But coastal land development has been burgeoning in an often anarchic fashion, and there are fears the more accessible wrecks could be plundered unless adequate protections are put into place.

Legislation is expected to be passed soon to protect the country’s underwater heritage while also granting some access to visitors. Neighboring Greece, to Albania’s south, has struggled with balancing tourism with protecting its ancient artefacts. Greece was so fearful of losing its underwater antiquities it banned diving outright in all but a handful of places. Even today, diving is forbidden on any wreck — ship or plane — built more than 50 years ago, regardless of when it sank.

Albania is going for a more balanced approach. “I’d say that in the near future the ancient wrecks should be open to scholars and research,” said Tare, who noted the country has also lost some of its underwater heritage to plundering in the last 20 years. “Where(as) some of the modern wrecks which do not have much to lose in the sense of looting might be opened up to the dive industry.”

He estimated that with access to the more modern wrecks from WWI or WWII, diving could pick up in Albania in the next five years. The RPM Nautical Foundation, in cooperation with the coastal agency, has mapped out the seabed along about a third of the Albanian coastline, from Saranda near the Greek border to Vlora. Using a combination of divers and high-tech equipment including sonar and a remotely operated underwater vehicle, or ROV, its research vessel has discovered nearly 40 shipwrecks.

“So far RPM has documented from about 3rd and 4th century BC through to World War I and World War II contemporary shipwrecks,” said Smith. “So we’ve got quite a big range of maybe 2,500 years, 2,300 years’ worth of cultural resources here on the Albanian coastline that have really largely been unexplored.”

One of them is the tightly-packed amphora pile near the shore. Known as the Joni wreck, it was a merchant vessel estimated to have had about four crew members and a cargo of mainly of north African amphorae.

The fact that the pottery was north African “is really important because it shows the trade connections between the Adriatic and the north African coast,” said underwater archaeologist Mateusz Polakowski, who has been working with RPM.

Small fish peer out from the necks of the jugs, which the passage of time has concreted into the seabed. The site hasn’t been excavated and archaeologists believe several more layers of amphorae, as well as the wooden hull of the ship, might still lie intact beneath the seabed.

“A lot of these wrecks are very important as national heritage treasures,” said Polakowski. “Just as much as the biology of it is, just as important as the reefs and the fish populations are, I think these shipwrecks not only become artificial reefs, but they also instill a sense of cultural identity, cultural heritage.”

Albania sits at a strategic point at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea and along ancient trade routes from Italy to the Balkan peninsula, Polakowski said. Much more remains to be explored. “They have about 200 miles of coastline here,” said Smith, the maritime ecologist. “Even though we feel like we’ve covered a tremendous amount of it … there’s always more to be discovered.”

June 27, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s left-wing Socialist Party has secured a second mandate in a general election, winning a majority of seats in parliament, nearly complete results showed Tuesday. The election is seen as a key benchmark to the country’s bid to launch membership negotiations with the European Union.

The Central Election Commission said that with more than 95 percent of the ballots counted, the governing Socialists of Prime Minister Edi Rama had won about 48 percent of the votes, or 74 places in the 140-seat parliament.

The previous government was a coalition of the Socialists and the Socialist Movement for Integration, or LSI, often creating problems for Rama. The opposition Democratic party of Lulzim Basha won 29 percent, or 43 seats. The LSI is third with 19 seats.

Turnout in Sunday’s election fell to 46.6 percent, 7 points lower than in 2013. International observers who monitored the polling hailed the generally calm campaign and voting, but also noted the continued political fight that has negative impacts on the country’s democracy.

The U.S. embassy in Tirana said that the incidents “were not so widespread as to change the overall outcome of the elections.” Federica Mogherini, EU’s foreign policy chief, and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn urged the new Cabinet to continue the reform process.

“The continuation of the justice reform and the fight against drug trafficking and cultivation will be of particular importance in this respect,” their statement said. The governing Socialists had agreed in May to give the opposition Democrats a greater role in oversight on election transparency.

The two parties also pledged to work together toward eventually joining the European Union. Rama had pledged that his new cabinet would work hard on a reform agenda to root out corruption and fight drug trafficking, achieve faster economic growth, improve pay and lower unemployment.

The nation of 2.9 million, a NATO member since 2009, received EU candidate status in 2014.

June 26, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Preliminary results show that Albania’s left-wing Socialist Party appeared headed for a new governing mandate in crucial elections in the country’s bid to launch membership negotiations with the European Union.

The Central Election Commission’s preliminary results after counting one-third of the votes Monday morning show the Socialist party of Prime Minister Edi Rama winning almost half the votes compared to 28 percent of the opposition Democratic party of Lulzim Basha.

Election authorities said the partial count pointed to the Socialists winning at least 75 seats in the 140-member parliament. Turnout fell to 47 percent, or 6 points lower than in previous polls in 2013.

Holding a free and fair election is key to launching EU membership talks for the nation of 2.9 million, which is already a NATO member and that earned EU candidate status in 2014. Rama wrote on Monday in his Facebook page wishing Albanians “a beautiful day with this still-unfinished masterpiece of this country’s common people,” referring to the expected significant difference in winning results.

Basha spoke to reporters late Sunday evening thanking Albanians for voting “with a European dignity” in a religious day and under extreme hot temperature. The voting was extended by one hour due to low turnout that was attributed to religious festivities and temperatures that reached 39 degrees (102 Fahrenheit.)

Albania with a two-third Muslim majority celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. International observers are expected to hold a news conference with a preliminary statement in the afternoon.

June 25, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanians voted in what was expected to be low numbers Sunday in a general election that was aimed at giving the country’s two biggest political parties a chance to look past their bitter differences and work toward eventually joining the European Union.

The voting ended at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) after the Central Election Commission decided to extend voting by one hour due to low turnout that was attributed to religious festivities and hot temperatures that reached 39 degrees (102 Fahrenheit.)

The decision caused chaos in some places as more people waited in line to cast ballots. When the polls closed, the preliminary turnout from the 19 percent of stations reporting participation figures was 43.9 percent, compared to 53.5 percent four years ago. Preliminary election results are not expected until Monday.

Holding a free and fair election is key to launching EU membership talks for the nation of 2.9 million, which is already a NATO member. After earning EU candidate status in 2014, Tirana has struggled to pass important reforms vital for its bid to advance to EU — namely deeply reforming its corrupted justice system.

Eighteen political parties are running for 140 seats in parliament in Sunday’s vote. The main contenders are Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialist Party and the opposition Democratic Party led by Lulzim Basha.

An agreement reached in May ended the three-month parliamentary boycott by the Democrats, who claimed that voting was open to manipulation. The election date was delayed a week and Rama’s Socialists promised greater oversight on election transparency.

All main parties campaigned on a reform agenda, pledging faster economic growth, pay hikes and lower unemployment, which stands at about 14 percent. Some 6,000 police officers were on duty for election security, while more 300 international observers came to monitor the vote.

“We expect a better Albania and leaders to work to do what they have pledged at the campaign,” Zenel Caka, 47, said at a polling station in Tirana. Luan Rama of the Socialist Party for Motivation, the third main political party, said one member was injured following a quarrel and a shooting incident outside a polling station in Shengjin, 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of the capital, Tirana.

Police investigating the incident said they found a cartridge but no injured person was taken to the hospital. They said it did not disrupt the voting. The Interior Ministry also reported hundreds of attempts to buy votes, a crime that may result in a jail term.

Central Election Commission said partial turnout at a quarter of polling stations by 10 a.m. was 12.6 percent, almost the same as in the previous election. Albanians also celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. In the early morning, thousands of Muslim believers said prayers at the recently-renovated Skanderbeg Square in Tirana.

All top leaders cast their ballots, congratulating Muslims on the holiday and urging citizens to vote. “Today, Albania needs God more than ever,” Rama said. The western city of Kavaja was also holding a mayoral election.

July 31, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A car bombing targeted the Iraqi Embassy in central Kabul on Monday, followed by gunfire, Afghan police officials said. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The attack was still underway as witnesses reported hearing gunshots and several subsequent explosions in the area of the embassy. Details were sketchy as police cordoned off the area of the firefight.

Two police officials told The Associated Press that the car bomb exploded outside the embassy, followed by an attempt by gunmen to enter the building, which is located in the center of the Afghan capital. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Interior Minister spokesman Najib Danish told the AP that the Iraqi diplomats were safe and had been rescued. He said it’s believed three gunmen were involved in the attack. A police officer in the area, who identified himself only as Abdullah, said the gunfire was initially intense but was now sporadic. The area was surrounded by armored vehicles and a large contingent of police and Afghan soldiers.

More than an hour later, witnesses reported hearing another powerful explosion and saw black smoke billowing skyward. It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused the last explosion. At least one eyewitness, a store owner who goes by the name of Hafizullah — many Afghans use only one name — said he saw the bodies of two policemen on the ground before armored personnel carriers and police arrived to cordon off the area.

“The explosion was so strong. I was so afraid,” said Maryam, a woman crying near the site of the attack said. She said she works at the nearby office of Afghanistan’s National Airline Ariana. The Iraq Embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Now, which lies outside the so-called “green zone” where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls.

By comparison, the Iraqi Embassy is located on a small street in a neighborhood dominated by markets and businesses. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though both the Taliban and an Islamic State affiliate have previously carried out such attacks in Kabul.

After Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, recaptured the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group earlier in July, the Iraq Embassy had called reporters to its offices in Kabul to express concerns that the local IS affiliate might stage large-scale attacks elsewhere to draw away attention from the militant group’s losses in Iraq.

July 28, 2017

Eleven years after the 2006 Gaza beach massacre that killed seven members of her family, Huda Ghalia has graduated after completing her undergraduate studies in Sharia and Law at the Islamic University of Gaza.

On the afternoon of 9 June 2006, the Ghalia family were picnicking on the Sudaniya beach near Beit Lahia in northern Gaza when Israeli artillery and naval shelling struck the beach, killing seven members of her family, including her father, stepmother and five siblings.

Huda’s heart wrenching cries for her father as she ran towards his dead body not long after the blast were broadcast around the world. The images of her collapsing besides his body, weeping have turned her into an icon of the Palestinian struggle.

Before handing Huda an honorary award, the head of the Islamic University of Gaza Adel Awadallah said:

Huda is not an average person; she is a piece of every Palestinian. She got into our souls and into our hearts, and it is our duty to take care of her and stand by her.

“I am particularly grateful for my mother who stayed up with me, did so much to take care of me, raised me and encouraged me to finish my education,” Huda said during her graduation ceremony.

Israel initially took responsibility for the bombing, saying it regretted the civilian deaths. Later, however, it retracted and said the Israeli army was not responsible, concluding that the bombing was caused by a bomb planted by Hamas on the beach.

Following the incident, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, describing the incident a “bloody massacre”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170728-iconic-girl-from-gaza-beach-massacre-graduates/.

August 3, 2017

Some 78 Jordanian members of parliament have signed a motion demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman following an Israeli shooting that left two Jordanians dead last month.

The motion, submitted on Tuesday, also demanded that the Jordanian ambassador leave Israel immediately in order “to express rejection of the Jordanian government’s handling of the issue and returning the killer to Israel”, according to Ma’an news agency.

“Jordanian blood and Jordanians’ dignity are not cheap and the government was supposed to stand for the right of the blood that was shed and maintain their dignity strongly and firmly,” the motion read.

Read: Jordan should stop bowing to Israel

Deputy Khalid Ramadan Awada added that further action would be taken if the government did not respond to their demands.

The petition comes a week after hundreds of people protested outside the Israeli embassy in Amman calling for the cancellation of Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel known as “Wadi Araba”.

Tensions have been high since the Jordanian government returned the shooter to Tel Aviv, followed by the release of images of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcoming the soldier. Jordan’s King Abdullah has since demanded that the guard be tried for murder.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170803-jordan-mps-demand-closure-of-israeli-embassy/.