Archive for October 13, 2018


13.06.2018

A new era in Turkey’s urban planning is set to begin with the transformation of old stadiums and airports into “People’s Garden”.

Amid the opening of Istanbul’s new airport, the Ataturk Airport in the western part of the port city will be transformed into a 12-million square meter garden, the Turkish president has announced.

Speaking at a televised interview Tuesday night, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Instead of a 12 million square meters Ataturk Airport, there will be ‘People’s Garden’.

This is equal to four times of Central Park… We plan to implement this project in all our provinces.

We will also transform the racetrack in Ankara into a people’s garden.”

Erdogan in another interview also said the current airport terminal building could be used as a fairground and/or a museum, adding: “Projects will be shaped according to our needs.”

With the new giant garden in place of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, the Turkish president argues families will, at last, get a chance to spend time in nature.

According to World Cities Culture Forum’s data from 2015, the percentage of green public spaces in Istanbul was 2.2. In 2016, the Istanbul Governor’s Office announced that Istanbul has 45.25 percent forestlands.

The government remains determined to continue efforts to create a greener Turkey; Forestry and Water Minister Veysel Eroglu in September 2017 said: “We will complete this year by planting 350 million trees. The total number of trees we planted last year [2016] was 3 billion and 750 million.

We will make a record this year by planting a total of 4 billion trees.”

Turkish president said the People’s Garden in Ataturk Airport will be much larger than the Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London.

Erdogan said apart from the Ataturk Airport, Istanbul’s Basaksehir, Maslak, Pendik and Bakirkoy areas will also be transformed into a greener space along with Ankara’s Ataturk Cultural Center.

“We have made a new stadium for Eskisehir as you know, and the old stadium is now being transformed into a People’s Garden.

Again in Bursa, the old stadium is being transformed into a People’s Garden.

Similarly in Trabzon as well… We have almost done all of them,” he added.

Erdogan earlier said relevant institutions are working on the project and aim to further develop it.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/todays-headlines/president-erdogan-paves-way-for-greener-turkey/1173476.

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09.06.2018

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday criticized Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz for its government’s decision to shut down seven mosques and expel 40 imams.

“I am afraid that the steps taken by the Austrian prime minister would bring the world closer to a crusader-crescent war,” said Erdogan during an iftar dinner organized in Istanbul.

Erdogan said Turkey would respond to the decision of expelling imams as well.

During a news conference with Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and EU Affairs Minister Gernot Blumel, Kurz said the move came as part of a crackdown on “political Islam”.

Kurz said that the investigation on several mosques and associations conducted by the Ministry of Interior and Office of Religious Affairs had been concluded and that the activities of seven mosques were found to be forbidden — one of them belonging to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB).

The Austrian chancellor added that the imams would be deported on grounds of being foreign funded.

In 2015 when Kurz was Austria’s minister for Europe, integration and foreign affairs he backed Austria’s “law on Islam” (Islamgesetz) — legislation that, among other things, banned the foreign funding of mosques and imams in Austria. The controversial law, which eventually passed through parliament, was intended to develop an Islam of “European character”, according to Kurz.

“We act decisively and actively against undesirable developments and the formation of #parallelsocieties — and will continue to do so if there are violations of the #law on Islam,” Kurz wrote on his Twitter account.

Crackdown on terrorism

Erdogan also promised to eliminate terrorism completely.

The president said being Kurd and being terrorist were “completely different things”.

Erdogan said that while the government was trying to involve Kurdish people in society, terrorists continued to occupying neighborhoods.

“When guns are fired, words fail. That is why our fight against terrorism will continue until the last terrorist is neutralized,” he said.

Erdogan then recalled the murder of Kurdish teen Yasin Boru.

“Was not Yasin Boru a Kurdish teen? 15-16 years old. What was he doing? Delivering aid to Kurdish people in need. They killed him viciously. Who were they? So-called Kurds. They were not. They were terrorists,” he said.

On Oct. 5, 2014, 16-year-old Yasin Boru and his friends, Ahmet Dakak, Riyat Gunes and Hasan Gokguz, who were distributing food aid to Syrian refugees, were chased down and lynched by alleged pro-PKK supporters on the second day of Eid al-Adha.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/erdogan-slams-austria-for-shutting-mosques/1170536.

September 19, 2018

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Germany’s foreign minister has called on Albania to work hard on its reforms so as to convince all European Union members to launch membership negotiations next year. Heiko Maas, visiting Albania’s capital on Wednesday, said that the EU members “have made it clear that June 2019 does not mean the talks will start automatically.”

In June this year the bloc’s member states agreed to open membership talks with Albania and Macedonia next year if the two nations continue with reform progress. Maas said that the bloc should see concrete results in the consolidation of the rule of law and independence of the justice system.

His Albanian counterpart, Ditmir Bushati, said the country already has started the screening process with Brussels and added that he considers Germany’s assistance as “precious, irreplaceable.”

October 12, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — The U.S.-led coalition’s failure to adequately acknowledge and investigate civilian deaths in the Syrian city of Raqqa is “a slap in the face for survivors” trying to rebuild their lives a year after the offensive to oust the Islamic State group, a prominent rights group said Friday.

At a news conference in the Lebanese capital, Amnesty International said 2,521 bodies from the battle for Raqqa have been recovered in the city, the majority killed by coalition airstrikes. It cited a small unit known as the Early Recovery Team working with U.S.-backed predominantly Kurdish forces to recover bodies and bury them. They expect to recover at least 3,000 more bodies.

There are “more bodies underneath the ground than living souls,” said Anna Neistat, Amnesty International’s senior director of global research, who in 2017 with the coalition playing a supporting role recently returned from Syria.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said the fighting to liberate the citizens of Raqqa from the grip of the Islamic State group “was often house to house against an enemy with no regard for human life” using explosives and booby traps every step of the way. He added that the coalition is aware of the discrepancies of other reports and that the Coalition has based its figures on “supportable evidence and facts.”

Ryan said that liberating the citizens was the goal and “the other choice would be to let ISIS continue to murder, torture, rape and pillage the citizens of Raqqa, and that is unacceptable,” using a different acronym for IS. He added the Coalition could concede a high counts after we checking them against their existing records.

The battle for Raqqa, once a city of 200,000 people, played out over four months as the Kurdish-led Syrian forces fought street by street. The coalition unleashed wave after wave of airstrikes and shell fire until the city was cleared of militants in October 2017.

Amnesty has accused the coalition before of underreporting civilian deaths in the campaign to liberate Raqqa. On Monday, Neistat said most of the bodies recovered so far are believed to be civilians. The U.S.-led coalition said in July that 77 civilians died as a result of its airstrikes on Raqqa between June and October last year. The U.S. and its coalition partners launched their campaign against the Islamic State group in 2014, driving out the militants from their self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa three years later.

Neistat also said the “clock is ticking” for Idlib province, the last opposition stronghold in northwestern Syria. A demilitarized zone negotiated between Turkey and Russia to protect civilians from a government offensive on the northwestern province should be ready by Oct. 15.

Turkish and Russian officials have said that Syrian rebels completed withdrawing their heavy weapons from the front lines in implementation of the deal that’s expected to demilitarize a stretch of 15-20 kilometers (9-12 miles) along the front lines by Oct. 15.

Neistat said the zone is not adequate to protect all the civilians in Idlib province and expressed concern the agreement may not last. She said she fears massive civilian deaths, destruction, displacement, arrests and disappearances, citing previous government offensives in cities like Aleppo.

Neistat called on Russia to pressure the Syrian government to do more to protect the civilian population, highlighting Moscow’s influence on Damascus. “It may not be too late to stop it,” she said. Meanwhile on Friday, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that his military could soon launch a new operation across the border into northern Syria in zones held by Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan’s statement renews a threat to expand Turkey’s military operations into areas east of the Euphrates River held by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be terrorists and part of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

“God willing, very soon … we will leave the terror nests east of the Euphrates in disarray,” he said. He spoke on Friday at a military ceremony honoring Turkish commandos. Turkey launched two incursions into Syria, in 2016 and 2018, into areas west of the Euphrates, pushing Islamic State militants as well as Syrian Kurdish fighters from its border.

October 13, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — The disappearance of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi after visiting a Saudi consulate in Turkey has thrown the large number of diplomatic vacancies under President Donald Trump into the spotlight — notably in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It’s a gap the administration says it has been trying to fix but with limited success.

Khashoggi’s case and the fact that there are no American ambassadors in either Ankara or Riyadh have prompted concerns about dozens of unfilled senior State Department positions almost two years into Trump’s presidency. And, those concerns have sparked an increasingly bitter battle with Congress over who is to blame.

Aside from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Trump has yet to nominate candidates for ambassadorial posts in 20 nations, including Australia, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Singapore and Sweden. At the same time, 46 ambassadorial nominees are still awaiting Senate confirmation, prompting angry complaints from the administration and pushback from Democratic lawmakers.

A number of ambassador positions to international organizations also remain unfilled as do 13 senior positions at the State Department headquarters, for which five have no nominee. It’s unclear if high-profile issues like Khashoggi’s disappearance suffer from neglect in the absence of an ambassador. Indeed, Turkey freed American pastor Andrew Brunson on Friday after repeated complaints and sanctions from Washington. But the management of day-to-day diplomatic relations can languish without a personal representative of the president present.

The difference between having an ambassador in country or having only a charge d’affaires running an embassy is a matter of degree but can be substantial, according to Ronald Neumann, the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. Non-ambassadors can have trouble getting access to senior officials and may not be viewed as the legitimate voice of the president or his administration.

“It’s a lot harder when you’re not the presidential appointee and you don’t have Senate confirmation,” he said. “An ambassador is the personal representative of the president. A charge is the representative of the State Department.”

In addition to problems with access, some countries may resent not having an ambassador posted to their capital, Neumann said. “Countries may get grouchy without an ambassador and that may affect relations,” he said. “Without an ambassador, there is a greater chance of misunderstanding and greater chance you aren’t able to persuade them to do something we want.”

“There are real, direct impacts of not having these people confirmed,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month, making the case for the Senate to act quickly. Those remarks set off a war of words with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was singled out by Pompeo for blame.

“I want every single American to know that what Sen. Menendez and members of the Senate are doing to hold back American diplomacy rests squarely on their shoulders,” Pompeo said. He later maintained that Senate Democrats are blocking more than a dozen nominees “because of politics” and are “putting our nation at risk.”

Menendez fired back, accusing Pompeo of politicizing the process and blaming confirmation delays on the unsuitability of candidates for certain posts and the Republican leadership for not calling votes on the others. He also slammed the administration for failing to nominate candidates for critical posts.

“We cannot confirm nominees who have not been nominated,” he noted wryly, adding that some nominees had been or are currently being blocked by Republicans. Two cases in point: The nominee for the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, a career foreign service officer, was forced to withdraw earlier this year after Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he would do everything in his power to stop the nomination. The career diplomat nominated to be ambassador to Colombia is being blocked by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

Pompeo responded by again blaming Menendez for holding up more than 60 nominees and using them as a “political football.” ”We need our team on the field to conduct America’s foreign policy,” he said.

Perhaps as a result of the sparring, the Senate late Thursday did vote to confirm several ambassadorial nominees, including those to Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Suriname and Somalia.

October 05, 2018

SWEIDA, Syria (AP) — Maysoun Saab’s eyes filled with tears as she recalled finding her parents bleeding to death on the ground outside their home, minutes after they were shot by Islamic State militants on a killing spree across once tranquil villages they infiltrated in a southeastern corner of Syria.

Within an hour, she had lost her mother, father, brother and 34 other members of her extended family. Overall, more than 200 people were killed and 30 hostages abducted in the coordinated July 25 attacks across Sweida province.

It was one of the biggest single massacres of the Syrian civil war and the worst bloodshed to hit the province since the conflict began in 2011, underscoring the persistent threat posed by the Islamic State group, which has been largely vanquished but retains pockets of territory in southern and eastern Syria.

More than two months after the attack, tensions over the missing hostages — all women and children — are boiling over in Sweida, a mountainous area which is a center for the Druze religious minority. Anger is building up, and young men are taking up arms. This week, the militants shot dead one of the women, 25-year-old Tharwat Abu Ammar, triggering protests and a sit-in outside the Sweida governorate building by relatives enraged at the lack of progress in negotiations to free them.

It’s a stark change for a usually peaceful province that has managed to stay largely on the sidelines of the seven-year Syrian war, and where most villagers work grazing livestock over the surrounding hills.

“We still haven’t really absorbed what happened to us. It’s like a dream or a nightmare that you don’t wake up from,” said Saab, a slender woman with a long braid showing underneath a loose white scarf covering her hair.

During a rare visit to the Sweida countryside by an Associated Press team, armed young men and teens, some as young as 14, patrolled the streets. Some wore military uniforms, others the traditional black baggy pants and white caps worn by Druze villagers. They said the Syrian army had provided them with weapons to form civilian patrols to defend their towns and villages.

Residents recalled a summer day of pure terror that began with gunfire and cries of “Allahu Akbar!” that rang out at 4 a.m. Militants who had slipped into the villages under the cover of darkness knocked on doors, sometimes calling out residents’ names to trick them into opening. Those who did were gunned down. Others were shot in their beds. Women and children were dragged screaming from their homes.

Word of the attack spread in the villages of Shbiki, Shreihi and Rami as neighbors called one another to warn of the militant rampage. A series of suicide bombings unfolded simultaneously in the nearby provincial capital of Sweida.

In Shreihi, a small agricultural village of cement houses, Saab and her husband were asleep in one room, their children, 16-year-old Bayar and 13-year-old Habib, in another when she heard the first burst of gunfire. From her window, she saw the silhouette of her neighbor, Lotfi Saab, and his wife in their house. Then she saw armed men push open the door, point a rifle at them and shoot. Saab screamed, her voice reverberating through the open window. The militants threw a grenade in her direction.

Her husband climbed onto the roof of their home and aimed a hunting rifle at the men, while she hunkered downstairs with the children. At least two of the men blew themselves up nearby. At the crack of dawn, Saab heard another neighbor screaming, “Abu Khaled has been shot!” — referring to Saab’s father. Ignoring her husband’s orders to stay indoors, Saab ran over the rocky path to her parent’s house, and spotted her father’s bloodied body on the ground near the front porch. She screamed for her mother and found her lying nearby, shot in her leg, blood everywhere.

“There is no greater tragedy than to see your parents like this, strewn on the ground before your eyes. We were together just the night before, staying up late together and talking. … They took them away from us,” she said, choking back tears.

Saab’s brother, Khaled, meanwhile, was trapped with his wife and daughter in their home, fearfully watching the IS fighters from their shuttered window. Another brother, who rushed to their aid, was killed outside Khaled’s home.

Less than an hour later, Saab called to tell Khaled that both their parents were dead. When he was able to leave his house, Khaled said he and other neighbors fought and killed as many IS militants as they could. He suffered two gunshot wounds in his thigh. But there was no time to grieve.

“We didn’t have the chance to cry or feel anything, even if our father, mother, neighbors, friends, all of these people had died. But at the time there wasn’t a moment to cry for anyone,” said the 42-year-old truck driver.

Residents said the village men fought with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on — hunting rifles, pistols, even sticks — against the far superior IS guns. The Islamic State group, which once held large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, has been mostly vanquished. Its de facto capital of Raqqa, in eastern Syria, fell a year ago this month. But the group fights on in eastern pockets like Deir el-Zour and Sweida province.

Some here fear that as the militants flee the advancing Syrian government forces, they will try to regroup in remote pockets of territory like this once quiet corner of Syria. They fear another raid or more trouble because of the brewing tensions over the hostages IS still holds.

On Tuesday, a video posted on the internet purported to show IS militants shoot Abu Ammar in the back of her head as they threatened to kill more hostages if the Syrian government and its Russian allies do not meet their demands, which include freeing IS fighters and their family members elsewhere in Syria.

In the village of Rami, where 20 civilians from the Maqlad family were killed in the July assault, Nathem Maqlad points to bullet holes and blood stains on the ground from the battle with IS. “I stand ready and alert to defend our land and dignity all over again if I have to,” he said, walking with a group of young men with rifles slung over their shoulders.

Tuesday 25/09/2018

SARAQIB – Turkish troop reinforcements entered Syria’s rebel bastion of Idlib on Tuesday, an AFP correspondent reported, a week after a deal between Ankara and Moscow averted a government offensive.

Around 35 military vehicles traveled south down the main highway near the town of Saraqib after midnight.

The convoy was accompanied by pro-Ankara rebels of the National Liberation Front (NLF), who control part of the enclave on the Turkish border.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the forces deployed to several Turkish positions around the northwestern province.

Since last year, Turkish troops have manned 12 monitoring positions in the rebel zone under a de-escalation agreement between Turkey, Russia and fellow regime ally Iran.

Last week, Ankara and Moscow announced a new agreement for a demilitarized zone along the horse-shoe shaped front line between the rebels and government troops.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls more than half of the rebel zone, while NLF fighters hold sway over most of the rest.

The agreement gives Turkey the responsibility to ensure that all fighters in the planned demilitarized zone hand over their heavy weapons by October 10 and that the more radical among them withdraw by October 15.

The agreement also provides for Turkish and Russian troops patrol the buffer zone.

Last week, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would have to send reinforcements to provide the numbers needed to conduct the patrols.

The Syrian civil war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: https://middle-east-online.com/en/turkey-reinforcements-enter-syrias-idlib.

Tuesday 25/09/2018

TUNIS – Efforts to rescue Tunisia’s ailing economy face the prospect of fresh turmoil after the president declared his alliance with moderate Islamists at an end, deepening divisions in a fragile coalition managing the country’s transition from autocracy.

Political analysts say Monday evening’s announcement by President Beji Caid Essebsi could make it difficult for the government to enact tough economic reforms sought by international lenders.

“There will be no real risk of toppling the government in parliament, but the problem is that division will deepen, social tension will rise and reforms are threatened under a fragile government coalition,” Nizar Makni, a journalist and analyst said.

“Reforms need broad consensus and the lack of compromise may lead to mass protests in the streets, especially that powerful unions rejected all proposed reforms”, he added.

Although struggling with high unemployment and inflation, the coalition of moderate Islamists and secular forces has been running what has been hailed as the Arab Spring’s only democratic success, avoiding the upheaval seen in Egypt, Libya or Syria.

The Ennahda Islamist party and secular Nidaa Tounes agreed in 2014 on a constitution granting far-reaching political rights, limiting the role of religion and holding free elections, which stands out in a region often run by autocrats.

But Tunisia fell into a political crisis again this year after Essebsi’s son, who is the leader of Nidaa Tounes, called for the dismissal of prime minister Youssef Chahed because of his government’s failure to revive the economy.

His demand was supported by the powerful UGTT union, which rejected economic reforms proposed by Chahed.

Austerity

But Ennahda came to Chahed’s defense, saying the departure of the prime minister would hit stability at a time when the country needed economic reforms.

In his more than two years in office, Chahed has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms, such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

The president raised the stakes on Monday evening.

“The consensus and relationship between me and Ennahha has ended, after they chose to form another relationship with Youssef Chahed,” Essebsi, the founder of Nidaa Tounes, said in a televised interview.

Analysts said the president’s announcement would probably not lead to the overthrow of the government, which still has the support of at least 110 of a total 217 lawmakers in parliament.

But Chahed could find it difficult to enact tough reforms in the face of a strong opposition front including the unions, the president and Nidaa Tounes party.

Last week the UGTT labor union called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest at Chahed’s privatization plans.

“The president’s comments will deepen the crisis,” senior Ennahda official Lotfi Zitoun told Reuters.

“Ennahda seeks stability and a dialogue that includes all partners to get out of the crisis.”

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since its Arab Spring democratic revolution in 2011.

Chahed has gathered enough support in parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with Ennahda and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels.

Since 2011 uprising, nine cabinets have failed to resolve Tunisia’s economic problems, which include high inflation and unemployment, and impatience is rising among lenders such as the IMF, which have kept the country afloat.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: https://middle-east-online.com/en/tunisia-president-ends-alliance-ennahda.