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By Allen Cone

April 16, 2017

April 16 (UPI) — Turkish voters went to the polls Sunday on granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.

Erdogan cast his vote with his wife Emine and other family members at a school near his home in Istanbul.

“This April 16 referendum is not an ordinary voting [process],” Erdogan told reporters said after casting his ballot. “We have had many parliamentary elections in our history as a republic. In the meantime, we have also had referendums. However, this referendum is a decision on a new administrative system, a change and a transformation in the Republic of Turkey. I hope our people will make a decision to pave the way for a quick development. … We need to grow quicker and walk faster.”

Voters can vote Yes or No to an 18-article proposal to switch Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

Erodgan would be able to appoint cabinet ministers, issue decrees, choose senior judges and dissolve parliament. Also, the change would lower the minimum age for lawmakers to 18 from 25, increase the number of seats in parliament from 550 to 600, close down military courts, and introduce same-day parliamentary and presidential elections every five years.

The prime minister post would be abolished after the 2019 national elections if the referendum passes. Term limits for the president would be changed and Erdogan would be allowed to remain in power until 2029.

The ruling Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party backed the changes.

Parliament previously passed a reform bill 339-142, nine more votes than needed to put the proposal to a referendum.

Opposed to the proposals are the Republican People’s Party and the Democratic People’s Party. Critics fear the president’s position would be too powerful without the checks and balances of other presidential systems.

“We carried out a nice campaign process,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party told CNN Turk. “I am so happy. I hope the result will be good and then we will talk about the main problems of Turkey.”

More than 55 million people are eligible to vote at 167,000 polling sites between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., depending on the location in the country.

At a polling station in the southeast, two people were shot dead.

The country has been operating under a state of emergency after a failed coup last July.

The failed coup led Erdogan to crack down on his opposition, arresting 47,155 government critics, academics, journalists, military officials and civil servants.

Edogan became president in 2014 after serving as prime minister for more than a decade.

“I believe our people will walk towards the future by making their expected decisions and by casting their votes inside [Turkey] and overseas,” Erdogan said. ” I believe in our people’s common sense of democracy and that they will walk towards the future though this common sense.”

Source: United Press International.


April 13, 2017

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — Facing harassment, enforced shutdowns and the threat of jail at home, Turkey’s journalists in exile are using Germany as a base to report on political turmoil in their country ahead of Sunday’s referendum.

“We are here because there is no freedom of the press, and no freedom of expression in Turkey anymore,” said Can Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of the respected Cumhuriyet newspaper. Dundar was convicted of revealing state secrets after he published a report saying that Turkey’s intelligence agency was involved in sending weapons to Syrian rebels. He was jailed for three months and shot at in front of a court house as he was briefing reporters. Dundar was sentenced to prison but left for Germany after he was freed on appeal without travel restrictions.

Now he’s running the bilingual news website Ozguruz in Berlin, with the help of the German nonprofit news organization Correctiv . “Ozguruz” means “We are free” in Turkish. “There are of course friends and colleagues still struggling in Turkey, but it is a really dangerous task,” Dundar told The Associated Press. “I spent three months in jail and I was shot in front court house, and my only fault was writing the news. So because of that we decided to do this from outside.”

On Sunday, Turks will vote “yes” or “no” to constitutional amendments that would abolish the office of the prime minister and transfer executive powers to the president, something President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s critics fear would cement his powers and further mold Turkey according to his conservative and pro-Islamic views. Opinion polls suggest he could win narrowly.

Erdogan has cracked down on the opposition in the wake of an attempted coup in July he blames on followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. In addition to jailing and firing thousands of military and government officials, the government closed some 178 news organizations. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that Turkey jailed more journalists in 2016 than any other country, with 81 held at the time of the CPJ’s annual prison census.

Journalist Deniz Yucel, who has German and Turkish citizenship, was arrested last month in Turkey on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred. He was detained after his reports about a hacker attack on the email account of the country’s energy minister, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law.

Erdogan has accused Yucel of being a German spy and a PKK associate. Germany dismissed Erdogan’s claims as absurd. Erdogan’s office declined to comment for this story. Like Dundar, Celal Baslangic, editor-in-chief of Arti TV — which means “TV Plus” — wants to bring fact-based reporting to Turks in Turkey and in Germany. He is operating out of modest offices in an industrial park on the outskirts of Cologne, which has a large Turkish immigrant population.

Germany is home to some 3 million people with Turkish roots. Half of them can vote in Turkey’s referendum. Arti TV recruited several of its technical staff from among Turkish-speakers in Germany, although the journalists tend to be from Turkey itself.

“Our plan with Arti TV is to give a voice for those who do not have a voice or whose voice cannot be heard — and for those who cannot be seen” in Turkey, Baslangic told the AP. “No matter what the outcome and the result of the referendum will be, Turkey is facing a long and dark period of time.”

“If the result is ‘yes’, the time will be longer, harder and bloodier — maybe. If the result is ‘no,’ there will be a small flame and also a bit of hope to be free,” he added. “One day there will be a brighter future anyway.”

Dundar and Baslangic say their goal is to provide objective and reliable news on issues colleagues cannot report on freely at home, such as government corruption and Turkey’s involvement in the civil war in Syria. “It’s our duty and opportunity to publish all those bad stories and give the public what they want to know. This is their right, to know what is going on in their country,” Dundar said.

Dundar says he has not applied for political asylum because he does not expect or want to remain in Germany forever. “We are citizens of our country and we want to go back to our country,” he said. “We don’t want political asylum, we want a base for a while, and to keep up the struggle from Germany.”

“There will be tough times for all of us but in the end we know from history that no dictatorship can stay at last,” he added. “So we know he must go and we are preparing for this day.”

Sopke reported from Berlin.

April 10, 2017

DUMANKAYA, Turkey (AP) — God comes first in this mountaintop village on Turkey’s Black Sea, the saying goes. Then, according to adoring villagers, comes local boy Recep Tayyip Erdogan, today one of the most transformational, polarizing figures in modern Turkish history.

Nestled among tea plantations, the village of Dumankaya in the rugged province of Rize oozes the fervent loyalty that has propelled Erdogan, 63, to one electoral triumph after another since he took power as prime minister in 2003.

Now the Turkish president is hoping that pious Muslim bedrocks of support like Dumankaya will help deliver him another win, this time in Turkey’s April 16 referendum. The vote could extend Erdogan’s rule for many years and, in his opponents’ view, further erode Turkey’s challenged democracy.

For many Turks, Sunday’s vote on whether to expand the powers of the Turkish presidency is not a dry constitutional matter. For people on both sides of the political divide, it’s all about the outsized ambitions of one man, Erdogan.

Fisherman Birol Bahtiyar, wearing a cap emblazoned with a “Yes” slogan, dismissed suggestions by opponents that the referendum was a power-grab by Erdogan or that he was leading Turkey into a one-man regime.

“In the past 14 years, Turkey stepped into a new age,” said the 49-year-old as he and his friends fixed their nets at Rize’s harbor. “I will vote yes because I trust him. There is no such thing as a one-man rule. We still have an assembly, a parliament. We have confidence (in the proposed system).”

The constitutional amendments would shift Turkey’s system from a parliamentary to a presidential system, in one of the most radical political changes since the Turkish republic was established in 1923. Opponents fear that the changes will give the president near-absolute powers with little oversight, turning the NATO country that once vied for European Union membership into an authoritarian state.

But for the socially conservative and pious residents of Rize, such arguments ring hollow. To them, the region’s most famous son is a reformist leader who has brought unprecedented economic growth and prosperity to Turkey and provided improved health care, education and large infrastructure projects.

In Erdogan — whose parents and siblings were born in Dumankaya (Smoky Rock in English for the fog that frequently hangs over it) — they see a local who has given a greater voice to the pious who felt marginalized under previous governments, which enforced secular laws barring Islamic headscarves in schools and public offices.

They believe Erdogan — who has ruled Turkey for over a decade, first as prime minister and as president since 2014 — is a strong leader who has provided political stability, ending the political squabbles that plagued Turkey in the 1990s.

Voters in Rize have backed Erdogan by a wide margin in a long string of election victories and promise to do so again on April 16. They support his ambition to turn Turkey into one of the world’s top powers by 2023, when the country marks its centenary.

Mehmet Celik, a Dumankaya resident, sees the president as a larger-than-life trail-blazer and fighter against Turkey’s perceived enemies. “For us, God comes first. Then comes Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” said Celik. “He supports the people and the people support him.”

Celik believes Erdogan rescued Turkey from last summer’s failed coup and feels that a strong presidency would protect Turkey from greater calamity. Turkey has blamed the coup on the followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a charge Gulen has denied.

“They (the Gulenists) would have ruined us. If we had fallen into their hands, we would have been destroyed. Why would we not vote ‘Yes?'” Celik said. “If our president did not exist, we would have been in a miserable state.”

But critics say Erdogan has used the coup attempt to purge his critics. More than 150,000 people have been taken into custody, fired or forced to retire from Turkey’s armed forces, judiciary, education system and other public institutions since the coup attempt.

Ismail Erdogan, a cousin of Erdogan and the chief administrator of Dumankaya, points at a long list of projects either launched or completed under Erdogan’s rule, including a major coastal highway, the Recep Tayyip Erdogan University, a hospital.

“He brought infrastructure, natural gas. He is bringing an airport. We had never seen such things. He brought a giant hospital,” Ismail Erdogan said, describing his cousin as a serious child who liked to talk about soccer and commanded respect even at an early age.

Speaking in a recently renovated local government building in Dumankaya, Ismail Erdogan also praised his cousin for standing up to Europe, following a dispute last month over restrictions imposed by the Netherlands and Germany on Turkish ministers holding referendum campaigns there.

“Let’s not (join) the European Union, we don’t need it,” Ismail Erdogan said. “We are self-sufficient.” Erdogan campaigned in Rize recently to court the votes of his fellow townsmen, symbolically launching the start of construction for an airport that will serve Rize and the neighboring province of Artvin. In a speech laced with nationalist and anti-European rhetoric, Erdogan also promised that the construction of mountain tunnel pass would soon be finished.

Among the crowd of adoring supporters — waving flags and banners emblazoned with the word “Yes” — was 22-year-old religious studies student Leyla Erdeniz. Her affection for Erdogan runs so deep that she moved to Rize to study at the university named after him.

“A ‘Yes’ result will be very beneficial to our country,” the university student said. “There will be no trace left of the old Turkey.”

April 08, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — The fast-moving developments in Syria are never far from people’s minds in an Istanbul neighborhood that is home to thousands of refugees from the country’s civil war. In the Aksaray neighborhood — now known as “Little Syria” — the signs are in Arabic, the cuisine is seasoned with nostalgia and the weary residents are hoping for change after the first U.S. strike on President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The U.S. fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base early Friday, days after a chemical attack widely blamed on government forces killed nearly 90 people in the opposition-held northern town of Khan Sheikhoun. Opponents of Assad welcomed the move, but many in Little Syria feel that more should be done to end the grinding, six-year civil war.

“We are fed up of bombings, what we already lived through is enough,” said Samer Maydani, who hails from Damascus and owns a coffee shop in Little Syria. “We need political solutions through the U.N. and the Security Council.”

“After seven years of destroying us, we don’t trust anyone,” he said. “If (U.S. President Donald) Trump and the international community want change, they should just ask Assad to leave.” Turkey is home to some three million Syrian refugees, 480,000 of whom live in Istanbul. The Turkish government welcomed the U.S. strike and has called for renewed efforts to remove Assad from power.

Across the street from Maydani’s coffee shop, Hussein Esfira, from the Syrian city of Aleppo, works 14-hour shifts as a butcher in a Syrian restaurant. He says he has little time left to follow politics, but feels the U.S. could do more.

“Why are they bombing?” he asked. “Everyone is seeking to take a piece of the cake.” “Instead of bombing, the U.S. can intervene for the sake of a peaceful solution,” he said. The owner of a nearby pastry shop agrees. Anas Jamous, who also comes from Aleppo, said that if the international community wanted to end the war, “they would have done so five years ago.”

He is still angry about Trump’s travel ban, which would have barred people from Syria and five other Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States until stricter vetting procedures are put in place. The ban also temporarily suspended the U.S. refugee program.

He said the ban, which has been blocked by the courts, “expresses a deep hatred against Muslims from the American government.”

30th of March 2017, Thursday

Turkey has ended the “Euphrates Shield” military operation it launched in Syria, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said.

However, Mr Yildirim suggested there might be more cross-border campaigns to come.

Last August, Turkey sent troops, tanks and warplanes to support Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, push Isis fighters away from its border and stop the advance of Kurdish militia fighters.

“Operation Euphrates Shield has been successful and is finished,” Mr Yildirim said in an interview with broadcaster NTV. “Any operation following this one will have a different name.”

Under Euphrates Shield, Turkey took the border town of Jarablus on the Euphrates river, cleared Isis fighters from a roughly 100km (60 mile) stretch of the border, then moved south to al-Bab, an Isis stronghold where the Prime Minister said “everything is under control”.

Turkish troops are still stationed in the secured regions and along the border.

The number of Turkish troops involved in Euphrates Shield has not been disclosed.

One aim was to stop the Kurdish YPG militia from crossing the Euphrates westwards and linking up three mainly Kurdish cantons it holds in northern Syria.

Turkey fears the Syrian Kurds carving out a self-governing territory analogous to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, a move that might embolden Turkey’s own large Kurdish minority to try to forge a similar territory inside its borders.

It views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which has fought an insurgency in Turkey’s southeast since 1984 and is considered a terrorist group by both the United States and the European Union.

With the second largest army in NATO, Turkey is seeking a role for its military in a planned offensive on Raqqa, one of the so-called Islamic State’s two de facto capitals along with Mosul in Iraq — but the US is veering towards enlisting the YPG.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey is saddened by the US and Russian readiness to work with the YPG in Syria.

Source: The Independent.


March 28, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — In a slick online video, 22-year-old Turkish student Ali Gul sits in front a drum kit and framed artwork while making tart remarks about Turkey’s political leadership. He wraps up by musing that he’ll probably get arrested if the video goes viral.

The video clocked tens of thousands of hits. This month, Gul was detained. Times have been hard for Turkey, buffeted by bombings, violence between government forces and Kurdish rebels, refugee flows from the war in neighboring Syria and a failed coup attempt that unleashed a huge government crackdown under an ongoing state of emergency. Now the nation is on the cusp of what could be drastic change in its political system that would, backers say, impose badly needed stability or, according to Gul and other critics, nudge it toward autocracy.

Next month, Turks will decide whether to make the post of president more powerful in a constitutional referendum that is a big gamble for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the tough-talking president who is arguably Turkey’s most transformational figure since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Ottoman-era army officer and national founder who died in 1938.

Whichever way the April 16 vote goes, Turkish society will remain deeply divided. In power since 2003, Erdogan represents a swathe of pious Muslims whose political and economic ascendancy came at the expense of a hard-line secular class that once dominated the NATO member country with the military’s support.

A former prime minister, Erdogan was elected president in 2014 for a five-year term and took a far more active role in politics than his predecessors. Even if the referendum proposals fail and his aura of invincibility is punctured, he could still run for another term as president.

“He is truly a man of servitude. And he knows how to affect a person down to the capillary vessels. He gets down to one’s heart, touches it,” said Ahmet Kaya, a machinery workshop owner in Istanbul who views the president not as an authoritarian ruler, but as a scrappy defender against Turkey’s perceived enemies.

Those enemies, at least for the purposes of a political campaign, include some European nations that blocked efforts by Turkish ministers to woo diaspora votes before the referendum. Erdogan, who once courted the European Union on behalf of Turkey’s fading candidacy to be an EU member, has galvanized supporters by comparing current Dutch and German authorities to the Nazis.

The taunts aimed at Europe, Turkey’s No. 1 trading partner, tap into historical grievances in Turkey, where the story of how colonial powers carved up the disintegrating Ottoman Empire still fuels a powerful nationalism. To some, they smack of desperation in a referendum campaign whose outcome is unclear.

Hopes for consensus politics in Turkey would diminish if referendum proposals to abolish the post of prime minister and concentrate power in an executive presidency are approved, said Ahmet Kasim Han, an associate professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.

“The gates of populism, which will be fed also by the current zeitgeist around the world, could be wide open in Turkey,” Han said, referring to the populist platforms of U.S. President Donald Trump and anti-immigrant politicians in Europe.

A “yes’ vote in the referendum would grant the president the power to appoint government ministers and senior officials, appoint half of the members in the country’s highest judicial body, declare states of emergency and issue decrees.

“The president would be given the power to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems,” said the Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe.

Erdogan has dismissed assertions that the referendum proposals set the stage for one-man rule, saying they will instead end the kind of political chaos that rocked past coalition governments. In 2001, the Turkish currency plummeted during an economic crisis in which public disgust with national leaders opened a path for Erdogan’s rise to power.

“I want to rule my country with almost the same understanding as a company manager. Why? To be able to lead with speed, to speedily take decisions,” Erdogan told the A Haber news channel. Gul, the student, could face jail time if convicted of insulting the president and the Turkish state in his online video criticizing the referendum. Drawing a questionable parallel with democratic Turkey, he said dead dictators Moammar Gadhafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq, as well as current Syrian President Bashar Assad, imposed stability and took rapid decisions in their countries.

“But these weren’t all that beneficial,” Gul said. “Speed in government leadership isn’t a good thing.”

Associated Press journalists Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Bulut Emiroglu and Mehmet Guzel in Istanbul contributed to this report.

June 15, 2017

Co-founder of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front, Sheikh Ali Belhadj, has criticized the siege imposed by a number of Gulf and Arab countries on Qatar.

In an interview with Quds Press, Belhadj strongly criticized the involvement of Islamic institutions and using them to achieve political purposes against the State of Qatar.

“The involvement of the Muslim World League, with the aim of gaining legitimacy for the siege against Qatar, is an insult to this institution and to the teachings of Islam which refuse such behavior in the holy month of Ramadan,” he said.

The Muslim World League should have remained neutral towards this dispute and sought to heal the rift instead of involving itself in such a way.

Belhadj pointed out that Qatar is not the target of the blockade, but the aim is to strike every Arab or Islamic country that wants to support the oppressed or the Palestinian cause.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


June 15, 2017

King Salman of Saudi Arabia has given Pakistan’s prime minister an ultimatum over Qatar. In an attempt to force Nawaz Sharif to take sides, the monarch jibed, “Are you with us or with Qatar?” the Express Tribune has reported.

The king posed the question during a meeting between the two leaders in Jeddah on Monday as part of the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Qatar crisis. “Pakistan has told Saudi Arabia it will not take sides in the brewing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East after Riyadh asked Islamabad ‘are you with us or with Qatar’,” the newspaper pointed out.

Pakistan has been treading a careful path since Saudi and other Gulf countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. However, the Saudi government wants Pakistan to side with the kingdom.

Citing a senior government official, who was briefed on the talks at the monarch’s palace in Jeddah, the Express Tribune said that Pakistan would not take sides in any event that would create divisions within the Muslim world. “Nevertheless, in order to placate Saudi Arabia, Pakistan offered to use its influence over Qatar to defuse the situation. For this purpose, the prime minister will undertake visits to Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey,” the newspaper added.

Sharif traveled to Jeddah accompanied by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other senior officials to discuss the emerging situation in the Gulf. It is thought that Prime Minister Sharif’s mediation visit to Saudi did not achieve any immediate breakthrough.

According to an official statement, Sharif met King Salman in Jeddah and urged an early resolution of the impasse in Gulf in the best interest of all Muslims.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


19 March 2017 Sunday

Turkey will open its largest military base in the world in Somalia in April. Soldiers from the Somalia National Army and soldiers from many African countries will be trained by the Turkish Army in the base that is being constructed in Mogadishu.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar are expected to attend the official opening.

Somalia’s Defense Minister, General Abdulkadir Ali Dini, visited the military base yesterday with a military delegation.

Minister Dini, who visited the base near its completion, thanked the Turkish military and civilian authorities for preparing the base.

Somali President Mohammad Abdullah Muhammad ‘Farmajo’ tweeted from his official account and announced that the base would be opened very soon. “Turkey’s largest military base in the world is almost complete. Soon the Somali Army will return strongly,” President Farmajo said.

Cost of $50 million

The construction of the $50 million base began in March 2015. It will have the capacity to train 500 soldiers at the same time.

The facility is located close to Mogadishu’s airport and three kilometers (1.8 miles) from Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital and the Port of Mogadishu.

The base will occupy 400 hectares and house three military schools, dormitories and depots.

Somalia and Turkey share multi-tiered cooperation. Turkey provides Somalia with military aid, education support, infrastructural development and skills training.

Source: World Bulletin.


June 03, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A demonstration in downtown Kabul that left several people dead has entered a second day. More than a thousand people demonstrated Friday demanding more security in the capital following a powerful truck bomb attack in the city that killed 90 people and wounded more than 450.

Scores of protesters passed the night under two big tents on a road near the presidential palace and the blast site. All roads toward the palace and diplomatic areas are being blocked Saturday by police and there is limited movement of vehicles and people.

On Friday, demonstrators rushed toward police who fired warning shots and when they attempted to move closer to the palace, police sprayed them with hoses from a water tanker and later fired tear gas.