Daily Archives: April 1, 2014

Turkish police use water cannon against rally

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ANKARA: Turkish riot police Tuesday deployed water cannon against protesters who claimed vote-rigging in weekend local polls in which the Islamic-rooted party of Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared sweeping victories.

About 2,000 supporters of the main secular opposition party had massed outside the elections authority in the capital Ankara, chanting “Thief Tayyip!” and “Ankara, don’t sleep. Stand up for your vote!”

Police then unleashed water jets to disperse the vocal and passionate crowd — recalling the street clashes that started last June in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and kicked off months of political turmoil in the country.

The top spokesman for Erdogan’s party condemned the rally, saying on TV: “You cannot claim a victory that the people have not given to you by massing crowds in front of the election board.

“Everyone has a natural right to object but no-one can achieve anything by mobilising the crowds through social media and provoking them,” added Huseyin Celik of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Sunday’s municipal polls were seen as a referendum on the 11-year-rule of Erdogan, who is popular with many Turks for driving strong economic growth but has been accused of an increasingly authoritarian ruling style.

Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, were the top prizes in the elections, in which Erdogan’s AKP declared sweeping wins, despite recent graft claims against the premier’s inner circle and an Internet clampdown.

Claims of election fraud have circulated on social media, including a photo which purportedly shows ballots in a garbage heap, and there have been complaints over power blackouts in some areas during the evening vote-count.

The race was especially symbolic in Ankara, the inland capital built by the secular founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who established the Republican People’s Party (CHP), now the main opposition group.

Pro-CHP demonstrators massed outside the Supreme Electoral Board building after Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek, in power for 20 years, had declared victory with a wafer-thin margin of about one percent.

The crowd chanted, “We are the soldiers of Ataturk”, a popular CHP slogan.

Protester Tulay Ozturk told AFP: “I believe the elections are marred by wrongdoing. That’s why I am here. I want fair elections.”

Gokcek dismissed his rivals’ claims, saying: “They want to stir up Turkey … They want to give the impression that democracy in Turkey is being crushed.”

In the tight race, Gokcek scored 44.79 percent against 43.77 percent for CHP candidate Mansur Yavas, according to the provisional results — a margin of about 30,000 votes in the city of five million.

Yavas wrote on Twitter that a recount “will reveal the truth” — the short message post itself defying an official ban on the social media site, which has been used to leak corruption claims against Erdogan’s allies.

In Istanbul the official AKP lead was much wider, at 48 to 41 percent, but the CHP candidate Mustafa Sarigul there also challenged the results.

Unless irregularities are addressed, he said, “this election, regardless of its outcome, will be etched in our history of democracy as contentious.”

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz meanwhile blamed most voting-day power outages on weather conditions and said: “Those who lost the elections should not use power cuts as an excuse for their defeat”.

In Ankara — where in some areas ballots were counted by candle-light — he blamed a cat that had slipped into a power transmission unit and presumably was electrocuted when it caused a short circuit.

“I am not joking, friends,” he said. “A cat walked into a transmission unit. That’s why there was a power cut. It’s not the first time this has happened.”

Trouble also flared in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) declared a ceasefire a year ago amid efforts to resolve a conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives in three decades.

In the town of Ceylanpinar, near the border with war-torn Syria, police fired tear gas and used water cannon against hundreds of supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

The party had governed the district since 2004 but lost it to the AKP last weekend, amid claims BDP ballots were burned and dumpened onto a garbage heap.

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NATO suspends civilian and military cooperation with Russia

April 1, 2014 shows a view of the Foreign Affairs meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

April 1, 2014 shows a view of the Foreign Affairs meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

NATO has announced that it is suspending all military and civilian cooperation with Russia over the Ukrainian crisis, the bloc said in a joint statement.

“We have decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia. Our political dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council can continue, as necessary, at the Ambassadorial level and above, to allow us to exchange views, first and foremost on this crisis,” the statement reads. The alliance plans to review its relations with Russia at a meeting in June.

The decision could affect cooperation on Afghanistan in areas such as training counter-narcotics personnel, maintenance of Afghan air force helicopters, and a transit route out of the war-torn country. Other projects around fighting terrorism, drug trafficking, and dealing with the disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction could also be impacted.

Despite the harsh public statement, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen backtracked when speaking to reporters after the ministerial meeting on Tuesday, apparently muddying the message the alliance wants to send. Rasmussen said that NATO expects Russia to continue working with the alliance on the important issues.

“I would expect the counter-narcotics projects to continue, I would also expect the Afghanistan-related cooperation projects to continue, the transit arrangements, as well as helicopter projects also because we have a joint interest in ensuring success on our mission in Afghanistan,” Rasmussen said.

NATO foreign ministers also urged Moscow in “to take immediate steps … to return to compliance with international law.”

The bloc said that it was stepping up its cooperation with Ukraine, promoting defense reforms and increasing the activity of a liaison office in Kiev.

The goal will be to modernize Ukraine’s armed forces, including through Ukraine’s involvement in more of NATO’s military exercises, according to Rasmussen. As of now, the efforts to modernize will come short of sending weapons to Ukraine.

Ukraine provided NATO members with a list of “technical equipment” it required for the nation’s armed forces, which did not include weaponry, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andrey Deshchitsya told a news conference after meeting with NATO ministers.

NATO and Ukraine issued a joint statement after a meeting of their ministers in Brussels. They said that they would “implement immediate and longer term measures to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to provide for its own security.”

A series of meetings in Brussels was called on Tuesday in response to what the bloc sees as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. The bloc called on Moscow to reduce its troop number in Crimea to pre-crisis levels, withdraw them to their bases and taper military activities along its border with Ukraine.

Ministers ordered military planners to “develop as a matter of urgency a series of additional measures to reinforce NATO’s collective defenses”, a NATO official told Reuters. This might include sending troops and equipment to NATO allies in Eastern Europe, holding more exercises, taking steps to ensure NATO’s rapid reaction force could deploy more quickly, and a review of NATO’s military plans.

Military planners will come back with detailed proposals within weeks, the alliance official said.

The Republic of Crimea declared its independence from Ukraine following the March-16 referendum, in which 96.77 percent of the voters chose to rejoin Russia. Despite calls to boycott the vote and provocation attempts, 83.1 percent of Crimeans took part in the poll.

Crimea became part of Russia in 1783, but was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev – a move that ex-Soviet leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mikhail Gorbachev, has called a “mistake.” Following the fall of the USSR in 1991, Crimeans were forbidden to hold a referendum on independence from Ukraine, and a procedure for making such a referendum possible has never been clearly defined in Ukrainian law.

Many people in the predominantly Russian-speaking region also rejected the coup-appointed Kiev authorities, and some feared that nationalist radicals aligned with the opposition might launch a persecution of Russians living in Crimea.

However, a closer look shows that the neo-Nazi scare was not the only thing that concerned Crimeans about the coup-appointed authorities. One of the first moves of the post-coup Ukrainian parliament was an attempt to strip the status of regional minority languages, including Russian. The political program of the nationalist Svoboda party, which currently occupies four seats in the cabinet of ministers in Kiev, also clearly stated that it seeks to deprive the region of its autonomy and to make it an oblast (administrative division) instead of an Autonomous Republic. According to a common belief among the Russians living in Crimea, some of the Tatars, members of the Mejlis organization, also counted on the ex-opposition Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party to support them in declaring the region a Tatar national autonomy, despite Russians and Ukrainians making up over 70 percent of the population and Tatars accounting for only about 12 percent of it.

Crimeans have also been consistently against Ukraine becoming a NATO state, and have staged protests against Ukrainian-NATO drills in the past. Polls showed that more than half the people living in Crimea considered NATO a “threat.”

Despite Ukraine’s non-aligned status enshrined in its Constitution, the coup-appointed authorities said they are considering changing the relevant part of the supreme law, just as NATO’s chief stated they were “intensifying” their cooperation with Ukraine.

Responding to such remarks, the Russian government reminded that pushing for NATO integration in Ukraine during Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency had in the past led only to a “widening of the split in Ukrainian society, the majority of which anything but supports the idea of Ukraine entering the NATO military block.”

 

Facts you need to know about Crimea and why it’s in turmoil

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Cameron Orders Investigation into Brotherhood

Britain Politics

British Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood over concerns the group is planning radical activities from a base in London, his Downing Street office said Tuesday, according to the AFP news agency.

The intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 have been tasked to gather information on the “philosophy and activities” of the group after several leaders fled to London following the toppling of Egyptian  Mohammed Morsi last year, according to the report.

The probe would include an assessment of claims that the group was behind a suicide bus bombing that killed three South Korean tourists in Egypt’s south Sinai in February and several other attacks.

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The probe could reportedly lead to a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has risen in prominence in recent years but our understanding of the organization — its philosophy and values — has not kept pace with this,” a Downing Street spokesman said in a statement to AFP.

“Given the concerns now being expressed about the group and its alleged links to violent extremism, it’s absolutely right and prudent that we get a better handle of what the Brotherhood stands for, how they intend to achieve their aims and what that means for Britain,” according to the statement.

Morsi, the group’s former leader, was ousted last July after a single year in power. He now faces trial for treason.

Egypt’s government in December declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia followed suit last month.

The British government acted following reports that Brotherhood leaders had met in London last year to decide their response to the Egypt crisis, The Times said.

They gathered in a flat above an Islamic charity office in the drab northwest London suburb of Cricklewood, the report said.

The Times quoted officials as saying it was “possible but unlikely” that the investigation would lead to a ban, with some in the Foreign Office reportedly believing it would only serve to radicalize and drive members underground.

Islamic radicalism has been a cause for concern in Britain. Just last week it was reported that England’s Department of Education is beginning to take “special measures,” in the wake of a systemic campaign of an organized takeover of public school by Islamists in the city of Birmingham.

One major issue causing concern is the number of British citizens who have travelled to Syria to fight alongside the rebels trying to oust Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

Britain’s Information Minister recently said that the “security concern” for the UK posed by individuals who have trained and fought in Syria is “a big problem” for MI5 and the police.

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