Tag Archives: Erdogan

Erdogan ‘Trying to Outdo Ataturk’: Germany’s Genocide Vote Sends Shockwaves

Germany’s Bundestag passed a resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915, at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In response, Ankara recalled its German ambassador and Turkish President Erdogan threatened to retaliate.

Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear spoke with journalist William Whiteman about Berlin’s motivation for the vote and its potential to derail the refugee deal between Turkey and the European Union.

“You have to take into consideration the weight of the Holocaust on the German psyche,” Whiteman said. “Any kind of genocide or injustice, generally they will have a huge amount of sympathy towards it.” He suggested that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stepped lightly so as to not upset a recently brokered EU-Turkey migrant exchange deal.

“Merkel seems to have been doing some logistical maneuvering to try and avoid the vote happening, because this an incredibly sensitive issue for Turkey, they have always acted incredibly violently, in terms of their rhetoric, to anyone who moves to recognize the Armenian genocide. So, it has been a huge problem for the Merkel Administration.”Host Brian Becker commented that “the Merkel Administration positioned itself in the beginning as being welcoming and sympathetic, but since then there’s been a right-wing opposition against the influx of refugees into Germany,” and asked Whiteman about the terms of Turkey’s migrant deal with the EU.

“Human Rights Organizations have been outraged by it,” Whiteman said, adding, “The whole principle behind it is that Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees, people who are fleeing conflicts, who have managed to reach Turkey, are now being traded with people who are fleeing North Africa and the Middle East from countries where there aren’t conflicts raging. There’s been a report saying that very few refugees have actually changed hands. Essentially, this is just [an obstacle to] the flow of refugees and migrants who are attempting to cross into Europe.”

Whiteman suggested that the initial positive response in Germany to refugees has been countered by right-wing media stoking racism by painting the influx as part of an “Islamization”of Europe. Adding to this pressure, the Balkan states have closed their borders to refugees.

Becker remarked that Turkey’s Erdogan is facing political isolation after stripping parliament members of immunity, forcing out former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and suppressing journalists and anyone else who opposes him. He asked Whiteman whether Erdogan’s action will create anti-German sentiments in Turkey.

Nationalism in Turkey goes beyond Erdogan, and even the 1915 Genocide, Whiteman responded. “It goes right back to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire,” he said.

“Even though Kemal Ataturk, the person who set up the modern Turkish Republic, was very much opposed to the Ottomans, he detested them, he had this slogan of ‘one nation, one people’ and this lead to the oppression of Kurds and others within Turkey. Languages were suppressed, everyone was supposed to speak Turkish. So the formation of the modern Turkish state is a nationalist creation essentially. So this has everything to do with nationalism and nationalist pride. Erdogan is trying to outdo Ataturk.”

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Erdogan’s Conundrum: What Could Trigger Military Coup in Turkey

The current state of affairs in Turkey is triggering concern. Ankara is facing the dangerous combination of deepening political polarization in the society, a slump in economic growth, and escalating tensions both at home and abroad.

Unlike the political and economic turmoil in the 1970s and 1990s, the current crisis is largely a result of the conflict between Turkey’s pragmatic domestic and foreign policy and its actual push for leadership, Pavel Shlykov, an associate professor at the Asian and African Studies Institute of the Moscow State University, said in his report.

The current Turkish crisis can be described with several specific features.

First, all spheres of the country’s political and social life as well as all its state institutions are engulfed in the crisis.

Second, public incertitude is growing about the future. People realize that the existing model of social and political development is jaded.

Third, the Turkish military is gradually building up its political influence, thus laying grounds for a military coup.

Fourth, recently the Kurdish problem has entered the new stage, and the situation in south-eastern Turkey can be described as a lukewarm civil war between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces.Furthermore, the conflict in Syria is influencing Ankara’s foreign and domestic policy.

Finally, the political prospects of the ruling Justice and Development Party (founded by Recep Tayyip Erdogan) are vague in the current environment.

Erdogan and the Turkish military

In his report presented at the Carnegie Moscow Center, Shlykov analyzed the question: is a military coup possible in Turkey?

Active involvement of the military in political processes has been part of Turkish history. In the 2000s, Erdogan announced the reforming of relations between the military and civic institutions. Under his political course, the military would not dictate its policy to the government.

A military coup in Turkey would be possible if three criteria are met simultaneously: further deepening of the political crisis, a rising external threat, and the spike escalation of the Kurdish issue. And currently, all of the above is evident, according to the analyst.

After Ankara suspended the peace process with Turkish Kurds Erdogan had to form some kind of a tactical alliance with the military elite who he oppressed in 2007-2008.

The cooperation between Erdogan and the military became obvious in autumn 2015, during a military operation in south-eastern regions mostly inhabited by Kurds. At the time, Ankara gave a blank cheque to the army command. In order to take advantage of the situation, Erdogan admitted that his previous policy toward the military was wrong. Moreover, he found a scapegoat for his “mistakes” – exiled Turkish preacher Fethulah Gulen currently residing in Pennsylvania.

Of course, at the present time the Turkish army is one the most powerful political forces in Turkey. But it is unlikely to stage a coup (like it happened in 1960, 1971 and 1980), Shlykov pointed out. The military doubts they would enjoy broad public support.

In the modern Turkey, the army also plays another important role – to counterbalance Erdogan’s risky foreign policy ambitions. A year ago, the military barely prevented him from invading Syria, and the situation repeated last month.

The Kurdish problem

Turkey has been facing the Kurdish issue in its current state for over 30 years. According to estimates, there are 15-20 million Kurds in Turkey, which accounts for 15 percent of the population. At the same time, the Kurdish minority has historically been highly atomized.

From a political perspective, Turkish Kurds can be divided into three groups: nationalist supporters of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), Alawite Kurds supporting leftist and social-democratic ideas, and the religious conservative majority (50 percent of the population) who in the 2000s were loyal to Erdogan’s party.

The support of the Kurdish majority for the Justice and Development Party played in to the hands of Ankara. Thus, the conservative majority was excluded from the Kurdish problem and was integrated into the country’s social and political system. But everything changed after the Syrian war began and when Daesh (also known as Islamic State/ISIL) appeared. In this situation, the Kurds proved their readiness for national and political consolidation.

After Ankara refused to help the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani at the Syrian-Turkish border, the conservative majority abandoned their loyalty to Erdogan and his party. They were even more disappointed after dialogue between the Turkish government and Kurds stopped.

Another important factor destabilizing Turkey is the porous 822-km-long border with war-ravaged Syria. Extremists are coming to Turkey from Syria not only to recover from wounds in Turkish hospitals (Erdogan has repeatedly been criticized for this) but also to stage terrorist attacks, undermining country’s national security.

However, according to the report, the rising threats to national security will not consolidate Turkish society, but instead will only deepen its political rifts. Unlike before, the military standoff with the Kurds is not broadly supported by Turks.

The Syrian trap

In 2015, the developments in Syria were not favorable for Ankara. After the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian jet last November Turkey lost the chance to influence the situation in Syria.

Over the past weeks, Turkey’s pro-government media has reported that now is the perfect time to intervene into the Syrian conflict. However, those reports were aimed only to consolidate public opinion.

here are several reasons that Turkey is unlikely to launch an operation in Syria.

First, in technical terms, any ground operation would require aerial support. Currently, the Syrian airspace is controlled by the Russian Aerospace Forces, and Turkish jets will not be allowed there.

Second, an intervention in Syria would have serious diplomatic problems for Ankara. The operation would be supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies. However, it will spark a conflict with the US and Russia. What is more, during such an operation the Turkish military would have to fight on several fronts at the same time; against the Syrian Army, Daesh, opposition groups, and Kurdish militia. It is obvious that Erdogan is not ready to take the risk.

Finally, if Turkey becomes involved in the Syrian war, they would also end up fighting the Kurds in the south-eastern parts of the country. Consequently, the conflict may spread across the entire of Turkey.

Turkey at a crossroads

Since the era of Kemal Ataturk who tried to create a controllable opposition force in Turkey, all experiments with democracy have turned pear shaped.

In his first years in power, Erdogan launched a number of political and economic reforms aimed at integrating with the European Union. Until 2007, his course was viewed as modernization. But then, especially following the 2010 constitutional reform, the setbacks began.

Currently, Turkey is at a crossroads. The choice is between a super-presidential republic ruled by Erdogan and further development as a liberal-democratic European-like state but with some specific characteristics.

The future of Turkey depends on its leader. According to the constitution, the head of state is Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. But in fact, power is concentrated in the hands of President Erdogan.

Davutoglu is Erdogan’s protégé and is much weaker as a politician than Erdogan. But if he could find courage to restrict Erdogan’s power chances for a liberal Turkey would significantly improve, the analyst noted.

Rift with Russia

After Turkey shot down a Russian bomber in Syria in late November tensions between Moscow and Ankara turned into hostility. Any improvement is unlikely in the coming future.

Shlykov outlined three possible scenarios for Russian-Turkish relations.

First, Russian and Turkey may reconcile.

Second, in order to normalize ties with Russia, Turkey may sacrifice one of its high-profile politicians, by shifting responsibility for the incident.

Third, a road to reconciliation may be very long. In this case, neither Russia nor Turkey would be ready to compromise, and the conflict would dry out in the long-term perspective.

As for now, the situation is developing according to the third variant. The world is now witnessing a deep conflict between Moscow and Ankara, which could ease with its main participants leaving the stage, the analyst concluded.

Turkey’s President ‘Involved’ in ISIS’ Illegal Oil Trade: Russia

The Russian Defence Ministry claims it has proof that Turkey is involved in the trading of oil with ISIL militants.

Officials released satellite pictures, alleging they show oil tankers heading along three roads from ISIL-held areas to Turkey.

Anatoly Antonov, the Deputy Russian Defence Minister, told a news conference: “Turkey is the principal consumer of this oil, stolen from its legitimate owners,Syria and Iraq.

“According to inbound data, top Turkish leadership is involved in this criminal business, including president Erdogan and his family.”

Pro-government media in Turkey dismissed the claims as impossible, saying the roads shown by Russia are controlled by Kurdish rebels and the Syrian army.

President Erdogan also denied the claims.

“Turkey has not lost its moral values; we’re not buying oil from a terrorist organisation,” he said.

“We are watching Russia’s disproportionate reactions with sadness, while the whole world accepts that we are right.

“If Russia’s reactions continue, we will be forced to take our own measures, “ said Erdogan.

The row began when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet it claims was in Turkish airspace

The burial has taken place today of the pilot. who died.

Russia has imposed tough sanctions against Turkey, including import bans, restrictions on visas for Turkish nationals and restrictions on Russians going on holiday in Turkey.

 

Turkey’s Erdogan problem – Al-Monitor

Turkey‘s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The March 30 local elections in Turkey were not really local elections but a de facto referendum on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to govern the country. The outcome came as “a kiss of life” for Erdogan, whose legitimacy had been in a downward spiral since May 2013 when his authoritarian attitudes fanned the Gezi Park revolt. His legitimacy took a further blow with the massive corruption probe in December, which came coupled with a slew of wiretaps leaked on the Internet that exposed the government’s dirty affairs.

But despite those enormous setbacks, the popular support lost by Erdogan in the March 30 elections was less than expected. His party had garnered some 50% of the vote in the 2011 general elections. At the local polls, the party mustered 43.3% in the municipal assemblies’ vote — the only criteria that allows for a comparison — meaning that its popularity declined only by about six percentage points.

Now, let’s see how those less-than-expected losses or more-than-expected gains have since translated on the ground.

Prior to the polls, the Gezi Park events and the ensuing corruption scandal had nourished an impression — both at home and abroad — that Erdogan’s days were numbered. But the election results showed that Erdogan is here to stay.

Prior to the polls, a wide range of dynamics — economic fragility, social polarization, the government’s conflict with the Gulen movement, its deadlocked foreign policy and international isolation — were all negative. The election result came as a “lifesaver” that psychologically relieved the beleaguered government and boosted its self-confidence. The government was now armed with the “legitimacy of the ballot box” to counter the loss of legitimacy it had suffered over the Gezi Park events and the corruption scandal.

The March 30 results revived Erdogan’s presidential prospects, which were widely considered to be dead prior to the polls.

But even though Erdogan’s election victory seems to have smoothed his political route ahead, it has failed to improve the negative dynamics mentioned above. All those grave problems remain intact despite the electoral boost he got.

What is more, Erdogan’s deficiencies in democracy, freedom and the rule of law are far from diminishing and seem to be getting even worse. The latest example came in the form of an authoritarian law, approved on April 25 by President Abdullah Gul, which gives the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) extraordinary powers over citizens and institutions, while minimizing its accountability and control.

Erdogan’s electoral boost has resulted also in a tangible increase in media censorship and pressure to silence critical journalists.

Many of the problems and adverse dynamics besieging Erdogan arise mostly from Erdogan himself. Similarly, his authoritarian policies are the primary source of Turkey’s shortcomings in democracy, freedom and rule of law.

In sum, one can conclude that Erdogan had become Turkey’s biggest problem long before the Gezi revolt, and that the March 30 elections indirectly amplified that problem, with Erdogan failing to produce solutions to the trouble he himself creates.

At the helm of a vibrant and fast-changing Turkey for as many as 12 years, Erdogan has completely lost his problem-solving capability since the Gezi revolt. His authoritarian and arbitrary approach to the problems he personally creates or exacerbates makes him the root of the problem itself. Yet, Erdogan keeps aggravating the problems and generating conflict because power makes him even more overbearing, intolerant and hubristic. The relief his government got from the March 30 outcome, it seems, will be short-lived.

On May 10, a ceremony for the 146th anniversary of the Council of State demonstrated anew that Turkey’s strongest man is its biggest problem, exposing all anomalies of the regime in an episode overladen with symbolism. Each and every moment of the drama that unfolded in Ankara underscored that Turkey is going through extraordinary times.

Gul, Erdogan, cabinet ministers, Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel and main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu were all seated in the front row when the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, Metin Feyzioglu, took the floor. Feyzioglu began speaking by addressing the president — a show of respect to the highest-level statesman in presence. But his speech, lasting an unusual 50 minutes, was directed at Erdogan, raising the problems the premier was responsible for: crippled press freedoms, social media bans, restrictions on May Day celebrations, the MIT law, the eradication of judicial independence and the blocking of corruption probes.

Only 15 days earlier, Erdogan had faced similar criticism from Constitutional Court President Hasim Kilic, who denounced the prime minister’s and his government’s unlawful practices at a ceremony marking the tribunal’s 52nd anniversary. Erdogan and his ministers did not spare Kilic, but they waited for the ceremony to end to vent their anger.

At the Council of State, however, Erdogan’s angry shouts startled the audience just as Feyzioglu was concluding his speech. The premier was accusing the head of the bar associations of lying, ill-manners and abusing his speaking time. Gul was tugging on Erdogan’s hand, trying to calm him down.

As Feyzioglu finished his sentence, Erdogan rose from his seat and moved toward the rostrum, still shouting. Then, he turned back and gesticulated to Gul that they should leave, showing the door. While Erdogan and his aides left the hall, Gul and his entourage, who had also stood up, followed suit, joined by the army chief.

Normally, a prime minister rising from his seat and shouting at the speaker in the presence of the president — the constitutional head of the state and the executive — would have been only a show of force shattering the state protocol. But what made things worse was the prime minister inviting the president out and Gul heeding the call.

The walkout was a visual illustration of how the state protocol and hierarchy has collapsed, giving way to the real political hierarchy — the one of the “one-man regime” — in a thought-provoking show directed by Erdogan himself.

Most recently, Turkey’s Erdogan problem erupted not in an auditorium but in the streets. On May 14, protests greeted Erdogan when he visited the western town of Soma, where Turkey’s deadliest mining disaster had occurred the previous day. With the death toll climbing to 200 that day, it was only natural for Soma’s people to call the government to account for the poor supervision and negligence that caused the disaster. Moreover, in the speech he made there Erdogan implied that the grieving families should accept the tragedy as natural, arguing that death was inherent in the mining industry and citing examples of fatal accidents dating back to the 19th century. In remarks at a press conference, he also used the term “exitus cases” for the men who perished in the coal mine.

Erdogan’s comments were bound to fuel anger, as Soma’s pain was still raw. And indeed, when he emerged in the streets he faced booing and resignation calls, which forced his bodyguards to lead him into a supermarket. In the evening, the news broke that inside the supermarket, the Turkish republic’s prime minister had slapped a citizen of his country in the face.

A young man, Taner Kuruca, claimed he had come for shopping when he suddenly came face to face with the prime minister, who gave him a slap. He added he was not planning to sue Erdogan. Footage of the incident clearly shows Erdogan grabbing Kuruca by the neck with both hands and saying “Where are you running!” His bodyguards are then seen brutally beating the man.

In the meantime, another image from Soma made the rounds across the world, showing Erdogan’s adviser Yusuf Yerkel kicking a protester already overpowered on the ground by two special-forces police.

Erdogan’s callous, intolerant, arrogant and detached response to protests and criticism — supposedly the most natural freedoms in a democracy — show that Turkey’s biggest problem is growing even bigger.

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Turkey mine fire: Image of aide kicking Soma protester stokes anger

Yusuf Yerkel, an aide to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, kicks a person who is being wrestled to the ground by two police officers during protests in Soma, Turkey, on Wednesday, May 14.

Soma, Turkey (CNN) — The image of an aide to Turkey‘s Prime Minister kicking a man protesting the mine disaster that has claimed nearly 300 lives has prompted outrage — and has become a symbol of the anger felt against the government.

The incident occurred as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the western city of Soma a day after the devastating mine fire.

The man, detained by special forces, can be seen lying on the ground as the suited adviser to Erdogan, identified as Yusuf Yerkel by Turkish media and CNN Turk, aims a kick at him.

The shocking image outraged many in Turkey, prompting an outpouring of anger on social media, and is seen as symbolizing the increasingly polarizing impact of Erdogan’s authority on the country.

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In First, Erdogan Sues Own Country Over Twitter Free-Speech Rulings

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Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News over the weekend characterized the country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as having broken new legal ground after the Turkish leader applied for damages from the Turkish state as part of an ongoing controversy related to Twitter:

The move has been described as a “first of its kind” by the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) head Metin Feyzioğlu, who said the prime minister of Turkey had never before filed a lawsuit against the state.

“There is no precedent for the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic to sue the Turkish Republic and demand compensation. This is happening for the first time,” said Feyzioğlu.

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) had banned access to both Twitter and YouTube on the eve of recent nationwide elections, a move that was widely seen as aimed at dampening discussions of a massive graft scandal that had ensnared top AKP elites including Erdogan and his family.

The bans drew global ridicule and triggered a diplomatic crisis with Europe, and were promptly overturned by Turkish courts on free speech grounds (the government restored access to Twitter but YouTube has remained unreachable). Erdogan’s lawsuit appears to claim that the Turkish state allowed Twitter to continue being accessible, and Twitter violated his privacy rights by linking to purported recordings of him discussing how to hide vast sums of money, and so the Turkish state violated his privacy rights and owes him damages.

Legal scholars interviewed by various Turkish outlets expressed skepticism regarding the soundness of the legal theory. Nonetheless two anonymous Twitter accounts that posted links to the conversations were apparently suspended in the immediate aftermath of Erdogan’s court application:

Twitter last week agreed to comply with a Turkish government request to close some accounts that officials said had breached national security or privacy regulations.

The two accounts – Haramzadeler and Bascalan – each had more than 400,000 followers, who now see only a red circle with a line through it and cannot access any tweeted material.

 The Tower.

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Turkish politics : The battle for Turkey’s future

464564An increasingly autocratic prime minister is losing touch with voters and damaging his country

An increasingly autocratic prime minister is losing touch with voters and damaging his country – See more at: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21599819-increasingly-autocratic-prime-minister-losing-touch-voters-and-damaging-his-country#sthash.lHg8PweI.dpuf
An increasingly autocratic prime minister is losing touch with voters and damaging his country – See more at: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21599819-increasingly-autocratic-prime-minister-losing-touch-voters-and-damaging-his-country#sthash.lHg8PweI.dpuf
An increasingly autocratic prime minister is losing touch with voters and damaging his country – See more at: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21599819-increasingly-autocratic-prime-minister-losing-touch-voters-and-damaging-his-country#sthash.lHg8PweI.dpuf
An increasingly autocratic prime minister is losing touch with voters and damaging his country – See more at: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21599819-increasingly-autocratic-prime-minister-losing-touch-voters-and-damaging-his-country#sthash.lHg8PweI.dpuf

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN has reason to thank Vladimir Putin. For weeks the Russian president’s attack on Ukraine has hogged headlin

An increasingly autocratic prime minister is losing touch with voters and damaging his country – See more at: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21599819-increasingly-autocratic-prime-minister-losing-touch-voters-and-damaging-his-country#sthash.lHg8PweI.dpuf

es. This has let Turkey’s prime minister get away with only limited international opprobrium for a string of illiberal laws that seem designed mainly to protect himself and his allies from a corruption scandal that one insider calls the biggest in modern Turkish history.

Since the scandal broke in mid-December, when police raided the homes of several sons of ministers, illicit recordings have emerged on the internet supposedly implicating Mr Erdogan, his relatives and others in dodgy dealings. Mr Erdogan has denounced these as fabrications, and blamed a network of judges, prosecutors and police linked to Fethullah Gulen, a powerful Sunni Muslim cleric based in Pennsylvania. (The irony that Mr Gulen was an ally of Mr Erdogan in his previous legal battles against the army and the secularists has not escaped Turks.)

Mr Erdogan has reassigned or sacked hundreds of policemen, judges and prosecutors, stalling the investigation. He has passed laws giving the government greater control over the judiciary and security services, clamped down on the media and tightened internet regulation. His latest move was to get the internet regulator, a former spook, briefly to ban Twitter, and he has often threatened other social media as well (see article).

Mounting criticism of the prime minister has left him unmoved, just as it did after he unleashed a brutal police assault on protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last summer. Besides attacking Gulenists and protesters, he has responded with digs at the foreign media and a purported “interest-rate lobby” (in January the central bank doubled its rates to 10%). And he defiantly declared that the Twitter ban showed to the world the strength of the republic.

Above all, Mr Erdogan relies on one overarching claim: that he has the support of voters. Ever since his Justice and Development (AK) party was catapulted to power in November 2002, its electoral success has been impressive. AK’s share of the vote rose to 47% in 2007 and almost 50% in 2011 (though it fell below 40% in municipal elections in 2009). Mr Erdogan has adopted a fiercely majoritarian attitude: so long as voters back him, he is entitled to do whatever he wants, heedless of opponents, protesters, judges, prosecutors or Europe. In a country with weak institutions and few checks and balances, such a view inevitably tends to authoritarianism.

On March 30th the prime minister’s support among Turkish voters will be put to the test, for the first time since the Gezi protests and the corruption probe, in municipal elections. Mr Erdogan has explicitly turned these into a referendum on himself and his party. If AK does well, which most analysts reckon means winning over 40% of the vote and keeping control of both Ankara and Istanbul, Mr Erdogan will claim vindication for his tough policies.

The outcome is highly uncertain. The main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) are weak. AK remains very strong in its Anatolian heartland, which includes such cities as Bursa, Kayseri and Konya. But Mr Erdogan’s approval rating has fallen over the past year. The CHP is quietly confident of winning Ankara, and it even hopes to upset AK in Istanbul, the city where Mr Erdogan began his political career. If AK does that badly, one minister predicts, it might even split.

Besides his 11 years in office, Gezi and the corruption cases, another reason why some Turks are tiring of Mr Erdogan is the economy. During AK’s time in power, GDP per head has tripled in real terms. After a sharp drop in 2009, growth bounced back to China-like levels in 2010 and 2011 (see chart). But this year it may be barely above 3%. The IMF reckons trend growth has dropped from 7% to 3%, too low to stop unemployment rising. Turkey also has the biggest current-account deficit in the OECD rich-country club, making it vulnerable to a loss of foreign confidence. Not surprisingly the lira has tumbled, shedding some 24% of its value against the dollar since last April and pushing up inflation.

Mehmet Simsek, the finance minister, rejects warnings about the economy as alarmist. He says all emerging markets have suffered since America signalled that interest rates might start rising. The current account was hit by high gold imports. Worries about corporate exposure to foreign-currency debt are exaggerated: most is owed by the biggest exporters. For the long term, he talks of better infrastructure, education (he points to 400,000 extra teachers and 210,000 extra classrooms) and more investment in R&D. He notes that Turkey has climbed from 71st to 44th in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness table.

Yet Turkey’s weaknesses are obvious. Female participation in the workforce is the lowest in the OECD. Inequality is alarmingly high. Turkey comes a lowly 69th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings. In many ways it is in a middle-income trap: the low-cost advantage that the Anatolian tigers had in textiles, furniture, white goods and carmaking has been eroded by rising wages (and prices), but productivity and skills are not good enough to switch easily to higher-value production.

Above all is the uncertainty about Turkey’s political direction. Although the new European Union minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, talks of 2014 as the year of the EU, he concedes that popular support for EU membership has fallen from 70% in 2005 to only 40% today. In truth EU membership talks are stalled, and they are unlikely to revive soon, not least because Mr Erdogan has lost interest. He is also said to have become more dismissive of Turkey’s NATO membership. Losing the EU anchor, in particular, worries businessmen. Muharrem Yilmaz, chairman of Tusiad, the industrialists’ lobby, complains that the government did not take advantage of EU membership talks to strengthen political and economic institutions, and that its reform momentum has run out.

What might Mr Erdogan do next? He had hoped to stand for president in August, when the term of the incumbent, Abdullah Gul, a co-founder of AK, runs out. Mr Gul, who has avoided clashing directly with Mr Erdogan but made clear his unhappiness with his restrictive laws, could then become prime minister. But recent events have reduced the chances of Mr Erdogan stepping up to the presidency, not least because he has been unable to amend the constitution to give the job greater powers. So he may prefer to let Mr Gul run again and instead scrap the internal AK party rule against any MP running for a fourth term. That would let him stay on as prime minister and perhaps bring forward the general election due next year.

Yet such a move would only confirm criticism of Mr Erdogan’s autocratic ways.  Aykan Erdemir, a young CHP MP, says the situation makes him think of other embattled leaders in their bunkers, surrounded by yes-men. Put simply, the prime minister lacks an exit strategy. It would be better for his country if he found one.

 

 The Economist.

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Turkish people strike back, tweeting against Twitter ban

Demonstrators, members of the Turkish Youth Union, shout anti-government slogans during a protest against a Twitter ban, in Ankara yesterday.

Ankara has found the internet difficult to silence over allegations of corruption. Hours after Turkey’s government moved to block access to Twitter, Turkish citizens struck back – on the social media network itself.

Some circulated a manipulated picture of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister, sinking his teeth into the blue bird that serves as the network’s mascot. They were not alone: the number of tweets sent after the midnight ban rose 140 per cent over normal levels, according to data provided by analytics firm Brandwatch.

Dodging the ban
Twitter sent out mobile numbers that allowed Turkish consumers to keep using its service. In another technical fix against the ban, Turkish downloads of Hotspot Shield, the world’s most popular virtual private network service, rose to 270,000 on Friday – from a daily average of 7,000.

The Turkish users’ defiance and the sheer scale of their activity suggest no immediate end to the battering Mr Erdogan has suffered in cyberspace.

Seeking to silence allegations of corruption against him and his government in the run-up to local elections on March 30th, he has removed some 7,000 policemen from their posts and boosted Ankara’s powers over judges and prosecutors.

But the internet has proved harder to handle. A formal corruption investigation has stalled, Twitter and YouTube have been used to circulate apparently incriminating voice recordings of Mr Erdogan and his circle – including some he has acknowledged as authentic.

Yet more explosive leaks are expected ahead of this month’s elections – according to one rumour, more revelations will come on March 25th.

But if Turkey’s Twitter ban was intended to thwart the dissemination of such allegations, it has backfired spectacularly.

“Erdogan is constantly on the run now. I don’t think he has time to think,” said Soli Ozel at Kadir Has university in Istanbul. “He is trying to keep the scandal as muted as possible at all costs, but he can’t control the technology. Instead, he is fuelling the fire of suspicion and making everyone anticipate what, if anything, will come out on the 25th.”

Mr Erdogan took aim at Twitter, saying he would “root out” the microblogging service for national security reasons. But he failed to account for Turkey’s predilection for social networks – a response, many say, to a cowed media – which means Twitter has greater penetration among web users here than in any other country.

Even President Abdullah Gul, who signed a Bill increasing government control over the internet, tweeted his opposition to the measure.

Free speech
Before long, the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the UK government, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many other non-governmental and international bodies had sent tweets deploring what they depicted as an attack on free speech. Celebrities such as Russell Crowe, Richard Branson, Mia Farrow and Elijah Wood piled in.

The Turkish bar association filed a criminal complaint against the ban, which it said was illegal. As sporadic Twitter service returned, mystery surrounded who had formally imposed the measure, supposedly in response to court complaints about invasion of privacy.

The government says it was done as Twitter had failed to respect such court complaints; a lawyer for Twitter was in Ankara for meetings yesterday.

“These steps are very crucial for the Turkish legal system,” said Selin Erciyas, at Mehmet Gun & Partners, an Istanbul law firm. “We will see if there is a true objective legal system or whether it is just Erdogan that decides things in court.”

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Turkey’s Erdogan again threatens to ban social media

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the crowd during an opening ceremony of a new metro line in Ankara March 13, 2014.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the crowd during an opening ceremony of a new metro line in Ankara March 13, 2014.

(Reuters) – Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday repeated his threat to close down social media platforms including Twitter in Turkey and said he did not care about the potential backlash from the international community.

“We will wipe out all of these,” Erdogan told thousands of supporters at a rally in the northwestern province of Bursa.

“The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is,” he said.

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Turkish president, at odds with Erdogan, dismisses foreign plot

Turkish President Abdullah Gul addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013.

(Reuters) – President Abdullah Gul has dismissed suggestions that outside forces are conspiring against Turkey, openly contradicting Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan‘s assertions that a corruption scandal is part of a foreign-backed plot to undermine him.

The graft inquiry swirling around Erdogan’s government has grown into the biggest challenge of his 11-year-rule. He has repeatedly cast it as a scheme by political enemies at home and abroad to damage him ahead of March 30 local elections.

“I don’t accept allegations about foreign powers and I don’t find them right … I don’t believe in these conspiracy theories as if there are some people trying to destroy Turkey,” the Hurriyet newspaper quoted Gul as telling reporters during a visit to Denmark.

“Of course Turkey has its long-standing opponents in the world. Certain groups have praised our work for the past 10 years… Now that they are criticising us, why is this an issue? These types of comments are for third world countries,” he said.

Turkey’s rapid growth into a major emerging market has largely been based on the stability brought by Erdogan’s firm rule over the last decade. But the past several months of political uncertainty have unnerved investors, helping send the lira currency down sharply.

Gul co-founded the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party with Erdogan and has remained a close ally. But he is viewed as a more conciliatory figure than the combative prime minister and their relations have at times appeared strained.

“The political atmosphere we are in is not making any of us happy. It doesn’t make me happy. I am both troubled and saddened by the things we are going through,” Gul was quoted as saying.

Gul has been under growing pressure from both within and outside Turkey to calm tensions generated by the graft scandal and is seen as a potential successor to Erdogan as prime minister and head of the AK Party, should Erdogan decide to run for the presidency in an August vote.

He and Erdogan had appeared to have closed ranks since the graft scandal erupted in December, with Gul approving controversial laws tightening Internet controls and giving the government greater influence over the judiciary – moves seen by Erdogan’s critics as an authoritarian response to the probe.

ELECTION IMPACT

The long-running investigation became public on December 17 when police detained the sons of three cabinet ministers and businessmen close to Erdogan. The three ministers resigned a week later, while others were removed in a cabinet reshuffle.

Parliament, currently in recess for the local election campaign period, will reconvene for an extraordinary session on Wednesday, demanded by the opposition, to hear prosecutors’ files on the allegations against four of the former ministers.

Last week, a Twitter account behind a string of leaks in the scandal posted what it presented as prosecutors’ files accusing the former ministers of involvement with an Iranian businessman in a bribery and smuggling racket.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the documents and the former ministers have denied any wrongdoing.

Erdogan says his former ally, U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, orchestrated the corruption investigation through a “parallel state” of his supporters in the judiciary and police. Gulen denies the allegations.

Erdogan has responded by reassigning thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors, and driving through the legislation approved by Gul tightening controls of the judiciary and Internet.

Members of parliament have immunity from prosecution, but opposition parties are expected to call on Wednesday for the former ministers to face trial. Rival MPs have previously come to blows over the corruption allegations.

The impact of the graft probe on Turkey’s electorate remains unclear, according to widely diverging opinion polls prepared in the run-up to the March 30 elections.

Analysts say the AK Party’s core support has held up and that it is on course to remain the biggest party, although its predicted share of the vote ranges from 30 to 50 percent.

The latest survey from one pollster, Konsensus, showed the AK Party would narrowly win the mayoral race in Istanbul but cede control of the capital Ankara to the main opposition CHP for the first time since coming to power in 2002.

SONAR, another pollster, forecast the AK Party would keep control of both of Turkey’s largest cities but fail to seize control of the western city of Izmir, a stronghold of the CHP.

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