Tag Archives: Istanbul

Tear Gas, Water Cannon: Turkish Police Raid Zaman Newspaper in Istanbul

Late Friday, police entered the Zaman newspaper building in Istanbul, firing tear gas at protesters gathered outside. Zaman is closely linked to the Hizmet movement of the influential US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey has designated Hizmet a terrorist organization, claiming that the group aims to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Gulen, once an Erdogan ally, now calls for civil conflict against the President

The attack on the Zaman newspaper protesters comes as the Turkish government falls under increased international criticism for its attempts to crack down on journalistic dissent.

Protests followed a court ruling on Friday that the high-circulation newspaper would be taken over by government-run administrators. The court’s decision came with no explanation.

The protesters denounced the state takeover of Zaman press. One protester carried a placard stating, “We will fight for a free press.” The peaceful protesters were quickly shot with a water cannon and tear gas by Turkish police in an attempt to force them to disperse.

In response to the country’s planned seizure of the media outlet, Zaman said that Turkey is going through its “darkest and gloomiest days in terms of freedom of press.” The editor-in-chief declared that the move by the Turkish government represented nothing short of “the practical end of media freedom in Turkey.”

The US State Department maintains that Turkey is a valued ally of the United States and a critical partner in the war against Daesh and other terrorist organizations. On Friday, however, a State Department spokesperson said the takeover is “the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government.”

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Turkey’s Police Clash With Hundreds Defying Protest Ban On May Day

Protesters run and protect themselves as riot police use a water cannon against them during a May Day rally near Taksim Square in Istanbul on May 1, 2015

ISTANBUL, May 1 (Reuters) – Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of stone-throwing May Day protesters on Friday, after they defied a ban and tried to march on Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

Europe’s biggest city was under a security lockdown as thousands of police manned barricades and closed streets to stop demonstrations at Taksim, a traditional rallying ground for leftists that saw weeks of unrest in 2013.

Riot police unleashed water cannon and chased protesters down side streets in the nearby Besiktas neighborhood and also they also fired off canisters of tear gas, a Reuters reporter said. Demonstrators lobbed stones and bottles at police and set off fireworks.

Istanbul police said nearly 140 people had been detained, although activists said the number was nearly double that. The city’s governor said 6 police officers and 18 protestors had been injured in clashes, which died out as the afternoon wore on and a clean-up operation got underway.

Critics say President Tayyip Erdogan and the government have become more authoritarian in the buildup to June elections.

“People want to express their problems but the government doesn’t want those problems to be heard ahead of elections,” opposition politician Mahmut Tanal, holding a pocket-sized book of the Turkish constitution, told Reuters in Besiktas.

Demonstrators try to protect themselves from water, sprayed by a police water canon truck and tear gas, during clashes in Istanbul, Turkey, May 1, 2015

A usually bustling square lined with cafes and hotels, Taksim was filled with police buses, ambulances and satellite broadcast trucks. A pair of tourists emerged from a hotel to find the area sealed off and nervously made their way around police lines.

Much of Istanbul’s public transport had been shut down due to security concerns, and police helicopters buzzed over the city. Tens of thousands also gathered to march in the capital Ankara, where the mood was more festive, with dancing and singing.

A woman reacts as Turkish police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters during a May Day rally near Taksim Square in Istanbul on May 1, 2015

he government had said Taksim would only be open to those who came peacefully and not for “illegal demonstrations.”

“I wish May 1 to be celebrated in a festive mood without provocations,” Erdogan said in a statement.

Opposition parties and unions called on the government to lift the ban.

A protester kicks a tear gas canister during clashes with riot police during a May Day rally near Taksim Square in Istanbul on May 1, 2015

Erdogan has previously dismissed protesters as “riff-raff” and terrorists, outraged by the unrest in 2013 that brought unwanted international attention and posed the biggest challenge to his AK Party since it came to power in 2002.

Recent polls say AKP is on course for another election win in June but he may fall short of the massive victory Erdogan is targeting to allow him to change the constitution and bolster his presidential powers.

Demonstrators challenge riot police officers during clashes in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, May 1, 2015.

he 2013 Taksim protests began as a peaceful demonstration against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, a leafy corner of the square. After a police crackdown the demonstration spiraled into weeks of nationwide protests against Erdogan’s rule.

Turkish prosecutor killed in hostage taking

An alleged millitant from the Turkish Marxist-Leninist left wing organisation, the DHKP-C, holds a gun to the head of prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz in Istanbul on Tuesday. A Turkish prosecutor probing the politically sensitive death of an anti-government protester was taken hostage by an armed group at an Istanbul courthouse, the Dogan news agency reported.

ISTANBUL — Two members of a banned leftist group and a prosecutor they held hostage inside a courthouse in Istanbul died Tuesday after a shootout between the hostage takers and police, officials said.

Istanbul’s police chief, Selami Altinok said police had negotiated with the gunmen for six hours before the violent end of the hostage situation.

The prosecutor, identified by the state-run Anadolu Agency and state television TRT as Mehmet Selim Kiraz, was shot in the head during the standoff and rushed to hospital where doctors tried to save his life, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier Tuesday.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and hospital officials later announced he had died.

Speaking in Ankara, Davutolgu said the hostage takers have been identified and had dressed up as lawyers in order to sneak in arms inside courthouse. He did not give any other new information.

Kiraz was the prosecutor investigating the death of a teenager who was hit by a police gas canister fired during nationwide anti-government protests in 2013.

A website close to the left-wing DHKP-C group said that militants from the banned organization had taken the prosecutor hostage at midday and had given authorities three hours to meet five demands, including forcing policemen held responsible for the teenager’s killing to confess to the death.

Members of special security forces stand outside the main courthouse in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday. Mehmet Selim Kirazis the prosecutor investigating the death of a teenager who was hit by a police gas canister fired during nationwide anti-government protests in 2013.

The group also demanded that the policemen be tried by “peoples’ courts” and for court officials to drop prosecutions or investigations against people who took part in protests denouncing the boy’s death. The website showed a picture of someone holding a gun to a man’s head with posters from the group in the background.

Deputy Chief Prosecutor Orhan Kapici confirmed that the incident was related to Kiraz’s investigation into the boy’s death.

The DHKP-C, which seeks a socialist state, is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.

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Violent protest clashes in Turkey after mine blast kills over 280

Riot police run away from the flames of a fire bomb thrown by protesters as they demonstrate to blame the ruling AK Party (AKP) government on the mining disaster in western Turkey, in Ankara May 14, 2014.

Riot police run away from the flames of a fire bomb thrown by protesters as they demonstrate to blame the ruling AK Party (AKP) government on the mining disaster in western Turkey, in Ankara May 14, 2014.

Clashes have erupted across Turkey as residents rally in anger at a mining accident which killed 282 people in the western Turkish town of Soma on Tuesday. Eight hundred marched on Ankara’s Energy Ministry as police fired tear gas and water cannon.

Nearly 450 miners have been rescued in the efforts.

Violent protests have been reported in Soma itself, where relatives of the dead miners are unleashing their anger at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Those who keep up with privatization… policies, who threaten workers’ lives to reduce costs… are the culprits of the Soma massacre and they must be held accountable,” Turkey’s Public Workers Unions Confederation (KESK) said on its official website. The body is one of the major national trade union centers in the country, representing 240,000 employees.

PM Erdogan visited Soma, the site of the disaster, on Wednesday. There, he was confronted with a spontaneous protest with locals booing and whistling at him as he made statements regarding the disaster at a news conference.

Erdogan visited Soma, the site of the disaster, on Wednesday.

“We have witnessed one of the biggest industrial accidents in our recent history… We as a nation of 77 million are experiencing very great pain,” he said at a news conference.

He promised that investigations will be launched into the accident, but he rejected claims that the government was to blame.

Riot police fire plastic paintball gun pellets to disperse protesters during a demonstration blaming the ruling AK Party (AKP) government for the mining disaster in western Turkey, in central Istanbul May 14, 2014.

“Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Erdogan said that at least 120 might still be trapped. Reports from rescue workers on the scene say the figure could be higher, said AFP. Seven hundred and eighty-seven workers had been inside the Soma mine when the explosion hit a power unit.

Proteters run from Turkish police‘s tear gas in Ankara on May 14, 2014 during a demonstration gathering hundreds after more than 200 people were killed in an explosion at a mine.

The PM was soon confronted by a spontaneous protest, with locals booing and whistling at him as he made statements regarding the disaster at a news conference. Some locals were chanting “Erdogan resign.”

Erdogan was forced to shelter in a local supermarket to escape the enraged crowds.

Clashes also erupted in Istanbul, 480km northeast of Soma where police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse several thousand demonstrators. People were gathering in the city subway and outside the headquarters of the company which owns the mine. Graffiti alleging that the company had committed murder was daubed on the walls of the Soma Holdings office, while others painted their faces black in solidarity with the miners.

A fire is seen in a street of Ankara on May 14, 2014, during a demonstration gathering hundreds after more than 200 people were killed in an explosion at a mine

In Ankara, between 3,000 and 4,000 people marched on the energy ministry yelling anti-government slogans and hurling rocks. Law enforcers responded by deploying tear gas and water cannon against the protesters.

The company stood accused of sacrificing safety for the sake of profit.

This mining corporation came out and talked about how successful they were. And then what happened? Together with this explosion, we’ve seen that no precautions were taken, the lives of the workers were not valued, and their lives were put in danger for more profit,” protester Emre Erkaslan told AP.

Riot police fire tear gas against protesters as they demonstrate to blame the ruling AK Party (AKP) government on the mining disaster in western Turkey, in Ankara May 14, 2014.

Thousands of relatives of the miners gathered outside the town’s hospital searching for information on their loved ones.

“We haven’t heard anything from any of them. Not among the injured, not among the list of dead,” a local woman, Sengul, told Reuters, “It’s what people do here, risking their lives for two cents … They say one gallery in the mine has not been reached, but it’s almost been a day.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz declared that the accident was likely to be the country’s worst ever mining disaster.

The cause of the fire is not yet clear, according to an emailed statement from the mine’s operator, Soma Komur Isletmeleri. However, “the subsequent spread of carbon monoxide is, unfortunately, the reason for the loss of life,” according to the statement.

Turkey’s last worst mining accident in recent years was a gas explosion in 1992 near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak, which left some 270 workers dead. Since then, Turkey has witnessed to several mining accidents.

Proteters clash with Turkish police in Ankara on May 14, 2014 during a demonstration gathering hundreds after more than 200 people were killed in an explosion at a mine.

Proteters clash with Turkish police in Ankara on May 14, 2014 during a demonstration gathering hundreds after more than 200 people were killed in an explosion at a mine.

Protesters run away from water canon fired by the riot police during a demonstration blaming the ruling AK Party (AKP) government for the mining disaster in western Turkey, in central Istanbul May 14

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Turkey heading to totalitarian regime, main opposition CHP leader says

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (2R) speaks during a meeting with foreign media members in Istanbul on May 2. CHP deputy chairs Faruk Loğoğlu (R) adn Gürsel Tekin (2L) and CHP Istanbul provincial head Oğuz Kaan Salıcı (L) were also present at the meeting.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (2R) speaks during a meeting with foreign media members in Istanbul on May 2. CHP deputy chairs Faruk Loğoğlu (R) adn Gürsel Tekin (2L) and CHP Istanbul provincial head Oğuz Kaan Salıcı (L) were also present at the meeting.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the country is heading to a totalitarian regime, referring to the pressures on the press in Turkey during a meeting with foreign media members in Istanbul on May 2.

“Turkey is heading rapidly toward a totalitarian regime. One cannot speak of democracy in a country if there is no freedom of the press. The bans on Twitter, YouTube, the pressure on the newspapers and TV channels are unacceptable,” said Kılıçdaroğlu upon a question at the meeting in Istanbul.

Recalling that May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, Kılıçdaroğlu said Turkey is passing through a pressure regime which has practices fiercer than that of the times of the military coup.

“There are 44 journalists in jail today. Around 1,150 journalists have lost their jobs in past five years. We see practices harsher than those of the military rulers in this country,” said Kılıçdaroğlu in his address to foreign journalists.

The main opposition leader, however, voiced optimism over the end of his party’s struggle against totalitarianism.

“This is a difficult struggle. But I am sure of one thing: We will win in the end. An oppressive regime has never been successful in history. Societies have paid the price and we are ready to pay the price on this road,” said Kılıçdaroğlu during the meeting.

CHP deputy chair Gürsel Tekin, CHP deputy chair Faruk Loğoğlu, CHP deputy chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu, CHP deputy Şafak Pavey and CHP Istanbul provincial head Oğuz Kaan Salıcı were also present at the meeting held at a hotel in Istanbul’s Taksim neighborhood.

Kılıçdaroğlu said that there is no freedom in a country if people are not allowed to hold their celebrations at the place they want to, referring to the banning of Taksim Square to unionists on May 1. “There was martial law in Istanbul yesterday [May 1]. Workers should be allowed to celebrate their day wherever they want to. Besides, Taksim has a symbolic meaning for the workers,” said Kılıçdaroğlu criticizing the government’s efforts in blocking Taksim to workers and unions on May 1.

Presidential elections

Kılıçdaroğlu told foreign media members that the CHP will nominate the candidate who will get the most votes from the voters of other parties in the second round of the presidential elections scheduled for August.

“All parties will nominate their own candidates in the first round of the elections. This will have advantages and disadvantages. We believe that our candidate should be able to get votes from the voters of other parties in the second round,” said Kılıçdaroğlu.

He also criticized the fact that the debates over the presidential elections are reduced to one point, whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or current President Abdullah Gül will run.

“We should discuss what characteristics our president should have. It is very dangerous if someone who is not acquitted in the court from the allegations against him becomes president. This will be a legitimization of the corruption,” said Kılıçdaroğlu referring to the recent corruption probe opened against high-profile names, including the sons of three former ministers.

Kılıçdaroğlu said the Erdoğan’s recent statement offering condolences to the relatives of the victims of the 1915 incidents should be seen as a humane act.

“It is very humane to give a statement of condolence to those who died during the 1915 incidents. All of these people who lost their lives were Ottoman citizens. We have already stated our opinion about the prime minister’s statement,” said Kılıçdaroğlu referring to Loğoğlu’s remarks that said these statements should have been said earlier regarding the issue.

Upon a question about a probe opened against Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who is in self-exile in the U.S., Kılıçdaroğlu said if there is any structure that damages the state, it should be tried before the court. However, Kılıçdaroğlu also stated that the rift between the Gülen movement and government is mainly caused by the fact that Erdoğan is attempting to create an enemy because “dictators tend to create enemies.” He also said it is ridiculous for Erdoğan to say that the Gülen movement has ruled the country for 12 years.

May/02/2014 via – hurriyetdailynews.

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US destroyer Donald Cook enters Black Sea amid Ukraine tension (VIDEO)

US warship USS Donald-Cook sails through the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 10, 2014, en route to the Black Sea.

USS Donald Cook, a destroyer equipped with the powerful Aegis missile defense system, has crossed through the Bosphorus and entered the Black Sea, with Russia claiming that NATO is assembling a battle fleet in the region.

Earlier, the US Defense Department said the ship’s mission was “to reassure NATO allies and Black Sea partners” following the events in Ukraine.

“It demonstrates our commitment to our … allies to enhance security, readiness and capabilities,” spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said in a statement.

But sources in the Russian military believe the move is part of a systematic build-up of naval forces.

“What we are seeing is that for the first time since 2008, NATO is creating a naval battle group outside the Russian borders,” a source told Interfax news agency, citing the entry of French reconnaissance ship Dupuy de Lome and destroyer Dupleix – both expected within the next week.

The French rescue vessel Alize has been inside the Black Sea basin since late last month.

“The purpose of this is to provide moral support for the regime in Kiev, but also as a demonstration of power to make Russia come to heel. But the ship will also collect information on Russian military activity in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border,” the source said.

Russia’s Black Sea fleet is stationed in Sevastopol in Crimea, which was incorporated into Russia following a referendum last month.

NATO also believes that Moscow is massing troops on its border with eastern Ukraine, which has experienced uprisings by pro-Russian activists calling for secession from Kiev. On Thursday, NATO released satellite shots of Russian border bases heaving with troops and equipment, though Moscow has said that the shots are from last year, and in any case, show no unusual activity.

USS Donald Cook had already aroused the anger of Moscow when it arrived in Europe earlier this year, as it carries the sophisticated Aegis weapons and radar system and will form a key part of NATO’s missile defense shield in Europe. Moscow has vehemently opposed the project, saying it is a direct security threat and alters the nuclear balance of power in the region.

Moscow has said that NATO naval movements since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis at the end of last year have violated the Montreux Convention on naval movements in the Black Sea.

According to the treaty, warships from non-Black Sea states can only stay in the basin for up to 21 days consecutively. USS Taylor spent 11 more than that in the region in February and March.

On Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry expressed “bemusement” over the supposed violations.

Turkey [which administers the treaty] did not inform us about the overstay. We have expressed our concern to the Turkish and US side in a verbal note,” said a statement on the ministry website.

US warship, USS Donald Cook, sails through the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 10, 2014, en route to the Black Sea.

But even if Washington complies with the terms of the treaty, it is unlikely to reduce its military presence beyond the Bosphorus.

“Since February, whenever one US ship leaves the Black Sea, one or more replace it. It is possible that this rotation will be kept up for ships operating the Aegis system,” the Russian military source said.

RT News

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Turkey to vote in crucial local elections amid graft scandal and social media ban

Supporters of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) wave Turkish and party flags during an electioSupporters of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) wave Turkish and party flags during an election rally at Kadikoy in Istanbul on March 29, 2014.n rally at Kadikoy in Istanbul on March 29, 2014.

With Twitter bans, YouTube blocks, damning leaks and a ‘shadow government’ pulling strings behind the scenes, municipal elections in Turkey are only the beginning of a crucial 15-month voting cycle that could determine Turkey’s future for decades to come.

The polls are set to open across the country on Sunday in what would normally regarded as small town politics replete with the nuts and bolt issues of governing like streets, schools and trash collection. But these are not ordinary times in Turkey, and what would normally be considered local fare is now being viewed as a much broader referendum on the ruling party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP].

During the last poll in 2009, AKP clinched 39 percent of the vote, light years ahead of the socially liberal and Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP), which only managed 23 percent. While AK Party actually took a 2.6 point hit compared to their 41.6 percent showing in 2004, analysts believe anything below 40 percent this time around will be considered a blow to Erdogan.

Along with CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Justice and Development Party (BDP) are also hoping to dethrone AK after over a decade in power.

The nationwide municipal poll is also the first time Turks will vote since last summer’s antigovernment demonstrations, which left 11 dead and over 8,000 injured.

Despite a series of scandals which have completely changed the landscape of Turkish politics, opinion polls suggest the Islamist AK Party, which was first swept to power in 2002, will win on Sunday as well. That victory is viewed as a stepping stone in once against asserting its dominance in a year-plus voting cycle which will see the presidency up for grabs in August and the culminate in the June 2015 Turkish general election.

The mayoral elections in Ankara and Istanbul are viewed as the most important litmus test for Erdogan’s rule, with many believing Sunday’s result is vital to Turkey’s very survival as a democratic state.

Istanbul, the 15-million-megapolis where Erdogan first tested his mettle as the city’s mayor over 20 years ago, is viewed as the epicenter of events. As the old Turkish political aphorism goes: “The one who takes Istanbul, takes Turkey.”

Mustafa Sarigul, the 57-year-old mayor of Istanbul’s wealthy district of Sisli and CHP candidate, hopes to dislodge AK party incumbent Kadi Topbas in elections.

In the Turkish capital, Ankara, meanwhile, five-time AK Party incumbent Melih Gokcek is taking on the CHP’s Mansur Yavas in the mayoral race. Gokcek bested Yavas during the previous race in 2009.

Meanwhile, the run-up to the local elections have been marked by constant rancor, with allegations of fraud adding to the protests over corruption and the suppression of political and civil freedoms from the opposition.

The latest scandal first erupted on December 17, when three AK Party cabinet ministers’ children were arrested on corruption charges, and several government figures were targeted in graft investigations.

In February, a firestorm was sparked when audio recordings in which Erdogan is reportedly heard telling his son, Bilal, get rid of tens of millions of dollars, were posted on YouTube.

Erdogan has responded by purging thousands of police and prosecutors, lashing out at “traitors” and “terrorists” for organizing the campaign against him. Chief among them is rival Fethullah Gulen, the US-based head of the Gulen movement whom Erdogan has accused of organizing a “parallel state.”

Then in a move that has since sent shockwaves through liberal sections of Turkish society, Erdogan moved to do away with the medium in which both the damning leaks and protests against his rule were publicized: social media.

Last week, Turkey blocked access to Twitter just hours before Erdogan promised to “wipe out” the social media network during a campaign rally in the northwestern city of Bursa.

Then on Thursday, access to YouTube was also cut off in Turkey after an explosive leak of audiotapes that appeared to show ministers talking about provoking military intervention in Syria.

Meanwhile, whatever Sunday’s result, Erdogan, who will complete his third term next year, technically cannot run for a fourth term due to an AKP bylaw.

He does have the option of running for president in Turkey’s first publicly-elected presidential elections later this year. There has also been talk of lifting the three-term limit to allow Erdogan to run for PM once again.

Critics fear that Erdogan’s long-heralded “Turkish model”, described as an example of a modern, moderate Muslim state that works, is steadily devolving into authoritarianism.

The popular Turksih daily Hurriyet published an open letter to Erdogan urging him to unite the country of 76.6 million people before it becomes irrevocably fractured.

“Whatever percentage of the votes you get, it should be your and all of your duty to defuse the dangerous polarization and tensions that has spread throughout the whole country.”

Sunday could prove pivotal as the country struggles through what one senior government official called one of the biggest crises in Turkish history.

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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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Protester killed in Turkey clashes

A protester has been killed in violent clashes with police in Turkey. The country is witnessing a wave of unrest following the death of a 15-year-old who was shot by a tear-gas canister by police last summer and died in hospital after 269 days in a coma.

One protester in Istanbul died of a head injury after police cracked down on a crowd allegedly attacking police on Wednesday evening.

“There were two groups attacking the police and one youth suffered a head injury … and lost his life,” Aziz Babuscu, the ruling AK Party‘s Istanbul provincial head, told CNN Turk TV.

Riot police fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters during a demonstration in Istanbul March 12, 2014.

Turkey is gripped by unrest following the death of 15-year old Berkin Elvan who was injured in anti-government protests last summer.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, many chanting political slogans, gathered for Elvan’s funeral on Wednesday in Istanbul. The crowd was also chanting “Tayyip! Killer!” Earlier on Wednesday, a group of Turkish activists hacked into the Twitter account of a top adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, posting messages like “We know who Elvan’s killer is.”

Police deployed water cannons to block the crowd from marching to the central Taksim square. Tear gas and rubber bullets were shot to disperse the people while police in riot gear chased scattered protesters into the side streets.

Fireworks thrown by anti-government protesters explode near riot policemen during a demonstration in Istanbul March 12, 2014.

On Wednesday, police also clashed with demonstrators in several other Turkish cities as protesters flooded the streets in acts of civil disobedience across the country. More demonstrations are planned to ratchet up pressure on Prime Minister Erdogan in the run up to the March 30 election.

Erdogan, who has remained silent on Elvan’s death, said that holding massive streets protests 18 days before elections was against the spirit of democracy.

“Does democracy come with Molotov cocktails?,” Erdogan told throngs of cheering supporters at a campaign rally in the southeastern city of Siirt, as cited by Reuters.

“The path of democracy is the ballot box. If you have the power, go to the ballot box,” he said.

An armoured police vehicle drives through a barricade on fire during a demonstration in Ankara March 12, 2014.

 

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Sons of Thieves Tweet Secrets While Erdogan Scolds YouTube

In the epic corruption scandal that has enthralled Turkey, where the private affairs of powerful men are leaked daily on the Internet, one secret has remained stubbornly elusive: Who is Haramzadeler?

The nom de plume, employed by an anonymous user on Twitter Inc. (TWTR)’s messaging service, means Sons of Thieves in Turkish. Its owner or owners have achieved notoriety and outsized influence by posting links on Twitter to a large cache of secret documents and hours of audio described as police wiretaps, part of a 15-month corruption investigation that has swept up Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his family and his friends.

Haramzadeler’s proficiency in harnessing the anonymity of Twitter with the reach of YouTube has unleashed more than 1,000 pages of transcribed tapes and dozens of tape recordings. Postings also comment on current events: Today, as tens of thousands of protesters marched toward central Istanbul to mourn yesterday’s death of a 15-year old boy hit by a tear-gas canister last year, Haramzadeler posted a stylized drawing of the victim wearing angel wings.

The leaks have enlivened the opposition and put Erdogan on the defensive amid the public allegations of graft that stretch from the prime minister’s family to the businessmen who’ve profited during his 11 years in power.

With more than 500,000 followers across two related accounts, the posts have drawn the ire of the prime minister, who said in a television interview last week that he might consider blocking YouTube and other social media.

‘Media Blackout’

Twitter itself has become a zone of dissent, rooted in the government’s violent response in 2013 to protests over the demolition of Istanbul’s Gezi Park, said Ethan Zuckerman, director for the Center of Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. The revelations have made Haramzadeler a major source of anti-Erdogan information, especially in a country where the largest television channels and newspapers are openly supportive of the prime minister.

“Twitter has become a channel both for sharing news and commenting on the failings of Turkish media,” Zuckerman said in an e-mail. “It developed quite specifically in response to what many protesters and their supporters see as a media blackout.”

Erdogan didn’t mention Twitter in last week’s interview on the ATV channel, whose 2013 sale from a company run by his son-in-law to another run by a business ally was itself the subject of a Twitter post by Haramzadeler. Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul are among the five most-followed world leaders on Twitter, with more than 8.4 million combined followers.

YouTube’s Mercy

The prime minister focused instead on the linked sites, usually on YouTube, where followers can find recordings, photographs and police records. And he mentioned Facebook (FB), which has 34 million active users in Turkey.

“We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook,” he said in the interview, and said he would make a decision on any ban after the March 30 elections.

Turks will choose between mayoral candidates from Erdogan’s AK Party and the opposition CHP, which has used the information leaked by Haramzadeler to attack Erdogan on the floor of parliament and in campaign speeches around the country.

While the authenticity of the recordings or the police records couldn’t be independently verified, Erdogan and his government have addressed the allegations in a lawsuit, in parliament and on the campaign trail. Speaking across Turkey, the prime minister has dismissed some of the recordings as fake, embraced one as “natural” and has said of the entire investigation that it is sparked by “foreign powers.”

Prime Thief

Haramzadeler hasn’t said where the recordings and documents come from. The posts call them court-ordered wiretaps, conducted by the police under the direction of a prosecutor. The results of that investigation, which became public on Dec. 17 when dozens of people related to Erdogan’s government were arrested, haven’t been officially released.

Another account, Bascalan, a play on the Turkish word for prime minister that means Prime Thief, sends out additional files. The user doesn’t say whether the wiretaps posted were authorized by law enforcement.

In Istanbul, Turkey’s richest and most populous city, Haramzadeler’s tweets are followed avidly, said about a dozen people interviewed in coffee shops in the city’s center.

“He’s a true hero,” said Asla, a mid-30s advertising executive who asked that her name not be used because she didn’t want to publicly criticize the government. “Everywhere in the news there are nothing but lies, but I trust these things because I can hear them, see them and show them to my parents and my friends.” Her laptop lay on the table in front of her at the outdoor cafe, open to her Twitter account.

Changing Handles

Through all of this, Haramzadeler has remained nameless, changing Twitter handles as the previous ones are spammed by government supporters. The user also shuffles the websites used to display material and recently started adding web proxies to the links. Those shield followers from exposing their own identities when they follow the links.

The user didn’t respond to a request for comment sent to a website mentioned in the Twitter bio. A spokesman for Facebook Inc. declined to comment. Nu Wexler, a spokesman for Twitter, declined comment, as did Ozlem Oz, the Turkey communications manager for Google Inc. (GOOG), owner of YouTube.

Haramzadeler has remained prolific as the government has stalled the investigation by replacing prosecutors and thousands of police officers. Last weekend alone, he posted about alleged bribes to bank executives, domestic spying and the purchase with loaned money of a cargo ship named “Pretty.”

Sons of Thieves Tweet Secrets While Erdogan Scolds YouTube – Bloomberg.

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