Tag Archives: Prime minister

Turkish PM’s aide granted sick leave for ‘trauma’ after kicking mine tragedy mourner

Photo taken on May 14, 2014shows a person identified by Turkish media as Yusuf Yerkel, advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, kicking a protester already held by special forces police members during Erdogan’s visit to Soma, Turkey.

A top aide to the Turkish PM, Ysuf Yerkel, has been given a week’s sick leave for “leg trauma” he sustained after kicking a mourner following Turkey’s worst mining disaster in history.

A picture of Yerkel kicking a protester who was being restrained by two security force members emerged last week following the official visit of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to the town of Soma in the wake of the mining disaster on May 13.

The image caused furor on the internet from an enraged public many of whom believed the government has dealt with the tragedy in an insensitive way.

On the same day as the incident, Yerkel saw a doctor at the Anakara Ataturk Training and Research Hospital, reported Turkish news agency Hurriyet, citing a medical report. Yerkel complained of a pain in his right knee, but told Dr. Servan Gokhan that it had come about after a fall. The aide was subsequently diagnosed with soft tissue trauma and granted a week of medical leave.

“There are 10×10 cm edema, bruises and soft tissue panicula on the right knee, and bruises and soft tissue swelling on the left shoulder and front of the chest. The patient has been diagnosed with soft tissue trauma as there is sensitivity with leg and arm movements and difficulty with walking,” the medical report said.

Yerkel claims that he was acting in self-defense, and that the man whom he kicked had attacked him. He also denounced the “provocations and insults” he had received and refused to apologize to his victim.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (C) walks during his visit to Soma, a district in Turkey’s western province of Manisa, after a coal mine explosion May 14, 2014.

“I have been deeply saddened by the incident that occurred in Soma on May 14. I am sorry for being unable to keep calm despite all of the provocations, insults and attacks I faced on that day,” said Yerkel, according to Anadolu Agency.

Witness accounts paint a different picture of the event. Hurriyet reports that Special Forces were interrogating the man after he kicked a vehicle in the prime minister’s convoy. When Yerkel saw the scene he reportedly ran over to the man and kicked him three or four times.

An explosion caused carbon monoxide to inundate a mine in the Western town of Soma, killing at least 302 people on May 13. In the wake of the tragedy Prime Minister Erdogan promised “no stone would be left unturned” in the investigation to ascertain what caused the disaster.

“Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” Erdogan told mourners in Soma last week.

His words were met by public anger and mass protests across Turkey.

Allegations of negligence have been leveled at the owners of the mine who claimed that they had adhered to safety protocol. On Monday a Turkish court arrested eight people in connection with the incident, including Ramazan Dogru, general manager of Soma Coal Mining Company, and Chief Executive Can Gurkan, the son of company owner Alp Gurkan.

The last mining accident on this scale in Turkey was recorded in 1992 when a firedamp blast killed 263 in Zonguldak.

General view of a coal mine site after an explosion in Soma, a district in Turkey’s western province of Manisa May 14, 2014.

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Former Israeli PM Olmert sentenced to six years in jail for corruption

Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Tel Aviv District Court in Israel, Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Tel Aviv District Court in Israel, Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel’s ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in jail on Tuesday for taking bribes in a massive real estate deal, a crime the judge said was akin to treason.

The first criminal conviction of a former Israeli head of government all but ended speculation that Olmert – a centrist credited internationally with working towards a peace settlement with the Palestinians – might return to political life.

He had denied any wrongdoing in the property deal that took place while he was in his previous post of Jerusalem mayor.

“A public servant who takes bribes is akin to a traitor,” said Judge David Rozen of the Tel Aviv District Court.

“(Olmert) is a criminal who devoted most of his time to praise-worthy public service. (But) he also lined his own pockets,” he said in passing sentence.

Rozen ordered Olmert to report to prison on September 1, effectively giving his lawyers time to lodge what they said would be an appeal to the Supreme Court and a request that he remain free until it rules.

Two years ago, the veteran politician was acquitted of most of the major charges brought against him in separate cases involving his links to a U.S. businessman.

Those corruption allegations forced Olmert’s resignation as prime minister in 2008, and his acquittal had appeared to position him for a possible political comeback.

But in the new corruption trial, Rozen found Olmert guilty on March 31 of two bribery charges and said he accepted 500,000 shekels ($144,000) from developers of the Holyland apartment building complex in Jerusalem and 60,000 shekels in a separate real estate project.

On Tuesday, the judge granted the prosecution’s request for a six-year jail term.

NETANYAHU CRITIC

Olmert has made several criticisms of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s policies toward the Palestinians, fuelling talk about his future political ambitions.

But in sentencing Olmert, the judge said his crimes entailed “moral turpitude”, which under Israeli law would preclude him from running for any public office for seven years after finishing his jail term.

A lawyer by profession, Olmert began his political career in the 1970s as a legislator who targeted organized crime in Israel.

He served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 and as prime minister from 2006 to 2009, staying in office in a caretaker capacity until after an election that brought right-winger Netanyahu to power.

As prime minister, Olmert waged war against militants in Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza Strip in 2008.

He claimed significant progress in talks with the Palestinians aimed at securing a final peace deal, offering an Israeli withdrawal from much of the occupied West Bank. But no agreement was reached.

After a three-year break, U.S.-brokered negotiations resumed in July, but they were frozen last month by Netanyahu after President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Organization signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates Israel’s destruction.

Palestinians blamed Netanyahu for the collapse, citing Israeli settlement-building and his failure to carry out a pledged prisoner release.

Olmert was among 13 defendants in the Holyland case, which revolved around the construction of a hulking, hilltop housing project widely regarded as Jerusalem’s worst eyesore.

Sentences handed down on Tuesday against six of the other accused ranged from three to seven years.

In 2010, a former Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, was convicted on rape charges. He is serving a seven-year sentence.

 

President George W. Bush exchanges handshakes ...

President George W. Bush exchanges handshakes with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel during their meeting Tuesday, May 23, 2006, in the Oval Office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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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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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A Guide to Turkey’s Tape Scandal

ISTANBUL–As Turkey prepares for crucial local elections March 30, the country has been convulsed by the release of recordings of private conversations of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and media executives, bureaucrats and businessmen.

Mr. Erdogan says his private conversations were wiretapped and confirmed the authenticity of some of the dozens of recordings, but says many have been edited to distort their meaning as part of a plot by his one-time political ally Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish imam with millions of followers. Mr. Gulen has repeatedly denied any involvement and the movement’s representative said on Monday he had “nothing to do with the tapes.” Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman did not respond to calls for comment.

The recordings have been posted on social media, including YouTube and TwitterTWTR +0.89%, by accounts with the usernames Haramzadeler (the Sons of Sinners) and Bascalan (the Prime Swindler), but no one has claimed responsibility. Here is a look at recordings that have received the most attention.

The Cash

The most explosive tape, published Feb. 25, purports to show a conversation between the prime minister and his son, Bilal, discussing how to hide tens of millions of dollars in cash stored in the family’s home. The tape was alleged by the Prime Swindler to have been secretly recorded on the morning of Dec. 17, the first day of a sprawling corruption probe in which dozens of the premier’s allies, including three former ministers’ sons, were arrested on allegations of corruption.

On the tape, a voice alleged to be that of the prime minister instructs a person identified as his son to get rid of all the money, preferably after dark to avoid attention. The other speaker, purportedly his son, says he has moved everything except €30 million ($41.6 million), which is proving difficult to shift.

The prime minister has labeled the recording an “immoral montage,” and voiced anger at having his phone secretly wiretapped. The younger Mr. Erdogan has remained quiet through the scandal, and did not respond to calls for comment through his wholesale food company.

Pro-government media went to recording studios in the U.S. and asked them to assess the tapes. Employees at the studios had no clue they had been involved in a Turkish political scandal, and though they reported the tapes had been edited they later said their analyses had been misused.

The Court Case

On March 4, the Prime Swindler published a tape accompanied by tweets alleging it showed that Mr. Erdogan meddled with a high-profile tax case against a government critic five years ago. Mr. Erdogan appears to tell Turkey’s then justice minister, Sadullah Ergin, of his disappointment with the acquittal of media mogul, Aydin Dogan, in a trial over price gouging.

The prime minister appears to complain that Mr. Ergin had not followed the case closely enough. The men then appear to discuss in detail the prospects for reversing the decision.

A person close to Mr. Dogan said the case apparently discussed on the tape concerned charges brought against his company by Turkey’s Capital Markets Board for allegedly causing losses to investors by overcharging its subsidiaries for products sold by a Dogan-owned firm. The case continues despite the company being acquitted several times in separate courts, the person said.

Mr. Dogan, who was involved in a public row with Mr. Erdogan, has also received a handful of fines over tax irregularities that included one for $2.5 billion. They were eventually reduced by a large amount through court appeals and a government restructuring program.

Mr. Dogan’s company issued a statement the day after the tape was released, saying it would “further shake the judicial system in Turkey” if it was authentic.

Last week, Mr. Erdogan confirmed he discussed the case with Mr. Ergin, but said “it was only natural” to urge the justice minister to follow it more closely because it contained “dangerous” details, though he did not elaborate on what they were. He says the recording was “put together piece by piece.”

In an interview last week with CNN Turk, Mr. Ergin said the conversation was taken out of context by editing, and that he and Mr. Erdogan were discussing complaints over alleged manipulation of court documents they were trying to figure out how to correct.

The Ship Contract

On March 4, the Prime Swindler published a tape and alleged it contained conversations between Mr. Erdogan and a shipyard owner, Metin Kalkavan, in which the prime minister appears to manipulate a tendering process.

The Prime Swindler alleged the conversation was recorded shortly after the Turkish military awarded a $2.5 billion warship-construction contract to Koc HoldingKCHOL.IS +0.49%, a Turkish conglomerate that criticized Mr. Erdogan’s government during antigovernment protests last summer.

In the recording, Mr. Kalkavan, owner of the Sedef Gemi Insaat shipbuilding company, appears to tell Mr. Erdogan he had not officially applied for the bid in writing, but the premier tells him he should formally complain about an unfair bidding process. Mr. Kalkavan appears to promise he would enter a bid if it were reopened.

In the end, the bid was canceled and the contract was taken up by the Turkish navy, which has started work on building the ships.

Shortly after the cancellation, a separate $3 billion government shipbuilding contract was offered to Mr. Kalkavan and Spanish Navantia, a Spanish state-owned shipbuilding company.

Last week, Mr. Erdogan confirmed at least part of the recording, saying it was natural for him to advise someone to file a complaint to reverse wrongdoing. “As a result of the lawsuit, the bid is canceled. And the state earns a hundred, two hundred million dollars,” he said, in a reference to the navy contract.

“They are as lowly as to wiretap this conversation,” he said in a televised speech, referring to followers of Mr. Gulen.

According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, Mr. Kalkavan confirmed the conversation, but stressed it was “wrong to make conclusions based on just some parts of it.”  A spokesman for Spanish Navantia said the company had no doubt it won the tender based on the strength of its product.

The Media

The Sons of Sinners published a series of tapes, the first on Feb. 4, in which government officials allegedly order media bosses to change headlines, censor opposition politicians’ speeches and write stories planted by officials. According to the tapes, the orders were apparently executed without resistance.

Mr. Erdogan did not challenge their authenticity and directly confirmed one recording in which he personally called a media executive to order the removal of headlines from an opposition speech as he watched them airing on TV. “Yes, I made the call… because there were insults against us, against the prime minister… and they did what was necessary,” Mr. Erdogan said in televised remarks mid-February. “We have to also teach them these things. Because the insults were not normal.”

The content of many tapes was confirmed by Turkish editor in chief Fatih Altayli, who said in a television interview that the government would regularly interfere with the content published in his newspaper, Haberturk.

A Guide to Turkey’s Tape Scandal – Emerging Europe Real Time – WSJ.

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