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RFI goes behind-the-scenes of one of the week's major stories.
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Erdogan’s local election defeat reshapes Turkey’s political landscape

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's worst electoral defeat in nationwide municipal elections has changed Turkey's political landscape. However, the Opposition's victory came at an awkward time. Turkey's Western allies were looking to strengthen ties with the Turkish President.  Turkey's main opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party) gains in nationwide local elections are a significant reversal of the party's fortunes after Erdogan's resounding reelection last May."After the opposition's loss in the May elections, everybody thought the opposition was in a state of despair," explains Can Selcuki, head of Istanbul polling firm Economics Research."But that doesn't seem to be the case, and it's a turning point for the Turkish political landscape."It's the first time since 1977 that CHP has managed to come out number one in the popular vote."Threat of authoritarianismWith much of the media under his control and the judiciary targeting dissent, critics claim Erdogan's grip on power is tightening.Addressing supporters on election night Ekrem Imamoglu, the re-elected CHP mayor for Istanbul who Erdogan personally tried to unseat, claimed his victory was a stand against the global threat of authoritarianism."Today is a pivotal moment not only for Istanbul, but for democracy itself. As we celebrate our victory, we send a message that will reverberate worldwide,” Imamoglu told thousands of jubilant supporters."Democracy's decline is now ending," continued the mayor, "Istanbul stands as a beacon of hope, a testament to the resilience of democratic values in the face of growing authoritarianism." Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for Istanbul Turkey's embattled civil society fears worst as foreign funding dries u Prosecutor seeks prison terms for alleged PKK members on trial in ParisMuted reactionsDespite this,Turkey's Western allies' response to the CHP's resounding victory was muted."There were no congratulations extended, even to Turkey's democracy, let alone to the opposition itself," Sezin Oney, a commentator for Turkey's Politikyol news portal, said.“[This] is a big contrast compared to the May elections because right after the May elections, the Western leaders, one after the other, extended their congratulations to Erdogan."So there is a recognition that Erdogan is here to stay, and they don't want to make him cross. And given that there is the Ukraine war on one side and the Gaza war on the other, they want a stable Turkey.”Turkey's location, bordering the Middle East and Russia, makes Ankara a critical ally for Europe and the United States in international efforts to control migration and contain Russia.Ahead of the March polls, Erdogan had been engaged in rapprochement with his Western allies, with Washington even inviting the Turkish President for a summit in May.However, Erdogan could still pose a headache to his Western allies as he ramps up his nationalist rhetoric in the aftermath of his defeat."We are determined to show that terrorism has no place in the future of Türkiye and the region," Erdogan said Thursday. "With the recent elections, this determination has been further strengthened."Massive military offensiveMeanwhile, Erdogan has warned that his army is poised to launch a massive military offensive into Northern Iraq and Syria against the Kurdish group PKK, including affiliates that work with American forces in fighting the Islamic State.A crackdown on the PKK, analysts say, will play well with conservative nationalist voters. Those voters were the ones with which the opposition scored its biggest successes in Central Turkey – a region known as Anatolia - for the first time in a generation."CHP has never been successful in those places before. These are places that are considered to be religiously conservative, or at least conservative," Istar Gozaydin, a Turkish religion and state relations expert at Istanbul's Istinye University, said."And that's also valid for Central Anatolia. Central Anatolia is usually much more nationalist and much more religiously sensitive, but for the first time, they've been successful.”It is not the first time Erdogan has sought to play the nationalist card. After the 2015 general election in which the president's AK Party lost its parliamentary majority, Erdogan launched military operations against the PKK across Turkey's predominantly Kurdish region, leveling many city centres.Erdogan’s action resulted in his AK Party taking power in a second election later that year.Fix the economy"I'm sure there's a temptation," said analyst Can Selcuki, "but the facts on the ground do not allow it. Erdogan needs to fix the economy."Turkey's near 70% inflation and 50% interest rates, were widely seen as key factors in AK Party's defeat. But analyst Sezin Oney of Turkey's Politikyol news portal says a new conflict could change the political rules of the game."The economy is a concern, but there is a war psyche, then he [Erdogan] might be propagating," Oney added..Some Turkish analysts say the opposition victory will be viewed privately as inconvenient by some of Turkey's Western allies coming at a time of growing cooperation with Erdogan, with the fear now that Erdogan's resounding defeat could make the Turkish leader unpredictable at a critical time in both the Middle East and Russia's war with Ukraine.
4/9/20247 minutes, 6 seconds
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Turkey looks for regional help in its battle against Kurdish rebels in Iraq

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to end the threat posed by Kurdish rebel group the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for decades. As Turkey prepares to launch a major military operation against the organisation in Iraq, it is looking to other governments in the region for support. Turkish forces have been carrying out military operations in northern Iraq for the last two years against bases of the PKK, which has been fighting for Kurdish minority rights in Turkey for decades.But Erdogan is now vowing to permanently end the threat posed by the PKK and its affiliates in neighbouring Syria."We have preparations that will give new nightmares to those who think that they will bring Turkey to its knees with a 'Terroristan' along our southern borders," the Turkish president bellowed earlier this month.According to Mesut Casin, a presidential adviser and professor of international politics at Istanbul's Yeditepe University, the military operation is expected to take aim at PKK targets along the more than 300km border that Turkey shares with Iraq."By securing the Iraq border, Turkey is expected to create a 40km new security corridor, similar to the one in Syria," he said.But Casin also stressed that, to end the PKK threat, Ankara is looking beyond military means to a new model of military and diplomatic cooperation with the leaders of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.Regional cooperationAnkara got a boost in its war against the PKK this month when Baghdad banned the Kurdish group.Erdogan is also developing close ties with the leadership of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan regional government in Erbil.Such cooperation is seen as vital to Ankara's goal of eradicating the PKK threat."Turkey will focus on the capacity of Iraqi security forces, together with the Kurdish regional government's Peshmerga [Iraqi Kurdish soldiers]," explained Murat Aslan, an analyst with Turkish think tank the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research."Turkey wants a full encirclement of all PKK members in Iraq and then to destroy them, neutralise them," Aslan said.New leverageIn April, Erdogan is scheduled to visit both Erbil and Baghdad, where the PKK is expected to top the agenda.Enhanced bilateral trade and increasing international transit trade through Iraq to Turkey is seen as giving Erdogan new leverage with Baghdad."The carrot is the new so-called 'Development Road', which will connect Basra port to to the Turkish border, to Habur or to a new border gate," said Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat who served in Iraq."Perhaps it will have a railroad, then a parallel highway, which will bring billions of US dollars to Baghdad's coffers," continued Selcen, now a regional analyst for Turkey's Medyascope news portal. "For that project to be realistic, there should be stability and security in Iraq. So in a way, Ankara wishes to repackage the combat against PKK within that project." France becomes first EU country to open visa service in Mosul, IraqIran questionHowever, analysts predict Iran's cooperation will also be needed, given that the PKK headquarters are located in the mountainous Qandil region."Why is Iran important? Because the Qandil mountains are not only in Iraq. They are divided between Iran and Iraq," explained analyst Aslan. Four decades later, veterans of the Iran-Iraq war still can't forget"Whenever an operation is planned and implemented in the region, [the PKK] go to Iran, enjoy a safe haven, and come back," he said."So this campaign should be complemented by Iranian efforts, but it's not guaranteed. We will see what happens."With the rivalry between Turkey and Iran increasing across the region, Tehran may be reluctant to accommodate Ankara's demands. That could add to ongoing bilateral tensions, giving the PKK room to escape the tightening Turkish grip.
3/30/20244 minutes, 10 seconds
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With Somalia naval deal, Turkey steers into strategic but volatile region

A naval agreement between Turkey and Somalia positions the Turkish navy in a strategically vital region, underlining Ankara's growing ambitions at sea. But analysts warn that the deal threatens to escalate tensions with Somalia's neighbour, Ethiopia. Under a ten-year defence agreement ratified earlier this month, the Turkish navy will help protect Somalia's territorial waters and facilitate training and equipment for the Somali navy.The deal is just the latest step in Ankara's deepening relationship with Mogadishu."Not only is this the location of Turkey's largest international military base, it's also the location of Turkey's largest embassy in the world," explains Norman Ricklefs, chair of multinational consultancy group Namea."This shows the importance Turkey has placed on Somalia, and rebuilding Somalia as a major state in the Horn of Africa, and making Somalia's future success part of Turkey's broader strategic goals in eastern Africa in the Red Sea region," he says.Turkey also signed an energy exploration deal with Somalia this month. The East African country is believed to have major oil and gas reserves both on land and within its territorial waters.Blue-water navy Experts see the deepening of ties with Somalia as part of growing international competition for influence in this strategically vital region."This will provide Turkey an opportunity to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa," says Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu, an associate professor of African studies at Ankara's Social Sciences University."Because all those external countries – Gulf countries, Western countries... even Japan – have bases in Djibouti, they are all vying to increase their development in the region, especially for economic purposes. So this is also an opportunity for Turkey," she says.The Somali deal comes as Ankara rapidly expands its navy's so-called "blue-water" capabilities – the ability to operate on the open oceans, far from the country's home ports.Turkey has built up a fleet of energy research ships and a growing navy."[Naval expansion] focuses on the projection of Turkish military capacity in the maritime domain – both in protecting its own exclusive economic zones and waters, while also helping its allies and partners to do the same," explains Sine Ozkarasahin, an independent defence analyst."And Somalia has been facing an increased threat of piracy."Tensions with EthiopiaTurkey's deepening military ties with Somalia come as the Horn of Africa nation faces tension with its neighbour, Ethiopia.In January, Ethiopia infuriated Somalia by signing an agreement with the breakaway region of Somaliland, giving Addis Ababa long-desired sea access.But Mehmet Ozkan of the Turkish National Defence University says Ankara is well placed to contain any fallout, given its ties with Ethiopia. "Military cooperation, personal cooperation, the personal relationship between the leaders – I think relations are pretty good," he says."Because in the region everybody is looking for security cooperation, and it's same for Ethiopia... Turkey is a security provider for Ethiopia as well." Turkey and Italy consider teaming up to seek new influence in Africa'Drone diplomacy'With Turkish-made military drones widely used by both the Ethiopian and Somali militaries in their wars against insurgencies, Ankara's so-called "drone diplomacy" has been instrumental in balancing its relations with rivals."Turkey has also probably supplied some drones to Somalia – which are operated by Turkish operators, not Somalis – but they've been useful in the conflict against Al-Shabaab," explains analyst Ricklefs."I know Turkey has a good relationship with Ethiopia. It has a good relationship with Somalia. So its presence in Somalia is more likely than not – given Turkey's broader strategic aims in the region – to have a stabilising effect rather than a destabilising effect," he argues. Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in AfricaHowever, Africa expert Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu warns that, given the region's volatility, Ankara will still need to tread carefully."In the long run, this might lead to Turkey's involvement in regional conflicts. This is what Turkey was trying to avoid in its Africa policy: it does not want to be a part of African conflicts, but it might be dragged into [them]," she says.As Turkey extends its influence in one of the most volatile parts of the world, analysts suggest Ankara will need to perfect its diplomatic balancing skills.
3/23/20245 minutes, 19 seconds
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Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for Istanbul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading a battle to regain control of Istanbul in hotly contested local elections this month. However, opposition media is warning about deepfake videos in campaign ads, while international rights groups are voicing alarm over social media companies' willingness to comply with Turkish censorship ahead of the critical polls. Polls show the elections are going to be a tight contest. But as Erdogan's AK Party steps up efforts to regain control of Istanbul, an artificial intelligence-generated video of incumbent mayor Ekrem Imamoglu praising Erdogan for his achievements in Istanbul has been circulating on social media. Independent media warn of the threat of fake news, as mainstream media, which is mostly under government control, are not verifying the authenticity of the videos.Deepfake videos"Deepfake videos are usually not posted on news sites, but they reach millions of people as advertisements. These stick to the candidate." explains Hikmet Adal , social media editor at Bianet, an independent news portal."The voting segment in Turkey is 40 million. When you ask people if Ekrem Imamoglu actually said this, they will say 'he did' because they only follow the mainstream media," added Adal.During last year's presidential elections, Erdogan used a video falsely showing his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu with leaders of the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish government.Yaman Akdeniz of Turkey's Freedom of Expression Association fears more fake news videos will appear as election day draws closer."We will witness more of these leading into the local elections, which is of course a major concern," warns Akdeniz,"And there were some examples of that prior to the May 2023 general elections. A photo of the opposition leader came out with PKK leaders. Even the president of Turkey commented , saying that he knows that it is fake, but they still used it."Turkey's small independent media sector, which is crucial to the exposing of fake news is facing increasing pressure from Turkish authorities. Much of their news is blocked on social media."What we've seen is that very, very often material, mainly news on social media, is removed and blocked online," explains Emma Sinclair-Webb senior Turkey researcher of Human Rights Watch. Call for actionHuman Rights Watch was among 22 international rights groups calling on social media companies to stand up to Turkish authorities' demands for removal of postings."It's very concerning to see that authorities are willing to clamp down on free speech, but social media companies themselves are not robust enough to stand up to this pressure," added Sinclair-Webb,"We want them to be more transparent and to work together in raising concerns about requests by Turkey to block content that is clearly within the boundaries of freedom of expression and also to contest others in court in Turkey. " Turkey's presidential challenger faces uphill battle to unite opposition Volunteer army of election monitors prepare to protect Turkey's voteA growing number of prosecutions of independent media under a new disinformation law adds to the pressures they face. Many Turks are now turning to international news platforms.But Turkish authorities are blocking internet access to foreign news sources which broadcast in Turkish like Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.These portals are only accessible by a virtual private network, or VPN, which circumvents the ban. But now, some of the most widely used VPNs also face restrictions.  Attack on football referee exposes anti-elite resentment in divided Turkey "Restricting access to the internet has become a sort of playbook for regimes and authoritarian governments. And so we see across the world an increase in VPN usage, especially in countries like this, like Turkey," said Antonio Cesarano of Proton, a VPN provider. "It's a cat-and-mouse game. We will try our best to keep fighting and to keep investing in technology that can bring people back online."Turkish based independent news providers  warn they are facing a losing battle in verifying fake news."As  alternative media, it is not possible for us to fight against this," said Bianet, social media editor Adal."Our teams are very limited to 20 people, maybe 15 people, at maximum. But there is an army behind this.With opinion polls indicating the Istanbul election too close to call, analysts warn the danger of fake news is likely to grow along with pressure on independent news.
3/16/20246 minutes, 23 seconds
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Turkey and Italy consider teaming up to seek new influence in Africa

Turkey and Italy are finding common ground as both countries seek to expand their economic and diplomatic influence in Africa. The two nations are eyeing opportunities to cooperate on security, energy and migration as France's traditional influence on the continent wanes. This month, Somalia's parliament ratified an agreement with Turkey to provide naval protection and assistance in building a Somali navy, another step in Turkey's efforts to expand its African presence."With this pact, Turkey will protect the Somali coast from pirates, terrorists – anyone that violates our maritime borders, like Ethiopia," declared Abdifatah Kasim, Somalia's deputy defence minister. The defence deal was followed by a bilateral agreement on energy exploration in Somalia.Ankara's growing influence in the region was underscored by a strong African presence at Turkey's annual Antalya Diplomacy Forum, with seven African heads of state, seven prime ministers and 25 foreign ministers in attendance.In January, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hosted African leaders at a summit in Rome, where she unveiled plans to expand Italy's influence on the continent."Our future inevitably depends on the future of the African continent. We are aware of this, and we want to do our part," Meloni declared."That's why we have decided to launch an ambitious programme of interventions that can help the continent grow and prosper, starting from its immense resources." Italy targets energy, migration with 'non-predatory' plan for AfricaCommon ground in LibyaAnalysts say both countries are considering cooperating as a means of achieving their Africa goals."Italy is trying to fulfil a position that Western countries in some way left over the last decades, while Turkey has already been in Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa," observes Alessia Chiriatti of the Institute of International Affairs, an Italian think tank."The main issues for confrontation or cooperation – we will see – will be migration, energy issues, and, of course, the economic development of these countries," she says.Also in January, Meloni met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. The meeting included talks on Africa, with a focus on cooperation in Libya – a country where experts say Ankara has considerable influence, including a military base.The North African nation is a main transit route for migrants seeking to enter Europe, mainly through Italy. Tunisia brush-off augurs badly for EU push for African migration dealsItaly, France and other European countries see that as a "huge threat", according to Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu of the African Studies Department at Ankara's Social Sciences University."So there is room to cooperate in this area and to prevent the illegal flow of migrants, and cooperate in the security area as well."On Tuesday, the Italian and Turkish defence ministers held talks in Ankara. Exploiting Libya's vast energy reserves is also potential common ground.France on the outsMeanwhile the recent ousting of regimes sympathetic to France in Niger, Mali and Gabon – and with it, the withdrawal of French forces – has severely weakened France's historical political and economic influence in West Africa.That offers an opportunity to Italy and Turkey."Italy could have an important cooperation with Turkey in order to take advantage of the position left aside by some countries like France, like Germany, like the other Western countries in Africa," says analyst Chiriatti."But it will also depend on the bilateral agenda and bilateral interests expressed by Turkey and Italy," she adds. "That's not always the same. So in this sense, we need to see what will happen in the future step by step." Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in AfricaBusiness opportunitiesChiriatti warns that cooperation can easily turn into rivalry in business. But Africa's vast economic potential is seen as offering plenty of room for partnership."There are several areas where Turkey can cooperate with other countries, including European countries, because Turkish companies are trying to increase their investments," says Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu."They would like to gain new contracts for large projects, et cetra. Africa is in desperate need of infrastructure. There's a huge energy deficit and infrastructure gap in the whole continent," she notes.With Italy and Turkey lacking the financial muscle of other influential players on the continent – notably China – both countries have powerful incentives to focus on potential partnership in their bid to expand their influence in Africa.
3/9/20245 minutes, 42 seconds
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Islamic State attack on Istanbul church raises fear of further terror

Heavily armed police are protecting churches across Istanbul day and night after an Islamic State attack on a Catholic church in Istanbul. The terrorist group has warned of further attacks against Christians and Jews. Turkish security forces have detained hundreds of suspects in the aftermath of January's deadly attack on Santa Maria Catholic Church in the Sariyer district, which killed one person.The death toll could have been considerably higher if the gunmen's automatic weapons had not jammed.The Islamic State group claimed responsibility in a statement that warned it was targeting Jews and Christians in Turkey. Istanbul's small Christian community, although fearful, remains defiant."It's not necessary to be a member of the congregation to be frightened. It's something that would terrify anyone," declared Ilhan Guzelis after attending his local church service."We're scared, but believe me, we've never hesitated to come to our church, to worship here, and to pray to God."Game of cat and mouseTwo men, a Russian and a Tajik national, have been arrested for carrying out the attack, while over a hundred others have been detained across the country.  Experts say Turkish security forces are now engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the terror group also known as Isis or Daesh. "This is a mutual competition between the security forces and terrorist cells," Murat Aslan of the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (Seta) told RFI."Both sides will try to identify or deceive each other. And in this case, I believe the Daesh terrorists were skilful, at least to bypass the security measures."Aslan warns the job is becoming harder for Turkey's security forces as the face of Islamic State evolves. He cites changes to assailants' personal appearance, for example: recent attackers have worn regular clothes and shaved their beards, which helps them blend into a crowd."They are regular citizens. So it's not that much easier to distinguish exactly who is radical or not, for instance. In the latest incident in the church, the individuals were like regular citizens," he said.Turkish targetsAdding to security woes is the proximity of Turkey to Syrian territory once held by Islamic State and other radical jihadist groups."There are armed groups in Turkey. They still have baggage in Turkey, the remnants of the armed groups inside Turkey, even Isis remnants back from the Syrian war," claims Sezin Oney of the Politikyol news portal.The last time Islamic State successfully carried out a major attack in Turkey was in 2017, when a gunman went on the rampage during New Year celebrations, killing 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub.But Aslan warns that Turkey offers numerous targets."The church attack was really significant in terms of the potential of Daesh," he says."Turkey hosts a lot of churches and Jewish holy sites. Once [terrorists] enjoy a presence here and set up hidden cells, they can easily select a target."Fears for tourist seasonWith Turkey's lucrative tourism season only a month or so away, bringing with it further potential targets for Islamic State, the government security crackdown is predicted to intensify.Christians like Guzelis have mixed feelings over the presence of such patrols around the city's churches."After such an incident, it is good for us that [the police] come here to protect us here again, even as a presence; we are grateful for this," he says."I wish that there would be no such matters, that everyone would live together here as brothers and sisters. But we are sorry for what happened; it creates a bitterness in us."Read also: As Turkey bombards Kurdish forces in Syria, is the US preparing to pull out? With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil
3/3/20244 minutes, 35 seconds
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Will Turkey ditch Russian missiles for US military jets?

As Turkey's rapprochement with the United States gathers pace, the future of Turkish-purchased Russian S-400 missiles is increasingly in question. The missile deal is a potent symbol of Ankara's close ties with Moscow, but Washington is offering to sell Turkey its advanced F35 military jet for the removal of the Russian weapons. Ankara was kicked out of the jet program after it purchased Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington said compromised the F-35's stealth technology.Now Turkey's purchase of the advanced F-35 military jet could be back on the agenda.Acting deputy of Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, during a visit to Istanbul last month, offered to revive the jet sale if the Russian missiles were removed.Along with the $2.5 billion (€2.3 billion) price tag for the Russian missiles, Ankara paid a heavy price militarily and economically by being expelled from the F-35 program.Founding partnerTurkey was one of the founding partners of the jet program, with Turkish companies building numerous parts for the plane.Diplomatically the missile sale created a deep divide between Turkey and its NATO partners, raising questions over its allegiance to the Western military alliance."After the purchase of the anti-aircraft missiles, which was unprecedented, some people in [President] Erdogan's cabinet also admitted this was a big mistake," says Onur Isci, a Russian affairs expert at Istanbul's Kadir Has University told RFI."Turkey's purchase of the S-400s was a very costly endeavor." The escaping Russians finding a better life in TurkeyThe S-400 missile sale was a powerful symbol of deepening Russian Turkish ties and deteriorating relations with Washington.The sale came in the aftermath of Ankara's accusations of Washington's involvement in the 2016 failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first leaders to offer Erdogan support during the attempted putsch.Important symbolWhile the Russian missiles sit unused in a warehouse, they remain an important symbol of Erdogan's close ties to Putin, making their removal difficult for the Turkish president."The buying of the S-400 air defence system from Russia was a diplomatic catastrophe of historical magnitude," says former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, now a regional analyst."Unfortunately, it is not possible. I am led to believe that Erdogan will walk back from that mistake ... It was an unforced error. It was an own goal, whichever metaphor you like." Turkey's bid to join EU back on the table at upcoming summitHowever, US-Turkish ties are improving with Ankara's ratification of Sweden's NATO membership and Washington's reciprocating by allowing the sale of F16 jets to Turkey.But the F16 is inferior to the F35, which neighbor and rival Greece is set to purchase as part of its military modernisation, causing alarm in Ankara."When you read Turkey's hawks, everybody is afraid that the air force balance over the Aegean is not tilting or is going to be tilting in favor of Greece," warns Soli Ozel, who teaches international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University. Waiting gameWhether Ankara takes up Washington's offer of F-35 jets in exchange for removing the Russian-made missiles – possibly to a Turkish ally like Azerbaijan, Qatar, or even Libya – depends on the progress of improving relations with the United States."It's very important if we see any more moves from Washington," says Yoruk Isik, a geopolitical analyst in Istanbul with the Washington-based Middle East Institute. "The F35 was the first signal in years that that was a really positive signal from Washington. Ankara is waiting to hear the continuation of that message."Erdogan's close ties with Putin have benefited Turkey in deferments on energy payments for Russian energy. The Turkish leader is predicted to be looking to Washington to pay a high price to remove the Russian weapons. "Turkey can easily renounce on S-400; it's a political decision, it's not a military necessity," said Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute, a research organisation in Ankara.  "So far, the S-400 has helped Turkey to increase the level of negotiations with NATO and the United States of America."Ankara's purchase of Russian missiles was widely seen as a diplomatic triumph for Moscow, dividing Turkey from its NATO allies.Their removal would be a similarly significant victory for Washington.
2/25/20244 minutes, 51 seconds
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Turkey and Egypt turn page on decade of friction with show of friendship

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Cairo this week formally ended more than a decade of animosity with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with the two leaders committing their countries to a new era of cooperation. A military band and gun salute welcomed Erdogan when he arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, as Sisi rolled out the red carpet for his Turkish counterpart.Not long ago, the two leaders were more used to exchanging angry barbs. But now the talk is about cooperation to prevent Israel's looming military offensive against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip and the growing humanitarian crisis there."We will continue the cooperation and solidarity with our Egyptian brothers for the bloodshed in Gaza to stop," Erdogan declared at a joint press conference with Sisi."In the medium term, we are ready to work with Egypt for Gaza to recover and be rebuilt."Decade-long riftBilateral relations plunged into a deep freeze after Sisi ousted Erdogan's close ally, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 coup.Erdogan's visit to Cairo resulted from intense and ultimately successful diplomatic efforts to end years of antagonism between the leaders."Reconciliation, an official visit by the Turkish president to Egypt, a meeting there is in and of itself significant," observes international relations expert Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Istanbul's Kadir Has University."Given what transpired in the past, obviously, this is a major move on the part of both President Erdogan and President Sisi."Clampdown on critical mediaFor years, groups affiliated with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and critical of Sisi broadcast from Istanbul – further stoking tensions between Turkey and Egypt."These Political Islam-inspired narratives across the whole region are obviously something that is considered corrosive by the Egyptian government," says political scientist Jalel Harchaoui, of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.Harchaoui claims moves by Ankara to curtail opposition TV broadcasting in recent years facilitated the rapprochement with Cairo."It has always found a home in terms of being able to get broadcast across the region in Istanbul. But Erdogan was able to reduce these freedoms as part of his conversation with Cairo," Harchaoui says.Regional realignmentTurkey's deployment of troops in the Middle East and North Africa is also a point of tension with Cairo. Turkey and Egypt backed rival sides in the Libyan civil war.But Erdogan, speaking to the media with Sisi, pledged a new era of cooperation."We had the opportunity to evaluate the issues in Libya, Sudan and Somalia," the Turkish president said. "We give full support to the unity, togetherness, territorial integrity and peace of these three brotherly countries." What are Turkish troops and Syrian militia fighters doing in Libya?During his Cairo visit, Erdogan underlined that rapprochement with Sisi was part of a more comprehensive policy of repairing ties across the region."We never want to see conflict, tension, or crises in Africa, the Middle East or other places in our geography," Erdogan said."With this aim, we are determined to increase our contacts with Egypt at every level for the establishment of peace and stability in our region."Libya breakthrough?Turkey and Egypt are two of the region's powerhouses, and rivalry between the countries has only exacerbated conflicts in the region, particularly in Libya, argues Libyan security analyst Aya Burweila."In general, I think this is good," she said of their rapprochement. "I think it's helpful for Libya as well because both sides support different factions in Libya. And the stalemate has gone on for such a long time."It's about time that the existing powers figure out something that everybody can agree on, and there is a deal to be had." Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in AfricaBurweila believes Erdogan's rapprochement with Sisi and the broader region is also born out of the realisation that cooperation is more productive than rivalry."I think both parties realised that the best way forward is to cooperate and discuss, and that Turkey has realised that without economic partners in the Middle East, it cannot move forward," she said.Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, on a visit to Libya this month, stressed the importance of Erdogan's meetings in Cairo to secure Libya's long-term future.Erdogan and Sisi also discussed the development of the region's energy resources.Such cooperation, observers suggest, could mark a new era in bilateral relations between these two regional heavyweights.
2/17/20244 minutes, 53 seconds
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As Turkey bombards Kurdish forces in Syria, is the US preparing to pull out?

Turkish military forces are carrying out an air assault on US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria, and Ankara has warned that a land operation may follow. The crackdown comes amid reports that Washington may pull its forces out of Syria and Iraq. Turkey's government accuses Kurdish forces in north-eastern Syria of being linked to attacks on its army. Turkish drone strikes are bombarding oil refineries and electricity production in the Syrian border region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of ethnic militias and rebel groups."The targets are energy infrastructure and that sort of stuff. Obviously, the goal is to make that area not sustainable, as a sustainable haven for the SDF," says Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat and now regional analyst for the Medyascope news portal.The SDF's ranks include the Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) and Women's Protection Units (YPJ), which Ankara accuses of being affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The armed movement is considered a terrorist organisation by both Ankara and Washington."The end game as defined by the Turkish authorities is to prevent a terrorist statelet [being created] beyond Turkish borders," explains Selcen."This means allowing the PKK or its Syrian affiliates, the YPG and YPJ, to establish a local administration in that area. War on terror is perhaps the number one priority for this government." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month threatened a new land invasion into Syria.Turkish forces already control a large swathe of Syrian territory from previous operations against Syrian Kurdish forces.Possible US withdrawalThe SDF is backed by a US military force of around 900 soldiers in the war against the so-called Islamic State group, raising the possibility of a conflict between NATO and its allies.Ankara's ongoing assault comes amid reports that Washington is considering pulling its forces out of Syria and Iraq."Washington may be preparing to hand off SDF as a partner to the Syrian regime and saying: 'you guys sort yourselves out, we are actually going to leave'," said Turkey analyst Sinan Ciddi of the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies."The administration is apparently toying with the idea that it's no longer worth keeping US troops there because they are in harm's way," he said.At least some in the US administration want to explore, if they pulled their troops from northern Syria, "the extent to which Turkey could sort out its problems with the Kurds via engaging with the Syrian regime", Ciddi added.US-Turkey resetA US withdrawal from Syria would relieve years of tension between NATO allies Turkey and the United States."Unfortunately, this relationship with the United States and YPG creates a barrier between Turkey and the United States," said Bilgehan Alagoz, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Marmara University. "A NATO ally should not act against other allies' national concerns," she said. "That's the main reason why Turkey perceives US policy in Syria as a national security concern." Sweden deal unlikely to resolve bitter dispute between NATO and TurkeyWith Ankara last month lifting its veto on Sweden's NATO membership and the White House reciprocating by green-lighting the sale of military jets to Turkey, the NATO allies appear to be seeking to reset ties. Analyst Selcen warns time may be running out for the SDF."If the Americans leave, it will be very difficult for the SDF to survive unless they cut a deal with Damascus," Selcen said. "But the timing is of the essence, of course – they cannot get the same terms that they will get once the Americans leave."Damascus compromiseBut Selcen suggests if the SDF moves quickly, it could secure a deal with Damascus that ensures its survival – at least in the short term, given the weakness of the Syrian security forces."At the end of the day, they will have to come up with some kind of modus vivendi with [Syrian President Bashar Al] Assad. It does not mean that Assad will come to control this region again as he did. But they will have to come up with some sort of a solution with Damascus."There could equally be advantages for the Turkish government, he believes. Turkey lays the ground for a smoothing of relations with Syria"It will also be, in the end, a kind of a safe face-saving formula for Ankara, which can now take Damascus as the main interlocutor to deal with this [Kurdish problem]," Selcen said."All these sides will be very happy to see the American presence leave the region – with the exception of, of course, the Iraqi Kurds and the Syrian Kurds."Opposition to the US military presence in Syria is rare common ground between Ankara and Damascus.If Damascus was to retake control of the predominantly Kurdish region, analysts say, it could be enough for Erdogan to claim victory over the SDF, end Turkey's assault, and remove the main point of tension between Ankara and Washington.
2/10/20245 minutes, 57 seconds
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Sweden deal unlikely to resolve bitter dispute between NATO and Turkey

Ankara's ratification of Sweden's NATO membership after a 10-month delay has spurred hopes of a reset in relations between Turkey and the alliance, but tensions still run deep. French President Emmanuel Macron's recent state visit to Sweden focused heavily on defence amid Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.While its NATO membership was seen as critical amid persisting concerns over border security, Turkey refused to ratify Sweden’s entry until a long list of demands from its partners were met.Sweden's accession saw a lifting of restrictions by NATO countries on military hardware sales to Turkey, says Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat who is now a regional analyst for Mediyacope, a Turkish news portal."F-16s are being bought [from the US]. This will keep the Turkish air force up in the air for some time... Deals like this one will keep the relationship afloat," he told RFI.F-16 dealFor years, US President Joe Biden blocked the sale of American F-16 fighter jets amid concerns over rising tensions between Turkey and its neighbours over territorial disputes.With Ankara ratifying NATO's expansion, the White House has authorised the sale, and Congress is expected to ratify the deal. However it may not be the diplomatic victory Ankara claims."The last I heard was the State Department was drawing up a letter demanding the transfer of F-16s as a kind of a certification program," says Turkey specialist Sinan Ciddi, of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies."They could halt transfers if the Turks , for example, continue to antagonise Greek airspace or overflights."Erdogan's advantage?Erdogan may retain an advantage, though. Hungary has yet to ratify Sweden's membership and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Oban is a close ally of the Turkish leader.Last week, acting US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland held two days of talks in Ankara. The talks were focused on enabling better cooperation between the US and Turkey.Analyst Selcen says Turkey's is still as strategically important to NATO as it was when it joined in 1952 at the height of the Cold War."The same geopolitical reasons to keep Turkey as a strong military ally remain valid," said Selcen. "On the one hand against the north, Russia, and on the other Iran and other terrorist threats."The war against the Islamic State jihadists remains a point of tension because of Washington's support for Syrian Kurdish fighters.These include the YPG, which is affiliated with the PKK, and which has been fighting Turkey for decades and is designated by both the European Union and the US as a terrorist group."The US relationship with YPG poisons almost all the potential collaborations," political scientist Bilgehan Alagoz of Istanbul's Marmara University says.So first [the] United States should check its policy towards the YPG, and then Turkey and the United States can start talking about other issues."Erdogan, Alagoz adds, is holding NATO hostage to extract concessions over Sweden's membership.Along with his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his refusal to impose sanctions against Moscow, this is raising questions over Ankara's loyalties.With the threat posed by Russia expected to grow, and the danger of contagion from the Israel-Hamas conflict, resolving the trust deficit between Turkey and its NATO partners has never been more important. French president urges Turkey to support Sweden's bid to join NATO
2/3/20245 minutes, 13 seconds
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Even with Turkish approval, Sweden's wait to join NATO may not be over yet

Sweden's bid to join NATO got a major boost when the Turkish parliament finally ratified its membership application this week. Yet with the Turkish president's signature still needed, Sweden's wait to join the military alliance may not be over. After ten long months, the Turkish parliament on Tuesday evening overwhelmingly voted to approve Sweden's Nato membership.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been holding up the ratification with a long list of demands from his allies, and the vote came after intensive diplomatic lobbying led by Washington. At the heart of the delay was Ankara's demand that the US Congress approve the sale of American F-16 fighter jets to replace Turkey's ageing airforce."Neither the United States nor Turkey trust each other on any level," said Asli Aydintasbas, an analyst with Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution."There is also no trust here in Washington vis-a-vis the actions of the Turkish government," she continued. "They don't want to find themselves in a situation where they deliver on their end and the other side doesn't."Mutual mistrustThat distrust was exacerbated by the apparent lack of personal chemistry between Erdogan and US President Joe Biden, who in the past has described the Turkish leader as a bully.But the impasse was broken by a rare phone call between the two leaders last month. Biden reportedly convinced Erdogan that he could only persuade Congress to allow the jet sale to Turkey if the Turkish parliament ratified Sweden's NATO membership – a deal that goes back to last year, according to Sinan Ulgen of Edam, an Istanbul-based think tank."There is an agreement that was essentially struck during the last NATO summit in Vilnius whereby the US side would essentially start the formal notification of the F-16 package once the Turkish parliament ratifies the accession of Sweden to NATO," Ulgen said.But behind Turkey's lengthy delay lies scepticism in Ankara whether Biden can deliver Congress.Lame duck?Hostility towards Erdogan over his authoritarianism and threats to neighbours, including Greece, is a rare issue that bridges the deep divide between US Democrats and Republicans.Erdogan's strong backing of Hamas, which he calls a "liberation movement", has only added to that hostility.Meanwhile, Biden is increasingly seen as a lame-duck president as 2024 elections approach."Now [Donald] Trump is marching on the way to triumph once more, maybe, probably. Biden cannot be exerting pressure over the Senate and House of Representatives for the sake of Turkey," predicts Sezin Oney, a commentator with Turkish news portal Duvar.Oney points out Biden's failure to get Congress to sign off on funding for Ukraine can only add to Ankara's unease."I mean, he couldn't do it in the case of Ukraine; he's struggling with that. So how can he do it on behalf of Turkey, which doesn't deliver anything and, on top of it, supports Hamas?" she questioned. Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a 'liberation' group Erdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey's Western alliesFrom Turkey to HungarySuch concerns could yet further delay Sweden's membership.While the Turkish parliament ratified NATO's expansion, Erdogan has to sign off on the legislation and send the document to the US State Department as per the military alliance's rules.But political momentum is behind the deal."Congressional approvals really rely on key party spokespeople on the committees," said analyst Aydintasbas. "There is still overwhelming approval for the deal – enough numbers to make it past foreign relations committees in both houses, because it is so important for transatlantic unity, not because the US Congress approves of Turkey's foreign policy direction."But even if the hurdle of Turkey is finally overcome, Hungary is yet to ratify – and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, after 20 months, is now demanding unspecified concessions from Sweden.With Erdogan a close ally of Orban, NATO may yet need Turkey's assistance in finally bringing Sweden into the fold.
1/28/20245 minutes, 6 seconds
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Turkey agrees deal to clear Black Sea of mines that threaten Ukrainian exports

Turkey is joining forces with Bulgaria and Romania to clear mines from the Black Sea, which have posed a danger to cargo ships since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine. But Ankara, the gatekeeper to the crucial waterway, insists that it won't allow any other Nato countries to send warships to assist. In a ceremony in Istanbul earlier this month, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania signed an agreement to clear mines that the war in Ukraine has left in the Black Sea."With the start of the war, the threat of floating mines in the Black Sea has arisen," said Turkish Defence Minister Yasar Guler, announcing that Ankara had formed a mine task force with its Bulgarian and Romanian allies.Guler said the tripartite agreement was the fruit of months of diplomacy.With several cargo ships already hit by mines, they are an increasing menace to one of the world's most important waterways for exporting grain and energy."These sea mines are floating on the water. They are not stationary, and there is no telling when or where they might strike a vessel," explains Tayfun Ozberk, a former Turkish naval officer and now a defence analyst."This is a serious problem in terms of navigational safety, because the merchant ships can't detect these mines as they are semi-submerged in the water," he says."And when they do detect them, it might be too late for them to save themselves."Black Sea grain dealAnalysts say removing the threat of mines will significantly boost Ukraine's efforts to export grain to world markets after the collapse of a deal with Russia brokered by Turkey and the United Nations."Mine clearing is very supportive of maritime safety and navigation. I hope it is very beneficial for the Ukraine side in order to export their grain," says Mesut Casin, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Yeditepe University and adviser to the Turkish president.Moscow is widely seen as threatening Ukrainian exports, saying it can't guarantee the safety of ships carrying them.But Ankara hopes increasing security for Ukrainian vessels could provide an impetus for Moscow to return to the grain deal with Ukraine.Casin believes mine clearing could push Moscow to rethink its stance. "Perhaps Russia may come again to the table," he suggests. France slams Russia's suspension of Black Sea grain deal as 'blackmail' Turkey may be key to salvaging Ukraine's Black Sea grain exportsTurkey as gatekeeperThree mine-hunting ships from each of the coastal countries and one command ship will be assigned to the new task force, according to the Turkish defence ministry.While the Turkish navy has modern mine-clearing capabilities, which Romania and Bulgaria will support, experts say the challenge facing the Nato allies is considerable."The locations and numbers of the sea mines are unknown, and you have to detect them first; you have to seek and destroy, and this will take time," warns naval analyst Ozberk. How one man's ship-spotting hobby is helping thwart Russian sanction-bustingWith the Black Sea a key trade route, the United Kingdom also offered Ukraine two mine-clearing ships – but Ankara denied them permission to transit its waters."There is some pressure by the Nato allies, such as the UK, to assist Ukraine militarily. But in accordance with the Montreux Convention, Turkey did not give permission," explains presidential adviser Casin.Turkey has controlled access to the Black Sea since 1936 under the international convention and has been blocking entry to all warships since the start of the war in Ukraine. Casin says that stance won't change, given its importance in containing the conflict."If you give this permission to British or American allies, then Russia will compete, saying, 'I am part of the Montreux regime, I will send new battleships'," he argues. "And this is the beginning of warfare in the Black Sea between Nato and Russian ships."While Turkey is a member of Nato, analysts say it is seeking to perform a balancing act between the two sides in the Ukrainian war in a bid to contain the conflict. Removing the danger of mines is seen as a small step towards that goal, albeit a vital one for world trade.
1/20/20244 minutes, 42 seconds
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With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil

Turkish security forces this month detained dozens of people across the country accused of spying for Israel. The highly publicised raids are seen as a warning to Israel not to target Palestinians on Turkish soil, after Ankara insisted it would itself reign in anyone suspected of involvement in the 7 October Hamas attacks.  At the beginning of January, homes across Turkey were raided in a major operation against alleged spy rings working for Israel's Mossad intelligence service.A Turkish court formally charged 15 people with espionage offences, while eight others were deported.In an address to Turkey's MIT intelligence agency, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan boasted: "Our intelligence service, which unearthed the spy network for Israel in our country, has given the best response to those threatening us."He also warned Israel of more to come."This has surprised Israel. But wait ... this is only the first step. You will get to know Turkey. You don't yet, but you will have to," Erdogan said.The arrests follow the Turkish president's warning of "serious consequences" if Israel sought to hunt down members of Hamas on Turkish territory."It's very clear from the threats of Israelis that Turkey [has been] selected as a venue for attacks on Hamas," according to Murat Aslan, a senior security analyst for the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, an Ankara-based think tank."In this case, Turkish intelligence at the very first instance – and by the words of the president – warned Israeli intelligence in Ankara that there must be no action," Aslan said."But right after this warning – a political warning – [Turkey's] intelligence organisation identified activated cells of Mossad in Turkey."Israel eyes Turkey as Hamas havenIsrael has not commented on the arrests, but Israeli military leaders and government ministers are vowing to track down those involved in Hamas's 7 October attack on Israel."We are inflicting severe damage on Hamas, damaging the leadership of Hamas, targeting the commanders, targeting the terrorists, destroying Hamas' infrastructure in Gaza," claimed Israel's army chief Herzi Halevi."We are also constantly ready for other areas. We know how to reach Hamas anywhere in the Middle East," he said.Erdogan frequently organises rallies in support of Hamas, which he calls a "liberation movement".According to Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Turkey is viewed as a likely location for Israel's hunt for those involved in the October attacks."When we see the massacres of 7 October, how they occurred and how well they were planned, obviously there was a lot of assistance from the outside ... A lot of things were coming from outside of Gaza into Gaza," Lindenstrauss argued."Some of this obviously came through Turkey – not by the Turkish government, but by Turkish security authorities not paying enough attention what was happening."Turkey is not happy when foreign countries try to undermine these [militant] activities in ways that might harm its sovereignty. But as long as Turkey allows all this activity on its soil, there are ramifications," she said. Turkey, Iran put rivalries aside as Gaza conflict provides common groundTurkey determined to avoid spilloverIt's not the first time Turkey's MIT intelligence agency has clashed with Israel's Mossad.But these two formidable intelligence services have also worked together in recent years."We definitely did see good cooperation between Mossad and MIT," said Lindenstrauss. "And there was the foiling of a supposedly imminent attack against Israelis on Turkish soil in 2022. So these organisations are also known to cooperate. I think they have great respect for each other."Last month, Turkish authorities arrested alleged Islamic State members accused of planning attacks on synagogues. Turkey talks tough on Israel but resists calls to cut off oilAs the war in Gaza continues, Ankara is determined to prevent the conflict from coming to Turkey."Any attack on any other third nationality in Turkey has a bad connotation ... [it] is a negative development for Turkey, because of tourism and business links," explained analyst Aslan."Turkey does not want to be a playground for intelligence organisations. So that's why I think Turkish intelligence increased its activity to identify exactly who is involved in what."Turkey has witnessed terror attacks and assassinations in the past, dealing a heavy blow to tourism and the broader economy.Ankara's determination not to let the Middle East war spill over onto the streets of Turkey means more crackdowns on foreign intelligence service operations are likely.
1/13/20245 minutes, 40 seconds
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Attack on football referee exposes anti-elite resentment in divided Turkey

The assault of a referee at a Turkish professional football match has drawn international condemnation and the unprecedented suspension of all league games. But it's also brought into focus the wider spectre of violence against public officials in Turkish society, which some blame on the polarising politics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After a week-long suspension, Turkish football supporters returned to the stadiums a few days ago.Play had been suspended for a week after a referee was punched and then kicked on the ground by senior club officials of a major league team.Halil Umut Meler, who often referees international games, was hospitalised in the incident, which drew worldwide condemnation.But the assault also brought into focus the growing violence faced by many public professionals in Turkey. Turkish football plunges into crisis after referee attackIn a video circulating on social media, doctors ask why they are the target of assaults, a problem medical professionals say is increasingly urgent.The Turkish Physicians' Association claims there has been a 600 percent rise in violent attacks over the past decade.Healthcare staff have been protesting for more than a year over rising casualties within their profession and what they claim is government indifference."Lots of doctors are dying. Also, lots of nurses are dying in our country," said Berkay Unlu, a doctor at a state hospital in Izmir."No one cares about that," he said, exasperated. "It's so important; we are doctors, we are just working for our public."Political gulfAccording to unions, schools are also witnessing a similar surge in violence against staff.Some analysts say it's symptomatic of a growing gulf in Turkish society, fuelled by years of populist politics driven by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party, whose voting base is poor and religiously conservative.Erdogan often accuses the elite of undermining his rule – most recently, academics drew his fire."What Erdogan and the AK Party are propagating is that they're representing the real people. So they're coming from the grassroots, and they're representing the true native culture of Turkey," explains Sezin Oney , a commentator for the PolitikYol news portal."Then you have the opposition, who are the traitors, the elite, the people who are to be castigated – and this polarisation always works because that gives the idea that they are the majority," she says."And you have a minority which can be just bashed, stepped upon." Turkey's Pride struggling to survive amid LGBTQ+ crackdownScapegoatsErdogan's government rejects such claims, insisting it has introduced increased legal protection for doctors and other professionals.But critics say such measures aren't being enforced.With the country facing growing economic woes that are impacting services, professionals claim they are becoming the scapegoats for growing public anger."They don't see the real reasons for their problems and target the health professionals instead of the system, so violence escalated," warns Doctor Sebnem Korur Fincanci, chair of the Turkish Medical Association and a renowned human rights activist, who has herself faced legal woes under Erdogan."The frustration, unfortunately, was just reflected towards health professionals instead of the government."Brain drainThe growing violence is leading to an exodus of professionals from Turkey."I think it's a big problem because it's first leading to brain drain – these are highly educated individuals who have a certain expertise and a certain profession that they can practice elsewhere," says analyst Oney. 'Lost hope': Inflation, abuse force doctors to quit Turkey"When you have a deficit of health workers, doctors and teachers, there is deterioration in the health system. There is deterioration in the education system," she says, warning that Turkey is facing a vicious circle."This is, of course, causing social crisis after social crisis. It's going to be a much unhappier, much more discontented society. And this leads to more violence."The beating of Meler, one of Turkey's highest-profile referees, has become a symbol of the dangers faced by many professionals who serve the public – and the wider risks of the deepening polarisation in Turkish society.
12/24/20234 minutes, 59 seconds
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Sweden's Nato bid languishes as Turkey holds out in standoff with US

Swedish hopes of early Nato membership are fading as Turkey continues to hold up Sweden's bid as part of a standoff with the United States. In July, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson declared he had secured Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's support for Sweden's membership bid at the Nato summit in Vilnius and that ratification would follow shortly.But hopes of Sweden joining the military alliance by the end of this year have turned to dust, with ratification still not even on the Turkish parliament's agenda.Whether Turkey signs off on Sweden's membership depends on Erdogan's relationship with US President Joseph Biden."In July, at the Nato summit in Vilnius, President Biden and Erdogan agreed to reset their relations – a sequence of events, a deal and a handshake that would start with Turkey ratifying Sweden's EU accession in the parliament," explains Asli Aydintasbas of the Washington-based Brookings Institution.For Ankara, the sale of American F-16 fighter jets to Turkey is at the centre of the rapprochement with Washington.The deal has been held up over ongoing US-Turkish tensions. Washington says it has green-lit the sale, but the purchase also needs to be ratified by Congress. Continuing lack of trust between the Nato allies has led to the ongoing impasse."It's become like a chicken-and-egg story about who should act first," suggests Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund."Now the United States is concerned that they could actually give the F-16s, and Turkey can still not ratify. And Ankara is concerned that Turkey could drop its only remaining card, and the United States may still not respond," says Unluhisarcikli. "That's the problem."Sticking pointsErdogan said this month that Turkey will only ratify Sweden's bid if Congress votes to sanction the F-16 sale, calling for the votes to be held simultaneously.However, there is strong bipartisan opposition to the arms sales in Congress over Erdogan's aggressive stance towards neighbour Greece.Erdogan has reached out to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, holding a summit this month in Athens at which both leaders pledged to improve relations. Ankara is banking on rapprochement with Greece quelling opposition in Congress.But as one diplomatic fire was put out, another erupted. Erdogan's backing for Hamas after its attacks on Israel appears to have scuppered any hopes of a breakthrough in Congress. Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a 'liberation' groupTrump card?But the impasse may suit Erdogan's agenda. Given the importance of securing Sweden's Nato membership to Washington and its European allies, the need for Turkey's green light gives Erdogan powerful leverage."I think one of the reasons why that ratification has not happened is because Erdogan and the Turkish government want to maximise the return on that card because this is something that you can only play once," says Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank."What sort of leverage this card is going to give to Ankara is not a simple question to answer," says Ulgen. "It may be that, for instance, that Ankara believes that the fact that it still holds the card protects it against some of the harsh rhetoric that Turkey's partners in the West may have on Turkey's policy towards Hamas – the pressure that these governments may want to bring on Ankara regarding the current rhetoric on Hamas."So indeed, that may be the reason Turkey is holding on to that card." Erdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey's Western alliesWith Congress yet to schedule a vote on sanctioning the military sale to Turkey and the Turkish parliament yet to put ratification of Sweden's Nato membership on its agenda, there is no end in sight to the impasse.Analyst Aydintasbas suggests Ankara could be already eyeing American presidential elections next year and looking to the return of Donald Trump, with whom Erdogan had good relations."It was Erdogan who started trying to see if he could [drag out Swedish ratification] if he could get more. Maybe on some level, they're also thinking the Trump administration could come to power," she said.
12/17/20235 minutes, 7 seconds
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Turkey's bid to join EU back on the table at upcoming summit

Turkey's decades-long bid to join the European Union will be back on the agenda as EU leaders meet at a summit later this month. They are also expected to focus on Ukrainian membership as part of an eastward drive. "It's going to be an historic summit in itself for the EU, where decisions on possible openings towards Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as well are going to be decided," Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank told RFI.But such a significant and expensive eastward drive raises questions over Turkey, whose application to join the European bloc is at a standstill amid concerns over democratic governance and human rights."The EU leaders will also need to answer the question about what they are willing to do with Turkey. How willing are they to engage with Turkey when they are making this historic opening towards potential new members in the east?" Ulgen asked. Brussels recommends opening EU membership talks with Ukraine'Democratic backsliding'Turkey's bid to join the EU has remained in the deep freeze over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule.Strengthened by a new electoral mandate in May, Erdogan is continuing his crackdown on dissent and tightening his grip on power.However, the Turkish leader is expected to bring with him a list of demands when he attends the EU summit, including visa liberalisation and calls for a new trade deal.European leaders may be looking for compromise rather than confrontation, given that Erdogan is set to remain in power for the foreseeable future.“Especially after the elections in Turkey, the EU is looking for new ways of having a more constructive and less acrimonious relationship with Turkey," predicts Berktay Mandirci, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.The modernisation of the customs union, for example is in the interest of both the EU and Turkey, he says.But Mandirci warns that the realities of Turkey can't be ignored: "The human rights situation in Turkey and the democratic backsliding in Turkey always come up in discussions within the EU." Turkey's embattled civil society fears worst as foreign funding dries upStrategic locationThere are significant obstacles to Erdogan's EU demands – such as the reticence of European far-right parties, most recently in the Netherlands, who are deeply opposed to visa liberalisation with Turkey.Meanwhile, a new customs trade deal with the EU has a human rights requirement.But Erdogan retains powerful leverage given Turkey's strategic location, bordering the Middle East and sharing the Black Sea with Ukraine and Russia, which means the EU can ill afford to alienate Ankara."The repercussions will be more in terms of the opportunity lost," says Ulgen. "It might have turned into a closer diplomatic partnership to address some of the regional crises. It might also mean working together for the construction and reconstruction of Ukraine."But all of these opportunities will be lost if this estrangement between Turkey and the EU continues." Can Turkey tip the balance of power in the Caucasus conflict?Difficult discussionErdogan is expected to remind EU leaders of Turkey's role as gatekeeper to migrants seeking to enter Europe. At the same time, Ankara has yet to agree to allow Sweden to join Nato.For the European Union, the seemingly endless conundrum about what to do with Turkey will be the elephant in the room at the Brussels summit."There is no realistic perspective for EU membership in light of the democratic backsliding and all the developments that have been taking place in the country in the last few years," says Ioannis Grigoriadis at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.Grigoriadis believes that reassessing the future of Ankara's bid is long overdue, especially as the EU considers a new wave of accession, but warns such a conversation is likely to be uncomfortable, if it goes ahead at all.Like in previous EU summits, the expectation is that contentious issues to do with Turkey will be postponed in the hope that future commitments to Ankara will be enough to avoid a confrontation with Erdogan and keep Turkey on side – or, in other words, the can will be kicked down the road again.
12/10/20235 minutes, 3 seconds
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Turkey's embattled civil society fears worst as foreign funding dries up

Civil society groups in Turkey say their future hangs in the balance as more and more international donors pull out or cut back their support. Overseas funding is drying up as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan steps up his crackdown against critical voices. Buoyed by his re-election in May, Erdogan is continuing to make life difficult for elements of Turkey's civil society that he accuses of threatening democracy.Now organisations like Spod, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Istanbul, are also facing a financial battle for survival. Since the elections, fewer of the group's applications for international funding are being accepted, claims Spod's general coordinator Ogulcan Yediveren."It is the data, it's not an evaluation," he says. "It is almost impossible to continue do all these activities based on volunteering. So this funding is important for organisations to survive."Yediveren warns the shortfall in funding will inevitably impact the group's activities, which include providing telephone helplines and legal and psychological support for LGBTQ+ people.  International funding is Spod's only source of income, he explains. "We don't have any other financial resource. So as long as we receive these international funds, we can continue our activities."Shifting prioritiesThe crackdown is adding to international donors' concerns over how effective Turkish civil society organisations really are. "I heard and I was told that donors do not see the output, the impact of such things – the outcome, effectively, for the money that they invest in Turkey," says Sinan Gokcen, head of the Turkish branch of the Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders group."They are thinking: 'Well, we've been supporting civil society organisations for several years but we don't see any change.'"Gokcen believes there has been a decline in international funding as a result."This has been intensified, especially after the election period," he says. "And finally, for some big donors, the war in Ukraine took their money – they prioritised supporting civil society organisations within Ukraine."The earthquakes in southern Turkey in February also saw donors switch support away from civil society organisations and towards humanitarian relief. Far from Turkey's earthquake zone, volunteers seek ways to helpExodusThe list of major donors withdrawing their support continues to grow. Open Society Foundations, founded by Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, was once a significant supporter of Turkey's civil society – until it pulled out in 2018, blaming government pressure."Open Society is no longer funding in Turkey – I think it was around 2 million dollars for civil society and an extra 2 million funding for refugee organisations," says Ekrem Murat Celikkan, co-director of Hafiza Merkezi, an association working to support human rights and justice. "The Chrest Foundation from the US also stopped funding because it was targeted by the pro-government press severely," he adds, recounting that both the family that runs the foundation and the groups they supported were subjected to hostile coverage.The Chrest Foundation confirmed in an email it was ending its financial support of civil society in Turkey, citing unspecified reasons. But the foundation said some groups may be eligible for support in the future. Philanthropist jailedDomestic financial support is also drying up after Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala was given a life sentence for seeking to overthrow the government.Kavala was imprisoned for supposedly backing the 2013 Gezi Park protests against Erdogan's rule – a decision condemned by both Washington and the European Court of Human Rights.But Erdogan robustly defends the verdict."There is a person who financed the terrorists in the Gezi events. Now he is behind bars," Erdogan bellowed in a 2018 speech, referring to Kavala without naming him."And who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros. This person sends people across the world to divide and tear up nations and uses the large amount of money he possesses to this effect."Soros's Open Society Foundations denied any link to the protests, and pulled out of Turkey days after Erdogan's speech.No more space to shrinkErdogan routinely accuses civil society groups of conspiring against him with international donors. The president is continuing to introduce new controls, while prominent members of civil society have found themselves arrested and prosecuted. Leading Turkish doctor convicted over call for chemical weapons inquiry“We shrank and shrank and there's no space to shrink anymore. So this is the end of the story," warns Gokcen of Civil Rights Defenders. "We are squeezed in a very narrow field in terms of civil society activism and organisations."For Yediveren, who continues to send applications for international funding for Spod amid renewed attacks on Turkey's LBGTQ+ communities, the future is bleak. "If these civil society organisations collapse, there will be no independent support mechanism to empower ourselves," he warns."Probably we will find new ways to come together, and somehow we will create a safe space for ourselves, but probably we will not be as visible as now. And visibility is very important, because this polarisation also feeds homophobia."
12/2/20235 minutes, 57 seconds
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Iran leader to visit Turkey as rapprochement continues over Gaza war

The Iranian president's visit to Turkey this week comes amid deeply strained bilateral tensions as a result of regional rivalries. However, Israel's assault on Gaza stands to alleviate those problems as Tehran and Ankara find common ground in condemning Israel, with Turkey also seeking to position itself as a mediator in the conflict. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's withering verbal attacks on Israel have put him on the same page as his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi, who is due to visit Turkey on Tuesday.But Ankara is also concerned about contagion as the Gaza war draws in countries such as Iran and threatens to destabilise the region.'Demoinising' Iran"Turkey does not approve of demonising Iran. It can still have a dialog, and Turkey has the capacity to cooperate with Iran," says Bilgehan Alagoz, of the Centre for Iranian Studies, a Turkish thinktank.Alagoz suggests Erdogan is well placed in his talks with Raisi to keep Iran out of the war: "Turkey also has a dialog with Israel. While there are problems with Israel, we still can talk with Israel and with others, including the United States and European countries." Turkey, Iran put rivalries aside as Gaza conflict provides common groundKeeping Iran and its proxies out of the conflict is a priority for Israel and Turkey's Western allies.Iran has a major role in arming Hamas, says Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv."It is difficult for Israel to concentrate on the Gaza front because the northern front in Israel, the front with Lebanon, is very also very tense," Lindenstrauss says, adding that, "of course, the northern front is all orchestrated by Iran".Raisi in TurkeyErdogan's talks with Raisi aren't expected to be confined to the war in Gaza. Until the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, Turkish-Iranian tensions had been rising amid growing regional rivalry, in particular in the Caucasus.Tehran is alarmed at the military successes of Azerbaijan's forces against ethnic Armenians in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.Iran is a strong ally of Armenia and sees Azerbaijan as an increasing threat to its regional influence. However, much to Iran's annoyance, Turkey strongly backs Azerbaijan with a military alliance."The recent rhetoric adopted by Iran towards Turkey has created some sensitivity, especially regarding the South Caucasus," says Alagoz."Since the beginning of Azerbaijan's liberation activities for the occupied territory in the South Caucasus, Iran has started to adopt anti-Turkey rhetoric." France announces sale of defensive weapons to Armenia as Turkey plays wargames with AzerbaijanBattle of influenceAnalysts also suggest that Tehran is worried Ankara is seeking to limit Iran's influence across the region. These fears have been stoked by deepening cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel.Turkey's expanding its influence into central Asia is adding to Iran's concerns."Turkey's connection to central Asia is still a very serious problem because it's going to increase Turkey's influence here in the region, which Iran is not happy with," says Ilhan Uzgel, a political analyst with the Turkish news portal Kisa Dalga.Tehran's advancing nuclear energy programme is also fuelling bilateral tensions. Turkey is worried that Iran is moving closer to developing a nuclear bomb and triggering a regional nuclear arms race.But at least for now, the Middle East war and fears that it will spread are bringing the two countries closer.
11/27/20234 minutes, 52 seconds
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Turkey talks tough on Israel but resists calls to cut off oil

With Israeli forces stepping up their assault on the Gaza Strip and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continuing to ramp up his rhetoric against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ankara is nonetheless resisting calls to cut off vital oil deliveries to Israel. Supertankers continue to deliver oil to Israel from the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Oil pipelines from Azerbaijan and Iraqi Kurdistan terminate at the Mediterranean harbour, making Turkey a key oil supplier for Israel."The bulk of Israeli oil needs come from either Azerbaijan or Iraqi Kurdistan," says analyst Mehmet Ogutcu of the London Energy Club."I think the latest figures show Azerbaijan provides around 40 percent of Israel's oil needs. It comes all the way to Ceyhan, and from Ceyhan, it's sent to an Israeli port where it's moved to one of the refineries," Ogutcu explains.But with the death toll mounting from Israel's invasion of Gaza, calls for Turkey to cut off oil deliveries are growing.Iran's foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, speaking with his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan in Ankara earlier this month, urged countries delivering oil to Israel to cut their supplies, a call Fidan ignored. Turkey, Iran put rivalries aside as Gaza conflict provides common groundDespite Erdogan ramping up his rhetoric against Israel, oil deliveries from Turkey to Israel continue to flow. And questions remain about how effective any embargo by Turkey would be."I don't think that Israel will suffer in any way because oil is plentiful in the world markets," points out Ogutcu. Even if Turkey were to cut off Israel's supply, "they can bring it from Brazil or Canada or from some of the African countries where they have good relations", he says."Israeli consumption, if I'm not mistaken, is around 225,000 barrels per day. That's not a significant amount. It can be easily secured either through long-term contracts or on the spot market," he adds.Talking toughBut Turkey has other ways of harming Israel if it wants to strike a blow."Turkey could stop the working of the Kurecik radar station in Malatya in Turkey, which is crucial to the Nato missile defense system, and as far we know, it also protects the airspace of Israel," says Ilhan Uzgel, an international relations expert and columnist for Turkey's Kisa Dalga news portal.So far Erdogan has not taken any of these options. "What he has to do is please his audience, so he makes tough statements," says Uzel. "It's not hurting anybody; in the end, it's just words." Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a 'liberation' groupErdogan is continuing with his rhetoric against Israel, even describing Hamas as a liberation movement while personally attacking Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the Turkish leader's actions remain more measured.Announcing the recall of Turkey's ambassador from Israel for consultations this month, Erdogan stressed that diplomatic relations with Israel would remain open and that Turkish efforts were continuing to seek the release of hostages held by Hamas."The rhetoric is harsh, but the concrete actions are not that harsh, at least in terms of the bilateral relationship," observes Galip Dalay, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London."I think the idea is that if you burn bridges, you will not be able to play the diplomatic role as much as you hope to."Attempts at diplomacyOn Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ankara for the first time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. In a tacit acknowledgment of Turkey's efforts, Blinken said third-party countries were playing a role in securing the release of the hostages.Erdogan is expected to join Arab leaders for a summit in Riyadh to discuss the crisis. But Dalay warns there may be limits to Ankara's nuanced approach toward Israel. Links to Hamas complicate Turkey's rapprochement with Israel"If Turkey is convinced that actually the diplomatic track is not working and if other regional countries, not only Turkey, reach the same conclusion that Israel is not paying any attention to this diplomatic track or call for a ceasefire, then we might see – both at a regional level and a Turkey level – countries taking punitive action," Dalay warns.With Erdogan's large religious base at the forefront of growing protests against Israel, that will likely add pressure on the Turkish leader to take a harder stance if the violence continues.
11/11/20235 minutes, 9 seconds
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Turkey, Iran put rivalries aside as Gaza conflict provides common ground

Iran's Foreign Minister visited the Turkish capital this week amid growing regional rivalry as Ankara seeks to expand its influence from the Caucasus to Central Asia. But the conflict in the Middle East is, for now, providing some common ground. At a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, jointly condemned Israel for its ongoing assault on Gaza. They also called for a regional conference to end the fighting.The Israel-Hamas conflict provides a shared interest as Ankara increasingly challenges Iran's regional influence."Turkey is trying to connect itself with Central Asia ... it's not a secret. So there is a simmering tension between Turkey and Iran," explains Ilhan Uzgel, an international relations analyst for the Kisa Dalga news portal."It's kind of postponed because the attention moved to the Middle East again. But we are going to see it more and more in the years ahead."Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is working to strengthen relations with energy-rich Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.On Friday, he visited the Kazakh capital, Astana, meeting with Central Asian leaders at a Turkic nations summit.The visit follows French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to Astana on Wednesday as competition heats up for influence and lucrative contracts.The Turkish leader also recently mended ties with Saudi Arabia, which is Iran's arch rival. France's Macron visits Uzbekistan to expand EU footprint in Central AsiaThe Azerbaijan situationAll moves will likely stoke Iranian fears of being encircled by Turkey. Still, it's Turkey's deepening military ties with Azerbaijan – which has close relations with Israel – that is causing the biggest concern."In Azerbaijan ... Israel has a very strong influence now in Baku," says Mehmet Ogutcu of the London Energy Club."They [Israel] think that this is part of the Israeli containment strategy, which is not wrong. And therefore, I think Turkey and Iran are not on good terms."In September, Azerbaijan – backed militarily by Turkey – ousted ethnic Armenians from the contested Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Tehran strongly supports Yerevan, but ahead of Baku's attack, Turkish Foreign Minister Fidan warned Iran to stay out of any conflict. France announces sale of defensive weapons to Armenia as Turkey plays wargames with AzerbaijanAzerbaijan's victory is widely seen not only as a loss for Yerevan but also for Tehran, weakening its influence while boosting Israel's foothold in the region."Israelis have been cooperating with Azerbaijan to do lots of things in Iran, which has made Tehran furious," explains Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University.Ozel warns that Azeri President Ilham Aliyev's victory is also stoking Iranian fears about its Azerbaijani minority. "Iran does have a significant Azeri population ... I am sure they do have nationalist tendencies, and Aliyev today appears as a hero because the Azeris for once won the war," Ozel said."I think the Iranians are concerned that the appeal of what Azerbaijani nationalists call northern Azerbaijan may be increasing for their own population, who are unhappy living under their Islamic republic, probably for economic and social reasons."Common ground ... For nowDuring last year's nationwide Iranian protests, Aliyev – in a televised address – vowed to protect Azeris both in Azerbaijan and Iran.Azerbaijan and Iran have recently held military exercises close to their shared border.Two years ago, Ankara signed an alliance with Baku, committing it to defending Azerbaijan in the event of war.Pointing to a map of the Caucasus, Mesut Casin, a presidential advisor at Istanbul's Yeditepe University declared: "Iran fought with the Turks more than 16 times." "The Iranians, if challenged or use force against Azerbaijan, Turkey is ready to support Azerbaijan against Iran. This is absolutely 100 percent determination of Turkey," Casin told RFI.But Ankara and Tehran have found common ground in uniting to oppose Israel's Gaza assault. For now.With the Caucasus remaining tense and Erdogan continuing his bid to court Central Asian leaders with his latest visit to Kazakhstan, observers predict bilateral tensions will likely escalate as Iran and Turkey compete for regional influence.
11/4/20235 minutes, 12 seconds
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Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a 'liberation' group

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on a collision course with its Western and Middle Eastern allies after vigorously defending Hamas, declaring it to be a "liberation movement" rather than a terrorist organisation. The statement also appears to have ended more than a year of rapprochement efforts with Israel. To the rapturous applause of his parliamentary deputies, Erdogan delivered an impassioned defence of Hamas despite the group killing more than 1,400 Israelis earlier this month."Hamas Is not a terrorist organisation but a liberation group, a group of Mujahideen that is fighting to protect its soil and its citizens," bellowed Erdogan to a standing ovation from his deputies.Erdogan went on to accuse Israel of suffering from "mental illness" for its ongoing bombardment of Gaza, which has claimed over 7,000 lives, accusing the West of ignoring human rights in Gaza because its "Muslim blood being spilled".Erdogan's use of the Islamic phrase "mujahideen," meaning spiritual resistance, is seen as unprecedented by a country's leader, says Ilam Uzgel, an analyst for the Turkish news portal Kisa Dalga."To praise Hamas to define Hamas as a mujahideen, whereas all over the world, even those who support the Palestinians in the West and the Western societies, they put a distance against Hamas and they are critical of Hamas, and they dislike Hamas," Uzgel says.Strong tiesErdogan, who is religiously conservative, has always maintained good ties with Hamas.In July, he met with the political leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh. But in the initial phases of Israel's Gaza assault, Erdogan held back from his usual fiery rhetoric against Israel despite growing condemnation by many opposition parties.Erdogan initially wanted to play a mediating role in the conflict, but the Turkish president's shift in rhetoric came with the realisation his overtures were being spurned."We've noticed that Secretary (of State) Tony Blinken is not passing by Turkey, going to Turkey, or really having an intense conversation with his Turkish counterpart," says Asli Aydintasbas of the Washington-based Brookings Institution."Even though Turkey is clearly a country that has a very close relationship with Hamas leadership and can play a role in terms of releasing of hostages. President Erdogan does not like to be ignored."Support rallyWith Erdogan's overtures to mediate in the conflict ignored, no regional foreign minister has visited since the outbreak of the conflict, the Turkish leader is now seen to be seeking to reap gains domestically.Erdogan has a significant religious political base. The Turkish leader has called for a mass rally in support of Gaza for Saturday, 28 October, where he is expected to ramp up his rhetoric in support of Hamas. But Erdogan may be making a severe miscalculation."I'm not sure if it may please the Turkish audience," warns UzgeI. "I think it was a mistake, a political mistake, that it would not bring Erdogan any votes, any sympathy, domestically or externally in the region and in Erdogan ties with the United States and Israel in the future. Israeli PM eyes visit to Turkey as rapprochement efforts continue"Hamas is not liked in the Middle East either. And the Saudis don't like it, the Egyptians don't like it, so there are no regimes that like Hamas except Iran and Qatar. So probably he will pay a price for this.A recent Turkish opinion poll found the majority of Turks want the country to remain neutral in the conflict. Turkey is grappling with soaring inflation and a cost of living crisis.Erdogan has been looking to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for financial support. That financial support could dry up if Riyadh and UAE become uneasy over Erdogan's pro-Hamas stance.End to rapprochement?At the same time, Turkey's rapprochement with Israel appears over, with Israel strongly condemning Erdogan's Hamas stance.While Israeli-Turkish relations have a long history of managing highs and lows, this latest crisis could be different."Well, we know Israel and Turkey have managed in the past to overcome such low points in their relations," says Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv."And we have had basically continuous relations since 1949, when Turkey recognised the state of Israel."Since this is the second normalisation attempt that basically lasted less than a year or two, I think it will have a long-term effect. And next time around, when one of the parties will want to repair relations, thaere will be very strong criticism, saying we've tried this route, it doesn't work."For now, Turkey's Western allies have largely ignored Erdogan's outbursts.Israel has confined itself to a brief statement of condemnation, as international efforts appear to try and contain the deepening crisis in Gaza, with the hope Erdogan confines himself to just angry rhetoric.
10/28/20235 minutes, 43 seconds
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As Azerbaijan and Turkey join forces, fears of Armenia conflict grow

Fears are growing of a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia as Baku ratchets up its rhetoric against Yerevan, reiterating calls for a corridor through Armenian territory. The move comes as Azerbaijani forces prepare joint military exercises with Turkey, which backs the idea of the passage. Turkish and Azerbaijani forces are to hold three days of military exercises next week across Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, an Azeri enclave that borders Turkey.Baku and Ankara are calling for a 40km corridor through Armenia to connect the Azeri territories. The passage, dubbed the Zangezur corridor, would also create a land route between Turkey and Azerbaijan, a long-term goal of the two allies."God willing, we will implement the Zangezur corridor as soon as possible and thereby make our land road and railroad connection with friendly and brotherly Azerbaijan uninterrupted over Nakhchivan," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a ceremony with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilhan Aliyev in Nakhchivan last month.Yerevan is strongly opposed to the corridor, but Baku insists it will not use force to achieve its goal."Azerbaijan doesn't have any military goals or objectives on the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia," said Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy advisor to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in a recent interview with Reuters news agency.But the Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercise is interpreted as a strategy to put pressure on Yerevan, suggesting a conflict could be looming."Turkey does not necessarily want a militarised solution, but the nature of the relationship between Azerbaijan and Turkey and between President Aliyev and President Erdogan is more or less a blank cheque," said Asli Aydintasbas, an analyst with the US-based Brookings Institution.She believes that the Turkish government would prefer to establish a trade route by peaceful means, "but if Azerbaijan chooses to do it through military means, it does seem like it can count on Turkish support".Nagorno-KarabakhThe prospect of conflict comes as Yerevan is still reeling from Azerbaijan recapturing the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave held by ethnic Armenians.Despite over 100,000 residents fleeing to Armenia, Yerevan is trying to secure a peace agreement with Baku, which the Armenian government sees as vital to its long-term goal of breaking away from Russian influence."You know, the economy's moving in the right direction. The Western pivot is moving in the right direction. Democratisation is moving in the right direction. The only thing interfering with that is the threat of war," says Armenian political analyst Eric Hacopian."So you take away the threat of war, all of this becomes easier, and any kind of a peaceful situation will quicken and hasten the de-Russification of Armenian politics, economy and other things – and by the way, it has broad popular support."However an opportunity for a peace deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia brokered by the European Union at a summit in Spain this month fell victim to diplomatic infighting between EU leaders and Turkey."The Azeris said that Turkey ought to be in the talks. The Germans and the French said Turkey cannot be in the talks," says Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University."You really wonder which world they're living in. I would have expected that the Europeans, particularly the French, would work with Turkey and get Azerbaijan and Armenia out of the orbit of Russia." Can Turkey tip the balance of power in the Caucasus conflict?Russian tacticsSince the failed EU peace effort, Baku has been hardening its stance against Yerevan. Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry accused Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of undermining the peace process with "aggressive rhetoric".Baku's harsh language comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Azerbaijan President Aliyev to a regional summit in Kyrgyzstan. Experts suspect Putin is using centuries-old Russian diplomatic tactics to maintain hegemony in the region. West looks on as Turkey-Russia relations deepen following Sochi summit"Russia was always playing on these contradictions and mutual dissatisfaction," says Russian expert Tatiana Mitrova, a visiting professor at the Paris School of International Affairs."It is a typical divide-and-rule policy starting from Czarist Russia before the Soviet Union, so it has very, very long historical roots. Moreover, I would say my impression is that these days Moscow would do everything to create instability everywhere."US 'distracted'With growing international turmoil, Baku could be eyeing an opportunity to pursue its agenda."Washington is too distracted right now to think about the Caucasus," predicts analyst Aydintasbas, noting the ongoing war in Ukraine, domestic political turmoil and the conflict between Israel and Hamas."The US has long prided itself on being able to chew gum and walk, but at this moment, the geopolitical pressures, whether it's Taiwan or Ukraine or the Middle East, are so crushing that there is a sense that they do not have the bandwidth to deal with other regional issues."Baku insists it is not seeking another conflict with Armenia. But analysts warn Armenia's pro-Western government would likely be at risk if it suffered a further military defeat to a Turkey-backed Azerbaijan attack.And Putin would probably welcome such an outcome as he seeks to maintain his grip on the Caucasus.
10/22/20235 minutes, 11 seconds
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Links to Hamas complicate Turkey's rapprochement with Israel

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's links to Hamas are under growing scrutiny following the group's deadly assault on Israel. Erdogan has positioned himself as a mediator in securing the release of Israeli civilians, but his connections to the Palestinian militant group are now casting a shadow over ongoing Turkish-Israeli rapprochement efforts.  On Monday, thousands of people gathered outside one of Istanbul's most important mosques to chant in support of Hamas while condemning Israel.Much of Erdogan's support base is religious and anti-Israel, but last Saturday's Hamas attack is putting the Turkish leader in a difficult position.For more than a year Erdogan has been engaged in repairing relations with Israel. In a groundbreaking event last month, the Turkish leader met for the first time with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.Erdogan is now performing an increasingly difficult balancing act, trying to keep the Israeli rapprochement alive while resisting his supporters' anger towards Israel.Erdogan's "initial reaction and his second reaction have been pretty mild given his previous reactions to such things", according to Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Istanbul Kadir Has University."But on the other hand all his base appears to be gung-ho about what has happened, at least the initial thing. And he himself seems to be hardening his talk."Israel could be performing a similar balancing act. The Israeli embassy in Turkey released a video thanking Turkish citizens who expressed solidarity with the Israeli people through social media.For now, Israel is focusing on the positive: Israel and Turkey have shared interests in regional hot spots like the Caucasus, where both are concerned about Iran's influence.Hamas operatives in TurkeyBut Erdogan's relations with Hamas are expected to come under growing scrutiny.In July, Erdogan held talks with Hamas's political leader, Ismail Haniyeh. The two men have met many times over the years. At the same time, Israel claims that many senior Hamas members reside in Turkey."The fact that Hamas operatives are operating in Turkey is alarming from the Israeli perspective," says Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst at Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies."Turkey, I hope, will re-evaluate the Hamas situation soon, in the future," commented Mesut Casin of Istanbul's Yeditepe University, a Turkish presidential adviser and long-time proponent of improving Israel's ties with Turkey.Erdogan argues that having close ties with Hamas allows him to play a mediating role as well as counter Iran's influence on the group.A Turkish official quoted by the Reuters news agency claims Ankara is working to win the release of more than a hundred Israelis held hostage by Hamas. Israel vows 'mighty vengeance' after Hamas surprise attackPresidential advisor Casin says Turkey is calling for Israeli restraint while expressing support for Netanyahu's demand to hold perpetrators of the Hamas attack to account. "I am supporting Mr Netanyahu on this point. They have to catch and punish this criminal action according to their sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-defence rights," Casin says."After this, if they kill children and civilian people, this turns into a kind of ethnic cleansing and other criminal actions," he continues. "How can we explain to the public? I hope Netanyahu and Israeli people will take care and listen to our advice."However, Israeli forces are stepping up their attacks on Gaza and appear to be preparing a ground assault. Israeli actions in Gaza breach international law, says EU's top diplomat"The Israeli war is going to be horrendous," warns Ozel. "We have not yet seen the pictures from Gaza about the deaths of men, women, elderly people and children that we have seen already coming out of Israel.""This will put a lot of pressure on Erdogan, and that's why I think the language seems to be toughening up compared to the first day."With the increase in protests against Israel – many supported by opposition parties – the pressure on Erdogan to harden his stance against Tel Aviv can only grow. 
10/14/20235 minutes, 25 seconds
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Can Turkey tip the balance of power in the Caucasus conflict?

This week's collapse in European Union peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia underlines the growing importance of Turkey in the region, as Azerbaijan blames its refusal to attend the "talks" on the exclusion of its close Turkish ally. The EU's attempt to revive peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended before they started, with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev refusing to attend.The Azerbaijan state news agency blamed EU leaders for excluding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from peace talks.Turkey and Azerbaijan have always been close, often describing themselves as "one nation, two states."But Ankara's military support through hardware sales and training that proved decisive for Azeri forces ousting ethnic Armenians from the dispute Nagorno Karabakh enclave has taken Turkish-Azerbajani relations to a new level. One third of Karabakh population flees Azerbaijan's control"Turkey has supported Azerbaijan very directly from the very beginning," explains Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute."Now, Turkey will be a supporter of Azerbaijan, not only in this issue (Nagorno-Karabakh) but in many other issues Azerbaijan would face."All the challenges Azerbaijan will have in military terms, Turkey will side with Azerbaijan, and we will see how the Russians and the Iranians also react to these developments."Turkey will play a crucial role in economic development and the military protection of Azerbaijan in this region."Boon for AnkaraAnkara has already started to reap rewards from Azerbaijan's victory, with Turkish construction companies securing major reconstruction contracts in the region. Erdogan is looking to the area to help kick-start Turkey's crisis-ridden economy.But the deepening alliance between Ankara and Baku is set to challenge Russia's once dominating influence in the Caucasus, a region it considers its backyard.Analysts say Moscow, for decades, used Armenia's dispute with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Karabakh enclave to help maintain its control of the region."There has been a change of paradigm because we always thought that Russia was interested in keeping this conflict alive and benefiting from this conflict to keep its relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan intact," says Gallia Lindenstrauss, a Caucasus expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Spectre of 1915 Armenian genocide looms over Nagorno-KarabakhBut with Moscow possibly distracted by its war in Ukraine, its grip on the region is being challenged."The fact that it allowed Azerbaijan to win such a big military victory is definitely a change of heart for Russia, and it will influence, at least in the short term, its ability to act," says Lindenstrauss."Having said that, Azerbaijan is perhaps too strong from the perspective of Russia and Iran, and how they will react to the strengthening of Azerbaijan in the long run may also create problems for Turkey."Strategic priorityTurkey's alliance with Azerbaijan is one of its main strategic priorities, underlined by the 2021 Shusha Declaration, which commits Ankara to the defense of Baku in the event of an attack.But Turkey is no stranger to handling and managing differences with Russia."Turkey and Russia have very different positions and very different interests," says Russian expert Zaur Gasimov of Bonn University."If you take northern Africa, if you take Syria, if you take the Caucasus, and also in Ukraine, they have really very different positions."Erdogan, much to his Western allies' unease, has developed a close relationship with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, despite their differences. Azerbaijan halts Karabakh operation as separatists vow to disarm"But both sides are aware in all these subregions that they have to communicate to interact, and that is the content of their cooperation," says Gasimov."It's not a mutual interest. It's the understanding of the importance and essential of cooperation and staying in a dialog with each other."Dealing with a more assertive Ankara and Baku will likely be the uncomfortable reality that Moscow now has to face in its dealings in the Caucasus.This a lesson some observers say the EU may also need to learn as it seeks to play a more significant role in the region with its latest call for new peace talks, perhaps later this month in Brussels between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
10/8/20234 minutes, 59 seconds
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Israeli PM eyes visit to Turkey as rapprochement efforts continue

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to visit Turkey in October or November, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This as rapprochement efforts accelerate. The announcement follows a groundbreaking meeting between the leaders who, until recently, had made little secret of their dislike for one another.Speaking to reporters while flying back from New York, Erdogan said Netanyahu would visit Turkey in October or November and that he would make a reciprocal visit.Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has reportedly expressed his wish to visit Jerusalem this year and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site.The diplomatic breakthrough came on the sidelines of September's United Nations General Assembly, where Erdogan and Netanyahu met face-to-face for the first time.The meeting is viewed as a milestone in recent rapprochement efforts in a long and often rocky relationship with both men often trading angry insults. Despite the past hostility, observers suggest the two leaders are not dissimilar."There are so many similarities between the two ... both have charisma and both are doers," said Mehmet Ogutcu of the London Energy Club."Both leaders have said quite nasty things about each other in the past, but when there are nations, interests override. They forget about the past, and they can move into a new relationship."I think we will see Netanyahu and Erdogan building on what has been achieved over the past two or three years."Turkish-Israeli rapprochementTurkish-Israeli rapprochement efforts were initiated before Netanyahu returned to power, with Israel President Isaac Herzog visiting Turkey last year.Despite fears Netanyahu would end reconciliation efforts, both sides described the New York meeting as positive.In a post on X, Turkish officials said the talks focused on energy cooperation. Ankara is courting Israel as the cheapest route to distribute natural gas from its vast reserves via a pipeline through Turkey to Europe. "Rapprochement has been on a positive trajectory for quite a while," said Selin Nasi, at the London School of Economics' contemporary Turkish studies department, adding there were several areas where cooperation can be deepened."Energy security is one of them, especially with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Energy security has become one of the major topics, and exploitation of the gas reserves in the Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean is a hot topic for Turkey."However, veteran regional observers voice caution over Ankara's hopes of quickly securing Israel's backing for a pipeline to distribute Israeli gas via Turkey to Europe."The biggest trouble is that there's no mutual trust between Israel and Turkey, because if you build a pipeline it will stay for at least 50 years, "warns Ogutucu."And so, what happens if Erdogan, or whoever comes later on, decides to turn off the tap one day?"Common interestsConfidence-building measures are focusing on collaborating on common interests. Iran's growing influence in the region is an area of shared concern.Azerbaijan, supported by both Israel and Turkey, is where concerns over Tehran really coincide, as Iran backs Azerbaijan's rival, Armenia.The Azeri military's defeat of Armenian-backed forces over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave underlined the importance of the cooperation. That is the view of Gallia Lindenstrauss, an Israeli foreign policy specialist at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv."For Israel, Iran is an existential threat. For Turkey it's just a nuisance or something that you should deal with," she said."The only exception is Azerbaijan, where the tensions between Baku and Tehran have grown substantially in the past two years. And here Israel is a strong supporter of Azerbaijan, and Turkey is a strong supporter in Azerbaijan."With Erdogan, a strong backer of the Palestinians, the ongoing cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians remains a threat to Turkish-Israeli rapprochement.However, after years of Turkish-Israeli relations remaining in the deep freeze, Nasi of the London School of Economics says Ankara realises engagement with Israel may offer a better chance of promoting the Palestinian cause."In the times that Turkey and Israel had distanced relations, Turkey lost its power to influence what was going on between Palestinians and Israelis," he said."Now that they are closer with the Israelis, Turkey has a better chance to influence what is going on the ground."
10/3/20235 minutes, 14 seconds
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Turkey's Erdogan steps up efforts to save Black Sea grain deal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is presenting himself as the man to save the Ukrainian grain export deal. The United Nations General Assembly saw Erdogan stepping up his efforts to rescue the deal after Moscow pulled out. The Turkish leader, who has close ties with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, brokered the grain agreement last year with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Analysts say Erdogan, who met with Putin earlier this month, is viewed as the best hope of persuading Putin to return to the deal."Russia has two specific conditions for the revival of the grain deal," says Ozgur Unluhisarcakli, head of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund."Both are related to relaxing some of the sanctions against Russia ... One is that the Russian Agricultural Bank should be reconnected with the swift payment system. The other that European cargo ships carrying Russian grain should be able to be insured."Concessions a riskBut Unluhisarcakli warned that granting such concessions would be contentious."The United States and Europe will be making calculations with costs and benefits. The benefit is obvious, at the cost of accommodating Russia's demands on, let's say, Ukraine's defence efforts or Russia's war effort."Erdogan voiced sympathy for Moscow's demands at the recent G20 gathering of world leaders, which added to Ankara's Western allies' growing concern over Erdogan's close ties to Putin. West looks on as Turkey-Russia relations deepen following Sochi summitThose ties will likely complicate the Turkish leader's efforts to persuade US President Joe Biden to make concessions. "We know the relationship between President Erdogan and President Biden is not excellent," says Mustafa Aydin, president of the International Relations Council in Turkey (UİK-IRCT)."Obviously Erdogan knows that he cannot convince the United States to move by himself."Aydin suggests Erdogan will be looking for allies."I think he's going to try to bring the United Nations into the picture to convince Biden to make a move towards Russia."Humanitarian corridor Ukraine has started exporting grain in the face of Russian threats through what it calls a humanitarian corridor – a route that hugs the coast of Black Sea countries through to Istanbul.But Kyiv's challenge to Moscow brings the danger of an escalation in the Ukrainian war."There is no guarantee that 'accidents' won't happen or that Russia won't intentionally try to block the exports," warns Aydin. Macron and Zelensky discuss security to enable Ukraine grain deal"One suggestion is that NATO's ships come to the Black Sea to protect the shipment of Ukrainian grain. More of NATO's ships on the Black Sea might create even further dangers of threats for security in the region."With Turkey the gatekeeper to the Black Sea, any NATO naval deployment to protect grain would need Ankara's permission – a decision that would force the country to take sides in the Ukrainian conflict.For Erdogan, saving the grain deal will not only avert the risk of famine and soaring food prices, it will help silence critics of his ties to Putin.
9/23/20235 minutes, 15 seconds
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How one man's ship-spotting hobby is helping thwart Russian sanction-busting

Despite Russia facing ever-tightening sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, it has managed to keep up a steady trade with international markets, thanks to the Bosphorus waterway through Istanbul. RFI spoke to one man whose hobby is helping to thwart Russian sanctions-busting. Watching closely with his camera and telescopic lens, Yoruk Isik can see a Russian cargo ship announce its passage through the Bosphorus waterway on its way from a Black Sea Port to international markets."I'm interested in Russian foreign policy, and watching ships on the Bosphorus really gives clues about Russian foreign policy and what they are doing, who they're engaging [with]," Isik tells RFI."If there's a ship that I'm really, really interested in, I can go down by the water and take a better picture and explain the significance of it," he adds.Isik is an international analyst whose hobby for more than a decade is monitoring ships passing through Istanbul's Bosphorus waterway, known to locals as "the throat". West looks on as Turkey-Russia relations deepen following Sochi summit Turkey may be key to salvaging Ukraine's Black Sea grain exportsSpecial placeThe waterway divides the city of 20 million people between Asia and Europe and is the only outlet for the Black Sea."Here you can be in a cafe or tea house or walking on the street, and you can literally see the ships are passing, you know, hundreds of metres away from it. You can do without any special equipment. You can just read the ship [name], and follow the ship. So in that sense, it is a very special place," Isik says. He also points out that the waterway is essential for Russian trade and major military exports."All its military naval connection to the Mediterranean happens through the Bosphorus, and most of the ships passing in from the Bosphorus are related to Russia. This is the vital commercial and military route for Russia," he says.Russia also happens to be the world's most sanctioned country."Most of the people who are engaged in trade with Russia  are trying to hide their activities because they are worried that somehow some sanctions will come back and harm them," Isik says. Watching Russian shipsSince Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Isik has been focusing on Russian ships, working with an international network of volunteers and non-government organisations that share data online on their movement.Isik's website and Twitter have become a go-to resource for media. With ships often turning off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) that allows them to be tracked by international authorities, monitoring efforts by people like Isik are vital, say organisations that work to expose Russian sanction-busting ships."I think this ship monitoring is very valuable," explains George Voloshin, a global financial crime expert at ACAMS, a US-based watchdog."A common technique is to manipulate your AIS signal by just turning down your transponder or trying to manipulate it.""This makes it appear that the ship is in a different place, in a different location. All those leads are potentially valuable," he adds.Monitoring by the likes of Isik has helped expose Russia's exports of stolen Ukrainian grain and coal from Black Sea ports that it occupied in Ukraine.Moscow has denied the accusations. Turkish jurisdictionThe waters off Istanbul are under limited Turkish jurisdiction and are an international hub for hundreds of empty cargo ships and tankers that frequently change owners.Experts say this makes tracking difficult and creates conditions favourable to those seeking to circumvent a long list of sanctions."There are lots of ships here. There's a good ship market," says Isik."At the same time, Turkey offers major quality shipyards immediately to the east of Istanbul, actually violating sanctions more than the anchorage area in the shipyard. It's because Turkey is not part of EU and the US sanctions, which are not necessarily universal," Isik explains."We see many sanctioned vessels come in to get services from the shipyards to the east of Istanbul, and they are not breaking any domestic laws."Ankara refuses to enforce many international sanctions against Russia, claiming they're not bound by them. Trade between Russia and Turkey has surged since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is set to grow further, with Turkish and Russian Presidents committing themselves to increasing trade from $70 to $100 billion.That means more ships for Isik to follow. 
9/16/20235 minutes, 50 seconds
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West looks on as Turkey-Russia relations deepen following Sochi summit

Recent tensions in relations between Ankara and Moscow had stoked hopes among Turkey's Western allies of a rupture in the close relationship. But a summit on Monday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin may have dashed those hopes, as they committed themselves to deepening their cooperation. Meeting at Russia's Black Sea resort Sochi on Monday, Erdogan failed in his bid to persuade Vladimir Putin to return to the 2022 UN-brokered Ukraine grain export deal as the Russian leader reiterated his stance that key sanctions against Moscow need to be lifted for any resumption of Ukrainian exports.Putin's rebuttal is a blow to Erdogan, given he was a key architect of the deal along with the United Nations Secretary general Antonio Guterres.But Erdogan's close relationship with Putin was seen to have cooled of late after he angered Moscow with his support for Ukraine's NATO membership bid.Bilateral cooperation securedBut the Turkish leader didn't leave the summit empty-handed, with the two leaders committing themselves to wide-ranging cooperation from tourism to energy to foreign aid.The bilateral deals will dash the hopes of Turkey's Western allies of a rupture in the Erdogan-Putin relationship."The Sochi meeting definitely demonstrated that the interaction grew between two sides between Russia and Turkey, and both sides are in certain way indispensable for each other," according to Russia expert Zaur Gasimov at Bonn University in Germany. "They continue to cooperate. They continue to interact. And a number of chapters in that book of cooperation between Moscow and Ankara grew tremendously since the last two or three years, and the Sochi meeting demonstrated that very clearly," Gasimov added.At the Sochi meeting, Putin said a deal between Russia, Turkey, and Qatar to supply a million tonnes of grain to six African countries was close to fruition – on Wednesday, Moscow confirmed Turkey's participation in the accord. Turkey may be key to salvaging Ukraine's Black Sea grain exportsFears of sanction 'loophole'Under the agreement, Turkey would process the grain into flour, with Putin adding that Turkey would also receive grain for its own market.  Experts warn, however, that Russia could use the deal to export stolen Ukrainian grain, breaching international sanctions, putting the spotlight on Ankara's stance of not enforcing Western sanctions against Russia – to which, Turkey says, it is not bound."Turkey is very important [to Russia]," said George Voloshin for ACAMS, a financial crime watchdog."There are many intermediaries in Turkey that help Russian interests, that help Russia procure goods from the West, including basic goods, as well as very sensitive goods."So it's really up to Turkey's government to make sure there's no re-exportation of European, American or UK goods into Russia. And I think there's a lot to do in this respect," added Voloshin.Since the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia, imports to Turkey from European countries have surged with a corresponding increase in exports from Turkey to Russia, fuelling suspicions companies in Europe are using Turkey to circumvent the sanctions. Erdogan hopes a U-turn can salvage Turkey's floundering economyTrade and infrastructure investmentsMeanwhile, Putin and Erdogan committed themselves to increasing bilateral trade from $70billion to $100billion, including turning Turkey into a regional hub for distributing Russian gas.The leader's discussions also included Russian companies starting construction of a second nuclear reactor in Turkey. Boosting trade and infrastructure investments are seen as vital for the ailing Turkish economy.Experts claim the Sochi summit characterized by smiling and relaxed leaders and a commitment to deepen cooperation underlines that despite recent strains between Ankara and Moscow, Erdogan is too important for Putin to lose."Putin cannot face losing Erdogan," says Columnist Ilhan Uzgel for the Kisa Dalga, a Turkish news portal. "So they [Moscow] tolerate anything Turkey is doing inside NATO membership. I mean, that is for sure."They don't care about what Erdogan is doing in his ties with Western countries and Western institutions," continued Uzgel. "They are more interested in what kind of cooperation they can have with Erdogan, and they cooperate in many, many areas."At least for now, some analysts say hopes of a diplomatic rupture between Ankara and Moscow are on hold, with Putin focusing more on areas of cooperation than points of difference.
9/9/20234 minutes, 42 seconds
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With elections behind them, leaders of Greece and Turkey look to reset relations

Historic rivals Greece and Turkey look closer to a rapprochement as their leaders step up efforts to improve ties after receiving strong election mandates this year. Foreign ministers from the two neighbours are set to meet on Monday, but analysts warn substantial obstacles still need to be overcome. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis's landslide victory in June elections is seen as allowing him to pursue his long-term goal of rapprochement with Turkey. "I wouldn't call it his secret agenda, but he did want that – the amelioration of relations – and that is something that goes back since the beginning of this century when I first met him," claims Alexis Heraclides, a professor of international relations at Panteion University in Athens.Leaders of the two countries met on the sidelines of the Nato summit in Vilnius in July, pledging to work towards improving ties. This Monday the Greek foreign minister, Giorgos Gerapetritis, is scheduled to travel to Turkey to meet his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan in the latest effort at rapprochement.Mitsotakis appointed Gerapetritis after his election victory, replacing Nikos Dendias, a hawk in Turkish-Greek relations, notes Heraclides. "The fact that [Mitsotakis] was able to get this victory sort of unties his hands," he said. "Previously he had little leeway, since his foreign minister [Dendias], his head of the army and others are very much hardliners."So this is an almost golden opportunity to do his thing, to take matters into his hands."Change of toneAfter his re-election in May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also replaced his foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu. Newly appointed Hakan Fidan is widely regarded as a skilled diplomat.With elections behind him the Turkish president can tone down his nationalist rhetoric, which is popular with his electoral base, and be more receptive to Greek overtures, says Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute, an Ankara-based research organisation."The new government, of course, will be much more cooperative," Bagci predicts. "I think the non-solvable issues will continue, but the rhetoric will be much more [toned] down."I do expect that both sides will try to find common ground... Both leaders seem to be trying to work together. And this is time for cooperation, not confrontation," he added.Maritime flashpointsThe Aegean and Mediterranean Seas remain flashpoints for the Greek and Turkish navies as both countries search for what are believed to be significant energy reserves in disputed waters. Tensions rise between Greece and Turkey over island military bases Turkish-Greek dispute over Libyan oil reserves risks sparking regional rowAt the same time, the island of Cyprus, divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, continues to be a potential source of tension. But analysts say improving bilateral ties could help Turkey achieve one of its military goals: buying American-made jets.Turkey is seeking to acquire F-16 fighter jets from the United States. Last year the Greek prime minister urged the US Congress to block the sale, and the deal has been delayed in part over Washington's concerns about tensions between the two Nato allies. 'Honeymoon period'But given the history of failed attempts, observers question how long the latest efforts to improve ties will last."You see these wonderful pictures coming out, everyone smiling in nice photo ops," observes Mediterranean security analyst Aya Burweila. "I think in three months, six months, we'll see if people are going to go back to their baseline," she said."It's like in a horrible marriage – there's a little honeymoon period, and then everybody goes back to who they really are."  Love conquers all for Greek-Turkish couples in AthensBut there remain hopeful signs. Greek and Turkish leaders refrained from angry rhetoric despite the recent flare-up of tensions in Cyprus over the construction of a road in contested territory, as well as the announcement that Turkey plans to drill for new energy sources in the Mediterranean.Mitsotakis and Erdogan are expected to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in October, with a summit between the two leaders in Greece on the cards later this year.
9/2/20235 minutes, 11 seconds
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Istanbul facing drastic water shortages brought on by climate change

Turkey's largest city faces one of its worst droughts with record high temperatures, blamed on climate change. With many of the city's water reservoirs nearly empty, experts warn Istanbul could face water shortages in just weeks if rain doesn't come. Grass now grows in many reservoirs that were once filled with water in Istanbul. A dry winter followed by a summer with record-high temperatures have nearly emptied many of the city's dams.The city authorities regularly update the falling dam levels and warn of the need for conservation.As a result, the Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (ISKI) on Wednesday announced emergency efforts and longterm plans to deal with the growing water crisis the city is facing."The biggest threat to the world is the climate crisis," declared Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu, speaking at a conference this week."The struggle against the climate crisis will grow. In this respect, we should be able to look at this fundamental issue of the world in the name of humanity and recognise that this is beyond an individual state issue, and we should be prepared," the mayor added.Be preparedWater is now being pumped nearly from the Melen River, 200 kilometres away, to meet the needs of Istanbul's 16 million inhabitants. The city's unique geography is complicating those efforts. The Bosphorus waterway divides Istanbul between Europe and Asia, making it increasingly tricky to juggle water supplies across two continents."We've got an integrated water management and are doing the most optimisation studies," explains Tugba Olmez-Hanci, head of Strategy Development Istanbul's Water and Sewerage Administration."In the Asian part, the population is 35 percent, while in the European part of Istanbul, the population is 65 percent. Water sources are higher in the Asian part and are lower by approximately 30 percent in the European part," Hanci explains.Water authorities have produced videos calling on consumers to reduce their consumption while high users receive text messages warning of their consumption. Special valves are offered to reduce water pressure.Waiting for rainBut with record temperatures increasing evaporation from the remaining water in Istanbul's dams, Dursun Yildiz, head of Turkey's Hydropolitics Association, warns time could be running out for the city if rain doesn't come soon.If there isn't sufficient precipitation in the coming months, the city's administration will have to put special measures in place, he says. UN warns of impacts on health as Europe braces for record heatwaves "All these things depend on weather conditions in September and October. Waters users and water administrators need to change their attitude to use water as efficiently as possible," added Yildiz."I cannot say it's not a problem," said Hanci of Istanbul's Water and Sewerage Administration, "We are trying to do our best until the rains come."  Rain cannot come soon enough for Istanbul Mayor Imamoglu, whose reelection next year may depend on how he manages the delicate issue of water cuts. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already declared he's determined that his party will regain control of Turkey's largest city.
8/26/20234 minutes, 43 seconds
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Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in Africa

The restoration of full diplomatic relations between Turkey and Egypt raises hope that cooperation can replace rivalry between these two regional powers. Turkey and Egypt have both been involved in civil wars in Ethiopia and Libya, each backing a different side.Analysts hope the restoration of full diplomatic ties between Cairo and Ankara in early July will help ease tensions across Africa and the Middle East."It could affect Egypt, at least the issue they have in Ethiopia, because both countries support different sides of the conflict," predicts security analyst Aya Burweila."So, in general, I think this is good. I think it's helpful for Libya as well because both sides support different factions in Libya," adds Burweila, who specialises in Libya. "And I think this stalemate has gone on for such a long time. It is about time existing powers figure out something that everyone can agree on," she concluded.Libya crisisIn 2020, Turkey's military intervention in support of Libya's Government of National Accord against the Egyptian-backed forces of General Khalifa Hafta brought Turkey and Egypt to the brink of a direct confrontation."When you are looking at the tense times, Turkey and Egyptian armies almost came face to face here," recounts Turkish presidential advisor Mesut Casin. France blasts Turkey for role in Libya as crisis draws in foreign actorsCasin, an international security expert at Istanbul's Yeditepe University, says economic cooperation offers a way forward out of the current tensions in Libya."Turkey and Egypt, first of all, may bring energy security and energy trade. Secondly, if they come together in Libya, it should be beneficial to both Turkey and Libya," he said.But Turkey's military presence and the deployment of Syrian mercenaries in Libya are potential obstacles to a Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement. What are Turkish troops and Syrian militia fighters doing in Libya?Egypt "wants to see the withdrawal of [Turkish] troops in Libya, the withdrawal of Syrian mercenaries in Libya. Egypt has a red line in Libya," warns analyst Burweila."They're very wary of foreign bases and its neighbouring country, and definitely foreign troops that are associated with Islamist extremism. So they want to see concrete actions from Turkey before they move forward. Having said that, I think the first step to any concrete action is diplomatic relations," she added.Energy resourcesLibya's vast energy wealth offers a powerful impetus for cooperation, suggests Jalel Harchaoui at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.Harchaoui points out that a deal is waiting to be made, with Turkey backing the regime controlling western Libya and Egypt supporting forces in the east of the country."Egyptian workers could have an easier time finding their traditional historical jobs in the western, most populated half of Libya. And if in exchange, they facilitate the economic penetration of Turkey in the east, then it would be better for everybody from an economic perspective," he explained.The future of Libya is predicted to top the agenda when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visits Ankara for talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.The state visit is seen as symbolically marking a return to normal relations.Regional axisIn turn that brings the hope that cooperation can replace rivalry between the two countries, especially when it comes to regional issues."It's going to be about taking care of Libya," said Harchaoui, "and avoiding situations worsening in secondary theatres like Tunisia, or if Chad gets into trouble because the Sudan war fragments it."He added: "You would be able to just assume that Turkey and Egypt are roughly on the same side. Same thing with Sudan; you don't have the knee-jerk reaction of always being against the other." Egypt and Sudan's international partners try to stop the civil warMoney also could have a crucial role in keeping the Turkey-Egypt rapprochement on track.Erdogan's recent visit to the Arab Gulf States saw him sign tens of billions of dollars in contracts with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both allies of Egypt. The funds are vital to keeping Turkey's floundering economy afloat.Analysts say such deals will also help ensure the future of Turkey and Egypt's new detente and with it, the removal of a destabilising force in the regions.
7/29/20235 minutes, 4 seconds
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Turkey may be key to salvaging Ukraine's Black Sea grain exports

Russia's decision to walk out on a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to allow Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea has prompted fears of soaring prices and global famine. Turkey, the gatekeeper to the waterway, has a key role to play in finding a solution. The Turkish-flagged TQ Samsun was the last ship to carry grain from a Ukrainian Black Sea port under the deal that guaranteed safe passage to cargo ships leaving the war zone, after Moscow withdrew from the agreement earlier this week. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is calling for grain exports to continue through the Black Sea.Such a move would likely need support from the Turkish navy, which is second only to Russia in the Black Sea.  France slams Russia's suspension of Black Sea grain deal as 'blackmail'"I've been a proponent of this [Turkish naval support] from the very beginning," declares Yoruk Isik, a geopolitical analyst in Istanbul with the Washington-based Middle East Institute."There are some difficulties. The first one will be the insurance question. But we already hear from the Ukrainian government that it set aside a serious amount of money, like half a billion euros, to provide possible insurance."Isik also warned: "I think that Russia could do things that irritate Turkey, possibly in Syria and other places."Russian escalationMoscow warns that cargo ships attempting to carry Ukrainian grain will be considered hostile because they could potentially bear arms for Kyiv.After withdrawing from the grain deal, Russian forces have already started pounding Ukrainian ports. Russia defence ministry says navy carried out live fire 'exercise' in Black SeaBut it is not clear whether Moscow is ready for a confrontation with Turkey if it deploys its naval forces to protect ships carrying Ukrainian grain."They will try to create a hostile environment, possibly maybe dumping some sea mines," warns analyst Isik."But in reality, if Turkey is backing this trade [Ukrainian grain exports], I actually don't expect Russians will have either the ability or the desire to really confront the Turkish navy or the international vessels transiting on the western Black Sea," he added.But Ankara is wary of the risks involved, given the dangers of a possible confrontation with Russian naval forces."The Russian naval fleet is very powerful here, they have a lot of battleships; they have more than ten submarines here," explains Mesut Casin, an international security expert at Istanbul's Yeditepe University and adviser to the Turkish president."This could be a big headache for Nato and for Turkey's security, and this will trigger a kind of blowup in Turkey-Russian relations," he said.Turkey keeps the balanceIf Ankara doesn't offer assistance, other Nato members may want to step in to secure the continuation of Ukrainian grain exports, which experts say is essential to prevent surging food prices and famine in some parts of the world. Grain shortfall from Ukraine war exacerbates food insecurity in AfricaBut Turkey is the gatekeeper to the Black Sea under the international Montreux Convention on maritime traffic, and some analysts say it will be very reluctant to allow warships to enter the war zone."Those ships would make very easy targets," predicts Serhat Guvenc, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, "and probably, their presence would not decrease but increase the risk of escalation between Nato and Russia."He adds: "That's the reason why Turkey has suggested to its allies and others that they should reconsider their plans to send in warships into the Black Sea." Erdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey's Western alliesSince the onset of the Ukrainian conflict, Turkey has blocked access to ships from both Russia and Nato countries, other than those that have ports on the Black Sea. The stance is part of what Ankara calls its balanced approach."Turkey is very, very careful here not to touch the security interest of Russia as directly as the United States and other European countries do," explains Huseyin Bagci of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute."Turkey will have a unique position in this respect. As we say, neither West nor East but the Turkish security interest, which is keeping the balance there," Bagci said.Go-betweenTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims his close ties with his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts helped him broker the UN grain deal. Erdogan says he still believes Turkish diplomacy again can find a solution to avert escalating tensions."The Black Sea, even though a closed and small area, is one of the most dangerous areas in the world," warns presidential advisor Casin. "Someone has to open the gate with the Kremlin; this should be Turkey." Turkey maintains cordial links with Russia on first anniversary of Ukraine warTurkey, as the world's largest flour exporter and among the largest exporters of pasta, stands to lose if Ukrainian grain exports do not resume.With the Turkish waterways no longer full of ships carrying Ukrainian grain, world food prices are predicted to surge – along with pressure to find a solution.
7/23/20235 minutes, 26 seconds
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As Turkey agrees to let Sweden into NATO, some see a pivot back to the West

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's U-turn on Sweden's NATO membership bid is fuelling speculation that he may be pivoting back to his traditional Western allies. Until now the Turkish leader has had something of a diplomatic love affair with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, even as the rest of Europe shuns him for his invasion of Ukraine. All smiles, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced at this week's summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, that Erdogan had finally agreed to back Sweden's bid to join the defence alliance. There was handshaking and backslapping, and Erdogan was very much the man of the moment.US President Joe Biden, who has criticised Erdogan's human rights record in the past, exchanged jokes with the Turkish leader. Biden's commitment to sell US fighter jets to Turkey is believed to have clinched Erdogan's support."This is portrayed as a big triumph for Erdogan," observed political analyst Sezin Oney, of Turkish news portal Politikyol. "The people are living through the daily reality of the economic crisis very harshly in Turkey. Now, for the time being, we've stopped talking about this, and it's Erdogan's triumph [instead]. Even part of the opposition is in awe."It does not matter if it's really a success; it's changing the agenda. And it's a big win for the West because Russia has had blow after blow in recent weeks," Oney said.Turkey's opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu slammed the NATO love fest and accused Western leaders of ignoring Erdogan's human rights record in Turkey, where prominent political and civil society leaders are languishing in jail on flimsy charges.But realpolitik and pragmatism appear to be the order of the day, with hopes growing amongst NATO members that a rift could emerge between Turkey and Russia.Tit for tatEven before this week's summit, Erdogan gave signals that all was not well in his relations with Moscow.Last Saturday, Turkey released Ukrainian commanders who'd been held as part of a prisoner swap, which infuriated the Russian government. The soldiers were supposed to stay in Turkey until the war's end as part of a deal brokered by Turkey between Ukraine and Russia."Yes, we do have our differences," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov. "We do not hide them, either. But another part of our relations also serves the best interests of our two countries. These relations are important for us and the Turkish side." Erdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey's Western alliesMoscow has been quick to punish Ankara. Russia vetoed the extension of a United Nations aid deal for Syria. That means more suffering for millions of Syrian dissidents and their families trapped on the Turkish border and adds to the risk they may seek to flee to Turkey.But Russia expert Zaur Gasimov of Bonn University predicts Moscow will be careful in its response. He says the Kremlin is aware Ankara's actions are more gestures than substantive, albeit a little humiliating – and that, crucially, Turkey continues not to enforce Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine."Turkey and Russia have very different positions and very different interests in all regions," observed Gasimov. "But both sides are aware in all these sub-regions that they have to communicate to interact, and that is the extent of the cooperation."He added: "It's not a mutual interest, but it's the understanding of how essential it is to cooperate and stay in a dialogue with each other."Playing both sides?Turkey is heavily dependent on Russian trade, especially energy. Putin deferred billions of euros in Turkish energy payments ahead of Erdogan's re-election campaign, which helped to avert a widely predicted currency collapse.Given these interests, some observers question whether Erdogan has performed any real pivot back to the West. The escaping Russians finding a better life in Turkey"With Erdogan, never say never. Tomorrow he may just revert back to Putin," suggested political analyst Oney.The Turkish president's strategy is "negotiating with Putin or having good relations in general and using this as leverage with the West, and having good relations with the West from time to time and using it as leverage with Russia", she said."I think it will continue. This is the foreign policy of Erdogan," Oney added.Black Sea grain dealBut Moscow's threat to end a deal brokered by Turkey and the UN to allow the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports is further straining Russian-Turkish ties. Putin is calling for sanctions against Russia to be eased in exchange for renewing the deal.Given the importance of the grain deal to Ankara, some predict there could be severe repercussions if Moscow vetoes its extension."Turkey really wants the grain deal to continue, and the signals coming from Russia are that the grain deal is coming to an end," observed Yoruk Isik, a geopolitical analyst in Istanbul with the US-based Middle East Institute. Erdogan hopes a U-turn can salvage Turkey's floundering economy"So before the Russians take any more action to really end this grain deal, Turkey is sending a signal that there are many things depending on Turkey, including Turkey not joining so far in any sanctions against Russia," Isik said.For Erdogan, the grain deal has been a diplomatic triumph. If Moscow should end it, this would likely raise more questions over Turkey's balancing act between Russia and the West, and could provide Ankara with further impetus to move back to its Western allies.
7/15/20237 minutes, 22 seconds
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US may have solution to Turkey's opposition to Swedish NATO bid

With Nato leaders due to gather in Vilnius Tuesday for a two day summit, Sweden's membership bid hangs in the balance. Turkish President Recep Erdogan, outraged by the burning of a Koran outside a Stockholm mosque, is resisting international pressure over his opposition to Sweden's bid. The Turkish leader is emboldened by his May election victory, but Washington may hold the key to resolving the impasse. Last month's public burning of a Koran by protesters outside a Stockholm mosque is the latest obstacle to Sweden's NATO bid. Erdogan slammed the Koran burning and warned  that he would resist pressure over his opposition to Sweden's membership aspiration.'Provocation and threats'"I clearly want it to be known that, as Turkey, we will not bow down to the politics of provocation and threats," bellowed Erdogan in a national TV address."We will teach the arrogant Western people that it is not freedom of expression to insult the sacred values of Muslims."Erdogan's May election victory was on a platform of standing up to Turkey's Western allies, likely hardening his negotiating stance with his NATO partners."We are likely to see more of the same. President Erdogan, has been emboldened by the vote, having five years of no elections," Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institution in Washington,said. "Then possibly the price going up in terms of Turkey ratifying Sweden's NATO membership."Erdogan is calling on Stockholm to ban public displays of support for the Kurdish separatist group the PKK. The group has waged an insurgency against Turkey for four decades and is designated by both the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization. Ankara also wants Sweden to extradite its members to Turkey. But Stockholm insists they've now met Ankara's security demands."Sweden is no safe haven for terrorism. We are no safe haven for PKK," said Sweden's chief negotiator, Oscar Stenstrom. French president urges Turkey to support Sweden's bid to join NATO NATO chief calls on Turkey not to veto Sweden's bid to join alliance Sweden, PKK and NATO"We have stepped up our cooperation between our police agencies, the police, and the security service, together with the Turkish counterparts to be much more effective," added Stenstrom.But Erdogan dismissed such claims and demanded a crackdown by Swedish authorities on PKK activities.On Thursday, a Swedish court found a man guilty of extorting money on behalf of the PKK. At the same time, Swedish and Turkish diplomats met Thursday with NATO representatives to resolve the impasse. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said progress had been made but that there was still no breakthrough.US solutionTurkey's aging fleet of American-made F16 fighter jets could be key to resolving the impasse. Turkey wants Washington to approve the sale of new F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits."At the end of the day, probably, there will be a common understanding that America will provide the F-16 modernization process as well as the new F-16s,"  Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute, an Ankara-based research organization."And Turkey, I do not think that Turkey will be willing to stop the NATO's enlargement process," added Bagci. "But at the moment, the more the Swedish membership is postponed, the better for Russia."President Biden is now voicing support for the Turkish fighter sale. But there could be other obstacles. Erdogan is looking for an invitation to Washington as the price for lifting his veto on Sweden's NATO membership bid,  claims International Relations professor Serhat Guvenc at Istanbul Kadir Has University."Erdogan has been in power for more than twenty years, and Biden is the only US president who has refused to meet him in an official capacity, either in the US capital or in the Turkish capital. So probably one of the priorities of Erdogan will be to put an end to this isolation or exclusion from Washington, DC," said Guvenc.Biden is a critic of Erdogan's human rights record. But Ankara's backing of Sweden's NATO bid would also likely open the door to Stockholm's other remaining opponent, Hungary."Regarding Turkey, they are also our allies, and therefore we need to hear their voice," said Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, a close ally of Erdogan."Perhaps, since we are closer to them than the other NATO members, we are hearing them with a sharper ear," added Orban.Erdogan likes to broker deals face-to-face with fellow world leaders in the blaze of the world's media. So any breakthrough was seen as unlikely until the Nato leaders gave for the Vilnius summit, with negotiations likely to go down to the wire and Sweden facing a nervous wait.
7/9/20235 minutes, 52 seconds
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Turkey's Pride struggling to survive amid LGBTQ+ crackdown

Turkish authorities have cracked down on Istanbul's Pride parade with dozens of arrests. Once one of the biggest events in the region, Pride is now struggling to survive, with newly re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing the LGBTQ+ movement of threatening Turkish society. For three decades Istanbul Pride Week has been the focal point of the year for Turkey's LGBTQ+ community, attracting tens of thousands of people."It's super important because we don't have any other location or place where we can actually talk about these things," says Can Kortun, a member of the Istanbul Pride Committee."We don't have any location where we can talk about Muslim feminist LGBTQ+ people. We don't have any place to talk about immigrant LGBTQ+ people. We don't have any place we can talk about our civil rights."The other side is being able to show people that we are not a small number of people."Parade branded 'terror threat'Relations between people of the same sex have been allowed – or at least not criminalised – in Turkey since the establishment of the secular republic in 1923.But in recent years, the authorities have been cracking down on Pride week.This year is no different. The centre of Istanbul was locked down after the local governor ruled that a planned parade by LGBTQ+ members was a terror threat.Despite massive security, participants attempted to go ahead with their Pride march, which resulted in over a hundred arrests and heavily armed riot police chasing people through the streets. Surge in anti-LGBTQ disinformation targets Pride in EuropeLast month Erdogan used his victory speech to ramp up his anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. He accused the community of posing an unacceptable threat to family values.Oner Ceylan of Lambda, an Istanbul-based LGBTQ+ group, says Erdogan sees their movement as a political threat."The political spaces in Turkey have been immensely narrowing more and more. And the only people who can go out on the street and protest are women and they are being severely punished," says Ceylan."Because of that, Erdogan has chosen the LGBTQ+ community as a target consciously because I think he believes that it's the movement strong enough to be visible and disturbing to some people who are afraid of liberties in society."Pride struggling to surviveMany LGBTQ+ organisations that have developed over the past few decades in Turkey are now struggling to survive under increasing legal pressure."We have activists who are facing jail time," said Mustafa Sariyilmaz of the Turkish branch of the Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders group."Many of those people who were sued, they have been banned to leave the country, and most of them are like youngsters, university students."Sariyilmaz says the crackdown is undermining the effectiveness of LGBTQ+ groups."They are stuck in a corner. Every single step they want to take and every single thing they want to do is being investigated. So they cannot openly support many people."The cases against us are getting bigger and bigger every year, and we don't have enough lawyers to support us." Fight against anti-LGBT hate goes on, in France and around the worldLegal and political pressures are widely predicted to increase, and there's an expectation among LGBTQ+ members that things are going to get worse.But there's also a belief their achievements can't be undone."I grew up in the 80s where there was next to nothing about queer issues in the media in the society'" recounts veteran activist Ceylan."It was not something that people discussed. It was very difficult for me to find my way around, and it took a long time. Now, thanks to the movements of 30 years ... there's a very different scene."No matter how hard Erdogan tries, he cannot squeeze us back in the closet."
7/1/20235 minutes, 51 seconds
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The Canary Islands: facing the challenges of energy transition and climate change

The Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean receive an exceptional amount of sunshine every year. A tousim hotspot they also have high renewable energy potential. Nevertheless, tthey still depend on fossil fuels for 80% of its electricity. Last December, the regional parliament set an ambitious target of sourcing 92% of its energy from green technology by 2040. However, there are still significant obstacles to overcome. Stefanie Schüler, with the support of the European Union, has this report.  Standing facing the Atlantic Ocean, José Antonio Valbuena describes the ongoing challenges facing the archipelago.Renewable energy problemsHe is the outgoing Canary Islands’ minister for the fight against climate change and ecological transition.  The Spanish Canary Islands, he explains, are a system of eight volcanic islands that make up an archipelago.This means that each island has to resolve its own energy problems by itself as the islands are not interconnected to either the African continent or to the European continent. "All these factors hinder the development of renewable energy," he said.There are other problems too. Dimitriu Barreto works for the Technology Institute of Renewable Energy, a research center that specialises in energy transition.It has three wind farms and the biggest photovoltaic plant on the Canary Islands. However, as an engineer, he regrets that the development of renewable energy is being done without modernising the electricity network.“Here’s an example," he told RFI."Each week, when the wind is strong and we have surplus energy thanks to our new wind farms, the system operator orders us to reduce our production because this energy cannot be absorbed. In addition, no energy storage system has been put in place. So, this free energy is lost.” EU agrees to increase use of greener fuels in aviation industry Expansion of North Sea wind farms tops the agenda at Ostend energy summit Renewable energy capacity additions to hit record: IEAThe Canary Islands advantageChange is on the way, however. The new energy transition plan for the Canary Islands has accelerated the production of photovoltaic panels, which are being installed on roofs of houses by the hundreds.  The problem at the moment, José Antonio Valbuena says, is that there is no legislative framework to enable the development of renewable energy.Despite this, he points to the advantages the Canary Islands offer and that European continent doesn’t have.He told RFI: “The annual per capita energy demand is lower in the Canary Islands than in the rest of the European Union. This is for two reasons: first, we don’t need to heat our houses in the winter or to cool them in the summer, we have a stable climate. And second, our industries are responsible for less than 7% of the energy consumption here. This is an advantage."Of the eight Canary Islands, Ferro, the westernmost and smallest of the islands, has advanced furthest in energy transition. Ten years ago, the smallest island focused on a new type of renewable energy model. At the time, it was described as the first island in the world to be fuelled 100% by renewable energy. One of the developements that enabled this was the construction of a hydro-wind plant at a cost of 83 million euros, part of it financed by the European Union. This is now starting to bear fruit, according to Renan Andres Morales, an engineer in renewable energies in the Gorona del Viento hydro-wind plant. "The main benefits [from the plant] is the fuel savings that we achieved for the island...It means a reduction of CO2 emissions. Last year, we used seven thousand tons less fuel, which is the equivalent of 20 thousand tons of CO2." EU presents clean hydrogen plan that sets no limit to reliance on fossil fuels EU to ban fossil fuel car sales by 2035, slash truck and bus emissions 'Saving nature' at heart of coronavirus recovery, world leaders vow EU lawmakers support 'green' label for gas and nuclear energy  The winds of changeBut ten years later, the reality is different. It is difficult to know exactly how climate change will impact the winds or the ocean currents among other things. “The problem is that in recent years we have been noticing that the wind is changing, but our wind plant has been designed in relation to these north-north east winds” explains Renan Andres Morales. “So, if the winds come from the west or the south, it means that our wind plant is not installed in the right location," he said."This is the reason why we have to diversify our renewable energy sources as much as possible until we have a more precise idea of what our meteorological conditions will be like in the future.  Now, our main goal is to install a photovoltaic solar power plant. There are also wave energy converters. But it will be very difficult to achieve 100% renewable energy on the island.”The problems with this kind of scenario are already apparent. The hydro-wind plant of Gorona del Viento on Ferro Island  was closed  for ten days in May 2023 because of lack of wind. “When there is no wind, the sun can take over. When there is no sun, we have the water. But when we don’t have the water, it will become very complicated," Renan Andres Morales adds.These north-north-east winds, along with the sun, the sea, and the volcanoes, are part of what made the Canary Islands special. With the climate change, they’re now posing the islands’ biggest challenge.   
6/29/20235 minutes, 7 seconds
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Turkey continues to host more refugees than anyone else, but for how long?

Turkey's re-elected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is standing by his policy to give shelter to millions of refugees. Bordering Syria and spanning Europe and Asia, Turkey is the world's biggest host of people seeking international asylum – but public unease over the policy could threaten that. Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey lost their homes, their country, and in some cases, their limbs.At the Istanbul Orthotic Prosthesis Centre, Syrian refugees patiently wait to be measured and fitted with replacements, including 18-year-old Semir. His parents and four siblings were killed in the civil war; he lost his legs, but now hopes to walk again."They helped me a lot with everything; praise be to God, everything will be fine, praise be to God," he said. "We are training a little bit on the new limbs, and with progress, they will change to the new prosthesis and I will start walking step by step."The Istanbul centre was set up by Turkish charities the Humanitarian Relief Foundation and the Alliance of International Doctors, with financial support from Kuwait. Since its foundation five years ago, it has been working flat out.Specially trained staff carefully craft each artificial leg and arm. The centre uses state-of-the-art technology, including 3D printers, all under the supervision of Professor Yasar Tatar, who says the brutality of the civil war has brought unique challenges."Especially in Syria, there is a high number of amputees, involving multiple limb loss," Tatar explains. "Burns caused by barrel bombs also posed major challenges for us."He adds: "We have served around 2,050 amputees, and we have made approximately 4,000 prosthetic limbs. This is a huge number. Few centres in the world can make so many prostheses in such a short time."February's deadly earthquakes near the Turkish-Syrian border added to the centre's work, with many refugees badly injured in the disaster.'Reclaim our country'Turkey hosts over three million Syrian refugees, along with large numbers of Iraqis and Afghans.However, anti-refugee sentiment is growing. On a wall near the centre, graffiti has been sprayed: "Reclaim our country from refugees". As Afghans flee, Turkey is accused of deporting them without a fair hearing"There can be societal problems arising from the arrival of a large number of refugees. Turkey's recent economic problems have added to this," warns Mustafa Ozbek, a spokesperson for the Humanitarian Relief Foundation."On top of this, the elections saw some politicians especially bring up the issue of refugees, which has added to tensions," Ozbek said.EU interestsIn May's presidential elections, Erdogan's challengers vowed to repatriate millions of Syrian refugees. According to analysts, his re-election it will be a relief to refugees and the European Union, which pays Turkey to host refugees."The Europeans probably were relieved when Erdogan was re-elected because that means the refugee deal, which matters a lot for the EU leaders, will remain intact [and] operational. So they will be continuing to enjoy the benefits of their comfort zone," suggests Serhat Guvenc, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University. Are Syrian refugees going to pay for Europe's disagreements with Turkey?He argues the refugee deal is key to underpinning Turkey's relations with the EU."It will also mean the continuation of transnationalism in Western-Turkish relations in particular. And both sides have learned to deal with each other on a transactional basis," added Guvenc.Possibly mindful of public unease over refugees, Erdogan has vowed to step up the building of homes in a "safe zone" along Syria's border with Turkey to facilitate the voluntary return of a million Syrians. How many will take that offer remains to be seen.
6/25/20235 minutes, 26 seconds
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Erdogan hopes a U-turn can salvage Turkey's floundering economy

Turkey's newly reelected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has performed a rare and dramatic policy reversal. With the country facing a financial crisis, Erdogan has abandoned his controversial economic policies and turned to a market-friendly policymaker to lead the finance ministry. Erdogan's appointment of former US banker Mehmet Simsek as finance minister is widely seen as heralding an end to the Turkish leader's unorthodox economic policy of cutting interest rates to tame soaring inflation, which is running officially at around 40 percent. Erdogan, while reiterating his belief in the low interest rate policy, said he was ready to allow Simsek to follow the orthodox economic theory of raising rates.Analysts describe it as a remarkable pivot."It marks a 180 and about-turn in economic policies from Erdogan," said economist Timothy Ash, an associate fellow at Chatham House and senior strategist at Bluebay Asset Management."Remember, he has run unorthodox policies for much of the last decade," Ash recalled."Simsek was in the previous Erdogan administration with unorthodox policies and left because he didn't like them. So I think the fact that he has come back suggests that Erdogan has recognized he has to do something differently."Cost-of-living crisisMany blame Erdogan's low-interest rate policy for fuelling inflation, which remains stubbornly high, especially for food, with traders and buyers hit hard."Everyone's purchasing power is decreasing, that is very clear," warned Istanbul food market trader Gurol Simsek."Especially on the days when fruits and vegetables are sold in the market, it is very visible how much people's buying capacity has decreased."The Turkish lira has weakened to record lows after Erdogan's reelection, and Turkey has few foreign currency reserves left to defend it.But the arrival of some of the world's largest cruise ships in Istanbul is heralding the start of the lucrative tourism season. Tourists from abroad are expected to replenish foreign currency reserves, but time is running out to avert a crisis."Turkey is heading very rapidly to a currency crisis or, more formally speaking, balance of payments crisis," said Atilla Yesilada, Turkey analyst for GlobalSource Partners."I personally think Turkey cannot survive this winter without major, substantive and credible economic policy change."Step towards the West? Returning to the economic orthodoxy of increasing interest rates to rein in inflation is seen as opening the door to more foreign investment, and even moving closer to traditional Western allies."A return to orthodox economic policies will emphasise the importance of Western markets, Western lenders, financial institutions, etc," explained Serhat Guvenc, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University."And this will probably have a bearing on the political aspect of foreign policy." Erdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey's Western allies However, slaying inflation with high interest rates is a painful process. It risks reducing economic growth and especially hurting Turkey's large construction industry, which depends on cheap money.Moreover, with the construction industry having close ties to Erdogan, questions remain as to whether the government will continue with an orthodox economic policy."The concern is that [if] six months down the line and before local elections that are due early next year, Erdogan may have enough of this tight policy and may actually change, put pressure on Simsek not to do what he needs to do or even fire him, the markets would react very badly," says Ash. Turkey's Erdogan faces economic hurdles following election victory But Turkey will pay a heavy price if it reverts to unorthodox policies, the economist warns."Turkey probably would face the most serious crisis in over 20 years. There would be a risk of runs on banks, the collapse of banks, sovereign debt crisis, maxi devaluation, and then a lot of inflation – building on hyperinflation, if he doesn't do something now," Ash says.Erdogan has already declared his priority is to retake the Istanbul mayorship from the opposition. Politics – as ever – are likely to dictate whether the Turkish government makes difficult economic decisions and sticks with them.
6/18/20235 minutes, 18 seconds
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Erdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey's Western allies

Turkey's newly reelected president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, faces the challenge of balancing ties with Russia and Western allies as he seeks to make the country a major player on the world stage. With Erdogan taking the presidential oath for a third time, analysts predict foreign policy will be central to his goal of making Turkey a 21st-century power."We are also likely to see a continuation of this non-aligned and strategic, autonomous idea of Turkey's place in the world," said Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington."President Erdogan sees Turkey as a rising power," Aydintasbas explained. "He's built his campaign on this. The 21st century, he says, will be the century of Turkey, and that Turkey is not a loyal card-carrying member of the transatlantic community."Standoff over SwedenAnkara's ongoing veto of Sweden's Nato membership bid is increasingly viewed as a critical test of its loyalties.Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attended Erdogan's swearing-in last weekend, urging Turkey to lift its veto of Sweden's bid to join the transatlantic alliance. Ankara has accused Stockholm of sheltering members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies. NATO chief calls on Turkey not to veto Sweden's bid to join allianceSpeaking to reporters after meeting with Erdogan, Stoltenberg described talks as "productive", acknowledging security threats posed by Kurdish rebel groups like the PKK to Turkey. "No other ally has faced more terrorist attacks," said the Nato chief.But Stoltenberg insists Stockholm has addressed Ankara's calls to crack down on terrorist organisations attacking Turkey."Sweden has taken significant concrete steps to meet Turkey's concerns," he said. "This includes amending the Swedish constitution, ending its arms embargo, and stepping up counter-terrorism cooperation, including against the PKK. Important new terrorism legislation has come into force just a few days ago. So Sweden has fulfilled its obligations."Russian investment, American ambitionsAnkara's ongoing opposition to Sweden's Nato bid comes as Erdogan is pledging to deepen ties with Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first to congratulate Erdogan on his latest electoral success."Turkey is having a lot of investments from Russia," pointed out Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute, an Ankara-based research organisation."In his presidential speech, [Erdogan] was talking about this nuclear plant and also an LNG [liquid natural gas] hub for certain European countries. Turkish-Russian continue to be stronger," Bagci said.  Turkey and Russia closer than ever despite Western sanctionsPutin gave Erdogan significant financial support during the presidential election, deferring billions of dollars in energy payments to support the beleaguered Turkish economy. But analysts suggest Erdogan wants to consolidate his electoral success with a reset with Washington. US President Joe Biden has in the past criticised Erdogan, even calling him an autocrat."Erdogan got what he wanted or what he needed before the elections from Russia. He got a deferment of payments for natural gas," stressed international relations professor Serhat Guvenc of Kadir Has University."Now, probably, his expectations are more centred in the West than in Russia. There is this expectation that now that Erdogan was elected, that is proof of his democratic credentials," said Guvenc. "So based on this perceived renewal of democratic credentials, probably Erdogan and his associates will seek a reinvigoration of the relations between the two countries on the basis of a better reception of Erdogan in Washington, probably an official visit – this is what they are expecting."Lack of chemistryImproving Turkish-US relations is widely expected to help ease financial pressures facing the economy. But the poor chemistry between the country's two leaders remains an obstacle."Turkey's a challenge for Washington, and it will continue to be a challenge. The relationship is less than ideal. In fact, it's pretty dysfunctional," warns analyst Aydintasbas.  World leaders congratulate Turkey's Erdogan on reelection"It starts at the top with President Erdogan and President Biden hardly talking or hardly ever meeting. Even though they've met on the sidelines of major international summits, I think that the lines of communication between the two are just very poor," she added.That relationship could ultimately be tested over Ankara's stance on Nato enlargement and growing Western calls to impose sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, something Erdogan has so far refused.
6/10/20235 minutes, 29 seconds
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Turkey's Erdogan faces economic hurdles following election victory

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was sworn in for a fifth term on Saturday after winning re-election last weekend. But he will have little time to rest with the threat of a financial crisis and a tricky balancing act between Russia and Turkey's traditional Western allies. Erdogan's victory, widely considered his toughest, came despite an ailing economy and criticism over the handling of devastating earthquakes.On the streets of Istanbul, his presidential runoff victory over challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu came as little surprise."It is the normal result, a good result. This was what we hoped for," says Istanbul resident Mehmet, who wanted to be identified only by his first name."The first round had already determined the result. By the second round, we knew the outcome beforehand. It's going to be good for our country."But with Turkey facing soaring inflation and a weakening currency, for others, the result is fueling fear over what comes next."The problems are so big, whether it's the economy or other things," says fruit street trader Askin, who also wanted to be identified by his first name."Let me tell you, this is not something that will be fixed in just two days. It will not be solved easily. Part of the problem is the people themselves. They only think about their own interests." Impressive winWith Turkey grappling with inflation of more than 40 percent as well as widespread condemnation over the handling of February's earthquakes, Erdogan's election victory is widely considered his most impressive.But the quake-struck region gave Erdogan some of his strongest support, with backers celebrating his victory deep into the night.A remarkable result, says Can Selcuki, the head of Istanbul Economics Research, an opinion poll company. This is especially given Kilicdaroglu's more generous campaign promises over rehousing quake victims."Erdogan said that they would rebuild and sell the houses. Kilicdaroglu said they would rebuild and give them away for free. And looking at the results, people believe Erdogan more than Kilicdaroglu, so I would say it's a widespread notion," said Selcuki.  Turkey's LGBTQ community dread future under ErdoganUpon news of his victory, Erdogan sang to his supporters, vowing he would be with them until the grave. Some observers say that given Erdogan has never been more powerful, he could already be planning to abolish presidential term limits as part of constitutional reform plans."Secure and stronger certainly for another five years," predicted Huseyin Bagci, the head of the Foreign Policy Institute, an Ankara-based research organisation."Even I expect that he [Erdogan] will try to extend this presidential period, like Putin, like Xi Jinping, and maybe forever," added Bagci."He has the parliamentary majority. I do think that they will do this, a constitutional change that he can apply for another term."Challenges aheadBut Erdogan faces formidable challenges. The Turkish leader is vowing to continue his unorthodox economic policies, which are widely blamed for soaring inflation and a weakening currency."I think there is now a consensus among secularist or respectable economists that Turkey is heading very rapidly to currency crises," Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners says, warning of financial turmoil."I personally think Turkey cannot survive this winter without major, substantive and credible economic policy change."To avert such a crisis, Erdogan is predicted to turn to Mehmet Simsek to lead his financial team. Simsek is a former minister who once worked for the international finance company Merrill Lynch.However, analysts warn it remains to be seen whether Simsek will have the independence to return to economic orthodoxy and anathema to Erdogan. World leaders congratulate Turkey's Erdogan on re-election triumphAny hopes that Erdogan is ready to perform another political somersault in foreign policy is less likely, warns analysts Bagci. Instead, he says Erdogan will continue to balance his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey's traditional Western allies."They are good friends. It is true Turkish-Russian relations for the next five years will continue to be stronger. In his presidential speech, he was talking about this," Bagci said."But Putin is definitely very happy that he has his friend as president again for another five years. And so it will be much easier to work with [Putin] than Tayyip Erdogan working together with the European Union and the United States of America."Putin was among the first to congratulate Erdogan on his latest victory, praising what he called his "independent foreign policy".However, that policy will likely be tested on whether Erdogan will bow to Washington and other NATO members and lift Turkey's veto of Sweden's bid to join the military alliance when NATO leaders meet next month. Turkey threatens to dash Swedish, Finnish hopes of quick NATO entry
6/3/20235 minutes, 46 seconds
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Turkey's presidential challenger faces uphill battle to unite opposition

Incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the frontrunner as Turkey prepares for its first ever presidential runoff vote this weekend. But analysts say challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu has an outside chance, if he can galvanise his base. The first round saw Erdogan secure a majority in parliament and narrowly miss an outright win in the presidential race. Analysts say the political momentum has shifted away from Kilicdaroglu ahead of Sunday's runoff. "Erdogan obviously enjoys not only the 49.5 percent [of the vote] that he got in the first round, but also the parliamentary majority," explains Can Selcuki, head of opinion pollsters Istanbul Economics Research. "So these are very big motivational factors going into the second round, which renders him the likely winner. "Kilicdaroglu, on the other hand, is trying to motivate his supporters and increase mobilisation, but at the same time mitigate concerns over his nationalistic security policies," added Selcuki. Nationalist turn Both presidential candidates are targeting nationalist voters after a surprisingly strong showing by hardline nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan in the first round. Kilicdaroglu hopes to capitalise on nationalist sentiments and, since the first round, has stressed his commitment to deport millions of Syrian refugees.  Nationalist kingmaker endorses Erdogan for 28 May runoff "Kilicdaroglu probably is interested in getting some of those Sinan Ogan supporters, supporters of the third-party candidate who are driven by TikTok or social media – and nationalism, of course. So he's lurching a little more in that direction," said Asli Aydintasbas of the Brookings Institution in Washington.  But such a move carries risks, given that until now, Kilicdaroglu's focus was democratic reform. "The problem is these things are very dangerous, especially if you do these rapid adjustments and changes at the last minute," warns Aydintasbas. Kurdish question Kilicdaroglu is also now taking a hard line on security, vowing never to negotiate with Kurdish separatists. But such a move threatens to alienate key Kurdish voters, who Kilicdaroglu needs to win the presidency. Sezin Oney, a political scientist who writes for the Politikyol news portal, says Kilicdaroglu is performing a tricky political balancing act. "Now the bar is much, much higher. He has to first convince, first of all, his own voters to go and vote for him... And he has to convince others. "Also, he has to convince Sinan Ogan, the nationalist voter side, and he has to keep the Kurds on his side. So this is a very delicate balance. It's not impossible, but it's much, much more difficult than the first round," said Oney. Kilicdaroglu got a campaign boost when the pro-Kurdish HDP party on Thursday renewed its support for his presidential bid, even despite his overtures towards hardline Turkish nationalists who oppose more rights for minority Kurds. Parliamentary advantage But another challenge facing Kilicdaroglu is that the coalition led by Erdogan's AKP Party is set to secure an absolute majority in parliament, giving Erdogan a strategic advance. "The government side obviously is advocating for consistency, whereas the opposition is advocating for balance," suggests pollster Selcuki. "In the past, we've seen that the Turkish electorate usually chooses consistency over the notion of balance." Erdogan takes the advantage into Turkey's presidential runoff poll With Erdogan voters turning out in larger numbers than Kilicdaroglu's in their respective strongholds, Kilicdaroglu's chances now depend on how many of the incumbent president's opponents he can turn out, predicts Atilla Yesilada, a Turkey analyst for GlobalSource Partners. "The proximity of another Erdogan victory and what might happen to their future and to their children's future may force them to dispel their doubts and complaints about Kilicdaroglu and show up to the polls. That's the only thing that can change the facts on the ground," says Yesilada. Kilicdaroglu sought to gain political traction earlier this week by appearing on a popular YouTube show for four hours, taking audience questions. The show drew more than 20 million views. With momentum appearing to be with Erdogan in this final leg of the race, analysts say Kilicdaroglu needs to find more ways to reenergise his supporters at the crucial last minute.
5/26/20235 minutes, 19 seconds
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Erdogan takes the advantage into Turkey's presidential run-off poll

Turkey faces a presidential run-off poll on 28 May after an inconclusive vote on 14 May.  The political momentum seems to be with the incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who narrowly failed to secure an absolute majority. Erdogan is also expected to win a majority in the parliamentary election, the official results of which will be announced on Monday. Presidential challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu, widely tipped as the front-runner in many opinion polls, lagged four percentage points behind Erdogan, despite soaring inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, coupled with accusations of a botched response to the earthquake in February.  Istanbul's Uskudar district, once a traditional Erdogan stronghold, is witnessing growing electoral opposition. It is a place Kilicdaroglu targeted with his broad electoral coalition. There is a mixed reaction to the first-round vote. "There is this Tayyip Erdogan mentality, you see. It's always been believed he will save this country. He will save this homeland," said Uskudar resident Merve, who only wanted to be identified by her first name. Volunteer army of election monitors prepare to protect Turkey's vote "That logic is always there," she added, "I want to break that mentality a little bit. We should open our minds. Change is good. But people believe without him, there will be no roads, no bridges, and the citizens will be hungry." She added: "You know, he still understands the Turkish people, he still understands the differences, he still understands the state of poverty and the poor. No matter what, he is the one who still reaches out a hand to me today." 'Nothing has changed' Uskudar residents fish for food or maybe some extra cash in Istanbul's Bosphorus waterway, which dissects the city. Ismail, one of those residents, is still coming to terms with the presidential vote.  "We didn't expect it, and frankly, we were very hopeful that there would be a change, but again nothing has changed. So, we are shocked. I don't want to believe in the result," said Ismail. His friend, Cem, says he isn't surprised, but worries about the prospect of a second round of voting in a presidential run-off.  "There wasn't much that surprised me – the strong one won again. I mean, the big fish swallowed the small fish again. It's as simple as that," said Cem. "Round two is something we don't like, but people are ready. They will be ready again. In the second round, the chances are 50-50 again; nothing has changed, so we will wait and see." Following the parliamentary elections. Erdogan's coalition is expected to secure a a comfotable majority, which should lend Erdogan the advantage for the 28 May run-off. "Erdogan can now campaign saying that I'm the candidate who guarantees stability and also security because we have the parliamentary advantage," explained Sezin Oney, an analyst for the PolitikYol news portal.  "One of the undecided voters who never would vote for Erdogan told me that I would be voting for Erdogan this time just because of parliament," she added. "You would want the president and the parliament to align in the same direction. So that, of course, would be something detrimental for the opposition and positive for Erdogan." Kilicdaroglu's campaign Kilicdaroglu's campaign is pivoting toward courting Turkish nationalist voters in a bid to secure supporters of the presidential candidate Sinan Ogan who dropped out of the vote after coming third. Kilicdaroglu is doubling down on his vow to return millions of Syrian refugees as well as promising to protect the motherland – a reference to security and the country's war against Kurdish separatists.  This is a risky strategy given the challenger's dependence on Kurdish minority votes. "This is a very delicate balance. It's not impossible, but it's much, much more difficult than the first vote," said Oney. But with the political momentum now with Erdogan, caution doesn't appear to be an option for Kilicdaroglu.
5/20/20234 minutes, 22 seconds
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Volunteer army of election monitors prepare to protect Turkey's vote

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is predicted to face his toughest re-election challenge yet as voters head to the polls today. Amid growing concerns over voter security, opposition and non-governmental organisations are stepping up efforts to ensure a fair poll. It's busy in the Istanbul office of the non-partisan election monitoring group Turkiye Gonulluleri. "Now, in 81 cities, we are organizing the system in each voting area," explains Ayce Yucel, one of the group's coordinators. "We have a Turkiye Gonulluleri person in each school. We need at least 200,000 people. At the moment, we haven't reached that point yet."  Yucel confidently predicts they will achieve their monitor target by election day. The group trains monitors through telephone support, online videos, Zoom and face-to-face meetings. The monitors learn how to collect voting numbers at polling stations and to collate those figures to check the official results are accurate. Like many of the volunteers, Damla, who only wanted to be identified by her first name, is a student and is determined that every vote should count.  "As a young person, I cannot live the way I want, I cannot live the way I desire, and that is why I want to protect my vote and ballot box as a duty here because there are many security gaps," she said.  Nationwide operation Opinion polls indicate an increasingly tight presidential and parliamentary election. The government says all steps have been taken to ensure a fair vote, with videos from the state election board promising every ballot will count. Despite this, monitoring groups say there are still concerns about voter security. In response, Turkiye Gonulluleri has recruited a team of lawyers who will also help monitor the vote. Volunteers are also being sent to Turkey's earthquake-struck Hatay region. "Those who remained here have concerns, saying, 'I wonder if our votes will be stolen. I wonder if there will be someone who will protect our votes'," explains Tamer Baglan, Turkiye Gonulluleri's provincial coordinator for Hatay. "As volunteers, we are doing whatever we can to ensure that the election is held in a fair way. We currently have nearly 1,000 volunteers here. We've allocated them to voting stations," he added. Mass arrests But alarm bells are ringing in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish region in the south-east, where the state has a powerful presence after decades of fighting with separatists. At a press conference last Thursday in Diyarbakir, Turkey's largest Kurdish-majority city, human rights groups condemned the arrests under anti-terror laws of over 200 people, including lawyers, journalists and members of civil society.  "When we look at the investigation files, we see that journalists are being investigated for their journalistic activities, lawyers for their professional activities, civil society organisations for their democratic actions and activities," declared Abdullah Zeytun, head of the Diyarbakir branch of the Human Rights Association. "The timing of the arrests is meaningful because all these people are actively involved in observing the election process – [they are] people who'll identify and prevent voting violations that might occur during this process or will report on these violations," he said. Rights groups accuse Erdogan of trying to silence independent media As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social media The government dismisses such concerns, insisting the judiciary is independent. But Sorgul Aytek Avsar, the parliamentary candidate in Diyarbakir for the main pro-Kurdish Green Left Party, says that the arrests are fueling fears for election night. "Pressure has increased so much that people don't care about fear anymore; as they say, the knife is to the bone," she said. "People came together in a few hours after the arrests, thousands of them came together and protested. They showed that they would not accept it. "I think this showed that people strengthened their resolve for the election. I think it showed that people are really ready to protect their ballot boxes." Memories of 2019 vote Election monitor groups working with political parties played a crucial role in helping to ensure that votes were fairly counted in a hotly contested Istanbul mayoral election in 2019. That poll resulted in Erdogan's party losing its decades-long domination of the city. Istanbul's mayorial elections mean more than just running the city Ayce Yucel was part of those monitoring efforts and said that the memory of that success motivates her for the forthcoming polls. "Instead of thinking everything is going to be bad, you have to go to your school or wherever you are voting and follow what people are doing. That's the main idea, actually," Yucel said. As parties step up their campaigns, some observers say the role of election monitors could prove pivotal to the outcome of Sunday's polls.
5/13/20235 minutes, 30 seconds
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Turkish presidential hopeful Kilicdaroglu speaks candidly about Alevi beliefs

A political taboo has been broken in the prelude to the May presidential elections in Turkey. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's chief rival, has spoken out about being an Alevi – a member of a progressive Islamic sect targeted by centuries of discrimination and violence. The move is regarded as a significant and potentially dangerous political gamble. On YouTube, Kilicdaroglu, addressing first-time voters, declared his Alevi religious identity and that society should treat all beliefs equally.  Such admissions are rare in Turkish politics, as Alevism, a sect of Islam, has suffered centuries of prejudice and discrimination by the Sunni Muslim majority. "Alevis in society, ethnically and religiously, have been suffering since the 16th century in this country," Istar Gozaydin, an expert on religion and politics, told RFI. "It's a different interpretation of Islam than the Sunni understanding," Gozaydin adds. Victims of violence "The rituals are different. The interpretation is different. The philosophy is different. So the hard-core Sunni ones do perceive it as a heretical interpretation. In society, they have always been a target." Alevism is a mystical belief that combines religions, cultures, or ideas. It is rooted in Islam, Sufism, and some traditions of Shamanism. How 'Turkish Gandhi' Kilicdaroglu could influence May's elections Alevis pray in cemevis rather than mosques, worshiping through dance. Unlike most interpretations of Islam, there is no separation of men and women in prayer, and women are not obliged to wear religious headscarves. However the Alevis have been repeatedly victims of sectarian violence. In 1993 in the Turkish city of Sivas, a religious mob chanting: 'Kill the non-believers' burned down a hotel hosting an Alevi cultural festival, killing 37. Selami Saritas, head of Istanbul's Kartal Cemevi, was attacked last year by a sectarian mob but he welcomes Kilicdaroglu's move. Relief "This video has brought a lot of relief to our society," Saritas explains. "At least now, it has come to the point people can talk more openly about their Alevi identity. "We want our children to live in this country in safety. We want our children to live in this country as equals, as equals in terms of work, as equals in terms of education, as equals in every sense," added Saritas. Debate on religious headscarves returns to the heart of Turkish politics Alevi worshippers echo such sentiments. "There is a state that has been ignoring Alevis for years," said Elvan Ozdemir. "Kemal Kilicdaroglu has not expressed that he is an Alevi for years. But I think this is a very good revelation, a very good declaration. "It was very good for our country, for our people, and for Alevis. The government has been racist, sectarian, and disregarding us for years," she concluded. Critics Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Videos have appeared on social media attacking Kilcardoglu, accusing him of seeking to divide the nation and saying that there is only one interpretation of Islam. Such accusations are common, along with threats. As a result, armed security around Kilicdaroglu has been stepped up. Erdogan often makes thinly disguised attacks on Kilicdaroglu's Alevi identity in a move seen as seeking to consolidate his Sunni religious base. Erdogan calls Turkish general election for 14 May, one month early Until now, Kilicdaroglu's religious identity may have deterred potential supporters. However, the fact that he is heading up an electoral alliance of religious and nationalist parties suggests Turkish society is changing. "It [Alevi identity] was very important in the country," explained Osman Sert, director of the Panorama TR Research company. Courageous step "But nowadays, if you look at the "Millet Ittifaki" – the opposition's alliance, you know, the Islamists and the nationalists and the secularists and Alevis and the Sunnis are all together. "And it means that it is not as important as it was maybe 10 years ago." Kilicdaroglu's video – which has had more than 100 million hits – is widely seen as having an impact. "Thinking about the stigmas that the Alevi society has faced up to this time, this is a very, very courageous and very important step," Gozaydin says. As the election draws near, it remains to be seen if Kilicdaroglu's gamble will pay off.  Regardless of the outcome on 14 May, observers say he has already changed Turkey's political landscape.
5/6/20235 minutes, 24 seconds
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Will Russia lose an ally if Erdogan falls in Turkish election?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is struggling in many opinion polls ahead of the May elections. Challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu has promised to mend strained ties with Turkey's Western allies, a move which could be bad news for Moscow and might pose a dilemma for the European Union. With Turkey's economy in crisis, Kilicdaroglu is ahead of Erdogan in many polls. Kilicdaroglu has promised economic reform and a diplomatic reset with Turkey's Western allies. "Some of the relations, such as with the United States, with Nato, with the EU, are going to come back, predicts political scientist Zeynep Alemdar of Istanbul's Okan University. "Since a Western orientation is no doubt going to be one of the first priorities of a new administration." Erdogan's deepening ties with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, involving energy deals and purchases of Russian weapons, are straining relations with some of Turkey's Western allies. Turkey, a member of Nato, is blocking Sweden's membership bid. However, Zaur Gasimov, a professor of history and expert on Russia at Bonn University, says that Moscow sees Erdogan's foreign policy as an asset. "It is not perceived by Moscow as pro-Russian. It's perceived as pro-Turkish and tough pro-Turkish. But it is also not perceived as pro-Western. I guess that is the main aspect that fits into the agenda in Moscow," said Gasimov. Energy, tourism and support in Syria Turkey depends heavily on Russian energy, tourism, and cooperation in Syria. So untangling ties with Moscow will not be easy. "It would be tough to balance relations with Russia," said Alemdar. "No matter what, given the economic interdependency between the two countries. "So, one would hope for a renewed and better relationship with the EU in terms of the green transition as well, for example, so that the Russia relations can also be rebalanced again," added Alemdar. Turkey's poor human rights record caused its EU membership bid to be frozen long ago. Relations are now more transactional, for example, Ankara's EU deal to host Syrian migrants in exchange for cash. Turkey lays the ground for a smoothing of relations with Syria Kilicdaroglu vows a new constitution based on rights that will allow Turkey's EU bid to advance. But Alemdar warns such a reset poses the EU a dilemma. "I think the relationships with the EU would definitely be much better from Turkey's side. But the ball is in the EU's court because, with the migration deal and its domestic effects in Turkey, I think it would be would be necessary for the EU to devise new ways of interacting with the Turkish government as well," said Alemdar. Some Europeans happy to see Erdogan go Given that several EU members are opposed to Turkey's bid, some observers suggest that some European figures may welcome a change in Turkish leadership. "This Europe is not the Europe of a decade or two decades ago when Erdogan first came to power, and Turkey's accession talks started. Europe no longer wants enlargement, observes Asli Aydintasbas of the Washington-based think tank, the Brookings Institution  "The EU is no longer willing to see Turkey as a member of the club. And as such, Erdogan is a transactional partner, a person they can engage in a given situation, but a person whom they know is never going to be part of the European club works for their long-term interests. Turkey at odds with EU over policing of Libya arms embargo "An opposition victory would smooth out the wrinkles in the relationship, but it would force Europeans to think hard about Turkey and whether or not they see Turkey as part of the club. Neither Washington nor Europe is prepared for a post-Erdogan world," concluded Aydintasbas. Analysts point out that Turkey's Western allies were surprised when Erdogan's AKP Party stormed to power in 2002. A Kilicdaroglu win, they say, could again see diplomats scrambling.
4/29/20235 minutes, 18 seconds
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Rights groups accuse Erdogan of trying to silence independent media

With Turkey amid hotly contested elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing for the first time a powerful independent media. But international rights groups watchdogs accuse Erdogan of seeking to silence critical journalism as he faces his most formidable reelection bid. Dokuz8 Haber broadcasts news programs and produces reports with its nationwide network of reporters. It is one of a growing number of independent media platforms using social media and the web to cover May's presidential elections. Media control In previous polls, one of President Erdogan's key advantages was his vice-like grip on media coverage but not anymore. "It's a time of change in Turkey, and this is something that is reflected in the media," explains Gokhan Bicici, Dokuz8Haber editor-in-chief. "There are new moves a powerful independent media is developing, such as the growth of news channels and the enlargement of their sphere of influence," continues Bicici. "I can even say that in terms of the number of viewers on election day, the audience and the followers of independent organizations will be much more than mainstream media. Thus, the effort of the government to establish a monopoly failed; they lost," he concluded. Turkish President asks for forgiveness over earthquake rescue delays But the government-controlled media regulatory authority, RTUK, is stepping up its fines on independent media stations- prompting condemnation by twenty international media and freedom of expression watchdogs.  "if there is a duty of regulation, this should not be weaponized against a critical TV station before these crucial elections," said Erol Onderoglu, Turkey representative for Paris-based Reporters without Borders.   "One of the most important and concerning feet of this problem is the weaponization of high audiovisual border, which is supposed to be independent of any kind of political interference, but which is precisely one of the weapon or crackdown tools under the hand of this government," added Onderoglu. As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social media Partisanship charges The government denies the charge of partisanship. But for independent stations like Halk tv, it says fines are a part of doing business but warns the real threat is closure ahead of the May elections. "In our broadcasts, they can always find a reason for a penalty, a sentence, an interview, or a statement. And that is why we are always on alert," explains Halk TV News Editor in Chief, Bengu Sap Babaeker.    "We are always in expectation. Managers and fellow journalists are responsible for keeping this channel open. We are responsible for preventing a penalty that will close this channel down," she added. A month from Turkey's elections, soaring inflation shakes up political loyalties Despite the risk of closure and fines, stations like Halk during February's deadly earthquake exposed government shortcomings, drawing large audiences. Analysts say such coverage has helped build independent media's reputation ahead of elections for fair but critical coverage. "We're facing a renaissance of the Turkish media. It became evident in the earthquake period because we would not hear about the incapacity of the government had there not been the new voices of the media. They really did good reporting," observed Sezin Oney, a columnist at the Politikyol news portal.  "Good reporting is enough in itself," continued Oney. "It doesn't have to be just voicing the opposition's narrative or giving a voice to opposition politicians. But it's just reflecting what's happening on the ground, and that's really important for the election night as well." New independent media tv channels have been launched in the run-up to the polls, with many reporters who've quit the industry returning to help cover an election that all sides claim is one of the most important in the Turkish republics' history.
4/22/20234 minutes, 48 seconds
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A month from Turkey's elections, soaring inflation shakes up political loyalties

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched his bid for an unprecedented third term as president in May polls, but rocketing inflation is threatening his reelection hopes as he heads into his toughest campaign yet. In Kadikoy, a middle-class district of Istanbul, people patiently queue for a free Iftar meal to mark the end of a day of fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Many wait more than an hour for a meager meal of a sandwich and soup – including Ahmet, who only wants to be identified by his first name. "Why do you think all these people are waiting here just to receive a small food parcel?" he asks. "Unfortunately, everything is so expensive. The rents, the economy… the people are finished," Ahmet adds, as he looks at the long line ahead. The opposition-controlled municipal council of Istanbul is providing free food. Similar services are provided nationwide, with most of Turkey's main cities under opposition control. Inflation at 55 percent The opposition is highlighting Turkey's inflation rate as the country heads to parliamentary and presidential elections on 15 May. It's officially at 55 percent, but believed by many economists to be much higher. And they blame President Erdogan for his unorthodox policy of cutting rather than raising interest rates to control inflation. How 'Turkish Gandhi' Kilicdaroglu could influence May's elections "It's devastating. Poll after poll, we see up to 80 percent of participants complaining about economic conditions," says Atilla Yesilada, a Turkey analyst for GlobalSource Partners, quoting the latest opinion polls. "At least 80 percent think things have gotten worse over the last 12 months. Sixty percent, on average, think they will even get worse in the next 12 months," he continues. "Turkey's going to be shellshocked because prices will have to be increased, millions of households will no longer be able to afford electricity, natural gas, or both." Food costs soar The authorities are getting nervous about criticism. A graphic designer who produced stickers blaming Erdogan for rising food prices and placed them in supermarkets was detained and charged with insulting the Turkish president. He's now a hero on opposition social media sites. In an Istanbul market, local farmers try to sell their produce. Many complain about the lack of customers and warn they're struggle to survive. "Compared to the last year, there is a 100 percent increase in prices, even more, especially in feed prices. The feed prices doubled, and we have big hardships in producing and selling eggs," said Meral, a farmer who only wanted to give her first name. "The same is true for our milk production. It is extremely expensive. I have been doing this job for the last ten years. Now we don't earn any money; we are just striving to keep production going. We can't cover all the work we put in," she added. Other farmers say they're in the same boat. "The gas prices shot up 100 percent. We rented our field, and the rents went up immensely. The workers' rate used to be 150 Turkish lira, now it has gone up to 400," complained Yusuf Kahveci, a farmer with the company Akasya Agriculture. "We can't pass the cost on to the customers because they are not able to afford it. We have regular customers; they used to buy 30 eggs, now they ask for five or six," he said. Unifying issue One of Erdogan's most significant achievements was years of unprecedented economic growth and with it, the creation of a powerful religious middle-class. This group was always fearful their gains could be lost if Erdogan should lose power to pro-secular parties, analysts say. But soaring inflation could change that political equation, argues Osman Sert, director of PanoramaTR Research. "The economic crisis is cutting through all the segments, all the identities, and that's why it is lessening the effect of  polarization, because both the conservatives and the secularists and all the others are being affected by inflation and the economic crisis almost equally," said Sert. Debate on religious headscarves returns to the heart of Turkish politics The government is now trying to change the agenda. This week Turkey launched its first amphibious assault ship, and Erdogan said the event underlined how he'd turned the country into a regional power. His words were designed to court his nationalist religious voting base. Whether that base remains loyal is likely key to his reelection bid.
4/15/20235 minutes, 21 seconds
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Istanbul residents living in fear of post-quake building collapses

The mayor of Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, is warning of a race against time after February's deadly earthquakes highlighted deficiencies in the country's construction industry, with thousands of buildings collapsing. "We don't know when the earthquake will hit," said Ekrem Imamoglu, adding that to let people live in buildings that threaten their lives was "to knowingly let them die". Weeks after February's deadly quakes, buildings continue to collapse. Thousands of apartment buildings have been reduced into piles of rubble, with shoddy construction blamed for many collapses. In Istanbul, poorly constructed buildings are already being pulled down. The city is home to over 15 million people and is prone to quakes. Supervising the demolition of one building, Imamoglu warned his city was facing an unprecedented threat. Building inspections A municipal website allows residents to request their buildings be checked. Unsafe buildings considered beyond repair are being demolished while others are strengthened, with the municipality offering grants and cheap loans to residents. But many people say they cannot afford to pay and now fear for themselves and their families. "My family's apartment building is a five-story building and quite old. My brother's family lives there," explains Istanbul resident, a retired teacher. Sabiha Kuskun. "They are terrified ... and their only consolation is they live on the top floor, and if the building collapses, they hope they can survive," she added. Global rights groups say Turkish media under attack over quake coverage Istanbul is the centre of the country's decade-long construction boom. Developers have reportedly benefited from zoning amnesties introduced by the government to allow constructors to legalise buildings that violated stringent earthquake regulations by paying a fine. "The whole system in Turkey is built around the construction industry. Whatever we saw in the quake-hit cities of Hatay and Maras, we will probably see the same here in Istanbul, so we are talking about a big risk," warned Istanbul architect Omer Yilmaz. "The zoning amnesty has caused a huge problem; it is one of the foundations of the wider problem."     Developers arrested Dozens of developers have been arrested in the aftermath of the February earthquakes. But Turkey's construction boom has driven the country's unprecedented economic growth, underpinning Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP Party's years of electoral success. "Laws and regulations notwithstanding, it's the unstated policy of this government to use every square inch of land," observes analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.  "A" to build residential or commercial property expansion, "B" to feed an ever-growing group of homebuilders and construction companies, which in turn finance AKP and Erdogan's election campaigns," added Yesilada. EU conference raises 7 billion euros for earthquake recovery in Turkey, Syria But the nearly two-decade construction boom under Erdogan's AKP Party rule became a means to social mobility and improvement for many in society and a key factor behind Erdogan's enduring political success. "Now if you want to change your class in Turkey ... the only way you can do that is through construction," claims political columnist Sezin Oney of the Politikyol news portal. "You have a plot, you build something, then afterward, you get a lot of money. Then you're in the riches all of a sudden and you change class." Election campaigning is well underway ahead of May presidential and parliamentary polls. What happened and who is responsible in the February quake, with the death toll passing 50,000, is dominating the campaign. In a rare showing of contrition, Erdogan vowed never to use building amnesties again. "We can no longer think about enacting the laws of zoning amnesty. Otherwise, we will face what we experienced in the latest earthquake," he said in a television interview on Wednesday.
4/1/20235 minutes, 14 seconds
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How 'Turkish Gandhi' Kilicdaroglu could influence May's elections

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing his biggest electoral challenge in the May elections by the man dubbed the Turkish Gandhi. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in a rare move, has united much of the opposition, but critics warn he faces formidable obstacles to end Erdogan's more than 20-year rule. Backed by six political parties drawn from across the political spectrum, Kilicdaroglu, leader of the country's main opposition CHP party, announced his presidential candidacy on 6 March. He promises sweeping reform, an end to the executive presidency, and a return to parliamentary democracy. 'Rule with consensus' "Kilicdaroglu says 'I will not rule as one man; I will rule with consensus'. He's promising economic stability and a Turkey with human rights where everyone is represented equally," explains Halk TV News Editor in Chief Bengu Sap Babaeker "And we should remember that Kemal Kilicdaroglu has been in politics and in state bureaucracy for a very long time. Yet, despite this, there has been no accusation of corruption," added Babaeker. Seventy-four-year-old Kilicdaroglu brought his CHP party back from the dead. His 2017 400km "March for Justice" from Ankara to Istanbul over the jailing of government critics morphed into one of the first major mass movements against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule. Media dubbed Kilicdaroglu the Turkish Gandhi. Kilicdaroglu masterminded municipal election victories in four out of five of Turkey's largest cities, including Erdogan's political fortress Istanbul. But critics point out that the softly-spoken opposition leader, with his civil service background, lacks Erdogan's fiery charisma. As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social media Kilicdaroglu has lost four general elections against Erdogan's AKP Party and his candidacy faced opposition within his coalition alliance. "He's not seen as the typical leader. He's not the strong yelling type," said political scientist Zeynep Alemdar of Istanbul's Okan University. "He doesn't demonstrate the qualities of that masculine leadership people are very much after. And it's not just in Turkey. Look at Russia, look at Trump! People like that type of leadership. He's very humble, soft-spoken. We don't really see him angry," added Alemdar. Earthquakes and politics However, February's deadly earthquakes are widely seen as a political game changer, with outrage over construction failings and allegations of a slow response by the state to the disaster. Kilicdaroglu was quickly on the scene, offering condolences to survivors, voicing widespread criticism over the government's slow response to the disaster, and pledging to bring those responsible for poorly constructed buildings that collapsed, killing so many. Kilicdaroglu, some analysts say, caught the mood of the country. Turkish President asks for forgiveness over earthquake rescue delays "Kilicdarolgu said that something is going wrong with this whole system, so we must start something new all together. We must change this country for the better once and for all," observed Sezin Oney, a columnist at the Politikyol news portal.  "He had a personal catharsis. When he visited the earthquake sites he was shaken, visibly moved. And I think he made the personal decision that this is going to be [his] legacy," added Oney. Religion as an obstacle Religion could be another obstacle for Kilicdaroglu. He comes from the liberal Alevi Islamic sect – considered by some conservative Muslims as heretic. Alevis have faced centuries of discrimination in Turkey. But analysts suggest after 20 years under Erdogan's rule, dominated by religious tension, the electorate is now more interested in economic concerns than identity politics. Turkish Constitutional Court decision boosts Erdogan's election chances Alemdar says the country, and young people in particular, has moved on and people are no longer looking at "what the other believes in". They have bigger concerns, such as rocketing inflation.  "The economy is in shambles, the currency crisis is there, debt is mounting," she added. With Kilicdaroglu's coalition of parties, including nationalists, Islamists, the left and right, he promises an end to political and ethnic polarisation in what is widely seen as the biggest challenge to Erdogan's rule.
3/18/20235 minutes, 27 seconds
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Global rights groups say Turkish media under attack over quake coverage

International rights groups say independent Turkish media is under attack, with journalists facing fines and arrests over critical reporting of Erdogan's handling of last month's earthquake. The crackdown comes as the battle over control of the disaster narrative could prove key to determining the outcome of the May presidential polls. Local media like Jin news were at the forefront of reporting on February's deadly earthquakes, highlighting what critics claim was the government's and emergency services' slow response.  Police attention The reporting drew unwanted attention from the police, "First, they prevented us from working; instead of reporting from the quake-hit area we were made to wait for two hours," explains Jin news reporter Sema Caglak.  "The police took our press cards and then they took us to the police precinct. We were kept there for 3-4 hours and were asked why we came to the quake zone." The New York-based Human Rights Watch released a video condemning the arrest of several journalists covering the quake, who also had their equipment confiscated and destroyed in some cases.  The government claim there is no systematic policy against the media, insisting that any actions by police against journalists were the result of individual officers working in a difficult situation.  But independent tv stations like Halk TV, critical of the government's handling of the quake, were also targeted by heavy fines and temporary broadcasting bans for inciting public hatred.  "In Turkey, more than 90% of the media is under government control," explains Halk TV News Editor in Chief Bengu Sap Babaeker. "So we knew that the fines would come because we were giving the voice of the people and the voice of the earthquake survivors." "But what we are really afraid of is being completely shut down," added Babaeker, "so there is self-censorship and extreme care in our reporting to try and avoid this." Latest tremor heaps misery on Turkish region reeling from earlier earthquake Turkey maintains cordial links with Russia on first anniversary of Ukraine war Turkish President asks for forgiveness over earthquake rescue delays Targeting TV stations International rights groups have condemned the penalites saying the fined tv stations were only engaged in critical reporting and that the penalties have more to do with looming elections.  "We should underline that these fines are targeting these main critical TV stations before the elections, before the upcoming elections, which are supposed to take place on 14 of May," claims Erol Onderoglu, Turkey representative for the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.  "So it is also a way to weaken financially weak critical media in Turkey. And, of course, by this, to control the discourse that the government tries to impose on public opinion," added Onderoglu. Prosecutors have started using newly introduced legislation criminalizing disinformation on social media, a crime that carries jail time. Reporters Without Borders reported that Turkish journalist Firat Bulut was arrested under the disinformation law while reporting on the earthquake. In a tweet, they are calling for his release.  With looming presidential elections, journalists predict pressure will grow. "There is the reality, and we tried to show it through our reporting," said Jin news journalist Sema Caglak. "The public who saw the reality no longer has faith in the state. From the first day of the quake until now, the question was, 'where is the government?'. "I don't think the pressure of the government on the press will decrease, and I think it will become more difficult with the election process." Control of the quake narrative could be key to deciding the May presidential elections, which is why Halk TV News Babaeker says independent media poses such a threat to the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's dreams of re-election. "The government wants to go to the elections on the grounds that this earthquake is an unprecedentedly large earthquake and that no country could cope with it. Despite this, the government claims miracles have been achieved," explained Babaeker. "But the news we make telling the reality does not fit the atmosphere that the government wants to establish in Turkey on the way to the elections, which is very damaging to the narrative," Babaerker concluded. As the death toll passes, 50,000 dead, and millions more remain homeless; whether such terrible destruction was unavoidable or the result of government incompetence and corruption is a question that is likely to dominate the elections and their outcome. The battle for control of the quake narrative and the media's reporting will be key.
3/11/20235 minutes, 11 seconds
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Turkish President asks for forgiveness over earthquake rescue delays

In a bid to quell rising anger over the handling of last month's deadly earthquakes, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week paid a visit to the south-eastern city of Adiyaman. He apologised and pledged a massive housing reconstruction project for survivors. In the aftermath of the 6 February deadly quakes, images across social media show survivors calling out: "Where is the state?" and "Where is help?" Anger and criticism have been growing over what many say was a slow response by the government and emergency services. "It was mayhem," said Zeynep Alemdar, a political scientist at Istanbul's Okan University, describing the government's quake response. "We are trying to get our heads around the enormity of the calamity," Alemdar told RFI. "There are still places where they need tents. There are people who are still on the streets. All of us are just sad. We cannot believe that there are more than 40,000 dead and probably more will follow. Latest tremor heaps misery on Turkish region reeling from earlier earthquake "This is a calamity that is caused partly by the unaccountability, the corruption, the cronyism, and the way that these buildings are built," added Alemdar. With the government's response under fire in Istanbul, people mobilised to collect food, water, and urgently needed clothes, which were sent to the quake region within the first day.  The main opposition CHP party coordinated the operation through its mayors in Turkey's largest cities like Istanbul and sent search and rescue teams. Out of touch "The president seemed to me that he didn't quite grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe," claimed Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University, suggesting that the opposition's speedy reaction made Erdogan appear out of touch. "And the fact that everything emanates from the presidential palace meant that nobody could take initiatives, and saving face and rejecting blame seemed far more important than actually getting things done and saving lives. It also showed that the opposition is capable of getting things done contrary to claims by the government," added Ozel. During a visit to the quake region, Erdogan acknowledged initial shortcomings but hit out at criticism of the government and the Red Crescent, Turkey's equivalent to the Red Cross. "When one comes out and asks: 'Where is Red Crescent? We haven't seen tents or food from them' ... You are immoral. You are dishonorable and you are despicable," the Turkish leader said, earning fresh condemnation across social media. With presidential elections on the horizon, Erdogan recalibrated his language during a visit to the devastated city of Adiyaman, asking for forgiveness and for the people to move on in a united fashion. "Due to the devastating effect of the tremors and the bad weather, we were not able to work the way we wanted in Adiyaman for the first few days. I apologize for this," said Erdogan. Erdogan is also vowing to build more than 200,000 homes within a year for quake survivors. But the opposition claims the president is incapable of building safe homes, given so many buildings collapsed during the quakes, widely blamed on shoddy construction and lax regulations, most of which were built during his years in office.  Country at a crossroads With the upcoming elections set to be held in the shadow of the Turkish republic's worst humanitarian crisis, the country is at a crossroads like no other. "It's actually like a mirror where you see the hideous parts of your face," said Analyst Sezin Oney of the news portal Politikyol. "You understand that you cannot continue on like this anymore. "You either have to change it, or you're going to be going under the rubble yourself one way or the other," added Oney. As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social media "I think these elections will also be a referendum, not just about changing the system, but about the whole psychology and whole makeup of the country, the whole character of the country, and which direction to go." Even before the disaster, the Turkish president was struggling in the polls with nearly 100 percent inflation. But Erodgan is now calling for unity, claiming only he and his centralised rule can meet the challenge.  As the opposition sees it, the magnitude of the disaster is a result of Erdogan's more than 20 years of mismanagement and corruption. Turkey is no stranger to acrimonious elections but analysts this year predict an unusually bitter one.
3/5/20236 minutes, 7 seconds
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Far from Turkey's earthquake zone, volunteers seek ways to help

In the aftermath of Turkey's killer quakes, there is desperation among survivors and increasing anger over the government's response. But many people across the country are mobilising to help. Throughout the night, people in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, bring supplies for earthquake survivors. Two wedding halls are now one of many distribution centres for aid donated from across the city.  "We opened the wedding cocktail halls this morning. There is incredible help coming from everywhere," beamed Elif Polat, the cocktail salon manager, who is now organising the sending of aid to quake survivors.   "The aid is mostly food, blankets and duvets, as well as hygiene goods, diapers and an incredible amount of things, all top quality," added Polat. "Yesterday, we had a crisis for 10 minutes or so about the number of cardboard boxes we had; we put out a message on social media, and heaps, heaps of boxes arrived immediately. It is awe-inspiring and beautiful." Hundreds of volunteers work through the night. For some, the motivation is personal. Ali Can Kocak said: "I am volunteering because my parents live in Adana, and my friends in Antakya, where the earthquakes hit the ground. "And I can't go to those places. So I want to help people, and the nearest donation place to my house is here. And I will come here, and my friends will come here." Opposition efforts  Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, from the opposition CHP party is coordinating the city's relief effort, providing trucks and the use of city buildings. During a visit to the disaster region to meet with search and rescue teams dispatched from Istanbul, he offered condolences to people irreconcilable with grief.  Ankara's mayor Mansur Yavas – also a member of the opposition – sent workers to rebuild one of the airports in the stricken region. The mayors' efforts are in stark contrast with growing criticism that the Turkish government was slow to respond to the quakes.  As desperation grows, survivors criticise Turkey's earthquake response  "They appeared to be competent, effective, and able to mobilise their resources much more rapidly," said political scientist Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University. "Which shows that if you take the issue of earthquakes seriously and you make your preparations in responding to earthquakes, you can actually move mountains. "It also shows that the opposition is capable of getting things done, contrary to claims on the part of the government and also to our own observations about the opposition that they can actually administer things, they can actually manage things. "And in that sense, it was truly a matter of taking the quake issue seriously, and evidently, our government did not," claimed Ozel. Memories of Izmit The government denies such criticism, arguing the disaster is a once-in-a-century event. But there was similar criticism in 1999 over the response to the Izmit earthquake just outside Istanbul, which claimed more than 18,000 lives. Memories of that disaster are still fresh in the minds of some survivors, and serve as motivation to help in this latest crisis.   "I experienced the 1999 Izmit earthquake. We lived through that disaster. It was extremely hard for us," remembers aid volunteer Yilmaz, who wanted to go by only his first name. "Now I saw this earthquake and I relived those moments. That's why I couldn't sit at home and drink tea and wanted to rush here and offer help."  'We need everything': Aid workers call for urgent help for Syrian quake victims UN aid enters Syria via new border crossing as quake toll nears 40,000 Diapers, antiseptic cologne and other sanitary products are priority items as Istanbul comes together to help. "From the oldest to the youngest, there is an incredible unity here," said aid organiser Polat.  "I can see in everyone's eyes there is huge sorrow, but they are getting strength and motivation from this sadness," he said. "I have been here for the last 25 years. I understood one more time in the last few days that we Turks are very strong." A truck filled to bursting point is off to the disaster region, bringing help and hope to some of the millions of people in need. 
2/18/20235 minutes, 8 seconds
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As desperation grows, survivors criticise Turkey's earthquake response

Search and rescue operations continue across the south-east of Turkey, the region struck by a huge earthquake and large aftershocks earlier this week. With the area facing freezing conditions, frustrations are growing among survivors over claims the government is acting too slowly. Desperation is growing in southern Turkey after it was struck by multiple quakes. Deniz, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, is losing hope for family members buried in their collapsed home in the province of Hatay.   "They are talking, but nobody comes. We are finished. My God! They are speaking. There is nobody here. Nobody. What kind of state is this?" he said. Turkish authorities say as many as 17,000 buildings were destroyed, and many people were still trapped in them. Against the odds, rescue workers are meeting with some successes. In the city of Diyarbakir, rescue workers saved a 13-year-old buried in a collapsed apartment block for more than 36 hours. But criticism is growing over the response to emergency efforts. With temperatures falling below zero, hypothermia is a new danger facing the many people believed to be trapped in what is now becoming a race against time. Freezing temperatures are also posing a threat to the tens of thousands of people made homeless by the quake. Many survivors spent days on the streets in icy conditions. "Our houses have been damaged; we cannot go inside now. We haven't eaten anything since morning; our children are very hungry. May God protect all of us," said Orhan Sahin from the quake-hit city of Kahramanmaras.  President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is dismissing such criticism. During a visit to the stricken region, the president acknowledged the response may have been initially slow, but said that thousands of search and rescue personnel were now deployed across the region. "This period is the period of unity... It is the time of solidarity," said Erdogan on Wednesday, addressing the media in Antakya province. "In such a period, I do not digest viciously negative campaigns conducted in the name of mere political interests. If I were not responsible for my position, I would not be speaking like that today, I would be speaking quite differently," he added. Erdogan earlier in the week said that prosecutors were monitoring social media for what he called "unscrupulous people" criticizing the government, and warned they would be held to account.  As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social media Erdogan calls Turkish general election for 14 May, one month early'We need everything' With ten Turkish cities with populations of around 13 million badly damaged by the quake, the scale of the rescue operation is immense. But across the border in Syria, in the rebel-controlled enclave of Idlib, the deadly quakes have destroyed much of what little infrastructure remained from more than a decade of civil war. As a result, aid agencies say there is a desperate need for international support. "It's crazy. Buildings are on the ground. People are helpless. They don't know what to do. No aid yet. And this is very important," warned Yakzan Shishakly, co-founder of the Maram Foundation, an aid agency working in Syria.    "No aid has yet come to Idlib, and people don't know if they will receive aid or no aid. They're really devastated. We need everything, but medical supplies are so important, blankets, food, and that is what we really need right now," added Shishakly. While border crossings with Turkey are open, many of the roads to those borders have been severely damaged by the devastating quakes. However, on Thursday, the first aid convoys managed to enter Syria from Turkey.  On both sides of the border, rescue workers are now racing against time, with the threat of disease, cold and hunger hanging over the shattered area.
2/12/20234 minutes, 5 seconds
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A month after election riots, deeply divided Brazil faces risk of more violence

Almost a month on from the insurrection in Brasilia, questions linger about the loyalty of Brazil's security forces and the potential for more violence. In scenes reminiscent of the storming of the United States Capitol, thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro ransacked Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace on 8 January. Dressed in the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag, the rioters claimed the October elections won by Bolsonaro’s leftist rival, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, were rigged. Outnumbered legislative police officers in Brasilia fired tear gas and stun grenades as they tried to stop rioters from breaking into the Senate, footage released by TV Senado shows. But other images taken on the same day tell a different story. Lula, who was inaugurated at the start of the year, has said members of the military police and armed forces colluded with the rioters. France joins global condemnation of violent demonstrations in BrazilMilitarised politics Professor Marcio Moretto Ribeiro, an expert on polarisation at the University of São Paulo, questions whether all those responsible will face justice. “This is the most delicate thing happening now. We need now, for example, for the laws to be enforced against those people who committed the crimes in the Three Powers Square. And it's not entirely clear [...] if it will happen because you need the support of the military sector, and it’s not so clear whether they are committed to democracy,” he says. Bolsonaro, a former army captain who stacked his cabinet with military officers, has repeatedly questioned the integrity of Brazil’s voting system and refused to concede defeat in the October elections. The country’s election monitoring authorities and the Defence Ministry found no evidence of fraud. However, for months Bolsonaro’s supporters camped outside army bases, calling for the military to intervene. Video footage from 8 January has shown some police officers passively watching the rioters and members of the security forces dismantling a protective blockade. General Júlio Cesar de Arruda, Brazil’s army chief at the time, reportedly blocked the arrests of insurrectionists. Daniel Serra, who voted for Bolsonaro in the elections, says the riots were caused by a mistaken belief that the country could return to military rule. “The former president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, he kind of didn't pay attention to the people who were camped outside the barracks. And I think the people were creating things in their heads that didn't exist, that he could come and bring a military regime,” Serra says. The unrest has divided Bolsonaro’s supporters. A poll by Atlas Intelligence conducted shortly after the riots showed an alarming 40 percent of Brazilians do not believe Lula won the election, but only 18 percent approved of the attacks. Lula's presidency builds up global hopes of saving Amazon rainforest The hand-to-hand struggle to fight Covid in Brazil's Amazonas state Serra does not believe the election was rigged and is critical of the riots. “For me, as a Bolsonaro supporter, it didn't represent me because I found it very unethical. It’s also anti-democratic because it destroyed important bodies such as the National Congress and destroyed historical works inside,” he says. “Don't generalise everyone who voted for Bolsonaro, just those extremists who did that in the centre of Brasilia,” he added.  Authorities detained over 2,000 people suspected of involvement in the insurrection and several officials have been removed from their posts or arrested. Bolsonaro, who days before Lula took office flew to Florida in the US, where he has remained ever since, has been included in the Brazilian Supreme Court’s investigation into the riots. 'Belligerent opposition' After several recent attacks and plots, Brazil may face a persistent threat of political violence. “Apparently what January 8 indicates is that there seems to be a group of people in civil society who are willing to create opposition, which is a belligerent opposition, to take to the streets and to do eventually even violent protests for their agendas and I think that this will not be restricted to this election period,” Moretto Ribeiro says. “I think this will also show up at other times when the Lula government tries to advance certain progressive agendas,” he warns. At the Three Powers Square, where the three branches of government are located, security has been stepped up. Members of the elite National Security Force have been called in to patrol the area. There is evidence of the ferocity of the attacks here. The rioters smashed many of the windows of the Supreme Court. Security fencing outside the Planalto Palace, the office of the president, has been ripped up. There are also signs that Brazil’s institutions are still calibrating their response to the unrest. On 25 January, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes fined the Telegram messaging app for not suspending the account of a pro-Bolsonaro congressman, Nikolas Ferreira. The following day, after facing criticism on freedom of speech grounds, the Supreme Court justice determined that Ferreira’s social media accounts should be reactivated, albeit with some restrictions on what he can post. Lula’s government is having to walk a fine line between punishing those it deems responsible for stoking unrest and trying to keep a deeply divided country together.
2/5/20235 minutes, 19 seconds
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Turkish president softens on Finland's Nato bid, but still opposed to Sweden's

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted he could drop his threat to veto Finland's bid to join Nato, but he remains firmly opposed to Sweden joining the military alliance after Swedish authorities outraged Ankara by allowing demonstrators in Stockholm to burn a copy of the Koran. Members of parliament from Erdogan's AKP party cheered as he sought to place himself centre stage in deciding the fate of Sweden and Finland's efforts to join Nato. All existing members of the defence alliance have to agree to any enlargement. Erdogan, still smarting from last month's burning of a Koran by far-right protestors outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, says he's ready to use his Nato veto to make Sweden pay.  "We are closely monitoring the developments regarding the expansion process of Nato. Sweden, do not bother to try at this point," said Erdogan. "We will not say yes to your Nato application as long as you allow the ripping and burning of our holy book, the Koran, with your security officials around. We look positively at Finland but negatively at Sweden," declared the Turkish president, to rapturous applause from his deputies, who rose to their feet in support. Power play Until now, Erdogan had threatened to veto both Finland and Sweden's Nato membership. But Finnish-Turkish relations got a boost last month, when Helsinki allowed the sale of specialized steel to Turkey's defense industry, ending Finland's military embargo on Ankara over human rights concerns.  But even before the Koran burning, Ankara was outraged over another protest last month in Stockholm, where demonstrators hung an effigy of the Turkish leader from a lamppost. Ankara accuses the Swedish government of allowing its country to become a sanctuary for terrorist organizations fighting Turkey. As a result, Erdogan last week demanded that Sweden extradite 120 people whom Turkey considers terrorists. Swedish officials insist the extradition demands are a matter for the courts.  Erdogan calls Turkish general election for 14 May, one month early Turkish Constitutional Court decision boosts Erdogan's election chances With presidential elections expected to be held in May, Erdogan is seen as seeking to maximize the concessions from Nato to allow its enlargement. "This issue can be handled in diplomatic corridors. But Erdogan prefers to make it public that he has the power," says Ilhan Uzgel, a political analyst at the Kisa Dalga news portal. "He is still a world leader. He bends the will of Nato and Nato-aspiring countries, even the United States. So, my guess is that he's going to use it until the elections." Erdogan is not concerned about his standing within Nato, according to Uzgel. Instead, he is focused on a domestic audience: "He is completely and utterly focused on winning the elections because he knows he is losing his constituency," the analyst says. Rallying the base Erdogan is seizing upon last month's Koran burning to rally his base of religious and nationalist voters ahead of presidential polls. Standing up to Nato also will play well with his supporters. "It has to do with the sort of anti-Nato sentiment that's very closely related with the anti-Western and anti-American sentiment in Turkey, and the sort of perception that Nato has never really helped Turkey to fight with its own terrorism problem," said Senem Aydin Duzgit, an international relations professor at Sabanci University near Istanbul.  Until now, Finland and Sweden have been committed to joining Nato together. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto reiterated at the end of January that Finland remains hopeful both countries will be accepted into the alliance this year.  Turkey and Russia closer than ever despite Western sanctions Western countries join Ukraine in denouncing Russian 'dirty bomb' claims But with Erdogan increasingly balancing his relationship with the West against strong ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nato will need to get used to a more assertive Turkey.  "The dynamics have changed. Turkey no longer feels a strong and firm member of the Western camp or Nato alliance," said Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting scholar with the Washington-based Brookings Institution. "It is still [in]  Nato, but obviously also interested in having alternatives." Sweden and Finland have pencilled in Nato's next summit in July as the date for joining and securing themselves protection from any future Russian aggression. Still, given that there will be only around a month between the conclusion of Turkish elections and the July summit, they could be destined to wait a good deal longer – a prospect that could put a smile on Putin's face.
2/4/20234 minutes, 52 seconds
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Turkish Constitutional Court decision boosts Erdogan's election chances

Turkey's Constitutional Court has rejected a call by the second largest opposition party, the HDP, to postpone until after this summer's elections a case which could close the HDP. The decision has fuelled fears President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the judiciary to undermine the opposition. These are challenging times for Turkey's second-largest opposition group, the People's Democratic Party or HDP. The Constitutional Court has already frozen the organisation's state funding and is considering a case against the HDP for alleged links to Kurdish rebels of the PKK. A decision against the party could lead to the suspension of the HDP. In a further blow, the court this week rejected a call to delay the case until after parliamentary and presidential elections that must be held by June. "The biggest legal problem is the cloud of suspicion hanging over the party's legal existence. Will it be able to enter the elections or not," wondered Ertugrul Kurkcu, honorary president of the HDP. "This creates a lot of problems," says Kurkcu, "Because the present leadership of the party as a whole and the former leaders all are now under threat of being banned from politics. I can tell you, since 2015, at least 20,000 people who went through the prisons are exiled, or they go into hiding." The former HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas is already in jail in a case which has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights as politically motivated. The Ankara government rejects such charges, insisting its courts are independent.  But the HDP is the main rival to Erdogan's AKP party for the country's large Kurdish vote in what is expected to be a closely fought campaign, "Ideally Erdogan would like to close down HDP," says Mesut Yegen of the Reform Institute, an Istanbul-based think tank, "because if this happens, then it's likely that his AK party will get more seats." Other opposition groups in trouble The main opposition CHP party is also facing legal woes. Its charismatic mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, widely tipped as a presidential challenger last month, was convicted of insulting an official and faces a political ban.  Emma Sinclair-Webb is the senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch. She warns that the judiciary is increasingly becoming a political tool.  "The two areas where the government maintains control and gives itself a huge advantage are control of the judiciary and judicial decisions, which are then used against the opposition in a very arbitrary and restrictive way, and also control of the media and social media as well," said Sinclair-Webb  With Turkey grappling with rampant inflation, opinion polls indicate that, for the first time in two decades, Erdogan is playing electoral catch-up. But the fear is that the courts rather than the voters could decide the outcome. "It's as if there is no law anymore. It depends on Erdogan's wishes," warned Yegen. "It means that they can be even harsher. They can even suspend all the basic sort of rules or laws. And this is why the opposition is very much concerned about the security of the elections," added Yegen.
1/28/20234 minutes, 27 seconds
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Could Turkey's floating generators help power Ukraine through the winter?

As Russian forces continue to target Ukraine's energy infrastructure, a company in Turkey claims its power ships can thwart Moscow's efforts to leave Ukrainians without electricity this winter. Russia's latest onslaught against Ukraine once again targeted civilians, with an apartment block in Dnipro destroyed in a missile strike on 14 January.  But Russian attacks do not only take out homes. The streets of Ukraine are regularly plunged into darkness as missiles relentlessly hit the country's power stations. "What they are seeing is that they are doing this in order to kill as many Ukrainians as possible – but in a kind of indirect way, by creating the unbearable conditions for life without electricity, heating and water," said Petro Burkovskiy, a senior fellow at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation in Kyiv. "Right now, we have subzero temperatures and the winter has started. It's a real challenge for the people ... I would say hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will be in danger." But the Turkey-based company Karpowerships says it can help alleviate Ukraine's energy crisis. The company's promotional video boasts it has the world's largest fleet of power ships – floating power plants with massive generators that can operate independently. Up to 300 megawatts Karpowership operates worldwide, including in hotspots like Beirut, supplying millions of homes with electricity.  According to Zeynep Harezi Yilmaz, the chief commercial officer of Karpowership: "We have been in contact with Ukrenergo [Ukraine's national power company] since August last year and with the Odesa governorate as well." The company could potentially place three 100-megawatt ships, Yilmaz said, adding that one such ship could power the port of Odesa and its facilities while the others could supply nearby residential areas. "The technical side is where to position the power ship and whether there is enough water depth at the port," she explained. "And since we have a substation on board the power ship, it requires only a couple of overhead transmission lines to connect to the nearest substation." With Ukraine's power stations targeted by Russian forces, Kyiv says generators have become of strategic importance. "That is why generators and uninterruptible power sources have now become as necessary in Ukraine as armored vehicles and bulletproof vests," declared Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, remotely addressing an international aid conference in Paris last month.  Safety concerns Protecting power ships from Russian airstrikes would be a significant challenge. Ankara has maintained good relations with Moscow, but it is unclear whether the goodwill would extend that far. "Physical security means that we need to be in a zone where our personnel is not threatened and we can continue supply logistics without any interruptions," warned Karpowership's Yilmaz. "Now we are in communication with Moldova authorities and Romanian authorities to also evaluate the possibility of placing the ships in Romania or Moldova and then transmitting the electricity to Ukraine," she said. Turkey and Russia closer than ever despite Western sanctions Is the war in Ukraine creating a new world order? Karpowerships says that with some of its ships already close by, they could be supplying Ukraine with electricity within 30 days. But payment could be the biggest obstacle.  "The question is who will pay for these services, whether it's the Ukrainian government or a kind of international agency, so these details are not clear," cautioned Burkovskiy. But time is not on Kyiv's side, as Russian forces are predicted to step up their assault on Ukraine's infrastructure just as the worst of winter sets in.
1/21/20234 minutes, 47 seconds
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Leading Turkish doctor convicted over call for chemical weapons inquiry

The head of Turkey's Medical Association was convicted of terrorist propaganda this week, after she called for an inquiry into an alleged chemical weapons attack against Kurdish separatists. It came as rights groups warn of an increasing legal crackdown on civil society ahead of polls this year. In the face of a heavy police presence, doctors joined by civil society groups and medical associations from across the world gathered outside Istanbul's court house on Wednesday demanding the acquittal of Sebnem Korur Fincanci, president of Turkey's largest doctors' union. "What we hope today is the president of the Turkish Medical Association will be acquitted and be able again to speak freely and say what has to be said," said Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chair of the World Medical Association, in a speech to the demonstrators. But to no avail. Fincanci, a prominent forensic doctor, was convicted of terrorist propaganda for calling for an independent inquiry into allegations that the Turkish army used chemical weapons against Kurdish separatist group the PKK in Iraq, after she was presented during a television interview in October with photos apparently showing dead militants. The military vigorously denies using chemical weapons. Free pending appeal "This court case should never have happened; this is a scandalous verdict. She only expressed a scientific opinion. We will appeal," declared Ozturk Turkdogan, one of Fincanci's lawyers and co-chair of Turkey's Human Rights Association. With Fincanci's sentence under three years, she was eligible for release. She had been in jail since October, when she was taken from her home by police in an early-morning raid. She was freed on Wednesday while she appeals the verdict. 'Disproportionate' The arrest and conviction of Fincanci, a leading member of Turkish civil society, is seen by rights groups as sending a powerful political message. "She made that statement in her capacity as a doctor who is a forensic medical specialist, who's looked at war crimes, who's looked at mass graves, who's looked at all sorts of things concerning chemical weapons as well," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch.  "If someone like her can't question these things, who can?" Any critical statements to the media risk being construed as an act of terrorism, according to Sinclair-Webb.  "It's a completely disproportionate response to prosecute someone like Sebnem Korur Fincanci," she said. "The larger issue here is that ... the government is very unhappy with Turkey's Medical Association because it has made critical statements about health issues." As head of the physicians' union, Fincanci was an outspoken supporter of recent protests by doctors over conditions and the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mounting pressure With much of the media under government control, Turkey's civil society is one of the last remaining platforms critical of the authorities. Philanthropist Osman Kavala, a prominent supporter of Turkish civil society, remains jailed in a case condemned nationally and internationally as politically motivated, a charge the government vehemently denies. Rights groups warn pressure on civil society is likely to grow, with presidential elections due by June this year. As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social media What will the deadly bombing in Istanbul mean for Turkish politics? "It will increase because now we are in the election process. So they will, of course, target NGOs, human rights defenders, or [anyone] outspoken," predicts Sinan Gokcen, head of the Turkish branch of the Swedish-based Civil Rights Defenders. "There is no isolated case in Turkey," said Gokcen.  "All are linked, or all such cases are part of a bigger plan to silence the human rights community. Not only the human rights community, but civil society in general. Because in an authoritarian regime, in any country – in Russia, in Belarus, in Hungary, Poland – the first target of the authoritarian regime is the truth." But Fincanci's release from jail is seen by her supporters as a small victory. Speaking to a small crowd of friends and supporters outside prison, she struck a defiant note. "Doctors who struggle not only within these borders but also for people all over the world, for all living species, for this earth, for the universe, are natural human rights defenders," she declared. "Therefore, jailing them or shutting down their professional organization is out of the question. Such attempts can be made; they have been made before. But in the end, they had to give up. We will keep on struggling for them to give up again." The small crowd outside the prison cheered and sang songs celebrating Fincanci's release. But with many of her supporters belonging to Turkey's civil society, they remain aware they are increasingly living in the shadow of arrest and prosecution.
1/15/20236 minutes, 11 seconds
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Iran could make old foes Netanyahu and Erdogan the best of friends

The return to power of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is raising questions over the future of Turkish-Israeli rapprochement, given the tempestuous relations between Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to date. Netanyahu's election victory – which swept him back to power as prime minister again – comes as Turkish-Israeli relations are warming. During Netanyahu's previous rule, he and Erdogan routinely exchanged insults. "I think there is an issue in this history between these two leaders, yes," warned Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, a research organization in Tel Aviv.  "There were rhetorical battles between them," Lindenstrauss added. "Especially after the previous normalization attempt in 2018 reached a crisis point. But both leaders are very pragmatic. They both have been in power for a long time and now this pragmatism will assist them." As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social mediaCongratulations Erdogan was quick to call Netanyahu to congratulate him on his election victory in a conversation both sides said was cordial. Mesut Casin, a presidential adviser at Istanbul's Yeditepe University, says Iran provides common ground, with Erdogan sharing Netanyahu's concerns over growing Iranian regional influence and Tehran's nuclear energy programme.  "There has been a big transformation in relations between Turkey and Israel relations," added Casin. "This is beneficial for two sides. "Israel has a big headache with Iran. Especially Netanyahu who is very suspicious of Iranian nuclear weapons. According to Netanyahu, they are almost ready to have nuclear forces. Also, this is against the Turkish vital interest. This will be a collapse of the balance of power in the Middle East," said Casin.  With Netanyahu relying on the support of political parties that some analysts describe as having hardline policies toward the Palestinians, a potential flashpoint remains. "There is, of course, the shadow of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think we cannot ignore it," cautioned Lindenstauss.  "Any serious deterioration on the Israeli-Palestinian front will also affect Turkish public opinion and will also affect Erdogan and his statements towards Israel. "And we should be cautious because this is an issue that is a point of contention between the two countries," added Lindenstrauss. Ankara's 'change of priorities' Tuesday's visit by Israeli's National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, accompanied by a large security detail to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, one of Islam's holiest sites, drew widespread condemnation across the Muslim world.  The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in a telephone conversation with his Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, condemned the visit. But Erdogan, who in the past rarely missed an opportunity to attack Israel for similar actions, remained silent on the incident. Asli Aydintasbas of the Brookings Institution in Washington suggests Ankara's priorities may have changed.   "The Palestinian issue is very much on the back burner in terms of the Turkish discussion. over the past few years. "Over the past few years, various flare-ups on the Israeli-Palestinian front have barely made it to the news in Turkey. "Traditionally, the Palestinian issue had been a litmus test for the relationship between Turkey and Israel. But I think now times are different. Turkey feels it needs Israel's support, that it has developed a strategic relationship with Israel. "The truth is, the Palestinian issue is no longer as critical or important or consequential for the leadership of the Turkish government at the moment." Regional power play Erdogan's rapprochement with Israel is part of a broader policy of improving ties in the region. Analysts point out that many of those country's leaders were uncomfortable with Erdogan's strong backing of the Palestinian cause. For now, Ankara's priorities appear to be focusing on cooperation with Israel from energy to defence. "Turkey is, again, how can I say, eager to establish military cooperation together with Israel," said Casin. "I worked with Israel in the military service. We made very good agreements between Turkey and Israel."
1/7/20235 minutes, 10 seconds
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Turkish military incursion in Syria faces opposition from US, Russia

Turkish military forces are poised to launch a ground offensive in Syria against US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, accused by Ankara of attacks on Turkey. But Ankara is facing stiff opposition from both Washington and Moscow. Turkish security forces blame the Syrian Kurdish YPG for carrying out a series of recent attacks against Turkey, including in Istanbul, a charge the group denies.  The Turkish Defense Ministry said Sunday that Turkey launched deadly airstrikes over northern regions of Syria and Iraq, targeting Kurdish groups that Ankara holds responsible for last month's deadly bomb attack in a bustling street in Istanbul. Ankara also accuses them of being linked to PKK insurgents fighting in Turkey. After shelling positions held by the YPG, Turkish forces are now poised to create a 30 km deep security corridor inside Syria. Mesut Casin, a presidential advisor at Istanbul's Yeditepe University, says preparations are almost complete for the incursion saying Turkey has no choice. What will the deadly bombing in Istanbul mean for Turkish politics? "Just in a short time, three attacks killed many civilians. This is number one. And number two, the military has explained that within the last eight months, we lost more than one hundred military service people." Casin told RFI.  He points to a map on his computer screen of the Syrian region under YPG control. "A lot of weapons are deployed in the YPG area in eastern Syria. Often their missiles kill civilians. This is an unacceptable condition for Turkey. This is against our military security and sovereignty," he explains.  Difficult diplomacy The YPG strenuously denies it is launching attacks into Turkey. The Syrian Kurdish group is a close ally of the United States in its war against the Islamic State. The group says it suspended some its operations against the Islamic State because of the looming Turkish threat. "There's the danger that the US government will be torn between two unsavoury options," says Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow of the Washington-based Brookings Institution think tank. "That is to say, abandoning their Kurdish allies, who they've been fighting with, fighting ISIS since 2014, or facing a confrontational relationship with Turkey, when things seem to be on a relatively even keel. "So both of these options are bad," Aydintasbas continues. "The US would be faced with this dilemma if there was a Turkish incursion. So what they're trying to do, behind the scenes, is urge and warn Turkey not to go ahead." Washington is calling on Ankara to step back, a stance echoed by Moscow, which controls part of Syria that Ankara is targeting. Russia also controls Syrian airspace access, which analysts say Turkish forces would need for any ground operation. Iranian-backed militia in Syria have also vowed to resist any Turkish incursion.  Political distraction But with Turkey in the midst of a deep economic crisis, some analysts say powerful domestic forces are behind the planned operation. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing reelection next year and cannot risk losing face by pulling back from such an incursion. "Erdogan desperately needs an operation, any military operation beyond Turkish national borders, and the best place would be in Syria," says Rtd general Haldun Solmazturk of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute. Russia's Putin searches for allies in meeting with Iranian and Turkish leaders "But it has become obvious that neither the United States nor the Russian Federation would let this happen. So faced with this reality, Erdogan has already backed down, I believe, and now he's bargaining," Solmazturk says. One concession Ankara is looking for from Washington is purchasing American fighter jets, a sale currently stalled in the US Congress. No let up "I believe the incentive for Mr. Erdogan is to conduct this operation because it would create a kind of rallying around the flag movement," Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat and now a regional analyst for Medyascope news portal, told RFI. "The operation may be delayed, but the threat, or the statement of an imminent military operation for northern Syria, will stay with us until the elections, at least," Selcen adds. Whatever Ankara does, few predict any let up in the coming months by the Turkish military in its targeting of the YPG.
12/17/20225 minutes, 21 seconds
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Turkey accuses Iran of stoking regional tensions

This week Turkey held joint military exercises with Azerbaijan on Iran's border, as its Baku warns Tehran it will not be intimated. With anti-government protests continuing in Iran, Tehran is being accused of escalating regional tensions. Iran is faces growing accusations from its neighbors that it's deliberately raising regional tensions. Tehran has recently carried out military exercises on Azerbaijan's border and warned Baku not to incite Iran's significant Azeri minority.  "Iran tries to shift the attention of the Iranian population towards foreign policy, towards conflicts on the border and towards a polemic with its neighbor countries, said Zaur Gasimov, an expert in the region at Bonn University. "The (Iranian) military drills were conducted not only on the border with the Republic of Azerbaijan in the north but also with Iraq and Turkey. So, they are like messages to the region, but they are addressed much more to the local audience." But Baku is pushing back against Tehran, carrying out its own military exercises this month on Iran's border with its close ally Turkey.  Spying accusations Meanwhile, last month, Azerbaijani security forces detained 19 people and accused them of working for Iranian intelligence.   Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute, argues Baku is emboldened by its support from Turkey, enshrined in the Shusha joint defence agreement. "Turkey and Azerbaijan [are] brothers, friends. And they have this Shusha agreement, which is not binding but important," said Bagci. "If Azerbaijan is under attack or in danger, Turkey will come unconditionally to the help of Azerbaijan," added Bagci. "Iran is trying to extend its influence, but Turkey is like a barrier stopping Iran's influence in Azerbaijan. " Turkey's Erdogan cosies up to Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni Turkish military support was vital to Azerbaijan in 2020 when it decisively defeated Armenian-backed forces in a conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.  This month's joint military exercise with Azerbaijan underlines Ankara's support to Baku and a warning to Tehran. "Iran they do many military exercises and power show around the Azerbaijan border," said Turkish Presidential advisor Mesut Casin of Istanbul's Yeditepe University. "This is giving to is a kind of signal against Iran, stop, and you have to take care about Azerbaijan's independence and their sovereignty." Condemnation In a sign of an increasingly assertive Baku, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev condemned Tehran last month. "For all these years, a situation similar to today's never occurred. A hateful and threatening statement was never made against Azerbaijan," Aliyev said in a television address. "Iran conducted two military exercises on our border in a few months. Therefore, we had to conduct military exercises on the Iranian border to show that we are not afraid of them," added Aliyev.  "We will do our best to protect the secular lifestyle of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis around the world, including Azerbaijanis in Iran. They are part of our people." Debate on religious headscarves returns to the heart of Turkish politics Aliyev's robust comments is seen as a marked change in relations between Azerbaijan and Iran. Until now, Baku rarely spoke of its large Azeri population in Iran, mindful of Tehran's sensibilities and suspicions of it minority.  "The last three decades, Baku was very cautious in its relationship to the very large Azeri-speaking community in northern Iran," observes Gasimov. "But we have seen the conduct of the military drills on the border to Iran as the reaction to the Iranian military drills by the Azeri side. And in the same time, new discourse in Baku about the Azeri speakers in Iran were two gestures addressed to the Iranian political class, saying that something has changed in the region." In a move analysts say will further anger Tehran, Baku opened an embassy in Israel. The two countries already have close military ties, despite Tehran's warnings. For now, Ankara has refrained from commenting on the turmoil in Iran, but some analysts warn that silence will be tested if Tehran ratchets up tensions with Baku. 
12/10/20224 minutes, 51 seconds
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Turkey's Erdogan cosies up to Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Italy's newly elected far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni appear to be finding unlikely common ground on issues relating to Africa and migration. Meloni's is the latest in a list of strong partnerships that Erdogan has been working to build with European far-right leaders. At the first meeting between Erdogan and Meloni, there were smiles and a warm handshake on the sidelines of the G-20 gathering in Indonesia. Despite one of Meloni's first moves after winning the general election calling for a freeze on mosque construction in Italy. Common ground At the same time, Erdogan is positioning himself as a defender of Muslim rights, at home and abroad, as he heads into elections next year. But Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute, says the Italian and Turkish leaders have plenty of common ground.  "Tayyip Erdogan is an Islamist and a Turk. Meloni is Christian and Italian. So, they understand each other much better," said Bagci. "They don't talk about certain values, democratic values, they talk about the religious values, they talk about the nationalistic values, and I think they will understand each other much better than the others," added Bagci. One of Meloni's priorities is to stem migration from Africa, much of which comes through Libya. In addition, Turkey has strong ties with Libya's Government of National Unity, giving Erdogan a vital bargaining chip. "Turkey now has a base in west Libya. It controls all critical infrastructure in west Libya. And as you know, west Libya is a very important human trafficking point to Europe," pointed out," Aya Burweila, a visiting lecturer on security at the Hellenic National Defense College in Athens."  "So, Turkey now has a base in North Africa. They control the ports right now in western Libya," added Burweila. "They control the militias in west Libya involved in human trafficking. So definitely, this is a bargaining chip with them going Europe." Italy’s far-right Meloni becomes country’s first woman to lead government Strained relationships But Rome could pay a high cost for deepening ties with Ankara. Relations between Turkey and European Union member Greece over several territorial disputes, with the country's armed forces regularly challenging one another. Turkey also has strained relations with Egypt, an important trading partner of Italy.  "I think Italy has not forgotten that it's a European nation," points Mediterranean analyst Jalal Harchaoui of the civil-society network Global Initiative.  "Italy also has a lot of hydrocarbon business going with Egypt. It's not in the business of angering Egypt particularly. So, I would really keep a distinction between Turkey and Italy. Italy is not very happy to see this level of controversy," added Harchaoui.  Italian analysts also point out that while Meloni campaigned on a platform attacking the European Union leadership, the new Italian Prime Minister now in power is seeking to consolidate her position, which, at least for now, appears to be seeking to avoid confrontation with Brussels. "In the electoral campaign during which Meloni declared her party is not so European integrated and so on and so forth. After having won the election, she decided to turn to a more European-integrated foreign policy. Tightening the alliance with Nato, with the other western allies with the United States and the European Union," observes Alessia Chiriatti, a researcher on the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa for the Italian-based IAI think tank says. Who is Giorgia Meloni, the far-right contender set to be Italy's first female PM? Italy and Europe Chiriatti argues Meloni will be careful not to isolate herself in Europe with her dealings with Erdogan. "The Meloni foreign policy will be related to Italian membership in the European Union. So it could be possible to collaborate more intensively with Turkey on migration Italian role in Maghreb and Middle East but not without the European dimension for Meloni and for Italy," added Chiriatti. But Meloni and Erdogan share strained relations with French President Emmanuel Macron over incidents in which Italian authorities recently refused to allow a ship carrying migrants to dock. The vessel then had to go to France, where the migrants finally disembarked. The Turkish and Italian leaders also aim to challenge France's lucrative economic interests in Africa. Paris Perspective #32: NATO and the Erdogan paradox - Dorothée Schmid Relations with France During her election campaign, Meloni slammed France's colonial record in Africa and accused Paris of persisting with a colonial mentality towards African countries. Her words echo Erdogan's frequent criticism of France. Erdogan has years of experience working with other far-right and right-wing European leaders like Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban.  "He actually has a good working relationship with Islamaphobe autocrats like Orban, for instance, or like Putin, for instance, who might not be seen as a particular pro-Islamist. I mean, who might not be seen as a particular pro-Islamist," notes Senem Aydin-Duzgit a professor of international relations at Sabanci University near Istanbul. "So, it doesn't matter if she's (Meloni) far right, and I think it might even work more to his (Erdogan) interests that she is far right. Because he, Turkey, the current Turkish government, is quite happy to see a Europe that's disunited and that is devoid of so-called values." Istanbul's newest bridge was built by an Italian company. Trade is the bedrock of Italian-Turkish ties, which the two countries leaders appear ready to build upon. 
12/3/20226 minutes, 17 seconds
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As Afghans flee, Turkey is accused of deporting them without a fair hearing

As elections approach and politicians play to fears over the number of refugees in Turkey, a new report by Human Rights Watch accuses Turkish authorities of indiscriminately deporting Afghans regardless of the dangers awaiting them in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. These are dangerous times for Ahmad, not his real name. His name is being withheld for security reasons. Once a US-trained pilot fighting the Taliban, he has been in Istanbul for the last year, waiting for his American asylum application to be processed. But as he explains, he now lives under the shadow of deportation back to Afghanistan. "I know of people that have been deported, and a few of them were former military personnel," Ahmad says. "The Taliban say they have forgiven the former government military personnel, but they haven't. We hear the news that they are still looking for them, and they're still getting killed and kidnapped. "I was a pilot in Afghanistan, and my deportation will cause a serious risk to my life. When you're deporting an Afghan back to Afghanistan, it's not only you are just deporting a person, you're putting somebody's life at risk." Thousands deported In a slickly produced video posted on Twitter and other social media, Turkey's Directorate General of Migration Management proudly announced the latest deportations of Afghans by air. The total now stands at over 54,000 for this year, while another 240,000 were pushed back at the Iranian border or denied entry. A Human Rights Watch report released this month accuses authorities of using coercion and indiscriminately deporting Afghans without properly considering their claims to asylum.  "What we are seeing is that these people are generally rounded up in cities in big police operations, put in removal centres, and then coerced into signing or accepting return voluntarily – so-called voluntarily. If you beat somebody enough, they're bound to sign a form," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher for Human Rights Watch. The title of the report, "No one asked me why I Left Afghanistan", refers to the fact that nobody in the report was offered the chance to file a claim for asylum, she explains. The Turkish authorities strongly deny the charge of coercion and say they comply with international standards. Pre-election fears The Human Rights Watch report also strongly criticized the European Union for failing to share the refugee burden with Turkey more equitably, and called for an end to EU countries pushing back refugees from their borders. Turkey hosts nearly four million refugees, mainly Syrians. However, with growing public discontent over refugees and elections due next year, the Turkish government is wary of allowing the number to rise.  Turkey looks to play pivotal role in Taliban's new Afghanistan "The Turkish government is afraid of a new wave of Afghan refugees," believes Ali Hekmat, the head of the Afghan Refugees Solidarity Association. More Afghans are arriving in Turkey now than Syrians, he says, and Turkish authorities fear that millions more will head to the country from other neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran. Fringe opposition parties regularly release anti-refugee videos on social media, while the main opposition is also taking a hard line on the issue. Opinion polls indicate that after inflation, the presence of refugees is ranked as voters' main concern. 'Race against time' The round-up of Afghans is expected to intensify as elections approach. Authorities also announced many Afghans in Istanbul will not have their residence permits renewed – including Ahmad.  His permit expired this month, leaving him in a precarious situation. "I'm scared any time I'm walking in the street, I'm scared that police may ask for a document and I don't have it," he says. "So I may face deportation. I'm very scared of being deported back to Afghanistan." Afghan students in India face tense future as visas run out But Ahmad says his final interview for his application for asylum in the United States is only weeks away, offering hope of being reunited there with his wife and four children. "It's a race against time," he says. The coming weeks could decide Ahmad's life: deportation back to Afghanistan and possible death – or the hope of a new life with his family.
11/26/20225 minutes, 29 seconds
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What will the deadly bombing in Istanbul mean for Turkish politics?

In Turkey, the political and diplomatic fallout continues after a deadly bombing on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul. Turkey blames Kurdish militants backed by the United States for the attack, which comes months before fraught elections. On Saturday, Bulgarian prosecutors charged five people in connection with the blast. Mourners continue to lay flowers at the site of the 13 November bombing in Istanbul's most famous shopping street. The attack killed six, including a mother and son, and a father and daughter. Dozens more were injured. Shop owners are clearing up the devastation and, like the rest of the city, trying to come to terms with this latest attack. "It has been a disaster, " said shopkeeper Lokman Kalkan. "People were fighting for their lives. There was blood everywhere, and screaming and crying. There was nothing we could do." While the country grieves for the dead, the political repercussions are already being felt. Security forces, after detaining the alleged bomber just hours after the attack, claimed it was carried out by the Kurdish militant group the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK, a charge it denies.  The PKK is fighting the Turkish state for greater minority rights. But Devlet Bahceli, leader of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's parliamentary coalition partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has called for the closure of the political party that represents Kurds in parliament, the Peoples' Democratic Party or HDP. "We don't want to see separatists in the parliament. We cannot stand seeing terrorists. We cannot tolerate the HDP for even a second," Bahceli bellowed to cheers from his parliamentary deputies. The HDP is already facing closure, accused of having links with the PKK, a charge it denies. Many of its parliamentary deputies are jailed on terrorism charges, convictions condemned as politically motivated by the European Court of Human Rights.  Tension with the US The bombing fallout is also threatening to strain US-Turkish relations further. The police allege the bomber was trained by the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People's Defense Units (YPG), which Ankara says is affiliated with the PKK. Washington backs the Syrian Kurdish group in its fight against Islamic State extremists near the border between Syria and Turkey. Speaking at the site of the bombing, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Turkey should rethink its relationship with the United States. "We refuse the condolences of the American embassy," Soylu said. "We cannot accept an alliance with a state that sends money from its own senate to these groups, feeding the terror zones in [border town] Kobani, which aims to disturb Turkey's peace. Such a state is in a contradictory situation. This is open and clear." Turkey lays the ground for a smoothing of relations with Syria Turkey and Russia closer than ever despite Western sanctions There is a large audience in Turkey for such anti-American rhetoric, argues Senem Aydin-Duzgit of the Istanbul Policy Centre. "You have the Americans' alliance with the Kurds, in particular in northern Syria. So there is this perception that America is sort of in an alliance with the PKK and the Kurdish nationalist movement. And that creates hostility," she says. "And there is a lot of anti-Americanism in Turkey as well – some of it historical, ideological, because you have anti-Americanism both on the right and the left of the political spectrum." Ghosts of 2015 election Diplomatic fallout between Ankara and Washington appears contained, at least for now. Despite strong words at home, Erdogan recently met US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia. But analysts suggest the real impact could be on Turkey's presidential elections next year. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, the AKP, are currently languishing in the opinion polls. Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, is wary of a repeat of the 2015 general elections, when the AKP lost its absolute majority in parliament and an alternative government couldn't be formed. As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social media How Turkish voters are beating internet press clampdown before polls That forced the vote to be repeated five months later, and in between violence escalated, says Ozel. "There were terrorist incidents, and one of the most awful terrorist incidents in the country's history with the largest number of deaths took place only 20 days before the repeat election," he recalls. Erdogan's AKP party eventually won the second election with a large majority. Opposition parties are already raising questions over the investigation into the Istiklal Avenue bombing, particularly the speed of the inquiry and its swift conclusions. That scrutiny is only likely to grow given the high political stakes, as many in the country look towards next year's election with increasing foreboding.
11/19/20225 minutes, 24 seconds
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Debate on religious headscarves returns to the heart of Turkish politics

In Turkey, the right of women to wear religious headscarves has returned to the core of the country's political agenda. With elections less than a year away, the leaders of Turkey's main political parties are vowing to enshrine the right for women to wear religious dress legally, an issue that for decades has been at the centre of a bitter political struggle. With presidential elections due in June 2023, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leader of the main opposition CHP party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, are promising to introduce legal guarantees for the right of women to wear a religious headscarf. Addressing party supporters in October, Erdogan – whipping up his conservative religious base – committed himself to constitutional reform to protect the rights of the religious. "In order to completely ease the hearts of our daughters and sisters, I proposed the freedom of the headscarf," he bellowed to thousands of supporters at a rally in the provincial city of Malatya.. "What did I propose? We have started the preparation of a constitutional proposal by adding the protection of the family against the impositions of perverted trends, which is another vital issue," Erdogan added to rapturous cheers from the crowd. A brief history of headscarf restrictions Erdogan's lifting of restrictions a decade ago on religious dress – introduced to protect the Turkish secular state – is one of his most significant achievements, claims Emine Ucak, a journalist who wears a religious headscarf and writes for the news journal Perspective. "The headscarf issue in Turkey was implemented within the framework of a law as a ban that prevented many women from participating in the public sphere and receiving education," explains Ucak. "That was how it was in the past. And this lasted for many years, both in the public sphere, in public institutions, and the issue of education. But this ban wasn't only confined to public institutions. "This continued in other sectors, in the private sector. So these women went through this trauma, some still couldn't go back to their professions," added Ucak. As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social mediaHeadscarf debate wins votes  Throughout the 1990's and early 2000s, students wearing headscarves protested against a ban on them from attending universities, becoming lawyers or judges, or even a member of parliament. The issue has proved a vote winner for Erdogan in the past. In 2008 Erdogan, then as prime minister, won a landslide in a general election dominated by whether his political ally Abdullah Gul could be president as his wife wore a headscarf. The staunchly pro-secular CHP strongly advocated the ban, holding mass rallies in its support. But now it's calling for legislation to guarantee the right to wear the headscarf. "It is very significant because I believe that CHP has luggage because of those limitations, those bannings," said Politics and law professor Istar Gozaydin has written several books on religious affairs in Turkey. "A step like that I find very, very successful in the sense of embracing more of the society, that a huge step in terms of CHP would be to be expressing yourself to fight for the rights of the whole, not just that certain amount of part of the society," added Gozaydin. Outrage as Turkish courts seek to silence anti-femicide campaignersGenerational shift The CHP's shift comes as – under Erdogan's two-decade rule – a generation has grown up without such barriers. A conservative religious middle class also has emerged and prospered. Some analysts say they are now more concerned about the country's present economic woes of near triple-digit inflation than past religious debates. "Many of the fights their parents had are not these kids' fights, right? They don't care," said Can Selcuki, the head of Istanbul Economics Research, an opinion poll company. "Let's take a head-veiled girl that's having her university education right now. Her fight is not to keep her veil on, but her fight is to get a better education and to get a higher-paying job, so she can start a family and a good career," continued Selcuki. Erdogan's anti-LGBT platform But Erdogan is seeking to broaden the debate calling for constitutional reform that not only guarantees the right to wear the headscarf but protects the family from what he calls "perverse trends," a reference to the LGBT community. "There is a strong underlining of the family values, of the protection of the family," observes Gozaydin. "And more its to do, not only with this scarf issue, which is I find quite a fringe issue for the moment but more with the LGBT+ groups. So he's trying to set an agenda against those groups within conservative circles." Crackdowns are already enforced on what were once legal, public displays by Turkey's vibrant LGBT community. While anti-LGBT protests have already started, as parties jockey to set the political agenda ahead of what is widely predicted to be closely fought elections.
11/12/20225 minutes, 51 seconds
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Greece and Turkey trade blame over plight of injured, naked migrants

Photographs of bruised and naked migrants at the Greek Turkish border have drawn international condemnation. Ankara and Athens have blamed each other for the incident. Rights groups warn that escalating Greek Turkish tensions risk having a terrible impact on refugees. Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi accused Turkish authorities of stripping naked 92 male migrants and forcing them into Greece. The men were found by Greek police close to the two countries' northern border, some with injuries. The UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it was deeply distressed by the images and reports of the naked migrants and called for an investigation. Ankara has blamed Greek authorities for the incident. "It's natural for Greece to attempt to slander Turkey as its own crimes multiply," said Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, adding, "one has to be truly shameless and reckless to try to appear right even in the most unfair situation."  The ugly incident and resulting blame game is the latest in an increasingly bitter war of words and videos between Athens and Ankara over the migrant crisis.  Attacking immigrants Ankara has released numerous videos of Greek coast guards purportedly pushing migrants and refugees back to Turkey. Athens too has released a video on Twitter, accusing Turkish authorities of attacking migrants. "These people, because we are talking about people, women, men, and children, are trapped in a strategic game between Greece and Turkey," warned Eva Cossé, the representative in Greece of Human Rights Watch. Greece and Turkey have been increasingly at odds over a range of territorial disputes centered on the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. Athens fears migration could be the latest front in bilateral tensions.  Tensions rise between Greece and Turkey over island military bases Athaniosos Drougos, a defense analyst at Greece's War College, does not believe the situation will degenerate into outright war.. "But on the other hand," he says, "we will have some hybrid asymetrıc episodes with the case of illegal immigration, especially from the Evros river." The river Evros forms part of the border between Turkey and Greece. Two years ago, a migrant crisis erupted after Ankara, then hosting four million refugees, declared it was opening its border with Greece. Greek security forces used teargas and rubber bullets in a weeks-long campaign against people trying to enter the country. In Turkey, there's been growing public animosity towards migrants and refugees. And President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is under pressure to address the issue in the run-up to elections next year. He accuses Greece and Europe of failing to share the refugee burden. "What I see now is the politicisation of the issue by the (Turkish) opposition parties mainly and the instrumental position of the refugee issue by the government in their relationship with Europe," observed Didem Danis of the Istanbul-based Association for Migration Research. Highest price "Of course, this creates a very difficult situation for the refugees because they feel more and more anxious about their everyday survival," added Danis. And experts warn that refugees will pay the highest price in this escalating diplomatic war. "Unfortunately, every now and then, we hear about the demise of people who are trying to cross, for the pushbacks conducted on both sides," said Omar Kadkoy of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey. "And the only people who are losing in this journey are those asylum seekers or people who want to have a better future for themselves. But trying to cross the borders nowadays is definitely riskier than it was," added Kadkoy. Earlier this month,18 migrants and refugees drowned while crossing from Turkey to a Greek island. Dozens more are missing. Rescue workers and islanders worked through the night in a desperate struggle to reach survivors. Most of the victims were women and children.  Greek and Turkish authorities blamed each other for the deaths. The only thing both sides appear to agree on is that this tragedy will not be the last.
10/29/20225 minutes, 9 seconds
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As elections loom in Turkey, Erdogan pulls plug on opposition social media

Turkey's parliament has passed a law which will criminalise the spreading of fake news on social media. The move has drawn national and international condemnation. Critics claim the legislation is intended to silence one of Turkey's last platforms for free expression ahead of elections in 2023.  The Turkish government has, in recent years, introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at controlling social media. But critics say the latest 40-article law is the most severe.  Wielding a hammer before his fellow deputies, Burak Erbay of the opposition Republican People's Party recently destroyed his mobile phone during the parliamentary debate on the so-called "disinformation law". "If the law passes here, you can break your phone like this, my brothers. You will not need to use it," he yelled, warning the government that "these young people will give you the lesson you deserve in June 2023". Tightening its control on media will be vital for the government ahead of the 2023 parliamentary and presidential elections, says journalist Hikmet Adai of the Turkish news portal Bianetand. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party continue to languish far behind in the polls after over two decades of rule.  "With the ongoing economic crisis, the government doesn't want this bad news to be disseminated, especially for the world to see the scale of the crisis". "This law, represents the heaviest censorship in Turkish press history, so it will definitely affect journalism," added Adai. Condemnation of the disinformation law is not confined to Turkey, with a European legal watchdog warning that the legislation threatens freedom of expression and independent journalism ahead of next year's elections.  The warning is in a report compiled by the Venice Commission, which advises the Council of Europe on constitutional matters.  A way to kill political debate "Our main concern is the chilling effect that this will have on the political debate in Turkey as this draft law will apply to everyone," said Herdis Kjerulf Thorgeirsdottir, vice president of the Venice Commission. "Secondly, the heavy sanctions of one to three years imprisonment of those found guilty of disseminating false or misleading information will lead to widespread self-censorship," she insists.  Rights groups already rank Turkey among the world's sternest jailers of journalists, a charge Ankara denies.  Press freedom concerns as Ankara forces internet giants to bow to Turkish law Yaman Akdeniz of Turkey's Freedom of Expression Association says social media threatens the government's control of media in general.  "Social media usage in Turkey is high, whether it's Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. Turkish people predominantly rely on social media to obtain information because we cannot any longer obtain information from newspapers in Turkey or even TV channels because the majority of these channels and newspapers are controlled by the government," said Akdeniz.  Obliged to reveal identities Under the new legislation, social media platforms will be required to give up the identities of anyone deemed to have fallen foul of the law. The government argues the proposed legislation is similar to social media controls in other European countries. But the Venice Commission report says such comparisons are false. "The inspiration from these countries is not relevant because they do not criminalise false information," says Throgeirsdottir. "Although they may apply to internet service providers or online platforms to remove illegal content, this is not a valid comparison with Turkey." 
10/22/20224 minutes, 38 seconds
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Turkey and Russia closer than ever despite Western sanctions

The leaders of Turkey and Russia are continuing to deepen relations as Moscow intensifies its war against Ukraine. Their frequent meetings and close ties fuel concerns among Turkey's Western allies that Ankara is circumventing sanctions against Russia.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, last week for the fourth time in as many months.   Erdogan and Putin smiled and greeted one another with a warm handshake. Their latest encounter was on Thursday in Astana, Kazakhstan, on the sidelines of the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Erdogan said he wants to build on the success of a United Nations-brokered deal that allows Ukrainian grain blockaded by Russian naval forces to enter world markets.  First shipment of Ukrainian grain sets sail for Africa Ankara played a pivotal role in assisting the United Nations to broker the grain deal between Ukraine and Russia, known as the Istanbul agreement. "Turkey is determined to strengthen and continue the grain exports under the Istanbul agreement and the transfer of Russian grain and fertilizer to less developed countries via Turkey," Erdogan said. But Putin criticized the deal's implementation, claiming countries in need are not benefiting from the agreement.  The deal comes up for renewal next month. Turkish Russia analyst Galip Dalay of London's Chatham House says the Ukrainian grain deal is seen as a vindication by Erdogan of his policy of maintaining close ties with Putin. "The role Turkey can play is very much contingent upon having a working relationship with Russia. The Ukrainian grain deal is one of them. Turkey can play a more humanitarian role down the road or a more diplomatic role. All of them require Turkey to have some sort of functional relationship with Moscow as well," said Dalay. "So to some extent, it is it is accepted that Turkey is engaging in one way or another in some form of a balanced policy towards Russia and on the war. And I submit to some extent there are good outcomes that are coming out of these, such as the grain deals," he added. Sanctions-busting? Stressing the need to maintain close ties with Moscow, Ankara refuses to enforce Western sanctions against Russia. The European Union, in a report released last week, strongly criticized Ankara for not enforcing sanctions and warned that European companies could use Turkey to circumvent the restrictions. Washington has also voiced concern. Turkey's ambiguous application of United Nations' sanctions on Russia "There is great potential for development. Trade figures have increased," said Turkish analyst Atilla Yesilada of GlobalSource Partners. "The potential stems from two factors. Obviously, for a lot of European companies, the legal way to bypass sanctions is to set up in Turkey and then to re-export through Turkey. And for Russian companies, of course, they can source from Turkey as well as possibly evade sanctions," Yesilada said.  "I'm not saying all trade is because of sanctions evasion, but the fact that there's deep animosity between Europe, the United States, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other hand, of course affects commercial relations and potentially Turkey could be the winner." 'Dividing Europe' Such complaints are likely to grow with Putin this week repeating a suggestion to use Turkey as a hub for distributing Russian gas that was originally intended for Europe. Erdogan on Friday confirmed that Turkey was ready to participate in the project. Ankara is trying to negotiate a cut-price gas deal from Moscow. Erdogan tells government to start work on Russian gas hub "For Putin, the relationship with Turkey is important [because] it's about dividing Europe," said senior strategist Timothy Ash of Bluebay Asset Management. "Turkey is a key Nato member. The more he can pull Erdogan and Turkey away from the West, that's all the better. " "For Erdogan, he's got elections due by June of next year, and he's got a very difficult balance of payments issue. And he thinks by helping Russia get around sanctions, he thinks Turkey can earn key balance of payment receipts, and that will help," added Ash. Ankara denies it is sanctions-busting. But observers say Erdogan is walking an increasingly fine line by looking to keep close ties with Russia, knowing at the same time that his dealings with Moscow could trigger retaliation from the US and Europe in the form of secondary sanctions. 
10/18/20224 minutes, 48 seconds
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Turkish-Greek dispute over Libyan oil reserves risks sparking regional row

Tensions between Greece and Turkey are spreading across the Mediterranean from Libya to the divided island of Cyprus. The risk of a confrontation is threatening to draw in fellow Nato allies. The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu this week announced in Tripoli the signing of a memorandum with Libya's government of national unity for the joint exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in Libya's offshore waters and national territory Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias swiftly challenged the agreement's legitimacy, claiming it infringed on Greek waters. Turkey's deepening economic and military ties with the Libyan government is the latest point of tension between Athens and Ankara. Moreover, relations between the Nato partners are becoming increasingly fraught, mainly because of territorial disputes. These conflicts are now putting ties between the United States and Turkey under pressure. "The ones standing with the Greeks just for the sake of pleasing the Greeks should not expect friendship from us," warned Cavusoglu.  "Because Turkey will not bow down to such acts. Turkey will take necessary steps in Cyprus." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier announced that Turkey would increase its military presence in Cyprus after Washington lifted its military arms embargo on the Greek Cypriot administration. On Friday, Erdogan declared that military drones had been deployed on Cyprus.  The Mediterranean Island has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities since 1974. The Greek Cypriot administration is the only internationally recognised government.  Washington's action comes as State Department spokesman Ned Price appeared to offer support to Athens amid rising tensions with Ankara over Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Don't inflame tensions in the islands "Greece's sovereignty over these islands is not in question. But we call on countries, including our allies, to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty and avoid actions that inflame tensions," said Price. Ankara has condemned Greece's militarisation of some of its islands close to Turkish shores, which Turkey claims violate an international agreement. Athens insists it is protecting its territory from Turkish threats. Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of the University of Athens says the Greek government is calculating that it has Washington's support and is in no mood to back down from what it considers Turkish bullying. "There is a common wisdom in Greece, don't belittle small countries. We have a live example of Ukraine and Russia. "I mean, yes, the Greeks are ready," said political scientist Cengiz Aktar of the University of Athens. Athens insists its militarisation of the islands is in response to the threat posed by Turkey, whose military forces, in many cases, are less than a kilometer distant from Greek islands. Athanasios Drougos, a defense analyst at Greece's War College, warns that Ankara's hardening stance will lead to a stronger response from Athens. The Greek right of self defence "The Greek position is based on the right of self defence. "I would say there are some provocative military exercises, some drills, they bother Greece quite a lot.  "So, for the time being, I can tell you there is no option for Greece to demilitarise the islands," Greek and Turkish warplanes routinely challenge one another in disputed airspace over the Aegean Sea. Both are continuing to build up their military presence. On Thursday, Erdogan reiterated his threat to the Greek militarised islands. "This applies to Greece and any country that disturbs us and attacks us. Our response to them is: 'We may suddenly arrive one night.' They should be aware of this and understand this," said Erdogan. Turkish-Greek tensions are nothing new. The two edged to the brink of war in 1996 over an uninhabited islet. US intervention prevented open hostilities. But with Turkey saying Greece is using US-supplied weapons to militarise its islands, observers say Washington's status as an honest broker is in question.  Turkish-US relations are already strained over Erodgan's ties with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and doubts over Turkey's loyalty to Nato.  On Friday, the two leaders held talks by phone to discuss deepening ties.  Region moving closer to war Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institution, a Washington research group, says she is worried the region is moving closer to war.  "We are used to occasional flare-ups in this relationship, but I think right now, the global environment is very uncertain, chaotic, and almost conducive to a military confrontation between Turkey and Greece," said Aydintasbas. "The dynamics have changed," she added. "Turkey no longer feels a strong and firm member of the western camp or NATO alliance. It is still NATO, but obviously also interested in having alternatives. And Turkey is also a whole lot more self-confident than it used to be. Meanwhile, Greece feels that there's been a big change in Greece as well," said Aydintasbas. For now, neither Athens nor Ankara appears ready to step back. Cavusoglu said last month that Turkey was prepared to resolve tensions diplomatically but warned the country wouldn't hesitate to use hard power if diplomacy failed and Turkish interests were threatened.
10/8/20226 minutes, 31 seconds
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Turkish 'Madonna' faces jail as crackdown on pop music intensifies

One of Turkey's leading pop stars, Gulsen, dubbed the Turkish Madonna, is facing jail as a crackdown on pop music intensifies. The crackdown is seen as an attempt by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan to court his religious base as elections loom amid youth dissatisfaction at economic malaise.    Drawing thousands, Gulsen regularly performs at sell-out concerts. Her music, her outfits, and her support of LGBTQ rights, has seen her widely dubbed the "Turkish Madonna". But Gulsen ended up in court and jail when a video of a private joke denigrating religious schools went public on social media. "Gulsen has become a target for Islamists for a long time not just because of the way she appears in her shows but also for her support for LGBT movements," said sociologist Nazli Okten of Galatasaray University, an expert on popular culture. Gulsen jailed But Gulsen's jailing sparked outrage, with football supporters even singing her songs in support. The US State Department also expressed concern over her detention. Public pressure saw her released, but she still faces prison if convicted of inciting religious hatred. Erdogan addressing his supporters strongly backed Gulsen's prosecution. With elections less than a year away and lagging in the polls, Erodgan is seeking to rally his religious base. Outrage as Turkish courts seek to silence anti-femicide campaigners This summer, Turkish authorities have also banned music festivals across Turkey, hitting the industry hard. "There is big money turning around these festivals, not only for the artists but people working behind the scene," said Ipek Kocyigit, head of Turkey's Musicians Union. "I know there were 20 festivals canceled recently, which is a big number," added Kocyigit. "These 20 festivals were canceled for what? For the ethnic identity or the political view of the artist or for the way of dressing of a female singer." Pop music Pop music festivals often drawing tens of thousands have spread to Turkey's more conservative regions. The result of the success of Erdogan's massive expansion of universities, from 78 to over 200 institutions argues Okten. "The number of universities are going up, the scene in the cities is also changing with not also with the coming of university students," she said.   "Also these university students are changing their lives, because they are independent, they are not living with the family, they are not living in this traditional environment, they have a different kind of liberties. "These gatherings (concerts) become a kind of not just for symbolising a different way of life, but also at the end of these concerts people sometimes there are slogans. There is a tone; there is a sharing of discontent." Tensions rise between Greece and Turkey over island military bases With elections due next year and near hundred percent inflation, young voters who've known only Erdogan as a ruler pose his most significant threat says pollster Can Selcuki, of Istanbul Economics Research. "This young group of people aged between 18 to 30 is growing becoming adults into an age where they are highly indebted, they have very little wealth accumulation, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to look into the future and be hopeful. So they have sort of have this resentment to the current system," Selcuki said. "An overwhelming majority of young people in Turkey prefer a pluralistic democratic system to a strong one-man system," Selcuki added, "The second good piece of news is that over 80% prioritize freedom of expression above all." Gulsen is due in court in October, where she faces up to three years in jail. While such a move is likely to be welcomed by Erdogan's conservative base, it could also risk further alienating an increasingly disaffected youth as elections loom.
10/1/20224 minutes, 58 seconds
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Rights group blasts Turkey over plastic recycling health risks

Turkey's plastic recycling industry has been harshly criticised in a Human Rights Watch report that highlights health problems for workers and residents who live near processing plants. The report also attacks the European Union, for which Turkey is the primary plastics recycler. In an 88-page report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Turkey's plastic recycling industry of threatening workers' lives. "Plastics contain toxic chemical additives, things like dioxins and phthalates that can cause cancer," said Krista Shennum, author of the report, "The reproductive system is harmed. as well as short-term health impacts like asthma and skin ailments, things like that."  "We documented that there is quite a bit of child labour in plastic recycling facilities." Added Shennum, "despite legal protection for children working in such hazardous conditions, as well as lots of migrants and refugees working in plastics recycling facilities without adequate protection." In Istanbul's Bayrampasa district, the heart of the city's recycling industry, the air is thick with chemicals used in recycle plastic. Residential apartment blocks surround the factories, there is a hospital nearby, while children play in a local park. The Human Rights Watch report says most plastic recycling factories are located in Istanbul and Adana, two of Turkey's most densely populated cities. "The factories and houses are located side by side," explained local Sedef Kurt, "We spent a lot of time in the noise, the smell, the filth. This is how our childhood passed. I am 34, and I now have problems with my lungs." Strict regulations, strictly enforced The recycling industry maintains that strict regulations are enforced to protect both workers and residents. Dr Salih Kanbak of the Turkish Recycling Association admits that such criticism may have been warranted in the past, but insists the industry has cleaned up its act. Kanbak claims strict monitoring is enforced on the plastics imported for recycling and the factories processing them. "There are some extreme regulations in the last legislation," said Kanbak, speaking of laws which date from 2021. "We are also having inspectors not only from the Environment Ministry but also from the other ministries as well.  "They give no warning before they visit. We see them at the door; we are here to check your company," he added. "They will discover if there are children working, which is not legitimate. If they are making illicit or illegitimate recycling, we would like to know their names so we can eradicate them from the system because this is very important." But the Human Rights Watch Report claims the regulations are often not enforced and that there aren't enough regulators. Where inspections occur, the report claims that the factories receive advanced warnings in many cases. So far, the government has not responded to the report. A booming sector of the Turkish economy  The Turkish recycling industry is booming, supporting over one million people. After China ended importing plastic for recycling, Turkey became the European Union's primary plastics recycler. "Since 2018, when the Chinese government banned it, banned plastic waste, roughly 450,000 tons from the EU has been sent to Turkey each year," said Shennum Human Right Watch said the EU has the responsibility to those recycling Europes waste. "We'll be following up with decision-makers in the EU to kind of push them to have stronger regulations to respect the rights of people who are in countries impacted by European waste exports," said Shennum. Plastic recycling is a central part of environmental efforts for a greener world. But, according to Human Rights Watch, many among Turkey's most vulnerable are paying the price for that aspiration. 
9/26/20224 minutes, 33 seconds