TIME Turkey

May Day Demonstrators Clash With Istanbul Police

As demonstrators marked May 1 around the world, protesters in Istanbul tried to defy a government ban on marching in Taksim Square.

May Day demonstrators defied a protest ban and took to the streets around Istanbul’s Taksim Square Thursday, prompting clashes with police sent in preparation for what’s known around the world as a day of protest.

Police used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators, including a mix of trade unions, opposition activists and far left groups celebrating what has been dubbed International Workers’ Day, Turkish state news reports. Some protesters threw fireworks and stones at police.

Several unions had said earlier that they would ignore Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s warnings not to march on Taksim Square.

“We will be in Taksim despite the irrational and illegal ban. All roads will lead to Taksim on May Day, and our struggle for labour, equality, freedom, justice and peace will continue,” top unions said in a joint statement, Reuters reports.

Roads and streets leading to Taksim Square were closed off Thursday, and authorities deployed nearly 40,000 police in Istanbul ahead of the protests.

The square’s iconic status is linked to its history as a hotspot for protests. A sit-in against urban development plans snowballed into weeks of mass anti-government protests in the area last year. And on May 1, 1977, 36 people were killed after unidentified gunmen fired on a massive May Day demonstration in the square.

May Day demonstrations took place around the world on Thursday, with some leading to clashes with police. Nearly 1,000 workers and opposition supporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia ignored a protest ban and clashed with security forces.

[Anadolu Agency]

TIME Turkey

Turkish PM Wants To Extradite Muslim Cleric From The U.S.

TURKEY-POLITICS-CORRUPTION-DEMONSTRATION
A Turkish protester (L) holds up a banner with pictures of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and the United States-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen (R) during a demonstration against goverment on December 30, 2013 in Istanbul. Ozan Kose—AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen is attempting to topple his government from within the United States

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants the United States to deport an influential, Turkish cleric for allegedly attempting to topple his government.

Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, 74, was once Erdogan’s ally, but went into self-imposed exile in 1997 after rising accusations from the secular government of creating dissent in the state.

Ergodan accused Gulen of trying to build a “parallel state” in Turkey from America. Ergodan has been battling a bribery and corruption scandal in Turkey since December, for which he has blamed the cleric and his Hizmet, or “Service” movement. Gulen has denied claims he wire-tapped Turkish officials and engineered the graft probe that has ensnared the Prime Minister’s government.

“These elements which threaten the national security of Turkey cannot be allowed to exist in other countries because what they do to us here, they might do against their host,” Erdogan told PBS talk show host Charlie Rose in a Monday night broadcast. He told Turkish reporters that the extradition process will begin soon.

[Bloomberg]

TIME TIME 100

Turkey Reaction To Gul on TIME 100 Notes Absence of Erdogan

Turkey's controversial Prime Minister is more used to the spotlight than his ally and rival, President Abdullah Gul

First reactions in Turkey to the inclusion of President Abdullah Gul on the 2014 TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people took note of the absence of Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s most powerful political figure, from the list. “TIME 100: Gul is there, Erdogan Isn’t,” read the headline on the Hurriyet news site. Said the daily Vatan: “Flash! Gul is on the list, Erdogan doesn’t exist!”

Twitter – the social media site that Erdogan ordered shut down in Turkey after it posted links to apparently incriminating corruption wiretaps — echoed with skepticism of the choice: “JOKE OF THE DAY: Turkish President Gul in Time’s “The most influential people in the world” list..:) :)@TIME > Influential for what??” wrote @GayeAkarca

“Is he even influential in Turkey? Discuss,” quipped Bloomberg’s Turkey bureau chief, Benjamin Harvey @benjaminharvey.

In a mainstream media largely intimidated by Erdogan’s heavyhanded attentions, most early reports cited what novelist Elif Shafak had written on Gul without further comment. Gul has tacked his own course through the controversies that have erupted around Erdogan over the past year. The two men were among the founders of the moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party that has dominated Turkish politics for almost a dozen years, but Erdogan has strongly signaled his interest in running for the president’s office that Gul now holds.

For his part, Gul has largely refrained from being drawn on the subject, except to signal his reluctance to leave the office in order to take Erdogan’s place as prime minister.

TIME Abdullah Gul

Turkey’s Gul Rules Out Putin-Style Job Swap With Erdogan

Abdullah Gul - Uhuru Kenyatta meeting
Turkish President Abdullah Gul speaks during a press conference in Ankara, April 8, 2014. Aykut Unlupinar—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The future of Turkish President Abdullah Gul is linked to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made clear his interest in running for the presidency when the post opens in August. But Gul appeared to cast the idea of a Putin-style job swap

Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul deepened a mystery surrounding the future of the country’s political leadership on Friday, apparently closing off one much-discussed scenario involving a job swap with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but in terms so murky and conditional that it only served to fan speculation about his intentions.

Both Gul and Erdogan belong to the Justice and Development party that has ruled Turkey since 2003. The latter is serving his third term as premier and is barred by internal party rules from seeking a fourth. But he has made clear his interest in running for the presidency when the post opens in August, sparking speculation that he could swap jobs with Gul, who co-founded the party him.

A similar dilemma presented itself to Vladimir Putin in 2008 in Russia, where the constitution barred him from a third consecutive term as president. Putin instead backed his former campaign manager, Dmitry Medvedev, for the job, and when Medvedev won, he appointed Putin prime minister. Putin returned the favor four years later, when he won the presidency again. But on Friday, Gul appeared to cast the idea of a taking part in similar swap.

“I believe that the Putin-Medvedev formula wouldn’t be a completely suitable model in Turkey,” he told reporters.

In nearly the same breath, however, Gul added, “I don’t have any political plan for the future under today’s circumstances.”

The cryptic remark had analysts scrambling to decipher Gul’s intentions. Some spun the remark as a surprise declaration of retirement from public life, “signaling an earlier-than-expected departure from politics when his term ends in August,” as Turkey’s Cihan news agency put it.

Most others focused on “under today’s circumstances,” hearing in the conditionality of the phrase the grinding of gears turning behind the scenes. “The first impression is that Gul wants to be candidate for the presidency again, but I don’t think that it’s possible without an agreement with Erdogan, because Gul always says he’ll speak to Erdogan about this issue,” the Hurriyet Daily News quoted columnist Yalçın Doğan as saying.

Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agreed. “The Putin-Medvedev inversion is just not possible in Turkey,” he tells TIME. “Gul is not Medvedev right? He’s got his own base. Gul will not be No. 1 but act like he’s No. 2. If Erdogan wants to become president, which he does, he’ll have to appoint a caretaker prime minister, someone he can influence a great deal.”

In Gul’s apparent rejection of a Putin-style job swap, others heard the sound of the President opening the door for Erdogan to remain as prime minister. Indeed, in a meeting last week, Justice and Development lawmakers reportedly were polled both on their views about who should be president and on the three-term limit.

“This might be a signal that they have already decided to stay with the status quo,” Ali Carkoglu, a political scientist at Koc University in Istanbul, tells TIME. Carkoglu discounts rumors that Gul would split the party, either by running against Erdogan for president or challenging him for leadership of a party they founded together.

“If they are divided, then I think they will both lose,” Carkoglu added. “They have all the incentives to work together. And I think they have a camaraderie so far. They’ve been in this sort of risky politics for 25-30 years. We are underestimating the tradition from which they come.”

Cagaptay concurs. “I think their relationship is marked more by collegial competition than by rivalry.”

But other questions loom, including what powers each office will hold. Unlike Russia (or the United States), the presidency is largely a ceremonial post; most political power rests with the parliament, with the prime minister typically chosen from the ranks of the largest party. But Turkey is drafting a new constitution, which Erdogan has said should embrace a presidential system, with a strong executive. “I think the order will probably be that he becomes president and then change the constitution, not the other way around,” says Cagaptay.

There’s also the matter of corruption allegations leveled against Erdogan and other party leaders. Erdogan has worked hard to thwart a judicial probe, dismissing hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, and even banning Twitter and YouTube after the social media sites linked to allegedly incriminating leaks. He took a victory in local elections held last month as a referendum on his leadership, but as long as he remains prime minister he enjoys immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament. Were he to become president, he could be vulnerable to courts that, for instance, have declined to enforce the Twitter ban.

Carkoglu says that, as president, Erdogan would have immunity for anything he does while he holds the post. But, he adds, “for anything he’s done prior to coming into office, there’s uncertainty. We’re not sure. So that would be a legal battle. Is it worth taking all those risks?”

TIME

Turkey Lifts Twitter Ban After Court Ruling

The move comes one day after the nation's highest court categorized the ban as unconstitutional. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government blocked access to the social network because of a series of damaging leaks that surfaced on the site

Turkey lifted its ban on Twitter Thursday, a day after the nation’s highest court struck down a government prohibition, an official in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office told Reuters.

The country’s constitutional court ruled Wednesday that the ban violated free expression, but Erdogan’s government, which imposed the ban two weeks earlier ahead of last Sunday’s municipal elections, did not immediately act.

Erdogan has crusaded against several social media sites—last week his government blocked YouTube–amid a series of damaging leaks that have been shared across the Internet.

The bans have drawn widespread criticism domestically and abroad. Opposition politician Sezgin Tanrikulu petitioned the court to overturn the ban and threatened to file a legal complaint against the government for “abuse of power,” the Associated Press reports. Twitter had proposed its own lawsuit against the government.

Despite the criticism, Turkey’s voters partially exonerated Erdogan for his crackdown: his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party overwhelmingly won in local elections on Sunday.

[Reuters]

TIME Turkey

Turkey’s Erdogan Wins Big, Thinks Bigger

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters in Ankara on March 30, 2014.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters in Ankara on March 30, 2014. Kayhan Ozer—AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) drubbed its secular rivals in local elections over the weekend, vindicating him from charges of corruption and giving him a mandate to settle scores with his enemies

For Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it wasn’t so much a vote as a highly anticipated verdict. It read, at least to his eyes: Acquitted of all charges by popular demand.

Since last summer’s Gezi Park protests, and even more so since a corruption scandal burned a hole through his government in December, Erdogan has fended off calls for his resignation by challenging his opponents to a showdown at the ballot box. The only authority entitled to deliberate the charges leveled against him, he has argued, is the court of public opinion.

On Sunday, with his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) drubbing the secular opposition in local elections by a roughly 15-point margin, Erdogan claimed vindication.

Shortly before midnight, with results still coming in, and with the AKP projected to win roughly 45 percent of the overall vote, Erdogan addressed a crowd of thousands from the balcony of his party’s Ankara headquarters. “Through the ballot box, the people have sent a message to Turkey and to the rest of the world,” he said to loud cheers. “We are here. You will not sidestep the Turkish people. We own this country.”

Erdogan, an exceptional orator, had campaigned relentlessly, everywhere, and to the point of losing his voice. Banners, billboards and posters emblazoned with his picture and the words “Iron Will”, in capital letters, lined the streets of each Turkish city. At the countless AKP rallies where the Turkish leader made an appearance, local candidates were the side dish. Erdogan was invariably the main course.

For the Prime Minister, the run-up to Sunday’s election has been arguably the most challenging, turbulent period of his twelve years at the top of Turkish politics. In December, four of his ministers resigned — one of them urging his boss to follow suit — after a sweeping investigation exposed copious evidence of corruption at the highest levels of government. Ever since, hundreds of files from the probe, as well as seemingly unrelated wiretapped conversations, have made their way onto the Internet, implicating Erdogan, his family, and his officials in yet more scandals.

Likening the allegations to a “coup”, Erdogan resorted to increasingly repressive measures to stifle them. In February, his government adopted a law allowing the national telecoms agency to block access to certain websites within hours. When that failed to stem the leaks, the authorities pulled the plug on Twitter. Less than a week later, and hours after a recording of a key national security meeting began making the rounds on the web, they blocked YouTube.

To judge by the election results, none of this seems to have fazed the AKP’s constituents. Corruption is to some extent programmed into Turkish politics. As long as the ruling party makes the economic pie bigger, says Asaf Savas Akat, a professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, Turkish voters don’t mind if it helps itself to a generous slice.

Erdogan has already made it clear that he intends to capitalize on his big win by settling accounts with his enemies, not least the Gulen movement, a powerful Islamic sect that he and many others in Turkey consider “a parallel state,” and the driving force behind the graft investigation.

“The time has come for the traitors to reckon with this country,” Erdogan said on Sunday, referring to the Gulenists. “Their plan was chaos. We will enter their caves. We will make them pay.”

The list of other potential traitors, fears Atilla Yesilada, a political analyst with Global Source Partners, might quickly grow longer. “The man who shuts down Twitter and YouTube is not going to stop at just that,” he says. A further clampdown on what Erdogan calls the “partisan media” might not be long in coming.

A renewed mandate has also made Erdogan the master of his own political destiny. Whether he has it in mind to rewrite the AKP’s internal rules and stay on as Prime Minister for a fourth term, or to run in August’s presidential elections, says Yesilada, the choice is entirely his. No one in the ruling party will be in any position to stop him. “You’ve got to remember,” says Yesilada, “these 320 AKP guys [in parliament] mostly owe their political careers to Erdogan’s long coattails.”

The Prime Minister himself remains ambiguous about his preferred option. Still, in his balcony speech he pledged that he would remain at the center of Turkish politics for the foreseeable future. “We will try to devote ourselves to whatever mission we are endowed with,” he said.

At a popular teahouse in Kasimpasha, the conservative Istanbul neighborhood where Erdogan grew up and where he now enjoys cult status, a few locals weighed in on what that mission should be.

“He shouldn’t have to stop being Prime Minister,” opined Ibrahim Sariturk, a caterer. The largely ceremonial role of president would take power away from him, he said. “The people need him,” he said. “They need him to keep on serving the nation.”

Gokhan Ulker, a young cargo worker sitting nearby, agreed. “Under the current system,” he said, “Erdogan would be too weak a president.”

“We need him to be strong,” he said, smacking his palm on the table for emphasis, “because we are a country under threat from agents, from foreign powers, from you, and from the parallel state.”

“It might not sound like a democratic solution, but this country needs one man rule,” he said. “We don’t need it for the sake of it,” he qualified. “We just need it for Erdogan. Because we are sure of him as our leader.”

TIME europe

Salman Rushdie and Other Authors Urge Turkey to Lift Twitter Ban

The Cinema Society And Links Of London Host A Screening Of Fox Searchlight Pictures' "Dom Hemingway" - Outside Arrivals
Salman Rushdie is among dozens of writers urging Turkey to lift its social media ban Jim Spellman -- WireImage

Dozens of famous writers have signed a letter protesting the country's moves to block Internet sites

Dozens of notable authors have signed a joint letter from PEN International and English PEN that urges Turkey to reverse its nationwide ban on Twitter. The social media site was blocked last week after audio recordings suggesting corruption among the country’s officials were leaked. Earlier in March, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had stated that he would not “leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook,” and on Thursday Turkish media outlets reported that YouTube had also been blocked in the country as well.

The letter, which champions “the freedom of words,” was signed by illustrious writers from Turkey and around the world, including Orhan Pamuk, Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Atwood and Karl Ove Knausgård, among others.

The open letter begins:

We, the signatories named below, are writers from around the world who love, live and breathe words. We are united in our belief that freedom of expression is a universal and fundamental human right. We hereby express our grave concern with regard to “the freedom of words” in Turkey today.

As human beings we connect both within and across borders through words, written and spoken. A free exchange of ideas is essential for democracy, as well as for creativity, empathy and tolerance. As shown in a recent PEN report on last year’s protests,Turkey has a wide range of free expression issues, from criminal defamation to self-censorship within the mainstream media and from police violence against journalists to a narrowing sphere for freedom of expression on the internet.

Turkey ranks 154th among 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. To this day, translators, editors, publishers, poets and writers face criminal proceedings and even imprisonment for legitimate expression under a variety of legislative fetters.

The letter goes on to urge Turkish authorities “to remember that this beautiful country will be stronger and happier when, and if, it appreciates pluralism, diversity and the freedom of words.”

[Guardian]

TIME Turkey

Turkey Reportedly Blocks YouTube After Cutting Off Twitter

The Turkish government has reportedly blocked YouTube, a week after disabling access to Twitter. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to limit access to social networks after damaging audio recordings surfaced online ahead of the country's elections

The Turkish government moved to block access to YouTube, according to the Associated Press. The new ban comes a week after the Turkish government drew international condemnation for disabling access to Twitter.

The YouTube ban came hours after an anonymous account posted an alleged recording of Turkey’s intelligence chief discussing possible military operations in Syria with the foreign minister. That post was the latest in a series of purported Internet leaks damaging to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of this week’s local elections.

Google, which owns Youtube, told Reuters that it was looking into reports that users in Turkey could not access the site.

Erdogan threatened to ban social media sites earlier this month after alleged audio recordings surfaced linking him to a recent corruption scandal. His government blocked access to Twitter last week, though some users could still find ways to access the site. A court ruling Wednesday rejecting the Twitter ban reportedly allowed the prohibition against the site to stay in place for 30 days.

[AP]

TIME Turkey

Turkish Court Overturns Twitter Ban

Two Turkish women try to get on Twitter website on their laptops at a cafe in Istanbul, March 21, 2014.
Two Turkish women try to get on Twitter website on their laptops at a cafe in Istanbul, March 21, 2014. Tolga Bozoglu—EPA

The temporary injunction demands the government-controlled telecommunications authority allow citizens access again to the microblogging site, as Twitter files its own petitions for lawsuits challenging the ban

Updated 11:15 a.m. ET

A Turkish court declared a temporary injunction Wednesday demanding the government-controlled telecoms authority lift the ban on Twitter imposed by the Turkish government five days ago, according to a news agency there.

Lawyers and opposition politicians in Turkey have asked the court to overturn the moratorium on the social network, claiming it was unconstitutional and not legal, reports AP.

Twitter also filed petitions for lawsuits that would challenge the ban on its website in Turkey, the company said in blog post Wednesday. “The millions of people in Turkey who turn to Twitter to make their voices heard are being kept from doing just that,” Twitter said.

Turkey’s telecoms authority had accused Twitter of defying court orders that certain content be removed. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “rip out the roots” of Twitter last week after it hosted content posted by users showing evidence of possible government corruption. However many online users in Turkey swiftly found ways around the ban.

[AP]

With additional reporting by Sam Frizell

TIME Turkey

Turkish Military Shoots Down Syrian Jet

Turkey said it was forced to act after a Syrian MIG-23 aircraft flew into the country's airspace near the Kasab border crossing. "If you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard," said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

A Syrian airplane was shot down on Sunday by the Turkish military, which claimed the jet had violated the country’s airspace.

“Our F-16s took off and hit this plane,” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said. “Why? Because if you violate my airspace our slap after this will be hard.”

The Turkish military said a Syrian MIG-23 plane entered Turkish airspace near the Kasab border crossing, where Syrian rebels have been fighting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since Friday. A Turkish F-16 shot the Syrian jet down with a rocket. Syria says the pilot was able to eject before the plane crashed, Reuters reports.

Just six months ago Turkey shot down a Syrian helicopter that entered its airspace in the same area.

[Reuters]

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