TIME Turkey

Turkish Protests Erupt After Teenager in Coma Dies

Last June in Istanbul, Berkin Elvan, then 14, went out to buy bread for his family. He didn’t return. Elvan got caught between skirmishing police and anti-government protesters and was hit by a tear gas canister. He slipped into a coma and became a rallying point for those opposed to reigning Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled the country for over a decade but faces calls for his resignation amid corruption scandals and mounting public frustration with his heavy-handed governance. When Elvan died this Tuesday, protesters once again took to the streets and clashed with security forces.

TIME europe

Turkey Threatens to Ban Facebook and YouTube

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara on Feb. 18, 2014. UMIT BEKTAS—REUTERS

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hints at barring users in his country from the social network and video-sharing service after controversial audio recordings, purportedly implicating him in a corruption scandal, began circulating on the sites in recent weeks

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey threatened Thursday to ban Facebook and YouTube in the country, after audio recordings purportedly implicating him in a corruption scandal circulated on the sites in recent weeks.

Speaking with Turkish broadcaster ATV late on Thursday, Erdogan said his government “will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook,” Reuters reports. He said barring the sites was a possibility.

In recent weeks, audio recordings purportedly of Erdogan and his allies have been circulating online, ahead of local elections later in March. The latest recordings, published on YouTube on Thursday, claim to be of Erdogan suggesting that the proprietor of a Turkish newspaper sack two journalists over a lead story about Kurdish peace talk efforts. Other recordings are allegedly of him telling his son to dispose of large amounts of money before police raids as part of a graft investigation last year.

Erdogan, who has been in power since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the elections in 2002, maintains that the moderate U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen is attempting to discredit him with what he says are fabricated recordings.

[Reuters]

TIME Viewpoint

Can Turkey’s Erdogan Stay in Power?

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters as he arrives at a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters as he arrives for a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara Feb. 25, 2014 Umit Bektas / Reuters

The Turkish leader’s authoritarian streak is the most important issue ahead of key elections

In its first eight decades as a republic, the biggest question facing Turkey was one of identity. Would it be the secular democracy envisioned by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or a nation governed by the Islamic faith that defined the Ottoman Empire from whose ashes it rose? Ataturk did his best to secure the former option, sending the Caliph packing (on the Orient Express) and ordering Turks to use second names, abandon the fez and write in Roman letters. After he died, his acolytes enforced his vision with a rigidity grounded in an abiding mistrust of the masses. Four times in four decades, Kemalist generals deposed elected governments they deemed dangerous to secular rule.

But everything changed in 2002, when Turks voted the Justice and Development Party (AKP) into government, led by the charismatic and irascible Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Once an avowed proponent of political Islam, Erdogan campaigned for Prime Minister on a platform of personal piety and fair play, especially in economics. Embraced first by the conservative Anatolian heartland distrusted by the Kemalist elite, the AKP’s support grew in subsequent elections.

But as the country prepares for three more polls over the next 15 months, the most pressing issue is no longer about the secular or religious nature of the state. It’s Erdogan. Turks have to decide whether they prefer a strongman over the delicate calibrations required in a system of checks and balances.

(MORE: Turkey’s “House of Cards” moment.)

When spontaneous demonstrations erupted last May over the fate of a city park, Erdogan’s reaction validated the protesters’ assertion that the larger problem was his creeping authoritarianism. Riot police overreacted to the demonstrations, deploying tear gas and water cannons, and international outrage poured in. With the Prime Minister abroad, other AKP leaders, including President Abdullah Gul, struck a politic, palliative tone that lasted only until the boss got back. Erdogan blamed shadowy outside forces, invoking the reliable stewpot of bogeymen—hidden hands, Washington—for the unrest.

He made the same play when a massive graft investigation burst into the headlines in December. In time, the AKP closed ranks, passing bills consolidating power around its embattled leader. Gul signed a measure restricting the Internet and tracking users. Another bill tightened executive control over judges and prosecutors, a convenient move as troubling corruption allegations crept toward Erdogan himself. (The allegations should be best assessed by a judiciary visibly independent both of the Premier and the “parallel government” supposedly run by Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamic leader resident in Pennsylvania, that Erdogan’s allies claim is driving the probe.)

Municipal elections on March 30 will give voters their first say on all this. The opposition is uninspiring: led by Ataturk’s Republican People’s Party, it is riven by divisions and hampered by the lack of a compelling leader to take on Erdogan. But with the economy sliding, if the AKP ends up losing previous strongholds like Istanbul, the result would embolden Erdogan’s opponents. An electoral setback might also shake loose papered-over tensions within the AKP, perhaps exposing internal rivalries in time for the presidential election in August.

According to an AKP spokesman, Erdogan, who is barred by party rules from returning as Premier, will seek that office. But if the incumbent, Gul, also chooses to run, the resulting split within the ruling party could give voters the credible alternative to Erdogan that the opposition has thus far failed to provide. Gul is a devout Muslim who, in contrast to the Prime Minister’s majoritarian tendencies, talks of pluralism and the rule of law.

A more cynical scenario involves the parliamentary polls set for June 2015. Were Gul to vacate the presidency and were the AKP to prevail in the legislature yet again, analysts note he would be available to resume the premiership in place of Erdogan. Gul already performed that role in 2002, when a prior conviction for Islamist politicking barred Erdogan from immediately assuming office. Another job-swap in 2015 would for now close the door on the possibility that in the absence of a credible opposition, a viable alternative to Erdogan might emerge from within the AKP.

TIME Turkey

Turkish PM Tightens Control Of Judges As Lawmakers Brawl

Turkish legislators from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party and the main opposition Republican People's Party brawl during a tense all-night debate over a controversial law on changes to a council that appoints and overseas judges and prosecutors, in Ankara, early Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014.
Turkish legislators from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party and the main opposition Republican People's Party brawl during a tense all-night debate over a controversial law on changes to a council that appoints and overseas judges and prosecutors, in Ankara, early Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. AP

Tayyip Erdogan bill broadens authority over judiciary after anti-corruption investigation

A brawl broke out on the floor of the Turkish Parliament Saturday shortly before lawmakers passed a law increasing government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors.

The government of Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan pushed the law through in response to a judiciary-led investigation into corruption charges against his regime, Reuters reports. Opposition lawmakers reacted furiously, saying the bill was intended to stifle the investigation by giving Erdogan more control over judges.

A deputy with the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was left with broken fingers after the brawl, and an opposition member with a broken nose was hospitalized. The Turkish government under Erdogan has dismissed thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors in what is widely seen as an attempt to impede the corruption investigation.

[Reuters]

TIME olympics

Turkish Officials Search Plane After Bomb Threat

Turkish police forces arrive at the scene after hijacked airplane of a Turkish company Pegasus Airlines was landed at Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul, on Feb. 7, 2014.
Turkish police forces arrive at the scene after hijacked airplane of a Turkish company Pegasus Airlines was landed at Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul, on Feb. 7, 2014. Tolga Bozoglu—EPA

An alleged bomber reportedly tried to divert the flight to Sochi, where the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics were under way

A flight from Ukraine to Istanbul was being searched by Turkish security forces on Friday after a passenger claimed a bomb was on board and, according to some reports, demanded the plane be rerouted to the site of the Winter Olympics in Russia.

“While the plane was in the air, one of the passengers said that there was a bomb on board and asked the plane to not land in [in Turkey] but rather to land in Sochi,” Habip Soluk, a Turkish transportation official, told CNNTurk.

Earlier, an unnamed Turkish official denied a report from the Dogan news agency that an alleged bomber tried to divert the flight to Sochi, where the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics were under way, the Associated Press reports. Security has been tight in Sochi amid terror threats, and the United States this week banned all liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on baggage on flights between Russia and the U.S.

The flight, from Kharkov, Ukraine, landed safely in Istanbul and was being searched in a “safe area” of the airport, the Turkish official said. Officials later said a suspect was in custody, NBC News reports. A Turkish journalist posted on Twitter what was purportedly a photograph of the suspect in the attempted hijacking, though that could not be immediately verified.

TIME Turkey

Turkey’s New Internet Law Draws Criticism

TURKEY-POLITICS-PARLIAMENT
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is applauded by members of parliament from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara June 25, 2013. Adem Altan / AFP / Getty Images

Web restrictions come amid a government corruption scandal

A law passed by Turkey’s parliament Wednesday gives the government extensive new controls over the Internet amid a growing corruption scandal, leading critics to cry foul over curtailed freedoms.

Under the law, which still awaits President Abdullah Gül’s signature, the Turkish government would be empowered to block websites and wipe content without court approval if it is deemed to violate privacy, the Associated Press reports. The law would also require Internet providers to retain, and give law enforcement access to, records of users’ online activity.

Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, took to Twitter to voice his disapproval of the law.

Some see the new restrictions as an effort to tighten the government’s grip over the flow of information as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan works to contain a corruption scandal that has already brought down four government ministers. Hundreds of law enforcement officials have been replaced by Erdogan’s government, in what some see as an effort to squash any further investigation into official wrongdoing.

[AP]

TIME Currency

Currency Crises Abroad Are Benefiting the U.S.

Victor Albrow / Getty Images

Analysts are calling them “The Fragile Five,” a catchy sobriquet for five countries–Turkey, Brazil, India, South Africa and Indonesia–that have been experiencing serious turmoil in their economies and currencies in recent weeks.

To one degree or another these five economies have been rocked by foreign investors who are taking their money and parking it in safer and increasingly more lucrative investments in developed countries like the U.S. This capital flight has caused these nations’ currencies to plummet in value, forcing central banks to raise interest rates and possibly weaken economic growth at home. This week, the Turkish Central Bank raised its interest rate a stunning 4.5%, hoping to convince investors to keep their money in Turkey.

So what exactly does a currency crisis in Turkey or India have to do with the U.S.? In recent days, foreign leaders like Brazilian President Dilma Roussef reportedly laid blame for economic troubles in her country at the feet of the United States’ Federal Reserve, saying “the withdrawal of the monetary stimulus in developed countries” was fueling “market volatility.” Some analysts have dismissed this as simple scapegoating, but according to Eswar Prasad, a Cornell economist and author of a forthcoming book on the international monetary system, The Dollar Trap, the analysis is not entirely off the mark. Volatility in places like Brazil “isn’t an indictment of Federal Reserve policy, but it certainly is a side effect,” he says.

Presad explains that, following the financial crisis, the central banks of developed countries like the United States and Britain engaged in unprecedented efforts to keep interest rates very low, which motivated investors to look abroad for higher returns. Now that the U.S. is beginning to unwind this stimulus, and investors are beginning to worry about future growth prospects in places like Turkey, the reverse is happening. Money is flowing quickly from poorer countries to the developed world, fomenting economic instability in the process.

The reason for this instability, Prasad argues, is dominant position of the U.S. dollar in global finance. But this is not just a worry for the citizens of The Fragile Five. It also affects the lives of everyday Americans in countless ways, from how much they pay for their mortgage to how much the U.S. government can afford to spend on things like Social Security.

A series of financial crises from those in Latin America in the 1980s, to the Asian crisis of the 1990s, to the global meltdown we experienced five years ago has convinced developing countries that they need to amass large currency reserves to stabilize their own currencies and enable banks and businesses in their home country to continue operating during financially stressful times. Turkey, for instance, sold its dollar reserves last week in an attempt to prop up the price of the Turkish lira and quell instability.

Instead of just holding onto dollars, however, central banks like to keep much of their reserves in U.S. treasury debt so that it can earn a return from the savings, while still being “liquid,” or easy to convert to cash in a pinch. The result is massive foreign demand for U.S. government debt. As of June 2013, roughly one-third of the U.S.’s outstanding $16.8 trillion in debt was owned by foreigners, while the Federal Reserve owned one-tenth. That’s a whole lot of demand for U.S. debt that is purely the result of the dollar’s role as the world’s “reserve” currency.

The effect of all this foreign demand is to keep interest rates in America much lower than they otherwise would be. That means that we’re paying less for our cars, mortgages, and government debt that we would without that demand. It also means that the swift reduction in the deficit we’ve seen in recent years is probably unnecessary, especially because turmoil abroad is only going to make investing in U.S. government debt more attractive to investors in the near term. “The U.S. is in a very good position,” Prasad says. “All of this turmoil is going to drive even more capitol to our shores.”

So is there any downside to the dollar’s dominance of the globe? Unfortunately, yes. While demand for U.S. debt abroad drives down interest rates, it also drives up the price of the dollar, making U.S. companies less competitive internationally. And at a time when Americans are starved for good paying jobs, it can ill afford to be fighting for its share of exports with one hand tied behind its back. So while the reign of the U.S. Dollar might make it easier for the U.S. government to take care of its citizens, it’s making it harder for Americans to take care of themselves.

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