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Turkey

The US has given Turkey an ultimatum to choose between buying US fighter jets and Russian anti-aircraft missile systems by the end of July.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan set out the deadline in a letter to his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar.

Turkey, Patrick Shanahan said, could not have both America’s F-35 advanced fighter jets and Russia’s S-400 systems.

The two NATO allies have been locked in a row over the S-400 for months.

The US argues that the Russian systems are both incompatible with NATO defense systems and pose a security threat, and wants Turkey to buy its Patriot anti-aircraft systems instead.

Turkey, which has been pursuing an increasingly independent defense policy, has signed up to buying 100 F-35s, and has invested heavily in the F-35 program, with Turkish companies producing 937 of the plane’s parts.

Patrick Shanahan says in his letter that the US is “disappointed” to hear that Turkish personnel have been sent to Russia to train on the S-400.

“Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400,” he writes.

“You still have the option to change course on the S-400.”

U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen

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Patrick Shanahan’s letter includes a schedule for winding down Turkish participation in F-35 pilot training.

The first four F-35s due to be delivered to Turkey have still not left the US, officially to allow Turkish pilots to train in them in America.

On June 4, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was “determined” to proceed with the S-400 deal.

“Unfortunately we haven’t received a positive proposal from the American side on the subject of Patriots like the S-400s from Russia,” he said.

Turkey has the second-largest army in NATO, a 29-member military alliance set up to defend against what was at the time the Soviet Union.

The head of Russia’s state defense conglomerate Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, was quoted as saying on Friday that Russia would start delivering the S-400 to Turkey in “about two months”.

The S-400 “Triumf” is one of the most sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems in the world.

The Russian missile has a range of 400km (250 miles), and one S-400 integrated system can shoot down up to 80 targets simultaneously.

Russia says it can hit aerial targets ranging from low-flying drones to aircraft flying at various altitudes and long-range missiles.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party, the AKP, has lost control of the capital, Ankara, in local elections, in a blow to his 16-year rule.

According to figures published by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, the main opposition party, the CHP, is also slightly ahead in the contest for mayor of Istanbul.

The AKP party is challenging the result in both cities.

Municipal elections were held across Turkey on March 31 and an AKP-led alliance won more than 51% of the vote.

The elections, considered a verdict on President Erdogan’s rule, have been taking place during an economic downturn.

Following the vote’s preliminary results, Turkish lira has been losing value recently and the economy went into recession in the last three months of 2018.

The AKP – Justice and Development Party – alleges “invalid votes and irregularities in most of the 12,158 polling stations in Ankara”.

AKP’s general secretary Fatih Sahin said on Twitter: “We will use our legal rights to the fullest, and we will not allow the will of our citizens to be altered in Ankara.”

The party says it will also challenge the result in Istanbul – the largest city – and the eastern province of Igdir.

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Commenting on the results in a speech on March 31, President Erdogan looked ahead to national elections in 2023: “We have a long period ahead where we will carry out economic reforms without compromising on the rules of the free-market economy.

“If there are any shortcomings, it is our duty to correct them.”

More than 57 million voters were registered to vote for mayors and councilors. Turnout was high at just under 85%.

According to officials, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavas won in Ankara. With almost all votes counted, he was on nearly 51% and the AKP’s Mehmet Ozhaseki had won the support of just over 47%.

Both CHP and the AKP claim victory in Istanbul, which has been in the hands of parties linked to President Erdogan since 1994, when he was elected the city’s mayor.

The election commission said the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu was leading there by less than 0.5%, but that the results of more than 80 ballot boxes were being challenged. Results carried by Anadolu news agency put the margin even narrower, at less than 0.25%.

The AKP had been saying its candidate, former PM Binali Yildirim, was ahead by 4,000 votes. He later conceded his opponent had a narrow lead, only for the AKP to again claim victory.

The third largest city, Izmir, went to the CHP.

This was the first municipal vote since Recep Tayyip Erdogan assumed sweeping executive powers through last year’s presidential election.

The AKP, with its roots in political Islam, has won every election since coming to power in 2002.

President Erdogan, whose two-month campaign included 100 rallies, said the poll was about the “survival” of the country and his party.

With most media either pro-government or controlled by President Erdogan’s supporters, critics believe opposition parties campaigned at a disadvantage. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rallies dominated TV coverage.

The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the elections were unfair and refused to put forward candidates in several cities.

Some of the HDP’s leaders have been jailed on terrorism charges, accusations they reject.

Saudi Arabia has refused Turkey’s extradition request for suspects in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said: “We do not extradite our citizens.”

Just over a week ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded the extradition and on December 5 a Turkish court issued arrest warrants.

The Saudis have charged 11 people with the murder, which took place in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

Arrest warrants were issued in Turkey for former Saudi intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and former royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani.

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Adel al-Jubeir criticised the way Turkey has shared information with Saudi Arabia.

He said: “The Turkish authorities have not been as forthcoming as we believe they should have been.

“We have asked our friends in Turkey to provide us with evidence that we can use in a court of law. We have not received it in the manner that it should have been received.”

President Erdogan says the order to kill Jamal Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government but insists he does not want to damage the Saudi royal family.

The Saudi government denies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the killing.

The Saudi public prosecutor has said Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate as a result of a “rogue operation” on the orders of an intelligence officer.

Jamal Khashoggi was given a lethal injection after a struggle. The journalist’s body was then dismembered inside the consulate in Istanbul and the body parts were handed over to a local”collaborator” outside the grounds, the prosecutor said.


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Turkey has shared recordings related to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia and others.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his assertion that Saudi Arabia knew who had killed Jamal Khashoggi.

Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi rulers, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Saudi Arabia has admitted the journalist was murdered there, but denied suggestions its royal family was involved.

The Saudis had initially maintained Jamal Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed.

They have also denied comments allegedly made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman describing Jamal Khashoggi as a dangerous Islamist.

Image source www.alaraby.co.uk

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The reported phone call to the White House came before Saudi Arabia admitted Jamal Khashoggi had been killed.

There is still no consensus on how Jamal Khashoggi died. The journalist entered the consulate to sort out documents for his marriage.

Initially, Turkish media had quoted sources as saying Turkey had audio recordings proving that Jamal Khashoggi had been tortured before being murdered.

Last week, however, Turkey said he had been strangled immediately after entering the consulate and Jamal Kashoggi’s body dismembered “in accordance with plans made in advance”.

Nobody has been found and a Turkish official said the body had been dissolved.

Saudi Arabia has changed its account of what happened to the journalist.

When Jamal Khashoggi first disappeared, Saudi Arabia said the journalist had walked out of the building alive. Saudi Arabia later admitted he had been murdered, saying the killing was premeditated and a result of a “rogue operation”.

Eighteen suspects have been arrested in Saudi Arabia, where will be prosecuted. However, Turkey wants the suspects to be extradited.

Turkey has not publicly blamed Saudi Arabia for the killing.

President Erdogan said in a TV speech on November 10: “We gave the recordings, we gave them to Saudi Arabia, we gave them to Washington, to the Germans, to the French, to the English.”

“They listened to the conversations which took place here, they know,” he said.

No other country has admitted hearing the said recording.

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Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly offered $15 million to help forcibly remove Fethullah Gulen from the US and deliver him to Turkey.

Michael Flynn and his son discussed the alleged plot with Turkish representatives, NBC News and Wall Street Journal report.

The matter is said to be under scrutiny in the wider DoJ investigation of alleged Russian election meddling.

Michael Flynn resigned after misleading the White House about meeting an envoy.

The alleged plot to remove the Muslim cleric was first revealed in March 2017 by former CIA Director James Woolsey.

The Turkish government accuses Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, of being behind last year’s failed coup.

Fethullah Gulen is viewed as chief political rival to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly called for his extradition from the US.

According to the Wall Street Journal, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is focusing on a meeting in mid-December between Michael Flynn and Turkish officials in New York.

Michael Flynn reportedly discussed having Fethullah Gulen transported on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali.

He was serving on the White House transition team during the reported meeting, which came a month before he joined the Trump administration.

Michael Flynn also met Turkish representatives in September 2016, according to James Woolsey, a board member for Flynn’s consultancy.

James Woolsey has previously told CNN that in September, “there was at least some strong suggestion by one or more of the Americans present at the meeting that we would be able, the United States would be able, through them, to be able to get hold of Gulen”.

Image source Wikimedia

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NBC reported that federal investigators are also looking into whether Michael Flynn tried to push for the return of Fethullah Gulen to Turkey during his time as White House national security adviser.

A spokesman for Michael Flynn’s company has denied he discussed any illegal actions with the Turks.

Michael Flynn was the first aide in Donald Trump’s White House to resign, after only 23 days on the job.

The retired lieutenant general had admitted lying to VP Mike Pence about a meeting with the Russian ambassador in which the lifting of US sanctions was discussed.

Michael Flynn also failed to register as a lobbyist for the Turkish government while he was seeking White House security clearance.

In 2016, his consultancy Flynn Intel Group was paid $530,000 for lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government – work which required him to register as “a foreign agent”.

According to his lawyer , Michael Flynn did not register because he was working for a Turkish businessman, rather than a government official.

Investigators are also looking into the actions of his son, Michel Flynn Jr., who worked closely with him at Flynn Intel Group.

According to both publications, Michael Flynn and the meeting participants discussed a way to free Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who is in a US jail over charges that he evaded US sanctions on Iran.

A number of people of Uighur ethnicity have been detained in Turkey over the deadly Istanbul’s Reina club attack that killed 39, the state-run news agency reports.

Those arrested are believed to have come from China’s Xinjiang region with ties to the attacker, Anadolu agency says.

Deputy PM Veysi Kaynak also said they were closing in on the attacker, who he said was possibly an ethnic Uighur.

Also on January 5, there was an explosion near the courthouse in the city of Izmir in western Turkey.

Social media images showed two vehicles ablaze and several people were reported wounded.

Other images showed what appeared to be the body of a man carrying a gun, amid media reports he was an attacker who was shot dead by police.

Anadolu reported a second man was shot dead and police were seeking a third.

ISIS says it carried out the Istanbul attack over Turkey’s military involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Turkish authorities have reportedly tightened security at the country’s land borders and airports to prevent the attacker from fleeing abroad.

Local media have run images of a suspect, saying the pictures were handed out by the police. But the police have given no official details.

The Turkish foreign minister has said the authorities have identified the gunman, but has not given further details.

Special forces made the early morning arrests at a housing complex in Selimpasa, a coastal town on the outskirts of Istanbul, after police were reportedly tipped off that individuals linked to the attacker were in the area.

Uighurs were among those detained – the number was not confirmed – on suspicion of “aiding and abetting” the attacker, Anadolu reported.

At least 36 people were already in custody over suspected links to the attack, many of whom were picked up in an earlier police operation in Izmir.

Several families had recently traveled there from Konya, a central city where the main suspect was said to have stayed for several weeks before the attack.

Separately, Veysi Kaynak told Turkish broadcaster A Hamer that the authorities knew where the suspect, who he described as “specially trained”, was hiding, without giving further details.

The deputy prime minister confirmed the attacker had acted alone, but may have had help inside Reina club.

Veysi Kaynak expressed confidence in the Turkish police operation but said he could not rule out the possibility of the attacker fleeing the country.

Previous media reports incorrectly suggested the attacker was a national from Kyrgyzstan, after a passport photo claiming to show the gunman was circulated.

It later emerged the passport belonged to someone unrelated to the attack.

Kyrgyzstan’s embassy in Turkey has since asked the media to retract the reports and issue an apology.

More than half of those killed in New Year’s attack on Istanbul’s popular Reina club were foreigners, including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco.

The gunman managed to escape in the aftermath of the attack.

A day later, ISIS issued a statement saying “a heroic soldier” belonging to the group had carried out the attack in retaliation for Turkey’s military role in northern Syria.

Veysi Kaynak also said on January 5 Turks were questioning the use of the country’s Incirlik air base by both NATO and the US-led coalition launching air strikes on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey launched a military operation in Syria in August to push back ISIS and Kurdish forces.

Some of Turkey’s big cities have since been targeted in a number of bomb attacks by ISIS and by Kurdish militants.

Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, has died after a Turkish police officer shot him in an apparent protest at Russia’s involvement in Aleppo.

Several other people were reportedly also injured in the gun attack in Ankara, a day after protests in Turkey over Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The gunman, who was in civilian clothes, opened fire at point blank range as Andrei Karlov made a speech.

He is said to have died in a shootout with police soon afterwards.

According to local reports, Andrei Karlov was rushed to hospital, but his death was later confirmed by the Russian foreign ministry.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone about the attack, the Turkish president’s office said.

Speaking outside the hospital where Andrei Karlov was taken, Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek said the killing was intended to ruin Turkey’s relations with Russia.

The attack was swiftly condemned by other countries.

US state department spokesman John Kirby: “We condemn this act of violence, whatever its source. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

Image source AP

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: “Shocked to hear of despicable murder of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey. My thoughts are with his family. I condemn this cowardly attack.”

German Interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said his country stood with Turkey in a common fight against terrorism.

France’s President Francois Hollande “strongly” condemned the killing.

Before the attack happened, a meeting of the Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers had been planned in Moscow for December 20.

According to Russian TV, Ambassador Andrei Karlov had been attending a photo exhibition called “Russia as seen by Turks”.

Video of the event shows him making a speech when gunshots ring out. Eight bullets are said to have been fired.

The camera pulls back to show a smartly dressed gunman, wearing a suit and tie, waving a pistol and shouting in Arabic and Turkish.

The gunman can be heard yelling “Don’t forget about Aleppo, don’t forget about Syria” and uses the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).

Turkish officials later identified him as a member of the Ankara riot police, aged 22.

Andrei Karlov, 62, was a veteran diplomat who had served as Soviet ambassador to North Korea for much of the 1980s.

After the fall of the USSR in 1991, Andrei Karlov had a posting as Russian ambassador to South Korea before returning to North Korea for five years in 2001.

Taking up the Ankara posting in July 2013, Andrei Karlov had to grapple with a major diplomatic crisis last year when a Turkish plane shot down a Russian jet close to the Syrian border.

Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov has been shot and seriously wounded while visiting a photo gallery in Ankara.

Several other people were reportedly also injured in the attack, a day after protests in Turkey over Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

Andrei Karlov was taken to hospital to be treated for his injuries.

Image source Getty Images

Image source Getty Images

According to Russian TV, Ambassador Andrei Karlov had been attending an exhibition called “Russia as seen by Turks”.

According to Turkish media, Andrei Karlov was making a speech when he was shot in the back by a gunman.

A video from the event shows the ambassador speaking when gunshots ring out.

The camera pulls back to show a smartly dressed gunman, wearing a suit and tie, waving a pistol and shouting.

The gunman repeats the Islamic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and also shouts “Don’t forget about Aleppo”.

It is too early to know the motives of the attacker, who has not yet been named.

Some reports say the gunman entered the art gallery using a police ID card.

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Over two hundreds people have been arrested in Turkey for acting on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the interior ministry says.

Among those 235  arrested are officials from the main Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

The arrests come two days after twin bomb attacks near Istanbul’s Besiktas stadium which killed 44 people.

Meanwhile, Austria says that talks with Turkey over membership of the EU should be suspended.

Image source RT

Image source RT

A statement from the interior ministry says the operation covered 11 provinces across Turkey from the northwest to the southeast, and targeted people suspected of “spreading terror group propaganda”.

It is not clear whether December 12 arrests were directly related to the bomb attacks.

Speaking in parliament, Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdag said most of the 44 people killed on December 10 were policemen.

The Kurdish militant group TAK, an offshoot of the PKK, said in a statement it had carried out the attack.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on December 11 that Turkey would fight “the scourge of terrorism to the end”, and promised that the attackers would pay a “heavy price”.

Last month, 10 HDP lawmakers – including co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag – were arrested, causing international alarm.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that Europe could no longer ignore President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on the opposition.

Turkey and the US are ready to drive ISIS from its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Edogan has suggested.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said President Barack Obama floated the idea of joint action against the militants when they met at the G20 meeting in China.

He said Turkey would have “no problem” with such action.

In August, Turkey launched an operation inside Syria, targeting both ISIS and Kurdish rebels.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Turkish-backed militia drove ISIS from the border town of Jarablus, but Turkey has also been concerned with checking the advance of Kurdish forces whom it regards as terrorists.

The offensive continues, and Russia, who is allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says it is deeply concerned by the movement of Turkish forces deeper into Syrian territory.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments on Raqqa were published in Turkish media. There has been no confirmation from the US.

“Obama wants to do some things jointly concerning Raqqa,” he said.

“We said this would not be a problem from our perspective.”

“I said <<our soldiers should come together and discuss, then what is necessary will be done>>,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan added.

Turkey has announced that Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has died at the age of 78.

There is no official Uzbek confirmation of the president’s death, but the state TV channels have dropped light entertainment programs.

One of Asia’s most authoritarian leaders, Islam Karimov was in power since 1989.

He was taken to hospital last week after a brain hemorrhage but the government has only said he is critically ill.

There were conflicting reports about Islam Karimov’s death on Russian news agencies on September 2.Islam Karimov Uzbekistan elections 2015

Interfax quoted the Uzbek government as confirming the death only for Ria-Novosti to quote the Uzbek government press service as denying it had issued any statement.

Unnamed diplomatic sources in several countries have also announced Islam Karimov’s death, and even funeral plans, to news agencies.

Reuters quoted three such sources while Associated Press cited an unnamed Afghan official as saying President Ashraf Ghani planned to attend Islam Karimov’s funeral on September 3.

An unnamed Kyrgyz diplomat told AP the country’s prime minister had also been invited to the funeral.

Islam Karimov has no clear successor. There is no legal political opposition and the media are tightly controlled by the state.

A UN report has described the use of torture in Uzbekistan as “systematic”.

Islam Karimov often justified his strong-arm tactics by highlighting the danger from Islamist militancy in the mainly Muslim country, which borders Afghanistan.

On September 2, Turkish PM Binali Yildirim told a televised meeting Islam Karimov had died.

“Uzbek President Islam Karimov has passed away,” Binali Yildirim said in a cabinet meeting broadcast live.

“May God’s mercy be upon him, as the Turkish Republic we are sharing the pain and sorrow of Uzbek people.”

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American journalist Lindsey Snell has been arrested in Turkey and charged with violating a military zone, US officials have confirmed.

US state department spokesman John Kirby said Lindsey Snell was arrested earlier this month.

Lindsey Snell, a native of Daytona, Florida, recently posted on Facebook that she was kidnapped in July by Jabhat al Nusra, formerly al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, and had escaped.

The US said it was in touch with Turkish officials regarding the case.

Photo Facebook

Photo Facebook

Lindsey Snell is being held at a prison in the southern Hatay Province and US consular officials had visited her on August 26, John Kirby added.

According to her Facebook page, the American journalist had been living in Istanbul.

She describes herself on her Twitter page as a video journalist.

Lindsey Snell also has worked as a senior foreign correspondent and producer for Vocativ since March 2014, according to her LinkedIn page.

She also attended University of Florida and Fordham University’s School of Law, according to her social media profiles.

Lindsey Snell said in her most recent Facebook post on August 5 that she was held in a cave prison by militants even though she was given permission to film in their territory in Syria.

Her post said: “I must apologize to my friends and colleagues for all the pain and worry this caused you. I love you all, and I appreciate every effort made to secure my release.”

Lindsey Snell, who identified herself as Muslim, said she had been staying with the family of one of the militant group’s recent martyrs when she was “arrested.”

“Because of my unique situation, I was able to convince my captors to give me the use of a phone…which ultimately let me plan my escape, but which also let me document much of my captivity in photos and video,” her post continued.

On August 7, Lindsey Snell was taken into custody by Turkish authorities.

Twenty five Kurdish militants have been killed as Turkey continues to target Kurdish-held areas in Syria, near the border city of Jarablus, the Turkish military says.

However, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 people died in strikes on Jeb el-Kussa and another 15 were killed in a separate bombardment near al-Amarneh.

Four local fighters were also killed, the Observatory reported.

It is not yet clear whether the two reports relate to the same incident.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

The strikes came on the fifth day of Turkey’s military operation to target ISIS militants and Kurdish militia inside Syria, dubbed Operation Euphrates Shield.

Speaking in Gaziantep, where ISIS militants killed 54 people at a Kurdish wedding last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “operations against terrorist organizations will continue until the end”.

Turkish tanks and troops backed by Syrian rebels have captured territory from ISIS and clashed with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia supported by the United States, which is itself fighting ISIS.

On August 27, Turkey’s military suffered its first fatality of the offensive, when a soldier died in a tank hit by a rocket. Turkish authorities blamed Kurdish militia for the death.

Turkey has been targeting Kurdish-controlled villages around Jarablus, which Turkish-led forces captured from ISIS on the first day of the offensive.

It fears Kurdish fighters gaining an unbroken strip of territory along its border, which would be a huge boost to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a banned Kurdish rebel group fighting for autonomy in Turkey.

Turkey’s operations further complicate the already protracted Syrian civil war. Both Turkey and Kurdish rebels are US allies.

The US has backed Turkey’s anti-ISIS operations in Syria, and both countries have demanded that Kurdish forces withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates river.

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Turkey has decided to allow female police officers to wear the Islamic headscarf.

Policewomen will be able to wear a headscarf under their caps or berets, provided it is plain and is the same color as the uniform.

Headscarf bans on university campuses and state institutions – except for the judiciary, military and police – have also been lifted in recent years.

The Islamic headscarf has been controversial in Turkey for years. Secularists regard it as a symbol of religious conservatism.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

Since the 1920s, Turkey has had a secular constitution with no state religion.

The opposition has accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) of trying to reinterpret secularism.

However, public debate has also evolved to accept the hijab as an expression of individual liberties, correspondents say.

No strong opposition has been voiced against this latest move.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long embraced Turks’ right to express their religious beliefs openly, but he says he is committed to secularism.

In 2010, Turkey’s universities abandoned an official ban on Muslim headscarves.

In 2013, women were allowed to wear headscarves in state institutions – with the exception of the judiciary, military and police. That year, four lawmakers wore headscarves in parliament.

Most people in Turkey are Sunni Muslims.

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Turkey has sent tanks and other vehicles across the Syrian border after heavy shelling of an area held by ISIS.

Military sources told Turkish media 70 targets in the Jarablus area had been destroyed by artillery and rocket strikes, and 12 by air strikes.

Syrian rebels who are following the advance say they have entered the town of Jarablus itself.

The operation is aimed against both ISIS and Kurdish fighters.

Turkey shelled Syrian Kurdish forces in the region this week, determined not to let them fill the vacuum if ISIS leaves.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

US Vice-President Joe Biden warned Kurdish forces in Syria they would lose US support if they advanced west of the River Euphrates.

Making the highest-ranking visit to Ankara by a Western official since the failed Turkish coup on July 15, Joe Biden also sought to dispel any doubts about America’s solidarity with its NATO ally.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in a speech in Ankara: “At 04:00 [01:00 GMT] our forces began an operation against the Daesh [ISIS] and PYD [Kurdish Democratic Union Party] terror groups.”

Operation Euphrates Shield was aimed at “putting an end” to problems on the border, he said.

Between 9 and 12 tanks crossed the border, followed by pick-up trucks believed to be carrying Turkish-backed Syrian rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The FSA said progress was slow because of mines planted by ISIS fighters in the area. There were no immediate reports of fighting on the way in.

Turkey has vowed to “completely cleanse” ISIS from its border region, blaming the group for a bomb attack on a wedding that killed at least 54 people in Gaziantep on August 20.

This is Turkey’s first known ground incursion into Syria since a brief operation to relocate the tomb of Suleyman Shah, a revered Ottoman figure, in February 2015.

The air strikes are Turkey’s first inside Syria since the downing of a Russian jet in November. Moscow and Ankara only mended ties in June after punitive Russian sanctions.

Fighters from the Syrian Kurd YPG militia – the military wing of the PYD – led the battle to drive ISIS out of the strategic crossroads town of Manbij this month.

Responding to news of the Turkish advance, PYD leader Saleh Moslem tweeted that Turkey was now in the “Syrian quagmire” and would be defeated like ISIS.

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Turkey has launched new artillery strikes on ISIS targets at Jarablus, northern Syria, amid reports Syrian rebels are to launch an offensive against the Islamist group.

Some 1,500 Turkish-backed Syrian rebels are thought to be in Gaziantep waiting to attack.

A bomb attack on a Kurdish wedding there killed 54 people on August 20.

Turkey also shelled positions at Manbij held by Kurdish YPG fighters, who have been advancing against ISIS.

According to new reports, the attack in Gaziantep, blamed on ISIS, may have been spurred by reports of the imminent Syrian rebel offensive.

Meanwhile, more victims of the suicide attack are being identified.

On August 23, Turkish artillery fired at least 40 shells at ISIS positions in the Jarablus area after two mortar bombs landed in the Turkish town of Karkamis, just across the border, Turkish media report.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Nobody was hurt in the attack on Karkamis.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said ISIS should be “completely cleansed” from northern Syria.

On August 22, Turkey also shelled of ISIS positions but equally the bombardment of Kurdish YPG positions in the Manbij area.

A Turkish official quoted by Reuters said artillery had fired on the Kurds 20 times.

The YPG has been at the forefront of the recent advance against ISIS in northern Syria, leading the liberation of Manbij this month and driving the jihadists towards Jarablus.

However, Turkey links them to its own Kurdish insurgents, the PKK, and is determined to keep them away from its border with Syria.

The fighters poised to enter Syria from Gaziantep are believed to be Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.

A senior rebel official quoted by Reuters said they were fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.

It is believed that any such operation would be aimed at frustrating any further advance by the Kurds.

The Kurds themselves have non-Kurdish Syrian allies, fighting alongside the YPG under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The identity and motive of the suicide bomber who attacked the wedding party have yet to be revealed.

Soon after the attack, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ISIS was the likely perpetrator but PM Binali Yildirim said on August 22 that investigators actually did “not have a clue”.

The prime minister downplayed earlier reports that the attacker was a teenager, saying this could not be confirmed.

What is known is that it was a Kurdish wedding and ISIS has targeted Turkish Kurds in the past.

Many of the victims were children as young as 4-year-old.

Sixty-six people are still in hospital, 14 of them in a serious condition, Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported.

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The killing of Turkish transgender activist Hande Kader has caused an outcry in Istanbul.

Turkey remains conservative on LGBTI issues, but on August 21 activists will stage a rare protest in Istanbul.

Hande Kander’s body was found in a forest in Istanbul last week.

The 23-year-old transgender woman, who earned her living as a prostitute, was last seen entering a client’s car one night.

Photo Twitter

Photo Twitter

LGBTI activists protest against violence towards trans people, but the rest of Turkish society rarely reacts.

Under the state of emergency, declared after the failed coup attempt of July 15, restrictions on demonstrations are in place.

However, for the first time, famous figures in Turkey have joined the calls to raise awareness of Hande Kader’s murder and to take part in a demonstration scheduled for August 21 in Istanbul.

According to data from the rights group Transgender Europe, Turkey has the highest number of trans murders in Europe.

Hande Kader tried to call attention to trans murders in Turkey and the lack of justice. She was usually in the front at demonstrations.

In 2015, police had banned the annual LGBTI Pride march in Taksim Square in Istanbul. They tried to disperse the crowds, using water cannon, rubber bullets and pepper spray.

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Turkey has carried out raids against suspected ISIS militants after the deadly attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.

At least 13 suspects were detained in the raids in Istanbul, with more in the western coastal city of Izmir.

Turkey believes ISIS was behind June 28 suicide gun and bomb attack that left 42 people dead and more than 230 injured.

More details of the victims have emerged, many of them airport workers.

A Turkish official told AFP: “Earlier today, the police raided 16 locations to detain 13 IS suspects, including three foreign nationals.”Istanbul airport attack 2016

Turkish media said counter-terrorism police had raided several areas of Istanbul – including Pendik, Basaksehir and Sultanbeyli.

Arrests were also reported in Izmir, where at least nine people were detained, accused of financing, recruiting and providing logistical support to ISIS.

Separately, Turkish media reported that security forces had killed two suspected ISIS militants on the Syrian border on June 25. They said one was planning an attack on the capital Ankara or the city of Adana.

No-one has yet said they carried out the airport attack.

The Hurriyet newspaper identified one of the three bombers as a Chechen but there is no official confirmation.

Turkey’s PM Binali Yildirim has said again that “our thoughts on those responsible for the attack lean towards Islamic State”.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Wednesday a national day of mourning and said the attack should serve as a turning point in the global fight against militant groups.

Detailing the attack, Binali Yildirim said the three men had wanted to pass through the security system but on seeing the controls “took their weapons out of their suitcases and opened fire at random at the security check”.

One attacker detonated his explosives downstairs in the arrivals terminal, Turkish officials said.

The second went upstairs and set off his explosives there while the third waited outside as passengers fled. He then detonated his explosives, causing the most casualties.

A Kalashnikov assault rifle, a handgun and two grenades were found on the bodies, Turkish media said.

In addition to the 42 killed, more than 230 people were injured and dozens remain in critical condition in hospital.

The assault on Ataturk airport – Europe’s third busiest – is the sixth major attack in 2016 targeting either Istanbul or Turkey’s capital, Ankara.

Turkish lawmakers have voted a controversial bill that will strip them of their immunity from prosecution.

However, pro-Kurdish lawmakers say this is essentially a move to expel opposition members from parliament.

The new law is seen as targeting the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as well as the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Turkey has led an offensive against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), accused of being a terror group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses the HDP of being the PKK’s political arm, and has called for pro-Kurdish MPs to face terrorism charges.

This vote could be a first step towards making that happen.

Calling the move “historic” as lawmakers voted, Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a crowd in his hometown of Rize: “My people do not want to see guilty lawmakers in this parliament.”Turkey and Russia tensions

Critics also say the move aims to strengthen the ruling AK Party and consolidate support in the assembly for the executive presidential system Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to implement.

HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas said the move was a blow against the people’s will and could not be accepted as democratic.

Selahattin Demirtas said his party would challenge the decision at Turkey’s top court.

The bill was backed by 376 lawmakers in the 550-seat legislature, which means it will become law directly without being put to a referendum.

It now needs to be ratified by the president.

Some 138 lawmakers, the vast majority from the two opposition parties, could be at risk of prosecution.

Violent scuffles marred parliamentary debates this month, with frustrated lawmakers exchanging fisticuffs and kicks.

Today’s vote was not without incident as CHP lawmakers walked out in protest.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said she would raise concerns over the state of democracy in Turkey when she met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan next week.

Angela Merkel, who has led the push to conclude a refugee deal with Ankara, has been criticized by human rights groups for turning a blind eye to violations in Turkey in return for co-operation.

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Turkish prominent journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul have been jailed for revealing state secrets, in a case widely criticized by international observers.

Erdem Gul received five years and Can Dundar five years and 10 months.

Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, editor and Ankara bureau chief of opposition daily Cumhuriyet, had reported that Turkey had tried to ship arms to rebels fighting the Syrian government.

Shortly before the verdict, a gunman attempted to kill Can Dundar.

The attacker fired several shots while Can Dundar was briefing reporters outside the courthouse. The journalist escaped unharmed and the gunman was arrested. A reporter was lightly injured in the leg.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Speaking after the verdict, Can Dundar said the sentence, and the assassination attempt, were “not given only to suppress and silence us” but to “intimidate the Turkish media and make us scared of writing”.

Can Dundar and Erdem Gul were acquitted of more serious charge of espionage, which could have carried with it a life sentence. But their very prosecution has proved controversial, drawing sharp criticism from human rights campaigners and fellow journalists.

The two journalists are expected to appeal against the verdicts.

John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director for Amnesty International, called the convictions a “travesty of justice”.

He said: “The decision, which punishes good journalism with five years’ imprisonment, shows how the law has buckled and broken under political pressure in Turkey.”

Can Dundar and Erdem Gul were charged in November with espionage after their reports in May 2015 alleging that Turkey’s intelligence services were sending weapons and ammunition to Islamist rebels fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish security forces intercepted a convoy of trucks near the Syrian border in January 2014, and Cumhuriyet alleged these vehicles were linked to Turkey’s MIT intelligence organization.

Alongside the newspaper report was video footage showing police discovering crates of weapons hidden beneath boxes of medicine.

The Turkish government insisted that the trucks were not carrying weapons to the Islamist rebels as alleged, but bringing aid to Syria’s Turkmen minority, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the video footage was a state secret, and by publishing it Cumhuriyet newspaper had engaged in an act of espionage.

He said in a TV address: “Whoever wrote this story will pay a heavy price for this. I will not let him go unpunished.”

Referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Can Dundar said: “Today, we know that the reason for the threats we have been receiving for weeks and the bullets fired from that gun today are due to the fact that we have been shown as targets by the highest office in the state.”

Media freedom has plummeted in Turkey, which now ranks 151st of 180 countries in an index by the watchdog Reporters without Borders.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told the European Union that his country will not change its anti-terror laws in return for visa-free travel.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We’ll go our way, you go yours.”

In response, the EU says Turkey needs to narrow its definition of terrorism to qualify for visa-free travel – which is part of a larger deal between the sides aimed at easing Europe’s migration crisis.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was speaking a day after Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who largely negotiated the EU deal, said he was stepping down.

Ahmet Davutoglu had also reportedly opposed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to give more power to the presidency. The president said the proposed constitutional changes were a national need, not a personal requirement.Recep Tayyip Erdogan song Germany

The wide-ranging EU-Turkey deal involves the return of refugees, mainly Syrians, from Greece to Turkey, along with increased aid and other measures.

One of these is to allow Turkish citizens visa-free travel for short stays in the EU’s Schengen area which comprises 22 EU and four non-EU members.

However, the EU wants Turkey to narrow its broad definition of terrorism to match tighter EU standards. It is one of five EU criteria Turkey still has to agree to in order to meet the visa-free requirements.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected this, saying in a TV speech on May 6: “Turkey, when it’s under attack from terrorist organizations from all sides, the European Union is telling us to change the anti-terror law in exchange for the visa deal.”

Referring to tents erected by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, near the EU parliament in Brussels, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “You [the EU] will let terrorists build tents and provide them with opportunities in the name of democracy.

“And then [you] will tell us ‘if you change this [anti-terrorism legislation], I will lift the visas’. Sorry, we’ll go our way, you go yours.”

In recent months, the Turkish government has used the terms “terrorist” or “terrorist supporter” to prosecute critics including journalists, suggesting they are supporting Kurdish militants or other armed organizations.

If Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not meet the EU requirements, the European Parliament and EU leaders will not vote on the visa waiver at the end of June.

Another part of the EU-Turkey deal had been to hold new talks on Turkish accession to the EU.

However, analysts say Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been less convinced of EU alignment than Ahmet Davutoglu, and he will certainly be a tougher negotiator.

Thirteen people have been injured and at least one person died in a car bomb blast near the main police station in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, officials say.

The explosion hit Gaziantep, 6 miles from the Syrian border, at about 09:30 local time.

CNN Turk said the explosion was heard several miles away.Gaziantep police station explosion

Turkey has been hit by a series of deadly blasts over the past year, linked either to Kurdish militants or ISIS.

Ankara, Istanbul and Bursa are among cities that have been targeted by suicide bombings.

According to Gaziantep’s regional governor, nine of the injured were police officers.

Some reports said gunfire was heard after the blast. There was no immediate word on who is behind the latest blast.

Gaziantep is known to have several ISIS cells.

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German comedian Jan Boehmermann could be prosecuted for insulting Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the Turkish president filed a complaint.

Jan Boehmermann had recited a satirical poem on television which made sexual references to Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Under German law, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had to approve a criminal inquiry.

Angela Merkel stressed that the courts would have the final word, and it was now up to prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.

The chancellor added that her government would move to repeal the controversial and little-used Article 103 of the penal code, which concerns insults against foreign heads of state, by 2018.

Photo AFP

Photo AFP

Jan Boehmermann is a satirist and TV presenter well-known for pushing the boundaries of German humor. He was given police protection earlier this week.

Some experts say the comedian has a strong defense against potential charges, because his poem could be seen as part of a wider piece of satire about free speech, rather than a deliberate insult.

An earlier remark by Angela Merkel that the poem was “deliberately offensive” had led to accusations in Germany that she was not standing up for free speech.

The poem was broadcast on ZDF TV two weeks ago. The public TV channel has decided not to broadcast Boehmermann’s weekly satire program this week because of the furor surrounding him.

Before announcing that Jan Boehmermann could be prosecuted, Angela Merkel stressed her government expected Turkey to comply with EU democratic norms in the areas of free speech and judicial independence.

“In a state under the rule of law, it is not a matter for the government but rather for state prosecutors and courts to weigh personal rights issues and other concerns affecting press and artistic freedom,” the chancellor said.

“The presumption of innocence applies,” Angela Merkel added, explaining that she was not making any prejudgement about Jan Boehmermann.

In her statement in Berlin, Angela Merkel said that the approval of the federal government was a legal precondition for the prosecution of this specific offence.

“The foreign office, the justice ministry, the interior ministry and the chancellery took part in this review,” she said.

“There were diverging opinions between the coalition partners… The result is that in the present case the federal government will grant its approval.”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has drawn much criticism in Turkey and internationally for attacking opponents, including harassment of journalists. Many accuse him of authoritarian methods, stifling legitimate dissent and promoting an Islamist agenda.

Some Germans worry that Angela Merkel is compromising on freedom of expression in order to ensure Turkey’s continued co-operation to stem the influx of refugees into the EU.

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First refugees being deported from Greece has arrived in Turkey as part of an EU plan aimed at easing mass migration to Europe.

Scores of refugees boarded ferries on the Greek island of Lesbos and arrived in Dikili, western Turkey.

According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, most of the 136 people who left Lesbos on April 4 were Pakistanis.

Meanwhile, the first group of 16 Syrian refugees has arrived in Germany from Turkey, officials say.

Under the deal, for each Syrian refugee returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.Greece refugee deportations

However, Greek authorities said the first deportees were those who had not applied for asylum, and included citizens from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Morocco.

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir said there were no Syrians among the first group of refugees sent from Greece.

Another ferry carrying refugees to Turkey is also due to leave the Greek island of Chios on April 4.

Under the EU-Turkey deal, refugees arriving illegally in Greece are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

However, refugees in Greece have complained of a lack of information about the asylum procedure and some said they were unaware they could be returned.

Frontex has less than one-tenth of the staff needed to do the job, the Associated Press reported.

The arrangement has alarmed rights groups, who say Turkey is not a safe country for refugees.

Amnesty International has accused Turkey of illegally returning Syrians to their homeland, something Turkey denies.

Save the Children called the deal “illegal and inhumane”, saying people told them they would kill themselves if sent back to Turkey.

Since the deal was struck in March, about 400 people have been arriving each day on the Greek islands.

Tens of thousands have been stuck in Greece after northern countries closed their borders. There have been clashes in camps amid dire conditions.

One million migrants and refugees have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece since last year.

Many of the refugees are keen to travel to Germany and other northern EU countries and experts have warned the deal could force them to take alternative, more dangerous routes.

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Greece has passed a law allowing refugees arriving in the country to be returned to Turkey.

The new law is essential for the implementation of an EU-Turkey deal aimed at easing the uncontrolled mass movement of people into Europe.

On April 4, Turkey is due to receive its first refugees returned from Greece.

However, there are warnings of a lack of preparation on both sides, while aid agencies are concerned refugees may be mistreated in Turkey.Greece refugee law

Greece had to amend its laws for the deal to be possible and the bill was passed by 169 members of the 300-seat parliament.

In 2015, more than one million migrants and refugees arrived in the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece, and Athens has struggled to cope.

Tens of thousands have been stranded in Greece after northern counties closed their borders.

Under the EU-Turkey deal, refugees arriving illegally in Greece are expected to be sent back to Turkey from April 4 if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

In return, Turkey will receive aid and political concessions.

The UN has called on Turkey and Greece to ensure safeguards are in place before returns begin, warning of “serious gaps” on both sides.

According to an Amnesty International report, Turkey has been illegally forcing thousands of refugees back to Syria.

Turkey is yet to respond to the Amnesty report but has denied sending back any refugees against their will.

Turkey has taken in 2.7 million Syrian refugees since the civil war began five years ago. Many live in camps near the border between Turkey and Syria.