Category Archives: Turkey

(BBG) Turkish Lira Slumps as Erdogan Names Son-in-Law as Economy Chief

(BBG) Turkey’s lira plunged after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, as economic chief of his new administration, fueling investor unease that the government can calm financial markets.

Albayrak will be in charge of a new ministry of treasury and finance, replacing roles previously held by Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, a former Merrill Lynch banker, and Finance Minister Naci Agbal. Investors considered both to be market-friendly counterweights to a pro-growth bias under Erdogan that has weighed on sentiment.

The lira fell 3.8 percent to 4.7488 per dollar, extending one of the biggest slides across emerging markets this year. Albayrak served as energy minister since 2015.

Investors are concerned that authorities aren’t committed to unwinding months of stimulus that inflated the current account and budget deficits and left assets exposed as major central banks scale back years of loose monetary policy. Political pressure on the central bank not to raise rates in the face of accelerating inflation has also stoked worry about the policymaker’s independence.

Unless Simsek or Agbal are given another policymaking roles, such as in the economic coordination committee, “the likelihood of a July hike by central bank is now lower as key proponents of a hike are out of the picture,” said Inan Demir, an economist at Nomura Plc. in London. “This is the nearest-term policy implication. For longer-term implications we need to hear Mr Albayrak’s announcements/statements.”

Erdogan, who was sworn in as Turkey’s first executive president on Monday, told investors in May that he plans to take more control of economic policy in his new role. He has also pledged to lower interest rates, spooking investors who say the central bank needs to keep real policy rates high to support the nation’s assets and help the economy slow. Turkey grew faster than China last year and the central bank raised interest rates by 500 basis points since April.

(EUobserver) Erdogan sacks 18,000 officials before inauguration

(EUobserver) More than 18,000 civil servants, including police officers, academics and military staff, in Turkey are to be dismissed, according to a 461-page decree issued on Sunday. The move comes before Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday is sworn in as president following re-election in June and prior to lifting a state of emergency in place since summer 2016. Twelve NGOs, three newspapers and one television station will also be closed.

+++ P.O. (BBG) Turkey Election Overhaul Seen Boosting Erdogan Gains Momentum


Mr Erdogan is a dictator.

And someone one is even advised not to have tea.

But i would have tea every day with Mr Muhammed Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi.

That has recently been made stateless by Turkey.

It says it all.


«Fethullah Gülen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

M. Fethullah Gülen

Gülen in 2016

Fethullah Gülen
 27 April 1941 (age 76)
Pasinler, Erzurum, Turkey

Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.

Turkey (as of 2017, stateless)



Main interests
 Islamic thought, Islamic conservatism, Turkish politics, anti-communism, Turkish nationalism, education, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, Sufism

Notable ideas
 Gülen movement

Muhammed Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi (Turkish:  – the honorific Hoca Efendi, used among followers, translates to “respected teacher”); born 27 April 1941) is a Turkish preacher, former imam, writer, and political figure. He is the founder of the Gülen movement (known as Hizmet meaning service in Turkish), which is 3 to 6 million strong in Turkey and has an empire of affiliated banks, media, construction companies, and schools, especially those providing primary and secondary education, in Turkey (in which business entities and foundations have been closed down by the Turkish government by the thousands in 2017) and in Africa, Central Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Hizmet’s most populous organization is a moderate Islamic advocacy group, Alliance for Shared Values. Gulen lives in exile in the United States, residing in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. He is sought by the Turkish government for alleged involvement in the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as an imam “who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education” and as “one of the world’s most important Muslim figures.” However, James Jeffrey, former American ambassador in Ankara, has claimed that the Gülen movement, aside from its “legal and visible” activities, had infiltrated the Turkish armed forces, police and judiciary.

The Gülen movement (often referred as Gulenists) has been characterized as a civil society group promoting education, religious tolerance, and building social networks. Having shared a major goal of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of empowering religious individuals in civil life officially disenfranchised under then existing law in secular Turkey, Gulen and his movement were aligned with Erdogan prior to 2013. The alliance was destroyed after the 2013 corruption investigations in Turkey. Erdoğan accused Gülen of being behind the corruption investigations. He is currently on Turkey’s most-wanted-terrorist list and is accused of leading what the current Turkish officials call the Gülenist Terror Organisation (Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü, FETÖ). A Turkish criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Gülen Turkey is demanding the extradition of Gülen from the United States. However, U.S. figures in general do not believe he is associated with any terrorist activity, and have requested evidence to be provided by the Turkish Government to substantiate the allegations in the warrant requesting extradition.

Gülen has been described as a Kurdophobic preacher. He was accused of being against the peace process which had aimed to resolve the long-running Kurdish-Turkish conflict. However, Gülen’s supporters dismiss this claim, citing his work with many Kurds.”»

“That’s All Folks!”

Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira

(Bloomberg) — Sweeping changes to Turkey’s electoral laws
that could help President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tighten his grip
on power are set to begin their passage through parliament, with
the opposition warning that they would increase the risk of vote
The proposed overhaul comes just over 18 months before the
scheduled date for one of the most pivotal votes in modern
Turkey. When Turks go to the polls next November, or earlier if
plans are advanced, they’ll pick a new parliament and formally
concentrate executive power in the office of the president.
The amendments allow parties to form alliances that would
help them enter parliament, relaxing the current rule that
requires them to secure 10 percent of the vote each. The most
likely beneficiary would be the nationalist MHP, which some
analysts say has lost support since it became a junior partner
to Erdogan’s ruling AKP.
The changes, which lawmakers will begin debating Monday,
will help ensure Erdogan stays at the pinnacle of power as
Turkey begins a controversial transformation from decades of
parliamentary democracy into an executive presidency. Erdogan
has cracked down on political opponents since a failed coup
attempt almost two years ago, and has risked ties with the US
and Europe by launching an offensive against Kurdish militias
inside Syria.
Together the AKP and MHP hold 352 seats in Turkey’s 550-
seat parliament, way above the 276 they need to ensure the bill
becomes law.
Under the alliance’s draft blueprint, authorities would
also be able to appoint government officials to run ballot
stations, relocate election stations on security grounds, let
law-enforcement officials monitor voting, and permit the
counting of unstamped ballot papers — an issue which clouded
the 2017 referendum on presidential rule.

‘Shadow of Guns’

Put together, the measures amount to a “serious threat” to
fair and free elections, the main opposition CHP said in a
statement on Thursday, following meetings with representatives
of eight other parties.
“The risk of holding elections under the shadow of guns
could put voters under pressure,” CHP lawmaker Ugur Bayraktutan
told a parliamentary committee, referring to the prospect of
armed security forces in voting stations.
The government says the changes to the way ballots are
conducted are necessary to secure the vote in Turkey’s southeast
from the influence of the Kurdish separatists.
Every vote could count next year. In the referendum on an
empowered presidency, Erdogan won only narrowly, while most of
his parliamentary landslides were secured with less than 50
percent backing. Under the new system, he’ll need a clear
majority for a first-round victory.

Nationalist Fervor

“The president knows that a small shift in votes could mean
a defeat in a contest he cannot lose,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-
founder of Teneo Intelligence in London, said in an emailed note
on Friday. “Further initiatives to maximize the chances of a
positive outcome on ballot day are likely.”
The fragmented opposition has been left on the “back foot”
by the AKP-MHP alliance, he said.
Erdogan’s party has never called early elections during its
15 years in power, and officials insist there are no plans to go
to the polls before November 2019.
Still, the AKP has surveyed opinion for any signs of
shifting voting intentions. Nationalist fervor has gripped
Turkey since the army launched an offensive against Syrian
Kurdish fighters, and the economy appears to have been put on a
campaign footing.

(EUobserver) The mysterious German behind Orban’s Russian deals


  • Mangold (l) in the company of PM Viktor Orban (c) and Guenther Oettinger (r) in Budapest, May 2016 (Photo: MTI)

In August 2013, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban welcomed Sergey Kiriyenko, head of Russia’s state-run nuclear energy company Rosatom, in Budapest.

It was not their first meeting — but it was probably their most important one. According to Hungarian government sources, it was then that Orban decided to contract Rosatom to expand Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant — a choice made without a public tender.

  • The extension of Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant was awarded to Russia without a public tender. (Photo: Akos Bodajki / Paks Nuclear Power Plant Co. Ltd.)

The Hungarian government made the decision, which will affect the country’s financial and foreign policy for decades to come, in complete secrecy. It did not reveal any details about the Orban-Kiriyenko meeting in August 2013 either.

The circumstances of the meeting, uncovered here by Direkt36, provide deeper insight into Russian-Hungarian relations and the developments in the multibillion-euro Paks expansion project financed mostly through a loan from Russia.

Influential German businessman, Klaus Mangold, played a key role in facilitating this meeting, Direkt36 has learned from government sources.

Mangold, 74, has been active among Europe’s business elite for decades and is known for his exceptional relations in Russia. He has personally known Russian president Vladimir Putin since the early 1990s.

Our investigation shows that Mangold, referred to as “Mr Russland” (“Mr Russia”) in the German media, was involved in several aspects of the Paks deal.

Not only did he participate in the organisation of the Orban-Kiriyenko meeting but also worked to make the project palatable for EU and Western business circles. His closest contact in Hungary is minister Janos Lazar, who also played a decisive role in the Paks project and who enjoys good relations with German business circles. Lazar, who shares the hobby of hunting with Mangold, introduced him to Orban.

Mangold did not respond to inquiries by phone and by email. Hungarian government officials did not answer our questions and have so far revealed almost no details about Mangold’s activities — save that he works for them as a consultant. His contracts have been classified and were not even shared with the members of the Hungarian parliament’s national security committee.

‘He understands the Russians’

Mangold, who was born in 1943, spent most of his career among the top management of various German corporations.

He helmed the German mail-order company Quelle in the early 1990s; then, between 1995 and 2003, he held executive-level positions in the German carmaker Daimler. Between 2000 and 2010, he was the president of the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, an industry group that represents German business interests in eastern Europe and Russia.

Currently he sits on the boards of several American, Austrian, French, and German companies and works as a consultant through his two firms. According to German company records, his clients included the subsidiaries of such huge corporations as the Dutch Shell, and the Russian Gazprom.

As a consultant, Mangold has put together numerous deals between the Russian and European business and political elites.

He has reportedly facilitated the access of Russian billionaires to European investment opportunities. For instance, as German media reported, Mangold helped Russian steel tycoon Alexey Mordashov acquire shares of one of the world’s biggest tourist companies, the Hannover-based TUI Group. After the appointment of Mangold as chair of the company’s supervisory board, Mordashov further increased his share in the firm.

A Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) story published last year described him as a person who “understands the Russians.” According to FAZ, he met Vladimir Putin in 1993 during a visit to St Petersberg as CEO of Quelle. The two have been in touch ever since.

“I have good relations with important Russian governmental institutions,” Mangold told the newspaper.

According to FAZ, he also regularly invites the political and economic elite to a 700-acre property in Schwarzwald, Baden-Württemberg. He avoids publicity but is proud of his relations. As he told FAZ, “my relations are my know-how.” He added, “This is the basis of my businesses.”

The Hungary connection

Mangold appeared in Hungary after the fall of state socialism. The mail-order company Quelle entered the Hungarian market in 1992, and Mangold, as CEO, visited Budapest several times in 1994.

Later, as head of Daimler-Benz Interservices, he developed contacts within the first Orban government (1998-2002). Daimler’s management met among others with the Hungarian defense minister, and in those meetings the Germans signaled their interest in upgrading the Hungarian military’s MiG-29 fighter jets as the Russian-manufactured planes had to be made NATO-compatible.

This upgrade was subject of an agreement signed in Stuttgart between Mangold and Hungarian economy minister Attila Chikan in April 1999. However, the Hungarian government in the end decided to purchase Swedish Gripen planes, dashing Daimler’s hopes of winning the contract. Still, the mere spectre of such a contract caused a political scandal in Hungary.

After a long pause, Mangold renewed his relationship with the Hungarian government once Orban swept back into power in 2010.

In December 2012, by now in the consultancy business, Mangold met with Orban to review, as an official press statement put it, “Hungarian-German and Hungarian-Russian economic relations, in particular energy and financing issues.”

Following the meeting with Orban, Mangold started to work for the Hungarian government as a consultant. At the same time, the Hungarian government began to deepen its relations with Russia. That year, Orban gave his backing to the Russia-sponsored South Stream gas pipeline instead of its EU-supported rival, Nabucco.

At the beginning of 2013, Orban announced that the Hungarian government purchased German energy company E.ON’s Hungarian gas branch, including the subsidiary holding the gas treaty between Hungary and Russia. This made it possible for the Hungarian government to negotiate directly with Russia about the price of its gas.

With this move, the Hungarian government entered a geopolitical arena in which it had to pay special attention to the positions of big powers — in particular, Germany.

However, Western sanctions imposed on Russia after Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea have complicated the situation for Orban’s government. The Russians invaded Crimea just one and a half months after Rosatom’s contract for Paks expansion project was inked.

In this fraught geopolitical climate, Mangold promised to be particularly useful to the Hungarian government. The prime minister’s office has kept Mangold’s contracts between 2013 and 2015 under wraps.

What’s known is that the government issued certificates of Mangold’s performance 75 times between July 2013 and December 2016. (Invoices can be paid based on these certificates.) In early October 2017, the prime minister’s office disclosed that Mangold has remained on the government’s payroll.

According to public data, Mangold’s consultancy was paid €125,000 for providing energy policy advice through April 2018. Another of Mangold’s companies, Mangold Dienstleistungs GmbH, has been awarded a contract for the preparation of Hungary’s e-mobility strategy worth €126,000 that also expires in April 2018.

The government did not share details about these contracts but a government source said that Mangold’s knowledge is used when various Russian-Hungarian meetings are prepared. Mangold also advises the government in concrete cases, including the Paks expansion project. He does not appear at official meetings, though. “He is active from the background, an eminence grise,” the source said.

Enters Paks

The Paks expansion project is a key element of Russian-Hungarian relations.

According to a former government official, Orban’s government conducted exploratory talks with American, French, and South Korean nuclear power companies. However, from the very beginning, the source added, Rosatom remained the leading candidate for the Paks expansion project. The current plant at Paks was built using Russian technology, the source explained, and awarding the expansion contract to Rosatom improved Hungary’s negotiating position with Russia on other pending issues.

The fate of the expansion was then decided at the August 2013 Orban-Kiriyenko meeting in Budapest. “Up to that point, it was open who would build Paks, but there we gave [the project] to the Russians,” said another former government official, who was told in August 2013 to stop negotiations with potential Western contractors.

According to a source with knowledge about the August 2013 meeting, Mangold played a key role in its preparation.

Lobbying in Brussels

Mangold and his connections have also appeared in other phases of the Paks project. For example, the German businessman has had close ties to the Rothschild Investment Bank, which helped the government during the negotiations about the Paks expansion deal.

The Rothschild bank later came to play a more visible role in the Paks project. In the fall of 2015, the European Commission, suspecting illegal state aid greased the Russian-Hungarian deal, launched an in-depth investigation into the Paks project. According to the Hungarian government, Paks’ expansion would be profitable if energy prices increase in the future.

Several studies questioned the calculations of the Hungarian government, arguing that the new Paks plant will be profitable only with state aid. The Rothschild Group’s study, which the bank provided to the Hungarian government, concluded however that the investment would be profitable even under market conditions.

The government and the bank did not respond to questions about who commissioned and paid for the study. Rothschild declined to answer questions about whether Mangold played any role in the preparation of the report.

The European Commission also objected that the Hungarian government selected Rosatom for the construction of the new reactors without a public tender. Therefore, it launched an infringement procedure against the Hungarian government in November 2015.

The Hungarian government went to great lengths to get European Commission approval for the Paks expansion project. According to a governmental official, Mangold also played a role in this process.

“In case of Paks, it wasn’t the typical lobbying,” Benedek Javor, a Hungarian MEP and a staunch critic of the Paks expansion told Direkt36.

Usually, he said, officially-registered lobbyists in Brussels contact MEPs and other decision-makers — but not in this case. EU databases show that Mangold has not been a registered lobbyist, and, according to Javor, the businessman instead leveraged his personal connections to European economic and political elites.

Enter Oettinger

Mangold has good relations with Guenther Oettinger, the German member of the European Commission, who is currently in charge of budget and human resources. Mangold serves as Russia’s honorary consul in Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, where earlier Oettinger was the province’s Prime Minister.

A governmental source called him “the strongest German politician in Brussels.” Mangold’s close relationship with Oettinger came to light when Hungarian online news portal reported that the commissioner travelled to Budapest last May by Mangold’s private plane to participate at a conference opened by Orban. It was also reported on Euobserver the same day.

The trip sparked a scandal in Brussels. Oettinger said that the travel costs were covered by the Hungarian government, an assertion later confirmed by Hungarian officials. In doing so, the Hungarian government finally admitted the fact that it retains Mangold as a consultant.

However, this explanation did not allay all concerns about the commissioner’s activities. Oettinger was responsible for energy issues in the European Commission when the Hungarian government first announced its deal with Rosatom.

The European Commission only launched its investigation after Oettinger left the energy portfolio. Therefore, Oettinger likely possessed insider information that could have been valuable to the Hungarian government — though the commissioner denies he talked about Paks with Orban during his May 2016 trip to Budapest.

Euractiv reported in January that a European Commission director-general who previously worked under Oettinger may have advised the Hungarian government on how to argue in the infringement procedure.

Ultimately, the European Commission closed both investigations, and gave its green light to the construction of Paks.

Meat and flies

It was clear to the Orban government from the beginning that involving Western companies in the Paks project would increase its acceptance internationally. Following the launch of the infringement procedure by the European Commission, Lazar even stated in November 2015 that the EU was investigating Paks because Western companies wanted a share in the project. “Where there is meat, there are also flies,” Orban said the next day.

Then, last January, Orban held discussions with John G. Rice, the vice-president of US-based General Electric (GE) about Paks expansion. The GE vice-president signalled shortly before the meeting that his company would be happy to construct turbines for the new power plant. Rosatom issued a call for bids for the turbines in June, and two applicants showed interest: a Russian company and the Hungarian subsidiary of GE, GE Hungary Kft., which submitted its bid in consortium with Alstom Power Systems.

Mangold had contacts to GE as well. Before 2015, he served on the board Grid Solutions, then a joint company of GE and Alstom. GE Hungary did not answer questions on whether they have been in contact with Mangold regarding the nuclear project. They said, however, that they expect a decision in the turbine tender by the end of the year.

Constructions of the Paks expansion project have yet to start, and no subcontractors have been selected. The involvement of US and Western European companies as subcontractors would evidently mean less work for the Russians.

“A solution satisfying Russian, German, French, EU and Hungarian interests must have been found,” Javor said. He added that Mangold was an “ideal actor” for this task.

As usual, Mangold tried to stay out of the limelight throughout the whole process — but he did not succeed completely. His role in the Paks project drew the attention of opposition politicians, and, on the initiative of LMP parliamentary leader Bernadett Szel, the Hungarian parliaments national security committee discussed his activities at its March 1, 2017 session.

The session was closed. Szel told Direkt36 that the Fidesz-controlled committee did not agree to disclose Mangold’s governmental contracts to the members of the committee. Szel requested the contracts from the Prime Minister’s office but has not received any documents yet.

Another participant of the meeting said that Hungarian secret services, including those falling under the supervision of Lazar, gave briefings on Mangold’s activities. The presentation apparently did not contain many new details, as it mostly described Mangold’s network of connections.

Based on the information provided at the briefing, the source concluded that Mangold is a “lobbyist… who pacified Paks.” By this, the source meant that Mangold’s role was to ensure that “the project is not considered as solely a Russian investment” by the Western circles.

(Reuters) Turkey threatens retaliation after Iraqi Kurdish independence vote

(Reuters) The Iraqi government ruled out talks on possible secession for Kurdish-held northern Iraq on Tuesday and Turkey threatened to choke it off, after a referendum on independence there showed strong support for a split.

Initial results of Monday’s vote indicated 72 percent of eligible voters had taken part and an overwhelming majority, possibly over 90 percent, had said “yes”, Erbil based Rudaw TV said. Final results are expected by Wednesday.

Celebrations continued until the early hours of Tuesday in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish region, which was lit by fireworks and adorned with Kurdish red-white-green flags. People danced in the squares as convoys of cars drove around honking their horns.

In ethnically-mixed Kirkuk, where Arabs and Turkmen opposed the vote, local Kurdish-led authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed to maintain control.

The referendum has fueled fears of a new regional conflict; on Tuesday Turkey, which has fought a Kurdish insurgency within its borders for decades, reiterated threats of economic and military retaliation.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani says the vote is not binding, but meant to provide a mandate for negotiations with Baghdad and neighboring countries over the peaceful secession of the region from Iraq.

But Iraq’s opposition to Kurdish independence did not waver.

“We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a speech on Monday night.

The Kurds held the vote despite threats to block it from Baghdad, Iraq’s powerful eastern neighbor Iran, and Turkey, the region’s main link to the outside world.

“This referendum decision, which has been taken without any consultation, is treachery,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said, repeating threats to cut off the pipeline that carries hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day from northern Iraq to global markets.

Oslo-based broker Sparebank 1 Markets said oil companies could sell some oil locally if exports were blocked but their revenues would take a hit.

Iraqi Kurds – part of the largest ethnic group left stateless when the Ottoman empire collapsed a century ago – say the referendum acknowledges their contribution in confronting Islamic State after it overwhelmed the Iraqi army in 2014 and seized control of a third of Iraq.

Voters were asked to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question: “Do you want the Kurdistan Region and Kurdistani areas outside the (Kurdistan) Region to become an independent country?”

With 30 million ethnic Kurds scattered across the region, mainly in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, governments fear the spread of separatism to their own Kurdish populations.

Iraqi soldiers joined Turkish troops for military exercises in southeast Turkey on Tuesday near the border with Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Turkey also took the Rudaw TV channel off its satellite service TurkSat, a Turkish broadcasting official told Reuters.

The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply disappointed” by the KRG’s decision to conduct the referendum but added that Washington’s “historic relationship” with the people of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region would not change.

Asked about the referendum, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday: “We hope for a unified Iraq to annihilate ISIS (Islamic State) and certainly a unified Iraq to push back on Iran.”

Iran announced a ban on direct flights to and from Kurdistan on Sunday, while Baghdad asked foreign countries to stop direct oil trading with the Kurdish region and demanded that the KRG hand over control of its international airports and border posts with Iran, Turkey and Syria.

Iranian Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top military adviser to the Supreme Leader, called on “the four neighboring countries to block land borders” with the Iraqi Kurdish region, according to state news agency IRNA.

Tehran supports Shi‘ite Muslim groups that have ruled or held security and government positions in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Syria, embroiled in a devastating civil war and whose Kurds are pressing ahead with their own self-determination, rejected the referendum.

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said he hoped to maintain good relations with Turkey. “The referendum does not mean independence will happen tomorrow, nor are we redrawing borders,” he said in Erbil on Monday. “If the ‘yes’ vote wins, we will resolve our issues with Baghdad peacefully.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reiterated London’s opposition to the vote, urging ”all sides to refrain from provocative statements and actions in its aftermath.

“The priority must remain the defeat of Daesh and returning stability to liberated areas,” he added, a reference to Islamic State militants who continue to control parts of Iraq and Syria, including a pocket west of Kirkuk.

+++ P.O. (CBC) Turkey slams Germany’s ‘disrespectful messages’ about Erdogan, democratic values


In this exceptional case , and on Turkey, I fully support the position and the views of Chanceler Merkel.

Please revisit my numerous P.O. on Turkey and on Mr Edogan

Turkey, in my opinion, should never, ever, be a Member of the European Union.

Full Stop.

Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereir

(CBC) Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for the Turkish presidency, said in a tweet Monday that Merkel and her Social Democratic Party rival were seeking to divert attention from urgent issues in their country and in Europe, such as a surge in discrimination and racism.

In Sunday’s debate, Schulz said he would seek to end long-running but currently stalled talks on Turkey joining the EU over what he perceived to be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian policies.

Germany Election

Merkel, left, and Martin Schulz are seen in a TV debate in Berlin on Sunday. (RTL via AP)

Merkel, who has previously expressed doubts about Turkey ever joining the EU, refused to commit firmly to the move, which would have to be agreed among EU members. She sharply criticized Erdogan’s rule, saying: “Turkey is departing from all democratic practices at breakneck speed.”

Candidates blasted for ‘myopic views’

Relations between the two countries have been tense for some time. Turkey has blamed Germany for harbouring people with alleged links to last year’s failed coup against Erdogan as well as outlawed Kurdish militant groups, while Berlin has accused Turkey of backsliding on democratic values. More than 50,000 were arrested in the aftermath of the coup.

Omer Celik, Turkey’s chief negotiator for its European Union bid, slammed the candidates for their “careless” tone.

“We do not accept these disrespectful messages against Turkey,” he said in a tweet.

Italy EU Turkey

Omer Celik, Turkey’s chief negotiator for its European Union bid, slammed the candidates for their ‘careless’ tone. (Fabio Frustaci/Associated Press)

Turkey’s foreign ministry also released a statement criticizing the “myopic views” of politicians and reminding the world of Turkey’s role in stemming a migrant crisis from pushing the EU into “a big chaos.”

The ministry said populistic campaign politics should not undermine bilateral relations and warned against encouraging xenophobia and Islamophobia.

12 Germans detained in Turkey

One reason Merkel gave for keeping lines of communication open with Turkey was Germany’s attempts to secure the release of 12 German citizens being held there for what Berlin considers political reasons.

Last week, for example, two were detained at Antalya Airport.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul told reporters in Berlin on Monday that one of them was released. The German couple of Turkish descent were detained for alleged links to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Ankara blames Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, for last year’s coup attempt in Turkey. Gulen denies the claim.

Polls show a double-digit lead for Merkel’s conservative bloc over Schulz’s centre-left Social Democrats before Germany’s Sept. 24 election.

+++ P.O. (Reuters) In shift, Merkel backs end to EU-Turkey membership talks

…Mrs Merkel delivered the obvious…
…and smart she is…

…the only question is…
…why it took her so long…
…As I wrote many times before, in my opinion Mr Erdogan is not even fit to have a cup of  
coffee with us.
…Full stop.
Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira
(Reuters) German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she would seek an end to Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union in an apparent shift of her position during a televised debate weeks before a German election.

“The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” Merkel said in the debate with her Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Martin Schulz.

“I’ll speak to my (EU) colleagues to see if we can reach a joint position on this so that we can end these accession talks,” Merkel added.

The comments are likely to worsen already strained ties between the two NATO allies that have deepened since Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on opponents in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July of last year.

There was no immediate reaction from Turkey which is in the midst of a national religious holiday.

Merkel’s comments came after Schulz appeared to surprise her by vowing to push for an end to the negotiations if he was elected chancellor in the Sept. 24 federal election.

“If I become German chancellor, if the people of this country give me a mandate, then I will propose to the European Council that we end the membership talks with Turkey,” Schulz said. “Whether we can win over all the countries for this I don’t know. But I will fight for this.”

Merkel initially cautioned against such a move, saying it would be irresponsible to endanger ties with Turkey at a time when German citizens are imprisoned there.

Twelve German citizens are now in Turkish detention on political charges, four of them holding dual citizenship.

“I do not intend to break off diplomatic relations with Turkey just because we’re in an election campaign and want to show each other who is tougher,” she said.

But after the moderators had moved on and asked the two candidates a question about U.S. President Donald Trump, Merkel returned to the Turkey issue, suddenly throwing her weight behind an end to the membership talks.

Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has long opposed Turkish membership in the European Union.

But the green light for membership talks was given months before Merkel became chancellor in 2005 and she has always said that she will respect that decision, referring to the negotiations as “open ended”.

The accession talks have ground to a virtual halt and EU leaders have stepped up their criticism of Erdogan.

(Ekathimerini) Gov’t sources see Erdogan tactics behind increase in migrant arrivals


There are fears within the ranks of the government that a new intensified influx of undocumented migrants from neighboring Turkey is happening with the blessings of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan though the development is also being viewed as potential leverage with the European Union with which Ankara’s relations are being sorely tested.

Although arrivals from Turkey are still way below the heights they reached at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, they have increased in recent weeks with more than 1,000 migrants and refugees landing on the islands of the eastern Aegean last week.

Government sources believe this increase is not accidental, but is occurring as Turkish authorities turn a blind eye to human smuggling along the country’s coastline, and is expected to continue. The same sources do not connect Ankara’s stance on the refugee issue to its cultivation of tensions with Athens in the Aegean – recent weeks have seen a spike in Turkish violations of Greek air space despite the moratorium that usually applies over summer – but with the recent deterioration of relations between Ankara and Brussels.

As government sources note, by allowing the increased influx of migrants heading to Europe, Erdogan is seeking to send a warning as Turkey’s EU membership talks appear to be headed for collapse.

Meanwhile the government is bracing for the beginning of returns to Greece of migrants from Germany and other European countries.

Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas confirmed, in comments to The Guardian last week, that returns are to begin in September. Mouzalas said he was unsure where the new arrivals would be hosted but insisted that conditions at state-run reception centers have improved.

Human rights groups have consistently decried conditions at many venues, particularly on the islands of the eastern Aegean, which are currently operating at double their capacity as thousands of migrants await the outcome of asylum applications or deportation.

Tensions have been building on Lesvos, Samos and Chios, both in the centers and in the local communities where tolerance of growing migrant populations is being tested.

(Economist) Turkey is trying to extradite its political opponents from Europe

(Economist) By arresting a Turkish-German writer, Spain risks doing Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dirty work.

THE Turkish government’s repression of civil society is increasingly affecting countries far from Turkey itself. On August 19th the Spanish police arrested Dogan Akhanli, a Turkish-German writer, on an Interpol “red notice”, an international arrest warrant, issued by Turkey. Mr Akhanli was conditionally released following a court hearing the next day. Turkish authorities have 40 days from the date of his arrest to request his extradition. He must remain in Spain until the Spanish judicial system makes a final decision.

Turkey has already arrested more than 50,000 people in purges following an attempted coup in July 2016. The arrest of Mr Akhanli is part of a growing effort to track down opponents living abroad, too. Earlier this month Hamza Yalcin, a Turkish-Swedish reporter and writer, was also arrested in Spain on an international arrest warrant. (Based on his reporting for left-wing newspapers, Turkey has charged him with “propaganda for a terrorist organisation”.) He remains in jail, waiting to hear whether he will be extradited.

Mr Akhanli thanked the German press and government, saying their prompt reaction had persuaded the Spanish to allow his conditional release. Now a German citizen, Mr Akhanli fled Turkey in 1991 where he had been jailed in the 1980s as a political opponent of the military regime. He briefly returned to his home country in 2010 and was arrested for alleged involvement in an armed robbery. He was exonerated at trial, but an appeals court ordered new proceedings against him in 2013. The exact charges brought against him this weekend are not clear, but Interpol’s red notice was based on this old case.

The real reason the Turkish authorities are pursuing him seems to be political. Mr Akhanli is critical of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and has written about the Ottoman genocide of Armenians in 1915. Having lived in Europe for over 25 years, he believed that he was out of reach of the Turkish authorities. But Mr Erdogan is trying to use the mechanisms of international law to extend his crackdown on dissidents abroad. The arrests in Spain suggest he is having some success. Ilias Uyar, Mr Akhanli’s lawyer, condemned this use of Interpol as the “extended arm of the Turkish regime”. Bernd Fabritius, the rapporteur on Interpol abuses for the Council of Europe, urged Interpol to re-examine the red notice against Mr Akhanli “in light of the rules outlawing politically motivated interventions”.

Mr Akhanli’s arrest has further damaged the already strained relationship between Turkey and Germany. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, denounced the abuse of international organisations like Interpol. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, warned against the possibility that “Turkey could have people who raise their voice against President Erdogan put in prison at the other end of Europe.”

Last week, Mr Erdogan urged German citizens of Turkish origin not to vote for German mainstream parties in the parliamentary election in September, calling them enemies of Turkey. This statement sparked a war of words. Mr Gabriel cautioned the Turkish leader not to interfere in German politics. At a rally on August 20th, Mr Erdogan referred contemptuously to the German foreign minister. “Who are you to talk to the President of Turkey?” he said. “Know your limits.” Turkey’s risky bid to extend its internal political conflicts into Europe suggests Mr Erdogan would do well to take his own advice.

(AP) Erdogan visits Trump, amid much friction between US, Turkey


WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is on a collision course with its NATO ally Turkey, pushing ahead with arming Syrian Kurds after deciding the immediate objective of defeating Islamic State militants outweighs the potential damage to a partnership vital to U.S. interests in the volatile Middle East.

The Turks are fiercely opposed to the U.S. plans, seeing the Kurdish fighters as terrorists. And when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits the White House this week, the most he and President Donald Trump may be able to do is agree to disagree, and move on.

“The Turks see this as a crisis in the relationship,” said Jonathan Schanzer at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The challenge is hardly new. Long before Trump took office, U.S. presidents have grappled with the fragility of partnering with Turkey’s government and the Kurds to carry out a Middle East agenda.

Past administrations have sought a delicate balance. Too exuberant in its support for the Kurds, and the U.S. risks pushing ally Turkey toward U.S. geopolitical rivals like Russia or emboldening the Kurds to try to create an independent state — a scenario that would destabilize multiple countries in the region. Too little cooperation with the Kurds risks squandering a battlefield ally with proven effectiveness against extremist threats and who has staunchly supported Washington.

Trump has made his priorities clear.

His administration is arming Syrian Kurdish fighters as part of an effort to recapture the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s self-declared capital. Coupled with the U.S.-backed fight in the Iraqi city of Mosul, Raqqa is seen as a key step toward liberating the remaining territory the militants hold.

Turkey has been pressuring the U.S. to drop support for the Kurdish militants in Syria for years and doesn’t want them spearheading the Raqqa effort. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish group, known as the YPG, a terrorist group because of its ties to the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party inside Turkey. The United States, the European Union and Turkey all agree the PKK is a terrorist organization.

The Turks fear any weapons the U.S. provides the Syrian Kurds could well end up with their ethnic brethren in Turkey, who’ve fought violently as part of a separatist insurgency for more than three decades. As a nod to Turkey’s concerns, the Pentagon has promised tight monitoring of all weapons and greater intelligence sharing to help the Turks better watch over their frontiers. Kurds are an ethnic group predominantly concentrated along the borders of four countries — Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

But a face-to-face confrontation on the matter between Trump and Erdogan seems inevitable.

Erdogan and other top Turkish officials have pressed for the U.S. to reverse its strategy, however low the prospects of Trump changing his mind. As a result, experts see Erdogan using the meeting to confront Trump on a host of other Turkish grievances. Those include extraditing the Pennsylvania-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for fomenting a failed coup last summer, and dropping U.S. charges against Reza Zarrab, a Turkish businessman accused of money-laundering and violating U.S. sanctions in Iran.

“I see this trip as a new milestone in Turkey-U.S. relations,” Erdogan said, as he prepared to fly to Washington.

The U.S., too, has a wish list for Turkey. Washington is concerned by rising anti-Americanism in Turkey that Erdogan’s government has tolerated since the July coup attempt. The U.S. also has pressed unsuccessfully for the release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, and other detained U.S. citizens.

Trump also has much at stake. His willingness to partner with authoritarian rulers and overlook their shortcomings on democracy and human rights have alarmed U.S. lawmakers of both parties. Trump’s premise has been that he is focusing on deal-making. That puts added pressure on him to get results.

Trump has gone out of his way to foster a good relationship with Erdogan. After a national referendum last month that strengthened Erdogan’s presidential powers, European leaders and rights advocates criticized Turkey for moving closer toward autocratic rule. Trump congratulated Erdogan.

Now, the American leader may try to cash in.

“Trump has prioritized protecting U.S. national security interests over lecturing allies on democratic values or human rights,” said James Phillips, a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation. “I don’t think the president will lose any sleep if he is criticized for meeting with President Erdogan, as long as it pays dividends for advancing his foreign policy agenda.”

But Erdogan may not be amenable to accepting the U.S. military support for the Kurds in a quid pro quo. Last month, the Turkish military bombed Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, in one case with American forces only about six miles (10 kilometers) away. His government has insisted it may attack Syrian Kurdish fighters again. The U.S., whose forces are sometimes embedded with the Kurds, has much to fear.

Barack Aydin of the Washington-based Kurdish Policy Research Center, said the key ought to be a broader peace process between Erdogan’s government and Kurdish opponents in Turkey, which would eliminate these problems.

“That would be a very good start,” Aydin said.

(Reuters) Turkey warns U.S. of blowback from decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria

(Reuters) Turkey warned the United States on Wednesday that a decision to arm Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State in Syria could end up hurting Washington, and accused its NATO ally of siding with terrorists.

The rebuke came a week before President Tayyip Erdogan is due in Washington for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, who approved the arms supply to support a campaign to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State.

Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984 and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Turkey and Europe.

“We want to believe that our allies will prefer to side with us, not with a terrorist organization,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara, saying he would convey Turkey’s stance to Trump next week and at a NATO summit later this month.

He said he hoped that recently taken decisions would be changed by the time he visits the United States.

Earlier, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters the U.S. failure to consider Turkey’s sensitivities “will surely have consequences and will yield a negative result for the U.S. as well”.

The United States regards the YPG as a valuable partner in the fight against Islamic State militants in northern Syria. Washington says that arming the Kurdish forces is necessary to recapturing Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria and a hub for planning attacks against the West.

That argument holds little sway with Ankara, which worries that advances by the YPG in northern Syria could inflame the PKK insurgency on Turkish soil.

Weapons supplied to the YPG have in the past fallen into PKK hands, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“Both the PKK and YPG are terrorist organizations and they are no different apart from their names,” he told a televised news conference. “Every weapon seized by them is a threat to Turkey.”

The YPG said Washington’s decision would bring swift results and help the militia “play a stronger, more influential and more decisive role in combating terrorism”.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday it was aware of concerns in Turkey, which has given vital support to a U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State insurgents in Syria and Iraq. Jets carrying out air strikes against the jihadist group have flown from Turkey’s Incirlik air base.

Erdogan has repeatedly castigated Washington for its support of the YPG.


Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said the United States should review its move. “We hope the U.S. administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back from it,” he said in an interview with Turkish broadcaster A Haber.

“Such a policy will not be beneficial; you can’t be in the same sack as terrorist organizations.”

But U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was confident the United States would be able to resolve the tensions.

“We’ll work out any of the concerns. We will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border. It’s Europe’s southern border, and we’ll stay closely connected,” Mattis told reporters during a visit to the Pabrade Training Area in Lithuania.

Ankara has argued that Washington should switch support for the Raqqa assault from the YPG to Syrian rebels Turkey has trained and led against Islamic State for the past year – despite U.S. scepticism about their military capability.

“There is no reality in the comments that a ground operation against Daesh (Islamic State) can only be successful with the YPG. I hope they turn back from this mistake,” Canikli said.

Despite the angry language, Erdogan’s government has little prospect of reversing Washington’s decision, and any retaliatory move would come at a cost.

Cavusoglu said Trump would address the issue with Trump during his planned May 16-17 visit to Washington, suggesting there were no plans to call off the talks in protest.

“Turkey doesn’t have much room to move here,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and analyst at Carnegie Europe. “I think Washington made such an evaluation when taking this decision.”

While Turkey could impose limits on the use of the Incirlik base, that would hamper operations against Islamic State, which also menaces Turkey itself and has claimed responsibility for attacks including the bombing of Istanbul airport.

Turkey could also step up air strikes on PKK targets in northern Iraq. Turkish warplanes attacked Kurdish YPG fighters in northeastern Syria and Iraq’s Sinjar region late last month.

But Cavusoglu and Canikli both pointed to a diplomatic, rather than military, response to Trump’s decision.

“We are carrying out, and will carry out, all necessary diplomatic communications,” Canikli said. “Our wish is that the U.S. stops this wrong and does what is mandated by our friendship.”

(AFP) Russia, Turkey, Iran sign deal to set up Syria safe zones

(AFP) Russia, Iran and Turkey on Thursday signed an agreement on setting up four safe zones in Syria that the United Nations described as a promising step to wind down the brutal six-year war.

The United States however gave an extremely cautious welcome, citing concerns over Iran’s role as a guarantor, even as it expressed hope that the deal could set the stage for a settlement.

Several members of the rebel delegation left the room shouting in protest as the signing ceremony got underway in the Kazakh capital Astana, angry at regime ally Iran, an AFP reporter saw.

The plan for the “de-escalation areas” was discussed on Tuesday by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a telephone conversation.

The agreement provides for a ceasefire, a ban on all flights, rapid deliveries of humanitarian aid to the designated areas and the return of refugees.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “encouraged” by the breakthrough. He stressed it will be “crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians.”

Russia and Iran, which back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the war, and Turkey, a supporter of rebel forces, hope to build on a ceasefire deal they reached in December.

The Syrian government and rebel delegations are not signatories to the deal.

“We are not supporting this agreement. It is an agreement between the three countries,” said Usama Abu Zeid, a rebel spokesman. “We do not at all agree that Iran… is a guarantor of this accord.”

– ‘Promising’ step –

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, who was in Astana as an observer, described the agreement as “an important, promising, positive step in the right direction” toward de-escalation.

A working group will be set up within two weeks to resolve technical issues and the three countries agreed to set up the four areas by June 4.

The areas include key territory held by anti-Assad forces.

The first zone includes the whole of Idlib province along with certain parts of neighboring Latakia, Aleppo and Hama provinces.

The second will encompass certain parts in the north of Homs province, and the third will be comprised of some areas of Eastern Ghouta, outside of Damascus.

The fourth zone will include parts of the Deraa and Quneitra provinces in southern Syria, according to the memorandum seen by AFP.

– US doubts about Iran –

The UN envoy said the deal would be quickly put to the test and that success on the ground could pave the way to a new round of political talks in Geneva later this month.

“There will be a period not longer than two weeks in which all this will be seriously put to the test and we want that test to succeed,” he said.

In Washington, the State Department, which had dispatched an observer to the talks, said it appreciated Russian and Turkish efforts but called into doubt Iran’s role.

“We continue to have concerns about the Astana agreement, including the involvement of Iran as a so-called ‘guarantor’,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“Iran’s activities in Syria have only contributed to the violence, not stopped it, and Iran’s unquestioning support for the Assad regime has perpetuated the misery of ordinary Syrians.”

“We nonetheless hope that this arrangement can contribute to a de-escalation of violence, end the suffering of the Syrian people, and set the stage for a political settlement of the conflict,” she said.

– What monitoring? –

Russia’s envoy, Alexander Lavrentiev, said the zones would remain in place for six months, a period that could be extended.

It remained unclear whether there would be any international monitoring of the safe zones.

Guterres said the United Nations will support de-escalation efforts, but he did not specify whether it would have a role in the new set-up.

Putin said Wednesday that ways to monitor the zones would be an issue for separate talks.

Lavrentiev said Moscow was ready to send observers to the zones.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in comments published Thursday that the plan would solve “50 percent” of the six-year conflict.

Damascus supports the Russian plan, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

Syrian rebels said earlier Thursday that they had resumed participation in the talks after having suspended their involvement a day earlier over air strikes against civilians.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country’s war began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

(Reuters) Russia: Syria safe zones to be shut for U.S., coalition planes – agencies

(Reuters) The safe zones which are being created in Syria will be closed for warplanes of the United States and those of the U.S.-led coalition, Russian news agencies quoted Russian envoy at Syria peace talks Alexander Lavrentyev as saying on Friday.

Turkey and Iran agreed on Thursday to Russia’s proposal for “de-escalation zones” in Syria, a move welcomed by the United Nations but met with scepticism from the United States.

+++ P.O. (AFP) Turkey bans TV dating shows after blocking Wikipedia access

As I have written before, I would not even accept an invitation from Mr Erdogan, even if he promised to return my Grand Mother’s estates in Smyrna.
How unfortunate for the Turkish People, that have all my respect and consideration.
Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira
(AFP)  Turkey has blocked all access to Wikipedia and banned television dating shows, adding to fears of a crackdown after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in a referendum on enhancing his powers.

The government also dismissed almost 4,000 public officials in the latest wave of the purge under the over nine-month state of emergency that has followed last July’s failed coup.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey since 2003 as premier and now president, narrowly won the April 16 referendum on enhancing his powers which supporters believe will lead to better government but critics say creates one man rule.

Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) said it had implemented the ban against online encyclopedia with an administrative order.

Turkish state media said the ban was imposed because Wikipedia had failed to remove content promoting terror and accusing Turkey of cooperation with various terror groups.

There was no indication when the ban might be removed, with a formal court order expected to follow in the coming days.

Reacting to the ban, Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales wrote on Twitter: “Access to information is a fundamental human right. Turkish people, I will always stand with you to fight for this right.”

Access to information is a fundamental human right. Turkish people I will always stand with you to fight for this right. 

Residents in Istanbul were unable to access any pages of Wikipedia on Saturday without using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

The order was issued under Law 5651, passed in 2014 by parliament, which bolstered the BTK’s control over the internet and was seen at the time by freedom of expression activists as an erosion of online liberties.

Turkey has become notorious over the last years for temporarily blocking access to popular sites, including Facebook and Twitter, in the wake of major events such as mass protests or terror attacks.

In a decree issued late Saturday evening, Turkey also banned hugely popular television dating shows, a move that been mooted for months by the government.

“In radio and television broadcasting services, such programmes in which people are introduced to find a friend…. cannot be permitted,” said the text of the decree.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in March that the ban was in the pipeline, arguing the shows do not fit in with Turkish traditions and customs.

“There are some strange programmes that would scrap the institution of family, take away its nobility and sanctity,” Kurtulmus said at the time.

Opponents of the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government frequently voice fears that Turkey is sliding toward conservative Islam under Erdogan.

But AKP supporters have said that dating shows receive thousands of complaints every year and the ban is in the public interest.

Under a separate decree, 3,974 public officials were dismissed by Turkey including more than 1,000 people working with the justice ministry and over 1,000 staff employed by the army.

Those fired from the air force included over 100 pilots, it added. Almost 500 academics working for state institutions were also dismissed.

The dismissals came after Turkey on April 26 detained more than 1,000 people and suspended over 9,100 police in a vast new crackdown against alleged supporters of the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen blamed for the failed July 15 coup bid.

An already nine month state of emergency in place since the coup bid has seen a total of 47,000 people arrested and prompted fears the crackdown is being used to go after all opponents of Erdogan.

Gulen denies being behind the coup but the authorities argue the purges are needed to wipe out his “virus” from society.

The crackdown has also caused major strains with the European Union, which Turkey has sought to join for the last half century in a so far fruitless membership drive.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday the EU’s top officials will seek a meeting with Erdogan at a Nato summit next month despite the mounting tensions with Ankara.

(EurActiv) EU urges probe into Turkey referendum fraud claims

(EurActiv) Turkey’s opposition on Tuesday (18 April) demanded the annulment of a contentious referendum that approved sweeping constitutional changes boosting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s powers, claiming blatant vote-rigging had swung the result.

The European Union urged a probe into the poll fraud claims after international observers voiced concerns but both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin called Erdoğan to offer congratulations.

Critics fear the changes will lead to autocratic one-man rule, but supporters say they simply put Turkey in line with France and the United States and are needed for efficient government.

The ‘Yes’ camp won Sunday’s poll with just 51.41% of the vote but the result has been challenged, with angry protests staged in parts of Istanbul and other cities.

The changes, most of which are due to come into force after November 2019, are some of the most far-reaching in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the modern state in 1923 on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

Bülent Tezcan, deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), formally requested that the Supreme Election Board (YSK) cancel the result.

The opposition is particularly incensed by a last-minute move by the YSK to accept ballot documents in envelopes without an official stamp.

“This was a vote without legitimacy,” Tezcan said.

Hundreds of people, some brandishing flares, marched through the anti-Erdoğan Istanbul district of Besiktas in a new protest against the result, an AFP photographer said.

Meanwhile, in Kadikoy on the Asian side of the city, women banged drums and pans in a similar protest, with slogans like “We will not be scared, we will not be silent.”

International observers cited flaws in Sunday’s (16 April) controversial referendum in Turkey, while European leaders urged reconciliation in a divided country and warned Ankara of its commitments on the death penalty.

‘Transparent investigations’

CHP chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the government and the YSK had “staged a coup against the national will”.

The joint mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said the YSK move on the stamps “removed an important safeguard”.

They also said the campaign – which saw the ‘Yes’ camp dominate the airwaves – was conducted on an “unlevel playing field”.

Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission’s chief spokesperson, called on the Turkish government “to launch transparent investigations into these alleged irregularities found by the observers”.

– We call on the authorities to launch transparent investigations into alleged irregularities.

In an interview with CNN, Erdoğan denied claims Turkey was headed to dictatorship and that the new system was tailor-made for him.

“This is not a system belonging to Tayyip Erdoğan. I am a mortal being. I can die anytime,” he told the channel.

The final results are due to be published in around 10 days and it is in this period that the YSK will consider the objections. Then the opposition can appeal to the constitutional court.

Keen to meet Trump

The new system will dispense with the prime minister’s post and centralise the entire executive bureaucracy under the president, giving Erdoğan the direct power to appoint ministers.

But the ‘Yes’ vote has even wider implications for Turkey, which joined NATO in 1952 and in the last half-century has been engaged in a stalled bid to join the European Union.

Erdoğan reaffirmed he would now hold talks on reinstating capital punishment – a move that would automatically end Turkey’s EU bid – and would call another referendum if the bill did not get enough votes in parliament to become law.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that if Ankara were to bring back the death penalty, the move would be “synonymous with the end of (its) European dream”.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday said Turkey could hold a referendum on its long-stalled EU membership bid after Turks voted to approve expanding his powers in a plebiscite.

In contrast with the EU’s muted reaction, both Putin and Trump called Erdoğan to congratulate him on his victory.

Erdoğan told CNN he would be happy to have a face-to-face meeting with the new American leader “and take our relationship forward”.

‘Goal is to win’

In a blow to the president’s prestige, the ‘No’ campaign notched up the most votes in Turkey’s three biggest cities: Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.

Analysts have said the ‘No’ camp’s performance was impressive especially given that the election was held under a state of emergency first imposed after July’s failed coup.

But Erdoğan, a one-time semi-professional footballer, told CNN: “It does not matter if you win 1-0 or 5-0. The ultimate goal is to win the game.”

Meanwhile, parliament agreed to extend the state of emergency – already in place for nine months – for another three months to July 19.

(Times) Europe fears Turkey will renege on migrant deal

(Times) Authoritarian Erdogan at odds with Brussels after referendum win.

President Erdogan who won a narrow victory in a constitutional referendum on Sunday, is expected to use his new executive powers to pick political battles with the EUTUMAY BERKIN/EPA

Europe is braced for a new migrant crisis after the newly victorious Turkish president indicated that he was preparing for a fight with Brussels by restoring the death penalty and demanding visa-free travel across the Continent.

European diplomats expect Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won a narrow victory in a constitutional referendum on Sunday, to consolidate his new executive powers by picking political battles with the EU. Fears are growing that the increasingly authoritarian leader will abandon EU membership ambitions by dropping judicial and democratic reforms and issuing an ultimatum on visa-free travel for Turks.

The promise of a deal giving 75 million Turks the right to enter the EU’s Schengen area without a visa has been a key condition of Turkey’s implementation of an agreement that has helped to stem the biggest wave of mass migration to the Continent since the Second World War.

In recent days the Turkish government has threatened to allow a new refugee crisis if the EU fails to honour its promise and a new ultimatum is expected imminently. Turkey agreed to stop migrants travelling to Greece, a gateway to Europe, and to take back refugees who were held there.

More than 1.3 million migrants have fled to Europe in the past three years from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

In the hours after the vote Mr Erdogan, who now has the right to overrule his own parliament, indicated his willingness to restore the death penalty. Such a move would automatically end talks about visas and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, has said that the issue is a “red line” for the EU.

Gianni Pittella, the Italian leader of the socialists in the European parliament, said that his bloc of MEPs would hold talks on whether to veto visa-free travel for Turks next week. “We’ve always been very reluctant to ensure a visa-free regime to Turkey as, in our opinion, Ankara does not match the democratic criteria,” he said. “Now after the referendum our concerns are even bigger.”

Last Friday Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, warned that unless the EU granted visa-free travel Turkey would tear up the migration deal.

A senior Greek official told The Times that the country’s military had drawn up emergency plans to cope with a new refugee crisis. The official said: “There was a lot of steamy, bellicose rhetoric made by Erdogan ahead of the referendum. [If] he continues with belligerent policies then Greece will be the first to face the fallout. The fear is real but the question is whether Erdogan will risk turning into a regional pariah.”

Omer Celik, the Turkish minister for EU affairs, said that Ankara would propose that Brussels grant visa-free travel and drop the demand for changes to Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation until the “normalisation of conditions for combating terrorism”.

“While legislation is being aggravated and strengthened in the face of terrorist threats across Europe, it is unrealistic to expect that Turkey should weaken its legislation,” he said. Mr Celik proposed that Turkish officials and the Council of Europe, the European human rights watchdog, should oversee later reforms “while granting visa exemption to Turkey”.

He added: “If we get a negative response from the EU we have the right to re-evaluate and suspend all of these agreements.” Mr Erdogan won the referendum on constitutional reform with 51.49 per cent of the vote, according to the latest unofficial count.

International election monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe expressed serious concerns that the ballot had not been fair. The British Foreign Office said it was concerned by the findings but that it would remain an ally of Turkey provided it “enacts these constitutional changes in a way that sustains democracy”. The response reflects a decision to align more closely with Mr Erdogan after a failed coup in July last year.

President Trump has called Mr Erdogan to congratulate him on his victory, the White House said last night. They discussed the importance of holding President Assad to account in Syria and Mr Trump thanked his counterpart for supporting US airstrikes this month, a spokesman said.

For the second night thousands of people took to the streets in Turkey to revel in Mr Erdogan’s victory or to protest against it.

(BBG) Editorial Board: Turkey Takes a Stride in the Wrong Direction



Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory in last weekend’s constitutional referendum moves his country further away from the Western model of liberal democracy and closer to one-man rule. It was a narrow and disputed victory as well, which heralds continued instability and the measures needed to suppress it. Turkey is still moving in the wrong direction.

Turkey’s Divide

The constitution’s new provisions will abolish the post of prime minister, subordinate parliament, and let the president in effect control the judiciary. It’s true that Erdogan had already expanded and entrenched his powers as president, but the new constitution makes it official: In Turkey, the principle of separated powers is defunct.

The referendum was held during a state of emergency, with the No campaign all but shut down. Yet Erdogan’s margin was narrow. Just over 51 percent voted for the changes. The cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir were all opposed. Turkey’s main opposition party has challenged the result, citing a decision to count millions of ballots that did not bear the official stamp.

Meanwhile Turkey faces pressing economic needs, a resurgent conflict with Kurdish rebels, and instability in neighboring Iraq and Syria. These problems, deeply troubling for Turks, also have implications for the West. The partnership with Turkey has played a critical role in the NATO alliance, the fight against terrorism, and the struggle to manage the influx of refugees from Syria and elsewhere.

Repairing that partnership won’t be easy. During the referendum campaign, Erdogan said the governments of Germany and the Netherlands were Nazi-like. He talks of further votes on, among other things, restoring the death penalty — a proposal that would make Turkey’s eventual accession to the European Union even less likely, were that possible. Frustration over the EU’s endless equivocating on Turkish-EU relations is understandable, but that hardly justifies moves that widen rather than narrow the differences.

The economy will prove an early test of whether Erdogan, despite everything, might aim to be a unifying rather than divisive force. His early successes in reducing poverty and expanding economic opportunity made him popular. Recently, though, the economy has struggled. The government’smeddling in monetary policy has undermined confidence and allowed inflation, now at more than 10 percent, to get out of hand. Cronyism is rampant, and many Turks with money and skills have moved abroad. Growth has slowed, and has come to rely too heavily on consumption and foreign debt.

However much Erdogan talks up Turkey’s relationship with Russia and his willingness to turn away from Europe, close economic relations with the EU remain crucial. Europe has played its full part in letting this relationship sour, and both sides should try harder to restore it. Even now Europe could help do that — for instance, by renegotiating the Turkey-EUcustoms union to allow free trade in a wider range of Turkish products. Binding Turkey’s economy more closely to Europe’s serves an immediate mutual interest and in the longer term will incline Turkey toward liberal politics.

But there’s no denying that, right now, things look bad. Erdogan’s new powers follow years of anti-liberalism, a post-coup crackdown on opponents and journalists, and a one-sided referendum campaign fought in a climate of fear. It seems unlikely that the president will use this win to heal divisions, revive the economy, and mend ties with Turkey’s traditional allies. That, nonetheless, is what his country needs him to do.

(EUobserver) Erdogan signals new era in EU relations

(EUobserver) Turkey has voted to abandon its parliamentary system and to expand president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s executive powers, putting at risk what was already a fragile democracy, further polarising the country, and jeopardising relations with the European Union.

Sunday’s (16 April) referendum was itself marred by controversy due to allegations of voter fraud and technical irregularities, such as a six-minute freeze in the data systems of the electoral board during the announcement of the results.

  • No voters protested in Istanbul on Monday against alleged referendum fraud (Photo: Reuters/Kemal Aslan)

The razor-thin, 51 percent victory by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) put a spotlight on the work of the international observer mission.

The OSCE, a multilateral European body that conducted the monitoring, said in a 14-page preliminary report issued one day after the vote that there were several fundamental shortcomings in the way it had been conducted.

The report gave ammunition to opposition parties’ attempt to contest the outcome.

The Council of Europe (CoE) in Strasbourg, another multilateral body in Europe that worked alongside the OSCE, also raised doubts on the result.

“In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards,” Cezar Florin Preda, the head of the CoE’s monitoring mission told reporters in Ankara.

“The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process,” he added.

Complaints centred on a last-minute decision by Turkey’s Senior Election Board to change ballot validity criteria by saying that ballots without a control stamp would still be valid.

The change undermined an important safeguard and contradicted Turkish law, the international monitors said.

The criticism prompted an immediate and angry response from Erdogan as he addressed the AKP’s exuberant supporters in Ankara.

“First of all, know your place,” he said, referring to the OSCE team.

“We would neither see, nor hear, nor know about the politicised reports you prepare and just stick to our way,” he added.

Late on Sunday, hundreds of AKP loyalists had already dismissed the emerging fraud allegations at a mass rally in front of Huber Kosku, the president’s Ottoman-era waterfront residence in Istanbul.

The rally celebrated a win that many fear might further split Turkish society between those who unconditionally support Erdogan and those who see him as a menace to democracy.

Loyalists cheered in drizzling rain as their leader came out on a balcony dressed in his usual blue-checked sports jacket to delivery his victory address.

The balcony moment has become a new tradition after Erdogan led his party to success in five elections and two referendums since 2002.

“A historical decision has been made in the 200-year debate on the system of governance,” Erdogan said.

“We are about to realise the most important transformation of governance in our history,” he added.

Addressing the jubilant crowd, he dismissed the talk of fraud and kept up his provocative campaign rhetoric that has labelled his critics, both inside Turkey and in the EU, as enemies of progress.

Emre Kilic, 23, a geography student, his eyes full of admiration as he listened to Erdogan, told EUobserver: “This is pretty much a slap in the face of the European Union”.

Going forward

“They’ve kept on criticising single-handed governance, but I think it’s the best way. It helps things work,” he said.

Some of the main constitutional changes will go into effect in November 2019, when the Turkish parliament will lose many of its executive powers and the office of prime minister will be dissolved.

It means that if Erdogan wins the next two five-year elections he will wield an unprecedented amount of power in the country of 80 million people until 2029.

Under the new system, which critics have likened to a sultanate, the president will be able to rule by decree,

rejoin his political party, control the budget, and appoint 12 of the 15 judges in the Constitutional Court.

The narrow, 51-percent win is likely to lead to snap elections in which Erodgan will try to increase his political mandate to redesign Turkey in line with the AKP’s Islamist views.

Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute and the writer of a book on Erdogan called The New Sultan, told this website: “His wings are clipped with such thin majority, allegations of fraud, and vote fixing so I’m sure he’s going to have early elections”.

“That’s clearly his agenda going forward”, he said.

Turkey’s main cities – Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir – voted No to the changes on Sunday.

Eastern provinces, where Erdogan has jailed dozens on mayors and politicians who sympathise with the Kurdish minority in a vast purge following the failed coup last July, also voted No.

But AKP supporters in Erdogan’s Anatolian heartland see no wrong in his actions.

They say the old model of double-headed, parliamentary-presidential governance had stalled Turkey on its path to becoming a regional and economic power.

They also say the country need stronger leadership at a time of multiple challenges, such as the war in Syria on its southern border, terrorist attacks by the jihadist Islamic State group and by Kurdish separatists, as well as volatile economic conditions.

Mirror image

Meanwhile, voting by Turks abroad showed a mirror image of the Turkish nation.

In a record-high turnout, the majority of religiously conservative and working-class Turkish expats in Germany, France, and in the Netherlands, voted in support of Erdogan.

But the more cosmopolitan and middle-class Turkish diaspora in Canada and in the US overwhelmingly rejected the constitutional changes.

Erdogan’s critics say one-man rule with no institutional checks ad balances will isolate Turkey in the international arena and undermine rule of law.

Kati Piri, a Dutch centre-left MEP who is the Turkey rapporteur in the European Parliament, said: “It’s clear that the country cannot join the EU with a constitution that doesn’t respect the separation of powers and has no checks and balances”.

“If the package is implemented unchanged, this will have to lead to the formal suspension of EU accession talks,” she said.

Piri spoke after Erodgan, in the run-up to the referendum, threatened to let millions of Syrian refugees flood into Europe because, he said, the EU had failed to fulfil its promise on financial assistance and on visa-free travel.

He said in his victory speech on Sunday that he might also reinstate the death penalty, signalling that the downward spiral in EU relations is set to continue.

Anti-Western rhetoric

“We will hear more anti-Western rhetoric, seeking imagined foreign enemies and a strong anti-Kurdish policy in Syria to boost nationalist support for the AKP,” The Washington Institute’s Cagaptay said.

He said Erdogan would seek a “super majority” in parliament in the likely snap elections.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who is now a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels, said that even if the elections do not take place, Erdogan will seek a new era in EU relations.

“While the talk about reinstating the death penalty was largely regarded as a bait for nationalist voters, Erdogan repeating and prioritising it in his post-referendum speech carries the will to redesign relations with the EU,” Ulgen told EUobserver.

He said it showed that Erdogan wanted to abandon political association with the EU in favour of purely economic ties in what “would undoubtedly hurt the depth of relations.”

‘Never close the door’

In a joint statement late Sunday, senior EU officials including European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, called “on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus” in the implementation of constitutional changes.

They declined to speak out on the fraud allegations until the OSCE had published its final report.

EU member states’ ministers, who are due to meet in Brussels at a general affairs council at the end of April might be more outspoken, but they are unlikely to burn bridges with Erdogan, Piri said.

“Today’s outcome shows that there are millions of Turkish citizens who share the same European values and who chose for a different future for their country,” Piri said in a written statement late on Sunday, referring to the 49 percent of Turks who voted No.

“The EU should never close the door to them”, she said.

(Reuters) Erdogan’s narrow victory lays bare Turkey’s divisions

(Reuters) Supporters of Tayyip Erdogan waved flags in the streets while opponents banged pots and pans in protest in their homes, after a narrow referendum victory gave the Turkish president sweeping powers and laid the nation’s divisions bare.

The referendum will bring the biggest overhaul in Turkish politics since the founding of the modern republic, abolishing the post of prime minister and concentrating power in the hands of the president. Unofficial results, which the opposition said it would challenge, showed a narrow victory with 51.4 percent of votes cast in favor.

Erdogan, a populist with a background in once-banned Islamist parties, has ruled since 2003 with no real rival, while his country emerged as one of the fastest-growing industrial powers in both Europe and the Middle East.

He has also been at the center of global affairs, commanding NATO’s second biggest military on the border of Middle East war zones, taking in millions of Syrian refugees and controlling their further flow into Europe.

Erdogan survived a coup attempt last year and responded with a crackdown, jailing 47,000 people and sacking or suspending more than 120,000 from government jobs such as schoolteachers, soldiers, police, judges or other professionals.

The changes could keep him in power until 2029 or beyond, making him easily the most important figure in Turkish history since state founder Kemal Ataturk built a modern nation from the ashes of the Ottoman empire after World War One.

In a signal of the direction he now plans for his nation, Erdogan said he would call a referendum to restore the death penalty, ending once and for all Turkey’s decades-long bid to join the European Union, the impetus for years of reforms.


Erdogan has long said the changes to the constitution were needed to end the chronic instability that plagued the country over decades when the military repeatedly tried to seize power from weak civilian governments.

“For the first time in the history of the Republic, we are changing our ruling system through civil politics,” he said in a victory speech.

But the narrow referendum result could itself be a sign of more instability to come. The changes won strong backing in conservative rural areas, but were strongly opposed in Istanbul and other cities, as well as in the restive Kurdish southeast.

Thousands of supporters waved flags and blasted horns into the early hours on Monday in celebration of a man who they say has transformed the quality of life for millions of pious Turks marginalized for decades by the secular elite.

There were scattered protests against the result, but these were more sporadic. In some affluent, secular neighborhoods, opponents stayed indoors, banging pots and pans, a sign of dissent that became widespread during anti-Erdogan protests in 2013, when the police crushed demonstrations against him.

The main opposition said the vote was marred by irregularities and it would challenge the result.

“The referendum is won but it is no victory. The results did not yield a meaningful ‘Yes’,” Abdulkadir Selvi, a pro-government columnist wrote in the Hurriyet newspaper.

The High Electoral Board (YSK) confirmed late on Sunday the results had shown the “Yes” campaign with 1.25 million more votes than the “No” camp. The official results are expected within 12 days.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) demanded a recount of up to 60 percent of the votes. It cited a last minute decision by the electoral board to count ballots that had not been stamped by officials as a potential irregularity.

Erdogan said 25 million people had supported the proposal, which will replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with an all-powerful presidency. That was a smaller margin of victory than the decisive result for which he and his ruling AK Party had aggressively campaigned.

Nevertheless, by ending uncertainty the result triggered a two percent rally in the Turkish liraTRYTOM=D3 from its close last week. It traded at 3.6380 against the U.S. dollar early on Monday, firming from 3.7220 on Friday.


Under the changes, most of which will only come into effect after the next elections due in 2019, the president will appoint the cabinet and an undefined number of vice-presidents, and be able to select and remove senior civil servants without parliamentary approval.

There has been some speculation that Erdogan could call new elections so that his new powers could take effect right away. However, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek told Reuters there was no such plan, and the elections would still be held in 2019.

“Yesterday the president made it very clear that elections will be held in November 2019,” he said. “It is very clear. We have work to do.”

Erdogan served as prime minister from 2003 until 2014, when rules were changed to hold direct elections for the office of president, previously a ceremonial role elected by parliament. Since becoming the first directly elected president, he has set about making the post more important, like the executive presidencies of France, Russia or the United States.

In a sign of his authority, he was set to chair a cabinet meeting later on Monday, a role traditionally carried out by the prime minister although he has chaired such meetings before.

Pro-government media painted the result as a victory for the Turkish people, transforming a constitution left over from a 1980 military coup. The Sabah daily hailed “The People’s Revolution”. The Star’s headline was “The People’s Victory”.

However, the opposition daily Cumhuriyet’s headline said “The ballot box is overshadowed”, reporting opposition objections to what they said were irregularities in the voting.

European politicians who have had increasingly strained relations with Turkey, expressed concern about the divisions revealed by the narrow victory margin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of Germany, where an estimated 4 million Turks form one of the largest minorities from a single country in Europe, said in a statement that Berlin respected the right of Turks to change their country’s constitution.

But they added: “The tight referendum result shows how deeply divided Turkish society is, and that means a big responsibility for the Turkish leadership and for President Erdogan personally.”

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said the close result meant that Ankara should seek “the broadest national consensus” in implementing the vote.

Relations came under strain during the referendum campaign when EU countries including Germany and the Netherlands barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies to support the changes. Erdogan provoked a stern German response by comparing those limits on campaigning to the actions of the Nazis.

(BBG) Turkey’s New Playbook for the Semi-Authoritarian

(BBG) The votes from Turkey’s constitutional referendum are in, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed victory for his side, even as the result remains disputed. What’s clear is who the winner is not: constitutional democracy. On the surface, the amendments turn Turkey into a presidential system instead of a parliamentary one. Underneath, they strengthen the personal authority of Erdogan, who in the last decade and a half has gone from prime minister to president to quasi-authoritarian leader.

Erdogan has shown once again that he is the vanguard of a new breed of semi-authoritarians that includes Viktor Orban of Hungary and potentially Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Poland. These aren’t your grandfather’s would-be fascists, who might have come to power by election but then planned to abolish them and assume total dictatorial power.

Turkey’s Divide

Instead, the new authoritarians’ playbook calls for maintaining regular elections and the outward forms of multiparty democracy, while in fact consolidating power and cooking the books just enough to keep winning the popular vote. Erdogan, like his emulators and colleagues, has weakened the free press and free speech without completely shutting down all alternative political voices.

After all, Erdogan put his proposed systemic changes up for a referendum, which is not what dictators traditionally did. Yes, he made efforts to silence opposition. And his AK Party may have cheated in other ways in some jurisdictions. Yet the fact remains that the election was clean enough — and close enough — that we will probably never know enough to say a majority of the voting public didn’t want the result.

All this leads to a genuine puzzle: Why bother? If your plan is to erode constitutional democracy in favor of authoritarianism, why follow most of the rules most of the time?

Part of the answer is that Erdogan, like Orban and the Polish PiS party, is carefully calibrating just how much support he actually has, and how much real opposition exists. Where somewhere close to half the population doesn’t like you, the challenge for the semi-authoritarian is to avoid pushing the opposition into all-out refusal of your legitimacy.

Call it the Hosni Mubarak lesson: If enough people want the president out, the people will go the streets. Then the army will do the rest, undertaking a coup in the name of democracy.

By maintaining at least the basic forms of constitutional democracy, the semi-authoritarian avoids alienating the opposition to the extent that it will try to overthrow him.

Erdogan has proved twice in recent years that he has achieved this balance, thus avoiding the fare of Mubarak. In the Gezi Park protests of 2013, he faced a huge public demonstration in Istanbul. He eventually shut down the protest by force. But the army didn’t take the opportunity to make a power grab.

Then, in 2016, some elements of the army did try a weird, half-hearted coup. It failed, in large part because the public didn’t take to the streets in support of the army. Much of the public seems to have felt that the coup was anti-democratic. Erdogan might be semi-authoritarian, but he had been elected and that was still less authoritarian than a military regime.

The other partial explanation for semi-authoritarianism is that today’s rulers don’t actually believe in total dictatorship as a desirable method for staying in power. Erdogan had the experience of being banned from politics for Islamic rhetoric. Orban lived through the fall of Communism, as did Kaczynski. That should be enough to teach anyone that rule without meaningful opposition doesn’t work very well.

Of course the new semi-authoritarians might fantasize about total power. But their real fantasy seems to be getting re-elected forever by more than 50 percent of an adoring public.

It’s not a coincidence that these leaders’ parties are all populist. And populism glories in speaking for “the people,” defined narrowly enough to exclude the opposition.

The last self-interested twist in the semi-authoritarians’ strategy is that they are keeping their options open should they lose popularity someday. Most true dictators are assassinated or end their lives in prison or exile.

But if the opposition is liberal-democratic and constitutionalist, it seems plausible that if it eventually comes to power, it won’t severely punish the semi-authoritarian as it would the true dictator. The populist semi-authoritarian will be able to say, when he’s out of power, that he followed the constitution, and that his successors should, too. Most liberal-democratic governments will be too rights-oriented — or wimpy — to exact punishment.

It emerges that semi-authoritarianism is a terrific way to stay in power so long as you have a populist base and a willingness to erode free speech and free elections.

The world doesn’t yet have a good set of tools to respond, as Europe’s ineffectual responses to Hungary and Poland show. As for Erdogan, his position is invulnerable relative to regional neighbors and European counterparts. Expect more leaders around the world to follow his lead.