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Friday, May 5, 2017

Turkey starts building 'world's longest suspension bridge'


ISTANBUL - Turkey on Saturday started work on building what it says will be the world's longest suspension bridge, spanning the Dardanelles strait that divides Europe and Asia.

The bridge is the latest in a succession of massively ambitious infrastructure projects championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the launch of the project comes a month ahead of a referendum on expanding his powers.

Authorities expect that work on the bridge will be completed in 2023, the year that Turkey celebrates the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the modern republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Appropriately, the span of the bridge is to be 2,023 meters (6,637 feet).

This will make it the longest suspension bridge in the world, overtaking the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan which is just under 2,000 meters long, state media said.

The ground breaking ceremony was attended by Erdogan on the Asian side and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on the European side of the site.

"The bridge will be the number one in the world. It will connect Europe and Asia," said Erdogan.

The bridge is being built by a four way consortium of Turkish firms Limak and Yapi Merkezi and Daelim and SK of South Korea.

The ceremony was attended by South Korean Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Ho-in Kang.

The bridge will also be the first ever permanent structure to span the Dardanelles -- known as the Hellespont in the ancient world -- which occupy a near mythical place in world history.

Persian king Xerxes is said by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus to have build pontoon bridges across the Hellespont to transport his troops from Asia into Thrace in a campaign of 480 BC.

British romantic poet Lord Byron famously swam across the Hellespont in 1810, a feat repeated by ambitious modern-day swimmers in an annual race.

The area is hugely important to Turks as where Ottoman forces resisted an 1915 invasion by British, Australian and other Allied forces in World War I, known in the West as the Gallipoli campaign.

The resistance of the Ottoman forces is seen as their greatest hour in a war the declining empire lost, and is commemorated with increasing fervor in modern Turkey.

In recognition of this, the bridge will be known as the Canakkale 1915 bridge after the year and the Turkish province where it is located.

Over the last year, Erdogan has opened the first road tunnel underneath the Bosphorus and the third bridge across the Istanbul strait.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82131.

Erdogan urges Turks in Europe to have more children


ANKARA - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday urged Turks resident in Europe to have five children, telling the millions strong diaspora community "you are Europe's future."

Turkey and Europe are locked in a bitter spat after Germany and the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies to campaign for a 'yes' vote in next month's referendum on expanding Erdogan's powers.

Erdogan has repeatedly accused EU states of behaving like Nazi Germany over what he sees as discrimination against Turks, in comments that have caused outrage across the continent.

"From here I say to my citizens, I say to my brothers and sisters in Europe... Educate your children at better schools, make sure your family live in better areas, drive in the best cars, live in the best houses," said Erdogan.

"Have five children, not three. You are Europe's future."

"This is the best answer to the rudeness shown to you, the enmity, the wrongs," he added in a televised speech in the city of Eskisehir, south of Istanbul.

Some 2.5 million Turkish citizens resident in Europe are eligible to vote in elections in their homeland. But millions more people living in EU states have Turkish origins.

Erdogan, a father of four, has previously urged women in Turkey to have at least three children to help boost the population, in comments denounced by women's rights activists.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82124.

Turkey plans to ban TV dating shows


ANKARA - Turkey is planning to ban popular television dating shows as they do not fit in with Turkish traditions and customs, the deputy prime minister has said.

Numan Kurtulmus was referring to matchmaking reality television shows which are very popular in Turkey but receive thousands of complaints every year.

"There are some strange programs that would scrap the institution of family, take away its nobility and sanctity," Kurtulmus said in comments to a provincial TV channel published by the Hurriyet daily on Thursday.

"We are working on this and we are coming to the end of it. God willing, in the near future, we will most likely remedy this with an emergency decree," Kurtulmus added.

"God willing, we will meet these societal demands," he said in the interview which took place on Wednesday.

His comments are set to raise concerns in a country whose political system rests on the secular foundations laid by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at its creation in 1923.

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

Kurtulmus described such programs as counter to Turkey's "customs, traditions, beliefs, the Turkish family structure and the culture of Anatolian lands".

He hit back at those who claimed they were ratings successes: "So what the ratings are very high and thus the advertising revenue is high? Let there not be that kind of advertising revenues."

The deputy premier said he had been told there were 120,000 individual cases of complaints against such programmes.

Last year, Turkey's audiovisual authority RTUK said it received comments from 10,691 citizens about such programmes, most of which were complaints.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously caused controversy when he likened abortion to murder in 2012 when he was prime minister.

Critics also claim education reforms, including the increase in religious schools, show the country's secular foundations are being undermined.

The Turkish religious affairs agency Diyanet criticized matchmaking shows last month saying they "exploited family values and desecrated the family institution by stepping on it with (their) feet".

The Turkish authorities insist there is full freedom of religious belief in the country's diverse society.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82110.

Turkey sanctions the Netherlands over ministers' treatment

March 13, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey announced a series of political sanctions against the Netherlands on Monday over its refusal to allow two Turkish ministers to campaign there, including halting high-level political discussions between the two countries and closing Turkish air space to Dutch diplomats.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, briefing journalists after the weekly council of ministers meeting, said the sanctions would apply until the Netherlands takes steps "to redress" the actions that Ankara sees as a grave insult.

"There is a crisis and a very deep one. We didn't create this crisis or bring it to this stage," Kurtulmus said. "Those who did have to take steps to redress the situation." Other sanctions bar the Dutch ambassador entry back into Turkey and advise parliament to withdraw from a Dutch-Turkish friendship group

The announcement came hours after Turkey's foreign ministry formally protested the treatment of a Turkish minister who was prevented from entering a consulate in the Netherlands and escorted out of the country after trying to attend a political rally.

The ministry also objected to what it called a "disproportionate" use of force against demonstrators at a protest afterward. Separately, Turkey's foreign minister was denied permission to land to address the same rally in Rotterdam.

The argument is over the Netherlands' refusal to allow Turkish officials to campaign there to drum up support among Turks who are eligible to vote in an April 16 referendum that would greatly expand the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

About 400,000 people with ties to Turkey live in the Netherlands, though it's not clear how many are eligible to vote. Erdogan said the two cabinet ministers — Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Family Affairs Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, would ask the European human rights court to weigh in on their treatment. He added that he didn't think the court would rule in Turkey's favor.

Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the Netherlands in its diplomatic fight with Turkey, as NATO's chief called for alliance members to respect each other and the European Union urged Turkey to calm down.

Turkey had a similar dispute with Germany last week, but the fight with the Netherlands comes as that country prepares for its own election Wednesday pitting Prime Minister Mark Rutte's right-wing PVV Party against far-right, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders' party.

Merkel, speaking at a news conference in Munich on Monday, pledged her "full support and solidarity" to the Dutch, saying the Nazi gibes were "completely unacceptable." Erdogan responded angrily to Merkel's support for the Netherlands. "Shame on you!" he exclaimed during an interview with A Haber television on Monday.

He renewed accusations that Germany supported "terrorists" battling Turkey and that it backed the 'no' campaign in the Turkish referendum, arguing that Berlin did not want to see a strong Turkey emerge.

"Some of the European Union countries — let's not put all of them in the same sack — unfortunately cannot stomach Turkey's rise," Erdogan said. "Sadly, Germany tops the list. Germany supports terror in a cruel way."

He went on to advise Turks living in Europe not to vote for parties that he described as "enemies of Turkey." NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged all members of the alliance "to show mutual respect, to be calm and have a measured approach."

The European Union also called on Turkey to "refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation." EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas added that it was essential to avoid further escalation and find ways to calm the situation.

In the television interview, Erdogan repeated slurs against the Netherlands, saying: "their Vienna Convention is their fascism. Their Nazism. We can say neo-Nazism." He was referring to a 1961 international treaty on diplomatic relations.

Turkey is a candidate to join the European Union, although the membership negotiations have made little progress over the past decade. The country has become a vital partner in a deal with the EU to curb the passage of migrants and refugees from Turkey into Europe.

Omer Celik, Turkey's minister in charge of European Union affairs, said Monday that his country should consider reviewing the migration deal to relax controls on people reaching Europe by walking into Greece or Bulgaria.

"In my opinion the issue of the land passages should be reviewed," the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted him as saying. The Dutch, meanwhile, issued a travel advisory to their citizens to "be alert and avoid gatherings and busy places throughout Turkey."

Earlier in the day, Turkey summoned the Dutch Embassy's charge d'affaires, Daan Feddo Huisinga, to the Foreign Ministry, where a senior official handed him two formal protest notes. It's the third time the Dutch diplomat has been summoned since tensions broke out between the two countries.

The first note protested how the family minister was treated. The second note protested the treatment of Turkish citizens who gathered outside the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam from Saturday night into Sunday morning, saying "disproportionate force" was used against "people using their right to peaceful gatherings."

The deputy prime minister said the political sanctions would remain in place until the Dutch government meets conditions that were set out in the diplomatic protest notes, including apologizing and punishing authorities who mistreated Turks

"Until the Netherlands takes steps to compensate for what it did, high-level relations, planned meetings, meetings between ministers or higher level meetings, high-level official talks will be suspended or delayed," Kurtulmus said.

Associated Press Writers Mike Corder in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

With flair but scant success, Turkey aims to repair image

March 11, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — On a mission to rehabilitate its image, Turkey is instead inching closer to being an outcast among Western nations that seem to understand their NATO ally less and less each day.

Eight months after a failed coup shattered its delicate status quo, Turkey is mounting a concerted but thus far futile campaign to convince the outside world that the horrors of that day justify both its post-coup crackdown and a referendum on strengthening presidential powers. So too has Turkey been unable to convince the U.S. that the shadowy, exiled cleric it blames for the coup attempt is culpable and must be extradited.

Squeezed between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey has sought to project an image of a modern democracy that serves as a bulwark against the extremism menacing so many of its Mideast neighbors. Yet a series of self-defeating steps are telling reminders of how wide a gulf still separates Turkey from the Western world.

"I'm not saying that we're perfect. We're not. I'm not saying that mistakes aren't being made," said Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek. But he said the outside world must "at least try to understand the traumatic experience that Turkey has been going through."

This week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to stoke tensions further when he accused Germany of "Nazi practices" after Turkish leaders had been prevented from rallying expats in several Germany cities in support of the referendum. Many in Europe worry that Erdogan is capitalizing on post-coup fears to push through a more authoritarian system with few checks on his power.

For the West, there are real risks if Turkey feels estranged and mistreated. The country is pivotal to resolving the unrelenting civil war in neighboring Syria, where Turkey and the U.S. are at a logjam over Turkey's distrust of the Syrian Kurdish fighters the U.S. is relying on to fight the Islamic State group. And though Turkey's bid to join the European Union has lost momentum, Turkey holds major leverage by way of its deal with the EU to stem the flow of refugees into Europe, which Turkey has threatened to scuttle.

Turkey's inability to make its case to the West effectively was displayed this week in the capital, Ankara, whose mayor invited a group of American journalists to interview Erdogan and other top officials, including Turkey's foreign minister, intelligence chief and military commander.

After flying to Turkey, the journalists discovered there were no interviews arranged with those officials. Instead, they spoke with other officials, including the mayor, Melih Gokcek, a member of Erdogan's party. He screened graphic videos aiming to reinforce how traumatic the coup attempt had been. Then he offered unfounded conspiracy theories that the U.S. created the Islamic State group and that the U.S. and Israel colluded to artificially trigger an earthquake in Turkey so they could capture energy from the fault line.

Underlying Turkey's strategy to explain itself to the West is an apparent belief that its case is most convincing when couched in bedrock Western principles, regardless of whether the appeals to those principles seem credible.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who also met with the visiting group, claimed no journalists in Turkey are in prison for doing journalism, even though scores have been arrested. Since the failed coup, at least 100 news outlets have been forcibly closed in a clampdown Human Rights Watch says has "all but silenced independent media." Yet Bozdag insisted any journalists in prison were there for drugs, trespassing or for "propagandizing for terrorist organizations."

Turkish leaders have expressed exasperation that they are lambasted for the steps they took after the coup while France gets a "pass" for the state of emergency imposed after the 2015 Paris attacks. But France — unlike Turkey — didn't arrest 41,000 people and purge 100,000 from its civil service.

Likewise, Turkey has sought to appeal to Americans' own experiences with terrorism by repeatedly comparing 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden to Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric Turkey says plotted the coup. Gulen, living in exile in Pennsylvania, denies involvement.

Although Turkey says it has provided roughly a half million pieces of evidence to support its extradition request, the U.S. remains unconvinced. What little evidence Turkey has made public has been mostly anecdotes about arrested military members confessing loyalty to Gulen's movement.

Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey's parliament, said there are frequent and ineffective efforts taking place in Western cities and in Turkey to burnish Turkey's image, often comprising poorly planned presentations alleging Gulen's guilt. But Erdermir said the West isn't the only intended audience.

Because Erdogan's Justice and Development Party once had close ties to Gulen's group, the party's leaders are vulnerable to being implicated if the post-coup crackdown moves higher up the power structure, Erdemir said.

"A lot of people are trying to prove to Erdogan they are holier than thou, that they are fighting the anti-Gulen crusade at least as enthusiastically," said Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "One of the best defenses is doing such stunts. It really is a paranoid moment in Turkish political history."

Global community now sees Turkey's key role in Syria

01 March 2017 Wednesday

The international community is beginning to realize Ankara's crucial role in paving the way for a permanent solution in war-torn Syria thanks to the ongoing Turkey-led operations, head of Syrian Turkmen Assembly in Turkey said Wednesday.

The Turkey-led Operation Euphrates Shield began late August 2016 to improve security, support coalition forces and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border using Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters backed by Turkish artillery and jets.

"Wherever Turkey goes to clear terrorists from an area and provide security, it succeeds," Emin Bozoglan, who is currently in Geneva to attend the Syria peace talks, told Anadolu Agency over the phone.

He said Turkey's power in the international arena was now more apparent due to the successful Operation Euphrates Shield, adding this could also be observed at the talks in Geneva.

"The PYD [PKK terrorist group’s affiliate in Syria] is not at the table because Turkey doesn't want it and this is the right approach," he said.

According to Bozoglan, the recent liberation of Jarabulus city as well as the strategic Al-Bab town in Syria is a positive development not only for Turkey's national security but also for the Syrian opposition who want a terrorist-free Syria.

He added the Syrian opposition always supports the territorial integrity of Syria and blamed the international community for backing terrorist groups.

"The U.S. government is supporting PYD and it threatens peace in Syria. If they [the U.S.] leave Syria to the Syrian people, peace can be achieved," Bozoglan said.

The PYD is a Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is recognized as a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and U.S. While Turkey considers PYD/YPG as Syrian affiliates of the PKK, neither the EU nor the U.S. regard the groups as its offshoots.

Turkey-backed forces have killed more than 3,000 ISIL terrorists -- as well as some PKK/PYD elements -- in northern Syria under Operation Euphrates Shield, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish government has long said it would not participate in any formation in the region where the PKK/PYD is included.

Ankara has repeatedly said one terror group should not be used against another and urged the U.S.-led coalition to stop using the YPG to eliminate ISIL terrorists in the region.

After having completed successful operations in Jarabulus, Al-Rai, Dabiq and Al-Bab, the FSA forces could next lead the Raqqah -- ISIL's self-proclaimed capital -- operation, according to Turkish authorities.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/185592/global-community-now-sees-turkeys-key-role-in-syria.

Turkey lifts ban on Islamic headscarves in army


ANKARA - Turkey will lift a historic ban on female officers wearing the Islamic headscarf in the officially secular country's armed forces, state media said Wednesday.

The military was the final Turkish institution where women were prohibited from wearing the headscarf, after reforms by the Islamic-rooted government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that has allowed its wearing in education, politics and the police.

The move, ordered by the defense ministry, applies to female officers working in the general staff and command headquarters and branches, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Women may wear the headscarf underneath their cap or beret so long as it is the same color as their uniform and does not cover their faces.

The reform will come into force once it is published in the official gazette. It will also apply to female cadets, but it was not immediately clear if it applies to women on combat missions.

The ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), co-founded by Erdogan, has long pressed for the removal of restrictions on women wearing the headscarf.

Speaking to Turkish reporters at his offices in Ankara, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said he believed the removal of the ban was "very positive", pro-government daily Yeni Safak said.

The military has traditionally been seen as the strongest bastion of secular Turkey and had been traditionally hostile to any perceived Islamisation of state institutions.

But its political power has ebbed after the government increased control over the armed forces since the failed military coup in July, blamed on followers of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

- Army last holdout -

Turkey lifted a ban on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf, known as the hijab, on university campuses in 2010.

It allowed female students to wear the headscarf in state institutions from 2013 and in high school in 2014.

Female MPs meanwhile began to wear headscarves in parliament from October 2013 when four female AKP lawmakers wore the hijab in a session, in contrast to the scenes in 1999 when a headscarf-wearing MP from the now defunct Virtue Party was heckled out of the chamber.

And in the latest key reform before the army's move, Turkey in August allowed policewomen to wear the headscarf as part of their uniform.

At the time of the controversy over lifting the ban in the police forces, pro-government media pointed out that several Western states had already granted female officers permission to wear the garment.

The military was until now seen as the last holdout on the issue, although civilians employed by the armed forces have been able to wear the hijab since 2016.

There had been signs that the landmark reform was in the offing when press reports said that a woman, Merve Gurbuz, was undergoing training that could make her Turkey's first hijab-wearing fighter pilot.

In a sight of the sensitivity of the issue, Turkish media seized heavily on recent reports that US actress Lindsay Lohan -- who has met Erdogan and shown interest in Islam -- was asked to take off her headscarf at London's Heathrow Airport.

Erdogan's critics have long accused the president of eating away at the secular pillars of modern Turkey as set up by its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he established the Turkish republic in 1923.

The government rejects the suggestions, saying it allows freedom of worship for all Turkish citizens whatever their beliefs.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81616.

Turkish Red Crescent opens 'compassion stores' in Syria

13 February 2017 Monday

A string of “compassion stores” have been opened by the Turkish Red Crescent to provide clothing to refugees in Syria’s Idlib, the charity said Monday.

Three shops in the northwestern city will also provide toiletries, according to a statement. The supplies have been provided by Turkish donors and will be paid for on Red Crescent debit cards handed out to registered refugees.

Turkish Red Crescent President Kerem Kinik said aid distribution had focused on Christian refugees in Idlib. “They are in more difficult conditions,” he said. “We have invited the small group of Christians left in Idlib to the Red Crescent compassion store and provided them with clothing.”

The charity also distributed gas stoves to refugees around the village of Atme in Idlib.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/184723/turkish-red-crescent-opens-compassion-stores-in-syria.

Turkish constitutional referendum comes amid media crackdown

February 11, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's electoral board on Saturday confirmed April 16 as the date of a national referendum on expanding the president's powers, but the main opposition leader predicts he will face an "unfair" campaign process.

The head of the High Electoral Board, Sadi Guven, announced the referendum date a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed off on the constitutional changes aimed at creating a presidency with executive powers, which were passed by parliament last month. Guven said 55 million people in Turkey and close to 3 million Turks living abroad are eligible to cast votes.

But with Turkey's opposition media largely silenced, opponents of the constitutional changes complain that they cannot get their views across. "The referendum process will not take place under fair conditions. We know that the (pro-government media) will continue to act as though the opposition does not exist," said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People's Party.

Speaking to a small group of journalists, Kilicdaroglu said he still remains hopeful that a "no" vote will prevail. "We know that it won't be a just referendum, but despite everything, I have trust in the people's conscience, foresight and common sense," Kilicdaroglu said.

The changes, long sought by Erdogan, would grant the president the power to appoint government ministers and senior officials, dissolve parliament, declare states of emergency, issue decrees and appoint half of the members in the country's highest judicial body.

The proposal would also increase the number of parliamentarians from 550 to 600 and lower the age of eligibility for parliamentary office from 25 to 18. Critics say it would concentrate even more power in the hands of a leader they accuse of authoritarian behavior.

The government says a strong presidency will make the country stronger and improve its abilities to fight terror threats.

Yusuf Islam praises Turkey over care for refugees

09 February 2017 Thursday

British singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, praised Turkey’s role in looking after refugees in a recent visit to Ankara.

“We really came to show our support for the incredible work of looking after refugees,” he said.

Islam met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Palace for more than an hour on Wednesday, when he thanked him for Turkey’s support in building a new mosque in Cambridge, eastern England.

He said it was important to have a “beautiful mosque… in the center of the intellectual heart of Britain”. Cambridge is famed alongside Oxford for its ancient university colleges.

The Abu Bakr Jamia Mosque is being built to house up to 1,000 worshipers. Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, is contributing to the construction.

The musician also expressed his support for the “will of the people” that prevailed during last July’s coup attempt.

Erdogan posted a photograph of the meeting on his Twitter account. He said: “My dear brother Yusuf, thank you for your visit and sincere conversation. Welcome to Turkey.”

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/?aType=haber&ArticleID=184507.

Turkey to reach efficient government model, says Kalin

06 February 2017 Monday

Turkey will have a much more effective, transparent and fast government model, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has said ahead of a constitutional referendum set for April.

“The people will choose a new government system, and weaknesses related to the system [as well as] some bureaucratic obstacles in front of Turkey will be removed,” Kalin said in Istanbul on Saturday during an autograph session of his latest book I, the Other and Beyond.

Constitutional reform and the change to a presidential system has been on the political agenda since Erdogan, a former prime minister and Justice and Development (AK) Party leader, was elected president in August 2014.

This marked the first time a Turkish president had been directly chosen by popular vote.

On January 20, Turkish lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voted in favor of a new constitutional reform package.

Two opposition parties, the People’s Republican Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), remain opposed to the proposed changes.

Aside from the change to an executive presidency, other reforms include allowing the president to maintain party political affiliation.

There will be changes to Turkey’s highest judicial body, which would be renamed while retaining its independence and own budget.

It also sets 2019 as the date for Turkey’s next presidential and parliamentary elections.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/184309/turkey-to-reach-efficient-government-model-says-kalin.

Housing sales on the rise in Turkey

24 January 2017 Tuesday

Annual property sales in Turkey rose by 4 percent in 2016, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) on Tuesday.

A total of 1,341,453 houses changed hands in Turkey between January and December 2016, marking a 4 percent increase compared with 1,289,320 houses in 2015.

Of those sales, 18,189 were sold to foreigners, with approximately 32 percent (or 5,811 units) of them in Istanbul, the country's largest city by population. This corresponds to over 22 percent decline compared with the same period in the previous year.

However, total sales to foreigners decreased by 20.3 percent due to some domestic issues in the country such as coup attempts.

Following Istanbul, the holiday resort city of Antalya came in second with 4,352 properties, while the northwestern province of Bursa ranked third with 1,318.

TurkStat data also revealed that Iraqis topped the list of buyers with 3,036 properties, followed by Saudis (1,886 units), Kuwaitis (1,744), Russians (1,224) and Afghans (1,205).

In overall sales, Istanbul has maintained its top spot with 17.3 percent (232,428 units) of house transfers. The capital, Ankara, and the western province of Izmir followed, with 10.8 percent (144,570 units) and 6.1 percent (81,316 units) shares, respectively.

In December, house sales went up by 0.1 percent year-on-year to 142,713 units.

Mortgages for house sales in the country advanced by 21.8 percent in December 2016 to 49,076 units compared with the same month the previous year as the major lender dropped their interest rates for 10-year mortgages.

House sales with mortgages had a 34.4 percent share of all house sales in Turkey. Currently, the mortgage rate for 120 months is between 0.92 percent and 1.15 percent per month in Turkey.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/183636/housing-sales-on-the-rise-in-turkey.

Erdogan says Turkey is the strongest country in the Middle East

January 23, 2017

Turkey’s president described his country on Sunday as the strongest in the Middle East. Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his comments to journalists at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport ahead of an African tour of Mozambique, Madagascar and Tanzania.

His country rejects the division of the Middle East, said Erdogan, who pointed out that this would be the focus of detailed talks with President Donald Trump on his next visit to the United States. He stressed that Turkey is a pivotal state in the Middle East. It would not be right, he explained, for countries unrelated to the Middle East to take strategic decisions affecting the whole region.

The Turkish leader denied that his government has ambitions in Syria and Iraq. Turkey, he insisted, is fighting “terrorist organisations” and does not seek to divide the two countries, or to interfere in their affairs or, indeed, the affairs of any other countries.

In a speech last week, Erdogan predicted an agreement between Ankara and the Trump administration in Washington covering regional issues. Nevertheless, he accused the US and its allies of failing to fight Daesh militants.

Relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained since last July’s attempted coup in Turkey, and they have had disagreements over Obama’s policy in Syria. Erdogan accused the international coalition led by Washington of backing what he considers “terrorist” organisations in the north of Syria, such as the Kurdish Democratic Union and the Kurdish People Protection Units.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170123-erdogan-says-turkey-is-strongest-country-in-the-middle-east/.

Turkish president targets cleric's schools on Africa visit

January 22, 2017

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Turkey has courted Africa for more than a decade, boosting trade, opening more than two dozen new embassies and Turkish Airlines routes and dispatching aid to conflict-torn Somalia. More recently, the Turkish government lobbied African nations to close or take over local schools linked to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of masterminding a failed coup attempt last year.

So while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels with a big business delegation to Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar this week, he is also focusing on what he calls a security threat. Turkey accuses international schools inspired by Gulen of providing militant recruits for his movement, which in turn says an increasingly authoritarian government is casting as wide a net as possible for perceived opponents.

"It is only expected that they are trying to fight the battle in Africa with the Gulenists," said Ahmet Kasim Han, an associate professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.

"There is also the understanding that the existing Gulenist networks in the West are harder to take on because of Turkey's capability limitations in the West, especially when it comes to influence and imagery problems," Han said.

Turkey, a NATO member repairing frayed ties with Russia, has a sometimes testy relationship with old allies in the West over Turkey's human rights record and other matters. The overtures to Africa are partly an effort to build Turkey's international profile as a partner and counter to global powers on a continent with a bitter history of Western colonialism and Cold War-era conflict.

Turkey's involvement in Africa feeds into the Turkish ruling party's "self-perception as the protector of Muslims and Muslim minorities around the world," said Sener Akturk, associate professor in the international relations department at Koc University in Istanbul.

And winning African support dovetails with Erdogan's argument that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — "do not represent and do not serve the world" and the U.N. should be reformed, Akturk said.

Shortly before leaving for Tanzania on Sunday, Erdogan said he planned to talk to African leaders about the "intense activities" of the Gulen movement on the continent. "Sensitivities toward this organization and its intentions are increasing within friendly African countries," said Erdogan, who ends his trip on Wednesday. "There is no longer the possibility for these bands of murderers to hide, claiming dialogue, service, education and trade."

On Jan. 9, Erdogan said Gulen's organization previously had schools in 115 countries, and that Gambia was among six nations that had shut them. Schools in the African countries of Guinea, Somalia, Chad, Senegal, Mauritania, Niger and Gabon have been transferred to Turkish government control, he said.

The schools follow national curricula, serve children through high school and are popular with local elites because of good academic results. They deny any link to the botched military uprising in Turkey in July that led to a purge of alleged loyalists of Gulen, a U.S.-based critic of Erdogan who had expanded his international influence with a message of interfaith harmony.

The schools once had the approval of Erdogan's government, whose former alliance with Gulen partly derived from joint opposition to the hard-line secular circles that had ruled Turkey. The partnership evolved into an increasingly acrimonious rivalry several years ago.

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said this month that schools linked to Gulen will be transferred to Turkish government control. He said he discussed the matter with Erdogan during a visit by the Turkish president.

"I told him that if there is something wrong with the establishment of the schools, then he should give us a way out how to keep the schools running," the prime minister said. "They agreed on this and they have set up a foundation."

In Tanzania, 11 schools in the Feza system inspired by Gulen have a total of 3,000 students, just over half of them Muslim. Turkish diplomats have tried to "convince government officials to give these schools as a gift to Erdogan during his visit," Feza director Ibrahim Yunus said in an email to The Associated Press. He dismissed the allegation that the schools are a security threat.

Some parents asked the Feza system to start a university, and the Tanzanian government allocated land 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Dar es Salaam for the institution, according to Yunus. Turkey's crackdown on suspected supporters of Gulen has undermined the plan.

"Unfortunately, because of the purge on businesspeople in Turkey, we are having difficulty in finding donors for that project," Yunus said.

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed.

Afghan officials: 100 casualties in Afghanistan attack

April 22, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Authorities on Saturday raised the casualty toll to 100 in an attack on a military compound in northern Afghanistan a day earlier by gunmen and suicide bombers wearing army uniforms.

Gen. Daulat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense, said the attack Friday on a compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army left dozens of soldiers and other personnel dead or wounded.

The defense ministry had said Friday night that eight soldiers were killed and 11 others were wounded based on initial reports. Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said the militants entered the base in Balkh province using two military vehicles and attacked army personnel inside the compound's mosque.

"Two suicide bombers detonated their vests full of explosive inside the mosque of the army corps while everyone was busy with Friday prayers," he said. Waziri said there were 10 attackers, including the two who carried out the suicide attacks. Eight others were killed in a gun battle with soldiers.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assault in an email sent to media. President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday traveled to the base and strongly condemned the attack, according to a tweet from the official Twitter account of the presidential palace.

"The attackers are infidels," Ghani was quoted as saying in the tweet. Reports conflicted on the death toll, but a source within the army corps who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media, said more than 130 were killed and around 80 others were wounded.

In March, an attack on a military hospital in the capital Kabul killed 50 people. Responsibility for that attack was claimed by the Islamic State group. According to officials, five attackers were involved, including one suicide bomber who detonated an explosives belt and four gunmen who stormed the building.

The 209th corps is located in the Dihdadi district of Balkh. It is one of seven corps of the country's Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for providing security for Afghanistan's northern and northeastern provinces.

Romania's constitutional court upholds anti-corruption law

May 04, 2017

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's constitutional court on Thursday upheld a law preventing people with convictions from serving as ministers, a victory for the country's anti-corruption fight. The ruling deals a blow to the powerful chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, who cannot be prime minister due to a conviction last year for vote rigging.

Dragnea has called the law unfair and many Social Democrats want him to be prime minister. The court had postponed making a ruling four times. The law, introduced in 2001 as Romania prepared for membership of NATO and the European Union, bars people with convictions from serving as ministers. Dragnea could still run for president as the law does not cover that post.

In January, Romania's ombudsman asked the court to declare it unconstitutional. In a related development, Senators who are members of a parliamentary legal committee voted Thursday to scrap a draft law they had approved the previous day that would have granted amnesty to people convicted of bribery and influence peddling.

More than 1,000 protested the vote Wednesday evening in Bucharest, joined by hundreds more in cities around Romania.

Britain's Prince Philip, 95, to retire from royal duties

May 04, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip, the consort known for his constant support of his wife Queen Elizabeth II as well as for his occasional gaffes, will retire from royal duties this fall, Buckingham Palace said Thursday.

Philip, 95, made the decision himself with the full support of the queen, the palace said in a statement. The royal, known as the Duke of Edinburgh, has suffered from heart disease and other ailments in recent years but has nonetheless maintained a vigorous public schedule.

He seemed to be in good health and a fine mood Wednesday during an appearance at a London cricket club. He joked about being the world's most experienced person when it comes to unveiling plaques. That may be true: Official figures indicate he has made more than 22,000 solo royal appearances and thousands more at the queen's side.

Philip, a member of the Greek royal family in exile, has been at Elizabeth's side in countless public appearance since their marriage in 1947. He gave up a successful naval career to support her when she became queen in 1952.

He became the longest-serving consort in British history in 2009 — much as Elizabeth has become the longest reigning monarch in British history. Prime Minister Theresa May expressed gratitude "on behalf of the whole country" to Philip for his decades of service.

"From his steadfast support for Her Majesty the Queen to his inspirational Duke of Edinburgh Awards and his patronage of hundreds of charities and good causes, his contribution to our United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the wider world will be of huge benefit to us all for years to come," she said.

Officials said the queen, who turned 91 last month, will keep carrying out royal engagements with the support of the royal family. She has indicated that she does not plan to retire. Elizabeth has, however, reduced her workload considerably in recent years as her children and grandchildren have moved to the fore. She has stopped making long-haul air flights to other Commonwealth countries.

Attention has been increasingly focused on her son Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and on her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. The palace said Philip will continue his role with more than 780 charitable organizations but will not attend engagements.

He is not expected to disappear completely from the public stage — the palace said he may still choose to attend some events from time to time. The palace did not offer any new details about his health and there were no indications of any new problems. The statement indicated Philip will carry out previously scheduled engagements between now and August.

Philip said when he turned 90 in 2011 that he was "winding down" his official duties, adding that he felt he had "done my bit." He was treated later that year for a blocked heart artery but seemed to recover well.

He has been hospitalized several times since then with other ailments. The queen is normally quite reserved about her private life but she has described her husband as "my strength and stay all these years."

She met with May at the palace Wednesday and has made several public appearances recently. The queen and Philip were both ill with the flu over the Christmas holidays but seem to have recovered well. Earlier in the day, a report by Britain's Daily Mail of an unusual meeting of royal household staff sparked a worldwide wave of speculation about the health of the queen and Philip, including incorrect reports that the flag atop Buckingham Palace had been lowered to half-staff.

The Sun tabloid briefly reported on its website that Philip had died. The incorrect report was quickly dropped. In Australia, where the queen is recognized as head of state, officials praised Philip's perseverance.

"It says something about an individual that they get to the age of 95 before they decide to officially retire," Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told reporters. "It's something to aim for."

Tourists outside Buckingham Palace also had kind words for Philip as he nears the end of his public life. "He's been an icon for so long, and I've really admired him and it saddens me in a way," said Grace Marie, who said she understood his decision.

Danica Kirka and Kevin Scott in London and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed.

Trump to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia, Vatican, meet with pope

May 04, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday his first foreign trip as president will feature stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, where he will meet with Pope Francis, an ambitious foray onto the world stage that will include meetings with NATO and a summit in Italy.

Senior administration officials said Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first stop to show his commitment to improving U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Trump will meet with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and other leaders where they are expected to discuss efforts to defeat terrorism and discredit radical ideologies, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal planning.

Trump, joining religious leaders in the Rose Garden on Thursday, said his first foreign trip would "begin with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders all across the Muslim world." "Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries," Trump said.

The weeklong trip will mark the president's first trip abroad and come about six weeks after the U.S. launched Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base in the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in the war-ravaged country.

The trip will inject Trump into the thorny quest for Middle East peace, a prospect that has proven elusive for Trump's predecessors. The announcement follows Trump's meeting on Wednesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his optimistic pledge to mediate peace efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Trump has sought to forge strong ties with Israel's President Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his presidency in hopes of facilitating peace. The visit to Israel will reinforce that alliance, officials said.

"Our task is not to dictate to others how to live but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East," Trump said.

The Palestinians want to create a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Abbas noted that demand when he joined Trump at the White House.

But Netanyahu has rejected the 1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks and ruled out partitioning Jerusalem where Palestinians hope to establish a capital. Netanyahu's government has expanded settlements despite U.S. efforts to curb the construction.

The White House had said previously that Trump would travel to Belgium for the NATO meeting and Italy for the G7 summit before Memorial Day. The president previously called NATO "obsolete" but has since recanted after listening to European leaders make the case for the military alliance.

Trump will be making his first overseas trip late into the start of his presidency compared to his predecessors. Former President Barack Obama visited nine countries by late April 2009, his first three months in office, meeting with allies such as Canada, Britain and Germany. The last first-term president to wait until May to venture abroad was Jimmy Carter in 1977.

His visit will also give him the opportunity to connect with Roman Catholics with his visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The White House said the president met privately Thursday with Roman Catholic cardinals.

Trump and Francis couldn't be more different in their approaches to some of the pressing issues of the day, with immigration and climate change topping the list. Francis has spoken of the need for bridges between nations, not the walls that Trump has called for. He has called for an end to the use of fossil fuels, while Trump has pledged to cancel payments to U.N. climate change programs and pull out of the Paris climate accord.

But both share a populist appeal and speak with a down-to-earth simplicity that has endeared them to their bases of supporters. And both share a common concern about the plight of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic militants.

Francis recently called for the U.S. and North Korea to step away from the brink and use negotiations and diplomacy to diffuse tensions on the Korean peninsula — an issue that is likely to feature in any Vatican audience.

During the campaign, when asked about Trump's border wall with Mexico, Francis famously said anyone who wants to build a wall is "not Christian." Trump shot back that it was "disgraceful" for a religious leader to question someone's faith.

Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Vatican City contributed to this report.

F-22 Raptors complete aerial targeting tests as part of major upgrade

By Richard Tomkins
May 4, 2017

May 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has completed operational tests of F-22 Raptors downing aerial targets with missiles as part of a major capability upgrade of the fighters.

The testing took place last month at the Utah Test and Training Range, Air Force officials said in a press release.

In the tests, the F-22 fighters fired inert AIM-9 and AIM-120 missiles against multiple BQM-167A sub-scale aerial targets, a "significant effort" along the 3.2B initial operational test and evaluation upgrade timeline, the Air Force said.

The jets were from the 411th Flight Test Squadron, 412th Test Wing, Edwards AFB, Calif., while a team from the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron provided the BQB-167As.

The F-22s are due for a weapons systems upgrade in Summer 2019, which will include enhanced target location capabilities and new antennas for the aircraft's stealth abilities, among other developments.

"Threats are always evolving so we need to evolve this plane as well," John Cottam, F-22 program director at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, told Defense Systems.

The 3.2B modernization to the F-22 is the largest capability boost to the F-22 since the jet was granted Initial Operating Capability in 2005. The Air Force said the added capability enhances the service's air superiority but did not offer specifics.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2017/05/04/F-22-Raptors-complete-aerial-targeting-tests-as-part-of-major-upgrade/9381493903181/.

Renewable sources now almost one-fifth of US generating capacity

Washington DC (SPX)
May 04, 2017

According to the latest issue of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) monthly "Energy Infrastructure Update" (with data through March 31, 2017), wind and solar provided 50.84% of the new electrical generating capacity added to the U.S. grid during the first quarter of 2017.

Thirteen "units" of wind totaling 1,479 MW combined with 62 units of solar (939 MW) exceeded the 2,235 MW provided by 21 units of natural gas and 102 MW provided by one unit of nuclear power. There was also 1-MW of capacity from "other" sources (e.g., fuel cells). In the first three months of the year, no new generating capacity was provided by coal, oil, hydropower, biomass, or geothermal.

Moreover, the pace of growth of new solar and wind capacity is accelerating. For the first quarter of 2017, new capacity from those sources is 18.07% greater than that added during the same three-month period in 2016 (2,418 MW vs. 2048 MW).

Renewable sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind) now account for almost one-fifth (19.51%) of the nation's total available installed generating capacity: hydropower (8.48%), wind (7.12%), solar (2.17%), biomass (1.41%), and geothermal (0.33%).

By comparison, at the end of 2016, renewables provided 19.17% of the total generating capacity. If current growth rates continue, renewables should top 20% before the end of this year.

Generating capacity by renewable sources is now more than double that of nuclear power (9.10%) and rapidly approaching that of coal (24.25%). **

"The Trump Administration's efforts to reboot coal and expand oil drilling continue to be proven wrong-headed in light of the latest FERC data," noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. "Once more, renewables - led by wind and solar - have proven themselves to be the energy sources making America great again."

Source: Solar Daily.
Link: http://www.solardaily.com/reports/Renewable_sources_now_almost_one_fifth_of_US_generating_capacity_999.html.

Indian Space Agency Test-Drives Solar Electric Hybrid Vehicle

New Delhi (Sputnik)
May 04, 2017

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) added another milestone to its list of achievements by successfully showcasing a solar-electric hybrid vehicle. ISRO's different engineering branches at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram developed the vehicle.

The team working on the project developed a solar panel to fit on the roof of a car, along with an internal gearbox, control electronics for the battery and solar panel, and a conversion kit for fitting an electric motor to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

The vehicle was powered by ISRO's famed Lithium-ion batteries, with a high power supercapacitor to meet the power demands to achieve required torque. ISRO also ensured to not compromise the safety while integrating various subsystems.

The vehicle was successfully test-driven, including an uphill drive. The space agency will now focus on building indigenous Lithium-ion fuel cells, supercapacitors and an electric motor.

"ISRO is doing a lot of things in addition to launching satellites. And all projects are interlinked and laying down the foundation for an industrial complex which will boost innovation and job creation. They have started sub-contracting many of their product building processes, which again will help in the growth of industries," Dr. Mayank N. Vahia, Department of Astrophysics, at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, told Sputnik.

India is aiming to push the use of electric vehicles to tackle rising pollution in its cities with the government setting a target of 6 million electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads by 2020 under the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 and Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles.

The sales of electric vehicles in India is currently very low, rising 37.5 percent to 22,000 units in the year ended March 31, 2016, over 16,000 in 2014-15, according to the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles. Of these 22,000 vehicles, only 2,000 were cars and other four-wheelers.

The high cost of batteries, a majority of which are imported, is a major hindrance to the development of the sector. Yet another challenge is to create a network of docking stations or charging stations for electric vehicles although that is more of a demand-related problem.

"A helping hand is required to create the infrastructure... There are two concerns for electric vehicles-first is cost and second is infrastructure," Mint quoted Abdul Majeed, partner and national auto practice leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers as saying.

The government recently asked ISRO to share its technology on Lithium-ion batteries with other public and private sector firms to give a push to the production of batteries in India and bring down the cost of electric vehicles.

Source: Solar Daily.
Link: http://www.solardaily.com/reports/Indian_Space_Agency_Test_Drives_Solar_Electric_Hybrid_Vehicle_999.html.