Death toll rises to 31 in Egypt violence

Updated 27 January 2013
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Death toll rises to 31 in Egypt violence

PORT SAID, Egypt: The death toll from rioting in the Egyptian city of Port Said has risen to 31, health officials said Sunday, as army troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles staked out positions at key government facilities to try to restore order.
The violence erupted Saturday after a court handed down death sentences to almost two dozen local fans involved in a deadly melee at a Port Said soccer game last year. Immediately after the ruling was announced, angry residents and young men went on a rampage in the city, attacking the prison where the defendants were being held and trying to storm police stations and government offices.
The street clashes in Port Said were the latest in a bout of unrest that has left a total of 42 people dead in two days, including 11 killed in clashes between police and protesters marking Friday’s second anniversary of the uprising that overthrew longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. On Sunday, clashes continued for the fourth successive between protesters and police near Cairo’s central Tahrir square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising. Police used tear gas, while the protesters pelted them with rocks.
The bloodshed highlights the challenges facing President Muhammad Mursi, who took office nearly seven months ago following the uprising that ousted Mubarak. Critics say Mursi has failed to carry out promised reforms in the country’s judiciary and police force, and claim little has improved in the two years after the uprising against Mubarak.
As the situation spiraled out of control Saturday, police disappeared from Port Said’s streets, residents and security officials said.
The military then dispatched troops to the city, which is located on the northern tip of the Suez Canal. Soldiers took up positions at vital state facilities, including the local power and water stations, the city’s main courthouse, the local government building and the city prison. Navy sailors were guarding the local offices of the Suez Canal company.
Navy vessels were escorting merchant ships sailing through the international waterway, and army helicopters were flying over the canal to ensure the safety of shipping, according to Suez Canal spokesman Tareq Hassanein.
Residents said Port Said was quiet overnight except for the intermittent bursts of gunfire. The city was still on edge Sunday, although a degree of calm had returned. Streets were largely deserted, stores were closed for the second successive day, and some hotels asked guests to leave, fearing more violence.
Funerals for those killed on Saturday were to be held later Sunday, and residents said they expected more street clashes after the city buries its dead.
The officials and residents spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Saturday’s riot in Port Said mostly stemmed from animosity between police and die-hard soccer fans know as Ultras, who also were part of the uprising that toppled Mubarak’s regime.
The Ultras were at the forefront of protests against the military generals who took over from Mubarak and are now again on the frontlines of protests against the rule of Islamist President Muhammad Mursi.
Survivors and witnesses of the Feb. 1 soccer melee in Port Said say Mubarak loyalists had a hand in instigating the killings, which began after Port Said’s home team Al-Masry beat Cairo’s Al-Ahly 3-1. Some say “hired thugs” wearing green T-shirts posing as Al-Masry fans led the attacks.
Others say, at the very least, police were responsible for gross negligence in the soccer violence, which killed 74 people, most of them Al-Ahly fans.
Anger at police was evident in Port Said, home to most of the 73 men accused of involvement in the bloodshed, although the trial was held outside Cairo.
Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid did not give his reasoning when he handed down the sentences for 21 defendants on Saturday. Executions in Egypt are usually carried out by hanging.
Verdicts for the remaining 52 defendants, including nine security officials, are scheduled to be delivered March 9. Some have been charged with murder and others with assisting the attackers. All the defendants — who were not present in the courtroom Saturday for security reasons — can appeal the verdict.


Speculation mounts over Abdullah Gul’s election ambitions

Former Turkish President Abdullah Gul, left, is seen with Saadet Party leader Temel Karamollaoglu during a ceremony in Istanbul on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Speculation mounts over Abdullah Gul’s election ambitions

  • Gul and Erdogan have mostly followed the same political paths and a religiously conservative ideology
  • A split between the two men recently erupted when Gul criticized the controversial state of emergency decree law

 ANKARA: Rumors are rife in Turkey that former President Abdullah Gul could emerge as a possible contender against his once close political ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the June elections.

Gul, who along with Erdogan was among the founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001, has met with opposition leaders amid speculation he could run as a presidential candidate for the main opposition alliance.

Erdogan called the snap election, which will select the president and Parliament members, last week, catching opposition parties off guard. 

Gul and Erdogan have mostly followed the same political paths and a religiously conservative ideology.

However, Gul, who served as Turkey’s president from 2007 to 2014, has increasingly criticized Erdogan’s handling of the aftermath of an attempted coup in 2016. 

A split between the two men recently erupted when Gul criticized the controversial state of emergency decree law that exempted civilians who fought against the coup attempt in 2016 from criminal liability. 

Slams Erdogan

He also openly slammed the repeated extension of the state of emergency in Turkey, which has been in place since the coup, and called for normalization in the country.

With his conciliatory approach to politics and leadership in the rapprochement process with Armenia and the Kurds in Turkey, Gul was widely respected by the international community as president.

Asked about speculation on Gul’s candidacy, Erdogan said on Tuesday: “I don’t have a problem with that.”

“Alliances with the sole motivation of hostility toward Erdogan are being formed,” he added. 

If nominated by the opposition camp, Gul is expected to announce a manifesto that promises a return to the parliamentary system by abolishing the executive presidential changes to the constitution approved by a controversial referendum last year. 

He is also said to be announcing a new constitutional draft and suggesting an alternative council of ministers focused on improving the Turkish economy.

The deadline to submit applications for the presidential candidacy is May 4.

Gul held talks with the leader of the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), Temel Karamollaoglu, on Wednesday and met former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara a day earlier, according to Turkey’s pro-government daily Haber Turk.

Other opposition figures are also meeting to discuss alliances for the election on June 24. Karamollaoglu met Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Meral Aksener, who heads the right-wing nationalist Good Party (Iyi Parti).

Electoral opportunity

Kilicdaroglu has described the upcoming elections as an opportunity to salvage the country from what the opposition claims is Erdogan’s increasingly draconian rule. 

“Abdullah Gul’s name is not on the CHP agenda,” said Ozgur Ozel, parliamentary group leader of CHP. But the SP still insists on his candidacy. 

According to experts, for the other candidates to surpass Erdogan they will need the votes of all the other opposition parties and some of the AKP constituencies.

Polls show that Erdogan, who has dominated the top rungs of power in the country for more than 15 years, enjoys about 50 percent of voter support. 

“This means that a candidate would need to appeal to Turkish nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, Islamists and secularists in order to get more votes than Erdogan who has a much more solid base,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News. 

Gul appears to be the best alternative in this regard, experts said.

However, the decision by the newly founded Iyi Party on whether they would join other opposition parties to nominate Gul as the opposition block candidate would be critical. 

If Erdogan does not win the presidency in the first round of voting — by securing at least 50 percent plus one vote — then a second round will be held within two weeks. 

If the race is between more than two candidates, Erdogan would win the presidency again, said Dr. Emre Erdogan, co-founder of an Istanbul-based research company, Infakto Research Workshop.

“Hence, the calculus of Gul’s move is simple: Exchanging mid-to-long-term uncertain gains, with certain short-term victories, namely being the next president of Turkey,” he told Arab News.

Nominating conservative Gul will cost the CHP some ultra-secular votes, but considering the discipline of its voters, the price will be minuscule and easily compensated by Kurdish voters who favor Gul, Dr. Emre Erdogan said.

“Among all alternative scenarios, only the nomination of Gul seems to be the one with the highest potential to influence the outcome,” he said.