Syria’s UN human rights envoy defects in Geneva

Updated 15 August 2012
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Syria’s UN human rights envoy defects in Geneva

GENEVA, Switzerland: In another blow to the Assad regime, Syria’s top representative at the UN Human Rights Council said Monday he had defected because he no longer felt able in that position to do anything for the Syrian people.
“Basically, when I felt I could not help my people any more I had to move on,” Danny Al-Baaj, the first Syrian diplomat in Switzerland to abandon Bashar Assad’s regime, told AFP.
“When I was involved in any negotiations (on Syria) my concern was to protect the country not the government,” he added.
Al-Baaj's move comes a week after Syria's Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected along with other top officials and military commanders.
Thousands of military officers have also switched sides over the past months, many of them fleeing to Turkey before returning to Syria to join rebel forces.
Baaj said he took his decision a long time ago and had been in contact with Syrian opposition group the Democratic Forum based in Paris.
He had been in Geneva for two years and met the opposition group “some time ago,” before announcing his resignation last Friday, he said.
“I met the charge d’affaires (of Syria in Geneva) and I told him I had made my decision that I was going to the opposition... He said it was my choice and he wished me luck.”
Speaking from Geneva where he is considering his next move, Baaj described the Democratic Forum as one of the main opposition groups. It is headed by Michel Kilo, a long-time opponent of the regime.
The development comes ahead of the release on Wednesday of an official UNHRC independent commission of inquiry report into Syria.
Baaj said he “hoped” the Geneva-based body would make progress toward consensus on the situation in Syria despite many countries letting their own agendas interfere with finding a solution.
“At the last session the HRC was very close to reaching consensus ... I hope different countries put aside their agendas to help the Syrian people,” he said.
Baaj also stressed his opposition to outside military intervention in the conflict but supported the role of the UN’s Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), calling it “a good thing.”
“I hope it stays there. It’s very important to document abuses by both sides,” he said.

Violence increasing
In Damascus, the head of the United Nations monitors in Syria said violence was intensifying across the country, blaming both Assad’s forces and rebel fighters for ignoring the plight of civilians.
“It is clear that violence is increasing in many parts of Syria,” Gen. Babacar Gaye, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, told journalists in Damascus.
“The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by the government and targeted attacks by the opposition in urban centers are inflicting a heavy toll on innocent civilians.
“I deeply regret that none of the parties has prioritised the needs of civilians.”
Activists say more than 18,000 people, including soldiers, rebels and civilians, have been killed since the start of the Syrian uprising against Assad in March last year.
Assad’s forces are battling to regain control of the biggest city, Aleppo, from rebel fighters who went on the offensive last month, seizing districts of the capital and the northern commercial hub, as well as several border crossings.
Free Syrian Army rebels also control towns and villages in a wide swathe of territory near the northern border with Turkey.
Assad’s forces have hit back, regaining much of Damascus and bombarding opposition strongholds in and around the capital. Residents reported overnight shelling from the Qassioun mountains overlooking north Damascus into Jobar neighborhood.
Activists also reported shelling in the northern Damascus suburb of Tell, which they say has been under rebel control for two weeks, and in Muadamiya suburb, where they said four men had been found executed after troops pulled out.
State television said the army was battling rebels in the city of Homs and had attacked “terrorist lairs” in the town of Talbiseh to the north.
The mandate for the UN monitors, whose original mission was to observe an April cease-fire that never took hold, expires on Aug. 19. Their numbers have already been cut to a third because violence has made it impossible for them to move around.
“But the remaining 100 observers, along with our civilian colleagues, will operate till the last minute,” Gaye said.
“I call on the parties to cease military operations and come to the (negotiating) table,” he said, adding that he and his colleagues had delivered the same appeal in person to the government and the Syrian opposition abroad.

 


Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

Updated 21 April 2018
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Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

  • By bringing the vote forward by more than a year, Erdogan hopes to capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria
  • Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling AK Party taunted the main opposition party on Thursday to name a candidate to challenge Recep Tayyip Erdogan for June elections which are expected to tighten the president’s 15-year hold on power.

Government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said the secularist opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) was reluctant to put its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, forward for the June 24 vote “because they do not believe he can compete with our president.”

Erdogan called the snap election on Wednesday, bringing the vote forward by more than a year so that Turkey can switch to the powerful new executive presidency that was narrowly approved in a divisive referendum last year.

While many people expected the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held early, the new date leaves barely two months for campaigning and may have wrong-footed Erdogan’s opponents.

“Our chief has donned his wrestling outfit, so if Mr.Kilicdaroglu says ‘I’m a soldier,’ then he should put on his wrestler’s tights and come out,” Bozdag said. The CHP says it will decide on a candidate in the next 10 days, and the pro-Kurdish HDP said it would convene on Sunday to discuss its plans. The nationalist MHP party has said it is backing Erdogan.

Only former Interior Minister Meral Aksener, who broke away from the MHP last year to form the Good Party, has announced her plans to stand for the presidency.

“A politician does not run from elections,” Bozdag said, adding he believed Erdogan would win in the first round. “We as the AK Party are ready for elections.”

Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president, transforming his poor, sprawling country on the eastern fringes of Europe into a major emerging market.

But Turkey’s rapid growth has been accompanied by increased authoritarianism, which critics at home and in Europe say has left the country lurching toward one-man rule.

Since an abortive military coup in July 2016, authorities have detained more than 160,000 people, the UN says. Nearly two years after the coup attempt Turkey is still ruled under a state of emergency, and the crackdown continues.

The US voiced concern on Thursday about the timing. “During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair and transparent election in a manner that is consistent with ... Turkish law,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing.

Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday authorities had identified 3,000 armed forces personnel believed to be linked to the US-based cleric Ankara blames for the failed coup. He said they would be dismissed in the coming days.

Media outlets have also been shut down and scores of journalists have been jailed.

 

Early advantage

By calling the vote nearly a year and half early, Erdogan can capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria, where they drove out Kurdish YPG forces, said Goldman Sachs senior economist Erik Meyersson.

The tight schedule “also gives less time for the opposition to organize and choose presidential candidates,” Meyersson wrote in a research note.

The head of a Turkish polling company seen as close to the AK Party said a poll conducted this week had put the AKP on 41.5 percent, with 6 percent for its ally, the MHP.

Mehmet Ali Kulat, chairman of MAK Danismanlik, said that in a presidential election support for Erdogan could outstrip support for his party.

Erdogan’s announcement helped the lira, which has plumbed record lows this month on widening concern about double-digit inflation and the outlook for monetary policy. The currency surged 2.2 percent on Wednesday, its biggest one-day advance in a year. Turkish stocks also rose more than 2 percent.

Economists said the lira rally reflected a belief that the quick timeline for the election reduced the prospect of extra stimulus to maintain economic growth ahead of the vote.

The economy expanded 7.4 percent last year, fueled by stimulus measures including tax changes and an increase in government credit support for small businesses. The government forecasts 5.5 percent growth in 2018 though economists polled by Reuters expect more modest growth of 4.1 percent.