Top US diplomat wraps up Gulf tour, but impasse grinds on

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani address a press conference in Doha on July 11. (AP)
Updated 13 July 2017
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Top US diplomat wraps up Gulf tour, but impasse grinds on

DUBAI: The top US diplomat wrapped up his first foray in shuttle diplomacy on Thursday with little sign of progress in breaking a deadlock between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATI) comprising Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to the tiny, US-allied Gulf nation for a second time for a lunch meeting with 37-year-old Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani before heading back to Washington later in the day.
Tillerson and his Qatari counterpart appeared before cameras in the capital, Doha, but ignored reporters’ questions before he left.
“Hope to see you again under better circumstances,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir’s brother, said, seeing Tillerson off at the airport in Doha.
Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil CEO with deep experience in the oil-rich Gulf, has been shuttling between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and mediator Kuwait since Monday trying to repair a rift that is dividing some of America’s most important Middle East allies.
The diplomatic slack now appears likely to be picked up again by the Europeans, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian heading to the region at the weekend.
A French diplomatic source in Paris said that Le Drian would try “to recreate confidence, create an interest of all parties to engage in de-escalation.”
“We must find a way out.”
Le Drian’s visit will follow similar trips made by his counterparts from Germany and Britain in recent weeks.
Officials have downplayed expectations and say any resolution could be months away.
His clearest achievement has been to secure a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Qatar to strengthen its counterterrorism efforts and address shortfalls in policing terrorism funding.
That deal goes to the core of the ATQ’s complaints against the natural gas-rich state: That it provides support for extremist groups.
The ATQ argued the pressure and demands it placed on Qatar helped lead to the counterterrorism pact, but it said the agreement does not go far enough to end the dispute.
It is holding fast to its insistence that Qatar bow to a 13-point list of demands that includes shutting down Qatar’s flagship Al Jazeera network and other news outlets, cutting ties with radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, limiting Qatar’s ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the Gulf country.
“No wavering on the 13 demands” the headline of the Abu Dhabi government-linked Al-Ittihad newspaper read on Thursday, referring to the list.
Qatar has rejected the demands, saying that agreeing to them wholesale would undermine its sovereignty.
It is intent on waiting out the crisis despite its neighbors’ attempts to isolate it.
Shipping companies have set up alternate routes to get supplies in without going through the blockading countries, and flag carrier Qatar Airways continues to operate its 200-strong fleet by detouring over friendlier airspace.
The government has said it is covering a tenfold increase in shipping costs for essentials. Ally Turkey and nearby Iran have also boosted exports to Qatar, and the country has even taken to importing cows to meet a dairy shortfall caused by the closure of its only land border with Saudi Arabia.
Still, the rift is causing hardship for some.
“For public consumption at least, the US State Department is trying to send out a signal that it has worked hard with its three allies — Saudi, UAE, Qatar — to try to find a mutually agreeable solution,” Christopher Davidson, an expert on Middle East politics at Britain’s Durham University, told AFP.
“Britain and now France are also trying to do much the same. Underneath the surface however... the US — including Tillerson — likely sees significant strategic and lucrative benefits to any long-running stand-off between these states.”


Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Updated 24 June 2019
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Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.