Syria opposition wants full details before joining Russia talks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shakes hands with Syria's opposition chief negotiator Nasr al-Hariri during a meeting in Moscow on January 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Syria opposition wants full details before joining Russia talks

MOSCOW: Syria’s main opposition group said Monday it needed “full and clear information” from Russia before it would agree to take part in peace talks to be held in Sochi next week.
The comments came during a visit by the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) to Moscow as Russia gets set to host talks in the Black Sea resort on January 30 along with Syrian regime-backer Iran and rebel-supporter Turkey.
“The SNC will not make any final decision regarding the Russian initiatives until it receives full and clear information from Russia,” SNC representative Nasr Al-Hariri said at the start of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“We want to have complete information about the participants, the agenda and the objectives” of the Sochi meetings, he said in comments translated into Russian.
“Unfortunately, for the time being, we do not have a clear picture of all that.”
The SNC has said it will attend fresh UN-hosted negotiations before the Sochi talks, which dozens of rebel factions have already rejected.
Lavrov said he was looking forward to a “constructive conversation” with Hariri.
“We consider counterproductive the attempts of some foreign players to question the sincerity of the efforts we are undertaking,” Lavrov said.
Numerous rounds of UN-brokered peace talks have been held in Geneva, with the last one concluding in mid-December with no notable progress toward ending the country’s war.
The UN-backed talks are to resume on January 25-26, this time in Vienna.
Key players Russia, Iran and Turkey have been sponsoring parallel peace talks since the start of last year.
The Sochi meeting is part of a broader push by Moscow to start hammering out a path to a political solution to end the war and has sparked concerns that the Kremlin is looking to sideline the UN.
The Damascus government has said it would attend the Sochi talks, which are aimed at setting up a new constitution for post-war Syria.
Syria’s nearly seven-year war, which began as the regime brutally crushed anti-government protests, has claimed more than 340,000 lives, forced millions to flee their homes and left the country in ruins.


Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 21 March 2019
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.