Turkey rejects allegation of gas attack in Afrin; Kurds rally in France against Turkish offensive

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators protest in Geneva against Turkish operations in the northern Syrian city of Afrin. (AP)
Updated 18 February 2018
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Turkey rejects allegation of gas attack in Afrin; Kurds rally in France against Turkish offensive

ANKARA: Turkey has “never used” chemical weapons in Syria and accusations that it had done so during its offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia are “baseless,” a Turkish diplomatic source said on Saturday.
Turkey last month launched military operation dubbed “Olive Branch” supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops and air strikes against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia viewed as “terrorists” by Ankara.
The Turkish source was reacting to claims by the head of Afrin hospital in northern Syria that six men were treated late Friday after shelling during the offensive and had symptoms that were in line with exposure to toxic agents.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said shelling from either Turkey or allied factions hit Al-Sheikh Hadid, west of the town of Afrin, and left six people with “enlarged pupils” and “breathing difficulties.”
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP he could not confirm whether toxic gases were used.
But the Turkish source said Ankara took the “utmost care” regarding civilian safety and that the claims Turkey was responsible for an alleged gas attack were “baseless.”
“Turkey never used chemical weapons,” the source added. “(These are) lies... this is black propaganda.”
Turkey says the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by the United States and the European Union.
But the YPG has been working closely with Washington to oust the Daesh extremist group from Syria, which has strained relations between the two NATO allies.
The Observatory says at least 78 civilians have died during Turkey’s operation but Ankara repeatedly insists it is taking all the necessary measures to protect civilians.

Kurds rally in France
In the French city of Strasbourg, thousands of Kurds took to the streets on Saturday to call for the release of jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan and protest against Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.
“UN, take your responsibility and stop the genocide in Afrin,” read one banner, referring to the region in northern Syria where Turkey is waging a campaign against a Syrian Kurd militia.
The protesters who came from across Europe also waved Kurdish flags and pictures of the leader of the outlawed PKK, chanting “Freedom for Ocalan.”
There was a strong police presence at the demonstration, which police said attracted 11,000 people while organizers put the number at between 25,000-30,000.
The march has taken place each year in the city that hosts the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe since Ocalan was detained in 1999.
Ocalan, the figurehead of the PKK’s bloody insurgency against the Turkish state, remains behind bars on a prison island off Istanbul.
Ankara launched an offensive in the Afrin area of northern Syria last month against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which it considers a terror group but which is allied with US forces in the fight against the Daesh group.
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is becoming very aggressive toward the Kurds and the situation is getting a lot worse, year after year, month after month,” said Newroz, who came from Germany to attend the rally with his sister and friends.
“Erdogan is a 100 percent dictator, every European should know this,” added Okce, who also came from Germany.


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.