EU to offer Turkey more cash for Syrian refugees before Erdogan meeting

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, attends the inauguration of his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party's Politics Academy, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, March 9, 2018. (AP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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EU to offer Turkey more cash for Syrian refugees before Erdogan meeting

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s executive is due to approve a further 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) in funding for Syrian refugees living in Turkey, EU officials said, before a meeting with President Tayyip Erdogan later this month.
Europe’s relations with Erdogan have been fraught in recent years but the EU depends on Turkey to keep a tight lid on immigration from the Middle East, where the war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands and pushed millions from homes.
Top EU officials will meet Erdogan on March 26 in the Bulgarian city of Varna despite misgivings among many on the European side.
The bloc’s top migration official Dimitris Avramopoulos will announce on Wednesday that the European Commission proposes the extra funding on projects benefiting Syrian refugees in Turkey, the sources told Reuters.
Turkey has accepted 3.5 million refugees from Syria, and the EU is already spending a first 3 billion euro instalment to help them.
Over a million more refugees and migrants reached the EU in 2015, most of them flowing through Turkey. Brussels agreed to pay to help host migrants on the Turkish soil in exchange for Ankara preventing more from trying to cross the Aegean to Greece.
This reduced the numbers to a trickle and this cooperation with a key NATO ally has muted EU action against Turkey over a crackdown on critics, dissenters and civil society following a failed coup in 2016. Erdogan has also attacked EU members Germany and the Netherlands in his speeches.
The bloc has mainly responded by freezing some funding that Turkey had been eligible for as a candidate for EU entry and suspending accession talks that have long been stalled anyway.
The EU will also release in April what the sources said would be a “critical” report on Turkey’s accession bid.


Iraq online shutdown cost ‘$40m a day'

Updated 3 min 52 sec ago
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Iraq online shutdown cost ‘$40m a day'

  • The banking sector, airlines, businesses and mobile phone companies faced severe disruptions
  • Internet partially restored but social media sites remain blocked

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi government ban on online access to curb growing protests is costing the country tens of millions of dollars a day and ramping up anger toward the authorities.

Internet access was blocked in much of Iraq from Friday as protests in southern provinces spread from the main oil hub of Basra. 

The government hopes to limit communication between thousands of demonstrators protesting at a lack of basic services and official corruption. The tactic is similar to that used by regimes during Arab Spring protests in 2011.

On Monday, the government partially reactivated Internet services, but kept restrictions on prominent social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

The banking sector, airlines, businesses and mobile phone companies faced severe disruptions because of the shutdown, online experts said. 

The restrictions left hundreds of international and local media outlets paralyzed, banking transactions all but halted, and airlines facing flight cancelations and passenger chaos for at least three days.

Government departments relying on the Internet, including security services, and those dealing with residency, passports and intelligence were disrupted, security officials told Arab News.

A study by NetBlocks, an independent group monitoring online shutdowns, suggested that the restrictions could cost Iraq’s struggling economy $40 million per day in “lost business, sales and opportunities.”

“The Iraqi government has made a big mistake. A lot of business transactions are conducted via the Internet,” Bassim Antwan, an Iraqi economic expert, said.

“The blocking of sites… has caused great losses (for Iraq). While the government believes that it has succeeded in something, it has lost much of its revenues and the revenues of the private sector.”

Massive demonstrations engulfed Iraq’s southern provinces in protest at electricity cuts, a shortage of drinking water, and the high rates of unemployment and poverty. Protests began in Basra on July 8 with the blocking of roads to the oil fields.

Iraqi security forces were placed on high alert after public facilities, including local government buildings, Najaf airport and oil sites were stormed by demonstrators.

The block on social media sites has prompted Iraqis to sign up to applications and programs that use VPNs to break the ban.

Iraq’s government has previously used Internet restrictions as part of security measures to prevent protests. It has also resorted to the tactic to prevent students from circulating exam questions and to reduce the circulation of security information.

But the latest block is the longest and most comprehensive of the past decade. 

Most Iraqis view the shutdown as an attempt to suppress the protests and avoid scrutiny of the security services’ response.

Ahmed Saadawi, an internationally renowned Iraqi novelist, said he was using a proxy Internet server to avoid the ban and communicate with those outside Iraq.

“We are imprisoned because of government measures that have blocked social media sites, disrupted people’s interests, deprived protesters of the right to express opinions, and denied others the right to get information,” Saadawi wrote on hisFacebook page.

“I condemned the arbitrary measures being taken by the corrupt parties that want to continue to share power and profits without any objection to their work.”

Eight people have been killed and hundreds wounded in demonstrations which entered their 10th day on Tuesday.

Major campaigns were launched by security services in the past three days to arrest the organizers, advocates and journalists in Baghdad and the south “on charges of inciting people to sabotage the public institutions,” lawyers and security officials said. 

Dozens of Iraqis who live abroad and in unaffected provinces have shared instructions on how to break the social media block and use applications to publish news, pictures and videos of the demonstrations.

Iraqis have also resorted to their well-tested humor in times of crisis by poking fun at the authorities.

“Thanks to the government Internet ban, I found out that my kid’s age is 6 not 4,” Hisham Ali wrote on Facebook. “Not just this, I found out that my family members are nice people and can be tolerated. I am happy.”