Turkey takes aim at Berlin as arsonists target mosques

Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag. (REUTERS)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Turkey takes aim at Berlin as arsonists target mosques

ANKARA: A spate of attacks on Turkish mosques and businesses in Germany has drawn a sharp rebuke from Turkey only days before a key EU-Turkish summit.
Turkey issued a stern warning to Germany’s ambassador to Ankara and sent a diplomatic note to Berlin on Monday after several Turkish mosques, a cultural center and a Turkish vegetable shop in Germany were targeted by arsonists last week.
“The German government and its security forces have primary responsibility for the safety of Turkish citizens and other Muslims living in Germany,” Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, said.
About 3 million people of Turkish descent live in Germany, including many ethnic Kurds.
The arson attacks have been blamed on Kurdish-led demonstrators in Germany who oppose Turkey’s military operation to drive out Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the northern Syrian region of Afrin.
The developing crisis comes ahead of a key EU-Turkey summit set for March 26 in Varna, Bulgaria, where EU leaders will meet Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
However, experts believe the dispute is unlikely to escalate to the same level as the bilateral confrontation that followed the failed coup in Turkey last year.
Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, told Arab News that it was in Berlin’s interest to prevent the Turkish conflict with Syrian Kurds spilling over on to German territory.
German politicians and civil rights groups condemned the attacks, which damaged Turkish places of worship. Security agencies are also on the alert for further attacks against Turkish facilities in cities such as Berlin and Stuttgart.
Despite calls from Ankara, Germany and the Czech Republic have refused to extradite Salih Muslim, the former co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
Muslim was arrested in Prague late last month. The Syrian Kurdish leader, who holds a resident’s permit in Finland, is on Turkey’s most-wanted terrorists’ list with a bounty of $1.05 million on his head. He has not filed for asylum in Germany.
“Ignoring Turkish calls for the arrest and extradition of Salih Muslim appears to be a consensus among European states as Swedish and Danish politicians have also refused to take action on behalf of Ankara,” Kirchner said.
“While this may add to Turkish frustration with its European partners because of the handling of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) on their territory, and could lead to a further erosion of trust in Europe among the wider Turkish public, it is unlikely that Ankara will take action against Germany or other EU member states,” she said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced support for closer dialogue between Turkey and the EU, praising Turkey’s efforts to welcome more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
“We cannot hide our differences, but communication channels should remain open. We are dependent on each other,” Merkel said in Berlin on Monday.
Both Ankara and Berlin have a vested interest in smoothing relations ahead of the EU-Turkey summit, said Kirchner.
“Although German policymakers do not favor Turkey’s military operations in Syria, the governing parties have not publicly spoken out against it,” she said.
The PKK has been outlawed in Germany since 1993, but it remains an active force with about 14,000 followers among the country’s Kurdish community.
Germany has banned the carrying of PKK symbols and flags during rallies, but holding symbols of other Kurdish groups — such as PYD and YPG, which are not considered terror organizations in Germany — is permitted.
“Setting fire to mosques is an overt act of terrorism and, in doing so, German supporters of PYD only reinforce Turkey’s accusations that PYD is a terrorist organization,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund, said.
“This is an attack against Germany as much as against Turkey, and is taken lightly by neither German authorities nor German politicians.”
Paradoxically, the attacks could strengthen Germany’s resolve against PKK activities on its soil and contribute positively to Turkey-Germany relations, he said.


South Korean cult leader jailed for raping followers

Updated 7 min 30 sec ago
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South Korean cult leader jailed for raping followers

  • Religious devotion is widespread in technologically advanced South Korea
  • South Korea has proven fertile ground for religious groups with strong, unambiguous ideologies that offered comfort and salvation
SEOUL: A South Korean cult leader was convicted Thursday of the multiple rape of eight female followers — some of whom believed he was God — and jailed for 15 years.
Pastor Lee Jaerock’s victims were “unable to resist as they were subject to the accused’s absolute religious authority,” judge Chung Moon-sung told the Seoul Central District Court.
Religious devotion is widespread in technologically advanced South Korea, with 44 percent of people identifying themselves as believers.
Most belong to mainstream churches, which can accumulate wealth and influence with tens of thousands of followers donating as much as 10 percent of their income.
But fringe groups are also widespread — experts say around 60 people in the country claim to be divine — and some have been implicated in fraud, brainwashing, coercion, and other behavior associated with cults worldwide.
Lee set up the Manmin Central Church in Guro, once a poor area of Seoul, with just 12 followers in 1982. It has now grown to 130,000 members, with a spotlight-filled auditorium, sprawling headquarters, and a website replete with claims of miracle cures.
But three of Lee’s followers went public earlier this year, as South Korea was swept with a wave of #MeToo accusations, describing how he had summoned each of them to an apartment and raped them.
“I was unable to turn him down,” one of them told South Korean television.
“He was more than a king. He was God,” added the woman, who had been a church member since childhood.
Lee told another that she was now in Heaven, and to strip as Adam and Eve went naked in the Garden of Eden. “I cried as I hated to do it,” she told JTBC television.
Eight women laid criminal complaints, and the court found Lee raped and molested them “tens of times” over a long period.
“Through his sermons the accused has indirectly or directly suggested he is the holy spirit, deifying himself,” the judge said.
The victims believed him to be “a divine being who wields divine power,” he added.
Lee stood with his eyes closed as the judgment was read, showing no emotion.
The 75-year-old had denied the charges, his lawyers accusing the women of lying to seek vengeance after being excommunicated for breaching church rules.
Around 100 followers filled the courtroom to overflowing, some of them sighing quietly.
But former congregants denounced Lee outside.
“The Manmin Central Church is all about worshipping the pastor Lee Jaerock,” said Kim Yu-sun, who was a member for 20 years.
South Korea has proven fertile ground for religious groups with strong, unambiguous ideologies that offered comfort and salvation, which appealed strongly during times of deep uncertainty.
More recent versions have claimed a unique knowledge of the path to material and spiritual prosperity — a message that resonates in a highly competitive and status-focused society.