Turkish president Erdogan holds controversial election rally in Bosnia

This handout photo released and taken on May 20, 2018 by the Turkish presidential press service shows Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), his wife Emine Erdogan and the chairman of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Bakir Izetbegovic (R) during a pre-election rally in Sarajevo on May 20, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2018

Turkish president Erdogan holds controversial election rally in Bosnia

SARAJEVO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday addressed thousands of expatriate Turks in Sarajevo at his only election rally outside Turkey after other European countries banned such events.
The Bosnian capital was chosen for the event — ahead of Ankara’s presidential and parliamentary elections next month — after European Union states such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands barred Turkish politicians from electioneering in their countries, stoking tensions between Ankara and Brussels.
Turkey is scheduled to go the polls on June 24, with three million expatriate Turks allowed to vote, including 1.4 million in Germany.
Several thousand people, according to an AFP reporter, converged on Sarajevo’s largest sports venue, Zetra, where the rally was held.
Many of the participants, who arrived from several European countries, including Germany, Austria, Denmark and France, were wearing scarves and banners carrying pictures of the Turkish leader, and waving Turkish flags.
Giant billboards welcomed Erdogan in Turkish and Bosnian.
Security for the event, the only one Erdogan will attend outside Turkey, was tight.
Despite the ban in other European countries, Bosnia had not been expected to stop Turkish politicians campaigning on its soil, given the close ties between Bosnian Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegovic and his SDA party and Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
According to Bosnian media, the AKP is also planning to open a representative office in Bosnia soon.
“Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and “Sultan Erdogan” the crowd chanted as Erdogan arrived accompanied by Izetbegovic.
Erdogan urged Turkish diaspora to get involved in the politics of their adopted countries and take citizenship.
“I have one request from you, take an active role in the political parties in the countries you live (in),” he told the crowd during a nearly hour-long speech.
“You should take a place in those parliaments....”
Host Izetbegovic, who is also the Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, urged the crowd to vote for Erdogan labelling him a “man God sent to you.”
Nevertheless, Erdogan’s visit stirred controversy in Bosnia and support for it was not unanimous.
“Why hold a rally in Bosnia rather than in Turkey. Of course, I mind,” pensioner Spomenka Beus, 74, told AFP.
However, Muhamed Yanik, a 20-year-old student, said he had traveled 28 hours by bus from Germany to see Erdogan.
“If he says so, we will die for him,” Yanik said.
But others, such as theater director Dino Mustafic, felt Erdogan’s visit harked back to the colonial times of the Ottoman Empire, when the Balkans, notably Bosnia, were ruled by the Ottomans for more than four centuries until 1878.
The event would be an occasion for “poor local people to euphorically applaud their sultan,” he tweeted.
Bosnian Serb leader Milord Dodik accused the Turkish leader of “interfering” in Bosnia’s affairs.
But Erdogan said Turkey had “no hidden agenda.”
Turkey has excellent relations with Bosnia and Turkish companies have played a major role in the country’s reconstruction following its 1990s inter-ethnic war.
Erdogan has called snap presidential and parliamentary elections for June 24, bringing the polls forward by a year-and a half.
Half of Bosnia’s 3.5 million citizens are Muslims, a third are Serbs, while Croats make some 15 percent of the population.
The expatriate European vote is generally a source of support for Erdogan’s AKP and officials are keen to rouse a strong turnout in Europe.
The early election in Turkey is set to accelerate its transition to the new presidential system with full executive powers which critics fear will lead to a one-man rule.

Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019

Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.