Turkey to expand cross-border military operations

Turkish President Erdogan has vowed to expand operations in northern Syria. (AFP)
Updated 19 August 2018
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Turkey to expand cross-border military operations

  • We will not surrender to those who present themselves as a strategic partner
  • Beijing first commented on the issue on Friday in a Foreign Ministry statement in which it offered moral support to Turkey

SHANGHAI: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) congress that Turkey would press on with and expand its cross-border military operations.
Turkey sent troops into northern Syria two years ago to fight against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-Arab alliance that has received extensive backing from the US-led coalition in the battle against Daesh.
But Turkey accuses the YPG of being the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies.
The Turkish army has also increased its strikes against PKK rear bases in the north of Iraq in the past few months.
Erdogan also declared on Saturday that his country would not be cowed by the US.
The two countries are at odds over Turkey’s detention of an American pastor, which has triggered a trade row and sent the local currency the lira into a tailspin.

Strategic target
“We will not surrender to those who present themselves as a strategic partner while at the same time trying to make us a strategic target,” Erdogan said at the congress.
“Some people threaten us with economy, sanctions, foreign currency exchange rates, interest rates and inflation. We know your shenanigans and we will defy you.”
Last week, US President Donald Trump said he had doubled the tariffs on aluminum and steel tariffs from Turkey, prompting Ankara to sharply hike tariffs on several US products.
And Turkey on Friday threatened to respond in kind if Washington imposed further sanctions, while a court rejected another appeal to free pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held for almost two years on terror charges.
The lira has nosedived against the dollar, dropping as much as 20 percent on one day last week. It sunk to a low of well over seven to the dollar earlier this week but was trading at just over six to the dollar on Friday — a loss of 40 percent since the start of the year.
The collapse of the currency has been blamed both on the tensions with the US and Erdogan’s increasing hold on Turkey’s economy and his refusal to allow the central bank to raise interest rates.
On Saturday, China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, told Turkey’s foreign minister that Beijing supports the Turkish government’s efforts to safeguard security and economic stability and believes that it will overcome its “temporary difficulties.”
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Wang had made the comments in a phone call with the Turkish Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The Turkish lira has lost a third of its value against the dollar this year as worsening relations between Turkey and the US added to losses driven by concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy.
Cavusoglu spoke about the current situation in Turkey during the phone call and said his government was willing to strengthen strategic communication with China, the statement said.
Beijing first commented on the issue on Friday in a Foreign Ministry statement in which it offered moral support to Turkey.


Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, the Olypmpia swimmer, escaped conflict in her homeland. A year later she famously competed at the Rio Olympics. (Photo/UNHCR)
Updated 22 July 2019
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Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

  • The 21-year-old girl almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago

GWANGJU/SOUTH KOREA: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.

Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1 minute 8.79 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Refugee swimmer Mardini knows what she is talking about when it comes to family separation for asylum seekers.
In 2015, she and her sister Sarah had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.
They then embarked on an overland trip from Greece to Germany, evading local authorities in countries with immigration policies that barred them from legal entry. Along the way the sisters slept in train stations or wherever they could find shelter.
Mardini empathizes with families currently separated along the US southern border.
“This is the most terrible thing anyone can have — to live without a mom or to live without a family,” she said on Sunday at the world swimming championships where she’s competing as an independent athlete.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.

FASTFACT

• In 2015, she and her sister had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.

• Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the UN General Assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“I know people who lost their moms on the way or in the water — that got drowned — and I feel this is terrible,” she said.
Mardini said that from the time she left Syria she lived without her mother for six months. Eventually, they were reunited in Germany, where they now live in Berlin. “I felt so alone,” she said. “So lonely.”
The experience has prompted her to stand up for fellow asylum seekers in similar situations.
“Someone has to do something about it,” Mardini said. “The least we can do is talk about it, not just ignore it like everything else happening in the world.”
Mardini finished 47th out of 52 swimmers in the 100-meter butterfly heats on Sunday. Her other event in Gwangju is the 100 freestyle on Thursday.
She is attempting to again qualify for the Olympics as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.
“My goal now is just to swim a new personal best,” she said. “And my next goal will be Tokyo 2020.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”