US rejects Turkey’s offer to release pastor

Defiant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whipped up nationalism at a party rally in Ankara. (AFP)
Updated 21 August 2018
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US rejects Turkey’s offer to release pastor

  • The assailants fired six bullets at an embassy security gate from a passing white vehicle around 5.30 a.m. local time (0230 GMT)
  • The lira has tumbled some 40 percent this year, hit by worries about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s administration has rejected Turkey’s offer to condition the release of an American pastor on clearing a top Turkish bank of billions of dollars in US fines, media reported on Monday.
Washington and Ankara are locked in a bitter feud over the nearly two-year jailing of Andrew Brunson over disputed terror charges, which has triggered a trade row and sent the lira into a tailspin.
In exchange for Brunson’s release, and that of other US citizens as well as three Turkish nationals working for the US government, Turkey asked Washington to drop a probe into Halkbank, which is facing possible fines for helping Iran evade US sanctions.
But the US said that discussions regarding the fines and other areas of dispute between the two countries were off the table until Brunson was released, a White House official told the Wall Street Journal.
“A real NATO ally wouldn’t have arrested Brunson in the first place,” the unnamed official said.
Trump has said he had doubled the tariffs on aluminum and steel tariffs from Turkey, prompting Ankara to sharply hike tariffs on several US products.

Court blow
A court has rejected another appeal to free Brunson and Turkey has threatened to respond in kind if Washington imposed further sanctions.
The lira has tumbled some 40 percent this year, hit by worries about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy and a worsening diplomatic rift with the US. The sell-off has spread to other emerging market currencies and global stocks in recent weeks.
Responding to the recent currency sell-off in stark religious and nationalist terms, Erdogan said an attack on Turkey’s economy was no different from a strike against its flag or the Islamic call to prayer.
In a pre-recorded address to mark the four-day Eid Al-Adha festival, a defiant Erdogan said the aim of the currency crisis was to bring “Turkey and its people to their knees.”
“The attack on our economy has absolutely no difference from attacks on our call to prayer and our flag. The goal is the same. The goal is to bring Turkey and the Turkish people to their knees — to take it prisoner,” Erdogan said in the televised address.
“Those who think they can make Turkey give in with the exchange rate will soon see that they are mistaken.”
Erdogan stopped short of directly naming any countries or institutions, but he has, in the past, blamed a shadowy “interest rate lobby,” Western ratings agencies and financiers.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities detained two men suspected of shooting at the US Embassy in Ankara.
Nobody was hurt in Monday’s attack, which President Erdogan’s spokesman condemned as an attempt “to create chaos.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it had increased security for the embassy and other US missions and employees in Turkey.
The assailants fired six bullets at an embassy security gate from a passing white vehicle around 5.30 a.m. local time (0230 GMT), three bullets hitting an iron door and a window, the Ankara governor’s office said.
The office issued another statement on Monday evening saying two men in their late 30s had been detained and a vehicle and pistol seized and that the men had confessed to the shooting.
It said both suspects had criminal records and their links were being investigated.
Video footage from broadcaster Haberturk showed police teams inspecting one of the entrances to the embassy and apparent damage caused by a gunshot could be seen in one window. It said empty cartridges were found at the scene.


Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

Updated 18 September 2018
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Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

  • Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport
  • Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the country

TRIPOLI: New clashes flared between rival militias south of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Tuesday, causing widespread power outages, the national electricity firm said.
The fighting underscored the fragility of a United Nations-backed cease-fire reached earlier this month after days of deadly violence between armed groups in the capital, beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport, according to witnesses including an AFP journalist.
Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the North African nation’s south and west.
Fighting which broke out late last month killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — before the cease-fire came into effect on September 4.
Last week, the capital’s only working airport came under rocket fire just days after reopening following the truce.
Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia which serves as Tripoli’s police force and has been involved in clashes around the capital.
Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said Monday that a “regular force” would be tasked with securing the airport.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame later reported 14 cease-fire violations around Tripoli, but sought to play them down, saying the deal had been “generally respected.”
Tripoli’s main airport has been out of action since it was severely damaged by similar clashes in 2014.
Since Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, oil-rich Libya has been rocked by violence between dozens of armed groups vying for control of its cities and vast oil resources.
A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 established the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a bid to ease the chaos.
But deep divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya and backs a competing authority.
The GNA last week announced a series of measures to secure the capital and curb the influence of militias over state institutions and banks.