Turkey must free prisoners to mend ties with EU, Germany says

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gives a statement prior to an informal meeting of EU — Foreign Ministers (Gymnich) in Vienna, Austria, on August 30, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 31 August 2018
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Turkey must free prisoners to mend ties with EU, Germany says

VIENNA: Turkey cannot revive its strained relationship with the European Union until it frees German citizens it has detained, Germany’s foreign minister said on Friday as his Turkish counterpart called for a fresh start with the bloc.
Turkey, which has had awkward relations with Europe for several years, is seeking to mend them at a time when its currency has been falling and its ties with the United States have sharply deteriorated.
Germany says 50 of its citizens are being held in Turkish prisons following a crackdown after a failed coup in July 2016. Only seven have been charged. Another 35 are blocked from leaving the country.
“These cases must be resolved,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who will make his first official trip to Ankara next week, told reporters during a meeting between EU foreign ministers and countries aspiring to join the European Union, including Turkey.
“That would be a step toward normalizing relations with Germany, but also with the European Union,” he said, adding that he would press the issue during his two-day trip to Ankara and Istanbul from Wednesday.
Ties between Germany and Turkey, both members of the US-led NATO alliance, have been extremely tense since Berlin condemned Ankara’s arrests of some 50,000 people and the suspension or firing of 150,000 in the post-coup crackdown.
There has however been a slight thaw in recent months after Turkey released one German-Turkish journalist and allowed another German citizen to leave the country.
Talks with Turkey on EU membership were effectively suspended last year, although Ankara remains a candidate.
Ankara says the scale of its crackdown is justified by the gravity of events on July 15, 2016, when rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, planes and helicopters, bombing parliament and government buildings in their attempt to seize power.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in Vienna that the EU failed to understand Turkey’s security challenge.
“We don’t have any problem with the EU or with Europe, we are part of this continent,” Cavusoglu told reporters. “Yes we have some issues with the European Union, particularly after the attempted coup. The measures we had to take were not understood by Europe ... but now we want to normalize our relations.”
As well as reviving stalled EU membership talks, Ankara wants more EU money to house Syrian refugees, a deeper customs union with the bloc and progress in talks on letting Turks visit the EU without visas.
The EU is wary of what it sees as rapid backsliding on democracy and human rights in Turkey, and was angered by rehetoric from President Tayyip Erdogan last year, including comparing the Dutch and German governments to Nazis.
Asked in Vienna if Turkey needed economic aid from the European Union to stop the fall in the value of the Turkish lira, Maas said: “The first thing for Turkey is to complete the conditions for normalization ... the ball is in Turkey’s court.”


Trump aims new blasts at McCain, claims credit for funeral

Updated 21 March 2019
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Trump aims new blasts at McCain, claims credit for funeral

  • Trump ranted without citing evidence that McCain had pushed for a war and failed America’s veterans
  • Not only the McCain family but the nation “deserves better” than Trump’s disparagement — Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia

WASHINGTON: Casting aside rare censure from Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump aimed new blasts of invective at the late John McCain Wednesday, even claiming credit for the senator’s moving Washington funeral and complaining he was never properly thanked.
By the time the president began his anti-McCain tirade in Ohio, several leading Republicans had signaled a new willingness to defy Trump by defending the Vietnam War veteran as a hero seven months after he died of brain cancer. One GOP senator called Trump’s remarks “deplorable.”
Trump then launched a lengthy rant in which he claimed without citing evidence that McCain had pushed for a war and failed America’s veterans.
“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted,” Trump told reporters at a campaign-style rally in Lima, Ohio. “I didn’t get (a) thank you but that’s OK.”
In fact, McCain’s family made clear that Trump was not welcome during the week-long, cross-country ceremonies that the senator had planned himself. Instead, McCain invited former Presidents George W. Bush, who defeated McCain during the 2000 GOP nomination fight, and Barack Obama, who defeated him in 2008, to deliver eulogies on the value of pursuing goals greater than oneself. Trump signed off on the military transport of McCain’s body, went golfing and was uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter during the Washington events.
Trump’s publicly nursed grudge against McCain has not appeared to alienate core supporters, some of whom had soured on the senator by the time of his death. Aware of this, GOP lawmakers until now have stayed subdued or silent though Trump sometimes infuriated them with his comments on their late colleague.
McCain’s allies suggested it was time for that to change.
“I hope (Trump’s) indecency to John’s memory and to the McCain family will convince more officeholders that they can’t ignore the damage Trump is doing to politics and to the country’s well-being or remain silent despite their concerns,” said Mark Salter, McCain’s biographer. “They must speak up.”
Trump has said for years that he doesn’t think McCain is a hero because the senator was captured in Vietnam. McCain was tortured and held prisoner for more than five years.
The president has never served in the military and obtained a series of deferments to avoid going to Vietnam, including one attained with a physician’s letter stating that he suffered from bone spurs in his feet.
One McCain Senate vote in particular is the thumbs-down Trump can’t seem to forget. The Arizona senator in 2017 sank the GOP effort to repeal Obama’s health care law. Trump was furious, and it showed even in the days after McCain’s death last August. The administration lowered the American flag over the White House to half-staff when McCain died on a Saturday, but then raised it by Monday. After public outcry, the White House flags were again lowered.
This week, Trump unloaded a new series of anti-McCain tweets in which he said he never had been “a fan” and never would be.
His relentless new targeting of the deceased senator seemed to cross a boundary for several Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called McCain “a rare patriot and genuine American hero in the Senate.” McConnell tweeted, “His memory continues to remind me every day that our nation is sustained by the sacrifices of heroes.”
The Kentucky Republican, who is up for re-election next year, never mentioned Trump, but others weren’t so shy.
Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia said not only the McCain family but the nation “deserves better” than Trump’s disparagement.
“I don’t care if he’s president of the United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world,” Isakson told The Bulwark, a conservative news and opinion website. Later, Isakson called Trump’s remarks “deplorable.”
“It will (be) deplorable seven months from now if he says it again,” Isakson continued in remarks on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Political Rewind radio show, “and I will continue to speak out.”
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee whom Trump briefly considered nominating as secretary of state, tweeted praise for McCain on Tuesday — and criticism of Trump.
“I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God,” Romney wrote.
Pushback also came from Sen. Martha McSally, a Republican Air Force veteran appointed to McCain’s seat from Arizona.
“John McCain is an American hero and I am thankful for his life of service and legacy to our country and Arizona,” she tweeted Wednesday. “Everyone should give him and his family the respect, admiration, and peace they deserve.”
That McSally declined to criticize Trump directly reflected the broader wariness among Republicans to cross a president famous for mobilizing his followers against GOP lawmakers he deems disloyal. But this week, Trump seemed to inspire a new determination among some to draw a line, however delicately.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who wept openly on the Senate floor after McCain died but has allied himself strongly with Trump, said, “I think the president’s comments about Sen. McCain hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Sen. McCain.”
“A lot of people are coming to John’s defense now. ... I don’t like it when he says things about my friend John McCain.”
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, were eager to jump into the uproar.
“I look forward to soon re-introducing my legislation re-naming the Senate Russell Building after American hero, Senator John McCain,” tweeted Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York.