Rival rallies as Erdogan opens mega mosque in Cologne

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Cars passing the new central mosque in Cologne, Germany, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (AP)
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The new central mosque is pictured in Cologne, Germany, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (AP)
Updated 29 September 2018
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Rival rallies as Erdogan opens mega mosque in Cologne

  • The inauguration will be the closing event of his three-day state visit, aimed at repairing frayed ties with Berlin after two years of tensions.
  • Some 10,000 Erdogan critics are expected to take to the streets in Cologne.

COLOGNE: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was to open one of Europe’s largest mosques in Cologne on Saturday as he wrapped up a controversial visit to Germany, with police deploying in force to manage the rival rallies.
The inauguration will mark the closing event of his three-day state visit, aimed at repairing frayed ties with Berlin after two years of tensions.
Erdogan left the German capital after a breakfast meeting with Angela Merkel, their second talks in two days.
While both leaders signalled their interest in a cautious rapprochement, the German chancellor stressed that “deep differences” remained on civil rights and other issues.
Erdogan then traveled to the western city of Cologne where several thousand critics took to the streets, protesting everything from Turkey’s record on human rights and press freedom to its treatment of minority Kurds.
On the bank of the Rhine, demonstrators waved banners reading: “Erdogan not welcome.”
Cansu, a 30-year-old student of Turkish origin, came from Switzerland to join the protest.
“I want to be the voice of people who can’t take to the streets in Turkey. Because they have been arrested, killed or otherwise suppressed. Erdogan thinks anything that differs from his opinion is terrorism.”
Tomas, a German student, turned up in a white suit splattered with fake blood. He and several others carried a giant banner that read “Dictator. Mass murderer.”
“We are here to show Cologne does not want you,” the 22-year-old said.
Erdogan supporters meanwhile gathered at the Cologne Central Mosque, an imposing dome-shaped building commissioned by the Turkish-controlled Ditib organization.
Cologne police cordoned off a large area around the mosque for safety reasons, but thousands of Erdogan supporters spilled into closed-off side streets, eager for a glimpse of the Turkish leader.
Many waved Turkey’s red and white flag or held up pictures of Erdogan, with the crowd occasionally breaking into cheerful chants of “Who is the greatest? Turkey!“
“Erdogan is very popular because he has done a lot for his people,” said Yusuf Simsek, 42, a computer technician with Turkish roots.
Semra, a 41-year-old kitchen worker, agreed.
“I don’t care about the criticism. He’s doing everything that’s right for Turkey and we are fully behind him.”
Both Cologne mayor Henriette Reker and the state’s premier Armin Laschet declined to attend the mosque ceremony.
The snubs echoed the lukewarm welcome the Turkish leader received at a state dinner on Friday evening hosted by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, which several opposition politicians boycotted. Merkel also skipped the banquet.
Ties between the two NATO countries soured after Berlin criticized Ankara’s crackdown on opponents following a failed 2016 coup, which saw tens of thousands arrested.
Tensions eased somewhat after several high-profile German-Turkish nationals were released this year, but five remain behind bars.
Merkel, whose country is home to more than three million ethnic Turks, stressed the need for continued dialogue to overcome disagreements.
But she also highlighted Germany’s interest in a “stable” Turkey, which she relies on to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe.
Erdogan, seeking international allies as he spars with US President Donald Trump and the Turkish economy is in turmoil, likewise struck a conciliatory tone.
But he also pressed Germany to take stronger action against “terrorists” like supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or followers of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for the coup attempt.
Cologne is located in North Rhine-Westphalia state which is home to significant numbers of ethnic Turks, many of whom moved to Germany as so-called “guest workers” from the 1960s.
The giant Cologne Central Mosque finally opened its doors in 2017 after eight years of construction and budget overruns.
The size of the building, designed to resemble a flower bud opening, and its two towering minarets has disgruntled some locals, triggering occasional protests.
The Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib) that commissioned the glass and cement structure is itself not without controversy.
The group runs hundreds of mosques across Germany with imams paid by the Turkish state.
Known for its close ties to Ankara, it has increasingly come under scrutiny with some of its members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany.


India’s population skews young, which may sway its elections

Updated 1 min 49 sec ago
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India’s population skews young, which may sway its elections

NEW DELHI: Young Indians could play a crucial role in the ongoing general election in the world’s largest democracy.
With nearly two-thirds of India’s population below 35, and more than 15 million first-time voters aged 18 and 19, young men and women have the power to swing the national vote in any direction.
Ambitious, aspirational and impatient for change, young voters — at least in India’s capital — are less focused on issues such as caste and religion than older generations, according to interviews with The Associated Press.
They are interested, instead, on landing jobs after college, living in cleaner cities with breathable air, increasing women’s safety and competing with the world’s biggest economies.
Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be the favorite, riding a wave of Hindu nationalism that peaked after India’s air force attacked an alleged militant base in Pakistan to avenge a suicide attack that killed more than 40 soldiers in disputed Kashmir.
His main opponent, Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi, hopes to revive the glory of India’s grand old party that ruled the country for more than 50 years, since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
Here are some of the views of young voters in New Delhi:
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Mayank Thakur, 18, engineering student
“Unemployment is very high in India currently. India has a lot of engineers who haven’t been able to develop their skills because there aren’t enough jobs for them in India.”
“Narendra Modi has provided a lot of facilities for the poor people of this country. In my home state of Uttar Pradesh, villages that were rarely lit now have electricity. Where food used to be cooked on firewood, he has given gas cylinders.”
“India is now a very secure nation in the last five years. When Pakistan attacked us, Narendra Modi gave them a jaw-breaking reply.”
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Vardha Kharbanda, 20, psychology student
“I am looking out for an issue that no government is actually talking about, that is pollution. I have been in Delhi for my entire life and my lungs are gone without ever smoking. So I might just die of lung cancer without touching a cigarette even once. Nobody is talking about pollution.”
“No left and no right can actually run a secular and democratic nation that is multilingual and multicultural in nature. It cannot be done with a single ideology.”
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Arjun Parcha, 32, hospital supplies assistant
“Nowadays, whoever comes into power is busy serving their own interests. Who is looking out for us? Nobody. They are only looking at filling their own pockets. What has happened? Every day we hear about fighting. One party blames the other for corruption, the other blames them back for corruption. There is no solution.”
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Jitesh Nagpal, 20, university student
“For me the biggest issue is job opportunities. Whichever party creates more jobs for the new industries will get my vote because I will have to start looking for jobs very soon.”
“I don’t care much about parties, but there is just one clear candidate for victory and that is Narendra Modi. I don’t think we have a better option to lead the country.”
“I haven’t seen any other strong candidate. I don’t trust Rahul Gandhi yet. Maybe my views about him will change in the future, but not right now.”
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Rajanvir Singh Luthra, 23, YouTube vlogger
“Whichever government comes to power, the first thing they should do is to look after the poor because the rate of poverty is very high in India. No doubt, we now have digital India, we have everything online, but do something for the poor people also.”
“India is still not on top. We don’t have basic facilities. If you go to a government hospital, you have to stand in long lines. You can only go in after waiting and filling forms. A lot of our police officers and other officers are corrupt. There is a lot of corruption in India.”
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Monika Dalal, 20, psychology student
“Women’s safety is the major issue for me. People are talking a lot about it and there are slogans like ‘Save girl child, educate girl child,’ being launched, but I don’t think these concepts are applied to the roots with practicality. I have been to the villages and seen how girls are treated. They are not even educated and if they do go to school, they are forced to marry right after completing grade 12.”
“Modi has done a lot definitely to help us establish ourselves globally and even in the UN By him visiting different countries we are getting recognition there. And they are coming up with some impressive projects to start in India, which has happened because of Modi. So, I think we have really progressed.”
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Kavita Srivastava, 18, studying banking and financial services
“The biggest issue in Delhi is girls’ safety, which is still not 100%.”
“Girls should feel safe leaving their homes and going out at whatever time of the night.”
“I don’t think Rahul Gandhi is the best option. I too am in support of Narendra Modi. I think he has the potential to take India to those heights.”
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Ashutosh Kumar Singh, 24, charity worker
“The issues that should be important aren’t even being discussed. We don’t see or hear about them. The issue should be education and increasing the level of education. Employment should be an issue. And they are working toward that, but it is not considered an important issue. Currently, the state of politics is so lowly in India that people are just busy in pointing fingers and avoiding key issues.”
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Mohammad Anjar, 18, engineering student
“At present only Narendra Modi is fit to run this country because they have done a tremendous amount of work in the last five years. The Modi government is taking the country forward. At least, that is what I hear.”
“Everyone should cast their votes. We all sit at home and say ‘This government is not working, that government is not working.’ Get out of your homes and vote as it is an invaluable weapon.”
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Associated Press video journalist Shonal Ganguly contributed to this report.