Australian PM welcomes ‘moderation’ from Erdogan

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on March 20, 2019. (AAP Image/Andrew Taylor/via REUTERS)
Updated 21 March 2019
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Australian PM welcomes ‘moderation’ from Erdogan

  • Scott Morrison sees President Erdogan's column in the Washington Post as an "overnight progress"
  • The Turkish president had earlier painted the Christchurch attack as part of an assault on Turkey and Islam

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday welcomed some “moderation” in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
Trying to take the sting out of a diplomatic row that has threatened relations between Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, Morrison pointed to a recent Erdogan column in the Washington Post as progress.
“Overnight, progress has been made on this issue and overnight we’ve already seen a moderation of the president’s views,” Morrison said, citing the article in which Erdogan stepped away from direct criticism of New Zealand.
The Turkish leader — who is in full campaign mode ahead of local elections — still used the article to accuse Western countries of meeting Islamophobia with “silence.”
But Morrison took it as a diplomatic off-ramp nonetheless.
Morrison — who is also in full campaign mode, ahead of a general election — had on Wednesday pilloried Erdogan for his comments in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, describing them as “reckless” and “highly offensive.”
Erdogan has repeatedly used video footage of the massacre shot by the attacker who killed 50 people and painted the attack it as part of an assault on Turkey and Islam.
He had also warned that anti-Muslim Australians and New Zealanders would be “sent back in coffins” like their grandfathers at Gallipoli, a blood-drenched WWI battle.
His office on Wednesday said the remarks were taken out of context.
More than 8,000 Australians died fighting Turkish forces at Gallipoli, which has a prominent place in Australia’s collective memory.
Morrison had summoned the Turkish ambassador over the comments, dismissing the “excuses” offered and warning that relations were under review.
“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn,” he said.

Rambling manifesto
The gunman’s so-called “manifesto” — a 70-plus page rambling question and answer — mentions Turkey and the minarets of Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia, now a museum, that was once a church before becoming a mosque during the Ottoman empire.
Three Turkish nationals were wounded in the rampage that killed 50 worshippers at the mosques in the southern New Zealand city.
“President #Erdogan’s words were unfortunately taken out of context,” Fahrettin Altun, communications director for the Turkish presidency, claimed on Twitter.
Altun said Erdogan’s comments were in “a historical context of attacks against Turkey, past and present.”
“Turks have always been the most welcoming & gracious hosts to their #Anzac visitors,” he added, referring to Australian and New Zealand veterans and families who are expected to travel there for the anniversary on April 25.
Erdogan has built his political base on being a champion of Muslim Turks. For most of the last century, the country’s government has been avowedly secular.
Like leaders in Iran and Russia, Erdogan has also played on a sense that Turkey — the inheritor of the once-mighty Ottoman Empire — has not been given enough respect on the international stage.
Erdogan had earlier been sharply rebuked by New Zealand for his comments and for using gruesome video shot by the Christchurch mosque gunman as an election campaign prop.
New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters protested on Monday that such politicization of the massacre “imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and it’s totally unfair.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has sent Peters to Istanbul to meet with Turkish leaders on the issue this week.
In the Washington Post article Erdogan praised Ardern’s “courage, leadership and sincerity” in handling the crisis.


UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than insurgents

Updated 28 min 4 sec ago
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UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than insurgents

  • The report says 1,773 civilians were hurt or died in the first three months
  • This is a significant drop from the same period last year when 2,305 civilians were killed or wounded

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghan and international forces had killed more civilians than insurgents in the first three months of the year, the UN announced Wednesday, the first time the deaths caused by the government and its allies exceeded their enemies.
Still it was insurgents who were responsible for the majority of dead and wounded civilians combined, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s report, which was released in Kabul.
The report said 1,773 civilians were hurt or died in the first three months, which is a significant drop from the same period last year when 2,305 civilians were killed or wounded. Last year, many brutal suicide bombings were blamed for the high casualties.
Between Jan. 1 and March 31, the report said 581 civilians were killed and 1,192 were hurt. While insurgents caused a significant majority of the injuries, it was pro-government forces, including NATO, whch killed the majority of civilians. They were responsible for 305 civilian deaths, nearly half of them in airstrikes. The other heavy death toll took place during searches, according to the report.
At the same time, the government and international forces injured 303 civilians, compared to insurgent attacks that injured 736, the report said.
It’s the first time since 2009, when the UN began compiling statistics on civilian casualties, that the deaths as a result of actions by the government and its allies exceeded their enemies.
Most of the deaths were the result of aerial attacks, which were most often carried out by international forces. While the report does not identify the United States, it is the US that carries out airstrikes when called in to assist Afghan forces. It also follows a trend reported in last year’s UN annual report on civilian casualties, which showed a dramatic hike in civilian deaths by pro-government forces including more than 1,000 civilian casualties from airstrikes, the highest since the UN began keeping track 10 years ago.
In September last year, Masih Rahman’s entire family of 11 __ his wife, four daughters, three sons and four nephews __ were killed when a bomb flattened their home in Mullah Hafiz village in the Jaghatu district of Afghanistan’s central Maidan Wardak province.
“It’s not just my family, there are dozens of families just like mine who have been lost in bombings,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
Rahman was working in Iran when he was told his entire family had been killed in an airstrike on his village, which is controlled by the Taliban. Rahman has sought redress from the United Nations. He has taken his case to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, which put out its own report on civilian casualties on Tuesday.
In that report, the commission said 11,212 civilians were hurt or wounded between March 31, 2018, and March 31 this year. In just the last 10 years of Afghanistan’s 17-year war, the commission said 75,316 Afghan civilians had died.
“A shocking number of civilians continue to be killed and maimed each day,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.
He said that anti-government elements need to stop deliberately targeting civilians and using improvised bombs, which cause indiscriminate harm, while pro-government forces are called upon “to take immediate measures to mitigate the rising death toll and suffering caused by airstrikes and search operations.”