Kurds to rally in Turkey ahead of key local elections

People's Democratic Party, or HDP, hopes to rally more votes for the secular opposition party in Turkey. (AFP/File)
Updated 24 March 2019
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Kurds to rally in Turkey ahead of key local elections

  • Turkey imprisoned some Kurdish party members for links with militant groups
  • Kurdish militant organizations are listed as terrorist groups in Turkey and some Western countries

ISTANBUL: Thousands of supporters of a pro-Kurdish party gathered Sunday in Istanbul to celebrate the Kurdish New Year and to attend a campaign rally for local elections that will test the Turkish president’s popularity.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, held the event amid the municipal office races that have become polarizing and a government crackdown on its members for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

Party lawmakers, including former chairman Selahattin Demirtas, and mayors have been jailed. Supporters at Sunday’s rally waved HDP flags and chanted slogans for Demirtas and the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Security at Sunday’s event was heavy and police controlled the rally entrance, but the atmosphere was celebratory.

The Newroz fire, which symbolizes purification and the arrival of spring, was burning in Istanbul, following days of celebrations in southeastern Turkey.

The party has fielded candidates for the March 31 votes in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast but is sitting out critical races in Turkey’s major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara.

The strategy is intended to deliver HDP votes to Turkey’s main secular opposition Republican People’s Party so it can challenge Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party.

Millions of ethnic Kurds will vote in the elections. Erdogan, who is also campaigning for Kurdish votes, plans to hold a massive election rally near HDP’s on Sunday.

In the southeast, the party aims to win back control of municipalities that were seized by the government during a state of emergency declared after the 2016 failed coup. Government-appointed trustees replaced elected officials in nearly a hundred municipalities.

In October, Erdogan threatened not to accept such an outcome.

“If people involved with terror are chosen in the ballot boxes in these elections, we’ll immediately do what’s necessary and continue on our path by appointing trustees,” he said.

The government accuses HDP politicians of links to PKK, and Erdogan regularly brands them terrorists and traitors. The HDP does not deny such links but says it only advocates for Kurdish rights and democracy through legal, political means.

The PKK, considered a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies, has waged an insurgency since 1984 and the conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

A fragile cease-fire held for more than two years as the Turkish government, HDP politicians and the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, negotiated a peace process.

But the resumption of hostilities in the summer of 2015 brought clashes to southeastern cities where round-the-clock curfews were declared. Since then, at least 4,280 people have been killed, including civilians, according to the International Crisis Group.

A string of bomb attacks claimed by PKK and its offshoots hit Turkish cities in 2016 and 2017 and the country’s jets regularly strike PKK camps in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq.


‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019
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‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

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Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 

 

Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.


'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.