Mayoral rivals to hold Turkey’s first TV debate in two decades

Candidate for the Istanbul re-run for the mayor’s election, Ekrem Imamoglu, center, poses for a picture with party members in Istanbul. (AFP)
Updated 10 June 2019
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Mayoral rivals to hold Turkey’s first TV debate in two decades

  • The two candidates will hold a debate on June 16, to be broadcast on all channels

ANKARA: Istanbul’s ousted main opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and his AK Party rival Binali Yildirim will hold a televised debate on June 16, party officials said on Monday, in what will be the first debate of its kind in Turkey in nearly two decades.

The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Imamoglu won a narrow victory over Yildirim in March 31 local elections, marking a painful shock for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. But after weeks of AK Party (AKP) appeals, Turkey’s election board annulled the vote over irregularities and set a re-run for June 23.

Speaking to reporters after two days of talks, AKP Chairman Mahir Unal and CHP Deputy Chairman Engin Altay said the two candidates will hold a debate on June 16 at 9 p.m. (1800 GMT) to be broadcast on all channels. Ismail Kucukkaya of the opposition broadcaster Fox TV will moderate.

The televised debate, which Imamoglu had proposed prior to the March 31 vote, would be the first of its kind in Turkey at any political level since the early 2000s, when Erdogan’s AKP came to power.

The two parties agreed on ground rules based on “the principle of objectivity” including “equal speaking time and questions” during the debate, Altay said.

Minutes after the announcement, Imamoglu tagged Yildirim in a tweet and said: “I will be very pleased to discuss all aspects of Istanbul with you on Sunday, June 16 at 21:00 under the moderation of Ismail Kucukkaya. Good luck.” 

Ankara-Russia missile deal

Separately, the head of the Turkish Defense Industries Directorate said on Monday the US has not moved to create a joint working group to assess its concerns regarding Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

Speaking to reporters after an event in Ankara, Ismail Demir said Turkish officials were preparing a response to a letter by acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, which outlined how Turkey would be pulled out the F-35 fighter jet program if it pressed on with the S-400 deal.

The two NATO allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s order for the S-400s, which Washington says poses a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy. Turkey proposed the joint working group.


Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Updated 24 June 2019
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Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.