Japan’s Abe urges Iran to play ‘constructive role’

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, waves to well-wishers upon his departure at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on June 12, 2019 for a two-day visit to Iran. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2019
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Japan’s Abe urges Iran to play ‘constructive role’

  • Japanese PM said an armed clash 'must be avoided' as he met Hassan Rouhani in Tehran

TEHRAN: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged Tehran to play a “constructive role” for Middle East peace Wednesday during a rare diplomatic mission to the Islamic republic aimed at defusing US-Iran tensions.

Iran has been locked in a bitter standoff with the United States since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal in May last year.

Washington has since reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions - which have forced Tokyo to halt its once-substantial purchases of Iranian oil - and launched a military buildup in the Gulf.

“It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East,” Abe told a joint news conference in Tehran with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

“Today, tension is rising in the Middle East. Some experts point out that the conflict might be triggered accidentally, said Abe.

An armed clash “must be avoided by all means,” the premier stressed.

The “peace and stability of the Middle East is indispensable for the prosperity not only of this region but of the entire world.

“Japan wishes to play an utmost role in its capacity to ease the tension. This is the one single thought that brought me to Iran," he added.

Addressing the same news conference, Rouhani said he expected a “very positive change” in the Middle East and the world if the United States stops its economic pressure on Iran through sanctions.

“We will not initiate a conflict in the region, even against the US, but if a war starts against us we will then give a crushing response,” the Iranian president added.

Abe began his visit to Iran on Wednesday, the first by a Japanese prime minister in 41 years, with the stated aim of defusing tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Japan stopped importing Iranian crude oil in May to comply with US sanctions against Iran.

The Asian powerhouse has an interest in keeping the Middle East stable in order to ensure the flow of cheap hydrocarbons to fuel its economy.

Rouhani said he saw “Japan's interest in continuing to buy oil from Iran and fixing financial issues” as a “guarantee” for the ongoing development of bilateral ties.

The Iranian president also underlined a convergence of views with his visitor on the issue of nuclear weapons, which he said “both of us are against.”

The Japanese premier is expected to meet supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Thursday morning.

Abe discussed “the situation in Iran” in a telephone call with Trump on Tuesday, a Japanese government spokesman said.

The Japanese prime minister won Trump's blessing for the mediation mission when the US president visited Tokyo last month.


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.