Pilgrims gather at Jesus’s traditional birthplace in Bethlehem for Christmas

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The first church was built on the site in the fourth century, though it was replaced after a fire in the sixth century. (AFP)
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Bethlehem is buzzing, with more tourists expected this Christmas than have visited in years, but it is causing some unexpected problems. (AFP)
Updated 24 December 2018

Pilgrims gather at Jesus’s traditional birthplace in Bethlehem for Christmas

  • Bethlehem has seen an increase in visitors this season after several down years due to unrest linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • This year, visitors are able to view the Church of the Nativity’s newly restored mosaics

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories: Pilgrims from across the world gathered in Bethlehem on Monday for Christmas Eve, taking in a parade and queueing to see the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born.
The Palestinian scouts and a bagpipe band paraded in Manger Square across from the Church of the Nativity, built at the traditional site of Jesus’s birth.
Crowds, some wearing Santa hats or holding balloons, looked on at the square decked out with a giant Christmas tree and a manger as carols in Arabic played through speakers.
The Catholic archbishop for the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, was due to arrive in the afternoon and will later lead midnight mass.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to be among dignitaries attending the mass.
This year, visitors are able to view the Church of the Nativity’s newly restored mosaics after they were recently cleaned and repaired in a major project.
The first church was built on the site in the fourth century, though it was replaced after a fire in the sixth century.
A newer and more spacious church, St. Catherine, is located next door.
“It’s a great opportunity to be in such a symbolic location for Christmas,” said Lea Gudel, a 21-year-old French exchange student studying in Jerusalem and who was in Manger Square on Monday morning.
Bethlehem, located in the occupied West Bank near Jerusalem but cut off from the city by Israel’s separation barrier, has seen an increase in visitors this season after several down years due to unrest linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinian tourism officials and hotel operators have reported their strongest season in years.
“This year is much more calm, much better than last year,” said Abeer Nasser, a Palestinian from the nearby town of Beit Sahour who was with her son and daughter and was planning to attend midnight mass.
“Every year I feel more in the mood to celebrate despite the political situation,” the 37-year-old added, referring to the Israeli occupation.


Turkey’s rulers plot law changes to block breakaway parties’ power grab

Updated 28 May 2020

Turkey’s rulers plot law changes to block breakaway parties’ power grab

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP is working on a plan to stop parliamentary deputies from transferring to other parties

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is looking at ways to change electoral laws in order to block challenges to power from two new breakaway political parties.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP and its nationalist coalition partner the MHP are working on a plan to stop parliamentary deputies from transferring to other parties — a move that has fueled rumors of an imminent snap election in the country.

Under Turkish election rules, political parties must settle their organization procedures in at least half of the nation’s cities and hold their first convention six months ahead of an election date.

Any political party with 20 lawmakers in Turkey’s parliament is entitled to take part in elections and be eligible for financial aid from the treasury for the electoral process.

The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has hinted at the possibility of transferring some CHP lawmakers to the newly founded parties to secure their participation in elections.

Turkey’s ex-premier, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the country’s former economy czar, Ali Babacan, both longtime allies of Erdogan, recently left the AKP to establish their own opposition groups, and have come under pressure from the AKP and MHP to leave their parties out of the race.

Babacan has been critical of Erdogan’s move away from a parliamentary system of governance in Turkey to one providing the president with wide-ranging powers without any strong checks and balances.

“The AKP is abolishing what it built with its own hands. The reputation and the economy of the country is in ruins. The number of competent people has declined in the ruling party. Decisions are being taken without consultations and inside a family,” Babacan said in a recent interview.

He also claimed that AKP officials were competing against each other for personal financial gain.

Babacan, a founding member of the AKP, was highly respected among foreign investors during his time running the economy. He resigned from the party last year over “deep differences” to set up his DEVA grouping on March 9 with a diverse team of former AKP officials and liberal figures.

Berk Esen, a political analyst from Ankara’s Bilkent University, believes Babacan’s recent statements have angered Erdogan.

“As a technocrat, Babacan gains respect from secular circles as well as the international community, which Erdogan clearly lacks. Despite being in office for 13 years, Babacan has not been tainted by corruption allegations and is known as the chief architect of Turkey’s rapid economic growth during the AKP’s first two terms,” he told Arab News.

“The legislation that the AKP-MHP coalition is working on may prevent deputy transfer only in case early elections are scheduled for the fall. Otherwise, the newly established parties will most likely build their organizations across the country and become viable for elections by summer, if not the spring of 2021.”

If Davutoglu and Babacan were successful in capturing disillusioned voters, they could prevent the ruling coalition getting the 51 percent of votes needed to secure a parliamentary majority.