Utrecht attack: The Erdogan connection?

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party during a rally in Antalya, Turkey, on March 17, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
Updated 19 March 2019

Utrecht attack: The Erdogan connection?

  • Saturday, 4 p.m.: Turkish president uses footage of Christchurch massacre to inflame election supporters
  • Monday, 11 a.m: Turkish gunman in Netherlands shoots three people dead in rampage on tram

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was heavily criticized on Monday for using the New Zealand mosque terrorist’s video footage to inflame his supporters at election rallies.

After Erdogan spoke, a Turkish gunman in the Netherlands shot three people dead on a tram. Gokmen Tanis, 37, was arrested on Monday night after an eight-hour manhunt in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Police said initially the incident was a terrorist attack, but they have not ruled out a family dispute.

The Turkish leader used the video footage, filmed by Brenton Tarrant as he killed 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch on Friday, at a series of election rallies the following day. He said Tarrant’s manifesto was to keep Turks from Europe.

As the footage of Friday’s attack played on a screen, Erdogan said: “What does it say? That we shouldn’t go west of the Bosphorus, meaning Europe. Otherwise, he would come to Istanbul, kill us all, drive us out of our land.”

Erdogan’s use of the video footage, which social media companies have been trying to block from their sites, was condemned in both New Zealand and Turkey. New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters raised the issue on a visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

 

“Anything of that nature that misrepresents this country … imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and it’s totally unfair,” Peters said.

“We had a long dialogue on the need for any other country, or Turkey for that matter, to ensure that our country, New Zealand, was not misrepresented.”

Turkey’s main opposition CHP party spokesman Faik Oztrak, said: “Is it worth showing this bloody massacre in order to gain a few more votes?”

In Utrecht, the man arrested for shooting dead three people on a tram had been detained previously on suspicion of being connected to Daesh, after he went to Chechnya to fight.

Gokmen Tanis, 37, is from Turkey’s central Yozgat province, the scene of several anti-Daesh operations in recent years. He has lived in the Netherlands since 1993.

Tanis was known to police for both minor and major crimes, including a shooting in 2013.




Suspect Gokmen Tanis is from Turkey’s Yozgat province, the scene of several anti-Daesh operations in recent years. AFP

The shooting took place in Kanaleneiland, a quiet residential district on the outskirts of Utrecht with a large immigrant population.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks immediately after the incident. 

“Our country has today been shocked by an attack in Utrecht. A terrorist motive cannot be excluded,” he said.

Dutch police issued an image of Tanis and warned the public not to approach him. 

“It’s frightening that something like this can happen so close to home,” said Omar Rahhou, whose parents lived on a street cordoned off by police. “These things normally happen far away but this brings it very close, awful.” 


Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

Updated 9 min 41 sec ago

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

  • Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100)
  • Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally
MAE RIM, Thailand: Battling drought, debt and ailments blamed on pesticides, rice farmers in northern Thailand have turned to eco-friendly growing methods despite powerful agribusiness interests in a country that is one of the top exporters of the grain in the world.

Walking through a sea of green waist-high stalks, farmer Sunnan Somjak said his fields were “exhausted” by chemicals, his family regularly felt ill, and his profits were too low to make ends meet.

But that changed when he joined a pilot agricultural project for the SRI method, which aims to boost yields while shunning pesticides and using less water.

“Chemicals can destroy everything,” the 58-year-old said, adding that the harvest in his village in Chiang Mai province has jumped 40 percent since employing the new method.

There have been health benefits too. “It’s definitely better, we don’t get sick any more,” he added.

SRI was invented in the 1980s in Madagascar by a French Jesuit priest, and the technique has spread globally.

It works by planting crops wider apart — thus drawing in more nutrients and light — and limiting the amount of water that gets into fields, which helps micro-organisms flourish to act as natural fertilizers.

In a plus for debt-laden farmers, it also uses fewer seeds, and they are encouraged to use plants and ginger roots that naturally deter insects rather than chemical alternatives — meaning fewer expenses.

Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100) but Sunnan was able to increase his income by 20 percent after adopting the SRI method.
“I’ve finally got rid of my debts,” he told AFP.

Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally. But agricultural workers are locked in a vicious cycle: beset by drought and floods brought on by climate change, the farmers contribute to the disruption as their fields release methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases.

With SRI, paddy fields are not permanently flooded, which reduces methane emissions by 60 percent, according to Tristan Lecomte, founder of Pur Projet, a French company supporting the technique.

The project also helped Sunnan plant trees around his crops to reinforce the water table.

According to Lecomte, rice yields can jump from 20 percent to more than 100 compared to the traditional method.

Southeast Asia, where agriculture supports millions, is slowly embracing SRI.

The US-based Cornell University created a center specializing in the technique in 2010 and more than two million farmers in the region — especially from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — have been trained.

In Bac Giang province in northern Vietnam, net profits for farmers were as much as 226 percent higher after adopting the SRI method than when using traditional ones, according to Abha Mishra, who led a large project on behalf of the Asian Institute of Technology.

The Philippines, which grows rice but is also one of the world’s leading importers, is also interested in this method and the Ministry of Agriculture has started training farmers.

The method is also used in parts of India, China, and Africa. But, while there is support from NGOs, as well as some scientists and authorities, it still has a long way to go before widespread adoption.

It faces resistance domestically from agribusiness as there is no new hybrid seed or fertilizer to sell.

Industry lobbies are very active in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, one of the largest users of pesticides in the world.

And they recently won a big battle over chemical use in agriculture.

Thai authorities, who had committed to ban controversial glyphosate, backtracked at the end of November, deciding that “limited” use would eventually be allowed.

The use of two other herbicides has also been extended. Lecomte says the other challenge potentially impacting the rate of adoption is the SRI method is quite complex to learn and it is labor intensive.

“You have to plant one by one and closely control the amount water,” he explained, adding that the extra manual effort required means some farmers don’t want to try the method, and others give up early on.

Sunnan admits that his workload is heavier but the financial and health benefits make it worth it in the end. He added: “It is safe for our body, and the environment.”