Turkish minister threatens Istanbul mayor

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu was told ‘know your place and your limits,’ (AFP)
Updated 03 September 2019

Turkish minister threatens Istanbul mayor

  • Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu met with two of the ousted mayors

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s interior minister on Tuesday threatened “to devastate” the mayor of Istanbul over his support for three Kurdish mayors who were replaced by state officials over alleged terror links less than five months after the trio were elected.

Last month, Turkey replaced pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors in Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin with state officials, and detained more than 400 people over suspected militant links, in a move sharply criticized by the opposition.

BACKGROUND

Turkey replaced pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party mayors in Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin with state official, and detained more than 400 people over suspected militant links, in a move sharply criticized by the opposition.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu — who dealt President Tayyip Erdogan the biggest defeat of his career when he defeated the ruling AK Party (AKP) in June local elections — has slammed the move as illegal and undemocratic and called for it to be reversed.

At the weekend Imamoglu — of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was backed by HDP when he was elected in June — visited Kurdish town of Diyarbakir and met with two of the ousted mayors.

Erdogan and his government accuse the HDP of links to the PKK that is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the US. The HDP denies such links. 

Speaking in the northeastern province of Bursa on Tuesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the dismissals of the three mayors, who were elected in late March, were in line with the law.

“Ignorant. Know your place and your limits,” Soylu said of Imamoglu. “This country has been handling this terrorist organization for 40 years ... If you meddle in things that are not your job, we will devastate you.”

The minister added: “This is very clear ... While there are people who have suffered from terror for years, such a support for men who mourn at terrorist funerals will hurt our hearts and those of our people.”

The comments come a week after Imamoglu’s announcement that the Istanbul municipality canceled the transfer of more than 350 million lira ($61 million) to some pro-AKP foundations, in one of his first moves against Erdogan since being elected.

Erdogan has previously said that his government would also replace mayors in other parts of the country if they were found to be linked to militants. But Imamoglu has dismissed those comments as meaningless and saddening.

Ex-PM to be expelled from AKP

The executive committee of AKP on Monday unanimously agreed to send former premier and party member Ahmet Davutoglu to a disciplinary board for dismissal, local media reported.

The decision came after a nearly five-hour meeting of the central executive committee chaired by Erdogan, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on its website.

A leading AKP figure who served both as foreign minister and prime minister, Davutoglu has recently accused the party of deviating from its core principles.

His criticism included the party’s insistence on a rerun of the Istanbul vote after the AKP lost the city to the opposition in March local elections, as well as the removal of three mayors in eastern Turkey on terror-related claims.

The party’s move to expel the ex-premier comes as other former allies have fallen out with Erdogan including former president Abdullah Gul and former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan — both founding AKP members.

Babacan quit the party in July citing “deep differences” over policy and said Turkey was in need of a “new vision.”

He is expected to launch a new political party.


Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

Updated 07 December 2019

Iran frees Chinese-American scholar for US-held scientist

  • President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States”
  • Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018

TEHRAN: Iran and the US conducted a prisoner exchange Saturday that saw a detained Princeton graduate student released for an Iranian scientist held by America, marking a potential breakthrough between Tehran and Washington after months of tensions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the first announcement on the trade via Twitter. The trade involves graduate student Xiyue Wang and scientist Massoud Soleimani.
“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly," Zarif wrote. “Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government.”
In his tweet, Zarif confirmed rumors that had been circulating for days that a deal was in the works to free Wang.
President Donald Trump separately acknowledged Wang was free in a statement from the White House, saying he “is returning to the United States.”
“Mr. Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016,” Trump said. “We thank our Swiss partners for their assistance in negotiating Mr. Wang’s release with Iran.”
The Swiss Embassy in Tehran looks out for America's interests in the country as the U.S. Embassy there has been closed since the 1979 student takeover and 444-day hostage crisis.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, accompanied the Iranian scientist to Switzerland to make the exchange and will return with Wang, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be released. The swap took place in Zurich and Hook and Wang are now en route to Landstuhl in Germany where Wang will be examined by doctors, the official said. Hook is expected to return to the US from Germany alone, as Wang is expected to be evaluated for several days.
Although Hook was present for the swap, the official said Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien played the lead role in the negotiations dating from his time as the special representative for hostage affairs at the State Department.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency later reported that Soleimani was with Iranian officials in Switzerland. Soleimani was expected to return to Iran in the coming hours. Zarif later posted pictures of himself on Twitter with Soleimani in front of an Iranian government jet and later with the two talking on board.
Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad. His family and Princeton University strongly denied the claims. Wang was arrested while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty that once ruled Iran for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history, according to Princeton.
Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, released a statement saying “our family is complete once again.”
“Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue,” she said. “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”
Princeton University spokesman Ben Chang said the school was aware of Wang's release.
“We are working with the family and government officials to facilitate his return to the United States,” Chang said.
Iran’s Revolutionary Court tried Wang. That court typically handles espionage cases and others involving smuggling, blasphemy and attempts to overthrow its Islamic government. Westerners and Iranian dual nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in these courts, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
Soleimani — who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine — was arrested by US authorities on charges he had violated trade sanctions by trying to have biological material brought to Iran. He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student’s plans to travel from the US to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he’d pay at home.
Tensions have been high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. In the time since, the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran's economy. There also have been a series of attacks across the Mideast that the US blames on Iran.
Other Americans held in Iran include the 81-year-old businessman Baquer Namazi who has been held for over two years and diagnosed with epilepsy.
Both Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, also a dual national who has been held for over three years, are serving a 10-year sentence after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power.
An Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Also held is US Navy veteran Michael White.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, but his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while saying Wang would soon be able to go home to his family, acknowledged other Americans remain held by Iran.
“The United States will not rest until we bring every American detained in Iran and around the world back home to their loved ones,” Pompeo said in a statement.