Istanbul’s secular mayor knocking on European doors for funding

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu speaks after being awarded with the German-Turkish Friendship Award 'Kybele 2019' in Berlin, on Nov. 8. (Reuters)
Updated 26 November 2019

Istanbul’s secular mayor knocking on European doors for funding

  • Imamoglu announced on Sunday that Turkey’s state-run banks are reluctant to lend routine loans to the municipality

ANKARA: The secret behind the latest wave of European visits made by Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has finally been revealed: To ask for international funding for the urban projects of the metropolitan municipality.

Imamoglu announced on Sunday that Turkey’s state-run banks are reluctant to lend routine loans to the municipality — even for paying salaries — and that this has led him to ask European countries for funding.

He added that the municipality is now working on a plan to sell Eurobonds to finance its projects in Istanbul, home to one-fifth of Turkey’s 82 million citizens.

“The state banks seem to have shut the doors on us,” he said. “I condemn the officials’ attitude.”

However, even if it is endorsed by the city council, he would likely need the approval from the Treasury and Finance Ministry — controlled by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak — to issue Eurobonds worth $500 million.

During local elections in June, Imamoglu, of the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party, took the reins from Erdogan’s AKP which, along with its Islamist predecessors, has run the city for the last 25 years.

He also inherited a significant amount of debt and wasteful spending from the previous administration of the city, with a budget of 20 billion lira ($3.4 billion) and a debt of 26 billion lira, which obliged him to search for resources to pay it.

The municipality rounded up and parked hundreds of cars hired for official use by the previous administration to display the squandering of public money.

Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, said that this is a politically risky strategy since Imamoglu may easily get hit by Erdogan who would criticize him using nationalist discourse.

Erdogan has always taken pride in ending Turkey’s dependence on the International Monetary Fund in 2013 after paying its last loan installment.

According to Wasilewski, the Turkish president could capitalize on the nationalistic feelings of the people by saying that Imamoglu would do exactly the opposite after the latter met with various global creditors and bankers in London.

“However, Imamoglu not only proved that he is a politician willing to accept the risk, but also made his bones as a person fighting the oppression of the government. If he succeeds in bringing further investments to Istanbul and in improving standards of living, his stance in Turkish politics will be even stronger,” he told Arab News.

Although Imamoglu, 49, has dismissed claims that he is interested in a presidential bid, his victories on the local front, his popular appeal and inclusive profile as a practicing Muslim elected from a secularist party have led many to think that he could challenge the president, who also once served as Istanbul mayor.

Imamoglu has paid working visits to Paris, Berlin and London in recent months.

Following these visits, Istanbul has secured €110 million ($121 million) of financing from Deutsche Bank for an underground transport project on the Asian side of the city. The construction will begin on Nov. 26.

Nezih Onur Kuru, a political analyst and a doctoral researcher on political psychology from Istanbul’s Koc University, thinks the debates on Imamoglu’s meetings with European investors is an indicator of the recent tension between the central and local governments.

“The government has targeted Imamoglu as a potential presidential candidate after his 9-point lead victory in the June 23 elections,” he told Arab News.

Kuru added that seeking investments strengthens Imamoglu’s image as a governor who defies the central government for public interest and consolidates his support base.

During Imamoglu’s European tour, the French Development Agency also signed an €86 million loan agreement with Istanbul for an underground metro line.

So far, the city has secured financing from Societe Generale, Black Sea Trade and Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.


Iran’s deputy health minister says he has coronavirus

Updated 25 February 2020

Iran’s deputy health minister says he has coronavirus

  • There is currently an outbreak of the disease in the Islamic republic
  • Iran confirmed three more deaths and 34 new infections on Tuesday

TEHRAN: Iran’s deputy health minister confirmed on Tuesday that he has tested positive for the new coronavirus, amid a major outbreak in the Islamic republic.
Iraj Harirchi coughed occasionally and appeared to be sweating during a press conference in Tehran on Monday with government spokesman Ali Rabiei.
At the time he denied a lawmaker’s claim that 50 people had died from the virus in the Shiite shrine city of Qom, saying he would resign if the number proved to be true.
In a video broadcast on state television, the deputy minister put on a brave face as he admitted he was infected.
“I too have been infected with coronavirus,” Harirchi said in the video apparently shot by himself.
“I had a fever as of last night and my preliminary test was positive around midnight,” he said.
“I’ve isolated myself in a place since. A few minutes ago, I was told that my final test was final, and now I am starting medication.
“I wanted to tell you that... we will definitely be victorious against this virus in the next few weeks,” Harirchi declared.
But he warned Iranians to be careful as the “virus does not discriminate” and infects anyone, regardless of standing.
Following news of his infection, government spokesman Rabiei, who stood by his side on Monday, appeared at another press conference with the country’s industries minister on Tuesday as well as other officials.
Iran confirmed three more deaths and 34 new infections on Tuesday, taking the country’s overall death toll to 15 and infection tally to 95.
The Islamic republic has been hit by the deadliest coronavirus outbreak by far outside China.
According to the health ministry, most of the deaths and infections outside Qom are among people who have recently visited the holy city.
The ministry’s spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 16 of the new cases were confirmed in Qom, while nine were in Tehran, and two each in Alborz, Gilan and Mazandaran.
The virus appeared to be spreading to new parts of Iran, as one new case was also reported in each of the provinces of Fars and Khorasan Razavi, as well as Qeshm island.
Despite being Iran’s epicenter of the outbreak, Qom has yet to be quarantined.
Health minister Saeed Namaki defended the decision on Tuesday and said that quarantine is an “old method.”
“We still do not agree with quarantining cities since we believe the people are cultured enough to refrain from traveling from infected cities to other places,” semi-official news agency ISNA quoted him as saying.