Belgian court angers Turkey with PKK ruling

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Philippe Goffin said the government’s position was that the PKK was a terrorist organization. (Courtesy Twitter)
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Updated 30 January 2020

Belgian court angers Turkey with PKK ruling

  • The ruling from the country’s top appeal court blocked the prosecution of 36 suspects linked to the PKK
  • The PKK has waged an insurgency against Turkey for decades that has claimed the lives of around 40,000 people

JEDDAH: Turkey has condemned Belgium’s top appeal court for saying that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is not a terror group and that people affiliated to it cannot be prosecuted by anti-terror laws.

The Tuesday ruling from the country’s top appeal court, which ratified a ruling of a lower court from last March, blocked the prosecution of 36 suspects linked to the PKK and asserted that the group’s armed struggle was “Turkey’s own domestic dispute.”

The PKK has waged an insurgency against Turkey for decades that has claimed the lives of around 40,000 people. It is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US. The Council of Europe also has the group on its terror list.

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Philippe Goffin said the government’s position was clear and that the PKK was a terrorist organization, but the ruling has upset Turkey.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the decision and said it was an “explicit attempt to undermine the law” and accused Belgium of “hypocrisy.” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted that the decision was “hypocritical” and “political.”

Tens of millions of Kurds are scattered across Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia but they do not have a state of their own. Attempts to set up their own state have been repressed, and the PKK was set up to fight for Kurdish independence in Turkey. 

“The decision of the court is the expression of the judiciary, which is strictly independent of the executive, and as such must be understood by all actors,” Goffin said. “Belgium will continue to defend the inclusion of the PKK and other Turkish terrorist groups on the European list of persons, groups and entities involved in terrorist acts and its judicial authorities will continue to cooperate with their European and other partners involved in the persecution of people at the PKK, as they have for years.”

Belgium’s ambassador to Turkey, Michel Malherbe, tweeted that the legal ruling was unconnected to the government’s position, and that the PKK “is and will continue to be” a terrorist organization.

Kurds in Belgium welcomed the court’s ruling, however, with community spokesman Orhan Kilic saying it would set new standards for further debate on the Kurdish issue and the actions of the Turkish state.

He also said Western governments and the EU may be in a better position to pressure Ankara for a peaceful solution.

Barin Kayaoglu, from the American University of Iraq Sulaimani, said the court decision would affect Belgium-Turkey relations.

“From now on, it is very unlikely that Belgium will receive any verbal or operational support from Turkey in counterterrorism,” he told Arab News. “Another side effect of this decision might be Turkey’s unwillingness to cooperate with the Belgian government in counterintelligence sharing to identify and track foreign fighters of Belgian nationality. Ankara has begun learning how to play hardball in recent years.”

The deadliest terror attack in Belgium was in Brussels in March 2016, when Daesh-claimed assaults killed 32 people and wounded hundreds of others.


Lockdowns ease across Europe, Asia with new tourism rules

Updated 01 June 2020

Lockdowns ease across Europe, Asia with new tourism rules

  • Countries around the Mediterranean Sea tentatively kicked off a summer season where tourists could bask in their famously sunny beaches
  • Around 6.19 million infections have been reported worldwide, with over 372,000 people dying, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University

ROME: The first day of June saw coronavirus restrictions ease from Asia to Europe on Monday, even as US protests against police brutality sparked fears of new outbreaks. The Colosseum opened its ancient doors in Rome, ferries restarted in Bangladesh, golfers played in Greece, students returned in Britain and Dutch bars and restaurants were free to welcome hungry, thirsty patrons.
Countries around the Mediterranean Sea tentatively kicked off a summer season where tourists could bask in their famously sunny beaches while still being protected by social distancing measures from a virus that is marching relentlessly around the world.
“We are reopening a symbol. A symbol of Rome, a symbol for Italy,” said Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum’s archaeological park. “(We are) restarting in a positive way, with a different pace, with a more sustainable tourism.”
Greece lifted lockdown measures Monday for hotels, campsites, open-air cinemas, golf courses and public swimming pools, while b eaches and museums reopened in Turkey and bars, restaurants, cinemas and museums came back to life in the Netherlands.
“Today, we opened two rooms and tomorrow three. It’s like building an anthill,” Athens hotel owner Panos Betis said as employees wearing face masks tidied a rooftop restaurant and cleaned a window facing the ancient Acropolis. “We can’t compare the season to last year. We were at 95% capacity. Our aim now is to hang in there till 2021.”
A long line of masked visitors snaked outside the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, as they reopened for the first time in three months. Italy is eager to reboot its tourism industry, which accounts for 13% of its economy.
The Vatican Museums’ famous keyholder — the “clavigero” who holds the keys to all the galleries on a big ring on his wrist — opened the gate in a sign both symbolic and literal that the Museums were back in business.
Still, strict crowd control measures were in place at both landmarks: visitors needed reservations to visit, their temperatures were taken before entering and masks were mandatory.
“Having the opportunity to see the museums by making a booking and not having to wait in line for three hours is an opportunity,” said visitor Stefano Dicozzi.
The Dutch relaxation of coronavirus rules took place on a major holiday with the sun blazing, raising immediate fears of overcrowding in popular beach resorts. The new rules let bars and restaurants serve up to 30 people inside if they keep social distancing, but there’s no standing at bars and reservations are necessary.
Britain, which with over 38,500 dead has the world’s second-worst death toll behind the United States, eased restrictions despite warnings from health officials that the risk of spreading COVID-19 was still too great. Some elementary classes reopened in England and people could now have limited contact with family and friends, but only outdoors and with social distancing.
In Asia, Bangladesh restarted bus, train, ferry and flight services Monday, hoping that a gradual reopening revives an economy in which millions have become jobless. Traffic jams and crowds of commuters clogged Manila as the Philippines tried to kickstart its economy.
Around 6.19 million infections have been reported worldwide, with over 372,000 people dying, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true death toll is believed to be significantly higher, since many died without ever being tested.
In the US, the often-violent protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man pinned at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer, are raising fears of new outbreaks in a country that has more confirmed infections and deaths than any other.
The US has seen nearly 1.8 million infections and over 104,000 deaths in the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected racial minorities in a nation that does not have universal health care.
Protests over Floyd’s death have shaken the US from New York to Los Angeles. Demonstrators are packed cheek by jowl, many without masks, many shouting or singing. The virus itself is dispersed by microscopic droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze, talk or sing.
“There’s no question that when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity, when we have got this virus all over the streets ... it’s not healthy,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said.
Some efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus are being upended by the protests. In contact tracing, newly infected people list everyone they’ve interacted with over several days in order to alert them that they may have been exposed. That may be a daunting task if someone has been to a mass gathering.
The process also relies on something that may suddenly be in especially short supply: Trust in government.
South Korea and India offered cautionary tales Monday about just how hard it is to halt the virus.
South Korea reported a steady rise in cases around Seoul. Hundreds of infections have been linked to nightspots, restaurants and a massive e-commerce warehouse near Seoul. The resurgence is straining the country’s ability to test patients and trace their contacts.
“We have been seeing an increased number of high-risk patients who have been infected through family members or religious gatherings,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There’s a particular need for people over 65, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions to be alert.”
Incheon, a port city west of Seoul, said Monday it’s considering banning gatherings at 4,200 churches and other religious facilities.
In India, cases increased rapidly but it still eased restrictions Monday on shops and public transport in more states. Subways and schools remain closed as experts said India is still far from reaching the peak of its outbreak. The government eased the lockdown to help millions of day laborers who have lost their jobs and are unable to feed their families.
China, where the global pandemic is believed to have originated late last year, reported 16 new cases Monday, all travelers from abroad. Much of China has already reopened for business and Monday saw classes restart in middle and high schools. Kindergartners and fourth- and fifth-graders will be allowed back next week.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says China has pledged to make available 30 million COVID-19 testing kits per month to African countries, which are facing a shortage.
Japan started blood tests Monday to check what percentage of its people have developed antibodies, a sign of past coronavirus infections. The tests will be conducted on 10,000 randomly selected people in three areas including Tokyo and results are expected at the end of the month.