Greek church bells toll for Hagia Sofia, PM calls Turkey a ‘troublemaker’

Greek church bells toll for Hagia Sofia, PM calls Turkey a ‘troublemaker’
People leave a church where the flags are at half-mast, in Thessaloniki, on July 24, 2020, as a sign of protest against the re-conversation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. (AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2020

Greek church bells toll for Hagia Sofia, PM calls Turkey a ‘troublemaker’

Greek church bells toll for Hagia Sofia, PM calls Turkey a ‘troublemaker’
  • Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Turkey a ‘troublemaker’, and the Hagia Sophia conversion an ‘affront to civilization of the 21st century’
  • From Crete to small Greek islands lying just off the Turkish coast, church bells tolled and in some areas flags flew at half mast

ATHENS: Church bells across Greece tolled in mourning on Friday as the first Islamic prayers in nine decades were held at Hagia Sophia in Turkey, marking the monument’s conversion into a mosque.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan joined huge crowds in Istanbul for prayers at Hagia Sophia, sealing his ambition to restore Muslim worship at the ancient site which most Greeks consider as central to their Orthodox Christian religion.
Greek criticism of the conversion has been scathing, underscoring often tense relations between Greece and Turkey.
In a message marking Greece’s 46th anniversary of the restoration of democracy on Friday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Turkey a ‘troublemaker’, and the Hagia Sophia conversion an ‘affront to civilization of the 21st century’.
“What is unfolding in Constantinople today is not a demonstration of strength, but proof of weakness,” Mitsotakis said, referring to Istanbul by the old name of the city used by Greeks.
Greece and Turkey disagree on a range of issues from airspace to maritime zones and ethnically split Cyprus. Tensions upped a notch this week with verbal jousting over the delimitation of their continental shelves in the eastern Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural resources.
From Crete to small Greek islands lying just off the Turkish coast, church bells tolled and in some areas flags flew at half mast.
“We thought someone had died but we were told it was for Hagia Sophia. It’s very sad, very sad,” said Katerina, 40, a shop owner on the island of Astypalea.


Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed

Updated 03 December 2020

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed
  • New laws ‘could leave farmers landless, at mercy of corporate players’

NEW DELHI: Farmers’ protests across the Indian capital New Delhi have gained momentum as several new groups joined from various parts of the country on Wednesday.

Protesters repeated their demands for the government to scrap new agricultural laws which they say could destroy their livelihoods by opening up the sector to private players.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government argues that the laws passed in September would allow farmers to be self-sufficient by setting their prices and selling produce directly to private firms, such as supermarket chains.

Farmers are not buying that and say that the new laws would instead pave the way for the government to stop buying the crops at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the “mercy of private buyers” fixing prices.

Bhanu Pratar Singh, president of the Indian Farmers’ Association, said: “Our basic demand is that the government gives us in writing that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that the government gives to farm produce should be codified in law in the farm laws.”

Protests escalated last week when tens of thousands of farmers marched to New Delhi, with a majority saying that the new laws would also allow traders to stockpile grains, which they fear will lead to rising prices and more profit for traders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The demonstrations led to clashes with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and batons against protesters.

Farmers sell their products at wholesale markets owned by the government, which also sets the MSP for grains.

All of that could change with the entry of new market players in the agricultural sector, where individual market prices could supersede the MSP, Jagjit Singh Dalewal of the Indian Farmers’ Union, a joint forum for 30 farm unions, told Arab News.

“It will leave us at the mercy of the big business houses. We don’t want that uncertainty,” he said.

“The traditional market system and the MSP have sustained farmers in Punjab and Haryana for a long time. They assured us a guaranteed price which is higher than the market. The new farm laws deprive us of that,” Dalewal added.

On Tuesday, talks between officials and the farmers’ union failed after the latter rejected an offer to establish a committee on the issue.

A joint statement released by farmers’ groups said that they found the offer “an attempt to buy time without addressing the real issue.”

The next round of talks is expected to begin on Thursday.

“Most of the farmers in India have small landholding, and they cannot compete with the big corporate houses,” Sunil Pradhan, a farmer based in Greater Noida, a suburban city of Delhi, told Arab News.

“A farmer having less than two hectares of land cannot have bargaining power with the corporate groups. He will succumb to pressure and become a pawn in the hands of the big players. Such farmers need government protection,” he added.

The government says that the new laws are not “anti-farmer.”

“The new agricultural law implemented by the government is not anti-farmer at all,” Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankara Prasad said on Wednesday.

“Under this bill, the safety net of the MSP will remain and will also add new options that the farmers have. Farmers will be able to enter into direct agreements for sale of food grains with production companies,” he tweeted on Wednesday.

Economists have questioned the claims, drawing attention to the “genuine” concerns of farmers.

“Many small farmers are worried that the free market in the agriculture sector will dispossess many small farmers of their lands, which will become corporatized, and they will become landless,” New Delhi-based Prof. Arun Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Arab News.

“The government is not doing enough to address the existential concerns of the farmers,” he added.

Kumar said that “86 percent of the farmers are small farmers and cultivate less than 2 hectares of land.”

He added: “They generate a small income, and fear that the new laws will not give them the right kind of prices and that they will become landless laborers.”

Most of the farmers have camped along the Delhi border for the past week and refuse to move to a designated protest site allocated by the government.

“We have been protesting since September in Punjab, but the government has been ignoring us. Now we are at the gate of Delhi and suddenly the government is desperate to engage us for talks,” Punjab-based farmer Sarwan Pandher told Arab News.

According to one estimate, more than 50,000 farmers are camping in different borders of Delhi, with medical professionals sounding the alarm over a possible spike in coronavirus cases due to the large gatherings.

“I blame the government for playing with the lives of the people. They should understand the gravity of the pandemic and address the farmer issue urgently,” Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti of Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum told Arab News.