Crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party raises concerns among opposition

Crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party raises concerns among opposition
Supporters of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) at a rally. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 10 October 2020

Crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party raises concerns among opposition

Crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party raises concerns among opposition
  • Four members of the HDP were arrested on Oct. 8 in relation to protests in 2014

ANKARA: The latest crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has raised concerns about the government’s underlying motives and the risk posed to opposition parties.

Four members of the HDP — including Sevin Alaca, the co-mayor of the eastern province of Kars — were arrested on Oct. 8 in relation to protests in 2014, bringing the number of recent arrests over the incident to 16.

Those arrested are accused of encouraging anti-government protests in southeastern provinces in October 2014 in reaction to the Daesh siege of Syria’s mainly Kurdish border town of Kobane. Demonstrators allegedly claimed that the Turkish government failed to protect Kobane against Daesh.

Some view the recent arrests as an attempt by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to weaken the HDP, which gained 13 percent of the votes in the last general elections.

Talking to Halk TV on Oct. 7, HDP’s co-chairman Mithat Sancar claimed that the political cost to the government of shutting down the HDP would be too great, but that it is trying to ensure the party cannot function properly.

“The Constitutional Court has been under more and more pressure in recent days and it is being threatened,” he said. “Thus, we would not be surprised by the closure of the HDP. But the government does not want to take this path for now because this would have a political cost and would trigger reactions from both global and domestic spheres. That is why the government can adopt a less costly method by making the party a de facto ineffective one.”

Berk Esen, a political analyst from Sabanci University in Istanbul, told Arab News there are several reasons why the government would not simply close down the HDP, the main one being that it does not want to create a precedent for party bans, which have hurt the Islamist movement in the past. In 2008, the AKP was on trial and threatened with closure, and its leaders have always promised to oppose banning political parties.

Banning a party would likely incur a severe backlash against the Turkish government from the European Union, Esen added. A committee from Sweden’s Left Party, including its chairman, paid a visit to the HDP headquarters in Ankara on Oct. 6 and expressed concerns about the silencing of the HDP, which they considered “a big loss” for the country.

“Keeping the HDP open but severely weakened allows the government to retain the image of a democratic regime in Turkey, even though the political system no longer satisfies even the minimal democratic requirements,” Esen said.

Esen added that the HDP also serves as a rallying point for the alliance of the ruling party and its partner, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and helps to keep ultra-nationalist voters behind President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration.

“Moreover, the government does not need to close down the party to limit its operations. It has already appointed caretaker administrators to most HDP-controlled municipalities and arrested hundreds of party officials, including its former leader,” he said.

In the 2019 local elections, the HDP — Turkey’s third-largest party — won 65 municipalities throughout the country, but only six of its 65 mayors remain in office, with the rest removed under terror-related charges and their positions taken up by government-appointed bureaucrats.

“The HDP has taken a huge hit from the government’s crackdown and faces enormous organizational challenges in the months ahead. At this point, its resistance remains primarily at the ballot box, where its loyal voters continue to support it,” Esen said.

For Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies (CATS) in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the latest crackdown on the HDP matches a general trend that has been apparent since Turkey’s June 2015 elections: A systematic attack on Kurdish political representation by Erdogan’s party and the MHP.

“This trend has included a variety of methods, such as the removal of parliamentary immunity from Kurdish MPs, their criminalization and systematic exclusion from political processes, and — last but not least — the replacement of elected mayors by government-appointed trustees,” she told Arab News.

“Nationalist factions within the security apparatus became a part of this trend after the failed coup attempt in 2016. In light of the developments in Northern Syria, with Turkish military interventions, the ruling class is determined to suppress Kurdish political representation and participation,” she continued.

There are widespread concerns among other opposition parties, too, that what happened to the HDP might also happen to them.

“We need to stand up against all injustices, regardless of which party, who is experiencing them,” Hasan Subasi, a lawmaker from IYI (Good) Party said on Oct. 6 during a televised speech, adding that a Turkish parliament without the HDP would not represent Turkey and would be “anti-democratic.”

According to Adar, violating the political rights of the members of the HDP is a tactic that the government has been using to drive a wedge between the HDP and the opposition parties, particularly the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). “After all, the March 2019 elections have clearly shown that the Kurds have become king-makers,” she said.

Adar said the crackdown could also be part of the government’s divide-and-conquer tactics when it comes to the CHP itself.

“The CHP is known to include various factions that might not necessarily agree with one another on how the Kurdish question should be addressed. The systematic suppression of the HDP can also be a means to (stoke) existing differences within the CHP,” she said.


Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tire burst

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tire burst
Updated 8 min 43 sec ago

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tire burst

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tire burst

CAIRO: An explosion sound heard at a neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut was reportedly caused by a tire burst, local news agency NNA reported Saturday.  

A bursting sound was reportedly heard across several towns in Al-Salam neighborhood resembling that of an explosion. 

It resulted from a bulldozer tire bursting inside a waste plant in the area, the NNA said


Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
Updated 59 min 21 sec ago

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
  • Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas
  • Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi will reopen its cinemas at a reduced 30 percent capacity while adhering to coronavirus precautionary measures, state news agency WAM reported.
Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas.
Meanwhile, Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Dubai Economy said in a tweet.
“The Commercial Compliance & Consumer Protection (CCCP) Sector in Dubai Economy directed coffee shops to stop serving drinks in baby bottles,” DED said.
There has been a spike in new daily cases since the beginning of the year, largely due to the high number of tourists traveling to the country over the holiday period.

The UAE has recorded 2,959 new coronavirus infections, 1,901 recoveries and 14 deaths in the past 24 hours. The total number of cases now stands at 408,236 with 391,205 recoveries and 1,310 deaths.


Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source
Updated 06 March 2021

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

DUBAI: Fierce fighting between Yemeni pro-government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has killed at least 90 combatants on both sides in the past 24 hours, government military sources said Saturday.
The Shiite rebels launched an offensive last month to seize Marib, the last stronghold in northern Yemen of pro-government forces who are backed by a Arab-led military coalition.
The clashes in the oil-rich province left 32 dead among government forces and loyalist tribes, while 58 Houthi rebels were killed in coalition air strikes, the sources told AFP.
They said heavy clashes broke out on six fronts as government forces were able to counter attacks by the Houthis who managed to advance only on the Kassara front northwest of Marib city.
The fighting also left dozens of people wounded, the sources added.
The loss of Marib would be a huge blow for the Yemeni government, but would also threaten catastrophe for civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people sheltering in desolate camps in the surrounding desert.
It would also be a major setback for Saudi Arabia, which has been the target of increasingly frequent Houthi missile attacks in recent weeks.
Shrapnel from Houthi drones intercepted by the Saudis on Friday wounded two civilians, including a 10-year-old, in the southwest of the kingdom, the official SPA news agency reported.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the Houthis to halt their offensive in Marib, as he announced $191 million in aid at a donors' conference.
"Aid alone will not end the conflict. We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war... so the United States is reinvigorating our diplomatic efforts to end the war," he said.
The United Nations had sought to raise $3.85 billion from more than 100 governments and donors, but only $1.7 billion was offered.


Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
Updated 06 March 2021

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
  • The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history
  • Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,”

NAJAF, Iraq: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the authority for most of the world’s Shiite Muslims, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in the Iraqi city of Najaf Saturday that the country’s Christians should live in “peace.”
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history.
Pope Francis is defying a second wave of coronavirus cases and renewed security fears to make a “long-awaited” trip to Iraq, aiming to comfort the country’s ancient Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other religions.
The meeting between the two elderly men lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s office putting out a statement shortly afterwards thanking Francis, 84, for visiting the holy city of Najaf.
Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,” it said.
His office published an image of the two, neither wearing masks: Sistani in a black turban with his wispy grey beard reaching down to his black robe and Francis all in white, looking directly at the grand ayatollah.
Sistani is extremely reclusive and rarely grants meetings but made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of interreligious dialogue.
The Pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, where posters had been set up featuring a famous saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Muhammad’s relative, who is buried in the holy city.
“People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity,” read the banners.
The meeting is one of the highlights of Francis’s four-day trip to war-scarred Iraq, where Sistani has played a key role in tamping down tensions in recent decades.
It took months of careful negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to secure the one-on-one meeting.
“We feel proud of what this visit represents and we thank those who made it possible,” said Mohamed Ali Bahr Al-Ulum, a senior cleric in Najaf.
Pope Francis, a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, has met top Sunni clerics in several Muslim-majority countries, including Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Sistani, meanwhile, is followed by most of the world’s 200 million Shiites — a minority among Muslims but the majority in Iraq — and is a national figure for Iraqis.
“Ali Sistani is a religious leader with a high moral authority,” said Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a specialist in Islamic studies.
Sistani began his religious studies at the age of five, climbing through the ranks of Shiite clergy to grand ayatollah in the 1990s.
While Saddam Hussein was in power, he languished under house arrest for years, but emerged after the US-led invasion toppled the repressive regime in 2003 to play an unprecedented public role.
In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding better public services and rejecting external interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs.
On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made a similar plea.
“May partisan interests cease, those outside interests who don’t take into account the local population,” Francis said.
Sistani has had a complicated relationship with his birthplace Iran, where the other main seat of Shiite religious authority lies: Qom.
While Najaf affirms the separation of religion and politics, Qom believes the top cleric — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — should also govern.
Iraqi clerics and Christian leaders said the visit could strengthen Najaf’s standing compared to Qom.
“The Najaf school has great prestige and is more secular than the more religious Qom school,” Ayuso said.
“Najaf places more weight on social affairs,” he added.
In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and a key authority for Sunni Muslims.
They signed a text encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would also endorse, but clerical sources in Najaf told AFP it is unlikely.
While the Pope has been vaccinated and encouraged others to get the jab, Sistani’s office has not announced his vaccination.
Iraq is currently gripped by a resurgence of coronavirus cases, recording more than 5,000 infections and more than two dozen deaths daily.
Following his visit to the grand ayatollah, the pope will head to the desert site of the ancient city of Ur — believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, common patriarch of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths — where he will host an interfaith service, with many of Iraq’s other religious minorities in attendance.


Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo
Updated 06 March 2021

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

CAIRO: A trailer-truck crashed into a microbus, killing at least 18 people and injuring five others south of the Egyptian capital, authorities said.
The country’s chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement the crash took place late Friday on a highway near the town of Atfih, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Cairo.
The Cairo-Assiut eastern road, located on the eastern side of the Nile River, links Cairo to the country’s southern provinces and is known for speeding traffic.
Police authorities said the truck’s tire exploded, causing it to overturn and collide with the microbus. The victims were taken to nearby hospitals, the statement said. The truck driver was arrested.
Traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
The country’s official statistics agency says around 10,000 road accidents took place in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.