Erdogan’s new appointment could help toward resolving Kurdish conflict

Erdogan’s new appointment could help toward resolving Kurdish conflict
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday appointed former Interior Minister Efkan Ala as deputy leader. (AP)
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Updated 13 November 2020

Erdogan’s new appointment could help toward resolving Kurdish conflict

Erdogan’s new appointment could help toward resolving Kurdish conflict

ANKARA: Amid the political quakes currently rocking Turkey, one relatively “quiet” appointment to a key post could turn out to have a major impact on the country’s approach to its decades-long unresolved Kurdish conflict.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday appointed former Interior Minister Efkan Ala as deputy leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) responsible for foreign affairs.

According to experts, this appointment, if supported by practical reforms, could signal a softer and more conciliatory tone in Turkey with regard to its Kurdish community.

Ala’s appointment followed in the wake of ex-finance minister, Naci Agbal, moving to replace Murat Uysal as  head of the central bank, and Lutfi Elvan taking over as minister of treasury and finance from Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak who resigned from the post on Sunday.

Ala, who served as Turkey’s interior minister for three years before quitting just after the failed coup attempt in July 2016, was elected deputy in the 2018 parliamentary elections. His ministerial post was taken up by the controversial figure, Suleyman Soylu, until now.

One of Ala’s most spectacular initiatives as minister was his support for the peace process between the country and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Born in the northeastern province of Erzurum, Ala also served as governor of the southeastern provinces of Batman and Diyarbakir between 2003 and 2007 – a period when the conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK reached its peak.  

He was among the team that carried out peace negotiations on behalf of the government during the failed resolution process. He also spoke to PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan who has been held at the Imrali island prison since 1999.

Ala also conducted talks with Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies in February 2015 to outline the steps required to ensure a cease-fire between the Turkish state and the PKK. The 10-point declaration that ensued from the negotiations five months later was never endorsed by Erdogan who even said he did not accept the reconciliatory content of the roadmap which was shared jointly by the HDP and AKP deputies at that time.

“Ala is such a figure that he may act as a bridge between the ruling government and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party to reach a peace process. He is known as a bureaucrat who has held communication channels always open,” Roj Girasun, the head of Diyarbakir-based Rawest Research Center, told Arab News.

He said that Ala had the backing of the Kurdish political elite, including HDP-linked local authorities and politicians, support that no other AKP official had previously benefited from.  

The HDP is currently the largest party represented in the Turkish parliament. During local elections in March last year, the party won 65 municipalities, but six mayors were never given their mandates and the rest were gradually dismissed over terror-related charges and replaced by government appointees. As of November, the HDP had six district municipalities.

Burak Bilgehan Ozpek, an Ankara-based political analyst, told Arab News that the latest assignments of the government hinted at a period of political pragmatism.

“Rather than imposing policies built on national security and nationalism paradigms from top-down, as it has so far, the government appears to be starting to develop grassroots policies by listening out to the local level,” he said.

He pointed out that the government may take steps to launch dialogue with its Kurdish citizens by using a softer and pragmatic tone of nationalism.

“This call won’t be immediately reciprocated at the HDP voter base but may find some positive reaction from a Kurdish constituency who develop emotional ties with the state.

“However, it is likely that such appointments may be conceived as cosmetic steps if they are not supported by a reform wave such as appointing a Kurdish-origin minister and decreasing the nationalistic reflexes of the ruling government,” Ozpek added.

Some politicians remain skeptical about how far Ala’s appointment will go in leading to much-awaited peace with the country’s Kurdish community, that makes up about one-fifth of the population.

On Nov. 9, at least 10 people, including HDP Cizre district co-chair, Guler Tunc, and the HDP’s dismissed Cizre co-mayor, Berivan Kutlu, were taken into custody in Cizre following house raids carried out in the Kurdish-majority Sirnak province.

Tulay Hatimogullari, the HDP’s lawmaker from the southern province of Adana, said: “We are ready to do our share to bring the Kurdish peace process back on track, but the government doesn’t send us strong signals for its own commitment. The Kurdish population, whose elected mayors are dismissed and who face daily discrimination and political crackdown, has its trust undermined seriously.

“At least one member of each Kurdish family in the southeastern provinces has recently been jailed for political reasons. The mayors they elected are also imprisoned.

“Many concrete steps should be taken in order to gain back their trust since the negotiations with the HDP and the PKK abruptly ended. All parties should gather around a table rather than taking cosmetic steps,” she added.

Several dozen AKP parliamentarians were recently rumored to be preparing to defect to the breakaway DEVA and Future parties.

Hatimogullari said: “Ala was involved in the peace process at all stages. There might be a concern that Ala makes public some confidential details of these negotiations.

“Amid the deteriorating economic conditions and increasing complaints about poverty, some core figures in the party may try to leave the sinking ship earlier,” she added.
 


Explosion heard at a neighborhood in southern Beirut

Explosion heard at a neighborhood in southern Beirut
Updated 6 min 17 sec ago

Explosion heard at a neighborhood in southern Beirut

Explosion heard at a neighborhood in southern Beirut

CAIRO: Explosion heard at a neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut


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 47 min 32 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 59 min 31 sec ago

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.