Istanbul turns to foreign funding as state banks close their doors to city

Istanbul turns to foreign funding as state banks close their doors to city
Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on Saturday that Turkey’s state-run banks continuously refused to extend loans to the municipality. (AFP)
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Updated 06 December 2020

Istanbul turns to foreign funding as state banks close their doors to city

Istanbul turns to foreign funding as state banks close their doors to city
  • ‘Trying to punish Mayor Imamoglu may backfire and end up hurting Turkey’s rulers, especially Erdogan’

ANKARA: The refusal of Turkey’s state-run banks to extend loans to Istanbul is forcing the municipality to seek loans from abroad.

At a press conference in Istanbul on Wednesday, Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul, announced that the municipality issued its first eurobond to international capital markets to fund its new infrastructure projects.

The municipality secured $580 million of financing with this eurobond for four landmark subway projects in the city.

“Our relationship with foreign financing sources will continue. This could be either another bond issue, project financing or another instrument,” Imamoglu said.

Imamoglu declared he will focus on metro projects in 2021 following the repeated calls of Istanboulites to ease the traffic jams in the second most congested city in the world.

Imamoglu emerged a powerful challenger to the authority of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since he won two local elections last year in March, then in June to be elected the mayor of 16 million people.

The local projects he has implemented so far attracted various segments of the society as they touched on their daily needs. Imamoglu is also expected to challenge Erdogan in the next presidential elections in 2023.

Turkish state banks closed their doors to the municipality after they had supported AKP-affiliated municipalities for the past 25 years.

“It is no secret that Erdogan felt threatened by the loss of İstanbul to the opposition. He refused to accept the loss initially and demanded a rerun of the election, which – embarrassingly – Imamoglu won even more decisively. Now Imamoglu has emerged as a serious contender for 2023 and therefore has a target on his back,” said Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies.

“It is unsurprising that the AKP uses its sway over state banks to make governing difficult for the opposition mayor, but it is the citizens of the city who will ultimately pay for it,” he told Arab News.

Given Istanbul’s importance to the country’s economy, Levin warns that trying to punish Imamoglu may backfire and end up hurting Turkey’s rulers, especially Erdogan.

FASTFACT

The Istanbul mayor emerged a powerful challenger to the authority of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since he won two local elections last year in March, then in June to be elected the mayor of 16 million people.

Separately, the government has not abandoned the controversial Kanal Istanbul, The $9 billion project, dubbed as Erdogan’s “crazy project,” aims to connect Black Sea and Marmara Sea through an artificial waterway. It has drawn harsh criticism from Imamoglu who has been a vocal opponent of the project on environmental and financial grounds along with the fear that it might trigger earthquakes.

The security around Istanbul mayor was recently increased following serious claims of Daesh-linked assassination plot.

According to Berk Esen, a political analyst from Sabanci University in Istanbul, the state banks' decision to not offer loans to opposition-controlled municipalities is another sign of the increasingly authoritarian regime in Turkey.

“The AKP government has turned the state bureaucracy into its partisan machine, using public resources to favor the party base and punishing opposition voters,” he said.

“This is a deliberate move by the government to leave mayors from opposition parties without sufficient funds to service the municipality debt and undertake large-scale public projects simultaneously,” he said.

Similarly, a senior official at the Ankara municipality confirmed that public banks are refraining from extending loans to the capital as well.

In March 2019 elections, the opposition candidate, Mansur Yavas, ended 25 years of rule by the mayors affiliated to the AKP who benefited continually from the loans of state banks for strange and unpopular urban projects such as dinosar parks.

According to Esen, the AKP elites calculate that these projects could help opposition mayors draw votes from their base, thereby undermining the AKP's political hegemony.

“State banks are a convenient tool to use for this strategy. Under the AKP rule, the state banks instead turned into cash machines for pro-government businesses who openly side with Erdogan,” he said.


Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event
Updated 41 min 50 sec ago

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event
  • "The real agenda of the Lebanese forces is civil war," Nasrallah said in a live televised speech
  • Nasrallah says Hezbollah is not the enemy of the Christians and trying to portray it as such is an illusion

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah said on Monday that last week’s Beirut violence in which seven Shiite Muslims were shot dead was a dangerous development and marked a new phase in the country’s internal politics.
In his first remarks since the worst street violence in over a decade, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at the Christian Lebanese Forces party and its head Samir Geagea, repeating accusations that they were responsible for the killings on Thursday.
“The real agenda of the Lebanese forces is civil war,” Nasrallah said in a live televised speech.
Heavy gunfire erupted in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahiya, a Hezbollah stronghold, to celebrate the start of Nasrallah’s speech, which came amid tensions over the investigation of last year’s devastating explosion at the capital’s port.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah was not the enemy of Lebanese Christians.
“The biggest threat to the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Nasrallah said.
The bloodshed, which stirred memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, added to fears for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and suffering an economic meltdown.
The Lebanese Forces party (LF) has denied it started the fighting last week. It blamed the violence on Hezbollah “incitement” against Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator in an investigation into the port explosion.
It also accused Hezbollah of sending supporters into the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Remmaneh where it says four residents were wounded before a shot was fired.
“I advise the Lebanese Forces party to give up this idea of internal strife and civil war,” said Nasrallah.
“You are wrong one hundred percent, your calculations are wrong. The region has never seen Hezbollah as strong as it is now.”
Despite his tough stand, Nasrallah dedicated a significant part of his speech to trying to reassure Lebanon’s Christians, saying Hezbollah was protecting their rights and is allied with the largest Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement.
Lebanon’s Shiite Amal movement, a Hezbollah ally, said earlier that the Beirut violence was intended to reignite internal strife and threaten peace.
The seven victims were killed as crowds headed for a demonstration called by Amal and Hezbollah to protest against Bitar.
“What happened showed the Lebanese people the truth behind what these groups are doing in terms of trying to ignite internal strife and national division and threaten civic peace, and push the Lebanese back to the era of civil wars,” Amal said in a statement.
Amal, which is led by Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, one of the most powerful political figures in the country, urged the authorities to arrest all those responsible for the violence.
The inquiry into the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut, has made little headway amid pushback from political factions.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati told the al Modon newspaper on Monday that the government would not meet unless an agreement is reached concerning the investigation.
Mikati also said he was not planning to resign at the moment. “The country can’t be left in circumstances like this.”
Tensions over the probe have spilt over into cabinet, with ministers aligned with the politicians the judge was seeking to question demanding his removal.


Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days
Updated 18 October 2021

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days
  • Migrants picked up by humanitarian group Sea-Watch, which now has more than 400 rescued people on its vessel
  • More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the country’s Ministry of Interior

ROME: Fifty migrants were rescued on Sunday and Monday by the Sea-Watch 3 vessel in the waters off the coast of Libya.

More than 400 people are now on the boat, according to German humanitarian organization Sea-Watch. It is patrolling the central Mediterranean rescuing people trying to reach the small Italian island of Lampedusa in small, crowded boats.

Meanwhile landings continue non-stop on the island. Three vessels with 52 Tunisians on board reportedly landed on Monday morning, and four boats containing 140 foreigners arrived the previous night. One boat, with 13 Tunisians aboard, managed to reach the shore without being intercepted by coast guard vessels.

“On Sunday we had 152 Tunisians arriving here in six different landings,” Lampedusa Mayor Salvatore Martello told Arab News, giving his latest official figures. “There are now 329 migrants in our facility, which can accommodate a maximum of 250 people.

“The prefecture of Agrigento ordered for them to be transferred to the quarantine ship GNV Atlas, which is moored one mile from the coast. We cannot carry on like this. The entire population here is under stress. We are left alone but we have no intention not to help how we can those who arrive here. But this has been going on for too long.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 migrants from Tunisia arrived over the weekend on the southern shores of the Italian island of Sardinia. They were detained by the Italian coast guard and by police.

“They were very dehydrated and tired as they have covered quite a long distance on a small vessel,” a spokesman for the coast guard in Cagliari told Arab News.

The journey to Sardinia from Tunisia is longer than to Lampedusa, and navigation in recent days has been difficult as a result of bad weather.

Sea-Watch said that its Seabird aircraft, which flies over the Mediterranean looking for vessels carrying migrants so that they can be rescued, also reported what it described as “illegal pushbacks operated by the so-called Libyan coast guard.”

Since 2014, nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the country’s Ministry of Interior. This is almost double the number of people who arrived in the same period last year.


More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition
Updated 18 October 2021

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition

More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition
  • Yemeni FM meets with chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission for Yemen

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Monday that it carried out 38 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Abedia and the surrounding villages in the Yemeni governorate of Marib.
The coalition said more than 150 militia members were killed and 13 Houthi vehicles destroyed in the operations in the previous 24 hours.
The coalition said that “international organizations must assume their responsibilities toward the civilians (who have been) trapped in Abedia” for weeks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia mounted a brutal offensive in February to take control of one of the last remaining government strongholds. The energy-rich region has served as a safe haven for internally displaced people fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.
The Arab coalition began hitting Houthi targets in Abedia last week following an escalation in the militia’s incursions.
This comes as Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak warned of the “dangerous repercussions” of the Houthis’ escalating offensive on civilians and displaced people in Marib governorate.
His comments came during a meeting with the chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission for Yemen, Christa Rottensteiner.
Bin Mubarak said that the. Houthis’ military escalation “exacerbates the difficult humanitarian conditions of the displaced, especially in the Marib governorate, which is home to more than two million displaced people.”
He also warned that “the international community’s disregard for such practices unleashes the Houthis to commit more violence and violations against civilians, which compounds the displacement crisis, forces displacement of civilians, and increases their human suffering.”


Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing
Updated 18 October 2021

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing

Officials: Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 bombing
  • The suicide car bombing in the central Karradah district was the deadliest attack by a single bomber in the Iraqi capital after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion
  • Two Iraqi intelligence officials said the man identified as Ghazwan al-Zobai, an Iraqi, was detained during a complex operation

BAGHDAD: Iraq said Monday it has detained the mastermind behind a deadly 2016 bombing in a Baghdad shopping center, which killed around 300 people and wounded 250.
The suicide car bombing in the central Karradah district was the deadliest attack by a single bomber in the Iraqi capital after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Two Iraqi intelligence officials said the man identified as Ghazwan Al-Zobai, an Iraqi, was detained during a complex operation that was carried out with the cooperation of a neighboring country they did not name. He had been tracked by authorities for months.
They told The Associated Press that Al-Zobai was detained in an unidentified foreign country and transported to Iraq two days ago. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak of the operation on the record.
The 29-year-old Al-Zobai was an Al-Qaeda militant when he was imprisoned by the Americans in Iraq at Cropper prison until 2008, and then escaped from Abu Ghraib prison in 2013. He joined the Daesh group after that.
The officials said Al-Zobai plotted many attacks in Iraq, the most infamous of which was the 2016 bombing in Karrada in 2016. He operated under the Alias Abu Obaida.
At least 292 people died from the bombing, most of them from an ensuing fire that turned the Hadi shopping center into an inferno. The blaze was fed by a tinderbox of shops filled with clothing and oil-based perfumes for sale and lined with flammable panels.
Al-Zobai’s arrest came in the second such operation conducted by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service since Iraq’s federal elections Oct. 10.
Iraqi officials said they captured Sami Jasim, an IS leader last Monday in a similar operation abroad. Jasim had a $5 million bounty on his head from the US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, which describes him as having been “instrumental in managing finances for IS terrorist operations.”


Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border
Updated 18 October 2021

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border

Syria buries former lawmaker shot near Israeli border
  • Midhat Saleh, a well-known figure in Syria, was fatally shot Saturday at the Israeli border in the Golan Heights where he ran a government office
  • Syria said he was killed by Israeli sniper fire

DAMASCUS, Syria: A former Syrian lawmaker allegedly felled by Israeli sniper fire was laid to rest Monday in an official funeral attended by hundreds of people near Damascus.
Midhat Saleh, a well-known figure in Syria, was fatally shot Saturday in Ein el-Tineh, a village along the Israeli border in the Golan Heights where he ran a Syrian government office. Syria said he was killed by Israeli sniper fire. Israeli military and other officials declined to comment on the charge.
Israeli media, however, said Saleh had been assisting the Iranian military presence against Israel. If the Syrian claims are confirmed, it would mark the first time that Israeli snipers are known to have killed someone identified as an Iranian-linked target across the border.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the area. Most of the world does not recognize the annexation, though the Trump administration declared the territory to be part of Israel.
On Monday, Saleh’s coffin, wrapped in a Syrian flag, was brought in an ambulance from the Mamdouh Abaza hospital in Qunetira to Jaramana, on the outskirts of Damascus, for burial at a Druze cemetery. Hundreds of people attended, in addition to senior officials and Druze clerics.
Saleh was born in Majdal Shams, in the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan, and was jailed several times by Israel, most recently for 12 years until 1997. He later moved to Syria, was elected to parliament in 1998 and served as an adviser to the government on the Golan issue.
Saleh’s son, Golan, a 17-year-old student, said that his father has always told him that the territory would return to Syria.
“I am proud that my father was martyred,” he said.