Couple’s suicide highlights rising Turkish poverty levels

Couple’s suicide highlights rising Turkish poverty levels
A woman looks for food in a pile of waste late at night in Ankara. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2021

Couple’s suicide highlights rising Turkish poverty levels

Couple’s suicide highlights rising Turkish poverty levels
  • Restaurant owners, workers protest as report shows soaring inequality, debt

ANKARA: The suicide of a young Istanbul couple who faced serious financial struggles caused by coronavirus restrictions has raised fears about growing poverty levels in Turkey.

The pair committed suicide on Feb. 9 after leaving their 1-year-old child with a neighbor. It is believed they were struggling with financial hardships as a result of anti-coronavirus policies that have caused growing disillusionment across the country.

The incident has become a symbol of the country’s new economic reality and growing income inequality. The same day, Turkey controversially announced the launch of a new space program to land on the moon by 2023.

“Those who say there is no poverty and hunger — should we be upset for that little child, or those young people who died suddenly?” Canan Kaftancioglu, the Republican People’s Party Istanbul chair, said.

A recent report by the Public Services Employees Union found that seven in 10 Turkish people hold significant personal debts, with poverty rates higher among women and one in two children facing a life of poverty.




A fifth of Turkey’s 81 million people live below the poverty line, and a report found that seven out of 10 people have significant personal debts, with poverty rates higher among women. (AFP)

A fifth of Turkey’s 81 million people is believed to live below the poverty line.

The Gini coefficient, a commonly used measure of income inequality, among EU member states is 0.307. In Turkey, however, the figure stands at 0.417, according to Eurostat data that also showed that the country’s wealthiest people earned more than eight times the average wage in 2019.

A recent study by Turkish academics found that the number of impoverished Turks could double this year, rising to 20 million people.

Another report by the World Bank revealed that the coronavirus pandemic could force 1.6 million more people below the poverty line.

FASTFACT

A report by the World Bank has revealed that the coronavirus pandemic could force 1.6 million new people under the poverty line in Turkey.

“In Turkey, the poor and the vulnerable (those above the poverty line, but with high levels of economic insecurity), representing the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution, account for six out of 10 jobs that vanished during the crisis,” the report said.

Experts have warned that government efforts to alleviate economic hardship caused by the pandemic, such as unemployment insurance benefits, have not been proportional to the scale of growing poverty in the country, because the aid scheme included only registered employees, ignoring the millions of “informal” workers who make up one-third of the labor market.

“Although Turkey has never been a perfect democracy or used rule of law in the past, the recent deterioration of checks and balances in the country and the wrong economic policies have had immediate repercussions on economic dynamics and hit the most vulnerable households on an unprecedented scale,” Serkan Ozcan, an economist and founding member of the breakaway Future Party, told Arab News.

Ozcan said that a “significant share” of society lives below the poverty line, despite working normal jobs.

According to the latest income survey by the state-run statistics agency TUIK, one-third of the population cannot afford to buy meat regularly, while 37 percent of respondents said they could not afford to heat their homes.

“Every time there is acute poverty in the country, the government brings about similar plans, like landing on the moon or initiating infrastructure megaprojects, to distract people from their immediate needs. It is a recurrent pattern,” Ozcan said.

On top of the economic damage caused by the pandemic, a government ban on layoffs is expected to be lifted later this year, likely resulting in a sharp increase in unemployment.

Large crowds of restaurant owners and staff have staged protests around the country in recent weeks to raise awareness of their financial struggles.

A new survey from Bahcesehir University revealed that the pay of one-third of the country decreased in the pandemic, while half of the Turkish population expects a sharp decline in their income in the coming period.

The same survey showed that one-third of people face difficulty in buying food amid Turkey’s double-digit inflation rate.

Employment figures among young people in the country also show an alarming 40 percent jobless rate.


Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord
Updated 57 min 50 sec ago

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord

Israeli FM to visit Bahrain in first after diplomatic accord
  • Yair Lapid announced the visit in a conference call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and officials from Bahrain, UAE and Morocco
  • “This Abraham Accords club is open to new members," Lapid said

JERUSALEM: Israel’s foreign minister said Friday that he will visit Bahrain later this month, the first such visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf country following a diplomatic agreement reached last year.
Yair Lapid announced the visit in a conference call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and officials from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, which signed US-brokered agreements to normalize relations with Israel last year.
The officials hailed the so-called Abraham Accords, which have led to the opening of embassies, the launch of direct flights and a raft of agreements to boost economic ties. They expressed hope that the new relationships would be deepened and that other nations would follow suit.
“This Abraham Accords club is open to new members,” Lapid said, before announcing that he plans to visit Bahrain by the end of the month. He visited the UAE in June and Morocco in August.
The Biden administration has welcomed the accords brokered by former President Donald Trump’s administration, and has pledged to build on them.
The Palestinians viewed the agreements as a betrayal of their national cause because they further eroded a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should be conditioned on progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.
Blinken, who hosted the video conference, said “we all must build on these relationships and growing normalization to make tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians and to make progress toward the longstanding goal of advancing a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita called the accords a “historic event that is worth commemorating,” but said that relaunching the peace process with the Palestinians is “fundamental.”
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani said more should be done to showcase the benefits of cooperation.
“We need to demonstrate what genuine regional peace, interdependence and prosperity can mean in practice for the day-to-day lives of all the peoples of the Middle East,” he said.


Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states
Updated 17 September 2021

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states

Blinken says US to help foster Israel's ties with Arab states
  • Blinken said Washington would work to deepen Israel's long-standing relationship with Egypt and Jordan
  • He said the US will encourage other countries to normalise ties with Israel

WASHINGTON: The United States will help foster Israel's growing ties with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates as well as Sudan and Kosovo while encouraging other countries to normalise ties with Israel, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.
Speaking at an event marking the first anniversary of Abraham Accords, US-brokered agreements which have ushered in public rapprochements between Israel and several Arab states, Blinken also said Washington would work to deepen Israel's long-standing relationship with Egypt and Jordan.


US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran
Updated 17 September 2021

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

US issues sanctions tied to supporters of Hezbollah, Iran

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Friday it was sanctioning Lebanon and Kuwait-based financial conduits that fund the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah as well as financial facilitators and front companies that support the group and Iran.
Hezbollah "continues to exploit the legitimate commercial sector for financial and material support, which enables the group to carry out acts of terrorism and degrade Lebanon’s political institutions," Treasury said in the announcement.
The sanctions also apply to businessman Morteza Minaye Hashemi, who lives in China and who had funneled money to Iran's Qods Force, Treasury said. Two Chinese nationals had helped Hashemi establish bank accounts and served as straw owners for his companies, which were based in Hong Kong and mainland China, according to the Treasury release.


Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
Updated 17 September 2021

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing

Iran joins expanding Asian security body led by Moscow, Beijing
  • Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran to join important trade links across Eurasia

Iran joined a rapidly expanding central Asian security body led by Russia and China on Friday, calling on the countries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to help it form a mechanism to avert sanctions imposed by the West.
The body, formed in the 2001 as a talking shop for Russia, China and ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, expanded four years ago to include India and Pakistan, with a view to playing a bigger role as counterweight to Western influence in the region.
In a sign of its growing influence, the body’s summit in Tajikistan was the first appearance abroad of Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahimi Raisi, since taking office in August.
Raisi hailed the opportunity that membership would provide for Iran, as a country along China’s “Belt and Road” route, to join important trade links across Eurasia. Iranian television described Iran’s membership as giving it access to huge markets across the continent.
In his speech to members, Raisi compared sanctions on Iran to terrorism, and said the organization should design a mechanism that helps Tehran avert them.
Russia and China, along with Western countries, are parties of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Washington abandoned that deal in 2018 and unilaterally reimposed financial sanctions. Negotiations this year to revive it have been stalled since Raisi’s election.
“Nothing can stop Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities that are within the framework of international regulations,” Raisi said. “Diplomacy is only effective when all parties adhere to it. Threats and pressure tie diplomacy’s hands and render it ineffective.”


New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
Updated 17 September 2021

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
  • The audit is a key requirement for Lebanon to secure foreign aid

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new government raised gasoline prices on Friday, cutting a subsidy that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said is unaffordable as he advances plans to address a devastating financial collapse.
The government also signed a new contract with restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to carry out a forensic audit of the central bank, a step sought by donors who want to see Beirut enact reforms to unlock badly needed aid.
The Mikati government, which took office a week ago, has promised action to address the crisis, including talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a start to reforms.
IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said on Thursday there had been courtesy calls with members of the new government and the Fund stood ready to engage in the period ahead. Talks between the previous government and the IMF broke down last year.
The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic collapse is one of the worst on record.
The currency has slumped more than 90 percent since 2019, more than three quarters of the population have been driven into poverty, the banking system is paralyzed and a hard currency crunch has led to shortages of vital imports, including fuel.
Lebanon has been suppressing fuel prices by providing dollars at subsidised exchange rates well below the pound’s price on the parallel market, with the stated aim of shielding people hit by the collapse.
Critics say the system has given rise to smuggling and hoarding, contributing to shortages that have crippled normal life and spawned a black market where gasoline has been sold at enormously inflated prices.
Fuel prices issued on Friday raised the gasoline price by more than 37 percent with immediate effect.
“This is the stage before last of lifting the subsidy,” said Georges Braks, a member of the Petrol Station Owners’ syndicate, who expects the subsidy to be removed by the end of September.
He said the new prices were based on an exchange rate around 12,000 pounds per dollar.
This compares with a rate of 8,000 pounds per dollar that the previous government agreed for fuel prices last month, but is still below the rate on the parallel market, where dollars were changing hands at 14,600 on Friday.
The central bank said last month it could no longer afford to provide dollars for fuel at heavily subsidised rates.
The move means importers will still be sourcing dollars from the central bank rather than the market and so a subsidy still applies, said Mike Azar, a senior Beirut-based financial adviser.
The pound has strengthened from around 19,000 per dollar since Mikati took office, ending a year of political conflict over cabinet seats that left Lebanon rudderless.
The IMF has recommended Lebanon unify the multiple exchange rates along with other steps including the central bank audit.
Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, formerly a senior central bank official, signed the contract with A&M, which the ministry said would present an initial report within 12 weeks of its team starting work.
A&M withdrew from the audit last November, saying it had not received the information it required. The finance ministry said in April the central bank had agreed to hand over required documents.
Parliament then agreed in December to lift banking secrecy for one year, amid much back-and-forth between Lebanese officials including the finance ministry and the central bank over whether certain information could be disclosed.
Lebanon’s talks with the IMF last year broke down largely due to a dispute over the scale of losses in the financial system. A plan drawn up by the previous government said these amounted to some $90 billion, a figure endorsed by the IMF but rejected by Lebanese banks and the political elite.