Move to ban pro-Kurdish party would ‘undermine democracy’ in Turkey: US

Move to ban pro-Kurdish party would ‘undermine democracy’ in Turkey: US
State Department spokesman Ned Price. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 March 2021

Move to ban pro-Kurdish party would ‘undermine democracy’ in Turkey: US

Move to ban pro-Kurdish party would ‘undermine democracy’ in Turkey: US
  • Turkey has a long history of shutting down political parties
  • Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long portrayed the HDP as the political front of banned Kurdish militants

ANKARA: The United States warned Wednesday that efforts to bar the main pro-Kurdish party in Turkey would undermine the nation’s democracy.
A Turkish prosecutor has asked the Constitutional Court to shut down the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest group in parliament.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long portrayed the HDP as the political front of banned Kurdish militants who have been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.
“We are... monitoring the initiation of efforts to dissolve the People’s Democratic Party, a decision that would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey, and deny millions of Turkish citizens their chosen representation,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“We call on the government of Turkey to respect freedom of expression in line with protections in the Turkish constitution and with Turkey’s international obligations,” he added.
Wednesday's request to ban the party came from a Supreme Court prosecutor who is investigating the HDP.
Turkey has a long history of shutting down political parties which it regards as a threat and has in the past banned a series of other pro-Kurdish parties.
The HDP had recently come under intensified pressure, with nationalist allies of President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) calling for it to be banned over alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group.
That has coincided with falling poll support for the AKP and its nationalist allies as Erdogan’s government battles the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Elections are not scheduled until 2023.
The HDP said prosecutors acted on political orders and accused the ruling AK Party of shaping politics through the courts.
“The closure case launched against our party is a heavy blow to democracy and law,” the HDP said in a statement, adding that its “determined struggle for democratic politics” would continue.
"We call on all the democratic forces, the social and political opposition, and on our people to join a common fight against this political coup," it said in a statement.
The embattled lira extended losses on concerns about the political impact of the move, weakening 2% to 7.64 against the dollar.
“(The HDP) move together with the PKK terrorist group and other linked organizations, they act as a branch of the organization with the aim of breaking the unity of the state,” appeals court chief prosecutor Bekir Sahin said in a statement.
The HDP, which has 55 seats in the 600-member parliament, denies any links to the militants.
The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union. It has fought an insurgency against the state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The US State Department said in a statement a decision to dissolve the HDP “would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey, and deny millions of Turkish citizens their chosen representation.”
The Haberturk news website cited the indictment as saying the prosecutor demanded a political ban for more than 600 HDP officials, including its current co-chairs and the jailed former leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.
The prosecutor also demanded financial restrictions on the party, including a halt to financial aid from the Treasury and a cautionary judgment on the party’s assets, Haberturk said.
Islamist parties have also been banned in previous decades, with Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party itself surviving a closure case in 2008. In years since, Erdogan has repeatedly expressed his opposition to closing parties down.
HDP co-leaders Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar said earlier this month that if shut down the party’s members would regroup under a different banner, as was done in the past when similar parties were closed.
The HDP first took part in elections in 2014, espousing broadly left-wing and pro-minority policies which helped it appeal beyond its grassroots support in the mainly Kurdish southeast to liberal voters elsewhere. In 2018 parliamentary elections it won 11.7% of the vote, or nearly 6 million votes.
Earlier on Wednesday Turkey’s parliament stripped prominent HDP deputy and human rights advocate Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu of his seat over a criminal conviction for spreading “terrorist propaganda” in a social media post.
The HDP says Gergerlioglu, who received a 2-1/2 year jail sentence, was punished for sharing on Twitter the link to a news story that included comments from the PKK.
The US State Department said the move against Gergerlioglu was “troubling.”
This month Erdogan announced a plan to strengthen rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression, but his critics say it is just a public relations exercise.

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EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions

EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions
Updated 1 min 46 sec ago

EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions

EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions

PARIS: The European Union said on Friday it had adopted a legal framework for a sanctions regime targeting Lebanese individuals and entities.
In a statement it said the framework provided for the possibility of imposing sanctions on those responsible for undermining democracy or the rule of law in Lebanon.


FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
Updated 54 min 56 sec ago

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
  • Questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate was left unsafely stored in the capital for years
  • The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people

WASHINGTON: The amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at Beirut port last year was one fifth of the shipment unloaded there in 2013, the FBI concluded after the blast, adding to suspicions that much of the cargo had gone missing.
As the first anniversary approaches on Aug. 4, major questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate — which can be used to make fertilizer or bombs — was left unsafely stored in a capital city for years.
The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people, wounding thousands, and devastating swathes of Beirut.
The FBI’s Oct. 7, 2020 report, which was seen by Reuters this week, estimates around 552 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded that day, much less than the 2,754 tons that arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013.
The FBI report does not give any explanation as to how the discrepancy arose, or where the rest of the shipment may have gone.
In response to a detailed request for comment, an FBI spokesperson referred Reuters to the Lebanese authorities.
FBI investigators came to Beirut after the blast at Lebanon’s request.
A senior Lebanese official who was aware of the FBI report and its findings said the Lebanese authorities agreed with the Bureau on the quantity that exploded.
Many officials in Lebanon have previously said in private they believe a lot of the shipment was stolen.
The ammonium nitrate was going from Georgia to Mozambique on a Russian-leased cargo ship when the captain says he was instructed to make an unscheduled stop in Beirut and take on extra cargo.
The ship arrived in Beirut in November 2013 but never left, becoming tangled in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects. No one ever came forward to claim the shipment.
The senior Lebanese official said there were no firm conclusions as to why the quantity that exploded was less than the original shipment. One theory was that part of it was stolen. A second theory was that only part of the shipment detonated, with the rest blown out to sea, the official said.
The FBI report said “an approximate amount reaching around 552 metric tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in warehouse 12.”
It noted the warehouse was large enough to house the 2,754 ton shipment, which was stored in one-ton bags, but added “it is not logical that all of them were present at the time of the explosion.”


Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president
Updated 59 min 28 sec ago

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president
  • Parliamentarian Yassin Ayari’s wife said security arrested him for criticizing Tunisian President on Facebook

TUNIS: Tunisian security forces arrested a member of parliament at his home on Friday, his wife said, after he criticised President Kais Saied on Facebook and called his seizure of governing powers a coup.
Yassin Ayari, who represents a small party in parliament, has previously expressed frequent criticism of Saied, who on Sunday dismissed the prime minister, froze parliament for a month and said he was taking over executive authority.
Neither the security forces nor the judiciary were immediately available for comment on his arrest.
Ayari's wife, Cyrine Fitouri, said by phone that about 20 men in plain clothes who introduced themselves as members of a presidential security unit had raided their home earlier on Friday and used violence as they detained him.
"They took him forcefully while his mother was shouting," she said, adding that they had told the family not to film them as they took him away.
Saied on Thursday said he would uphold freedoms and rights of Tunisians as the United States urged him to return the country to "the democratic path" and key civil society groups said he must uphold the constitution.
His actions appear to have widespread popular support in Tunisia, where years of misgovernance, corruption, political paralysis and economic stagnation have been aggravated this year by a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases.
When he announced his seizure of governing powers on Sunday he also said he would take over public prosecutions and lifted the immunity of parliament members.
The judiciary, which has declared its political independence, said this week it had previously opened investigations into three political parties that have opposed Saied, and has now started investigations into several lawmakers.


Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus
Updated 30 July 2021

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus
  • Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced that vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15 starts Monday
  • Over 20 per cent of Cypriot teenagers aged 16-17 have received a vaccine shot

NICOSIA: Cyprus decided Friday to expand its Covid-19 vaccination rollout to cover children aged 12 to 15, as authorities tackle a fourth wave of coronavirus.
Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced that vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15 would start Monday.
“The vaccination will be voluntary and with the necessary consent of the parents or legal guardians,” he said.
“Already several European Union countries, such as France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, and Greece, vaccinate children aged 12-15 to achieve greater protection of the population,” he told reporters.
Children will be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna).
Over 20 percent of Cypriot teenagers aged 16-17 have received a vaccine shot.
“The only way to stop new aggressive Covid-19 variants is to vaccinate,” said Hadjipantelas.
Cyprus is experiencing a new surge in cases, peaking at 1,152 on 15 July.
The surge is blamed on the more potent Delta variant and a low vaccination rate among the under 30s.
In a bid to contain the spike, the cabinet decided Friday that unvaccinated visitors and tourists staying longer than seven days will need to take a PCR test after a week’s stay.
Currently, there are no restrictions on vaccinated tourists entering the country.
The island has endured three national lockdowns in the past 16 months, and the government is trying to avoid another one to save the economy.
Hospitals have postponed all non-emergency operations as Covid wards reach capacity.
The health ministry said Cyprus has inoculated 73 percent of the eligible population with a first jab, and 64 percent are fully vaccinated.
The target is to reach “herd immunity” of 80 percent by the end of August.
Government-controlled southern Cyprus has registered over 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 416 deaths since the pandemic reached its shores in March 2020.
Wearing face masks and social distancing are compulsory.


Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast
Updated 30 July 2021

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast
  • Many Lebanese are angry that nearly a year after the incident, no senior official has yet been held responsible

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun told the country’s public prosecutor on Friday he was ready to give a statement about last year’s port blast in the capital Beirut if needed.
“No one is above the law no matter how high up, and justice can only be achieved through the specialized judicial branches that provide guarantees,” Aoun told prosecutor Ghassan Ouidat during a meeting, according to a statement released by the president’s office.
The Aug. 4 explosion at the port, caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely for years, killed over 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the capital.
A probe into the blast led by judge Tarek Bitar has been hindered over the past month as requests sent to parliament and the government to lift immunity and enable questioning of several top officials were either declined or stalled.
Many Lebanese are angry that nearly a year after the incident, no senior official has yet been held responsible.
Influential parliament speaker Nabih Berri said on Thursday the legislature was ready to lift the immunity of its members to allow for questioning but did not detail when or how this would be done.