Erdogan rival accuses Russia of ‘deep fake’ campaign ahead of Sunday vote

Erdogan rival accuses Russia of ‘deep fake’ campaign ahead of Sunday vote
Supporters of People’s Alliance’s presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend an election rally campaign in Istanbul on May 7, 2023. Turkiye is heading toward presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 12 May 2023

Erdogan rival accuses Russia of ‘deep fake’ campaign ahead of Sunday vote

Erdogan rival accuses Russia of ‘deep fake’ campaign ahead of Sunday vote
  • Kemal Kilicdaroglu names Moscow in tweets on Thursday
  • Kremlin rejects accusations, slams ‘liars’ behind information

ANKARA: As Turks go to the polls on Sunday to elect their new parliament and president, the country is at a critical crossroads, with fresh allegations about foreign meddling in the elections.
In a startling tweet on Thursday night, Turkiye’s opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused Russia of interfering with the Turkish elections, saying that Russians are behind the “deep fake” and defamatory material that has been circulating for the past few days on social media.
“Dear Russian friends, you are behind the montages, conspiracies, deep fake content and recordings that were exposed in this country yesterday. If you want our friendship to continue after May 15, get your hands off the Turkish state. We still side by cooperation and friendship,” he said in Turkish, and tweeted it also in Russian.
However, Moscow rejected Kilicdaroglu’s accusations, with the Kremlin saying in a statement: “If someone gave him such information, they are liars.”
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, told Arab News: “Russia has the capability and track record of using disinformation to influence, to impact politics in other countries. Russian malign influence in the US and Germany during elections is well documented.
“It is also not a secret that Russia takes sides in Turkish domestic politics. Therefore, it would come as no surprise if Russia conducted malign influence operations in Turkiye as well,” he claimed.
Russia has been accused of interfering with the US presidential election in 2016 and in the French presidential campaign and German elections in 2017.
“Turkiye today is highly polarized, mainstream media has been eliminated, and Turkish citizens live in echo chambers and deeply distrust each other. As a result, Turkiye is highly exposed to malign foreign influence,” Unluhisarcikli said.
Kilicdaroglu’s claim came after Muharrem Ince, one of the four presidential candidates, announced on Thursday his decision to withdraw his candidacy after being targeted by a series of smear campaigns that included fabricated pornographic images taken from an Israeli site. In other documents, he was also accused of taking bribes from officials to divide the opposition’s votes.
Although his withdrawal may help Kilicdaroglu’s election chances in the first round, it is still unclear whether this will be enough to secure him more than 50 percent of the votes required to win the presidential race on May 14.
“There are fears of various undemocratic interventions in Turkiye’s elections. These are substantiated by the government’s past behavior and other examples in the world, and include various manipulative actions and outright rigging by partisan government officials as well as Russian meddling,” Murat Somer, a political science professor at Koc University in Istanbul, told Arab News.
“But none of this is an easy task in this country of over 190,000 ballot boxes, a long legacy of institutionalized democracy and elections, highly mobilized opposition/civil society, and a bureaucracy obsessed with documenting everything.”
To do it, he added, one has to ensure the compliance of literally hundreds of thousands of people in one way or another.
For Somer, the way to preempt and prevent such interventions is to sway the votes and public opinion to such an extent that the dominant expectation is an imminent opposition victory, and people hesitate to do things they can be held accountable for under a new government.
The activation of some cyberattacks in Turkiye has been predictable.
Last week, Kilicdaroglu also claimed that the opposition bloc might be targeted with fake videos or voice recordings on social media, based on the intelligence reports his party received.
During a campaign rally last weekend, Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also played an alleged deep fake video where militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK declared their support for his rival Kilicdaroglu. But the video that aimed to associate the opposition with terror groups was then proved to be fabricated.
Publicly, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s administration is not picking sides in the Turkish elections. But it is no secret that Turkish-Russian relations have thrived under Erdogan’s rule with a close personal relationship between the two leaders. Erdogan and Putin recently inaugurated Turkiye’s first nuclear plant in a virtual ceremony.
Another economic bonus from the Kremlin to the incumbent Turkish government is that Russian energy giant Gazprom recently agreed to defer a portion of Turkiye’s gas payments.
Although he is expected to take a more pro-Western position, a Kilicdaroglu win is not expected to completely ruin Russia-Turkiye relations, as Russian ties are especially important for Turkiye’s energy imports and trade. Russia is among Turkiye’s biggest trade partners.
In their memorandum, the six-party opposition coalition defined their relations with Russia as follows: “We will maintain relations with the Russian Federation with an understanding that both parties are equal and strengthened by balanced and constructive dialogue at the institutional level.”
Somer said: “Similarly, Putin may figure that he may have to interact with a new government he does not want to alienate. Hence, Kilicdaroglu reiterated his interest in good relations conditional upon Russian non-interference.”
Somer expects that the Turkish-Russian mutually beneficial relations would continue in a Kilicdaroglu win scenario, but that Turkiye would be more firmly anchored in Western democratic values, institutions and alliances.
In an interview with Russia’s RT Network, Kilicdaroglu’s top foreign policy chief and former ambassador Unal Cevikoz said there would not be any serious change in Turkiye’s foreign policy with regard to Russia if Kilicdaroglu won.
“I believe Kilicdaroglu as the new president will have good relations with Putin,” he said.

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month
Updated 10 sec ago

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month

Iran dismisses plan by UN nuclear watchdog head to visit next month
  • IAEA’s Rafael Grossi: Iran continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use
  • Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent
DUBAI: Iran’s nuclear chief on Wednesday dismissed a suggestion that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi would visit Iran next month but instead invited Grossi to a conference in Tehran in May.
Grossi said this week Iran was continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use and said he planned to visit Tehran next month to tackle “drifting apart” relations between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic.
But Mohammad Eslami said a visit next month was unlikely due to a “busy schedule” without giving further clarification. “Iran’s interactions with the IAEA continue as normal and discussions are held to resolve ambiguities and develop cooperation,” he said at a weekly press conference in Tehran.
Eslami said Grossi had been invited to attend Iran’s first international nuclear energy conference in May.
Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Grossi said while the pace of uranium enrichment had slowed slightly since the end of last year, Iran was still enriching at an elevated rate of around 7kg of uranium per month to 60 percent purity.
Enrichment to 60 percent brings uranium close to weapons grade, and is not necessary for commercial use in nuclear power production. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons but no other state has enriched to that level without producing them.
Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent. After then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of that deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, Iran breached and moved well beyond the deal’s nuclear restrictions.
The UN nuclear watchdog said the 2015 nuclear deal “is all but disintegrated.”

US, Russia to speak on Israeli occupation at top UN court

US, Russia to speak on Israeli occupation at top UN court
Updated 21 February 2024

US, Russia to speak on Israeli occupation at top UN court

US, Russia to speak on Israeli occupation at top UN court
  • More than 50 states will present arguments until February 26
  • Current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza

THE HAGUE: The United States and Russia will present arguments on Wednesday in proceedings at the UN’s highest court examining the legality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, was asked in 2022 by the UN General Assembly to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the occupation.
Israel, which is not taking part, said in written comments that the court’s involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement. Washington in 2022 opposed the court issuing an opinion and is expected to argue on Wednesday that it cannot rule on the occupation’s lawfulness.
More than 50 states will present arguments until Feb. 26. Egypt and France were also scheduled to speak on Wednesday.
On Monday, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel’s occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution.
On Tuesday, 10 states including South Africa were overwhelmingly critically of Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories, with many urging the court to declare the occupation illegal.
The latest surge of violence in Gaza that followed Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel has complicated already deeply-rooted grievances in the Middle East and damaged efforts toward finding a path to peace.
The ICJ’s 15-judge panel has been asked to review Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation ... including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”
The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue their opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences for states.
Israel ignored a World Court opinion in 2004 when it found that Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled. Instead, it has been extended.
The current hearings could increase political pressure over Israel’s war in Gaza, which has killed about 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — areas of historic Palestine which the Palestinians want for a state — in the 1967 conflict. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighboring Egypt, still controls its borders.
Israeli leaders have long disputed that the territories are formally occupied on the basis that they were captured from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war rather than from a sovereign Palestine.

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution
Updated 21 February 2024

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution

GCC regrets failure of UN to adopt Gaza ceasefire resolution
  • US vetoed the Algeria proposal seeking immediate ceasefire
  • Need to ‘spare the blood’ of Palestinians, says GCC spokeswoman

DUBAI: The GCC has expressed its “regret” over the failure of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution seeking a ceasefire in Gaza.

Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, the GCC’s spokeswoman and Qatar’s permanent envoy at the UN, said the resolution was aimed at ending the war on Gaza, ensure the protection of Palestinians, and was consistent with international humanitarian law.

The resolution was proposed by Algeria and supported by Arab nations and most members of the council, said Al-Thani on Tuesday.

“We regret the failure of the security council to adopt the resolution submitted by Algeria,” she said.

“Our countries will continue their efforts along with partners to ensure reaching a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, in order to spare the blood of our Palestinian brothers and to ensure the arrival of more humanitarian and relief aid to the Strip and to protect civilians,” Al-Thani said.

The draft resolution condemned the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, urged all parties to comply with their obligations under international law, and called for the release all hostages.

The US vetoed the resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and proposed its own draft urging a temporary ceasefire.

Washington said the Algeria-proposed resolution would “jeopardize” talks to end the war.

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2
Updated 18 min 53 sec ago

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2

Israeli strike hits Damascus residential area, killing at least 2
  • Strike hit a building near an Iranian school and caused casualties: Pro-government Sham FM radio
  • Israel had no comment

DAMASCUS: Israeli strikes hit a neighborhood of the Syrian capital on Wednesday morning, killing two people and causing material damage, Syria’s state TV said. There was no confirmation of the strikes from Israel.
The Syrian state TV reported that several missiles hit the western neighborhood of Kfar Sousseh but did not elaborate or say who were the people killed. The pro-government Sham FM radio station said the strike hit a building near an Iranian school.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said the two killed were inside an apartment but did not give any clues about their identities.
He added that the strike was similar to last month’s killing in Beirut of Saleh Arouri, a top official with the militant Palestinian Hamas group.
The strike damaged the fourth floor of a 10-story building, shattered window glass on nearby buildings and also damaged dozens of cars parked in the area. An empty parked bus for the nearby Al-Bawader Private School was also damaged and people were seen rushing to the school to take their children.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of war-torn Syria in recent years.
Israel rarely acknowledges its actions in Syria, but it has said that it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Last month, an Israeli strike on the Syrian capital’s western neighborhood of Mazzeh destroyed a building used by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, killing at least five Iranians.
In December, an Israeli airstrike on a suburb of Damascus killed Iranian general Seyed Razi Mousavi, a longtime adviser of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Syria. Israel has also targeted Palestinian and Lebanese operatives in Syria over the past years.


Saudi Arabia condemns Israel’s actions in Palestinian Territories as ‘legally indefensible’

Saudi Arabia condemns Israel’s actions in Palestinian Territories as ‘legally indefensible’
Updated 21 February 2024

Saudi Arabia condemns Israel’s actions in Palestinian Territories as ‘legally indefensible’

Saudi Arabia condemns Israel’s actions in Palestinian Territories as ‘legally indefensible’
  • The kingdom says Israel must be held accountable for ignoring international law while dealing with civilians in Gaza
  • South Africa shifts focus to Palestinian right to self-determination, says prohibition of apartheid applies to Israel

THE HAGUE: South Africa on Tuesday urged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue a non-binding legal opinion that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is illegal, arguing it would help efforts to reach a settlement.

Representatives of South Africa opened the second day of hearings at the ICJ, also known as the World Court, in the Hague.

The hearing follows a request by the UN General Assembly for an advisory, or non-binding, opinion on the occupation in 2022. More than 50 states will present arguments until Feb. 26.

Alongside the South African legal team, representatives from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, and Belgium also presented preliminary arguments.

This is said to be the largest case at the ICJ and at least three international organizations are also slated to address the judges at the UN's top court until next week. A nonbinding legal opinion is anticipated following months of judge deliberations. 

On Monday, Palestinian representatives articulated their stance on the legal repercussions of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. They asserted that the occupation is illegal and must cease immediately, unconditionally, and entirely.

Israel has abstained from attending the hearings but submitted a five-page written statement expressing concerns that an advisory opinion would hinder attempts to resolve the conflict, citing prejudiced questions posed by the UN General Assembly.


Ziad Al-Atiyah, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the Netherlands, has strongly criticized Israel for its actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, stating that they are legally indefensible.

Al-Atiyah emphasized the importance of holding Israel accountable for ignoring international law, particularly regarding its treatment of civilians in Gaza and its continued impunity.

Saudi Arabia expressed deep concern over the killing of civilians and rejected Israel's argument of self-defense, stating that depriving Palestinians of basic means of survival is unjustifiable.

Al-Atiyah accused Israel of dehumanizing Palestinians and committing genocide against them, calling for the international community to take action.

Regarding the jurisdiction of the court, Al-Atiyah asserted that the arguments against its jurisdiction lack merit, urging the court to issue an opinion on the matter.

Israel's ongoing disregard for ceasefire calls and provisional measures, as well as its expansion of illegal settlements and expulsion of Palestinians from their homes, were condemned by Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom highlighted Israel's violations of international obligations, including ignoring UN resolutions condemning its conduct and preventing Palestinians from exercising their right to self-defense.

Israel's intentions to maintain and expand illegal settlements, as evidenced by its 2018 Basic Law declaring Jerusalem as its capital, were also criticized for undermining Palestinian self-determination.


Algeria's legal representative, Ahmed Laraba, took the floor at the ICJ to present his country's stance on the enduring occupation of Palestinian territories. In his address, Laraba highlighted the intricacies surrounding the concept of prolonged occupation, shedding light on its legal foundations and historical context.

Referencing Article 42 of The Hague Convention of 1907, Laraba underscored the undisputed basis of the notion of occupation, as acknowledged by the court in a previous opinion. He emphasized the temporary nature of the occupation, originally conceived to manage post-conflict situations and facilitate peace agreements.

Laraba pointed out the discrepancy between the intended temporary regime and the reality of a prolonged occupation, noting that the drafters of the time did not foresee a peaceful coexistence between the occupier and the occupied. This incongruity underscores the complexities and challenges inherent in addressing the prolonged occupation of Palestinian territories.

Algeria's intervention at the ICJ serves to advocate for a comprehensive understanding of the legal, historical, and humanitarian dimensions of the occupation issue. Laraba's arguments contribute to the ongoing discourse surrounding the quest for justice and resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Pieter Andreas Stemmet, Acting Chief State Law Adviser at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, announced South Africa's commitment to advocating for the Palestinian people's right to self-determination.

Stemmet emphasized that the UN has repeatedly recognized the inalienable right of Palestinians to self-determination. He condemned Israel's expansion of settlement activity, stating that it violates Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.

In addressing concerns about potential apartheid in Israel, Stemmet referenced the Namibia vs. South Africa case, where the court ruled that race-based exceptions and limitations constitute a denial of fundamental rights and violate the principles of the UN Charter.

Stemmet underscored the well-documented extent of Israel's violations and reiterated that the prohibition of apartheid applies universally, including to Israel.

Drawing parallels to South Africa's illegal presence in Namibia, Stemmet called for attention to the legal consequences of Israel's ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.

South Africa's Ambassador to The Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela urged for an end to Israel's violations against Palestinian territories, emphasizing the critical importance of this advisory opinion for Palestinians.

Madonsela highlighted the prolonged occupation, spanning over 50 years, conducted in defiance of international law with little international intervention.

He questioned when Israel's impunity for rights violations and breaches of international norms would cease, particularly amidst ongoing attacks on Gaza and Israel's disregard for legal orders, indicating its belief in unrestricted actions against Palestinians.

* With Reuters