Turkey detains 85 military personnel over Gulen ties

Turkish solders stay with weapons at Taksim square as people protest against the military coup in Istanbul in this July 16, 2016 photo. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2018

Turkey detains 85 military personnel over Gulen ties

  • Prosecutors in Ankara issued arrest warrants for 110 active duty personnel in the air force
  • Western allies have expressed concern over the scale of the crackdown

ANKARA: Turkish police on Friday detained 85 military personnel in countrywide raids over alleged links to the group blamed for the 2016 failed coup, state media reported.
Prosecutors in Ankara issued arrest warrants for 110 active duty personnel in the air force, state-run news agency Anadolu said, as part of a probe into followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Police launched operations in 16 provinces including Ankara while those detained in other cities would be taken to the Turkish capital.
Five of those sought by police were pilots while three were colonels, the agency added.
Turkey claims Gulen ordered the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, 2016 but he strongly denies the charges.
Over 77,000 people including military personnel, teachers and judges have been arrested over suspected links to Gulen under the two-year state of emergency imposed five days after the coup bid. The government ended the emergency this July.
Western allies have expressed concern over the scale of the crackdown which saw over 140,000 people suspended or sacked from the public sector.
In the face of stringent criticism, Ankara has insisted the raids are necessary to remove the “virus” that is the Gulen movement’s infiltration of key Turkish institutions.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies this and insists his movement is peaceful, and promotes moderate Islam and secular education.


Syria pistachio farmers return to orchards after years of war

Updated 4 min 26 sec ago

Syria pistachio farmers return to orchards after years of war

  • Many farmers hope this season would mark the revival of what was once a leading industry

MAAN: Pruning scissors in hand, Syrian pistachio farmer Fadi Al-Mahmoud inspected his orchard, hoping for his first harvest after years of war, as nearby army de-miners swept the ground for buried explosives.
“I will be fine as long as my orchard is fine,” said the 40-year-old, who returned to his village of Maan in the north of battle-scarred Hama province only months ago, after years of displacement.
The region, long a center of Syria’s famed pistachio production, was controlled for years by extremists and rebels, but it fell to President Bashar Assad’s government forces early this year.
After the violence subsided, many farmers like Mahmoud returned, hoping this season would mark the revival of what was once a leading industry, its produce beloved across the Middle East.
“The pistachio tree is the lung that allows the villages of the Hama countryside to breathe,” Mahmoud told AFP during a break from pruning the trees with shears and a small saw.
Parting the green leaves, he examined the pistachios, looking for the purple hue on their greenish cream-colored outer casing that indicates they are ready to be picked.
Syria was once a top exporter of the green nut that is widely used in sweets and sprinkled on ice cream across the Middle East.
The country produced up to 80,000 tons a year before the start of the conflict in 2011, mostly for export to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Europe.
In 2013, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Syria was still the world’s fourth largest pistachio producer after Iran, the United States and Turkey.
But years of bitter fighting blocked access to Syria’s best pistachio regions in Hama, Aleppo and Idlib provinces, leading production to plunge by more than half during the war, according to the agriculture ministry.
Of more than 70,000 hectares (170,000 acres) of farm land alloted for pistachio growing in the northwest, a quarter has been damaged by war, said Hassan Ibrahim, director of the ministry’s pistachio department.
Mahmoud said that on his farm, “some tree branches had withered, and there were trenches and land mines scattered all around.”
“I hope I can start to make up for the losses during the war,” he said.
He explained that pistachio orchards “require a lot of care.”
“They must be plowed four times a year and sprayed with pesticides twice annually or more.”
Although the battles have died down, danger still lurks in the soil in the form of anti-personnel mines and other unexploded ordnance left behind by rebels and jihadists.
The authorities “have sent teams to sweep the area,” Ibrahim told AFP.
Outside the village, where the skeleton of a charred vehicle sits in an arid field, Syrian army de-miners swept the rust-brown earth with metal detectors for remnants of war.
A loud blast echoed across the land as they detonated a land mine.
Another local pistachio farmer, Ibrahim Ibrahim, recalled harvests before the war.
“We used to pluck tons from our trees every year and distribute them in local markets or export them,” said the 55-year-old.
The nuts “make up our main source of income.”
“This is the first year that farmers re-enter their lands without fear,” he said.
“I hope... this year we will see production rise to pre-war levels.”