Istanbul’s mayor gets a big welcome in European capitals

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu stands with former German President Christian Wulff after being awarded with the German-Turkish Friendship Award 'Kybele 2019' in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 8, 2019. (REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)
Updated 11 November 2019

Istanbul’s mayor gets a big welcome in European capitals

  • ‘Imamoglu making visits abroad for international prestige of this city’
  • Imamoglu won a significant victory on June 23 in the re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral election, with a lead of nearly 800,000 votes

ANKARA: The proliferation of the international engagements for Istanbul mayor and opposition challenger Ekrem Imamoglu raises the question: What can this international interest toward Imamoglu be attributed to? 

Imamoglu recently met German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble during his trip to Berlin for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also received the Kybele Award from the Turkish-German Friendship Federation. 

In an interview Imamoglu cautioned against political polarization: “Walls do not always have to be physical,” he said. “They are not necessarily made out of concrete and iron bars. Sometimes, two people can stand side by side while an insurmountable wall exists between them.”

However, it was not Imamoglu’s first entry into the international sphere. 

In August, Gergely Karácsony, the Hungarian opposition candidate for Budapest mayor, visited the newly elected Imamoglu in his office in Istanbul, where he praised Imamoglu “as a source of hope for Budapest.” The Green opposition leader went on to win the Budapest mayoral election in October in a major blow to Victor Orbán’s nationalist government. 

Imamoglu visited Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, in Paris on Oct. 2. The French mayor greeted his Turkish counterpart in Turkish with the words “Hoşgeldiniz Sayın Başkan” (Welcome, Mr. Mayor).

During the visit, Istanbul mayor said, “The success we have attained over the last local election is not only limited to Turkey, but has had echoes in other parts of the world. I feel it and I know it. I hope that I will be supported by fellow mayors who view the world in the same way as I do.” He also gave a speech in the European Parliament on Oct 30. 

Imamoglu won a significant victory on June 23 in the rerun of Istanbul’s mayoral election, with a lead of nearly 800,000 votes.

Ates Ilyas Bassoy, a political communication expert, devised Imamoglu’s strategy for the local elections based on a comprehensive field study throughout the country.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Bassoy said: “The brand value of Istanbul is even higher than that of Turkey.” He added: “Imamoglu is paying visits to foreign countries not for the politics, but for the much-needed international prestige of this city.” 

Bassoy thinks that Istanbul needs a synergy to enrich the city by encouraging investments in value-added sectors such as design, fashion and advanced engineering. 

According to Emre Erdogan, professor of political science in Istanbul Bilgi University, Imamoglu is becoming a popular political figure in the European capitals, which is not surprising. 

“For many, he is a hero fighting against the rising wave of populist politics based on exclusion, xenophobia and discrimination. As he positioned himself as a leader appealing to all constituencies and created a narrative of electoral victory in the ballots, he gave hope to other candidates competing against the hegemony of the populist leaders,” he said.

“His narrative has been put as an example of a good strategy and discourse to beat the domination of the strong leaders,” Erdogan said, adding that “for European leaders such as Merkel or Macron who are fed up with the hard negotiation style of Erdogan, Imamoglu is perceived as a potential president to replace him, and will provide avenues for more softened way of negotiations.”

Emre Erdogan says Istanbul’s new mayor presents himself as a good alternative for returning Turkey to the Western democratic, pluralistic and cosmopolitan way.

However, these foreign contacts stirred harsh criticism from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently said that “Imamoglu would pay the price for complaining about Turkey at the European Parliament”. 

But for Professor Erdogan the constituency of Imamoglu welcomes all these activities. 

“For the majority of his constituency, “being a Westerner” is an ultimate value as the crystallization of the modernization desires of the founding fathers of the Republic. Though there is a strong nationalist tune within the coalition, a powerful leader having a good reputation in the eyes of the West is not an unfamiliar picture for them,” he said. 

From that perspective, the frequent foreign visits of Turkey’s “rising star” consolidates his support for the upcoming elections, Professor Erdogan noted. 

Imamoglu’s family members are also under the spotlight. Dilek Imamoglu, the mayor’s wife, was recently put on the cover of the French magazine Madame Figaro and was introduced with remarkable words: ‘First Lady of Istanbul.’


Yemen’s children starve as UN seeks billions to avoid vast ‘man-made’ famine

Updated 27 February 2021

Yemen’s children starve as UN seeks billions to avoid vast ‘man-made’ famine

  • Some 80 percent of Yemenis need help, with 400,000 children under the age of five severely malnourished
SANAA/NEW YORK: Ahmadiya Juaidi’s eyes are wide as she drinks a nutrition shake from a large orange mug, her thin fingers grasping the handle. Her hair is pulled back and around her neck hangs a silver necklace with a heart and the letter A.
Three weeks ago the 13-year-old weighed just nine kilograms (20 pounds) when she was admitted to Al-Sabeen hospital in Yemen’s capital Sanaa with malnutrition that sickened her for at least the past four years. Now she weighs 15 kilograms.
“I am afraid when we go back to the countryside her condition will deteriorate again due to lack of nutritional food. We have no income,” her older brother, Muhammad Abdo Taher Shami, told Reuters.
They are among some 16 million Yemenis — more than half the population of the Arabian Peninsula country — that the United Nations says are going hungry. Of those, five million are on the brink of famine, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warns.
On Monday the United Nations hopes to raise some $3.85 billion at a virtual pledging event to avert what Lowcock says would be a large-scale “man-made” famine, the worst the world will have seen for decades.
Some 80 percent of Yemenis need help, with 400,000 children under the age of five severely malnourished, according to UN data. For much of its food, the country relies on imports that have been badly disrupted over the years by all warring parties.
“Before the war Yemen was a poor country with a malnutrition problem, but it was one which had a functioning economy, a government that provided services to quite a lot of its people, a national infrastructure and an export base,” Lowcock told reporters. “The war has largely destroyed all of that.”
“In the modern world famines are basically about people having no income and then other people blocking efforts to help them. That’s basically what we’ve got in Yemen,” he added.

Pro-government rallies cause outrage in Turkey

Updated 27 February 2021

Pro-government rallies cause outrage in Turkey

  • Ruling party accused of double standard amid ban on student protests

ANKARA: Large rallies for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and other “superspreader” events have sparked public outcry, with the government accused of double standards in the country’s fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In recent weeks, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attended these crowded events — some resembling pop concerts — along with other provincial congress meetings across the country.

The indoor events, with thousands in attendance, have been criticized over a lack of social distancing. Meanwhile, peaceful protests of university students and ordinary meetings of some dissident NGOs are still forbidden because they do not respect pandemic measures.

Restaurants, coffee houses and art excursions remain shut under pandemic restrictions, which has left thousands of laid-off workers on the verge of chronic poverty and merchants grappling with bankruptcy.

“Shopkeepers have closed shutters and they are utterly devastated. The AKP’s rallies are wide open and everybody is smiling,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, said during his parliamentary speech on Tuesday.

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party was fined for violating social distancing rules after one of its events, but no punishments have been imposed for the pro-government rallies.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, who advises against large rallies, publicly apologized after Erdogan and a group of AKP officials gathered at a mosque in Istanbul on Feb. 21 for the funeral of a clergyman.

“I should have foreseen such a situation,” Koca said Wednesday. “It is my mistake. As 83 million people, we should equally self-sacrifice ourselves by staying away from closed spaces and crowded areas during the pandemic.”

Thousands of people forbidden from attending funerals, along with millions of children still unable to attend school, have taken to social media to express their anger and criticize the fairness of pandemic restrictions.

A video featuring AKP youth members from the southern Hatay branch dancing, singing and carrying each other on their shoulders all without masks has gone viral and was dubbed the “political corona party.”

A recent survey by the government revealed that only 40 percent of the Turkish people trust the administration's management of the COVID-19. Turkey is ranked 74th out of 98 countries in the Lowy Institute's COVID Performance Index, which assesses each nation’s performance in managing the virus.

“I have not seen or heard anything like this,” Ozlem Kayim Yildiz, a neurologist from Sivas University, tweeted. “In the midst of the pandemic, while restrictions continue, ‘some’ are exempt from these restrictions. Has the caste system arrived? They do not even bother to obey their own rules. They don't even care about looking consistent or thoughtful.”

So far, the coronavirus has killed 370 health professionals in Turkey.

Urartu Seker, a medical specialist from Bilkent University, echoed the widespread criticisms from those in the scientific community: “I'm very sorry, for those who follow the rules, those who lost their jobs, and for children who are out of school,” he said.

Turkey’s population continues to struggle financially as it deals with pandemic restrictions. About 100,000 shopkeepers closed their businesses last year, while about 40,735 companies ceased operations.

Millions are expected to lose their jobs after the Turkish government lifts the ban on layoffs in May, which will be a huge blow for a country that is already dealing with more than 11 million people unemployed.
 


Five protesters die, dozens injured in clashes in Iraqi city

Updated 26 February 2021

Five protesters die, dozens injured in clashes in Iraqi city

  • The clashes continued on Friday evening after a week of violence that erupted on Sunday
  • Protesters are demanding the removal of the governor and justice for protesters who killed since 2019

NASSIRIYA: At least five protesters were killed and more than 175 people injured on Friday in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, a Reuters witness and other sources said.
Among the fatalities, most of the protesters died from bullet wounds, a hospital source said, adding that about 120 protesters were wounded. At least 57 members of the security forces were injured, according to a another hospital source and a security source.
The clashes continued on Friday evening after a week of violence that erupted on Sunday when security forces fired to disperse protesters, who were trying to storm the provincial government building using rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Protesters are demanding the removal of the governor and justice for protesters who killed since 2019.
Iraq’s biggest anti-government protests in decades broke out in October 2019 and continued for several months, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demanding jobs, services and the removal of the ruling elite, whom they accused of corruption.
Nearly 500 people were killed, and the protests caused the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who took office in May 2020, has pledged justice for activists killed or abused by armed groups. But no prosecutions have occurred so far.
The clashes come just a week before Pope Francis visits Iraq from March 5 to 8. He is due to tour the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur, only a few kilometers (mile) away from the clashes.


UN Security Council sanctions top Houthi security official for rape and torture

Updated 26 February 2021

UN Security Council sanctions top Houthi security official for rape and torture

  • Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin's acts “threaten peace of Yemen”
  • “Zabin himself directly inflicted torture in some cases,” the council said

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on a top Houthi security official in the Yemeni city of Sanaa, citing his prominent role in intimidations, systematic arrests, detentions, torture, sexual violence “and rape against politically active women.”
A resolution adopted by a vote of 14-0, with Russia abstaining, said Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin, director of the Criminal Investigation Department in Sanaa, was directly or by virtue of his authority responsible for using multiple places of detention including police stations, prisons and detention centers for human rights abuses.
“In these sites, women, including at least one minor, were forcibly disappeared, repeatedly interrogated, raped, tortured, denied timely medical treatment and subjected to forced labor,” the council said in imposing a travel ban and arms embargo. “Zabin himself directly inflicted torture in some cases.”
It added that Zabin “engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security and stability of Yemen, including violations of applicable international humanitarian law and human rights abuses in Yemen.”
Resolution 2564 strongly condemned “violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, as well as human rights abuses, including those involving conflict-related sexual violence in Houthi-controlled areas and recruitment and use of children in armed conflict across Yemen, as recorded in the Panel of Experts’ final report.”
The council welcomed the formation of the new cabinet of Yemen’s government under the provisions of the Riyadh Agreement, calling “for the full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement (and) calling for the swift resumption of talks between the parties, in full engagement with UN mediation efforts.”
Council members also condemned “in the strongest terms” last year’s attack on Aden that killed 27 civilians, including a Yemeni deputy minister and three humanitarian and health personnel.
The council strongly condemned the ongoing escalation of violence in Yemen’s oil-rich central province of Marib between the Houthis and government forces, and the continuation of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The resolution stressed the need “for de-escalation across Yemen and a nationwide cease-fire.”
Regarding the imminent disaster posed by the Houthis’ refusal to allow a UN inspection of the Safer oil tanker, which has been moored off the war-torn country’s coast and is loaded with more than a million barrels of crude oil at risk of leaking, council members emphasized the environmental and humanitarian risk and “the need, without delay, for access of UN officials to inspect and maintain (the) tanker, which is located in the Houthi-controlled north of Yemen.”
They stressed the militia’s responsibility for the situation and for not responding to this “major environmental and humanitarian risk,” underscoring the need for the Houthis “to urgently facilitate unconditional and safe access for UN experts to conduct an assessment and repair mission without further delay.”
Meanwhile US President Joe Biden, during a phone call with King Salman, commended Saudi Arabia’s support for UN efforts to reach a truce and cease-fire in Yemen.
King Salman said Saudi Arabia was keen to reach a comprehensive political solution in Yemen and to achieve security and development for its people.
The two sides discussed Iran’s behavior in the region, its destabilizing activities and its support for terrorist groups.
The Arab coalition thwarted a second Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia just hours after it had destroyed a drone launched by the militia toward Khamis Mushait.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the militia’s attempt to target civilians in Saudi Arabia.
Heavy fighting between rebels and government forces in Marib has killed at least 27 people, tribal leaders and security officials said on Friday.
(With AP)

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US airstrike in Syria sent ‘unambiguous message’: White House

Updated 26 February 2021

US airstrike in Syria sent ‘unambiguous message’: White House

  • The Pentagon said Thursday's strike was in response for a series of rocket attacks targeting US soldiers in Iraq
  • Psaki said Biden's aim was for "deescalating activity in both Syria and Iraq"

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE: The United States sent an "unambiguous message" with an airstrike against an Iranian-backed militia in eastern Syria, the White House said Friday.
President Joe Biden is "sending an unambiguous message that he's going to act to protect Americans and when threats are posed he has the right to take an action at the time and the manner of his choosing," Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
The Pentagon said Thursday's strike, which according to a Syrian war monitoring group killed 22 militia members, was in response for a series of rocket attacks targeting US soldiers in Iraq.
One of those strikes, on a military complex in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil on February 15, killed a civilian and a foreign contractor working with coalition forces, and wounded several US contractors and a soldier.
Psaki said the decision behind the strike was "deliberative" and that Biden's aim was for "deescalating activity in both Syria and Iraq."
Addressing criticism from some in Congress that Biden should have sought legislators' authority before ordering the strike, Psaki said "there was a thorough legal process and review in advance."