Istanbul’s secular mayor knocking on European doors for funding

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu speaks after being awarded with the German-Turkish Friendship Award 'Kybele 2019' in Berlin, on Nov. 8. (Reuters)
Updated 26 November 2019

Istanbul’s secular mayor knocking on European doors for funding

  • Imamoglu announced on Sunday that Turkey’s state-run banks are reluctant to lend routine loans to the municipality

ANKARA: The secret behind the latest wave of European visits made by Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has finally been revealed: To ask for international funding for the urban projects of the metropolitan municipality.

Imamoglu announced on Sunday that Turkey’s state-run banks are reluctant to lend routine loans to the municipality — even for paying salaries — and that this has led him to ask European countries for funding.

He added that the municipality is now working on a plan to sell Eurobonds to finance its projects in Istanbul, home to one-fifth of Turkey’s 82 million citizens.

“The state banks seem to have shut the doors on us,” he said. “I condemn the officials’ attitude.”

However, even if it is endorsed by the city council, he would likely need the approval from the Treasury and Finance Ministry — controlled by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak — to issue Eurobonds worth $500 million.

During local elections in June, Imamoglu, of the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party, took the reins from Erdogan’s AKP which, along with its Islamist predecessors, has run the city for the last 25 years.

He also inherited a significant amount of debt and wasteful spending from the previous administration of the city, with a budget of 20 billion lira ($3.4 billion) and a debt of 26 billion lira, which obliged him to search for resources to pay it.

The municipality rounded up and parked hundreds of cars hired for official use by the previous administration to display the squandering of public money.

Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, said that this is a politically risky strategy since Imamoglu may easily get hit by Erdogan who would criticize him using nationalist discourse.

Erdogan has always taken pride in ending Turkey’s dependence on the International Monetary Fund in 2013 after paying its last loan installment.

According to Wasilewski, the Turkish president could capitalize on the nationalistic feelings of the people by saying that Imamoglu would do exactly the opposite after the latter met with various global creditors and bankers in London.

“However, Imamoglu not only proved that he is a politician willing to accept the risk, but also made his bones as a person fighting the oppression of the government. If he succeeds in bringing further investments to Istanbul and in improving standards of living, his stance in Turkish politics will be even stronger,” he told Arab News.

Although Imamoglu, 49, has dismissed claims that he is interested in a presidential bid, his victories on the local front, his popular appeal and inclusive profile as a practicing Muslim elected from a secularist party have led many to think that he could challenge the president, who also once served as Istanbul mayor.

Imamoglu has paid working visits to Paris, Berlin and London in recent months.

Following these visits, Istanbul has secured €110 million ($121 million) of financing from Deutsche Bank for an underground transport project on the Asian side of the city. The construction will begin on Nov. 26.

Nezih Onur Kuru, a political analyst and a doctoral researcher on political psychology from Istanbul’s Koc University, thinks the debates on Imamoglu’s meetings with European investors is an indicator of the recent tension between the central and local governments.

“The government has targeted Imamoglu as a potential presidential candidate after his 9-point lead victory in the June 23 elections,” he told Arab News.

Kuru added that seeking investments strengthens Imamoglu’s image as a governor who defies the central government for public interest and consolidates his support base.

During Imamoglu’s European tour, the French Development Agency also signed an €86 million loan agreement with Istanbul for an underground metro line.

So far, the city has secured financing from Societe Generale, Black Sea Trade and Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.


Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

Updated 15 min 49 sec ago

Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

  • ‘Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments’
  • Hassan Rouhani: Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain

TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday his country was prepared to take steps to live up to measures in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as soon as the United States lifts economic sanctions on Iran.
In a meeting with Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Rouhani said: “Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments just after the US illegal sanctions are lifted and it abandons its policy of threats and pressure.”
Rouhani criticized the European signatories of the historic nuclear deal for what he said was their inaction on their commitments to the agreement. He said Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iranian nuclear accord, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the US then reimposed some sanctions and added others, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.
The Republic of Ireland has the role of facilitator in the implementation of the nuclear deal.
Coveney said the withdrawal of former President Donald Trump was a mistake and noted that the new US administration is determined to return to the deal.
In December, Iran’s parliament approved a bill that calls for the suspension of part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions.

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Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

Updated 22 min 51 sec ago

Jordan’s PM to reshuffle cabinet to hasten IMF-guided reforms

  • Six new ministers will be named including the interior and justice portfolios
  • Expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a $14 billion budget

AMMAN: Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh was expected to reshuffle his cabinet on Sunday to help accelerate IMF-guided reforms seen as crucial to economic recovery in Jordan from the blow of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Six new ministers will be named including interior and justice after Khasawneh fired both incumbents last week for attending a restaurant dinner party that violated coronavirus restrictions they were supposed to enforce.
The British-educated Khasawneh, a veteran former diplomat and palace aide, was appointed last October by King Abdullah to restore public trust over the handling of the coronavirus health crisis and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
Jordan is witnessing a nearly two-month-old surge of infections driven by a more contagious variant of the virus amid rising discontent over worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws.
Aides say Khasawneh was expected to retain Harvard-educated Mohammad Al Ississ as finance minister. He has won International Monetary Fund praise for his handling of the economy during the pandemic, and has negotiated a four-year IMF program worth $1.3 billion, signalling confidence in Jordan’s reform agenda.
The expected reshuffle comes after parliament last week passed a 9.9-billion-dinar ($14 billion) budget which Al Ississ said aimed to maintain fiscal prudence to help ensure financial stability and rein in a record $45 billion public debt.
The economy saw its worst contraction — 3 percent — in decades last year, hit by lockdowns, border closures and a sharp fall in tourism during the pandemic, but the government and the IMF both predict a bounce of similar magnitude this year.
Officials say Jordan’s commitment to IMF reforms and investor confidence in the improved outlook helped the country maintain stable sovereign ratings at a time when other emerging markets were being downgraded.


Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

Updated 23 min 19 sec ago

Explosion on Gaza fishing boat kills 3 Palestinian anglers

  • The cause of the blast was not immediately clear

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Three Palestinian fishermen were killed Sunday after a blast ripped through their boat off the Gaza shore, officials said.
Nezar Ayyash, of the association that represents fishermen, said the anglers – two brothers and a cousin – were plying their trade off the coast of the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip when the explosion happened.
The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.
Palestinian media reports blamed Israeli navy fire, but the Israeli military said it was not involved in this incident. The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza said it opened an investigation.
Minutes before the explosion, local media reported that Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, was test-firing rockets toward the sea.


Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown

Updated 07 March 2021

Israel in final phase of easing of lockdown

JERUSALEM: Israel has opened most of its economy as part of its final phase of lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions, some of them in place since September.
Bars and restaurants, event halls, sporting events, hotels and all primary and secondary education may reopen to the public on Sunday, with some restrictions on entry and capacity. The move comes after months of government-imposed shutdowns.
The Israeli government approved the easing of limitations Saturday night, including the reopening of the main international airport to a limited number of incoming passengers each day.
Most large public activities, including dining at restaurants, are available to people vaccinated against the coronavirus. Israel has sped ahead with its immunization campaign. Over 52% of its population has received one dose and almost 40% have had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world.
Israel has confirmed at least 799,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 5,856 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

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Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

Updated 07 March 2021

Pope Francis visits Iraqi Christians who suffered under Daesh

  • Under tight security, he will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul
  • He will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits on Sunday Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Daesh group until the jihadists’ “caliphate” was defeated three years ago.
The 84-year-old, traveling under tight security, will lead a prayer “for the victims of the war” in Mosul, an ancient crossroads whose center was reduced to rubble by fierce fighting to oust the Daesh, or also known as ISIL.
“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said at an interfaith service Saturday, one of the many stops on the first-ever papal visit to the war-scarred country.
Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq as a “pilgrim of peace” aims to reassure the country’s ancient, but dwindling, Christian community and to expand his dialogue with other religions.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics on Saturday met Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who agreed that Iraq’s Christians should be able to live in “peace.”
“We all hope that this visit will be a good omen for the Iraqi people,” Adnane Youssef, a Christian from northern Iraq, told AFP. “We hope that it will lead to better days.”
The Christian community of Iraq, a Muslim-majority country of 40 million, has shrunk from 1.5 million before the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to only 400,000 now, about one percent of the population.
“This very important visit will boost our morale after years of difficulties, problems and wars,” said an Iraqi Christian leader, Father George Jahoula.
Back in 2014, when IS militants swept across one third of Iraq, Pope Francis had said he was ready to come to meet the displaced and other victims of war.
Seven years later, after a stop early Sunday in the Kurdish north of Iraq, he will see for himself the devastated Old City of Mosul and efforts to rebuild it.
Pope Francis will also visit Qaraqosh, further east in the Nineveh Plain, which is one of Iraq’s oldest Christian towns.
It was largely destroyed in 2014 when IS rampaged through the area, but its residents have trickled back since 2017 and slowly worked at rebuilding their hometown.
To honor the pope, local artisans have woven a two-meter (6.5-foot) prayer shawl, or stole, with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers carefully hand-stitched in golden thread in Syriac, a dialect of the language spoken by Jesus Christ that is still used in Qaraqosh.
Security will be extra-tight in the north of Iraq, where state forces are still hunting IS remnants and sleeper cells.
Many thousands of troops and police have been deployed as the pope has criss-crossed the country, taking planes, helicopters and armored convoys to cover more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) in-country.
The other major challenge is the Covid-19 pandemic, as Iraq has recently been in the grip of a second wave, with a record of more than 5,000 cases in a day.
Iraqi authorities have imposed lockdown measures to control crowds, but thousands of faithful are expected to flock to a stadium later Sunday in the northern city of Irbil to hear the pope.
Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s oil-rich northern Kurdish region, has been a relative haven of stability and a place of refuge for many Christians who fled IS.
Several thousand seats in the Franso Hariri stadium will be left empty to avoid creating a super-spreader event when Iraqis come to hear the Catholic leader, known here as “Baba Al-Vatican,” deliver the holy mass.

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