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Archive for February, 2016

Turkey frees 2 journalists from jail after high court ruling

February 26, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Two journalists imprisoned for their reports on alleged government arms-smuggling to Syria were released from jail early on Friday hours after Turkey’s highest court ruled that their rights were violated.

A large group of supporters greeted Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editor-in-chief Can Dundar and the paper’s Ankara representative, Erdem Gul, as they emerged from a van after being freed from Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul.

The two were jailed in November, months after the center-left opposition daily Cumhuriyet published what it said were images of Turkish trucks carrying ammunition to Syrian militants. The images reportedly date back to January 2014, when local authorities searched Syria-bound trucks, touching off a standoff with Turkish intelligence officials. The paper said the images proved that Turkey was smuggling arms to rebels. The government initially denied the trucks were carrying arms, maintaining that the cargo consisted of humanitarian aid Some officials later suggested the trucks were carrying arms or ammunition destined for Turkmen groups in Syria.

The two were arrested after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed a complaint against them, leading to heightened concerns over conditions for journalists and media freedoms in Turkey. The Constitutional Court ruled late on Thursday that authorities had violated Dundar’s and Gul’s personal rights as well as their rights to freedom of expression by jailing them, paving their way to prosecution without being held in prison.

Prosecutors are seeking life prison terms for Dundar and Gul on charges of supporting a terror organization, threatening state security and espionage for publishing state secrets. They are accused of collaborating with a movement led by a U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has become Erdogan’s top foe.

The prosecutors’ indictment accuses the two of working with the movement to create the image that the government was aiding terror groups and to cripple its “ability to rule.” Government officials accuse Gulen’s supporters of stopping the trucks as part of a plot to bring down the government. The government has branded the movement a “terror organization” although it is not known to have been engaged in any acts of violence.

The journalists’ first trial is set for March 25. Dundar called the court’s ruling for their release a historic decision for freedom of expression in Turkey. He also said his release Friday would be “a present” on Erdogan’s 62nd birthday.

Last month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Dundar’s wife during a visit to Turkey in a show of support for journalists facing prosecution.

Turkey detains 3 more over suicide bombing that killed 28

February 19, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish authorities on Friday detained three more suspects in connection with the deadly bombing in Ankara that Turkey has blamed on Kurdish militants at home and in neighboring Syria, while Turkey’s military pushed ahead with its cross-border artillery shelling campaign against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia positions in Syria.

Anadolu Agency said authorities have now taken 17 people into custody as part of the investigation into Wednesday’s suicide car bomb attack, which targeted buses carrying military personnel and killed 28 people. It said the latest suspects are believed to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said three of the detained suspects are believed to have played “an active part” in the attack. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the attack was carried out by a Syrian national who was a member of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. He said rebels of the PKK, which has led a more than 30-year insurgency against Turkey, were also behind the attack.

Erdogan said Friday that Turkish authorities don’t have the slightest doubt that the YPG and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, were behind the bombing and said Turkey was saddened by its Western allies’ failure to brand them as terrorist groups.

Speaking to reporters following Friday prayers in Istanbul, Erdogan also said he would take up the issue with U.S. President Barack Obama later in the day. Anadolu reported late Thursday that Turkish artillery units were “intermittently” firing shells into Syria, targeting militia positions near the village of Ayn Daqna, south of the town of Azaz.

The leader of the main Syrian Kurdish group, Salih Muslim, has denied his group was behind the bombing, and he warned Turkey against taking ground action in Syria. Following the attack, Turkey stepped up pressure on the United States and other allies to cut off support to the militia group. Turkey views the YPG as a terror group because of its affiliation with the PKK.

The YPG, however, has been most effective in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Ankara appears increasingly uneasy over the group’s recent gains across its border and has continued to shell the militia despite international calls for it to stop.

Davutoglu, accompanied by other ministers, placed 28 carnations at the site of the attack Friday in honor of the dead. Hundreds of people, meanwhile, filled two main mosques in Ankara for the funerals of at least eight of the victims.

The attack was the second bombing in the capital in four months.

Turkey: Syrian man behind deadly Ankara car bomb attack

February 18, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Syrian national with links to Syrian Kurdish militia carried out the suicide bombing in Ankara that targeted military personnel and killed at least 28 people, Turkey’s prime minister said Thursday.

Turkey’s Kurdish rebels collaborated with the Syrian man to carry out Wednesday’s attack, Ahmet Davutoglu said during a news conference. “The attack was carried out by the PKK together with a person who sneaked into Turkey from Syria,” Davutoglu said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK.

Authorities have detained nine people in connection with the attack, he said. Turkey’s military, meanwhile, said its jets conducted cross-border raids against Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq, hours after the Ankara attack, striking at a group of about 60-70 rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

The car bomb went off late Wednesday in Turkey’s capital during evening rush hour. It exploded near buses carrying military personnel that had stopped at traffic lights, in an area close to parliament and armed forces headquarters and lodgings. The blast was the second deadly bombing in Ankara in four months.

Davutoglu confirmed earlier news reports that said the attacker was Syrian. Yeni Safak, a newspaper close to the government, said the assailant who detonated the car bomb near the military buses in an apparent suicide attack had been registered as a refugee in Turkey and was identified from his fingerprints.

Pro-government Sabah newspaper said the man was linked to the PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy for Kurds in Turkey’s southeast region. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which killed military personnel and civilians, although suspicion had immediately fallen on the PKK or the Islamic State group. In October, suicide bombings blamed on IS targeted a peace rally outside the main train station in Ankara, killing 102 people in Turkey’s deadliest attack in years.

The attack drew international condemnation and Turkish leaders have vowed to find those responsible and to retaliate against them with force. The military said Thursday that Turkish jets attacked PKK positions in northern Iraq’s Haftanin region, hitting the group of rebels which it said included a number of senior PKK leaders. The claim couldn’t be verified.

Turkey’s air force has been striking PKK positions in northern Iraq since a fragile two-and-a-half year-old peace process with the group collapsed in July, reigniting a fierce three-decade old conflict.

“Our determination to retaliate to attacks that aim against our unity, togetherness and future grows stronger with every action,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday. “It must be known that Turkey will not refrain from using its right to self-defense at all times.”

The attack came at a tense time when the Turkish government is facing an array of challenges. Hundreds of people have been killed in renewed fighting following the collapse of the peace process and tens of thousands have been displaced.

Turkey has also been helping efforts led by the U.S. to combat the Islamic State group in neighboring Syria, and has faced several deadly bombings in the last year that were blamed on IS. The Syrian war is raging along Turkey’s southern border. Recent airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces have prompted tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to flee to Turkey’s border.

Explosion in Ankara kills at least 28, wounds 61 others

February 18, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A car bomb went off in the Turkish capital Wednesday near vehicles carrying military personnel, killing at least 28 people and wounding 61 others, officials said. The explosion occurred during evening rush hour in the heart of Ankara, in an area close to parliament and armed forces headquarters and lodgings. Buses carrying military personnel were targeted while waiting at traffic lights at an intersection, the Turkish military said while condemning the “contemptible and dastardly” attack.

“We believe that those who lost their lives included our military brothers as well as civilians,” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said. At least two military vehicles caught fire and dozens of ambulances were sent to the scene. Dark smoke could be seen billowing from a distance.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Kurtulmus pledged that authorities would find those behind the bombing. He said the government had appointed seven prosecutors to investigate the attack, which he described as being “well-planned.”

Kurdish rebels, the Islamic State group and a leftist extremist group have carried out attacks in the country recently. In October, suicide bombings blamed on IS targeted a peace rally outside the main train station in Ankara, killing 102 people in Turkey’s deadliest attack in years.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the bombing saying it exceeds all “moral and humane boundaries.” Turkey is determined to fight those who carried out the attack as well as the “forces” behind the assailants, he said.

“Our determination to retaliate to attacks that aim against our unity and future grows stronger with every action,” Erdogan said. “It must be known that Turkey will not refrain from using its right to self-defense at all times.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the explosion and “hopes the perpetrators of this terrorist attack will be swiftly brought to justice,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Wednesday’s attack comes at a tense time when the Turkish government is facing an array of challenges. A fragile peace process with Kurdish rebels collapsed in the summer and renewed fighting has displaced tens of thousands of civilians.

Turkey has also been helping efforts led by the United States to combat the Islamic State group in neighboring Syria, and has faced several deadly bombings in the last year that were blamed on IS. The Syrian war is raging along Turkey’s southern border. Recent airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces have prompted tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to flee to Turkey’s border. Turkey so far has refused to let them in, despite being urged to do so by the United Nations and European nations, but is sending aid to Syrian refugee camps right across the border.

Turkey, which is already home to 2.5 million Syrian refugees, has also been a key focus of European Union efforts to halt the biggest flow of refugees to the continent since World War II. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of refugees leave every night from Turkey to cross the sea to Greece in smugglers’ boats.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg strongly condemned the “terrorist attack” and offered his condolences to the families of the victims. Stoltenberg said there can be no justification “for such horrific acts” and that “NATO Allies stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “In the battle against those responsible for these inhuman acts we are on the side of Turkey.” Washington also condemned the attack, according to a statement by Mark Toner, deputy spokesman of the U.S. State Department.

“We reaffirm our strong partnership with our NATO Ally Turkey in combatting the shared threat of terrorism,” Toner said. After the attack, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu canceled a visit to Brussels Wednesday evening and attended a security meeting with Erdogan and other officials. Erdogan postponed a trip to Azerbaijan planned for Thursday.

The government meanwhile, imposed a gag order which bans media organizations from broadcasting or printing graphic images of the dead or injured from the scene of the explosion and also banned reporting on any details of the investigation. Turkey has imposed similar bans after previous attacks.

Last month, 11 German tourists were killed after a suicide bomber affiliated with the IS detonated a bomb in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district. More than 30 people were killed in a suicide attack in the town of Suruc, near Turkey’s border with Syria, in July.

N. Korea confirms new military chief after reported execution

Seoul (AFP)

Feb 21, 2016

North Korean state media on Sunday confirmed the country has a new military chief following earlier reports in Seoul that the former holder of the post had been executed.

Ri Myong-Su, former People’s Security Minister, was referred to as “chief of the Korean People’s Army General Staff” when the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on an army exercise guided by leader Kim Jong-Un.

Ri Myong-Su was again mentioned in a separate KCNA report on Kim’s inspection of an air force exercise.

His predecessor Ri Yong-Gil was reportedly executed early this month in what would be the latest in a series of purges and executions of top officials.

Ri Yong-Gil was accused of forming a political faction and corruption, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said, citing a source familiar with North Korean affairs.

In May last year South Korea’s spy agency said Kim had his defense chief Hyon Yong-Chol executed — reportedly with an anti-aircraft gun.

Hyon’s fate was never confirmed by Pyongyang but he has never been seen or heard of since. Some analysts have suggested he was purged and imprisoned.

Reports — some confirmed, some not — of purges, executions and disappearances have been common since Kim took power following the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011.

A large number of senior officials, especially military cadres, were removed or demoted as the young leader sought to solidify his control over the powerful military.

In the most high-profile case, Kim had his influential uncle Jang Song-Thaek executed in December 2013 for charges including treason and corruption.

Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the new military chief was one of Kim’s top three aides and was known to be well-versed in missile technology.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test last month and launched a long-range rocket this month, sparking international outrage.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/N_Korea_confirms_new_military_chief_after_reported_execution_999.html.

German, French foreign ministers anxious about Ukraine

February 23, 2016

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The foreign ministers of France and Germany, on a visit to Kiev, are expressing concerns about the political tensions that are impeding reform efforts in Ukraine and about the persisting conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The two countries have been trying to help resolve the fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces, including backing a cease-fire a year ago for the war that has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014. But that truce has appeared increasingly frayed in recent months.

The Ukrainian government has yet to pass legislation that would allow elections in the east, part of the cease-fire agreement. Western governments also are concerned that attempts to tackle Ukraine’s endemic corruption have been only fitful.

“The situation in Ukrainian politics now reminds one of a storm,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Tuesday. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, said a meeting of the French, German, Russian and Ukrainian ministers on March 3 in Paris could be key to pushing forward the cease-fire process. He added that European countries do not see a viable alternative to solidifying the pact.

“The situation is very unstable. We want to avoid further escalation — and the risk for that exists,” he said.

Czechs protest Polish greenhouse over light pollution

February 23, 2016

FRYDLANT, Czech Republic (AP) — It’s much ado about a greenhouse. A huge and well-lighted greenhouse opened last year on the Polish side of the border with the Czech Republic. The light helps tomatoes grow, and makes Czech neighbors growl.

The dispute has engaged diplomats and the governments. The European Parliament might be the next stage for the spat. The critics say light pollution from the greenhouse risks the future of a rare dark-sky reserve declared in the area, harms the environment and denies people a proper sleep. On the other hand, it creates much-needed jobs.

Members of the Czech Astronomical Society were the first to complain after their measurements confirmed what anyone can see, especially on cloudy nights, that this new installation produces intense light.

“This greenhouse is something completely new for us,” astronomer Martin Gembec said on a recent night. He was on a hill about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the greenhouse, which is on the edge of the Polish town of Bogatynia, next to a coal-fired power plant and a big open-pit brown coal mine.

“We have never seen anything like that and we are honestly shocked by it. It shines like a big city of a 100,000 people,” Gembec said. The regional government has asked the Polish ambassador to Prague and the Czech ambassador to Warsaw for help, while the issue was high on the agenda of last week’s meeting of the environment ministers of the two countries in the Polish capital.

“We will try to find a solution,” said Jacek Krzeminski, spokesman for Poland’s Environment Ministry. Martin Puta, the head of the regional government, has tried to reach the owner of the Citronex company that operates the greenhouse, but with no luck so far.

In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, the company said the project “has been done in accordance with Polish construction law and has all the required permissions.” Citronex also said it has asked a Dutch research institute to work on a “special system of curtains that would limit the emission of light.”

It says on its Web site the project is meant to help develop the region. Puta said he was approaching members of the European Parliament in efforts to set up a public hearing there. In what some already seem as an overregulated EU, there’s no regulation to deal with light pollution.

In Frydlant, a Czech town across the border, Mayor Dan Ramzer said he could understand that companies like Citronex create jobs “and that’s a mantra for the Poles.” But Ramzer wants the Czech complaints to be heard “because there is a night-sky reserve in the Jizerske Mountains and we don’t to lose this unique thing.”

“And another thing is that you have something on the horizon of Frydlant which disturbs the sleeping of the local people. Darkness is one of things we value highly here,” Ramzer said. He expressed hopes that Czech concerns would not go unnoticed as the greenhouse is planned to be expanded.

“We hope that they won’t repeat the same mistake and will block the light from leaking.” The astronomers agree. “We don’t want to ruin anyone’s business,” Gembec said. “The situation is bad in the entire Europe, but they went too far. The best solution would be for this private company to accept (our concerns) and make steps to fix it. That is in this case to put blankets on it.”

Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed.

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