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ANKARA – In a rousing speech before a sea of flag-waving crowd here, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the perpetrators of the  failed July 15, 2016 coup would never be able to bring the country to its knees and harm the freedom of its people.

The Turkish leader made the vow as he joined his fellow countrymen Saturday and early Sunday in marking one year since the coup attempt with special commemorative events here and in Istanbul.

Erdogan issued a stark warning to the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation (Feto) and its United States-based leader Fethullah Gulen, accused of being behind the coup attempt.

“You may think that you have escaped but you have no where to hide despite having made your way to Pennsylvania,” he said to loud cheer from the crowd gathered in the grounds of the Turkish parliament which was bombarded during the failed coup.

The power grab by Gulen disciples in the armed forces using military hardware was thwarted when ordinary Turks mounted a fierce resistance against the coup plotters who put in motion their treacherous plans
mainly here and in Istanbul.

“You won’t succeed, you won’t divide us or bring our flag down and destroy our state,” the president said of the coup plotters in the speech peppered with shouts of approval from the spirited crowd.

Erdogan himself was the target of an assassination attempt during the putsch that left some 250 people dead and over 2,000 injured.

The president had a special message to mothers who lost their son or daughter in the attempted coup.

“Please wipe away your tears. Don’t cry for those who won’t come back. But we will bring the traitors before you,” he said.

Erdogan also paid tribute to others who had died due to terror attacks against Turkey.

“We’ll never forget those we’ve lost. We’re all relatives of our martyrs and those injured,” he said.

The president vowed that the government would come down hard on those who tried to commission similar acts of terror.

The Ankara commemoration ceremony started with the national anthem and a heart-wrenching recitation of the Quran during which a pensive silence fell over the crowd.

Erdogan had earlier taken part in a similar ceremony in Istanbul held at the city’s iconic July 15 Martyrs Bridge in honour of those killed during the defeated coup.

The coup plotters blocked the bridge over the Bosphorus Strait during the attempted power grab, prompting a face-to-face confrontation with ordinary Turks bent on fighting for a democracy under siege.

Monuments in honour of the fallen during the coup attempt have also been built near the July 15 Martyrs Bridge in Istanbul and in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace complex here. – BERNAMA


ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday threatened to “chop off the heads” of traitors, in a speech marking the first anniversary of the failed coup bid that aimed to oust him from power.

“First of all we will chop off the heads of those traitors,” Erdogan told a rally in Istanbul, prompting cries from the crowds that capital punishment should be restored in Turkey.

Reaffirming previous comments, he vowed to sign any bill passed by parliament to restore capital punishment in Turkey, a move that would effectively end Ankara’s European Union membership ambitions.

“We are a state governed by rule of law. If it comes to me after parliament, I will sign it,” he said.

Erdogan also said the suspects being tried on suspicion of involvement in the failed coup should wear uniform clothing like the notorious orange jumpsuits used at US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

“I spoke to the prime minister and … when they appear in court, let’s make them appear in uniform suits like in Guantanamo,” Erdogan said.

A controversy erupted last week when one suspect was seen going into court with the word “hero” in large letters in English on a T-shirt.

Erdogan was speaking to hundreds of thousands of supporters gathered at the bridge over the Bosphorus that saw some of the fiercest fighting on the night of the July 15, 2016 attempted coup.

“We paid a price … but there is no price for the independence and future we obtained in return for that sacrifice,” he said, referring to the deaths of 249 people at the hands of the plotters.

He meanwhile lashed out at claims from the opposition that the government had foreknowledge of the coup and let it play out to its own advantage in a so-called “controlled” putsch.

“This is a shame, this is an immorality,” Erdogan said. “This is a disrespect, an insult to our people,” he added. — AFP


ANKARA – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, to take a leading role in resolving the ongoing crisis with Qatar, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency (AA) reported.

Last week, five Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen — cut ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism.

Qatar denied the accusations, calling the moves to diplomatically isolate the country as “unjustified”.

In remarks made at the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s parliamentary group meeting in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdogan said the isolation of Qatar nation was neither Islamic nor humanitarian.

“Qatar along with Turkey is a country that took the most determined stand against the terrorist organisation, Daesh,” he said.

The president said it appears some countries have already decided to hand down the death penalty to Qatar and urged Saudi Arabia to reconsider the harsh steps against the small Gulf country.

“The king of Saudi Arabia, as leader of the Gulf, should solve this issue. I especially think that he should lead the way towards resolving this crisis,” Erdogan said.

He also asked the countries involved in the crisis to not work against each other. “Making Qatar look guilty has not benefited the region…Qatar should not be considered as just a wealthy country with treasures hidden underground.

“Qatar is also a country that maintains an independent stance,” he said.

About the US support for the PKK/PYD group and its armed wing YPG in the region, the president said: “Those who protect the PYD and the YPG are taking wrong steps through such a decision.”

He also spoke about his phone diplomacy with Gulf leaders last week as part of his efforts to resolve the diplomatic row between Qatar and other countries.

“We will hold a trilateral teleconference with the French president and the Qatari emir today,” he said.

“This is a country that is facing a closure of its airspace. The [Gulf] countries were very close to each other, even though they had a relationship of affinity until yesterday. It [the ongoing crisis] is incredible,” he added.

The president also criticised plans to hold a referendum to decide on the independence of Iraq’s Kurdish region from Baghdad. “Taking a step towards the independence of Northern Iraq is a threat against Iraq’s territorial integrity and is a false step,” he said.

Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) head Masoud Barzani said last week that a vote on independence from Iraq would be held on Sept 25 — a move the Turkish Foreign Ministry called a “grave mistake” on Friday.

Erdogan said several issues in the region need to be resolved through consultation.

“Northern Iraq is not alone in this region. The Arabs in Mosul and Turkmen in Kirkuk are living together. We have always supported steps towards peace while maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq. We have occasionally seen the loss of control there,” he said.

The president also called for a new bylaw for the Turkish parliament that would improve its efficiency.

“The parliament should not be in recess until the ratification of this new law, and this issue should go away,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish parliament plans to go into recess prior to the Ramadan feast and would continue to be on hold until Sept 12.


ANKARA – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday lashed out at Israel and urged more Muslims to visit the Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, site in Jerusalem.

Speaking in Istanbul to the International Forum on Al-Quds Waqfs, a conference aimed at promoting Palestinian economic development, according to the forum website, Erdogan said that about 26,000 Turks visited Jerusalem last year — the highest number among Muslim countries, reported Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency.

But, Erdogan suggested, “hundreds of thousands” of Muslims should be making the trip.

He said about 600,000 Americans, 400,000 Russians and 300,000 French citizens visited Jerusalem in 2015.

“We, as Muslims, should be visiting Al-Quds more often,” he said, referring to Jerusalem by its Arabic name, calling those visits “the greatest support to our brothers there.”

Erdogan said Jerusalem is holy for Muslims, Jews and Christians.

“Both in terms of our religion and historical responsibility, Al-Quds and the fight of our Palestinian brothers for rights and justice is of great importance to us. We will keep making efforts for Al-Quds to turn into a city of peace,” he said.

Erdogan criticized Israeli policy toward Palestinians as “racist” and “discriminatory” and said permanent peace in the Mideast would be impossible without a solution to the Palestinian issue.

“Here is the only solution: the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of 1967,” he said, according to Anadolu.

Israel argues that its blockade of Gaza, which Erdogan singled out for criticism in his speech, is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas, the militant group that controls the coastal enclave.

Erdogan also spoke out against plans by Israeli lawmakers to place restrictions on the Muslim call to prayer, or Adhan, Anadolu said.

Israel’s parliament has been considering a bill that would ban the use of loudspeakers to issue the Adhan between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. The bill needs two further readings in parliament before it can be passed.

“If you have faith in your religion, why are you afraid of the Adhan?” Erdogan declared.

The Israel Foreign Ministry responded to Erdogan’s comments with a strongly-worded statement: “Whoever ‘systematically violates human rights’ in their own country should not preach morality to the only true democracy in the region.
Israel consistently protects ‘total freedom’ of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians — and will continue to do so despite the baseless smears launched against it.”

Erdogan’s remarks come less than a year after Turkey and Israel reached a deal to normalize diplomatic relations following a violent clash over a Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza in 2010. – CNN

ISTANBUL – A slim majority of Turkish voters agreed to grant sweeping powers to their president, in a watershed moment that the country’s opposition fears may cement a system of authoritarian rule within one of the critical power brokers of the Middle East.

With nearly 99 per cent of votes in a referendum counted on Sunday night (April 16), supporters of the proposal had 51.3 per cent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 per cent, the country’s electoral commission announced.

The result will take days to confirm, and the main opposition party said it would demand a recount of about 37 per cent of ballot boxes, containing around 2.5 million votes.

But on Sunday night, the result was already a political reality, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed his victory in front of a crowd of supporters in Istanbul. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” he said.

The constitutional change will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system.

The ramifications, however, are immediate. The “yes” vote in the referendum is a validation of the current leadership style of Erdogan, who has been acting as a de facto head of government since his election in 2014 despite having no constitutional right to wield such power. The office of Turkey’s president was meant to be an impartial role without full executive authority.

The result tightens Erdogan’s grip on the country, which is one of the leading external actors in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia.

Many analysts were surprised by the close result, saying they had expected Erdogan to achieve a larger majority because he had held the referendum within an atmosphere of fear.

Since a failed coup last summer, Turkey has been under a state of emergency, a situation that allowed the government to fire or suspend about 130,000 people suspected of being connected to the failed putsch, and to arrest about 45,000.

The campaign itself was characterised by prolonged intimidation of opposition members, several of whom were shot at or beaten while on the stump by persons unknown.

The opposition questioned the legitimacy of the referendum after the election board made a last-minute decision to increase the burden needed to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. At least three instances of alleged voter fraud appeared to be captured on camera.

“We are receiving thousands of complaints on election fraud,” said Erdal Aksunger, deputy head of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, known as the CHP. “We are evaluating them one by one.”

The new system will, among other changes:

– Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.

– Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many judges and officials responsible for scrutinising his decisions.

– Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.

– Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.

Academics and members of the opposition are concerned that the new system will threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies have traditionally depended.

“It represents a remarkable aggrandisement of Erdogan’s personal power and quite possibly a death blow to vital checks and balances in the country,” said professor Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a Washington research group. “Judicial independence was already shockingly weak before the referendum; the new system makes that worse.”

Erdogan’s supporters deny that the new system will limit political and judicial oversight. If opposition parties win control of Parliament, they could override the president’s decrees with their own legislation, while also asserting greater control over judicial appointments, supporters of the new constitution contend.

The victorious “yes” camp also argues that a strong, centralised government will make Turkey better able to tackle its many challenges, including a troubled economy, the world’s largest population of Syrian refugees, two terrorism campaigns, a civil war against Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian war across Turkey’s southern border.

“A new page opens in our history of democracy with this vote,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, an Erdogan loyalist, said in a victory speech on Sunday night. “Be sure, everyone, we will use this result as best as we can – for the wealth and peace of our people.”

The fearful environment in which the referendum campaign was held has led watchdogs to question its fairness. In addition to the vast purges of perceived opposition members, authorities also often prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events.

And Erdogan and his supporters often implied that their opponents were allied with terrorist groups or those suspected of plotting last year’s failed coup.

The result revealed a deeply divided country, nearly half of which now feels highly embittered. “I am incredibly sad right now,” said Yesim Kara, 37, a “no” voter in Istanbul. “Dark days are ahead.”

Erdogan’s victory “will enhance the stability of the government, but it will weaken social stability,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a research group. “The new social contract that is being built in Turkey is being based on a very weak foundation,” he added.

Few could agree about how Erdogan would respond, and he offered no conclusive clues in his victory speech. In one breath, he appeared to reach out to his opponents, calling the results the “victory of everyone who said yes and no. But in the next, he promised to reinstate the death penalty – which would end any hopes that Turkey will join the European Union – and mocked his opponents’ intent to appeal the result. – NY Times

“Don’t beat the air,” he said. “It is too late now.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gave an update on the investigation into the killing of the Russian ambassador in Ankara in a phone conversation with President Vladimir Putin on Friday which also covered the Syrian crisis, the Kremlin said.

The envoy, Andrei Karlov, was shot dead on Monday by an assassin who shouted “Allahu Akbar” and “Don’t forget Aleppo”. He was buried with military honors in Moscow on Thursday.

“The President of Turkey informed Vladimir Putin about how the investigation of the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey was going,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“The close cooperation between Russian and Turkish law enforcement and special services was noted,” it said.

On the Syrian crisis, the two men expressed satisfaction with the end of the operation in Aleppo.

“This has meant that favorable conditions have been created to start the peace process, assuming there will be a cessation of hostilities across the whole territory of Syria and a transition to a political settlement,” it said.

Russian news agencies reported earlier on Friday that one Russian military police battalion, fully staffed with contract service members, had been deployed from the Hmeimim air base in Syria to Aleppo.

The battalion will help local officials with law enforcement, the defense ministry was quoted as saying by RIA news agency. – Reuters

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday the government is compelled to overhaul state institutions after an abortive military coup attempted to topple him.

Speaking to a group of businessmen, Erdogan also said urgent steps were required to restructure the armed forces during a state of emergency imposed after the failed overthrow attempt.

A small faction of the army launched a bloody intervention on July 15, killing more than 230 people and wounding thousands.

(Reporting by Daren Butler; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by David Dolan)

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Tuesday to revive plans for an Istanbul park that sparked anti-government protests in 2013, saying a failed coup bid would not stop a series of building projects, risking further polarisation in the country.

“God willing, first we will build historically appropriate barracks at Taksim, whether they like it or not,” Erdogan told supporters gathered outside his Istanbul home overnight to show their defiance after a faction of the military attempted to overthrow him on July 15.

Erdogan last month floated anew plans to build a replica of the barracks, site of a failed Islamist uprising in the early 20th century. Reiterating his intent so soon after the coup attempt underscores his commitment to the project.

In June 2013, Turks took to the streets to protest a plan to raze Gezi Park in Taksim Square in central Istanbul, Europe’s largest city, and build a shopping mall.

The action quickly morphed into a wider protest by millions at Erdogan’s perceived authoritarianism and faced a bloody crackdown, but Erdogan shelved the development.

Erdogan told the crowd the barracks would serve as a city museum. He also said he would knock down the historic Ataturk Cultural Centre to build Turkey’s first opera house at Taksim Square, as well as open a mosque.

Taksim and Gezi, one of the city’s few green spots, have long symbolised the secular Turkish Republic, developed in the years after the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Seda Sezer and Clarence Fernandez)