25 March 2014 News Roundup

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As local elections draw near, the government’s ban on accessing Twitter has been the most heated topic in Turkey’s media this week. Meanwhile, the widely celebrated Newroz also witnessed the PKK’s jailed leader Ocalan’s address to the public. Turkish army’s shooting of a Syrian plane also brought the Syrian conflict back to Turkey’s agenda. The sanctions on Russia are continuing to be a source of worry for Turkey’s economy, as well as the contraction in construction and automobile sector. The Central Bank decided to keep its policy rate the same.

Turkish media and political agenda focused largely on the recent Twitter ban.

Twitter has been blocked since 20 March by Turkey’s Communications Technologies (TIB) Institution on the grounds that Twitter had ignored the court rulings of requesting removal of pages and photos. Complaints had been filed by AKP MP Binali Yildirim against a twitter user who applied strong language accusing Yildirim and his son of corruption. Also, two other individuals made complaints for unauthorized use of photos and a fake account. None of the complaints and court rulings, however, did authorize blocking access to Twitter.

PM Erdogan had vowed to “eradicate Twitter” in an election rally hours before the Twitter ban and announced that other social media sties might face the same actions for failing to abide by court rulings. The Turkish Prime Ministry issued a statement regarding the Twitter ban. The statement suggested that Twitter has been a platform for ‘gangs’ committing ‘illegal activities’ and Twitter user accounts had been blocked in many countries, for instance, German authorities blocked Neo-Nazi groups on Twitter.

On the other hand, even the recently passed restrictive internet law does not give TIB authority to block a website without a court order. International community condemned the ban as censorship and a violation to European Convention on Human Rights.

Leaked corruption tapes against the AKP government have been published on Twitter. Comments from President Gul made on Twitter in contradiction to PM Erdogan’s vows as well as some government members’ tweets despite the ban were interpreted to show that the ban was a political move by the government against the Gulen movement and preventative for release of further tapes ahead of the local elections.

Twitter users in Turkey found ways to access the site, however, the most common DNS settings that allow internet users to access Twitter via alternate servers have also been blocked by the authorities.

Less than a week left for the local elections in Turkey.

Although voting will be at the level of municipalities, if successful, the upcoming elections will boost confidence in the incumbent government. The government hopes to legitimise its power following the recent tumultuous months of corruption allegations.

European Union has shown suspicion regarding the fairness of the upcoming local elections. 

Last week 18 parliamentarians had demanded that EU representatives be sent to Turkey to monitor the upcoming local elections. Concerns have increased in the European Parliament regarding the fairness of elections in Turkey. Without a formal application by the Turkish government, no EU representative can monitor the elections in Turkey. However, the existence of such a demand by the European authorities and the implications it carries may become important for Turkey in the near future.

The legal procedures regarding the corruption allegations of ministers have caused disputes within the different political factions in the country.

The parliament convened for an extraordinary session to discuss summaries of proceedings regarding four former ministers who were implicated in graft probe of December 2013.  Members of the AKP voted not to read the full summaries in the parliament on the grounds that it is against confidentiality and would interfere with judicial process. Opposition parties accused the government instead with interfering in transparency and accountability of the government in the parliament. It was stated that in corruption cases against ministers, the parliament acts as the prosecutor’s office because the chief prosecutor cannot examine the ministers and the parliament does not have to comply with confidentiality decision by the courts as prosecutors would not, either.

When the parliament TV did not broadcast the session in the evening time one CHP MP, Melda Onur, streamed the session live on her camera. The parliament will not operate until 7th April, a week after the local elections.

Newroz was celebrated with nearly two million people in Diyarbakir and other locations over the weekend.

Imprisoned Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan’s Newroz speech was read out by two Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MPs in Turkish and Kurdish. Ocalan called for restarting the peace process despite being critical of the AK Party government and delays in process.

ECHR ruled that imprisoned Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan shall not remain in prison for life without a possibility of conditional release as Turkey has partly violated European Convention on Human Rights.

Turkish Minister of Justice stated that the ruling cannot apply to Ocalan and that conditional release is not an option in Ocalan’s case – Ocalan had been initially sentenced to death, but on request from the EU and the US Turkey abolished death penalty on the condition that Ocalan was returned to the Turkish forces.

Nine lawyers involved in the defence of Ocalan and one journalist were released in Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) case. The court accepted the request of release considering the length of detention; the suspects had been detained since November 2011.

Kurdish establishment in Syria demands that borders open between Syria and Turkey.

PYD, which is heading the Kurdish establishment in northern Syria has sent a delegation to Ankara, demanding that the borders between Turkey and Syria be opened to trade. The PYD has claimed that with the advancements of the Islamist forces, they are increasingly becoming trapped. The decreasing food supplies have pressured the PYD to ask for help and aid from Turkey. An official statement has yet to be made by the Turkish authorities.

The Turkish army has shot down a Syrian plane, claiming that it has violated Turkish air space.

The details of the event are unclear as both sides recount different stories. While Bashar al-Assad claims that the Syrian plane was pursuing rebel targets within Syria, Turkish authorities say that the plane was warned four times about violation of airspace before it was shot down. The surviving Syrian pilot claimed that he had not violated Turkey’s airspace, while Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the claims that the shoot-down was a part of the pre-election efforts of the government. The Iranian government was also quick to express that it was concerned about the implications of such an attack by Turkey.

On a different note…

  • The Initiative to Ban Tear Gas has reported that people across Turkey were subjected to tear gas on 21 days in February and 13 days in the first 22 days of March. The initiative made of numerous civil society organizations in Turkey revealed that chemicals were used by anti-government forces in Sirnak, Ankara, Diyarbakir and Istanbul, in the spray guns, water cannons and gas cartridges.
  • 271 Judges and prosecutors have been reassigned by the government controlled Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) amid graft allegations.
  • 83 people were released in the Gezi trial in Kirklareli. As CEFTUS Insights had already noted, 1309 people were sued for their participation in Gezi protests in Kirklareli.

The Ukrainian crisis and the dispute over the Crimea between Russia and the West are of particular importance to Turkey.

Turkey strengthened business relations both with Europe and Russia. Even though the moderate sanctions from the US and the EU do not have major effects on the terms between Turkish and Russian businesses yet, they are both concerned to enter into a new phase of cold war. Turkey increased its trade volume with Russia in 2013 to $32 billion. Russia is Turkey’s second trading partner after the EU.

Another credit rating agency, Moody’s, announced increasing concerns for the banking sector in Turkey.

According to their statement, Moody’s is going to watch ten Turkish banks as slower growth, increasing borrowing costs and political risks are believed to weaken the quality of assets and profitability. The president of the Banks Association of Turkey, however, believes that despite all the political instability Turkish banks still can be flexible in both pricing and fund sources. He also added that further economic and political stability will bring more funds.

The two most important sectors in Turkey, automobile and construction, are facing a contraction since last December.

The market for automobiles shrank 27% while the contraction in construction reached to 67.4%. The representatives of both sectors are pointing to graft probes since 17th December and the political instability as the major impacts on foreign investment decisions. On the other hand, the Ministry of Economy announced that foreign direct investment amounted to $1.211 billion in January with an increase of 51% compared to last year. The increase was composed of mainly investment to service sector with $491 million.

The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey (TCMB) made no changes to its policy rate.

In the latest meeting of the TCMB, no changes have been announced regarding the monetary policy decisions taken in the meeting on 28 January. At its meeting on 28th January, the monetary policy council had opted for a tighter monetary policy and further simplifications to its operational framework in order to contain the volatility in the currency and suppress inflation, and had increased its policy rate to 10% from 4.5%. However, the monetary policy council also stated that the inflation will keep rising in a private meeting with the banking sector. TCMB also announced the statistics on short-term debt in January. Accordingly, short-term debt stock decreased by 2.5% to $125.9 billion. 51.7% of the short-term debt stock is composed of in USD, 34% in EUR, 11.7% in TRY and 1.6% in other currencies. 13.3% of this debt belongs to public sector, 1.5% was borrowed by TCMB and 85.2% was loaned to the private sector.  The high level of short-term debt stock by private sector is seen as a fundamental weakness and a possible threat to the health of the economy by the economists.

 

CEFTUS Insights Editors

 

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