Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told a UN envoy Monday he is ready to attend an informal conference involving Britain, Greece and Turkey to end a deadlock in peace talks, officials said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by the military junta then in power in Athens aimed at annexing the island to Greece.
There have been no official UN-sponsored negotiations on the island’s future since a conference in Switzerland –- also involving Britain, Greece, and Turkey –- collapsed in July 2017.
UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, on her second visit to Cyprus since December, held talks on Monday with Anastasiades before crossing the UN-patrolled ceasefire line to meet Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.
A three-year-old girl was pulled from rubble Tuesday, 91 hours after a powerful earthquake hit western Turkey, offering a ray of hope for grieving families as the death toll soared past 100.
But only hours after Ayda Gezgin was miraculously recovered in the hard-hit town of Bayrakli, rescuers found the lifeless body of her mother Fidan, 38, in the same room of their destroyed apartment, Turkey’s IHH Islamic charity told AFP.
Rescuers and families have been riding waves of emotion, from profound grief to elated relief, depending on whether bodies or survivors are extracted from the broken slabs of highrise buildings leveled by Friday’s 7.0-magnitude quake.
The quake, felt as far away as Athens, killed two teenagers on their way home from school on the Greek island of Samos, where some homes collapsed.
But most of the damage struck in and around Turkey’s Aegean resort city of Izmir, where the death toll reached 107 on Tuesday.
None of the Turkish coastal towns were hit harder than Bayrakli, a residential district dotted with seven- and eight-floor apartment buildings, dozens of which were either damaged or completely destroyed.
– ‘Witnessed a miracle’ –
The tragedy and sheer joy felt by the Gezgin family within a matter of hours encapsulate the emotions tearing apart Izmir and the entire country as Turkey recovers from its biggest disaster in years.
Rescuers, exhausted but determined on their fourth day of round-the-clock work, we’re zeroing in on four buildings where they felt they still could find someone alive.
They broke out in applause and shouts of “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Greatest”, the moment they realised they had rescued Ayda.
“We have witnessed a miracle in the 91st hour,” Izmir mayor Tunc Soyer tweeted.
“The miracle’s name is Ayda,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted moments later.
“With your smiling eyes, you have inspired new hope for us. Thank God. Get well soon, my lovely little one.”
The rescue came a day after a four-year-old and a 14-year-old were found alive in the same district, providing encouragement to rescue workers, despite persistent fears of aftershocks.
– ‘So happy’ –
Ayda called for her mother as she was taken to a waiting ambulance in a gold foil blanket, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
The Milliyet daily said her mother had returned home from taking the girl out to the neighbourhood park just 10 minutes before disaster struck.
Her father, who survived, was not at home at the time of the quake.
“Slowly, slowly,” the rescue workers told each other as they pulled the mother’s body from the wreckage.
Hours earlier, many of the same people were hugging each other and crying tears of joy, realising they had saved a little girl who looked remarkably unharmed and completely calm.
“I asked her: Are you okay? I was curious to see if she was alright. She asked for ayran,” said rescue worker Ahmet Celik, referring to the salty yoghurt drink.
“I told her the ayran would come later,” he told AFP, laughing. “She loves ayran.”
Rescuers said they realised someone was still alive at the site on Monday night, before painstakingly working to reach her.
“It was a child’s, a female voice,” said fellow rescue worker Ibrahim Topal. “My friend Ahmet saw the hand, and when we opened (space) a bit more, Ayda’s face.”
Topal said the girl was discovered in the kitchen, in a small space created by the oven and other white goods.
“From the moment we heard her sound, it didn’t matter how tired we were. It gave us energy again,” he told AFP. “We were so happy.”
Turkey has reported over 1,500 repeat tremors following the quake, including 44 that were above four in magnitude.
Rescuers pulled two children from the rubble in a town in Turkey on Monday, delivering hope nearly three days after a major earthquake hit the Aegean, killing 93 people and ruining dozens of buildings.
Three-year-old Elif Perincek was rescued 65 hours after the 7.0-magnitude quake left a trail of destruction in western Turkey and eastern Greece on Friday, Turkey’s AFAD emergency authority said.
Local media showed a video of a little girl wrapped up in a foil blanket quickly taken to safety in the coastal town of Bayrakli — the hardest hit by the disaster — as rescue workers broke into applause.
Hours later, Turkish state television showed images of the girl, her right eye closed by a purple bruise, waving to the camera from her hospital bed, a doll resting on her chest.
Muammer Celik, a fireman who found and saved Elif, told AFP he thought the toddler was dead when he saw her lying on her back, covered by white dust.
“I asked for a body bag. I wanted to wipe the dust from her face and put out my hand towards her — and then suddenly she grabbed my thumb,” he recalled.
“We froze. We were crying with joy,” Celik said. “We forgot everything in that moment!”
A photo of Elif holding Celik’s hand went viral in Turkey. The fireman said she did not let go until she was taken to a tent for safety nearby.
Elif was the 106th person pulled out alive from collapsed buildings in Bayrakli and surrounding towns and cities in western Turkey.
Her mother and three siblings were pulled out on Saturday night, although her rescued brother later died, the TRT state broadcaster said.
AFAD also reported the rescue of 14-year-old Idil Sirin in Bayrakli, 58 hours after the quake hit.
But the Sirin family’s joy was brief as the lifeless body of Idil’s sister, Ipek, was found, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
“I can’t hear any sounds from my sister, she’s dead,” Idil told rescuers as she was being pulled out, Hurriyet said.
Turkey’s toll from the quake is continuing to rise, with AFAD reporting 91 dead.
Nearly 1,000 people were injured and more than 150 were still in hospital.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that 10 of the wounded were in intensive care, including three in a critical condition.
Two teenagers were also killed on their way home from school on the Greek island of Samos, near the epicentre of the quake.
‘Can anyone hear me?’
Racing against time, rescue workers were pressing ahead with their desperate search for survivers in western Turkey more than 72 hours after disaster struck.
“Can anyone hear me,” one rescue worker cried through a megaphone down into the rubble.
“If you can, hit something or scream,” he called as a drone hovered overhead scanning the rubble.
Thousands of residents, including those with destroyed homes, spent a third night outside in tents in Bayrakli and in nearby Bornova, many fearing the risk of aftershocks.
Turkish authorities registered 1,286 repeat tremors by Monday afternoon — including 43 above magnitude four — complicating the rescuers’ works and raising the threat of further damage.
Launching an investigation into why 58 buildings were either heavily damaged or completely destroyed, Turkish police detained nine people — including contractors — in connection with the quake, state news agency Anadolu said.
Rescuers dug through heavy blocks of concrete with their bare hands Saturday in a desperate search for survivors from a powerful earthquake that levelled buildings across Greece and Turkey, killing at least 26 people.
The quake struck late Friday afternoon, causing a mini-tsunami on the Aegean island of Samos and a sea surge that turned streets into rushing rivers in a town on Turkey’s west coast.
The US Geological Survey said the 7.0 magnitude tremor hit 14 kilometres (nine miles) off the Greek town of Karlovasi on Samos.
Felt in both Istanbul and Athens, it also created a diplomatic opening for the two historic rivals, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis placing a rare call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer his condolences and support.
Hospital patients on the street
Much of the damage occurred in and around Turkey’s Aegean resort city of Izmir, which has three million residents and is filled with high-rise apartment blocks.
Parts of entire apartments, including toys, pillows and shattered appliances, spilt out on the streets, where survivors huddled in tears, many too shocked to speak.
Aerial footage showed entire city blocks turned to rubble.
“I thought: Is it going to end? It felt like 10 minutes like it was never going to end,” said Gokhan Kan, a 32-year-old courier.
“I was terrified not for myself in that moment but for my family, my wife and four-year-old son.”
Izmir’s mayor Tunc Soyer told CNN Turk that 20 buildings had collapsed, with officials focusing their rescue efforts on 17 of them.
Turkey’s disaster relief agency reported 24 deaths and 800 injuries, while in Greece two teenagers died on their way home from school on Samos when a wall collapsed.
The scenes of devastation suggested the toll could rise.
One Izmir hospital rolled some of its patients — still strapped into their beds and hooked up to drips — out on the street as a precaution.
Turkey’s religious affairs directorate opened its mosques to help shelter some of those left homeless by the disaster.
Images on social media showed water rushing through the streets of one of the towns near Izmir from an apparent sea surge.
Thick white plumes of smoke towered over various parts of the city where big buildings had collapsed.
Rescuers, helped by residents and sniffer dogs, used chainsaws to try to force their way through the rubble of one destroyed seven-floor building.
At another site, Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli managed to establish mobile phone contact with a girl buried under the debris.
“We ask you to remain calm,” he told her in televised footage. “We will try to lift the concrete block and reach you.”
NTV television said up to six people were trapped at the site, including the girl’s cousin.
The region’s governor said 70 people had been pulled out alive by Friday evening, although how many more were missing remained unknown by sunset.
Rescuers set up tents in a small park away from the cracked and damaged buildings for families to spend the night in safety and relative warmth.
“Because we live in Izmir, we have pretty warm weather, we can make it through today, we can make it through tomorrow,” said Cemalettin Enginyurt, a retired soldier. “But we can’t think of anything on the long term, we are helpless.”
– ‘Earthquake Diplomacy’ –
On the Greek island of Samos, near the quake’s epicentre, people rushed out into the streets in panic.
“It was chaos,” said deputy mayor Giorgos Dionysiou. “We have never experienced anything like this.”
The Greek civil protection agency told Samos residents in a text message to “stay out in the open and away from buildings”.
Greece and Turkey are situated in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The two neighbours also suffer from historically poor relations despite both being members of the NATO military alliance.
But the quake saw a spurt of what pundits immediately termed “earthquake diplomacy”, with calls exchanged by their foreign ministers and then, hours later, the Greek prime minister and Erdogan.
“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” Mitsotakis said on Twitter.
“Thank you, Mr Prime Minister,” Erdogan tweeted in reply. “That two neighbours show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life.”
The US State Department said Washington was “heartened” by the newfound cooperation.
France, whose President Emmanuel Macron has sparred repeatedly with Erdogan in the past year, said it stood in “full solidarity” with the two countries.
In 1999, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey’s northwest, killing more than 17,000 people, including 1,000 in Istanbul.
In Greece, the last deadly quake killed two people on the island of Kos, near Samos, in July 2017.
France accused Turkey on Wednesday of “military involvement” on the side of Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, the latest volley in a war of words between Paris and Ankara.
“The new aspect is that there is military involvement by Turkey which risks fuelling the internationalisation of the conflict,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament.
Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, have for decades been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian area which broke away from Azerbaijan in a 1990s war that cost about 30,000 lives.
Heavy fighting erupted again on September 27, with both sides blaming each other for reigniting hostilities.
The conflict has drawn in regional players, with Turkey urging support for Azerbaijan and Armenia hoping that its ally Russia — which has so far stayed on the sidelines — will step in.
Turkey has been accused of deploying fighters from Syria to support Azerbaijan in the fighting.
French President Emmanuel Macron recently claimed Ankara had sent Syrian “jihadists” to the region, accusing Turkey of crossing a “red line”.
Turkey has not responded publicly to the accusations.
Le Drian on Wednesday said France deplored “a large number of civilian casualties for little territorial progress on the part of Azerbaijan, given it is Azerbaijan that initiated the conflict.”
He repeated the call for an immediate end to fighting and a return to negotiations mediated by the so-called Minsk group co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States.
“There will be meetings tomorrow in Geneva, others on Monday in Moscow and we hope that this will lead to the opening of negotiations,” the minister said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has a tense relationship with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the two sparring over issues ranging from the state of Islam to NATO and maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
This week, Ankara denounced Macron’s plan for defending France’s secular values against radical Islam as a populist affront to Muslims.
Macron had described Islam as a religion “in crisis” worldwide.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said the peace drive to end the conflict in Libya since 2011 should not be wasted, in a video conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
There has been increased hope since the two main warring factions separately announced in August that they would cease hostilities, which was followed by a series of UN-backed talks.
The two main factions are based around the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and a parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday voiced “cautious optimism” over efforts to end the conflict in Libya, after co-chairing talks with the United Nations that involved the warring Libyan sides.
Erdogan told Merkel that “the opportunity that emerged thanks to the calm sustained on the field in Libya should not be wasted,” the Turkish presidency said.
Turkey strongly backs the Tripoli government providing military support following an April 2019 offensive by rival strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.
Erdogan on Sunday expressed “full solidarity” with the GNA after a meeting in Istanbul with its head Fayez al-Sarraj.
Turkey on Thursday entered a new era of tight social media restrictions which threaten to erase the local presence of Facebook and Twitter should they fail to take down contentious posts.
The legislation was rammed through parliament by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP party and follows the government’s crackdown on opposition newspapers and television channels.
Facebook’s human rights officer Iain Levine tweeted that the move “raises many concerns (about) human rights”.
But while fearful, free speech advocates are not certain whether Erdogan’s government will be able to implement the law’s most punitive measures — or if social media companies will ever fully comply.
“We believe that these days it’s really impossible in a country like Turkey to suppress social media — it is so much a part of people’s lives,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch.
Under the new rules, platforms with more than one million daily users must open offices in Turkey that can deal with local court decisions to remove offending content within a day.
If not, they face advertising bans, multi-million-dollar fines and — crucially — bandwidth reductions of up to 90 percent, making the platforms effectively unusable.
They also require social media companies to “take necessary measures” to store user data locally, although binding legislation to that effect was taken out of the final version of the law passed in July.
– ‘Twitter schmitter!’ –
Erdogan has made no secret of his disdain for social media, although his @RTErdogan Twitter account has 16.7 million followers.
“Twitter schmitter!” he declared in 2014, vowing to “wipe all of these” platforms out.
He followed through on his threat later that year by briefly unplugging Twitter and YouTube ahead of local elections, which came in the heat of a corruption scandal linked to online audiotapes.
“The objective of the law is to threaten social media companies with a comply-or-die message,” Sinclair-Webb told AFP.
Access to websites and content has already been partially restricted in the nation of 83 million people.
Privacy rights advocate Sevket Uyanik said Turkey had blocked access to 408,000 websites, 40,000 tweets, 10,000 YouTube videos and 6,200 Facebook posts by the end of 2019.
“When this is already the case, imagine what it will be like after October 1,” Uyanik told AFP.
Digital rights expert Yaman Akdeniz said platforms have until the end of the day Thursday to open Turkish offices or start facing penalties and fines.
Akdeniz said bandwidth throttling would begin in April and reach 90 percent by May of next year if the social media companies still fail to comply.
Facebook and Twitter refused to comment when asked by AFP if they would follow the new rules.
– ‘Not popular’-
Many Turks, especially the young, turn to social media for news updates since most of the traditional media are owned or controlled by pro-government firms.
“There are a lot of cases of domestic violence against women and murders that we don’t see on TV,” Ayse Nur Akyuz, a model and self-described “influencer” with 47,000 Instagram followers, told AFP.
“News about them spreads on social media in five minutes.”
Everyone from high school students, cartoonists and reporters to a former Miss Turkey model have landed in court for tweets and other social media posts deemed offensive to the president.
The new legislation gained momentum after Erdogan became enraged by online insults of Finance Minister Berat Albayrak and his wife Esra, the president’s daughter, following the birth of their fourth child.
Yet Sinclair-Webb noted that government supporters have also grown to depend on social media — especially in the era of coronavirus restrictions and public gathering bans.
“Closing it down will not be a popular move,” said Sinclair-Webb. “If it attempts to implement this new law, the government would also shoot itself in the foot.”
The United States welcomed on Monday Greece’s willingness to look for a solution to a territorial dispute with Turkey, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with Greek officials.
Rival claims to potentially resource-rich territory under the Mediterranean should be resolved “peacefully in accordance with international law”, said Pompeo and Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in a joint statement after holding talks in Thessaloniki.
The two NATO members have spent weeks at loggerheads after Ankara sent exploration vessels into disputed waters, roping in other European powers and raising concern about a wider escalation.
Turkey has also angered Greece by repeatedly casting doubt on postwar treaties setting out the status quo in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.
But last week Athens and Ankara said they were ready to start talks.
“Let’s meet, let’s talk and let’s seek a mutually acceptable solution. Let’s give diplomacy a chance,” Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an address to the virtual UN General Assembly.
Pompeo, on a two-day visit to Greece, said in the joint statement that the US “welcomed Greece’s confirmed readiness to engage with other countries in the region to achieve maritime delimitation agreements”.
“The strength of our bilateral relationship is at an all-time high,” Pompeo tweeted earlier on Monday.
He will fly to the Greek island of Crete on Tuesday and tour the NATO naval base of Souda Bay.
Mitsotakis — who is hosting Pompeo at his family home on Crete — wants closer military ties with the US.
The secretary of state last October signed a defence agreement allowing US forces a broader use of Greek military facilities.
On Monday, both sides said they intended to “further enhance their strategic defence and security partnership” in talks in Washington next year.
A key element of the October deal was the northern Greek port of Alexandroupolis, a Balkans and Black Sea gateway of strategic value to the US navy and NATO.
The US has been granted priority status to the port after paying roughly $2.3 million (2 million euros) to remove a sunken dredging barge that had blocked part of the harbour since 2010.
At the time, Greek officials said the Pentagon was expected to invest over $14 million on the Greek airbase of Larissa and around six million euros at Marathi, part of the Souda base.
– Pressure on Huawei –
The visit to Thessaloniki is also intended as a sign to the Balkans on American willingness to invest in the region, the State Department said.
Pompeo signed a bilateral science and technology agreement, and hosted an energy sector gathering of business leaders.
Pompeo’s tour later in the week also includes stops in Italy, the Vatican and Croatia.
In Rome, the secretary of state will discuss efforts by the Trump administration to deter its European allies from using equipment by Chinese manufacturer Huawei in developing their 5G networks.
The US accuses Huawei of being a tool for Chinese espionage.
Pompeo is also scheduled to attend a meeting at the Vatican on religious freedom, his human rights priority. There, too, he will warn of China’s actions against minorities, including Muslims.
Turkey strongly condemned the deal between Israel and Bahrain to normalise relations, describing it as a “fresh blow” to the Palestinian cause.
US President Donald Trump Friday announced the “peace deal” between Israel and Bahrain, which becomes the second Arab country to settle with its former foe in less than a month.
Turkey’s foreign ministry late Friday said Ankara was “concerned” by the move and “strongly condemned” the deal.
“The step will be a fresh blow to efforts to defend the Palestinian cause and will further embolden Israel to continue its illegal practices toward Palestine and its attempts to make the occupation of Palestinian territories permanent,” the ministry said in a statement.
It said the move was contrary to the commitments under the Arab Peace Initiative — which calls for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied after 1967 — and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, is a strong advocate of Palestinian rights who has frequently criticised Israeli policies in the West Bank.
After last month’s deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, Erdogan warned Turkey could suspend diplomatic relations with the Gulf state in response.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday warned Turkey would make “no concessions” in the eastern Mediterranean and told Greece to avoid taking steps that could lead to its “ruin”.
His remarks come just hours after Athens said it would launch military exercises Wednesday with France, Italy and Cyprus in the region, where tensions between the two neighbours have escalated in recent weeks.
“In the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea, Turkey will get what is rightfully ours,” Erdogan said in the eastern province of Mus on the anniversary of the 1071 Battle of Malazgirt where pre-Ottoman tribes defeated the Byzantines.
The victory has been celebrated with increasing fervour in modern Turkey in recent years, and this year was no different with a socially-distanced audience listening to Erdogan.
“We don’t have our eye on someone else’s territory, sovereignty and interests, but we will make no concessions on that which is ours,” he said in the televised speech.
“We invite our counterparts to change their ways and avoid wrongs that will be the path to ruin,” Erdogan added in pointed remarks to NATO ally Greece.
“We want everyone to see Turkey is no longer a country whose patience, determination, means and courage will be tested. If we say we will do something, we will do it, and we will pay the price,” he said.
Greece and Turkey are already divided on significant issues including migration and Byzantine heritage in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople.
But the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has further strained relations, with Turkey rejecting calls from the EU and Athens to immediately stop energy exploration in the region.
Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel accompanied by warships to disputed waters on August 10. Its activities were meant to end on last Sunday but were extended to Thursday.
Germany has led the charge in Europe to defuse tensions, dispatching its foreign minister to Ankara and Athens on Tuesday to resolve the issue through dialogue.
Both sides said they were open to dialogue after talks with the German minister, and there will be an informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin on Thursday and Friday.
Pope Francis said Sunday he was “very distressed” over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed,” the pope said in the Vatican’s first reaction to a decision that has drawn international criticism.
The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano had on Saturday carried reaction from different countries about Friday’s decision to turn the monument from a museum back into a mosque but without any comment.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics say is chipping away at the Muslim-majority country’s secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque and in 2018, he recited a verse from the Koran at Hagia Sophia.
Erdogan’s announcement came after a top court cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularising founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.