Turkey Arrests American Behind Coup Messaging App

 

 

A Turkish-born American linked to a messaging app used by organisers of a failed coup in 2016 has arrived in Istanbul and turned himself in to the police, state media reported Wednesday.

David Keynes, also known in Turkey as Alpaslan Demir, holds the copyright to ByLock, an encrypted messaging app that has been banned in Turkey and across parts of the Middle East.

The Turkish government believes the app was used by organisers of a failed coup in 2016 that claimed the lives of some 250 people and was followed by a sweeping political crackdown and mass arrests.

The Anadolu state news agency said Keynes arrived in Istanbul on June 9 and turned himself in to the police under a “repentance law” that grants more lenient treatment to people who confess to crimes.

It was not clear why state media reported Keynes’s arrest more than a month after his arrival in Turkey or why he had decided to turn himself in.

Anadolu said he was put in pre-trial detention and charged with terror-related offences that could see him jailed for up to 15 years.

Ankara blames the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim preacher who was an ally-turned-opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish leader responded to the failed putsch by ordering a comprehensive crackdown that officials say saw more than 321,000 people detained.

Most have been released, but the scale of the detentions has had a chilling effect on Turkish politics, leading to the detention of Erdogan’s political opponents and the shutdown of independent media.

The courts have handed down life sentences to 3,000 people, according to Anadolu, while 4,890 defendants have been convicted over links to the coup bid.

-AFP

Turkey Arrests American Behind Coup Messaging App

 

 

A Turkish-born American linked to a messaging app used by organisers of a failed coup in 2016 has arrived in Istanbul and turned himself in to the police, state media reported Wednesday.

David Keynes, also known in Turkey as Alpaslan Demir, holds the copyright to ByLock, an encrypted messaging app that has been banned in Turkey and across parts of the Middle East.

The Turkish government believes the app was used by organisers of a failed coup in 2016 that claimed the lives of some 250 people and was followed by a sweeping political crackdown and mass arrests.

The Anadolu state news agency said Keynes arrived in Istanbul on June 9 and turned himself in to the police under a “repentance law” that grants more lenient treatment to people who confess to crimes.

It was not clear why state media reported Keynes’s arrest more than a month after his arrival in Turkey or why he had decided to turn himself in.

Anadolu said he was put in pre-trial detention and charged with terror-related offences that could see him jailed for up to 15 years.

Ankara blames the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim preacher who was an ally-turned-opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish leader responded to the failed putsch by ordering a comprehensive crackdown that officials say saw more than 321,000 people detained.

Most have been released, but the scale of the detentions has had a chilling effect on Turkish politics, leading to the detention of Erdogan’s political opponents and shutdown of independent media.

The courts have handed down life sentences to 3,000 people, according to Anadolu, while 4,890 defendants have been convicted over links to the coup bid.

Nigeria, Turkey To Strengthen Parliamentary Ties

 

Nigeria and Turkey are set to strengthen their parliamentary ties by establishing friendship groups between the parliaments of the two countries.

Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila disclosed this while hosting the Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Hidayet Bayraktar, on Thursday in Abuja.

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He said Nigeria and Turkey have a long history and that there was a lot that can be done between the two countries.

“Obviously, there are some issues we need to discuss. This is our first engagement, and we will continue to engage.

“We in the 9th House have deployed what we call Legislative Diplomacy to see how we can address diplomatic issues.

“I’m glad that you brought the issue of the parliamentary friendship group,” Gbajabiamila said.

Gbajabiamila added that the House would explore more avenues when members return from their annual vacation.

“I envisage a parliamentary visit from our end between September and October, barring unforeseen circumstances.

“We’ll explore all the areas: security, economy, politics, agriculture and all that. We’ll establish that group in the next couple of days and look out to our engagement in September-October,” the lawmaker assured.

Earlier, the Turkish Ambassador, Mr Bayraktar said there has been a cordial relationship between the two countries, but added that there was the need to strengthen parliamentary ties.

He said his country had some time in 2018 established a Turkish-Nigeria parliamentary friendship group, calling for such in the Nigerian Parliament.

He said to boost the relationship between the parliaments of the two countries, it would not be out of place for Speaker Gbajabiamila to consider a visit to Turkey.

Macron To Meet Turkey’s Erdogan After Rift

In this file photo taken on August 26, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for Senegal's President to arrive for their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin / AFP
In this file photo taken on August 26, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for Senegal’s President to arrive for their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he would meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of next week’s NATO summit, after months of bitter exchanges between the two leaders.

The pair have locked horns over a series of international crises including Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Macron has also warned that Turkey would try to meddle in France’s 2022 presidential election.

He has suggested that Ankara’s unilateral moves on the international stage and purchase of air defence missile systems from Russia have contributed to a “brain death” of NATO, where Turkey is a key member.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, Macron said he planned to meet Erdogan “just before” the NATO summit which begins in Brussels on Monday.

READ ALSO: UEFA Demands Ukraine Make Changes To ‘Political’ Jersey

“When we are members of the same organisation, we cannot decide to buy equipment that does not allow interoperability, we cannot decide to carry out unilateral operations which are against the interests of the coalitions that we have built,” Macron said.

He added that the two sides had “profound disagreements” but need to “continue to talk”.

A new law against Islamist extremism which the French government introduced after a series of attacks also aroused Erdogan’s ire, with the Turkish leader accusing France of Islamophobia.

The Turkish leader last year said Macron needed “mental checks” and expressed hope that France would “get rid of” Macron as soon as possible.

But there have been tentative signs of an easing of tensions in recent months, with Erdogan keen to strengthen links with Turkey’s Western partners at a time of growing economic difficulties at home compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

AFP

Biden Recognises 1915 Armenian Genocide, Defying NATO Ally Turkey

U.S. President Joe Biden listens during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate with 40 world leaders in the East Room of the White House April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

US President Joe Biden on Saturday recognized the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide, a watershed moment for descendants of the hundreds of thousands of dead as he defied decades of pressure by Turkey. 

Biden became the first US president to use the word genocide in a customary statement on the anniversary, a day after informing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would go ahead with this step and seeking to limit the expected furor from the NATO ally.

“We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Biden said.

“And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms,” he said.

READ ALSO: France Won’t Give Into Islamist Terrorism, Says Macron

The statement is a massive victory for Armenia and its extensive diaspora. Starting with Uruguay in 1965, nations including France, Germany, Canada and Russia have recognized the genocide but a US statement has been a paramount goal that proved elusive under other presidents until Biden.

Biden said his statement was “not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

Biden made the decision “in a very principled way focused on the merits of human rights, and not for any reason beyond that, including placing blame,” a senior US official said.

Biden took office vowing to put a new focus on human rights and democracy in the wake of his volatile predecessor Donald Trump, who befriended authoritarians and, despite breaking plenty of foreign policy precedents, declined to recognize the Armenian genocide.

Explaining Biden’s thinking, the administration official also alluded to the Democratic president’s outspokenness on systemic racism in the United States.

Across the world, “people are beginning to acknowledge and address and grapple with the painful historical facts in their own countries. It’s certainly something that we are doing here in the United States,” she said.

A century of waiting

As many as 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed from 1915 to 1917 during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, which suspected the Christian minority of conspiring with adversary Russia in World War I.

Armenian populations were rounded up and deported into the desert of Syria on death marches where many were shot, poisoned or fell victim to disease, according to accounts at the time by foreign diplomats.

Turkey, which emerged as a secular republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, acknowledges that 300,000 Armenians may have died but strongly rejects that it was genocide, saying they perished in strife and famine in which many Turks also died.

Erdogan on Thursday told advisors to “defend the truth against those who back the so-called ‘Armenian genocide’ lie,” with his foreign minister warning that the United States would set back relations.

File photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on January 13, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Recognition has been a top priority for the Armenia and Armenian-Americans, with calls for compensation and property restoration over what they call Meds Yeghern — the Great Crime.

Biden’s statement was also expected to heighten appeals from Armenia for greater US support against Turkish-backed neighbor Azerbaijan, which last year humiliated Armenia by taking back swathes of territory seized in the 1990s.

But Biden, whose call to Erdogan to inform him of the genocide recognition was their first conversation since the US leader took office three months ago, has signaled he hopes for limited diplomatic impact.

Biden and Erdogan agreed in their call to meet in June on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, officials said.

Biden has kept Erdogan at arm’s length — a contrast with Trump, whom the Turkish leader reportedly found so amenable that he would call Trump directly on his phone on the golf course.

Turbulent alliance

The US Congress in 2019 voted overwhelmingly to recognize the Armenian genocide but the Trump administration made clear that the official US line had not changed.

Former president Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, danced around the issue by referencing pre-election statements he made recognizing the genocide and resisted pressure for a statement on the centennial in 2015.

Alan Makovsky, an expert on Turkey at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said that the 2019 congressional resolution had “no discernible impact” on US-Turkey relations — and paved the way for Biden to go ahead.

“We’ve seen through experience that concern about Turkey’s reaction was always overblown,” he said.

“Turkey will raise a rhetorical fuss for a few days and perhaps delay acting on some routine requests from the US military.”

Tensions have risen with Turkey in recent years over its purchase of a major air defense system from Russia — the chief adversary of NATO — which under US law could trigger sanctions.

Turkey has also infuriated much of the US political establishment with its incursions against US-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria who helped fight the Islamic State group but are linked to militants inside Turkey.

Biden before taking office called Erdogan an autocrat and voiced support for Turkey’s opposition. His administration has also criticized homophobic statements from those close to the Islamist-oriented Erdogan.

Turkey Seeks Arrest Of Crypto Boss Over Huge Fraud, Detains Dozens

 This file photo taken on February 6, 2018, shows a visual representation of the digital crypto-currency Bitcoin, at the "Bitcoin Change" shop in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.  JACK GUEZ / AFP
This file photo taken on February 6, 2018, shows a visual representation of the digital crypto-currency Bitcoin, at the “Bitcoin Change” shop in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. JACK GUEZ / AFP

 

Turkey issued an international arrest warrant on Friday for the founder of a cryptocurrency exchange who fled with a reported $2 billion in investors’ assets, state media reported.

Police also detained 62 people in raids over their alleged links to Thodex, the company headed by the fugitive businessman Faruk Fatih Ozer.

He is being sought on charges of “fraud by using information systems, banks or credit institutions as a tool and founding a criminal organisation”, the Anadolu news agency reported.

Turkish security officials on Thursday released a photo of Ozer going through passport control at Istanbul airport on his way to an undisclosed location.

Security sources later confirmed that Ozer — said to be 27 years old — has been in Albania since Tuesday.

The justice ministry has started legal proceedings to seek his arrest and extradition from the Albanian capital Tirana, Anadolu reported.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu spoke by phone with his Albanian counterpart about the case, the agency added.

The Thodex exchange suspended trading after posting a mysterious message on Wednesday saying it needed five days to deal with an unspecified outside investment.

Media reports said the exchange shut down while holding at least $2 billion from 391,000 investors.

Freeze on bank accounts

The 62 suspects were apprehended in simultaneous raids carried out in eight cities including Turkey’s main hub Istanbul, Anadolu reported.

Police raided the company’s headquarters on the Asian side of Istanbul and seized computers and digital materials, press reports said.

Authorities also confiscated Ozer’s 31 million lira ($3.7 million) in banks, Soylu said.

He said the financial scale of the fraud remained unknown for now.

“We will see the ramifications in the coming days … God willing, he will be captured and returned to Turkey.”

Police have issued arrest warrants for 16 other people, Anadolu said, without elaborating. There was no immediate information about those being held.

A lawyer for the investors, Oguz Evren Kilic, said Friday that the investigation into Thodex “is deepening”.

“Hundreds of thousands of users cannot get access to their digital wallets. The situation will get more serious unless a concrete step is taken” by Thodex, he told AFP by phone.

Kilic said his clients have already lodged complaints at the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul and other cities.

In a message posted on the company’s official Twitter account on Thursday, Ozer slammed the “baseless allegations” against him.

He said he was abroad for meetings with foreign investors and would return home “in a few days and cooperate with judicial authorities so that the truth can come out”.

‘I’m begging you, help’

The number of complaints against Thodex has increased by more than 1,160 percent over the week to April 20 compared to the previous week, according to Turkish customer complaint website Sikayetvar.

One investor who reached Sikayetvar said: “I have been unemployed for a year. I trusted Thodex and invested everything I have… I can’t sleep or eat. I am begging you, please help.”

Another said: “Why is Thodex’s CEO silent? Why are they victimising people? Are you making fun of us?”

Growing numbers of Turks are turning to cryptocurrencies in a bid to shield their savings in the face of a sharp decline in the value of the Turkish lira and high inflation.

The Turkish crypto market remains unregulated despite growing scepticism from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government about its safety.

Turkey’s central bank said last week it will ban the use of cryptocurrencies in payments for goods and services starting from April 30.

It warned that cryptocurrencies “entail significant risks” because the market is volatile and lacks oversight.

AFP

Turkey Jails 22 Ex-Soldiers For Life Over 2016 Coup Bid

In this file photograph taken on July 16, 2016, a tank crashes into a car as people take to the streets in Ankara, during a protest against a military coup. A Turkish court on April 7, 2021, has sentenced 22 former soldiers to life in jail for their roles in a failed 2016 bid to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. PHOTO: ADEM ALTAN / AFP

 

A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced 22 former soldiers to life in jail for their roles in a failed 2016 bid to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of his lawyers told AFP.

In its latest mass trial of suspects whose failure to oust Erdogan was followed by a sweeping political crackdown and arrests, an Ankara court investigated the role of 497 former soldiers, including members of the presidential guard.

The putsch attempt included a raid on Turkey’s main state television broadcaster, whose newscaster was forced to read out a statement from the military junta leaders.

READ ALSO: Merkel Approves ‘Short National Lockdown’ To Curb Virus

One of the president’s lawyers provided AFP with a document showing the judge jailing 22 former ranking military personnel for life.

These included former lieutenant colonel Umit Gencer, who was convicted of “violating the constitutional order” by making TRT television read out a “coup declaration”.

The court also handed ex-major Fedakar Akca an aggravated life sentence for leading a team from the regiment to the general staff headquarters on the night, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Former colonel Muhammet Tanju Poshor received his sentence for directing the occupation of the TRT building, it added.

An aggravated life sentence has tougher terms of detention and replaced the death penalty after it was abolished in 2004.

Another ex-major, Osman Koltarla, was in charge of the presidential palace’s security at the time. The court also handed him a life sentence.

 

– Final Ankara trial –

The verdict was read out in the country’s largest courtroom which was especially built to hear coup trials at Sincan prison complex in Ankara province.

The case into the regiment began in October 2017, with 243 hearings, the state news agency said.

According to Anadolu, the end of the trial marks the end of the cases heard in the capital, nearly five years later.

In an unprecedented legal process, thousands have been given life sentences in trials across Turkey, with indictments spanning thousands of pages and lawyers painstakingly working through the cases.

The failed coup left 248 people dead, excluding 24 putschists killed on the night.

Turkey accuses US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the failed coup, a claim he strongly denies.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over alleged links to Gulen since 2016, and police raids continue to this day.

More than 100,000 have been sacked or suspended from the public sector over similar allegations.

The aftermath of the coup attempt has transformed every aspect of contemporary Turkish politics, with Erdogan becoming especially sensitive to the military’s role in the country’s political life.

Earlier this week he accused 104 retired admirals of “hinting at a political coup” after they criticised his plans for a new canal in Istanbul.

AFP

Turkey Arrests Pro-Kurdish MP Who Was Expelled From Parliament

Turkish member of Parliament for the left wing political party Peoples’ Democratic Party Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu (C) reacts as he is surrounded by MPs applauding and brandishing placards after he was dismissed following a vote at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, on March 17, 2021. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkish authorities on Sunday arrested a pro-Kurdish opposition MP who had refused to leave parliament for several days after his seat was revoked, his party said.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu “was brought out by force while he was in pyjamas and slippers” by “nearly 100 police officers”, the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said in a statement.

The parliament on Wednesday revoked the seat of Gergerlioglu, an outspoken rights defender, and his accompanying immunity from prosecution after a controversial conviction over a social media post.

Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu (C, front row with a blue mask), a human rights advocate and lawmaker from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and his colleagues pose after the parliament stripped his parliamentary seat, in Ankara, on March 17, 2021. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

 

Gergerlioglu was handed a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for spreading “terrorist propaganda” online.

Gergerlioglu has rejected the accusations, and his expulsion from parliament was criticised by numerous campaign groups and Western governments.

He had remained holed up in a room in the parliament since Wednesday.

The HDP tweeted a photo of him being escorted out of the room, wearing a black T-shirt.

“You used to be able to see this kind of scene in the 1990s. Unfortunately, nothing has changed,” Gergerlioglu said during his arrest, according to comments reported by his party.

His remark referred to a decade marked by a flaring of the Kurdish conflict in southeastern Turkey when several pro-Kurdish MPs were arrested.

The HDP, the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament, has been under a constant crackdown since 2016 with the arrest of several of its lawmakers and leaders, including its charismatic co-chair Selahattin Demirtas.

Demirtas — a two-time rival to incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan in presidential elections — has been kept in detention since 2016 despite calls from the European Court of Human Rights demanding his release.

The top public prosecutor in Ankara had on Wednesday demanded that the HDP be dissolved over its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK has been waging an insurgency since 1984 that has killed tens of thousands and is listed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.

The HDP has seen dozens of its mayors dismissed over alleged terror links.

Western powers have universally condemned the bid to shut down the HDP. The country’s highest court is due to rule on the case in the coming weeks.

AFP

Thousands Protest Turkey’s Withdrawal From Women’s Treaty

Protesters hold banners reading “Did you read the Istanbul Convention?” and “Why do you fear the Istanbul Convention?” during a demonstration against Turkey’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention, an international accord designed to protect women, in Ankara, on March 20, 2021. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

 

 

Thousands protested in Turkey on Saturday calling for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reverse his decision to withdraw from the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women.

The government sparked domestic and international outrage after announcing the decision before dawn on Saturday, the latest victory for conservatives in Erdogan’s nationalist party and their allies who argued the treaty damaged family unity.

The 2011 Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.

“Reverse your decision, apply the treaty!” chanted thousands of people during a protest in the Kadikoy neighbourhood on the Asian side of Istanbul on Saturday.

The protesters held up portraits of women murdered in Turkey, one reading: “It is women who will win this war”.

Protester Banu said she was “fed up with the patriarchal state”.

“I’m fed with not feeling safe. Enough!” she told AFP.

Other smaller protests were held in the capital Ankara and the southwestern city of Izmir, according to media reports.

 

Protesters fight with a Turkish plain clothes police officer (L) during a demonstration against Turkey’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention, an international accord designed to protect women, in Istanbul, on March 20, 2021. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)

 

Europe’s top rights body, the Council of Europe, denounced Turkey’s withdrawal from a treaty it sponsored.

“This move is a huge setback to these efforts and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond,” Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric said.

The treaty “is widely regarded as the gold standard in international efforts to protect women and girls from the violence that they face every day in our societies,” she added.

The European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor tweeted that “this is the current Turkish government’s real face: complete disregard to the rule of law, and full backsliding on human rights.”

Germany’s foreign ministry said it “sent a bad signal to Europe and above all to Turkish women” while France said “this setback to rights is worrying.”

Conservatives had claimed the charter damages family unity and encourages divorce, and that its references to equality were being used by the LGBT community to gain broader acceptance in society.

Turkey had been debating a possible departure after an official in Erdogan’s party suggested dropping the treaty last year.

Since then, women have taken to the streets in cities across the country calling on the government to stick to the convention.

 

 

Protesters walk in the streets during a demonstration against Turkey’s withdrawal from Istanbul Convention, an international accord designed to protect women, in Ankara, on March 20, 2021. – Thousands protested in Turkey on March 20, 2021, calling for Turkish President to reverse his decision to withdraw from the world’s first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

 

‘You and your evil’

The publication of the decree in the official gazette early Saturday immediately sparked anger.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, one of Erdogan’s main rivals, tweeted that the decision “tramples on the struggle that women have been waging for years”.

Gokce Gokcen, deputy chairperson of the main opposition CHP party, said abandoning the treaty meant “keeping women second-class citizens and letting them be killed.”

“Despite you and your evil, we will stay alive and bring back the convention,” she said on Twitter.

Even the pro-government Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), whose deputy chair is Erdogan’s younger daughter, expressed some unease, saying the Istanbul Convention “played an important role in the fight against violence”.

In response to the avalanche of criticism, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said “our institutions and our security forces will continue to fight domestic violence and violence against women”.

300 femicides in 2020

Domestic violence and femicide remain a serious problem in Turkey.

Last year, 300 women were murdered and the rate is speeding up, with 77 killed already this year, according to the rights group We Will Stop Femicide Platform.

“The Istanbul convention was not signed at your command and it will not leave our lives on your command,” the platform’s secretary general Fidan Ataselim tweeted.

The country was also shaken by a video spread widely on social media earlier this month showing a man beating his ex-wife on the street.

The man was arrested on Sunday and Erdogan announced a parliamentary commission would be created to look at legislation to combat violence.

Rights groups accuse Erdogan of taking mostly Muslim but officially secular Turkey on an increasingly socially conservative course during his 18 years in power.

After a spectacular Pride March in Istanbul drew 100,000 people in 2014, the government responded by banning future events in the city, citing security concerns.

Erdogan Sacks Central Bank’s Chief After Hike In Interest Rate

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech after cabinet meeting at Presidential Complex in Ankara on November 3, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech after a cabinet meeting at Presidential Complex in Ankara on November 3, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey braced on Saturday for a new spell of financial turbulence after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sacked his market-friendly central bank chief and replaced him with a former ruling party lawmaker.

A presidential decree published late on Friday gave no explanation as to why Erdogan was replacing Naci Agbal with Sahap Kavcioglu in the key post.

But the decision was announced just a day after the central bank sharply raised the main interest rate to 19 per cent to fight inflation.

Kavcioglu has written columns for a pro-government newspaper heavily criticising Agbal’s propensity to raise rates.

Analysts say the new central banker subscribes to Erdogan’s unorthodox belief that higher interest rates cause inflation.

Most economists believe it slows inflation down by raising the cost of doing business.

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“The shock decision by Turkey’s President Erdogan to sack central bank governor Naci Agbal late on Friday is likely to trigger large falls in the lira when markets open on Monday,” analyst Jason Tuvey of Capital Economics wrote in a research note.

“It looks like the central bank’s efforts to fight the country’s inflation problem may come to an end, and a messy balance of payments crisis has become (once again) a real possibility,” Tuvey warned.

 Inflation struggle

Agbal was appointed during an economic team overhaul that Erdogan engineered in November to halt a steep Turkish currency slide.

The lira had by then fallen to 8.5 to the dollar from 5.9 at the start of 2020 as past central bank managers kept interests rates low while inflation gathered pace.

Economists at Goldman Sachs estimated that the central bank spent more than $100 million in 2020 alone buying up foreign currencies in an attempt to support the lira.

But Turks kept stocking up on gold and exchanging liras for euros and dollars to preserve their saving.

Foreign investors fled the Turkish market and the economy appeared headed for a major crisis.

Erdogan appeared to concede defeat and embrace orthodoxy by installing Agbal at the central bank and reformists at the finance ministry in the November reshuffle.

Agbal’s term has seen the lira stabilise. It stood at around 7.3 against the dollar on Friday.

But the lira began to reverse some of its earlier gains in February and the annual inflation rate rose to 15.6 per cent due to external pressure on the Turkish economy.

Agbal’s decision to raise rates by a greater than expected 200 basis points to 19 per cent on Thursday was cheered by investors but appeared to be the last straw for Erdogan.

Kavcioglu’s Yeni Safak newspaper criticised it on its front page on Friday.

 ‘Paid the price’

Erdogan’s dislike of high interest rates has remained a constant in Turkish politics.

He once called it the “mother and father of all evil” and stressed again in January that he was “absolutely against” higher rates.

His new central banker Kavcioglu suggested in a February column that higher interest rates “indirectly” lead to higher inflation.

Emerging markets economist Timothy Ash called Agbal “a patriot who made the difficult but right choices in the best interests of Turkey at the right times. He has paid the price for that.”

Kavcioglu becomes the fourth central bank chief Erdogan has appointed since July 2019.

He faces the task of meeting Erdogan’s goal of bringing down the annual inflation rate down to five per cent by Turkey’s next scheduled election in 2023.

But Tuvey of Capital Economics said Agbal’s dismissal also carried political risks for Erdogan because some in the president’s ruling party were growing uneasy with his unorthodox approach to economics.

“The sacking of Governor Agbal runs the risk of splitting the party, which had already seen several major players depart in recent years,” Tuvey wrote.

AFP

Erdogan Chastises Biden For ‘Killer’ Putin Comment

File photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on January 13, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday waded into the war of words between the US and Russian presidents, chastising Joe Biden for calling Vladimir Putin a “killer.”

“Mr Biden’s comment about Putin does not suit a head of state,” the Turkish president told reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul, lauding Putin for giving a “smart” and “classy response”.

In an interview with ABC News, Biden was asked if he thought Putin was “a killer”.

“I do,” Biden replied, immediately sparking the biggest crisis between Russia and the United States in years.

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a joint press conference following their talks in the Black sea resort of Sochi on October 22, 2019. Sergei CHIRIKOV / POOL / AFP

 

Putin on Thursday mocked the US leader, saying a Russian phrase that translates roughly as “it takes one to know one”, and wishing Biden, 78, good health.

“I’m saying this without irony, not as a joke,” Putin, 68, said.

Erdogan’s comments reflect a new spell of tensions that have entered Turkey’s relations with Washington since Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House in January.

Erdogan is still waiting for a phone call from Biden, whose administration has highlighted Turkey’s deteriorating record on human rights.

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Turkish-US relations are also hampered by Ankara’s purchase of advanced S-400 air defence systems from Moscow, which Washington says threaten NATO defences.

Biden is also remembered in Ankara for calling Erdogan an “autocrat” in an interview in late 2019.

Despite their differences on Syria, Erdogan has called Putin a “friend and a strategic partner.”

AFP

Nine Turkish Soldiers Killed In Military Helicopter Crash

A map of Turkey used to illustrate the story.
A map of Turkey used to illustrate the story.

 

Nine Turkish soldiers were killed and four wounded on Thursday when their military helicopter crashed in the southeast of the country, the defence ministry said.

“Nine heroic soldiers fell as martyrs and four were injured in the accident,” which occurred in the Bitlis province, the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the accident involved a Cougar helicopter but provided no details about the model.

The Cougar family of multi-purpose helicopters were developed by France and are now produced by Airbus.

The defence ministry said contact was lost with the helicopters 30 minutes after take off.

Its teams found the wreckage after launching a search with drones, a transport aircraft and a helicopter.

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The ministry statement said a search on site “determined that the helicopter was damaged by an accident” but provided no other details.

It added that the injured were being transported to hospital.

Turkish forces have been conducting military operations against outlawed Kurdish militias across the southeast for years.

In 2017, a military helicopter crashed in the southeastern Sirnak province near Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq, killing 13 soldiers.

AFP