Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gatestone Update :: Peter Martino: Europe In Denial Yet Again, and more

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Europe In Denial Yet Again

by Peter Martino
March 27, 2012 at 5:00 am


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Europe is in a state of denial about the transformative nature of its enemies. By refusing to recognize mental illness in its varied forms for what it is, it remains unable to protect its citizens.

It is a familiar pattern. Whenever a terrorist commits an atrocity, his apologists start blaming society or, even worse, the victims. Hence, it was not surprising that after Mohamed Merah, a French jihadist of Algerian descent, killed a rabbi and three Jewish children in Toulouse last week, some immediately blamed the Jews.

Merah had cold-bloodedly videotaped how he chased an eight-year old girl across a school playground and murdered her with three bullets in the head, and how he executed Rabbi Sandler and his three- and six-year old sons. Even so, some did not hesitate to compare his acts to military operations of the Israeli army in Gaza.

That alone is shocking, but that the comparison was made by the head of foreign policy of the European Union makes matters even worse. And yet, one week after comparing the Jewish children that were intentionally murdered in Toulouse with young Palestinian victims of the Israeli army's defensive air strikes in Gaza, Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is still in function. Not a single one of the 27 governments of the member states of the European Union is asking for her resignation.

Israeli politicians reacted with indignation to Ashton's comparison. Her remarks, however, are not surprising given her past as an activist who belonged to the "Blame the West first" crowd. Some people, when confronted with sociopathic behavior, collaborate with it or look for arguments to prove that it is actually not a symptom of emotional disorder, but an attempt to right a wrong which someone has committed.

The European Union is one of the most outspoken and frequent international critics of Israel. Last week, this column pointed out its frequent unfair and biased reports about Israel. As Israel is a Western country, it is hated by anti-Western elements in the EU who depict the Palestinians as permanent victims of Israeli aggression.

Americans do not seem to be aware of it, but people with an anti-Western past control more than one third of the EU's top positions. Catherine Ashton began her political career in the early 1980s when she was the treasurer of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the main British peacenik organization, which, according to former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, was on the Soviet Union's payroll. She apparently still subscribes to these discredited and potentially self-destructive policies -- evidently still as blind to totalitarian abuse of power as she was three decades ago. She is as unable to see the autocratic nature of Islam today as she was unable to see the autocratic nature of Communism then.

"Imagine," The Economist wrote in 2010 when Ashton was appointed to head the EU's foreign department, "a 1980s Europe where CND had triumphed, … surrendering to Kremlin pressure and propping up the evil empire. … Given the Soviet Union's history of mass murder, subversion, and deceit, it is astonishing that even tangential association with Soviet-backed causes in the past does not arouse … moral indignation."

No rigorous scrutiny of Ashton's remarks then; no rigorous scrutiny of Ashton's remarks last week.

Unfortunately, Ashton is not alone. Ten of the 27 members of the European Commission, the EU's executive, were on the side of repressive totalitarian rule during the Cold War. They were either Communist Party apparatchiks or anti-Western Marxist Socialists who considered the West as bad as the Soviet Union. Two of the current EU commissioners were members of the Soviet Communist Party (the Estonian Siim Kallas and the Latvian Andris Piebalgs), two were members of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party (the Czech Štefan Füle and the Slovak Maroš Šefcovič), one was a member of the Yugoslav Communist Party (the Slovenian Janez Potočnik), one was a member of the Greek Communist Party (Maria Damanaki), and one was a former member of the Portuguese Maoist Party (EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso). Two others were Marxist Social-Democrats close to the Communist Party (the Hungarian László Andor and the Spaniard Joaquín Almunia), and one, Catherine Ashton, was active in a Soviet sponsored "peace organization" attempting to prevent the West from defending itself against Soviet aggression.

Apart from a vain attempt by Gerard Batten, a British Member of the European Parliament, to block the appointment in 2010 of EU commissioners who "have been associated with oppressive regimes" or "have participated in non-democratic governments or political movements," no one seemed to mind that a third of the members of the European Commission are former collaborators of a regime that slaughtered 20 million of its own people under Josef Stalin. Today, Israel is paying the price for this lack of rigorous scrutiny on the part of the Europeans.

After Ashton was criticized by Israeli politicians for making the Toulouse-Gaza comparison, she expressed her "sadness at the distortion of my remarks." Instead of apologizing, she blamed her critics for "distorting" her message. Meanwhile, she manipulated the transcript of her remarks by adding to the online version of her speech a reference to Israeli children in Sderot who have been the victims of literally thousands of Palestinian rocket attacks. If thousand of rockets were to land, year after year, in the suburbs Brussels or Florence, what would you recommend the residents there do: reward the adversary by abandoning those cities? In any event, the previous online version of the transcript there was no reference to Sderot.

Confronted by the outspoken aspirations of Islam dynamically to expand, people such as Ashton and those who have appointed her show the same deluded blindness they showed three decades ago when confronted with the repressive nature of Communism.

While Ashton blamed Israel, Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, the so-called voice of moderate European Islam, blamed France. Ramadan wrote on his website that Merah had turned into a terrorist "after having been a citizen deprived of true dignity." Islam had nothing to do with it, Ramadan claims. France is to blame because "a substantial number of French citizens [of Islamic origin] are treated as second-class citizens."

Ramadan's article is another attempt to blame victims for the criminal activity perpetrated against them, this time in their capacity as French citizens rather than as Jews,. An Oxford professor writing such an article is an embarrassment and an insult to all members of the Oxford University community. It is, however, as before, unlikely that anyone at Oxford will complain about it.

Europe is in a state of denial about the transformative nature of its enemies. By refusing to recognize mental illness in its varied forms. -- whether attempts to ward off depression by means of aggression; paranoia, either innate or induced, or the excitement in physically harming oneself or others that is known as sado-masochism -- for what it is, Europe remains unable to protect its citizens.

Eighty years ago, the Europeans went through the same process. As Mark Twain said, "History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes." Once again -- just as they did during the Inquisition and the Third Reich -- the Europeans are failing, either from ignorance or the wish not-to-know, to confront the subject of emotional disorder, especially inflamed daily not only by ideological teachings that conspicuously seek to whip up hate, but also with the complicity of a European press increasingly reminiscent of Der Stürmer. Once again, the Europeans, for their own failure, are trying to make the Jews pay the price.

Related Topics: Peter Martino

Tunisian Salafists: Who Are They?

by Anna Mahjar-Barducci
March 27, 2012 at 4:00 am


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"The Islamic party, Ennahda, aspires to show how it is able to manage political affairs with moderation and without radicalism, with the aim not to cause the concern of Western governments. At the same time, it is compelled to adopt Salafist positions to avoid being overtaken by the Salafists. The people who voted for Ennahda are expecting this party [to give answers] on social and economic issues. If the economy will not get better, Ennahda's Islamists will face a loss of their political credibility."

In the following interview, Samir Amghar, a specialist of Islamist movements, states that the ruling Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda and the Tunisian Salafists groups are complementary, with "a sort of implicit division of the political work, between the two movements."

The following are excerpts of an interview published in the Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis by Tunisian researcher Samir Bouzidi.

Samir Bouzidi : For Tunisians it is hard to understand the rapid rise of the Salafist movement in their country thus […]. Were Tunisian Salafists already organized under the regime of Ben Ali? In Egypt or in Libya, Salafists were on the forefront during the uprising. How do you explain Tunisia Salafists' cautiousness during the Tunisian revolution?

Samir Amghar: The Salafist movement already existed under Ben Ali's regime. Many of their members are Tunisian graduates who went to Saudi Arabia to study in Islamic universities. Salafists have undergone an important growth in the country, due also to the success of Salafist satellite TV channels [….] The Salafist movement was tolerated by the Salafi regime, because its discourse was […] very critical regarding the Ennahda. Salafists, however, were really relieved when Ben Ali left. During the uprising, though, they remained very cautious: they were not at all organized and were afraid of a possible failure of the revolution and of the subsequent repression by the regime. […]

After the Tunisian Revolution, the fast and steady growth of Salafism resulted in a movement with considerable means. What do you know about the way the Salafi movement is functioning (leaders, associations, places for gathering etc.) […]? In particular, is Saudi Arabia, which publicly financed Salafi networks in Europe during the 1990s, supporting Tunisian Salafists? Is it conceivable that they are financed by counter-revolutionary forces, which are interested in creating chaos?

In Tunisia, Salafists are not organized as a political party, but as religious and charitable associations. They control a certain number of mosques […]. They enjoy the support of certain Saudi theologians […]. [However] there is no proof of Saudi money financing Tunisian Salafists. These networks are not transparent, so it is difficult to collect information. […] Saudi Arabia's goal is not to slow down the process of democratization, but rather to have some pro-Saudi intermediaries in Tunisia that could defend the strategic interests of the Saudi kingdom in the region. We should not forget that Saudi Arabia aspires to become a regional political power, particularly considering that a cold war is under way between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In your book "Le salafisme d'aujourd'hui" ["Salafism Today"], you identified three main streams within the Salafist movement: the quietists (passive), the political and the Jihadists. To which group do you think Tunisian Salafists belong to?

It looks as though quietist Salafists have been totally overwhelmed by the other two trends (political and jihadist) because quietists are opposed to all sorts of politicization of Islam and to all opposition to the regime. In Tunisia, some intend to organize the Salafi movement into a political party similarly to the Al-Nour party in Egypt, especially considering that […] the Salafi success in the elections has inspired many Salafists in Tunisia. […]

[…] Are Tunisian Salafists well represented in the Salafi networks in Europe? […]

Many Salafi preachers presently operating in Tunisia were previously living in France. […] Some of them were instead part of the jihadi circles […] in Great Britain, while others have lived for a long time in the Arabian Peninsula and have entertained good relations with some of the theologians in the Middle East.

[…] In Tunisia, Salafi violence has increased […] and the general attitude of the government has been one of clemency, if not of impunity. Is the hypothesis of a partitioning of tasks with Ennahda plausible: the work on the ground for Salafists and the political action for Ennahda? […]

Ennahda and the Salafists are not rivals. They move on different grounds. In this perspective, they are complementary. In my opinion, there is an implicit division of work between Ennahda and the Salafists. These latter ones assume positions that Ennahda cannot afford to have. […]

[…] How can Ennahda, as a ruling party, be able to bring together Tunisian civil society, with its secular majority, and consolidate Ennahda's very conservative electoral base?

For Ennahda, the situation is very delicate. The Islamic party aspires to show to how it is able to manage political affairs with moderation and without radicalism, with the aim not to cause the concern of Western governments. […] [However,] at the same time, Ennahda is being pressured from the Salafi camp to take positions on religious matters. Thus, Ennahda is compelled to adopt Salafist positions to avoid to be overtaken by Salafists on this subject.

What type of strategy should the civil society adopt to counter the threat of religious extremism?

[…] We should not forget that the Tunisian revolution originated from economic and social demands. In my opinion, Tunisia's destiny will be played on this ground and not on the ground of identity and religion. The people who voted for Ennahda are expecting this party [to give answers] on economic and social issues. And if the country's economy will not get better, [Ennahda's] Islamists are facing the loss of their political credibility,. […]

Related Topics: Anna Mahjar-Barducci

Arab Spring Mugged by Reality

by Michael Curtis
March 27, 2012 at 3:30 am


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It is a reminder that Libya, like many of the Arab states, was essentially a tribal society in which people were more loyal to their tribe than to the state.

In a speech in Istanbul on March 18. 2012, Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas, heralded the Arab spring as a milestone in the history of Muslims. He saw it, he said, as a fight against corruption, as aimed at honor, in favor of freedom, reform and democracy, which would lead to economic growth, and to political and economic development. Above all, he said, it would also strengthen the unity of the Arabs against Israel, and therefore the Arab nations will strongly support the Palestinian cause against Zionist policies. For Meshal, Israel remains an invader state, a state of crime and terrorism, and the fight against it must be continued in the fields of politics, diplomacy, the press, and propaganda.

Meshal , following the current non-military international campaign against Israel, shrewdly avoided any mention of violence, and was in line with the ongoing activity of the international community to engage in the struggle against Israel by the use or misuse of the law and by a fallacious narrative of the inadequacies or deficiencies of Israel. However, he has not appreciated that this year the Arab spring will be a little late in arriving. Expectations that the cries of "freedom" and "democracy" by demonstrators against the Arab regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, would lead to real political change and to the creation of democratic institutions have been dispelled by the realities of Arab societies and politics.

By chance, one of the realities of the Arab Spring occurred the same week as Meshal's speech: the decision -- emerging from a meeting of major tribal leaders, military commanders, and political figures in Benghazi, Libya -- that called for the establishment in Cyrenaica, the eastern part of the country, to be a semi-autonomous state, called Barqa, from central Libya to the Egyptian border in the east and to Chad and Sudan in the south. It would have its own legislature, police and courts, and Benghazi as its capital; the central government in Tripoli would control foreign policy, the army, and oil supplies.

This is a reminder that Libya was an artificial country created by Italy in December 1951 combining three provinces, Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest. Even more it was a reminder that Libya, like many of the Arab states, was essentially a tribal society in which people were more loyal to their tribe than to the state. In Libya over 140 tribes and clans, interrelated through alliances, and of which about 30 have influence on affairs, exist in a society with tribal feuds, and divided by uneven distribution of oil wealth and polarization between rich and poor, by geographical tensions, and different rebel militias. To retain power Gaddafi, who himself came from the Gadhadfa clan, which was allied with ten others by marriage, to which he gave special privileges, had coopted tribes, persuading them with cash, and various perks and jobs, especially in the security services and military. He also controlled the military, well armed with 4,000 tanks and other armored vehicles, 400 combat aircraft, and 20,000 portable surface-to-air missiles. He fell when part of the army split from him and joined the rebels or mercenaries in the country. The question now is how tribal loyalties will be expressed in any fair election, especially as the tribe with the largest number of members tends automatically to get the most votes.

The Libyan situation illustrates in the major forces and the balance of power in Arab countries, the dynamic between tribal leaders linked by family and blood; the army, previously the most stable institution, based on honor and virility; and the Islamic mosque, a meeting place not only for religion but also for fraternity and the transmission of ideas and allegiances. Tribal alliances abound in Libya, Yemen, and Jordan. In Syria, suffering from the brutalities of the Alawi-dominated Bashar Assad regime's murder of thousands of its own citizens, parts of the country are really tribal areas, hostile to the regime and getting aid and weapons from Sunni Muslim insurgents. Egypt, however, dominated from 1952 on by the military: General Mohamed Neguib (1953-54); Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-70); Colonel Anwar Sadat (1970-81); and General Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011). Even today it is not clear whether there will be in Egypt an alliance between the military, which refused to fire on the protesting crowds in the streets, and the Islamists.

The Arab spring, a term inappropriately borrowed by commentators from the Prague spring of 1968, in the liberalization movement to free Czechoslovakia from the domination of the Soviet Union, started not with any similar political ideology of liberalization but from the self-immolation of a 26 year old street vender in Tunisia. The consequent changes have varied in the different Arab countries and have had unintended consequences. What is most surprising about the outpouring of people in the street and the ending of entrenched regimes is that the activity, hardly a movement, had no leaders, no individual theorist inspiring it, and no real agenda or objectives other than the overthrow of the existing regimes, and a general aspiration for economic and political improvement. Mobilization and communication took place in diverse ways through the internet and cell phones, not through political manifestos.

Changes have occurred: Saudi Arabia, in spite of its intolerant Wahhabist adherents, suggests it will allow women to vote and run for municipal office even though still not allowed to drive. Saudi Arabia, however, has an unfortunate history of promising changes -- such as women soon being allowed to drive -- that then never happen.

Elections have been held in Tunisia and Egypt, and in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. About a quarter of the new Tunisian legislature are women. But secularism is in crisis and few could have envisaged that Islamic groups would have benefited from something they did not start and that they would emerge politically to the degree that they have. The Arab spring has become an Islamic spring.

In Tunis, the Islamist Ennahda [Renaissance] party gained 41 percent of the vote and 87 of the 217 seats. In Morocco the PJD (Justice and Development party) won 30 percent of the vote and has been the ruling party since November 2011. In Egypt for over half a century the military rulers, Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, had limited the place of religious groups in public life. The Islamic parties there allegedly got 70 percent of the vote, a figure currently considered beyond improbable and currently under dispute; the relatively moderate and politically astute Muslim Brotherhood (FJP) is the leading party but the real surprise has been that the more extreme Islamic group, the Salafist Al-Nour party, which has only been in existence for nine months, and which is opposed to alcohol, pop music, and Western culture, allegedly got 29 percent. Islamic groups in other countries -- Hama in Gaza, Islamic Action Front in Jordan, the FIS in Algeria, the AKP (Justice and Development party) in Turkey -- have all been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, created in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna who called for a political system based on Islam. All the groups argue they will end corruption, promote justice and dignity, and continue the welfare system they have begun for the poor.

The present reality in the different countries is mixed. Egypt has closed civil society groups, including some financed by the United States, which continues to provide the country with $1.3 billion a year in military aid. It has also reduced female representation in parliament and other groups. Turkey has harassed the media, the military, judges, and the middle class. Although the Arab League has, in November 2011, called for sanctions on Syria, including a travel ban on senior officials, a freeze on government assets, and a ban on commercial exchanges, some Arab countries are unwilling to abide by this. Russia is interested in selling arms to Syria; since 1971, it has had a naval base at the Mediterranean coast port of Tartus, Syria's second largest port. In early 2012, Russia sent a naval flotilla, led by an aircraft carrier to the port to show support for Syria, as well as attempting to block sanctions imposed on the country.

The crucial question for the world, and especially for Israel, is whether these groups, now influential and stronger than ever before, can adapt – or even want to adapt -- to a more moderate position. Does the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood genuinely believe in a free market and equality of faith and gender, especially the rights of women and religious minorities, as it claims? More specifically, will the Arab community, presently engaged in national fashion in problems of their own countries, become more concerned with Israel as a convenient diversion? It is an ominous signal that the Egyptian Islamists have threatened to revoke the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Spring may become a sad winter.

Michael Curtis is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University and author of Should Israel Exist? A Sovereign Nation under attack by the International Community.

Related Topics: Michael Curtis

SNC Could Become Syria's Representative, Dissident Says
And more from the Turkish Press

by AK Group
March 27, 2012 at 3:00 am


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There are "strong signals" that the Friends of Syria group could recognize the opposition Syrian National Congress as the sole "legitimate representative of the Syrian people" when it meets April 1 in Istanbul, according to a council member.

"There are some countries giving support to the proposal and Turkey is among them," the Syrian dissident told the Hürriyet Daily News Sunday.

The Friends of Syria group recognized the council as a "legitimate representative of the Syrian people" in its previous meeting Feb. 24. Ankara "does not rule out" the prospect that the council will be declared the sole representative next week, a Turkish diplomat told the Daily News.

"It's too early to speak. The Syrian opposition should expand its base and come to a point at which it can say it represents all segments of society," the diplomat said.

Turkey, meanwhile, believes that United Nations-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, is not pressing the Syrian regime strongly enough on ending the violence. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu asked Annan, in a phone conversation on Friday, "to apply more pressure on [President Bashar] al-Assad and cautioned that he should not allow the Syrian leader to gain time from his mission," the diplomat said.

Annan agreed to increase pressure on Damascus during the phone conversation, he said. His mission should not pave the way for more bloodshed through the manipulation of the Syrian administration, the diplomat said. Opposition representatives were scheduled to meet Monday in Istanbul in an effort to unite and draw up a joint position.


Turkey Temporarily Closes Embassy, Recalls Envoy In Syria

Turkey suspended all activities at its embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Monday as the security situation in Syria has deteriorated further, the Foreign Ministry said.

Citing Turkish diplomatic sources, the state-run Anatolia news agency said Turkey has also temporarily recalled its ambassador to the Syrian capital. According to sourcse, Ambassador Ömer Önhon and the Turkish diplomatic staff in Damascus are expected to arrive in Ankara soon.

A ministry official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with ministry regulations, said the embassy was being closed due to the security situation in Syria.

Last week, the ministry called on all Turkish citizens in neighboring Syria to return to Turkey as soon as possible, saying it planned to close the consular section of its Damascus embassy.

"It is evident that developments in Syria pose serious security risks to our citizens [in Syria]. In this regard, Turkish citizens in Syria are strongly advised to return home," the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry also recalled that it had earlier issued a travel warning for Turkish citizens planning to go to Syria. It had warned Turkish nationals not to travel to Syria unless absolutely necessary, due to difficulties in maintaining public order, while urging those currently in Syria to be cautious and remain in contact with Turkish missions at all times.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently said Turkey was on the brink of breaking diplomatic ties with Syria and withdrawing its ambassador.


IHH Chairman Says Turkish Journalists Missing In Syria Alive, Healthy

Two Turkish journalists who have been missing in Syria for around two weeks are "certainly" alive and in good health, Bülent Yıldırım, who heads the Humanitarian Aid Foundation, or İHH, said on Sunday.

Speaking to the state-run Anatolia news agency, Yıldırım said they "know for certain that Adem Özköse and Hamit Coşkun, who went missing near Idlib as they were engaged in their profession of journalism, are alive and in good health."

Özköse, a reporter from the İstanbul-based Gerçek Hayat magazine and the Milat daily, arrived with Coşkun, a cameraman, in Syria on March 5. They were last heard from on March 10.

Noting that the association is closely following the situation, Yıldırım said he is personally involved in "talks related to the incident."

"We are sorry that this process lasted longer than we expected. I advise the families of our journalist friends to wait for their return with patience," he said.

Noting that negotiations with Syrian authorities to ensure the return of the journalists are still under way, Yıldırım said he cannot share more detailed information "due to the sensitivity of the issue."

Also last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called the family of missing journalist Özköse and assured them that the journalists are alive and safe.

Anatolia reported last week that unnamed local sources said the two journalists were handed over to Syrian intelligence forces by pro-regime Shabiha militias in the village of al-Fua, in Idlib, which has been the scene of heavy fighting between the Syrian military and opposition forces in recent days.


Turkey, U.S. Join Hands On Iran, Syria, PKK Fight

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Barack Obama agreed Sunday on the need to send "non-lethal" aid to Syrian rebels, including communications equipment, a U.S. official said after their meeting in Seoul.

The leaders agreed that a Friends of Syria group meeting April 1 in Istanbul should seek to provide such aid and medical supplies, according to U.S. Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes after they met on the eve of a nuclear security summit.

The two leaders held a joint press conference after their nearly 90-minute meeting. Obama said the political developments in Syria dominated the agenda of the meeting and that Ankara and Washington would continue to work together on the crisis in Syria. Erdoğan also said his Iran visit this week would mostly focus on Syria.

"It was a very fruitful meeting," Erdoğan said. "We had a chance to evaluate the situation in Syria. It made us happy to see that our opinions are similar on the matter."

Washington has said several times that it is looking at providing non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, whom the U.S. says should step down.
The White House has said it does not favor arming the rebels, arguing that further "militarizing" the conflict would worsen civilian bloodshed. In the talks with Erdoğan, Obama said the U.S. and Turkey agreed that "there should be a process" of transition to a "legitimate government" in Syria.

Erdoğan said 17,000 refugees had fled from Syria to Turkey.

"We cannot be spectators" to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the crackdown on rebel groups that has killed more than 9,000 people, he said.

Al-Assad Survives With Backing Of Russia, China, Iran

There is a revival of relations between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the al-Assad regime, Erdoğan said while en route to Seoul.

"In the past, al-Assad handed over the members of the PKK, but, today, he is protecting them," the prime minister said, adding that the government was still working on a buffer zone inside Syria due to the developments. "We are seeking to involve Russia, China and Iran into to reach a solution. Al-Assad is trying to buy time. He is surviving with the backing of Russia, China and Iran and his government has budget problems. Whenever the opposition gains strength, his departure will be very quick."

The prime minister also said they are on the verge of breaking all diplomatic relations with Syria, which would include pulling the country's ambassador out of Syria.

Fight Against Terrorism

The two leaders also discussed Iran, with Obama saying there was still time to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff through diplomacy but that the window for such a solution was closing.

The U.S. president also touched on the much-debated issue of religious freedom in Turkey and said he was happy to see that they were on the same page.
Erdoğan also mentioned Turkey's fight against the PKK, saying the U.S. was on Turkey's side. "It is good to see United States with us in our fight against this terrorist group," Erdoğan told reporters. "Our fight will continue, but we will also continue political negotiations as well."
In response, Obama said they were in harmony in the fight against the PKK. They also discussed the current situation in Iraq.
The prime minister further said they hoped to come closer to realizing the "expected future for Cyprus."


Turkey To Boost Defense Ties With Oman, UAE

Turkey is seeking to bolster defense industry ties with Oman and the United Arab Emirates as part of efforts to boost defense industry cooperation with Islamic states following a recent high-level visit to the two countries.

"Oman is particularly interested in the products of [Turkey's missile maker] Roketsan, [the private armored vehicle maker of] FNSS and [the ammunition maker] MKEK," said one Turkish procurement official.

A team consisting mainly of officials from the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or SSM, visited top officials from the two countries under the direction of Deputy Defense Minister Kemal Yardımcı last week.

"They are also interested in our gun boats," said the official, adding that the total value of the systems in which Oman has expressed serious interest amount to several hundred million dollars.

UAE Interested In Turkey

"In the UAE, a top company is interested in investing in one of our defense companies," the official said.

The UAE is already a leading country with whom Turkey has strong defense ties. FNSS, a major Turkish armored vehicle maker, is in talks with Al Jabir, a UAE company, to conduct the joint production of armored vehicles.

Kaya Yazgan, secretary general of the Defense Industry Manufacturers Association, has said there are Islamic countries dealing with the Turkish defense industry, whose exports are believed to have been well over $1 billion last year.

Turkey's defense exports amounted to $250 million seven years ago, and surpassed the $1 billion figure a year for the first time in 2010.

The Turkish Defense Exporters Union said Islamic countries topped Turkish defense exports last year. The union's list includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the United States, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Italy as Turkey's main 10 buyers; eight of the countries are Muslim.

Among Islamic buyers, Saudi Arabia buys armored vehicles, military radios and rocket systems, while Turkmenistan purchases small navy vessels made by the Yonca Onuk and Dearsan shipyards.

"Actually, you can find Indonesia, Malaysia and Qatar among Turkey's real and prospective buyers," said one Turkish procurement official. Last year, Turkey sold armored vehicles worth $600 million to Malaysia in the largest single defense export and is seeking to sell U209 and U214 submarines to Indonesia in partnership with Germany's HDW shipyard.


Third Turkish Truck Driver Killed In Syrian Violence In Past 10 Days

A Turkish truck driver who died of fatal wounds on Sunday in Turkey has become the third Turkish truck driver killed in the ongoing Syrian violence in the past 10 days.

Suphi Ezer, 45, who was heavily injured in Syria, died on Sunday in a hospital in Gaziantep, a city near the Syrian border. He was wounded in gunfire on March 16 and brought to Gaziantep Avukat Cengiz Gökçek State Hospital for treatment. He was then transferred to Gaziantep University's Şahinbey Research Hospital and remained in intensive care ever since. Ezer suffered from three bullet wounds and a broken arm.

Ezer's body was sent to his hometown in Hatay's Reyhanlı district. He is the third Turkish truck driver killed in the violence in Syria in the past 10 days. Another Turkish driver, Mustafa Üçtaş, was shot to death in Idlib last week. He was a father of three.

On March 15, Hasan Koçak, another Turkish truck driver, died in an armed conflict as he was passing through Syria.


Fener Greek Patriarch 'Encourages' Turkish Government On Minority Rights

Just because the Patriarch praised the Turkish government on an international platform does not mean all of the Greek community's problems have been solved, opinion leaders from the Greek community in Turkey said.

Turkey's stance toward minorities is praiseworthy, Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew said while meeting the former Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou on Friday; his statement was interpreted as giving support to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government.

"We are able to breathe freely again on several matters thanks to the courageous administration of the Erdoğan government," Bartholomew said at the meeting with Papandreou. "Circumstances are better than the past for the Greeks and other minorities."

On Saturday, the Patriarch once again expressed his contentment that the title deed for a Greek elementary school building had been returned to a Greek foundation. While he was expressing his satisfaction at the Galata school, but he also drew attention to the fact that several churches that belonged to the community had still not been returned.


Education Bill Set To Hit Floor Amid New Debate In Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said there will be no exam for students to enroll in universities, and the vocational education in the country will be boosted, while the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, imposed a travel ban on its lawmakers to make sure the draft bill is approved in Parliament.

The number of female students is well below average in the southeastern provinces, despite campaigns to encourage parents to send their daughters to school; and many experts believe that to give the parents the option of home school with an education reform draft will cause the numbers to drop even more.

The university entry exam will be scrapped and the thousands of private teaching centers that prepare students for the exam would be closed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said.

"Those centers will either turn themselves into high schools or will be shut down. We do not want people to spend their scarce [financial] resources on that," Erdoğan told reporters accompanying him on a flight to Seoul over the weekend.

Erdoğan also emphasized the need to boost vocational education, pointing to European countries, where he said up to 70 percent of the students attend such schools.

"We'll allow organized industrial zones to open vocational schools. The kids will both study and do internships. They may earn money as well," he said.

The distance learning option in a controversial education reform bill has been designed for the girls of conservative families, Erdoğan said despite previous denials on the matter from officials.

"Particularly in the southeast, families refuse to send their daughters to school after they enter adolescence. Distance learning is for that. The [bill] would open the door for home study," he said. Officials had previously said the home study option after eight years of regular classes would be available only to limited groups, like students with disabilities or prodigies.

The bill, expected to be put up for debate in Parliament Tuesday, has attracted pointed criticism on the grounds that it would undermine the schooling of girls.

Travel Ban

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has imposed a travel ban on its lawmakers from Tuesday until April 5 to ensure full attendance in the parliamentary debate on the education bill.

"No one will leave Ankara. Parliament will be working even during nights until the laws are passed. Despite all the opposition's obstructions, the people are awaiting the [education bill]," senior AKP Deputy Oğuz Kağan Köksal said. The legislative drive will also target the adoption of a bill on trade unions, he said.

Ahead of his visit to Seoul, which will be followed by a trip to Tehran, Erdoğan urged his lawmakers to stand firm on the bill and ensure it is approved in his absence.

Infuriated by the bill, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, is scheduled to hold a rally at Ankara's Tandoğan Square Tuesday. Meanwhile, the head of Parliament's Education Commission, Nabi Avci, has said the education bill will pave the way for the re-opening of the secondary stage of foreign-owned schools like Robert College or St. Benoit. Such schools would be allowed to hold their own exams to select students, he said.


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