Turkish teachers linked to Erdogan foe detained in Afghanistan

Turkish teachers linked to Erdogan foe detained in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) – One Afghan and three Turkish teachers linked to an organization regarded with suspicion by the Turkish government were detained by Afghan intelligence officials on Tuesday, the organization’s head said.

The move against Afghan Turk CAG Educational NGO (ATCE), the body that runs the schools, appeared to be part of a Turkish campaign against followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric it accuses of being behind a coup attempt in July 2016 aimed at ousting President Tayyip Erdogan.

ATCE, which says it is an independent organization, runs schools in several cities including the capital, Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Herat and has been in Afghanistan since 1995.

“Around 7 a.m., four of our teachers traveling in two different cars were picked up by (Afghan intelligence),” said Human Erdogan, the chairman of ATCE.

Other intelligence officials later went to the group’s girls’ school nearby looking for another teacher, he said.

He said the men presented themselves as members of the National Directorate of of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency.

Neither the NDS nor the Afghan government immediately responded to requests for comment.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was on his way to Istanbul onTuesday to attend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)Summit.

In March, Afghanistan ordered the schools to be transferred to a foundation approved by Ankara.

Last year, shortly before a visit to Islamabad by the Turkish president, Pakistan ordered Turkish teachers at schools run by a body called PakTurk International Schools and Colleges to leave the country.

Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan who now lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, promotes a moderate form of Islam, supporting inter-faith communication and Western-style education and inspiring schools in different parts of the world.

He has denied any involvement in the 2016 failed coup attempt.

(This version of the story fixes garbled wording in headline; text unchanged)

(Reporting by Girish Gupta in Kabul, and James Mackenzie; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Jailed German-Turkish reporter sees Turkey drifting toward fascism

Jailed German-Turkish reporter sees Turkey drifting toward fascism

BERLIN (Reuters) – Deniz Yucel, a German-Turkish journalist detained by Ankara since February, has accused Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan of subjecting his entire society to a “regime of fear” and said Turkey is drifting toward fascism.

Yucel, 44, a correspondent for the newspaper Die Welt, made the remarks in a lengthy interview with the German newspaper die tageszeitung to be published on Saturday.

Turkish authorities arrested Yucel, on Feb. 14 on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organization, during a wave of arrests prompted by a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Germany is backing a complaint filed by Yucel with the European Court of Human Rights, and has repeatedly called for him and other Germans being held in Turkey to be released.

The detentions have contributed to a sharp deterioration in relations between the two NATO allies.

In total, Ankara has jailed more than 50,000 people pending trial and suspended or dismissed some 150,000 state workers including teachers, judges and soldiers since the coup, which Turkey blames on the movement of U.S-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen has denied any role, and condemned the coup.

Yucel told the newspaper he remained in solitary confinement at Silivri prison, west of Istanbul. “Solitary confinement is torture,” he said.

Yucel also said that even his prison guards were afraid of making a wrong move: “A regime of fear is not directed solely at its critics, but also affects members of the oppressive apparatus.”

He said Erdogan himself had the most to fear: “He knows what to expect if he loses power, and that is why he is subjecting the whole society to his regime of fear.”

Yucel said he hoped the European Court would act quickly on his case after a Nov. 28 deadline for Turkey to submit its position, but that he was not sure what to expect.

He said that, like many of Erdogan’s critics, he was disappointed that the court had rejected cases brought by teachers and government workers affected by the crackdown, which Erdogan says is necessary to guarantee Turkey’s stability.

“But I also know the European Court of Human Rights was founded to deal with individual human rights violations, not to stop a whole country drifting into fascism,” he said.

The newspaper said the interview had been conducted in writing via Yucel’s lawyers.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Turkish nationalist opposition seeks to secure parliamentary future

Turkish nationalist opposition seeks to secure parliamentary future

By Ercan Gurses

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s nationalist opposition will seek support from the ruling AK Party to lower a 10 percent threshold to enter parliament, a party official said on Thursday, in a sign that a new rival political party could shake up Turkish politics.

Former interior minister Meral Aksener broke with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and formed her own Iyi Parti (“Good Party”) last month, posing a challenge to the MHP and to President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, MHP Deputy Chairman Semih Yalcin said his party, which could fall below the threshold if Iyi Parti’s apparent early popularity is sustained, would push to lower the barrier.

“The MHP has preparations regarding the (threshold) electoral law, and this will be discussed depending on the offers we receive (from the AK Party),” Yalcin said, a day after MHP leader Devlet Bahceli called the threshold “too harsh”.

Since 1982, political parties in Turkey have needed to win at least 10 percent of votes to be represented in the 550-seat parliament. The country faces presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.

A recent poll suggested that Aksener’s party could overtake the main opposition secular CHP and push the MHP and pro-Kurdish opposition HDP out of parliament by forcing their share of the vote below the current threshold. It would also cut into the AK Party share of the vote.

The Islamist-rooted AK Party, led by Erdogan, is a broad organization, counting among its ranks nationalists and religious conservatives.

“Will they (Iyi) win 20 percent or one percent? We will see… Everyone will see how they hold up after they stand in front of the people in 2019,” Yalcin said of the Iyi Parti.

The MHP won as much as 18 percent of votes in a 1999 parliamentary election but slipped below the threshold at 9.5 percent in 2002. It has exceeded 10 percent since then.

Under an executive presidential system approved in an April referendum, the president will be given expanded powers. The number of MPs will be increased from 550 to 600, while the parliament’s authority will be reduced.

Critics argue that lowering the threshold, and the resulting change in the composition of parliament, would not have any great impact under the new presidential system.

The AK Party, founded by Erdogan, has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, holding a majority in parliament for 15 years. After winning almost 50 percent of votes in the latest parliamentary elections in 2015, Erdogan and party officials said they aimed to win more than half the votes in 2019.

(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay)

Former Turkish minister launches party to challenge Erdogan

Former Turkish minister launches party to challenge Erdogan

By Ercan Gurses

ANKARA (Reuters) – A prominent Turkish nationalist politician and former minister announced on Wednesday she was forming a new party which could pose a significant challenge to President Tayyip Erdogan in elections due within two years.

Former interior minister Meral Aksener, who unsuccessfully opposed Erdogan’s drive for greater presidential powers in a referendum last April, said Turkey needed change after nearly 15 years of rule by his AK Party.

Her Iyi Parti (Good Party) is seen by many in Turkey as potentially one of the strongest challengers to Erdogan in presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019, but it starts out with only a fraction of the AK Party’s support.

Just five members of the 550-seat parliament have joined the new party, although pollsters say it could win over supporters of several parties including the conservative and Islamic-rooted AK Party as well as secular or nationalist groups.

“Turkey and its people are tired, the state is worn down, and public order is unraveling. There is no way other than the changing of the political atmosphere,” Aksener said at a ceremony in Ankara to mark the launch of her party.

“We are that way out, you are that way out. That road is the 80 million strong Turkish nation” she said, standing in front of the logo of her party – a yellow sun shining in a blue sky. “Our people are clearly saying they want … a new government.”

Aksener was expelled last year from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the smallest of three opposition parties in parliament, after launching a failed bid to unseat party leader Devlet Bahceli, whose support helped Erdogan to a narrow victory in a referendum that expanded his authority.

Since her expulsion, the 61-year old Aksener has become one of the most prominent voices in the country, frequently criticizing Erdogan and the government.


The Iyi Party could take more than a tenth of the AK Party support, which stands at over 40 percent, said Hakan Bayrakci of SONAR pollsters. It could also erode the support base of nationalist MHP and the secularist CHP parties, he said.

“Meral Aksener’s party will lead to big changes in Turkey’s political atmosphere,” Bayrakci told Reuters. “This may not be immediate, but in three to five months, I believe this shift will be visible.”

Erdogan’s AK Party won just under 50 percent of votes in the last parliamentary election, in November 2015, and he has told supporters it is aiming for more than half the votes in 2019.

Mehmet Ali Kulat from polling company Mak Danismanlik, which is seen as close to the AK Party, said the Iyi Party currently had the support of around 5 percent of voters.

“It looks like Aksener’s party can get votes from angry voters,” Kulat said. “Their real strength will come out in the long term.”

Aksener said many members of her party wanted her to stand as its presidential candidate in the 2019 election, and criticized what she described as an erosion of rights in Turkey.

“Democracy is under threat and the government’s justice is above all else. It is evident that society is at a political standstill,” Aksener said.

Since a failed military coup last year, in which more than 240 people were killed, Turkish authorities have detained more than 50,000 people and suspended 150,000 people including teachers, soldiers, journalists and lawyers.

Aksener said her party aimed to raise the average length of education in Turkey from seven years to 11 years, and promised to bring Turkey into the world’s top 20 countries for education. It currently lies around 50th in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

In previous weeks, several members from the MHP and the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have quit their parties to join Aksener, who has said her party’s doors were open to anyone “willing to walk with their cause”.

“We have hopes and dreams. We want a rich Turkey, we have power. We want a just Turkey and we have that power. We want a free Turkey and we have our rights,” she said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Robin Pomeroy)

Turkey orders detention of 100 former police officers in post-coup probe: Anadolu

Turkey orders detention of 100 former police officers in post-coup probe: Anadolu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish authorities issued detention warrants on Saturday for 100 former police officers and have so far detained 63 of them, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, as part of a widening crackdown since last year’s failed coup attempt.

The suspects were believed to be users of ByLock, an encrypted messaging app which the government says was used by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of orchestrating last July’s abortive putsch.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies involvement.

Anadolu said security forces were seeking the suspects in 19 provinces across the country.

Since the abortive coup, more than 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial over alleged links to Gulen, while 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the military, public and private sectors.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern about the crackdown, fearing the government is using the coup as a pretext to quash dissent.

The government says only such a purge could neutralize the threat represented by Gulen’s network, which it says deeply infiltrated institutions such as the army, schools and courts.


(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Adrian Croft)


Turkish newspaper staff remanded in custody over coup attempt links: CNN Turk

FILE PHOTO: Police officers carry security barriers in front of the Zaman newspaper headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey March 6, 2016. REUTERS/ Osman Orsal

ANKARA (Reuters) – A Turkish court has remanded in custody for another two months 21 of the 30 journalists and newspaper executives from Turkish newspaper Zaman which was shut down after last year’s failed coup, broadcaster CNN Turk said on Tuesday.

The former employees of the Zaman newspaper are charged with “membership of an armed terror organization” and “attempting to overthrow” the government, parliament and the constitutional order through their links to cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Zaman was affiliated with Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric and former ally of President Tayyip Erdogan. Gulen is blamed by Ankara for instigating the failed July 2016 coup, but denies any involvement.

Zaman was first seized by the Turkish government in March 2016 before the coup attempt, and then closed down by a government decree.

The indictment calls for three consecutive life sentences for the Zaman staff on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Turkish parliament and the Turkish government, and says the newspaper exceeded the limits of press freedom and freedom of expression.

The 21 people remanded in custody had already been jailed for over a year pending trial. CNN Turk said the trial was postponed to Nov. 13.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Ken Ferris)

Turkey begins trial of hunger striking teachers amid protests

Riot police detain protesters during the trial of two Turkish teachers, who went on a hunger strike over their dismissal under a government decree following last year's failed coup, outside of a courthouse in Ankara, Turkey, September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish police used tear gas to disperse protesters outside a courthouse in Ankara on Thursday at the start of the trial of two teachers who have been on hunger strike since losing their jobs in a crackdown following last year’s failed coup.

Literature professor Nuriye Gulmen and primary school teacher Semih Ozakca have been surviving on liquids and supplements for six months, and doctors have described their condition as dangerously weak.

They were detained in May over alleged links to the militant leftist DHKP-C group, deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey.

Neither they nor their original lawyers were in court at the start of the hearing. The gendarmerie said the defendants might try to escape from the courtroom, despite their weakened state, and arrest warrants were issued this week for 18 of their lawyers.

Police attempted to break up the protests using tear gas, and riot police were present inside and outside the building. At least 20 protesters were detained, being dragged along the ground in the process.

“The first obstacle before a fair trial was the detention of their lawyers, which also served as a veiled intimidation attempt at the judges trying them. Now they are not brought to court, in an open breach of their right to defend,” said Baris Yarkadas, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

At least a hundred lawyers were present at the courthouse to defend the teachers, along with CHP parliamentarians and the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The teachers have said their hunger strike aimed to draw attention to the plight of roughly 150,000 people suspended or sacked since last July’s failed putsch, which President Tayyip Erdogan blames on followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies any involvement.

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a request by the two teachers to order Ankara to release them on health grounds.

Since the failed coup attempt, some 50,000 people including journalists, opposition figures, civil servants and others have been detained in the crackdown.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies accuse the government of using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent.

Ankara says the purges are necessary due to the gravity of the threats it faces.

(Writing by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Turkey purges hundreds of civil servants in latest decrees

Turkey purges hundreds of civil servants in latest decrees

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey dismissed hundreds civil servants and boosted President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers over the MIT national intelligence agency in two decrees published on Friday, the latest under emergency rule imposed after last year’s attempted coup.

Turkey has sacked or suspended more than 150,000 officials in purges since the failed putsch, while sending to jail pending trial some 50,000 people including soldiers, police, civil servants.

The crackdown has targeted people whom authorities say they suspect of links to the network of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for the coup.

Under the latest decrees, published in the government’s Official Gazette, more than 900 civil servants from ministries, public institutions and the military were dismissed. Those sacked included more than 100 academic personnel.

According to the decrees, the president’s permission will be required for the head of the MIT national intelligence agency to be investigated or to act as a witness. The president will also chair the national intelligence coordination board.

The Ankara chief prosecutor’s office will have the authority to investigate members of parliament for alleged crimes committed before or after an election, according to one of the measures.

One of the decrees also ordered the closure of the pro-Kurdish news agency Dihaber and two newspapers, all based in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. Since the coup, some 130 media outlets have been closed and around 150 journalists jailed.

Such measures have alarmed Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups, who say Erdogan has used the attempted coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent.

Some 250 people were killed in last year’s coup attempt, and the government has said the security measures are necessary because of the gravity of the threats facing Turkey. Gulen has condemned the coup attempt and denied involvement.

Under the decrees, Turkey will also recruit 32,000 staff for the police, along with 4,000 judges and prosecutors.

(Reporting by Ceyda Caglayan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Robert Birsel and David Dolan)

Turkey asks Germany to extradite coup suspect: foreign minister

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a news conference after an extraordinary meeting of the OIC Executive Committee in Istanbul, Turkey, August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has asked Germany to extradite a theology lecturer suspected of playing a major role in last year’s failed coup, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.

Turkey sent a diplomatic note requesting the extradition of Adil Oksuz, who the government says was the “imam” of air force personnel who last year bombed parliament as part of the attempt to topple the government.

Authorities say Oksuz was detained near an Ankara air base hours after the coup attempt, only to be released by a judge two days later and has been on the run since. Turkish media have reported that he has been spotted in Frankfurt and Ulm and given a temporary residence permit by Germany’s Baden-Wurttemberg state.

“We sent a diplomatic note to Germany after the news regarding the presence in Germany of the FETO suspect Adil Oksuz, who is currently at large,” Cavusoglu told broadcaster TRT Haber in an interview.

FETO is the government’s label for supporters of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who authorities say was behind the coup attempt.

Video footage released after the coup attempt showed Oksuz and businessman Kemal Batmaz, another alleged ringleader in the coup attempt, arriving at Istanbul’s main airport two days before the attempted putsch.

Authorities say the men were returning from a visit to the United States where they allegedly met Gulen. The cleric, who denies involvement in the attempted putsch and has condemned it, has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.

Batmaz remains in detention after his arrest in the immediate aftermath of the failed coup.

More than 50,000 people have been detained and 150,000 have been suspended in the crackdown that following the attempt. Journalists and opposition figures have also been targeted.

The scale of the crackdown has strained ties with some of Turkey’s allies, such as Germany, which have voiced concern that President Tayyip Erdogan may be using the coup as a pretext to quash dissent.

Ankara says such measures are justified by the threat to democracy now posed by Gulen, a former Erdogan supporter. More than 240 people were killed in the coup, most of them civilians.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Dirimcan Barut; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Turkey hunts more coup suspects, detains 30 for suspected PKK links

Turkey hunts more coup suspects, detains 30 for suspected PKK links

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish police have launched operations to track down 33 former staff of a national scientific research agency who are alleged to have been involved in last year’s failed coup attempt, the state-run Anadolu news agency said on Tuesday.

Anadolu said the suspects were alleged to have used ByLock, an encrypted messaging app which the government says was used by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it accuses of orchestrating the abortive putsch in July 2016.

Gulen has denied involvement in the coup attempt.

Anadolu said police carried out operations in six provinces to find the 33 suspects from Turkey’s scientific research council TUBITAK.

Since the coup attempt some 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the civil service and private sector and more than 50,000 have been detained for alleged links to the putsch.

The crackdown has alarmed rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies, who fear the government is using the coup as a pretext to quash dissent.

Security sources also said 30 people suspected of being linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were arrested on Tuesday in operations in the southeastern province of Sirnak.

The PKK, designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union, and United States, has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state, and the government has ramped up operations targeting the militants since the collapse of a ceasefire in 2015.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Richard Balmforth)