Erdoğan promises reforms in 2021, but human rights and press freedom are tough nuts to crack

On the final day of 2020, Turkey’s president promised his people that things will change.

“We are in the process of preparing reforms that will strengthen our economy and raise the standard of our democracy, rights and freedoms,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in the middle of a speech released on the presidency’s website.

“We are making the final adjustments to our comprehensive reform programmes and, God willing, will lay them before the nation with the New Year.”

It is not the first time in recent weeks that Erdoğan has spoken of reform, amid the prospect of European sanctions and speculation of an early election in the summer of 2021.

In November, he said Turkey saw itself “not somewhere else nowhere else but in Europe. We look to build our future together with Europe”.

But after years of being described by European politicians as an autocrat and growing worries of censorship and human rights abuses in the country, the Turkish president’s detractors have strong doubts.

Erdoğan might say his proposals are undergoing “final adjustments”, but few outside his inner circle so far know what they contain.

And the president’s often combative language at the end of 2020 — even after he first spoke of reforms — lead many to conclude sweeping change is not likely.

The scale of the task ahead is illustrated by two issues: lengthy detentions before trial, and press freedom.

Mass detentions before trial

A reality that confronts Turkey as it enters 2021 is that hundreds of opponents of the government are still in prison, many having spent years awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

Human Rights Watch says prosecutors in Turkey “regularly open terrorism investigations into people for peacefully exercising rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association”.

One prominent case is of Selahattin Demirtaş, the charismatic Kurdish politician who stood against Erdoğan in two presidential elections and has been held in prison since 2016.

The Turkish government says Demirtaş stands accused of terrorism relating to incidents dating back a decade.

His supporters retort the accusations are politically motivated.

Last week, Europe’s top human rights court agreed: it ordered Turkey to release him immediately, saying his detention was “stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate”.

But Erdoğan denounced the verdict as “political” and said the European Court of Human Rights was “conflicted within itself”.

He takes a similar view with the case of the prominent philanthropist Osman Kavala, who was on the verge of being released in February when a court acquitted him of organising a series of anti-government protests in Istanbul in 2013, only to be re-arrested hours later for alleged involvement in the 2016 coup attempt.

Waning press freedom

Three events in December alone helped illustrate how much harder it is these days for Turkish journalists to hold their government to account.

On December 23, the exiled reporter Can Dündar was sentenced to 27 years in prison on espionage and terror-related charges for a 2015 story accusing Turkey’s intelligence service of illegally sending weapons to Syria.

Dündar remains in exile in Germany.

Two days later, on Christmas Day, rolling news channel Olay TV announced it was closing down after just 26 days on the air.

Staff said the channel’s owner had been pressured by government officials to avoid giving air time to the pro-Kurdish HDP.

Dündar’s conviction and Olay TV’s closure contrasted with the less-prominent arrest of Ufuk Çeri, a journalist for the news network Medyascope, who was arrested while covering a protest by workers at a bankrupted airline owned by the family of Turkey’s tourism minister.

Çeri says he was held for 24 hours before being released on December 11 without charge.

Fresh elections and sanctions

But there is speculation that the Turkish president’s reform agenda could be a genuine attempt to win back supporters ahead of an early general election in the summer.

Opinion polls suggest Turkey’s economic and political troubles mean that support for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development (AK) Party is in long-term decline.

In the past year, a former prime minister and a former economy minister have split away to form movements of their own, eating into the AK Party’s traditional, conservative-minded voter base.

Many opposition politicians have sought to unite around the idea of dismantling Turkey’s executive presidency system, one of Erdoğan’s signature reforms that was narrowly approved in a disputed referendum in 2017.

Another pressure point comes in the form of possible sanctions by the European Union over Turkey’s gas exploration in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece, Cyprus and France are among the EU members calling for punitive measures — a decision could be taken as early as March.

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Turkey, UK to sign free trade deal this week -Erdogan

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the parliament?in Ankara, Turkey, December 23, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

December 28, 2020

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday a free trade deal with London would be signed on Tuesday and completed after Thursday, when Britain formally leaves the European Union.

The UK trade ministry said on Sunday the two nations will sign a deal that replicates the existing trading terms. The trading relationship was worth 18.6 billion pounds ($25.25 billion) in 2019.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Jonathan Spicer)

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What the Biden presidency means for Turkey and Erdogan post-Trump

President Donald Trump (L) welcomes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) of Turkey outside the West Wing of the White House May 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Getty Images

Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have been mounting for a while.  

But under outgoing President Donald Trump, many of the potential flashpoints between the NATO allies were smoothed over thanks to a friendly relationship between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  

Looking ahead to a Joe Biden administration, there’s a chance that some of those tensions could blow up — but there is also chance for reconciliation. Whatever happens, the next four years for Turkey and its relationship with Washington are likely to look very different from the last four.   

“The only thing holding the relationship together for the last several years has been Trump’s personal relationship with Erdogan,” Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNBC. “With Trump removed, Erdogan should be very, very worried.”

That’s because there is no shortage of conflict points between Ankara and Washington; points that reveal contrasting attitudes toward geopolitics, alliances and governance.  

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan answers questions during a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

Among those are human rights in Turkey, which Democrats in particular have spoken out against; Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system which angered its NATO allies and nearly triggered U.S. sanctions; and its military action against America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria and support for Islamic extremist groups, which Ankara argues are not terrorists and are necessary to protect its interests in the region. 

There are also Erdogan’s aggressive moves against Greece and Cyprus over gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean; Turkey’s alleged role in helping Iran skirt U.S. sanctions; and the shared Incirlik air base, where Turkey hosts a huge number of American troops, aircraft and some 50 of its nuclear warheads — and which Erdogan has threatened to cut off if hit with U.S. sanctions. 

So, that’s a lot. What has Biden said on some of these issues? 

Biden and Erdogan name-calling

Based on his previous statements, it looks like there will be a tougher line from Washington. In an interview last January, Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat,” criticized his actions toward the Kurds and said that the Turkish leader “has to pay a price.” He also suggested the U.S. should support Turkish opposition leaders “to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, but by the electoral process.”  

The U.S. would be shooting itself in the foot… if placed under stringent U.S. sanctions, Turkey would double down on its attempts to deepen its relations with Russia and Iran.

Agathe Demarais

Global forecasting director, Economist Intelligence Unit

Biden has pledged to recognize the Armenian genocide, a hugely contentious issue for Turkey and one which U.S. presidents have avoided acknowledging for a century. Amid the turmoil of World War I, as many as 1.5 million Armenian civilians were expelled or killed by what was then the Ottoman Empire. No government of Turkey has ever acknowledged it as a genocide. Turkey and Armenia do not have diplomatic relations.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike have supported sanctions over both Turkey’s military assaults on the Kurds, viewed by Ankara as terrorists, and its buying and testing of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. Sanctions would be a devastating blow to Turkey’s already suffering economy.  

For its part, Turkey has threatened retaliation for any sanctions, including hamstringing the Americans over the highly strategic Incirlik air base. Erdogan has previously slammed Biden for being an “interventionist.”

Still, Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin on Wednesday said Turkey believes it can have a “good and positive agenda” with a Biden administration, and called any punishment for its S-400 purchase “counterproductive.” 

Between Russia and a hard place 

Both the U.S. and Europe have become “increasingly frustrated” with Erdogan’s emboldened foreign interventions and “erratic” behavior toward allies and adversaries alike, said Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the at the Economist Intelligence Unit. 

“This is a dangerous path,” she said. “The incoming Biden administration is likely to take a much tougher stance on Turkey than Donald Trump has done.”

But that comes with its own set of risks to the U.S. — namely, that punishing an ally like Turkey only pushes it further into the arms of Russia. 

A Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

Sergei Malgavko | TASS via Getty Images

“The U.S. would be shooting itself in the foot… if placed under stringent U.S. sanctions, Turkey would double down on its attempts to deepen its relations with Russia and Iran,” Demarais said. 

With the second-largest military in NATO and strategic access to American operations in the Middle East, Turkey is a partner many believe the U.S. can’t afford to lose to an adversary. 

Possibilities for win-win outcomes?

Not everyone sees a dire future as a foregone conclusion for Washington and Ankara.

Turkey is “mega strategic” for the U.S. and Europe, stressed Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management. Because of this, he expects that “Biden will work overtime to try and improve relations with Turkey and bring the country back into the Western fold.” 

“I think it is important to remember that the two biggest risks to the U.S. are China and Russia,” Ash said. “‘Winning’ Turkey back from Russia would be a huge win for Biden, and I think they will focus on that.”

It’s also worth noting that the relationship during Trump’s tenure wasn’t always rosy. In August of 2018, Trump threatened sanctions on Turkey over its detention of an American pastor — a threat that sent the Turkish lira to its then-lowest level ever against the dollar and intensified its deepening economic crisis. 

Now, with its currency at record lows, high inflation and unemployment exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, any clashes with the U.S. that risk sanctions are even more perilous for the Turkish economy.

Investors and regional analysts will be watching the Biden-Erdogan dynamic over the coming months to see whether, in the words of Turkish academic Ahmed Alioglu, “Turkey should get ready for a rocky four years ahead.”

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Erdogan urges Turks to ditch shisha as he outlines Covid curfews amid record death surge — RT World News

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged his country to cut down on cigarettes and shisha pipes as he outlined new weekday curfews and full lockdowns at weekends in a bid to halt coronavirus spread amid record deaths.

Under new rules, which begin on Tuesday for an unspecified duration, Turks will be banned from leaving their homes between 9pm and 5am during the week, and then from 9pm on Friday until 5am on Monday. 

The new curfew and weekend lockdown comes as Turkey’s Covid-19 death toll hit a record high on Monday for the eighth day in a row, with the Health Ministry reporting a further 188 fatalities in the last 24 hours. There was also a record high of 31,219 new cases. 

On Monday afternoon, as Turks prepared to lock down at home, they were also urged to “stop smoking hookah” by Erdogan as he outlined not only the new measures, but also the health risks associated with tobacco use. 

“Please, you have to stop smoking,” Erdogan said, warning them of its negative impact on the lungs and adding that he had “no business” with either cigarettes or hookahs – the water pipes used to smoke tobacco or shisha which are used widely across Turkey.

Under the new measures, some schools will be forced to close as will restaurants, apart from takeaways, as well as Turkish baths and other leisure facilities. 

Workplaces with over 50 staff will be strictly monitored by health officials, while the over-65s and under-20s will be banned from taking public transport. 

Some sectors, like manufacturing, will be exempt from the new restrictions, while supermarkets may open during specified hours at the weekend. 

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Erdogan added that Turkey had secured 50 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech, and that healthcare workers would start receiving the jab from next month. 

Turkey, which has a population of 82 million, has registered at least 638,847 coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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Erdoğan insists Turkey is part of Europe, but won’t tolerate ‘attacks’ – POLITICO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he sees Turkey as part of Europe, but stressed that Ankara will not give in to “attacks” and “double standards,” amid months of tensions with Brussels.

“We see ourselves as an inseparable part of Europe … However this does not mean that we will bow down to overt attacks to our country and nation, veiled injustices and double standards,” Erdoğan said Sunday in a speech to members of his AK Party, according to Reuters.

He added in more conciliatory remarks that “we do not believe that we have any problems with countries or institutions that cannot be solved through politics, dialogue and negotiations.”

Turkey is still formally a candidate to become an EU member, although EU and foreign affairs ministers decided to effectively freeze accession talks in June 2018.

More recently, tensions between the EU and Ankara have been rising over Turkey’s drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean in search for natural gas in disputed waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus. The EU earlier this month extended its sanctions by one year over what it described as “Turkey’s unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean” and EU leaders will discuss whether to impose further sanctions at a meeting next month.

Further fueling the conflict, Erdoğan called last Sunday for a “two-state” solution in Cyprus during a high-profile visit to the Turkish-Cypriot north of the island, which has been divided since Turkey’s 1974 invasion.

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell responded last Thursday, saying: “It is important that Turkey understands that its behavior is widening its separation from the European Union.”

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On the edge – Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces up to economic facts | Europe

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Erdogan Says Cyprus To Stay Divided, Visits ‘Ghost Town’ In Turkish-held North

Turkey’s president said he favours a permanent “two-state” division of Cyprus during a visit Sunday to the breakaway Turkish-held north condemned as a provocation by the internationally recognised Greek-speaking south.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also visited the beachfront area of Varosha in the north, a one-time luxury resort turned ghost town along the United Nations buffer zone that has split the Mediterranean island since Turkey’s 1974 invasion of the north.

The deserted tourist area of Varosha in the fenced off area of Famagusta in the Turkish-occupied north of the divided eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus
 AFP / Birol BEBEK

“There are two peoples and two separate states in Cyprus,” Erdogan said after arriving for the 37th anniversary of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Ankara.

“There must be talks for a solution on the basis of two separate states.”

Commenting on previous, failed UN-led efforts to reunify the island as a bi-communal federal state, Erdogan used the phrase “You can’t dry today’s laundry in yesterday’s sun”.

Greek Cypriots protested at a checkpoint along the UN-patrolled buffer zone when the Turkish-speaking breakaway north held electionss for a new leader in mid-October

Greek Cypriots protested at a checkpoint along the UN-patrolled buffer zone when the Turkish-speaking breakaway north held electionss for a new leader in mid-October
 AFP / Iakovos Hatzistavrou

The comments marked a further setback to hopes for an eventual reunification of the island — split between EU-member the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the island’s southern two thirds, and the north, occupied by Turkey.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell criticised the Turkish leader’s visit.

“The EU’s message is very clear: there is no alternative to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem other than on the basis of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions,” Borrell said in a statement.

Supporters of right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar celebrate his win in the election in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on October 18

Supporters of right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar celebrate his win in the election in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on October 18
 AFP / Birol BEBEK

“In this respect we deplore today’s actions regarding” Varosha and “statements contradicting the UN principles for a settlement of the Cyprus question. They will cause greater distrust and tension in the region and should be urgently reversed”, the EU official added.

The deserted tourist area of Varosha in the fenced off area of Famagusta in the Turkish-occupied north of the divided eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus

The deserted tourist area of Varosha in the fenced off area of Famagusta in the Turkish-occupied north of the divided eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus
 AFP / Birol BEBEK

During Erdogan’s visit, Turkish jets left vapour trails in the sky in the shape of the star and crescent of the Turkish flag, mirroring a huge flag painted decades ago on a rocky mountainside in the north.

In the south, meanwhile, Greek Cypriots demonstrated against his visit at a checkpoint along the UN-patrolled Green Line.

Supporters of right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar celebrate his win in the election in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on October 18

Supporters of right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar celebrate his win in the election in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on October 18
 AFP / Birol BEBEK

Erdogan’s visit to the Turkish-held area comes amid heightened tensions on the island and in the Eastern Mediterranean and was condemned as a “provocation without precedent” by the Republic of Cyprus.

An eventual reunification has looked more remote since an Erdogan-backed Turkish nationalist, Ersin Tatar, was elected leader of the north last month.

Unlike his predecessor, Mustafa Akinci, who advocated reunification in the form of a federal state, Tatar also favours a two-state solution.

Turkish jets marked a star and crescent in the sky over Nicosia during Erdogan's visit to the self-proclaimed TRNC

Turkish jets marked a star and crescent in the sky over Nicosia during Erdogan’s visit to the self-proclaimed TRNC

The last UN-sponsored peace talks, based on a reunification of the island, failed in 2017.

Erdogan’s visit came as Turkey has openly sparred with neighbours Greece and Cyprus over maritime territories believed to hold vast gas deposits.

The Turkish leader stressed that “we will continue our seismic research and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean until a fair agreement can be reached”.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades condemned Erdogan’s visit, as well as what he called the historical “secessionist act of the declaration of the illegal regime” in the north.

He said Erdogan’s visit served to “torpedo” UN-led efforts to work toward resolving “the Cyprus problem” in talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Athens, Ankara and former colonial power London.

The 1974 Turkish invasion was launched in response to an Athens-engineered coup designed to unify Cyprus with Greece and was followed on November 15, 1983, by the declaration of the TRNC.

Erdogan insisted Sunday that “the only victims in the Cyprus issue are the Turkish Cypriots, whose rights and existence have been ignored for years”.

He then visited Varosha, which was once the playground of celebrities and dubbed a “Jewel of the Mediterranean”, but has since been deserted and fenced off, its former luxury hotels and restaurants now in disrepair and overgrown by weeds.

Turkish troops partially reopened the seafront of Varosha on October 8, sparking international criticism.

Erdogan, who had said earlier he may have a “picnic” at Varosha, arrived after dark and as rain battered the area.

Speaking to TV cameras alongside Tatar, he suggested Varosha would undergo redevelopment.

“This place has been closed for years, but it is time to start initiatives,” he said, arguing that “an equitable sharing of the island’s resources has never been granted to the Turkish Cypriots”.

The Turkish head of state promised compensation to Greek Cypriots who lost land, homes and businesses in the ghost town.

“If the rightful owners appeal to the property commission, compensation will be paid for their properties,” he said.

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Turkey’s Erdogan ousts central bank governor as lira slides

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, October 28, 2020. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

November 7, 2020

By Orhan Coskun, Nevzat Devranoglu and Daren Butler

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan fired central bank governor Murat Uysal on Saturday and replaced him with ex-finance minister Naci Agbal, acting after a 30% plunge in the lira currency’s value to record lows this year.

The decision to replace Murat Uysal gives Turkey its fourth central bank governor in five years and could stoke longstanding criticism about political interference in monetary policy.

The presidential decree was announced in the early hours Saturday in Turkey’s Official Gazette and gave no reason for the surprise move. But several officials close to the matter said Uysal was held responsible for the nosedive of the lira, the worst performer in emerging markets this year.

“The rise in the exchange rate really exceeded expectations very rapidly. Some steps were expected to have an impact, but that didn’t happen,” one senior official said.

Analysts said that while Agbal is a close Erdogan ally, he is seen as a capable manager who could take a more orthodox approach to policy. That could ease concerns that have driven Turks to snap up hard currencies at record levels.

“Uysal’s leadership had been utterly disastrous. Agbal cannot be worse, surely. He had a reputation as a decent technocrat,” Timothy Ash at BlueBay Asset Management said on Twitter. “Agbal is actually qualified for the job.”

The lira has continued to slide on concerns over the central bank’s depleted FX reserves, negative real rates, monetary independence, and the risk of Western sanctions over Turkish foreign and defence policies.

Analysts also fear U.S.-Turkish relations may come under more strain if Democrat Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump in last Tuesday’s closely fought election, where the vote count has not been completed but is tilting Biden’s way.

Turkey, a G20 country and the largest economy in the Middle East, roared back from a recession last year on the back of surging domestic lending and state support for the lira – until it was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lira closed at 8.5445 against the dollar on Friday after touching a record low of 8.58, despite dollar weakness as votes were still being counted in the U.S. election.

Erdogan had appointed then-deputy governor Uysal to head the central bank in July 2019 after sacking predecessor Murat Cetinkaya, saying the bank had not cut interest rates to boost the economy.


Erdogan, a self-described enemy of high interest rates, has repeatedly called for lower borrowing costs. Last weekend, he said Turkey was fighting an economic war against those squeezing it in “the devil’s triangle of interest and exchange rates and inflation”.

Agbal had been finance minister from 2015 until 2018, when he was appointed to head the directorate of presidential strategy and budget.

An official from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party said Agbal faced a “difficult test” at his new post, but that he was a “strong name” who could help alleviate some of the pressure on the lira.

“We will see a stronger central bank governor,” the official said, adding Agbal “will act smart”.

He is not seen as someone who would accept political direction, the person added. “It is a difficult post, but steps to stop the rapid rise in the exchange rate must be taken.”

The lira’s slide, couple with inflation stuck near 12%, well above the bank’s target of around 5%, has ramped up pressure for tighter policy. Last month the central bank bucked expectations for a big rate hike and held policy steady at 10.25%, triggering sharp losses in the lira.

The bank, which also surprised markets a month earlier when it hiked rates, said it would stick with liquidity measures to tighten money supply. It raised the uppermost rate in its corridor, the late liquidity window, to 14.75% from 13.25%.

Erik Meyersson, senior economist at Handelsbank, said that while Uysal had taken the blame for Turkey’s economic woes, it was Erdogan who was “tying” the bank’s hands, adding that the post of central bank governor was “mere puppetry”.

Opposition parties criticised the move, saying it would strengthen Erdogan’s influence and politicise the bank.

“All we were missing was a party-tied central bank, and we got it. The central bank is now the AKP’s,” said Tahsin Tarhan, a lawmaker with the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

Agbal will face his first significant test on Nov. 19 when the bank’s monetary policy committee meets.

“Agbal is a realist. He knows the market dynamics. His feet are on the ground. He must have gotten a promise for some room. He is not a person who is amateur enough to sit at this position otherwise,” the senior official said.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Erdogan announces 10pm closure for restaurants, cinemas & Turkish baths as country sees Covid-19 spike — RT World News

All businesses in Turkey, including restaurants and cinemas, must close at 10pm local time in a bid to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced.

Addressing the nation after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Erdogan said the new curfew would also include Turkish baths, wedding halls and concert venues, although food takeaway services would be exempt.

The move comes in response to a spike in Covid-19 infections, with 2,343 new cases and 79 deaths confirmed on Tuesday, although Ankara only reports the number of those who show symptoms.

Erdogan also urged the public to “to avoid crowded places,” and not to visit other households “unless they have to.” He said that flexible working hours “will be encouraged.”

The Turkish president compared what he described as the country’s “controlled” response to the pandemic to that of some European nations where he said the “number of patients is high, it is almost out of control.”

We have not faced any crisis in this area. Our daily patient number is at manageable levels.

His words come as a second wave of coronavirus has forced Europe’s biggest economies, including France, Germany and the UK, back into some form of lockdown. The harsh measures have prompted a number of protests pushing back against the restrictions.

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Erdogan also said that the government hopes to make coronavirus vaccines produced outside the country available to people in Turkey soon, while a Turkish-made vaccine should be available “in the spring.” 

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Erdogan Doubles Down In Backlash Against Macron’s Islam Comments

The backlash against President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on Islam intensified Sunday, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again urging him to have “mental checks” and protests in Muslim-majority nations.

Speaking after teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to pupils in a lesson on free speech earlier this month, Macron vowed France would “not give up cartoons” and said Paty “was killed because Islamists want our future”.

But Erdogan on Saturday urged Macron to have “mental checks” for treating “millions of members from different faith groups this way” — comments which prompted Paris to recall its envoy to Ankara.

The Turkish leader doubled down on those comments Sunday, accusing Macron of being “obsessed with Erdogan day and night”.

Protesters took to the streets of Istanbul Sunday to voice their displeasure against French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent comments on Islam
 AFP / Yasin AKGUL

“(Macron) is a case and therefore he really needs to have checks,” he said in a televised speech in the eastern Anatolian city of Malatya.

Relations between Macron and Erdogan have become increasingly strained over geopolitical issues ranging from a Greek-Turkish maritime dispute to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called the comments Erdogan made on Saturday “unacceptable” and urged Turkey “to cease this dangerous spiral of confrontation.”

Arab Israeli Muslim demonstrators, clad in masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, protest against the comments by French President Emmanuel Macron, in the Arab town of Umm-Al Fahem in Northen Israel on Sunday

Arab Israeli Muslim demonstrators, clad in masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, protest against the comments by French President Emmanuel Macron, in the Arab town of Umm-Al Fahem in Northen Israel on Sunday

Anger at Macron spilt over into the streets in several Muslim-majority countries, with further demonstrations expected Sunday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Macron of “attacking Islam”.

He tweeted that the French leader “could have put healing touch & denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation & marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalisation.”

Happier times: French President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of luncheon at the Elysee palace in Paris in January 2018

Happier times: French President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of luncheon at the Elysee palace in Paris in January 2018

In Deir Al-Balah in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians burnt portraits of Macron, calling his comment “an attack and an insult against Islam.”

“We condemn the comments of the French President… and whoever offends the Prophet Mohammed, whether through words, actions, gestures or drawings,” said Maher al-Huli, a leader of Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the coastal Palestinian enclave.

In Lebanon, powerful pro-Iran Shiite movement Hezbollah condemned the “deliberate insult” to the Prophet.

In Iraq, Rabaa Allah, a powerful pro-Iran armed faction, said in a statement that one and a half billion people worldwide had in effect been insulted, and warned that its men were “ready to respond when and where they want”.

Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq recently burned down the headquarters of a television station seen as “insulting” the Prophet.

Demonstrators also held protests in various regions of war-torn neighbouring Syria still outside government control, burning pictures of Macron, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

Jordan’s Islamic Affairs Minister Mohammed al-Khalayleh said that “insulting” prophets was “not an issue of personal freedom but a crime that encourages violence.”

His comments came as French prosecutors Sunday said two Jordanians had filed a complaint with police after an apparently racially motivated attack in the city of Angers.

Libyan social media users called for demonstrations on Sunday afternoon — calls echoed by a religious TV channel linked to Mufti Sadek al-Ghariani, the war-torn North African country’s controversial top religious leader.

“If a Muslim leader made the same racist and hostile statements about the West as Macron did about Islam, he would be accused of being extremist, racist and terrorist,” said Ghariani.

Several Libyan towns and cities had already seen rallies by demonstrators brandishing placards bearing slogans such as “the Prophet is a red line” and pictures of Macron with his face crossed out in red.

“As Muslims, it’s our duty to respect all the prophets, so we expect the same from all other religions,” said housewife Fatima Mahmoud, 56, who said she would attend a demonstration in Tripoli.

“Demonising Islam and Muslims isn’t going to keep the social peace in France.”

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