Monday, June 3, 2013

Turkey: Woman in red becomes leitmotif for Istanbul's female protesters

In her red cotton summer dress, necklace and white bag slung over her shoulder she might have been floating across the lawn at a garden party; but before her crouches a masked policeman firing teargas spray that sends her long hair billowing upwards. Endlessly shared on social media and replicated as a cartoon on posters and stickers, the image of the woman in red has become the leitmotif for female protesters during days of violent anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul. "That photo encapsulates the essence of this protest," says math student Esra at Besiktas, near the Bosphorus strait and one of the centres of this week's protests. "The violence of the police against peaceful protesters, people just trying to protect themselves and what they value." In one graphic copy plastered on walls the woman appears much bigger than the policeman. "The more you spray the bigger we get", reads the slogan next to it. The United States and the European Union as well as human rights groups have expressed concern about the heavy-handed action of Turkish police against protesters. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan branded the protesters on Monday extremists "living arm in arm with terrorism", a description that seems to sit ill with the image of the woman in red. There were others dressed in more combative gear and sporting face masks as they threw stones, but the large number of very young women in Besiktas and on Taksim Square where the protests began on Friday evening is notable. With swimming goggles and flimsy surgical masks against the teargas, light tasseled scarves hanging around their necks, Esra, Hasine and Secil stand apprehensively in the Besiktas district on Monday evening, joined by ever growing numbers of youngsters as dusk falls and the mood grows more sombre. They belong, as perhaps does the woman in red, to the ranks of young, articulate women who believe they have something to lose in Erdogan's Turkey. They feel threatened by his promotion of the Islamic headscarf, symbol of female piety. CAREERS FOR WOMEN Many of the women point to new abortion laws as a sign that Erdogan, who has advised Turkish women to each have three children, wants to roll back women's rights and push them into traditional, pious roles. "I respect women who wear the headscarf, that is their right, but İ also want my rights to be protected," says Esra. "I'm not a leftist or an anti-capitalist. İ want to be a business woman and live in a free Turkey." Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the secular republic formed in 1923 from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, encouraged women to wear Western clothes rather than headscarves and promoted the image of the professional woman. Ironically, Erdogan is seen these days as, for better or worse, the most dominant Turkish leader since Ataturk. Erdogan was first swept to power in 2002 and remains unrivalled in popularity, drawing on strong support in the conservative Anatolian heartland. The weekend demonstrations in dozens of cities suggest however his popularity may be dwindling, at least among middle classes who swung behind him in the early years of political and economic reform that cut back the power of the army and introduced some rights amendments. "Erdogan says 50 percent of the people voted for him. I'm here to show I belong to the other 50 percent, the half of the population whose feelings he showed no respect for, the ones he is trying to crush," says chemistry student Hasine. "I want to have a future here in Turkey, a career, a freedom to live my life. But all these are under threat. I want Erdogan to understand," she adds. Erdogan, a pious man who denies Islamist ambitions for Turkey, rejects any suggestion he wants to cajole anyone into religious observance. He says new alcohol laws, also denounced by the women, have been passed to protect health rather than on religious grounds. Protesters are coming better prepared now than when the unrest first began. Some have hard-hats, some are dressed all in black, most wear running shoes. But many are dressed as femininely as the girl in the red dress snapped on Taksim Square. "Of course I'm nervous and I know I could be in danger here. But for me that is nothing compared to the danger of losing the Turkish Republic, its freedoms and spirit," said 23 year-old economics student Busra, who says her parents support her protest.

Turkey: Young boy lost eye due to plastic bullet in Istanbul

Prominent Turkish academic Ahmet İnsel said on the night of June 3 that he knew a young boy who had lost his eye after being shot with a plastic bullet during the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. In an interview with private broadcaster CNN Türk, İnsel said the young boy had undergone an operation to remove the bullet in his eye. He also said the boy preferred to remain anonymous, and was injured on the Talimhane side of Taksim Square.

TURKEY: Second fatality, thousands injured as police try to curb Turkey protests

A second fatality has been confirmed as protests in Turkey enter their fifth day. With several thousands already reported injured Turks continue to flood social media with video, images, and allegations of police brutality. On Monday, the Union of Turkish Doctors confirmed the death of 22-year-old Abdullah Cömert in the city of Antakya, which is located in the province of Hatay, near Turkey’s border with Syria. The fatality was the second so far to be confirmed since protests flared up on Friday in Istanbul and Ankara, and sprouted demonstrations nationwide. According to Turkish news reports Cömert died of injuries sustained after being shot by unidentified gunmen, though many users via social media were placing the blame on local police forces. The BBC has reported that Cömert was a member of the youth wing of the opposition Republican People's Party, but did not speculate as to the exact cause of death. Earlier on Monday, the Turkish Doctors' Union announced that 20-year-old Mehmet Ayvalitas, the first reported fatality since Friday, was hit by a car in the Mayis district of Istanbul on Sunday. Though many Turkish social media users again placed blame on police forces for the death of Ayvalitas, any such link had yet to be confirmed. According to the BBC the vehicle in question ignored warnings to stop and ploughed into a crowd of demonstrators. According to the Turkish Medical Association, which was cited by CNN International on Monday, the violence has so far left 3,195 people injured, with 26 in serious or critical condition. "There has been unprecedented violence against protesters and social protest," demonstrator Neslihan Ozgunes told CNN on Monday. So far the majority of the injured have occurred in Istanbul, though the protests have since spread to Ankara, Izmir, Adana and smaller cities, such as Antakya to the East. Both video and images depicting police in riot gear firing tear gas, using pepper spray or at times physically beating demonstrators have appeared throughout social media. Often, images alleging excessive use of force by Turkish police have shown lone protesters surrounded by riot gear-clad officers. On Sunday night, protesters in the Besiktas district of Istanbul tore up paving stones to build barricades, and police responded with tear gas and water cannon. According to the BBC, mosques, shops and a university in Besiktas were reportedly turned into makeshift hospitals to treat the injured demonstrators. International groups such as Amnesty International have criticized the Turkish police response as excessive. On Sunday, a CNN crew reported witnessing authorities roughing up at least one protester in Ankara. One CNN videographer was reportedly even kicked by a police officer, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded to widespread protests on Monday by dismissing these as the work of "extreme elements”. At a news conference prior to a trip to Morocco, which the PM declined to postpone despite the ongoing demonstrations, Erdoğan accused the political opposition of provoking “his citizens.”

World celebrities join in against police violence in Turkey

Iconic actress Tilda Swinton also joined in, with a photo of the actress making the viral rounds, showing Swinton holding a sign that reads, “Dear citizens of the world, right now, police is violently attacking citizens that are protesting the government in Istanbul.”
World-known celebrities all voiced concern and opposition to the ongoing police violence in Turkey with the likes of Madonna and Tilda Swinton showing support for the protesters. A long list of celebrity supporters took it to Twitter over the past few days in response to the ongoing social media campaigns aiming to draw global attention to the events of Gezi Park protests. Soon after the events erupted, Madonna shared a picture on her personal Instagram account, with the caption, “Stop the Violence in Turkey! Start a Revolution of LOVE! Tolerance=Human Dignity and Respect!” U.S. actor Mark Ruffalo was one of the first famous supporters of the movement, retweeting information from Turkish protesters and international organizations, including Occupy movements around the world that have been focused on the ongoing clashes in Turkey. “Be safe and strong! Something tremendous is happening in Turkey,” was the latest show of support from the American actor. Iconic actress Tilda Swinton also joined in, with a photo of the actress making the viral rounds, showing Swinton holding a sign that reads, “Dear citizens of the world, right now, police is violently attacking citizens that are protesting the government in Istanbul.” British comedian Russel Brand also took it to Twitter to speak on the issue, with his final tweet reading, “Our leaders are trusted servants, not our masters.” American actor Joseph Gordon-Lewitt chipped in with a series of tweets from media links and personal retweets, where American film-producer, director and screenwriter Judd Apatow joined in with a emotional, “I am with you. I am a quarter Turkish.” Legendary Roger Waters released a moving statement on June 2 on his official Facebook page, stating, “There is nothing more important than what you are doing today,” written all in capitals. “We are not physically with you in the water cannon’s fire, in the tear gas clouds, but we are with you in spirit. We applaud your stand for we know it is not easy,” Waters said, sending his “love, tears and huge respect” to the Turkish protesters. American actor Rainn Wilson also showed support for the crowds by directing his followers to a social media page that hosts hundreds of photos from the ongoing protests. Musician Moby also tweeted, “I really hope that Erdoğan and the AKP are paying attention. Turkey is a democracy, not a theocracy.”

Afghan’s Expectations Shouldn’t Be Victimized of Conspiracies
President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai in a telephonic conversation with the US state secretary, John Kerry said his country would never allow the nation’s peace hope to be victimized by the aliens’ vicious plots, his office said. He said he would never let the aliens to direct his country to the federalism once again and warned those behind such a conspiracy to face his nation’s harsh reaction if attempted to weaken the country. The president said he would accept any risk to prevent his country from being led towards federalism. He said the Afghans were fully interested of peace restoration in the country, where they want to put an end of war forever.

Anti-blasphemy law creates a tinderbox in Pakistan

Tucked in a corner of old industrial Lahore – Pakistan’s second-largest city of 10 million and the capital of Punjab province – is the Christian neighbourhood of Joseph Colony, home to more than 100 families and the latest example of the country’s ongoing struggle with blasphemy laws. In early March, a mob protesting against an alleged incident of blasphemy by a Christian resident of Joseph Colony started rampaging through the area’s narrow footpaths and setting homes on fire. The police had already evacuated the neighbourhood but did nothing to stop the mob from destroying property.Pakistan has witnessed historic elections – the first-ever civilian government completing a full five-year term and transferring power peacefully. But its anti-blasphemy laws continue to contribute to a tinderbox environment in which minorities bear the brunt of a culture quick to explode over perceived insults to Islam. Amending the anti-blasphemy law would go a long way in protecting minorities who make up less than 5 per cent of the population and more than 50 per cent of anti-blasphemy cases. “Whenever there is talk of amending the law … those people who are suggesting the amendment are accused of blasphemy,” said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, executive director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.
A dictator’s decree
In the 1980s, the country’s anti-blasphemy laws were amended to specify offences including the intentional desecration of the Koran, which carried a life sentence, and defaming the Prophet Mohammed, which carries either a death sentence or life in prison. The new laws were part of a wave of Islamization carried out by military dictator Zia-ul Haq. What ailed Pakistan, according to the dictator, was that it had drifted from its Islamic roots. Mr. Haq introduced reforms to the penal code and the courts – looking to sharia law for inspiration – and he helped foster the rise of the madrassa school system and a culture of jihad during an era when Pakistan funnelled U.S. money to Afghan fighters against the Soviet Union. According to data compiled by Pakistani Christian and human-rights organizations, 1,122 people have been implicated in blasphemy cases from the 1980s until 2012. Just over half of all cases belong to minority communities: Christian, Hindu and Ahmadi – a Muslim sect that is described by the Pakistan constitution as being non-Muslim and among the most persecuted communities in Pakistan. The remaining cases involve Muslims. The 2011 murders of prominent opponents of the law – Punjab governor Salman Taseer, killed by his own bodyguard, and federal minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, killed on his way to work – led to international condemnation by human-rights groups. The Canadian government announced a posthumous award to Mr. Bhatti for his human-rights work. The number of high-profile Pakistani politicians who have dared to speak up against the law can be counted on one hand. By avoiding the issue, politicians continue to allow a law on the books that is used to make false allegations, settle scores and persecute minorities, human-rights activists say. With any real hope of amending the law fading, there is talk of procedural changes that would take authority from lower court judges and local police officers and empower senior judges and police chiefs to investigate and hear alleged blasphemy cases as a way to avoid misuse of the law.
One family’s story
In Lahore’s Joseph Colony, the Christian Masih family gathered recently in the front room of one of their homes. Uncles, cousins and siblings share stories of those days in early March when Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy and fiery protests followed. The rampage turned Joseph Colony’s churches and more than 100 homes into a charred reminder for Pakistan’s minorities that in this Muslim-majority country, being accused of desecrating the Koran or insulting the Prophet Mohammed carries a steep price – and that is even before a court hears the details of any blasphemy case. “The only thing that was saved were the clothes we were wearing – otherwise we lost everything,” said Khurram Bashir Masih, cousin of the accused.
Fear of another attack continues.
“People are running away from here. They’re afraid,” said Bushra Daniyal, Sawan’s younger sister, sitting on the woven charpoy bed, as her nine-month old son climbs over her. Ms. Daniyal’s father sits quietly in a lawn chair nearby. Sawan Masih, a sanitation worker now in jail, is accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed during a quarrel with a Muslim drinking buddy. That same week, following Friday Muslim prayers, a mob converged outside the metal gates that lead in to the Joseph Colony neighbourhood’s tightly packed two- and three-storey homes, demanding to see Mr. Masih. Residents in this largely industrial area of Lahore known for its steel mills and traders knew that handing over Mr. Masih would mean his certain death. Mr. Masih was eventually taken into protective police custody. But protests continued. The following day, after a hurried evacuation, mobs ran through the neighbourhood pouring flammable chemicals on buildings. Police did not intervene. Photographs showed young men cheering before cameras as black smoke billowed over Joseph Colony. Search for justice Mr. Masih’s family relations are still haunted. They describe finding their Bibles burnt in the fire. They worry that pursuing a court case will only aggravate matters. Also, not a single person believes the perpetrators who burned down their homes will be brought to justice. “This [police] investigation is very poor. That’s why there’s no chance [of a conviction],” said Sardar Mushtaq Gill, who wears the Pakistani lawyer’s uniform: black suit, white shirt and black tie. He is more confident about Mr. Masih’s blasphemy case. As one of his lawyers, Mr. Gill believes that a higher court will eventually dismiss the case because it is based on “flimsy” evidence that Mr. Masih referred to the Prophet Mohammed as a “joota nabi,” or false prophet, he said. In the hot afternoon sun, Joseph Colony looks like a building site. Labourers carry pails of mortar on their heads along footpaths. Bricks are piled outside homes being repaired. The provincial government of Punjab gave most families 500,000 rupees, or $5,200, in compensation, and offered to repair their homes and churches. In the local market, Joseph Colony’s Christians are taunted. “You’ve become wealthy people,” said a Muslim shop owner, as recalled by a resident of Joseph Colony. But no amount of compensation can bring sukoon, or peace of mind, say residents. The anti-blasphemy law has left a trail of fear. But law aside, vigilante justice has claimed 52 lives since 1990. Inside the Lahore prison where Sawan Masih is being held, his sister Bushra Daniyal pays him a visit every Wednesday. His message during her most recent visit in early May is still raw. “Get me out somehow or I’ll do something to myself,” he reportedly told her. She has not given up fighting for his release. “I believe he will come home. I have faith in my God,” she added.

Deadly Blast Outside School In East Afghanistan
suicide bomber on a motorbike has killed at least nine students and a police officer outside a boys' school in eastern Afghanistan. The attack took place in Paktia Province on June 3. Officials said the attack was targeting a passing U.S. military convoy but it was unclear if there were any American casualties. According to authorities, the bomber detonated his explosives at midday outside a market just as the local school had let students out for lunch. More than a dozen students were also reported injured. It was not immediately clear how old the students were. There has been no immediate confirmation of the incident from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Musharraf may leave Pakistan to visit ailing mother in Dubai: Report
Former President Pervez Musharraf, currently detained over several high profile cases, may leave Pakistan a day ahead of Nawaz Sharif's election as the premier to visit his ailing mother in Dubai, according to a media report on Monday. Musharraf could leave for Dubai tomorrow in the evening to see his 95-year-old mother, who has been admitted to hospital after developing a "serious health problem", The News daily quoted its sources as saying The sources were quoted as saying that an application for bail would be taken up by courts today and Musharraf would ask the court to allow him to travel to Dubai immediately to visit his mother. Musharraf's request for bail in a case over the killing of Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti in a 2006 military operation would be taken up by another court on Thursday, a day after Sharif assumes the office of Prime Minister. Musharraf would not be required to appear personally for the plea in court for grant of bail, the report said. However, the report quoted sources in the Interior Ministry and the office of the Director General for Immigration and Passports as saying that there was no truth in reports about Musharraf being allowed to travel abroad unless the apex court issues an order for the same. The speculation in this regard is baseless, the sources said. The former military ruler was arrested shortly after he returned to Pakistan from self-exile in March to contest the May 11 general elections. A court subsequently barred Musharraf from contesting polls for the rest of his life. In view of threats to his life, Musharraf is being held at his farmhouse on the outskirts of Islamabad, which has been declared a "sub-jail". Musharraf's name was also included on the Exit Control List on April 7 to prevent him from travelling out of Pakistan. A circular was issued to authorities at all exit points, including airports, not to let the former President leave the country.

Protests in Turkey: Will Taksim Become Erdogan’s Tahrir Square?

Protests on Istiklal Avenue, the heart of Istanbul’s shopping and entertainment district, are nothing new. Over the past year, Turks have protested against the deteriorating state of press freedoms, a reckless construction boom, a draft law placing new curbs on abortion, the government’s response to the civil war raging in neighboring Syria, the jailing of hundreds of top generals on coup charges, the arrests of thousands of Kurdish activists accused of abetting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey labels a terrorist group, and, most recently, new restrictions on alcohol sales. But the mass protests against the moderately Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that have taken place over the past two days are different. For one, they are the biggest in years. On Friday evening, thousands of people streamed down Istiklal en route to Taksim Square, where the spark that ignited the ongoing unrest was first lit, before being beaten back by police units. The following day, as police abandoned the square, even more protesters arrived, their numbers in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. Protests and clashes have since broken out in a number of other cities across Turkey, including the capital, Ankara. As of Saturday night, 939 people had been arrested and 79 wounded in 90 demonstrations around the country, according to the Ministry of the Interior. Volunteer doctors around Taksim estimated that the number of injured exceeded 1,000. It all began on May 27 in a small park right behind Taksim, where a number of activists converged to protest plans to turn the area — one of the few green spaces in the city center — into a replica of an Ottoman barracks and shopping arcade. Over the next few days, as construction workers began uprooting trees, police repeatedly raided the sit-in, dispersing the protesters with tear gas, batons and water cannons. Images of wounded young men and women immediately began making the rounds on TV and social media, sparking wave after wave of popular outrage, as well as condemnation from human-rights groups, which decried the excessive use of tear gas against unarmed protesters. Things reached a boiling point on Friday morning after the police raided Gezi Park once again, burning the protesters’ tents, firing more tear gas and leaving dozens injured. By the end of the day, the streets that feed into Taksim were filled to the brink. The grievances of all groups opposed to the government seemed to have rolled into one. On Istiklal Avenue, Zeynep, a 21-year-old student who had taken part in the protests from Day One, complained about the closing of state theaters, police brutality and runaway development. “We don’t need any more shopping malls, we need trees,” she shouted, her words mixing with chants calling for Prime Minister Erdogan to step down. Nearby, a pair of teenage girls accused Erdogan of restricting free speech and steering Turkey, a secular but Muslim-majority country, toward Islamic rule. On a parallel avenue, adjacent to Tarlabasi, a poor neighborhood that had been forcibly vacated to make way for an upscale development project, the protests had devolved into violence. Banners advertising the project smoldered. A group of young men were busy tearing down metal barriers raised around the construction site of a new tunnel, parts of which were also in flames. “We’re against the park project, we’re against Tarlabasi, the killings of Kurds. Erdogan doesn’t let people breathe,” one of them yelled. “We’re against everything.” A middle-aged man standing within earshot blamed the government for meddling in Syria. “They’re sending jihadists to Syria, they’re the ones responsible for Reyhanli,” he said, referring to a May 11 car bombing in Reyhanli, a Turkish border town, which left 52 people dead. Police helicopters buzzed overhead. A young man, having removed his shirt and wrapped it around his face, pointed his hands, middle fingers outstretched, toward the sky. (MORE: Reports: Turkish Police Leave Istanbul Square) On a small side street, a small group of protesters, partially sheltered by the high walls of the French consulate, were lobbing rocks at police trucks parked on the other side. At the other end of the street, near a small sushi restaurant, a young man, surrounded by others, including a female medic, lay motionless on the ground, blood seeping out of his forehead. Near him, Hasan Gumus, a bespectacled pensioner, quivered with rage. A cheap surgical mask dangled from his chin. “The police have no shame, look at what they’ve fired at me, me, a 77-year-old man,” he said, clutching an empty gas canister in his hand. “I’ll show this to my kids, my grandkids, I’ll even frame it.” He had come out to support the environmentalists, but he was fed up for a host of reasons, not least the new curbs on alcohol sales. Erdogan had justified the measure on health grounds, but opponents saw it as yet more evidence of Turkey’s creeping Islamization and the Prime Minister’s authoritarian turn. “I don’t drink alcohol,” Gumus said. “But who are you to tell me not to drink? Are you my father, my grandfather? You can’t tell me how to live.” As he finished speaking, the young man who had lain on the ground, his forehead now bandaged, struggled to rise to his feet. In a speech on Saturday, Erdogan struck a defiant tone. The Taksim redevelopment project would go ahead, he said, referring to the protesters occupying the square as “marginal groups.” “If you gather a hundred thousand people,” he said, addressing the opposition, “I will gather a million.” It was the kind of rhetoric designed to rouse the party faithful, not to appease the protesters. As such, it was symptomatic of precisely what brought people to the streets in the first place — the arrogance of power. Within hours of Erdogan’s speech, the crowds once again descended on Taksim. For a government that enjoys the support of nearly half the population, plus a seeming monopoly on power, and which has presided over a decade of unprecedented growth — the economy has roared ahead at an average of 5% per year since Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) took the reins in 2002 — the protests are far from a death knell. They are, however, a wake-up call. Erdogan, who cannot run for a third term as Prime Minister, is believed to be planning on being elected President in 2014, but not before using constitutional changes to endow the post with executive powers, as in the U.S. or France. The ongoing protests, more than anything that’s preceded them — including the efforts of a largely impotent political opposition — threaten to derail such plans for good. So far, the protests have included mostly young leftists, environmentalists and secularists, all of them core government opponents, but very few religious conservatives. For Erdogan, the greatest danger is that conservative Muslims, who form the AKP’s base, will flinch at the images of police brutality and begin to join the protesters’ ranks. That may be one reason why the government has pulled police forces out of Taksim and clamped down on the media harder and more visibly than ever. Many press outlets are downplaying the protests. On Saturday, one of the country’s leading papers, owned the Prime Minister’s son-in-law, buried the story. Later that evening, as clashes between police and protesters continued around Istanbul and other cities, CNN Turk, a leading news network, aired a cooking show, plus documentaries about a 1970s novelist, dolphin training and penguins.