The Observer reports: Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, rarely goes on the defensive. Yet in his first public appearance since the New Year’s Eve massacre in an Istanbul nightclub, he felt obliged to publicly reject the notion that his government’s intolerant approach to civil society could possibly have encouraged the attack claimed by Islamic State that left 39 people dead.
Erdoğan was speaking before a regular gathering of elected community leaders, an opportunity he usually uses to glad-hand political support.
However, the shock of the attack has further rent an already divided country. While no one believes that the government is directly responsible, it is accused of creating an atmosphere in which a religious fanatic could get away with murder.
“Nobody should be forced to share the same kind of lifestyle,” said Erdoğan, adding that if anyone had come under pressure to conform to an alien way of life it had been “this brother” – meaning himself.
Erdoğan’s rise from street urchin to inhabiting a palace that architects estimate to have cost more than £1bn has indeed been hardscrabble. In 1998 he was removed from office as mayor of Istanbul and briefly imprisoned for reciting a well-known nationalist poem which the prosecutor deemed “an incitement to violence and religious hatred”.
However, greater obstacles might lie ahead. The difficulties that are already facing Erdoğan’s Turkey hardly need rehearsing. A civil war across the Syrian border has led to an influx of what may be as many as three million refugees. A once booming economy is now ailing. In 2015 – in order to woo the nationalist vote – the government shredded its attempt to secure an agreement with dissident Kurds. On top of this, there is the debilitating drip, drip of terrorist incidents. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Turkey’s Parliament on Monday kicked off debate on proposed constitutional amendments that would hand Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s largely ceremonial presidency sweeping executive powers and Erdogan himself the possibility to serve two more five-year terms.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 14 years, has long pushed imbuing the presidency with greater political powers, arguing that strong leadership would help Turkey grow.
The main opposition party fears that if approved, the reforms would concentrate too much power in Erdogan’s hands, turn the country into a de facto dictatorship and move Turkey away from democracy and its anchor in the West. [Continue reading…]