In Europe - West, Turkey / Türkiye

New Cold, Aug 1, 2016 (from several reports in Deutsche Welle)

Erdogan demos and counterprotests put Cologne on edge

From Deutsche Welle, July 31, 2016 (with photos and Twitter reports)

Supporters of Turkish President Erdogan rally in Cologne, Germany on July 31, 2016 (Thilo Schmuelgen, Reuters)

Supporters of Turkish President Erdogan rally in Cologne, Germany on July 31, 2016 (Thilo Schmuelgen, Reuters)

The biggest rally held in Germany in response to the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 took place on July 31, becoming a virtual sea of Turkish flags. Held at the site of a former shipyard in central Cologne,  the rally was held under the theme ‘No to the coup, yes to democracy’. It voiced explicit support to the authoritarian rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Deutsche Welle reports that more than 20,000 people attended the main rally. Police and organizers estimated twice that number.

Organizers stressed that it was not a demonstration solely in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the abundance of images of Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party, which he founded in 2001, made it clear that many of those gathered were there to cheer on the leader.

Many protesters expressed disappointment, even indignation, at the fact that the Turkish president was not allowed to speak to the congregated crowd via video link. A German court order issued on July 30 prevented Erdogan from taking part in this way. The court cited concern that Erdogan’s appearance could provoke clashes with those who oppose his rule. The Turkish government condemned the court decision.

Some of the tens of thousands attending the event stopped for prayer; others professed their faith more publicly during what was supposed to have been a secular event in support of democracy.

There were calls voiced for the reintroduction of the death penalty in Turkey following the bloody coup attempt of July 15.

Participants in the pro-Erdogan rally were bussed in from all over Germany and from nearby countries in Europe.

Point and counterpoint

Germany is home to about three million Turks or people of Turkish descent, the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey.

A series of counterdemonstrations also filled the streets of Cologne during the day. The police said the scene at these smaller rallies bordered on “tense” at times. The situation almost escalated at the city’s main train station, where left-wing and right-wing protesters were separated by mere meters.

Police had set up various barricades to keep the conflicting parties away from each other; however, once the events were coming to a close, there were brief reports of clashes inside the station as heavy rainfall drove people to seek shelter.

The largest of the counter-rallies saw some 1,500 people march under the slogan, ‘Stop Erdomania! – For democracy and human rights in Turkey.’ It was organized by the youth wings of a number of German political parties: the Greens, the Social Democrats, the Left party, and the Free Democrats. RT Ruptly has broadcast video footage of that rally.

Small extreme-right rally

A small group of far-right protesters hurled insults at police and reportedly attacked opponents at Cologne’s train station. Cologne has turned into a key battleground of current politics and public opinion, with the city not only having gained infamy the world over for a series of attacks and sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve. As well, mayoral candidate Henriette Reker was stabbed with a knife in the autumn of 2015 for her welcoming policy toward refugees. Reker survived the attack and went on to win the election.

Turkey is still reeling from the failed coup attempt as Erdogan steps up his clampdown on journalists, lawyers, teachers and even the military, saying that the state had been infiltrated by subversive forces on every level.

Those supporting Erdogan’s cause echoed his sentiments in the streets of Cologne, while those who truly oppose him likely opted to stay at home.

Erdogan to withdraw insult lawsuits

Deutsche Welle, July 29, 2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ( A. Izgi, Anadolu Agency)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ( A. Izgi, Anadolu Agency)

Turkey’s president has said he’ll withdraw all lawsuits against citizens who allegedly insulted him, as a one-off gesture. Speaking in Ankara on July 29, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his decision to drop the charges was motivated by feelings of unity against the failed coup.

“For one time only, I will be forgiving and withdrawing all cases against the many disrespects and insults that have been leveled against me,” he said at the event commemorating the victims of the botched military takeover two weeks ago.

Erdogan described the move as a “new beginning.”

“I feel that if we do not make use of this opportunity correctly, then it will give the people the right to hold us by the throat,” he added. “So I feel that all factions of society, politicians first and foremost, will behave accordingly with this new reality, this new sensitive situation before us.”

Böhmermann not off the hook

Under Turkish law, people found guilty of insulting the president face up to four years in prison. Over 2,000 people have been charged with this offense, some of them over content they shared on social media. Leaders of opposition parties are also among the defendants.

Most famously in Germany, however, Erdogan also sued German satirist and television presenter Jan Böhmermann over an offensive poem he read on air in March 2016, suggesting Erdogan engaged in bestiality and watched child pornography.

Defamation lawsuits filed in Germany are still active and ongoing, said Erdogan’s lawyer in Germany on Saturday. “The announcement only applies to Turkey. Nothing will change in Germany for the time being,” Erdogan’s lawyer Ralf Höcker told news agency DPA.

The president has won many of the lawsuits, including one against a former Miss Turkey for publishing a poem on Instagram about a high-level corruption scandal. A Turkish doctor was fired and arrested after sharing pictures comparing Erdogan with “Lord of the Rings” character, Gollum.

Journalist Cengiz Candar has also been put on trial, accused of insulting Erdogan in a series of columns criticizing Turkey’s renewed conflict against Kurdish rebels. Earlier this year, Ankara caused a diplomatic incident by interrogating a Turkish-Dutch reporter over “insulting” tweets. She was temporarily forbidden from leaving Turkey.

Deepening divide with West

In his speech at the presidential palace, Erdogan also criticized Western officials for not visiting Turkey after the coup. “Not a single person has come to give condolences either from the European Union … or from the West,” he said.

The president also commented on the growing alarm caused by purges in the army, judiciary, education and the Turkish media. “Some people give us advice. They say they are worried. Mind your own business! Look at your own deeds,” he said.

“Those countries or leaders who are not worried about Turkey’s democracy, the lives of our people, its future – while being so worried about the fate of the putschists – cannot be our friends.”

Reporters detained Friday

Turkish authorities are continuing their crackdown on the suspected coup plotters, shutting down schools and media outlets allegedly connected with Erdogan’s rival Fethullah Gulen.

A group of 21 journalists appeared before an Istanbul court on Friday as judges decided on whether to keep them in custody. The court freed four of them, but the rest were charged with “membership of a terror group,” the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The defendants include the well-known reporter Nazli Ilicak as well as the former correspondent for the pro-Gulen “Zaman” newspaper, Hanim Busra Erdal.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu defended the detention of reporters, saying it was necessary to draw the line between coup plotters and those “who are engaged in real journalism.”


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