Be man of your word, Erdoğan tells Sarkozy

Prime Minister Erdoğan has reminded France’s President of his earlier vows not to pass a bill punishing Armenian ‘genocide’ denials in a strongly worded missive

This file photo shows Turkish PM Erdoğan (L) welcoming French leader Sarkozy, who faces a dire warning on the ‘genocide’ bill. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ
This file photo shows Turkish PM Erdoğan (L) welcoming French leader Sarkozy, who faces a dire warning on the ‘genocide’ bill. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to keep earlier promises to forestall legislation that would criminalize the denial of Armenian “genocide” as Ankara turned up pressure on Paris, warning French businesses of serious consequences to trade links.

The bill, to be voted on Dec. 22, is threatening a fresh crisis in Turkish-French ties, long poisoned by strong French opposition to Turkey’s EU accession, just when signs have emerged of a rare rapprochement between the two countries as part of international efforts to end the turmoil in Syria.

In a letter to the French president, Erdoğan urged Sarkozy “to keep his promise that such legislative attempts would not be finalized and block irreparable developments” in bilateral relations. Prime Ministry sources said the remark was a reference to statements Sarkozy made after a similar bill was approved at the French Parliament’s lower house in 2006, but could not make it to a vote in the Senate. The French president said at the time that “he had no intention to take the bill to the Senate and did not want things to get worse,” the letter said, adding that this position was also confirmed in talks with special representatives of the two leaders.

“The advancement of such attempts will have grave consequences for ties between Turkey and France in all fields – political, economic and cultural,” Erdoğan said, dubbing the bill as a “hostile” move targeting Turkey and the Turkish community in France.

Erdoğan said that if approved, the bill would harm also efforts to normalize Turkish-Armenian ties and deal a blow to free speech. Turkey has already said it will recall its ambassador from Paris if the bill is passed.

Economic ties at stake

In an effort to enlist support from the business world, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu summoned representatives of French businesses in Turkey and Turkish companies trading with France for a meeting on Dec. 15.

The minister underlined the recent “positive momentum” in Turkish-French relations and warned that the approval of the bill would “inevitably” harm bilateral trade at a time when France is under the threat of economic depression, diplomatic sources said.

Turkish business leaders also mobilized to help head off the bill, under which anyone in France who publicly denies the genocide could face a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($58,000).

The head of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu, visited French Ambassador Laurent Bili to convey his concerns over the economic repercussions of “this very serious problem that could profoundly shake relations,” a TOBB statement said.

“It’s so bad that our long-term relationship is being jeopardized in the name of short-term expectations,” Hisarcıklıoğlu said, referring to France’s presidential elections next year.
The chairwoman of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD), Ümit Boyner, said she was already in contact with French counterparts ahead of a visit to Paris next week. A joint TOBB-TÜSİAD delegation will hold a series of meetings with French business groups and urge them to use their influence over French politicians to stop the bill, she said.

French firms may also send letter to Sarkozy

Leading French firms in Turkey are preparing to sign a letter to be sent to French President Nicholas Sarkozy, according to the chief of one of the largest French firms operating in Turkey, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned. The letter is expected to deliver a united message against a draft bill at the French parliament that will introduce punishment for the denial of the “Armenian genocide.”

“We have accepted the invitation of TOBB, regarding a letter addressing the French Presidency and showed our sensitivity in respect to the matter,” said Emre Üge, general manager of Sodexo Turkey, in a written response to questions from the Daily News. “We are expecting this draft, which is a clear barrier to freedom of expression, to be rejected by the French parliament. I hope this initiative [at parliament] will be limited to being one of the negative moves that we have been seeing prior to almost every election in France.”

“Currently there is a draft letter to be sent to French President Nicholas Sarkozy,” said a TOBB source, speaking on condition of anonymity. The source said French firms operating in Turkey will put their name and signature on the letter. On Dec. 16, company representatives were discussing the content and the tone of the letter, the source added.

“French firms are used to such crises – this is not the first time,” Banu Antonetti, board member of the Turkish-France Business Council, told the Daily News Dec. 16. “Political tensions would not bring a huge change in bilateral trade and investment ties. However, companies might face difficulties regarding big tenders in both countries.”

Antonetti, also a prominent lawyer based in Istanbul, said French companies in Turkey have not displayed any concern regarding their business.

As the Daily News went to print on Dec. 16, BNP Paribas and Carrefour had not yet replied to questions. Bayraktar Holding, the Turkish distributor of Citroen, Schneider and Club Med declined to comment on the issue.





Europe on edge after racist attacks in Belgium and Italy

Recent deadly attacks shake Italy and Belgium. A lone gunman kills four in the city center of Liege while a far-right author shoots dead two Senegalese in Florence. Motives behind attacks have not been uncovered yet.

A woman leaves a stuffed animal in a destroyed bus shelter, one of the targets of the Dec. 13 shooting in Liege. Senegalese immigrants (inset) react after an Italian man with right-wing views opened fire in Florence. AFP photo
A woman leaves a stuffed animal in a destroyed bus shelter, one of the targets of the Dec. 13 shooting in Liege. Senegalese immigrants (inset) react after an Italian man with right-wing views opened fire in Florence. AFP photo

A lone gunman went on a killing spree in Liege, Belgium, shooting dead four people and injuring more than 120 before committing suicide, prosecutors said yesterday.

“Nordine Amrani committed suicide with a bullet to the head,” said prosecutor Daniele Reynders at a press conference. “The coroner said he shot himself in the forehead. He left no message to explain his act.”

The statement cleared speculation that the 33-year-old with a long criminal record may have died accidentally when a fourth grenade he was carrying exploded. Officials found 10 firearms and 9,500 gun parts along with 2,800 cannabis plants. A 15-year-old, 17-year-old and a 17-month-old baby died in Amrani’s lunch-hour grenade and gun attack on Liege’s central square, packed with Christmas shoppers and children just out of school. Approximately 120 people were injured in the attack, said Interior Minister Joelle Milquet, who left European Union talks and rushed to the scene in Liege.
Earlier yesterday, police also discovered the body of a cleaning woman around 40 years old in a shed he used to hide cannabis plants and illegal weapons. “The woman was found dead with a bullet wound to the head,” Reynders said.

Reynders said 40 people have been treated for psychological trauma. It remained unclear what motivated the attack. After searches of Amrani’s house terrorism could be excluded as the driving force, Reynders said.

He had previously been convicted for drug dealing and illegal arms possession, as well as for holding stolen goods and other crimes, he added.

He walked alone to a busy downtown square and got onto a platform that gave him a clear view of the area below, which was bedecked with a large Christmas tree and was crowded with shoppers. From there, he lobbed three hand grenades toward a nearby bus shelter that serves 1,800 buses a day, the explosions sending shards of glass from the shelter across a wide area. He then opened fire upon the crowd.

Two dead in Florence attack

Florence was also in mourning after a far-right Italian author shot dead two Senegalese men and wounded three others yesterday before killing himself in a daylight shooting spree that prompted outpourings of grief.

Witnesses said they saw the gunman calmly getting out of a car at a street market on Piazza Dalmazia, north of the city center, firing three shots that instantly killed the two Senegalese vendors and seriously wounded a third. The white assailant, identified by authorities as 50-year-old Gianluca Casseri, then moved on to the San Lorenzo market in the center, a popular destination for tourists, where he wounded two more vendors.

Some 200 Senegalese marched through the city in an angry protest after the shootings, shouting “Shame!” and “Racists!” Casseri was also a member of Casa Pound, a right-wing community group that is seen as more intellectual than other far-right organizations.





Budget returns to surplus with $233 mln in November

The Turkish central administration’s revenues exceeded its expenditures by TL 2.14 billion ($1.14 billion) in the month of November, pushing its cumulative budget’s balance back to surplus with only a month left to go before year-end.
Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek (Photo: Today's Zaman)
Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek (Photo: Today's Zaman)

According an announcement from the Finance Ministry on Thursday, the Turkish budget produced a TL 439 million ($233 million) surplus in the first 11 months of the year. It had a deficit of TL 23.5 billion during the same period last year, and a TL 1.7 billion deficit in the first 10 months of this year. It also had a non-interest surplus, the figure calculated when all interest payments are assumed to be null, of TL 41.25 billion in the January-November period, marking an 80.3 percent year-on-year increase. This non-interest budget surplus figure was nearly three times higher than the government’s year-end target.

The strong budget performance this year came at a time when most European Union members, something which Turkey also aspires to become, are suffering from wide budget deficits. Turkey owes its budget achievements to the fiscal discipline it has adhered to, particularly in the past decade.

The same disciplined approach to government spending accompanied by successful privatizations and increased efforts to raise the state’s tax revenue also brought the public debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio lower in Turkey. It was 42.2 percent last year, compared to a 27-member EU average of 80.2 percent, and is expected to decline to 39.8 percent by the end of this year.

Government revenues were TL 272.76 billion, whereas its expenditures totaled TL 272.32 billion in the first 11 months of this year. It collected TL 234.1 billion in taxes from individuals and corporations in the January-November period of this year, 21.6 percent more than what it collected a year ago.

In remarks to the Anatolia news agency following the announcement, Minister of Finance Mehmet Şimşek said the budget will, however, have a deficit in the last month of the year because of an extra TL 10 billion the government is spending mainly on infrastructure, education and healthcare. “If this extra spending had not been done, we would have ended the year with a budget deficit significantly lower than our year-end target,” Şimşek said, adding that the year-end target, 1.7 percent of GDP, will nevertheless be easily met.


15 December 2011 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL

Prime Minister returns to the capital

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to begin active duty in Ankara today after spending nearly three weeks recovering from abdominal surgery at his residence in Istanbul.

Prime Minister Erdoğan. DAILY NEWS photo
Prime Minister Erdoğan. DAILY NEWS photo

“The prime minister’s health is very good. He completed the period of convalescence and is back to work. He will return to Ankara normally and begin work,” Health Minister Recep Akdağ said yesterday.
Akdağ told reporters “not to give credit to gossip” to claims that Erdoğan was to be flown from Istanbul on an ambulance plane or whether a special room had been prepared for him at Ankara’s Hacettepe Hospital.

Following his Nov. 26 operation in Istanbul, Erdoğan was scheduled to chair today the meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ), which deals with military promotions, and convene the Cabinet tomorrow.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, meanwhile, said he had made a “very big mistake” in regards to the intra-party frictions that recently emerged over a controversial match-fixing law.

Before Erdoğan’s arrival yesterday evening, Arınç voiced strong regret for having said “no one will ever dare to again consider [the match-fixing law],” after an initial presidential veto produced divisions within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Erdoğan’s absence.

“I made only one mistake in this process and it was a very big mistake for which I cannot forgive myself,” Arınç told private broadcaster CNNTürk, adding that his remarks amounted to “interference” in Parliament’s legislative will.

The bill, which drastically reduced penalties for match fixing in football, opened cracks in the AKP ranks, but the party eventually insisted on the legislation after Erdoğan instructed aides to ignore President Abdullah Gül’s veto. Parliament passed the bill for a second time without changes last week and Gül signed it into law yesterday.

Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı and AKP deputy chairman Hüseyin Çelik were the other senior party members who had publicly welcomed Gül’s veto. Arınç likened the short-lived spat to a “fly’s bite” for the AKP and played down suggestions that it reflected deep-running rivalry between Gül and Erdoğan and their respective inner circles within the party.

“No one should expect us to fall out over an issue as simple as a fly’s bite. We’ve been through much harder times. We’ve been in politics together for 30 years. Our confidence in each other is endless,” Arınç said.

“I express my opinions, but if I see that they are harming the party I will step back. One should not cause damage to the party’s unity and the government’s strength,” he said.

Asked about the controversy over the length of the president’s term, Arınç said it was too early to comment on who would succeed Gül and when. It is “not right and agreeable” to suggest that Erdoğan would become president with Gül returning as prime minister in a way similar to the Vladimir Putin-Dmitry Medvedev example in Russia, he said.

Prime Ministry sources, meanwhile, said it was uncertain whether Erdoğan would visit Anıtkabir today as part of the routine YAŞ program and go to a reception in the evening hosted by the International Investors Association of Turkey (YASED) even though his attendance had been announced in a press release by the group.






Russia’s Putin rules out new election in marathon show

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday dismissed  opposition allegations that fraud had helped his ruling party win a parliamentary election and signaled he would not bow to calls at mass protests for the poll to be rerun.
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

In his annual televised call-in question-and-answer session he brushed off the importance of the biggest opposition protests of his 12-year rule and, while holding out the prospect of relaxing his tight control on the political system, ignored most of the protesters’ demands.

Reaction on the social network Twitter suggested Putin came across as out of touch and, dressed in a suit and tie at a large desk as he took questions by phone and from a studio audience, he looked less at ease than in previous years. “From my point of view, the result of the [parliamentary] election undoubtedly reflects public opinion in the country,” Putin said in the show, which was broadcast live to the nation and was still going after more than three hours. “As for the fact that the ruling force, United Russia, lost some ground, there is also nothing unusual about this. Listen, we have gone through a very difficult period of crisis, and look at what is happening in other countries.”

The former KGB spy presented himself as a reasonable, even-handed national leader during the call-in, which was intended to boost his popularity from a low ebb since he announced plans to reclaim the presidency in an election next March.

The organizers of rallies which brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets on Saturday over the allegations of electoral fraud want the Dec. 4 poll rerun, the election commission head dismissed, opposition parties registered and “political prisoners” freed. Putin hinted at liberalizing the political system by letting regional governors be popularly elected — through only after approval by the president — and suggested legislation might be changed to allow small opposition parties to be registered. “We can move in this direction,” Putin said in response to a question about a liberal opposition party, whose leaders include former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, which was barred from the election. But he gave no indication he would respond to any of their other main demands and appears to be intent on riding out the protests and hoping they fade, even though another day of protest is planned by the opposition for on Dec. 24. He said demonstrations were “absolutely normal as long as everyone acts within the framework of the law.”

“I saw on people on the TV screens … mostly young people, active and with positions that they expressed clearly,” Putin said. “This makes me happy, and if that is the result of the Putin regime, that’s good — there’s nothing bad about it.”

But at another point, he turned to the journalist hosting the call-in and said: “I’ve had enough of these questions about the elections.”Putin said that at first he thought that the white ribbons which were worn by the protesters a sign of dissent were a sign of an anti-AIDS campaign, and he had mistaken them for condoms. He also alleged students were paid to go to the opposition demonstrations, adding: “They will at least make some money.” The protest organizers had already accused Putin this week of ignoring their demands and his comments went down badly among many people on Twitter.


15 December 2011 / REUTERS/AP, MOSCOW

French court finds Chirac guilty of corruption

A French court found former President Jacques Chirac guilty in a historic verdict Thursday of embezzling public funds to illegally finance the conservative party he long led, and handed him a suspended prison sentence.
Former French President Jacques Chirac arrives at his office in Paris in this June 18, 2007 file picture. (Photo: Reuters)
Former French President Jacques Chirac arrives at his office in Paris in this June 18, 2007 file picture. (Photo: Reuters)

Chirac, a savvy world diplomat and icon of France’s political establishment for decades, is the first former French head of state to face prosecution since the World War II era. But the 79-year-old former leader did not take part in the trial, after doctors determined that he suffers severe memory lapses.

The court said Thursday it had found Chirac guilty in two related cases involving fake jobs created at the RPR party, which he led during his 1977-1995 tenure as Paris mayor. He was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of trust, and illegal conflict of interest.

Chirac repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

He was given a two-year suspended prison sentence, which goes on Chirac’s criminal record but means he does not have to go behind bars. The court said it took into account his age, health and status as a former head of state when determining the sentence.

Unusually, the prosecutor had requested earlier that the case be dropped, saying not enough evidence proved intentional corruption. The court disagreed, saying “his guilt results from long-standing and reiterated practices” of illegal party financing.

“For all those who could have expected a rejection of the case against him, or at least no penalty, the ruling can appear disappointing,” said Chirac lawyer Georges Kiejman. “What I hope is that this ruling doesn’t change in any way the deep affection the French feel legitimately for Jacques Chirac.”

“We have to take a step back and read this ruling, we have to speak of course with the main person involved (Chirac), and we will know tonight if he accepts this decision or, on the contrary, he wants – on principle – to appeal. For the moment, it’s impossible to say more,” Kiejman said.

Contacted by The Associated Press, Chirac spokeswoman Benedicte Brissart declined to comment immediately, saying time was needed to go over the legal decision.

Chirac enjoyed immunity from prosecution during his 1995-2007 presidential tenure, during which he led France into the shared euro currency and strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.


15 December 2011 / AP, PARIS

September unemployment slips to lowest level in 10 years at 8.8 pct

Turkey’s unemployment dropped to 8.8 percent in September from 11.3 percent in the same month of the preceding year, hitting the lowest level since a 2001 domestic financial crisis, data from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) revealed on Thursday.
(Photo: AA)
(Photo: AA)

The lowest unemployment rate Turkey experienced in the past decade was 7.8 percent in the third quarter of 2001. Turkey’s unemployment was down 2.5 percent in September over the ninth month of 2010, Thursday’s TurkStat Household Labor Force Survey shows. This follows a 2.2 percent year-on-year drop in August: Turkey’s unemployment rate was at 9.2 percent in August, representing a drop of 2.2 percent compared to the eighth month of 2010. Observers argued the latest indices gave hope of further recovery in job markets through the end of the year. The government’s Medium-Term Economic Program (OVP) estimates the year-end unemployment in Turkey for 2011 at 12 percent. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan earlier this week said the year-end unemployment figures could be lower than what the government predicted in the OVP.

Turkey’s unemployment rate hit a worrisome 15 percent in 2009 when the global financial crisis hit the world economy the hardest. Last year, the government’s fight against inflation paid off, and the unemployment rate was able to be brought down as low as 10.5 percent.

More than 1.7 million people joined the pool of the employed in Turkey in the past 12 months to reach 24.75 million. Likewise, the number of unemployed decreased by 536,000 in September over the same period of the previous year and reached 2.4 million.

Stable growth in the economy is expected to help drive the country’s unemployment further down. Turkey registered the world’s fastest economic growth rate with 9.6 percent in the first three quarters over the same nine months in 2010.

Unemployment was 11.1 percent in urban areas in September, a 2.8 percent drop year-on-year, and was 4.5 percent in rural areas, a 1.8 percent drop in the same period. Unregistered employment — the share of people who have no social security benefits — was 42.8 percent, marking a 1.2 point decrease from the previous year. Looking at a sector-specific distribution of the employed, agriculture employed 26.2 percent of total workers in September 2011, industry 19 percent, construction 7.6 percent and services 47.2 percent. Employment in agriculture increased by 0.1 percentage point and construction increased by 1 percentage point while that of industry and services decreased by 0.5 percentage point.

More opportunity for young job-seekers

In additional critical data showing the improvement in Turkish job markets, Turkey’s youth unemployment declined to 17.3 percent in September, representing an encouraging 3.9 percent recovery when compared to the same four-week period in 2010.

The data is prominent considering more people are looking for jobs in the country every passing month. Turkey’s working age population — those over 15 years of age — increased by 1.1 million in September 2011 compared to the same period of the previous year.

In relative terms, Turkey has a higher young population in comparison to European countries. The country aspires to become an EU member, and observers argue this could help inject dynamism into the debt-ridden union’s volatile job market. Overall eurozone unemployment hit 9.8 percent in October 2011, while the union’s youth unemployment has jumped to 22 percent in the same month from 16 percent in 2007, data provided by the European Commission indicates. Elsewhere, the US, another economic powerhouse currently having problems, saw its unemployment slipped to 8.6 percent in November. This might have heralded a recovery for American job markets; but observers argue the EU will have to wait a bit longer to enjoy a similar recuperation.

Notable recovery in non-agricultural employment

According to a Bahçeşehir University Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM) report, non-agricultural employment dropped by 3 percent to 11.3 percent in September over the same month of 2010. The report underlined that Turkey’s non-agricultural employment increased noticeably during the third quarter. BETAM attributed the recovery in employment in the months July, August and September to growth particularly in service industry employment in the given period. One encouraging detail the BETAM report drew attention to was that Turkey’s industrial employment increased for the first time in September since April this year. The report said a swift decline in non-agricultural employment during the third quarter would slow down in October. Turkey’s non-agricultural employment reached its peak at 18.2 percent in April 2009 and has been declining ever since. The highest monthly increase in the number of employed in non-agricultural sectors was experienced in April with 196,000 new jobs.

Online job sites report increased activity

Data provided by Turkey’s online employment sites acknowledge a recovery in the country’s job markets. According to an employment index report released by, 39,000 people found jobs [via the website’s job search channels] in Turkey in November. The sector to experience the highest increase in new jobs was tourism with 55 percent in the 10th month. The report also indicated that the decline in employment in such key sectors as automotive, IT and food slowed down in the same month. saw 11,122 new job postings in November, 33 percent higher than the same month of 2010.

Another employment site Yenibiriş.com said they expected Turkey’s food industry alone would provide 150,000 new jobs in 2012. The website recalled the food sector grew by 15 percent annually on average, adding a similar performance is expected in 2012 as well. With a total market size of $32 billion, Turkey’s food industry provides jobs to more than 977,000 people. The job applications for food companies increased by 16 percent on Yenibiriş.com this year so far.


15 December 2011 / ERGİN HAVA, İSTANBUL

FM Davutoğlu: Turkey’s policies made Israel kneel down

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said Turkey’s recent polices in the Middle East “have made Israel kneel down” in front of Turkey and isolated the Jewish country in the region.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu speaks during budget talks in the Turkish Parliament on Dec. 14, 2011. (Photo: AA)
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu speaks during budget talks in the Turkish Parliament on Dec. 14, 2011. (Photo: AA)

Speaking during budget talks in the Turkish Parliament on Wednesday, Davutoğlu responded to claims by the opposition that Turkey’s foreign policy is dependent on Western countries and that there is a shift of axis in Turkey’s foreign policy towards the East.

Noting that Turkey has been acting independently with regard to recent uprisings against authoritarian regimes in Middle Eastern and North African countries, Davutoğlu said Turkey had never remained silent in the face of “oppression.” “It is our policies which made Israel kneel down in the region in front of us. We have always sided with people who demand democracy, not with authoritarian and oppressive regimes,” he said.

Relations between Turkey and Israel, two close US allies in the region, have soured since Israeli forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010. Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in the escalating row. Turkey has demanded compensation and an apology from Israel regarding the deadly flotilla attack, but Israel refuses to comply.

Stating that those who strongly criticized Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy last year as being unrealistic now support this policy, Davutoğlu said the government is determined to go ahead with the policy. “But we cannot remain silent if one of our neighbors oppress its people,” he added.


15 December 2011 / TODAYSZAMAN.COM,

Top Turkish military council reviews preparedness for war

Top Turkish military council has said it reviewed Turkish military’s preparedness for war following a key meeting.
Photo: AA
Photo: AA

A statement released by General Staff in its web-site on Thursday said Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) discussed activities of Turkish military in domestic and border security, adding that it reviewed Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) preparedness for war.

The statement didn’t elaborate threats Turkey face and said it assessed Turkish army’s needs and necessary steps to address these requirements to this end.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in an interview two weeks ago that Turkey does not want to consider a military option for intervention in neighboring Syria as Damascus cracks down on popular protest, but it is ready for any scenario.

Davutoğlu also said the international community may decide a buffer zone is needed in Syria if hundreds of thousands of people try to flee the violence there.

Syria is facing growing economic sanctions and condemnation over what the United Nations calls “gross human rights violations”, but President Bashar al-Assad shows no sign of buckling under pressure to end his military crackdown on protesters calling for his overthrow. UN said this week that death toll is more than 5,000.

“If the oppression continues, Turkey is ready for any scenario. We hope that a military intervention will never be necessary. The Syrian regime has to find a way of making peace with its own people,” Davutoğlu then said.


15 December 2011 / TODAYSZAMAN.COM,

Cyprus austerity strikes shut down airports, ministries

Cyprus government services and airports came to a halt on Thursday as thousands of civil servants went on strike over austerity measures to reduce a bloated fiscal deficit. Thousands of civil servants backed by air traffic controllers are angry over parliament approving on Wednesday a two-year wage freeze in the public sector to avert an EU bailout.

Two passengers prepare their baggage as they await their flight at Larnaca international airport, Cyprus, Thursday, Dec.15, 2011. AP photo
Two passengers prepare their baggage as they await their flight at Larnaca international airport, Cyprus, Thursday, Dec.15, 2011. AP photo


Powerful civil service union Pasydy effectively shut down the government in a 12-hour stoppage beginning at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), while calling on members to boycott weekend municipal elections.

Apart from government services, hospitals were also operating with reduced staff leading to the cancellation of many operations and other appointments, although schools remained open.

President Demetris Christofias had urged Pasydy to call off the strike to no avail. He said the government was determined to see Sunday’s vote go ahead.

Air traffic controllers unhappy with the austerity drive also launched a 12-hour strike from 9:00 am (0700 GMT) on Thursday at the Mediterranean island’s two international airports at Larnaca and Paphos.

Airport authorities said the stoppage would affect some 5,000 passengers and disrupt around 79 flights.

All flights will be affected except for VIP, state, military, hospital, humanitarian, search and rescue, and emergency flights or those facing technical problems.

Employers, hotels and business groups condemned the air traffic strike, saying it would harm the key tourism industry.

The wave of industrial action follows a three-hour stoppage in the wider public sector on Tuesday and a wildcat Pasydy strike on Wednesday.

Trade unions called Tuesday’s strike to show their anger at not being involved in a “social dialogue” when the austerity measures were agreed.

Other measures parliament approved on Wednesday included a rise in value-added tax to 17 percent from 15 percent from March 1, and an emergency sliding-scale tariff imposed on the self-employed and all public and private sector workers earning more than 2,500 euros ($3,245).

Hitherto universal child benefit and student grants will now be income-linked.

The European Union advised Cyprus to pass a tougher austerity budget by December 15 after the European Commission predicted a deficit of 4.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2012 from nearly seven percent this year.

Eurozone Cyprus needs tighter fiscal austerity to bring its bloated deficit below the EU’s three percent ceiling for 2012.

The state budget was expected to be approved by parliament later Thursday despite the industrial action.


NICOSIA – Agence France-Presse