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Erdogan’s critics say demand for expulsions is distraction from economy woes

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October 24, 2021

By Daren Butler and Jonathan Spicer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s political opponents said his call to expel the ambassadors of 10 Western allies was an attempt to distract attention from Turkey’s economic difficulties, while diplomats hoped the expulsions might yet be averted.

On Saturday Erdogan said he ordered the envoys be declared ‘persona non grata’ for seeking philanthropist Osman Kavala’s release from prison. The foreign ministry has not yet carried out the president’s instruction, which would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan’s 19 years in power.

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The diplomatic crisis coincides with investor worries about the Turkish lira’s fall to a record low after the central bank, under pressure from Erdogan to stimulate the economy, unexpectedly slashed interest rates by 200 points last week.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition CHP, said Erdogan was “rapidly dragging the country to a precipice”.

“The reason for these moves is not to protect national interests but to create artificial reasons for the ruining of the economy,” he said on Twitter.

Kavala, a contributor to numerous civil society groups, has been in prison for four years, charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and with involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He denies the charges and has remained in detention while his trial continues.

“We’ve seen this film before. Return at once to our real agenda and the fundamental problem of this country, the economic crisis,” said opposition IYI Party deputy leader Yavuz Agiralioglu.

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Erdogan said the envoys were impudent and had no right to demand Kavala’s release, stressing that the Turkish judiciary was independent.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of Istanbul-based think tank Edam and a former Turkish diplomat, said Erdogan’s timing was incongruous as Turkey was seeking to recalibrate its foreign policy away from episodes of tension in recent years.

“I still hope that Ankara will not go through with this,” he wrote on Twitter, describing it as an unprecedented measure among NATO allies. “The foreign policy establishment is working hard to find a more acceptable formula. But time running out.”

Erdogan has not always followed through with threats.

In 2018 Erdogan said Turkey would boycott U.S. electronic goods in a dispute with Washington. Sales of the goods were unaffected. Last year, he called on Turks to boycott French goods over what he said was President Emmanuel Macron’s “anti-Islam” agenda, but did not follow through.

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CABINET MEETING

One diplomatic source said a decision on the envoys could be taken at Monday’s cabinet meeting and that de-escalation was possible given concerns about the potential diplomatic fallout. Erdogan has said he will meet U.S. President Joe Biden at next weekend’s G20 summit in Rome.

According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, a state may notify a country’s diplomatic mission that a staff member is unwelcome. The country may recall that person or terminate their role.

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for two decades but support for his ruling alliance has eroded significantly ahead of elections scheduled for 2023, partly because of sharp rises in the cost of living.

While the International Monetary Fund projects economic growth of 9% this year, inflation is more than double that and the lira has fallen 50% against the dollar since Erdogan’s last election victory in 2018.

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Emre Peker, from the London-based consultancy Eurasia Group, said the threatened expulsions at a time when the economy faces “massive challenges, is at best ill-considered, and at worst a foolish gambit to bolster Erdogan’s plummeting popularity”.

“Erdogan has to project power for domestic political reasons,” he said, adding that typically countries whose envoys have been kicked out retaliate with tit-for-tat expulsions. “This stands to make for increasingly difficult relations with Washington and the EU.”

In a joint statement on Oct. 18, the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release”. They were summoned by the foreign ministry, which called the statement irresponsible.

The European Court of Human Rights called for Kavala’s immediate release two years ago, saying there was no reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence.

Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the countries involved made up half of Turkey’s top 10 trading partners, underlining the potential setback to Erdogan’s efforts to boost the economy ahead of elections.

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“Erdogan believes he can win the next Turkish elections by blaming the West for attacking Turkey — notwithstanding the sorry state of the country’s economy,” he wrote on Twitter.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Giles Elgood)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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