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Dec 02 2018

Turkish economy and clash with U.S. captures front pages - media roundup

Monday’s front page in the pro-government daily Star reported on a U.S. project that has caused no small amount of consternation in Turkey – a move to establish observation outposts to be manned by U.S. troops in areas of northern Syrian near the Turkish border that are controlled by the Syrian Kurdish militias allied to the United States.

The decision comes after months of enmity between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies over U.S. policies in Syria including the training and support of the Kurdish militias, which Turkey views as a grave danger for their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group defined as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the United States.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis presented the posts as a measure to reduce the tensions with Turkey, saying they would allow U.S. forces to give advance warning of “anything headed their way.”

However, Star was having none of this, and described the establishment of the outposts as a “terror project,” taking particular exception to the news that the posts would be manned by U.S. troops alongside forces from the PKK-affiliated Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).

Another story that received wide coverage on Sunday was far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli’s agreement not to run mayoral candidates in some of Turkey’s key cities in the March local elections after renewing his party’s electoral alliance with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The two parties had gone through an acrimonious split in October after achieving success together in the elections last June. However, a month later they decided to resume their alliance, perhaps spurred on by poor polling figures that led the secularist daily Cumhuriyet to run a front page on Monday declaring that the AKP was bound to lose Istanbul with or without the MHP in tow.

Leftist daily BirGün and liberal Islamist daily Karar were among the papers on Tuesday that gave front-page space to the incident off the coast of Crimea that saw Russia firing on and then capturing three Ukrainian vessels.

The Ukrainian navy ships had been trying to pass through the Kerch Strait to get from the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea. However, Russian forces blocked their path, and after a standoff the Ukrainian ships were captured along with 28 sailors.

Leftist-nationalist daily Aydınlık also published a story on Ukraine on its front page, where it was joined by another piece of bad news for Turkey’s economy – the “explosion” in applications for bankruptcy protection this year.

The serious fall in the value of the lira and high interest rates have caused a wave of companies to seek bankruptcy protection, allowing them to delay repaying their debts for a period, Aydınlık said.

Akşam, a pro-government daily, followed up on reports the previous day on the tough crackdown on protests against rising energy taxes by French police.

“The world silent as Paris burns,” Akşam’s headline stated. The pro-government media’s condemnation of France for police violence follows a Turkish foreign ministry statement expressing concern at the “excessive force” used against protesters.

Akşam’s story explicitly compares the events to the nationwide Gezi Park protests that swept across Turkey in 2013, apparently finding hypocrisy in the lack of coverage of French protests today by international outlets that had widely covered Gezi Park five years ago. Turkey’s government admits no wrongdoing at the protests, in which several protesters died and hundreds were injured after being struck by tear gas canisters, and has praised the police response.

On Wednesday Star led with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stark “final warning” to the United States to stop covering for “terrorists,” referring of course to the YPG forces in Syria, which Erdoğan suggested the United States sought to protect by establishing the observation outposts.

With local elections coming up in the near future, this kind of sabre rattling is not too surprising. Turkish forces have conducted bombardments of targets on the area in question east of the Euphrates River, however, so further escalation is not out of the question.

Karar and BirGün’s front pages again carried the same story, reporting on the Turkish government’s use of a state unemployment fund as a source of ready cash. The fund takes contributions from the state, employers and workers to provide benefits to unemployed workers. However, the papers reported, the government has been making use of the money to fund cheap loans and projects, with a reported access to half of the 160 billion lira ($30 billion) the fund contains.

On Thursday another speech by Erdoğan captured the front pages of a host of pro-government dailies, making a “call to the Islamic world,” as Star put it, to break free from its reliance on the Western system. In order to do so, the president recommended moving to a trade system using their own currencies, rather than dollars, a recommendation which appealed to the anti-imperialist newspaper Aydınlık, which also ran the story.

Karar and BirGün ran the same front page yet again, reporting on the disastrous collapse of a viaduct in the north west Turkish province of Kocaeli that left three workers dead. This was the latest in a series of tragedies that have raised concerns among Turks about the countries safety standards and the accountability of contractors.

Twenty-four people were killed and hundreds hurt when a train was derailed in north-west Turkey in July, and the Turkish government admits 27 workers have been killed at the workplace while building Istanbul’s new airport. Unions and opposition politicians say the true figure is higher.

On Friday the Islamic fundamentalist daily Yeni Akit kept up a long-held habit of targeting Western countries for women’s rights and gender issues with a front-page headline reporting the “disgusting tableau” revealed in a Turkish parliamentary report, which found that the top five countries in the world for instances of sexual assault were Denmark, Finland, Britain, France and then Germany. “The West is number one for rape,” Yeni Akit’s headline ran.

Left out of the story was that oft-cited statistics showing Scandinavian countries to have the highest rates of sexual assault are based on officially recorded cases, meaning cases reported to the police. That studies have shown rape to be a crime that often goes drastically underreported suggests there is much work to be done in all countries, regardless of official statistics.

Star’s front page took aim once again at traders in Turkey who have had the temerity to raise prices of their goods. The government has called these traders opportunists, and went so far the previous week as to raid warehouses holding onions. Star decried the fact that the “opportunists” have refused to back down and reduce prices, in spite of the lira’s strengthening against the dollar.

It is possible that some traders are taking advantage of the uncertain economic conditions in Turkey to raise prices, though the logic in blaming rising living costs solely on those traders is clear for a government that is itself responsible for those conditions.