Brunson affair dominates Turkish headlines: Media roundup

Secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet and left-wing BirGün on Monday led with stories on new legislation introduced in parliament this week that critics say amount to an extension of the state of emergency that was in place in Turkey from shortly after the Jul. 15 2016 coup attempt to Jul. 18 this year.

The legislation, which in its headline Cumhuriyet likens to a “civilian coup,” extends for three years the legal grounds for long detentions and summary dismissals of public workers, and grants Turkey’s 81 provincial governors arbitrary authorities including the power to restrict travel.

Pro-government dailies Millyet, Sabah and Vatan carried what would be a prominent theme of the week: the new Finance and Treasury Minister, Berat Albayrak, and his efforts to keep afloat a listing Turkish economy.

The three papers each led with some variation of Albayrak’s statements that the country’s new economic programme would operate “not by fighting against the markets, but establishing a win-win relationship with them.”

Tuesday’s front page on BirGün took aim at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “crazy project,” a canal built on Istanbul’s European side connecting the Black and Marmara seas, which is due to go out for tender this year.

The canal will struggle to make money from tolls from passing traffic, since Turkey is bound by the Montreux Convention to allow commercial vessels free and unhindered passage through the Bosphorus Straits, according to BirGün’s piece.

Worse still, once completed it is likely to be a drain on the public coffers if it follows the pattern established in previous infrastructure projects, where the private firms operating bridges, airports and tunnels are guaranteed a minimum income which will be supplied by the government if not reached by tolls.

Pro-government newspapers frothed on Tuesday about German international footballer Mesut Özil, who quit the national team this week after saying he was subjected to racism for his Turkish origins.

Özil had sparked controversy by appearing in a photograph presenting a signed football shirt to Erdoğan during the Turkish president’s UK visit in May, an event that the footballer says sparked an outpouring of racist treatment from the German football association and fans.

The Turkish headlines lauded Özil’s decision to quit the national team in response, with Sabah’s headline saying “Mesut Özil’s best goal of all scored against racism.”

The economy was back on the agenda on Wednesday, after a Turkish central bank meeting the previous day and the failure to raise interest rates to keep a check on the country’s high inflation rates.

The central bank’s decision put lie to Albayrak’s earlier statements around the economy, and Cumhuriyet’s front page illustrated how the stock market had reacted with a steep drop, while the Turkish lira had dropped to over 4.9 to the dollar before stabilising around 4.85.

The pro-government newspapers Yeni Şafak and Star ran the same headlines in front page stories on new legislation in Israel defining the country as a Jewish nation state.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine has long been a cause supported by Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the newspapers’ headlines declaring the “Spirit of Hitler resurrected in Israel” effectively conveyed their line on the event.

Takvim, a newspaper owned by Turkish pro-government Turkuvaz media group, led on Thursday with a front page summarising the fissures opening in Turkey’s opposition parties, another of the week’s key running stories.

The front page featured images of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Meral Akşener, the leaders of the main opposition secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and nationalist opposition Good Party.

While Kılıçdaroğlu has stubbornly resisted calls to resign after eight years of electoral failure and a shambolic performance by his party in the Jun. 24 elections, Akşener has announced she will stand down as party leader at the next party congress, less than one year after the Good Party was formed.

Opposition to Kılıçdaroğlu within the CHP has rallied around Muharrem İnce, the party’s presidential candidate on Jun. 24 whose performance many believe makes him the ideal person to take over the job.

A campaign to collect 625 CHP delegates’ signatures and force an extraordinary party congress, where İnce can launch a formal leadership challenge, took place this week, and secularist newspapers BirGün and Sözcü featured stories on the campaign on Thursday.

Cumhuriyet meanwhile carried the week’s defining story, the Wednesday evening release to house arrest of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor held in Turkey on terror charges since October 2016 after months of diplomatic pressure from the United States.

The decision by a Turkish court came shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet calling Brunson’s imprisonment a “total disgrace,” as well as progress through U.S. legislative bodies of various proposed sanctions against Turkey, including a bill to block the delivery of new generation F-35 jets.

Cumhuriyet’s headline suggested that Turkey’s judicial decisions were being made by the state in response to U.S. pressure.

The decision to release Brunson to house arrest, however, did not go far enough for Trump, who tweeted on Thursday night threatening serious sanctions against Turkey, joined by similar statements by his Vice President Mike Pence.

The threats dominated Turkish headlines on all quarters on Friday, with Yeni Şafak’s front page called on authorities to throw the pastor back in jail.

A slew of pro-government publications juxtaposed stories on the U.S. threats with front-page images on Erdoğan with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met during a BRICS summit in South Africa on Thursday.

The meeting, which took place just as Trump took to Twitter to post his threat on Thursday, gave rise to a quote from Erdoğan saying “some envy” the Russian-Turkish cooperation, a soundbite that was loyally worked into Friday’s headlines in a number of publications.

Cumhuriyet’s front page featured a story on a message sent to Mesut Özil by Deniz Naki, a Kurdish-German footballer who was fined and suspended by the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) for political posts on social media.

Naki was punished for posting on social media to criticise Turkish security forces’ response to Kurdish militants, who launched an insurrection in the country’s southeast in 2015.

“You say the German football association’s statements were wrong, but do you also find the TFF’s decision racist,” Naki asked Özil in a statement published on his Twitter account.


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