Ambassador Çeviköz: No UK vendetta against Turkey

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Turkey’s outgoing ambassador to London has insisted Britain’s press has shown no sign of vendetta against his country.

Ünal Çeviköz said his four-year posting in London represented a peak in UK-Turkey relations, seeing three presidential visits, two from the prime minister and “countless” trips here by the foreign minister.

In a wide-ranging farewell interview with Londra Gazete, conducted on the day the Alevi community demonstrated outside the embassy building, Mr Çeviköz defended their right to peaceful protest and said he did not feel any pressure from British officials over last year’s Gezi Park incidents.

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Like a prisoner

Didem Cömertoğlu, who has asked Londra to disguise her identity

An Ankara agreement applicant says she has not seen her passport for six months and feels like a prisoner

AN ACCOMPLISHED Turkish musician whose passport has been held by the Home Office for almost half a year has said she feels like a prisoner in Britain.

Didem Cömertoğlu, who is legally allowed to work as a piano teacher, has not been able to open a bank account, apply for jobs or even board a plane for six months. She sent in her passport when she applied to extend her work permit in January, but the UK Border Agency, which is handling her application, will not even confirm they have it.

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Atatürk row in Westminster

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POLICE were called in to break up the argument that raged in a Westminster parliamentary committee room after opposition figures hurled abuse at a panel discussing Turkish politics.

Erol Başarık, a Turkish opposition supporter, was ejected from the room by an officer after repeatedly attempting to interject in the proceedings. Members of the panel, which included journalists Amberin Zaman and Hilal Kaplan, were frequently heckled as they spoke.

“We saw every kind of abuse as Hilal Kaplan and I spoke,” Ms Zaman tweeted after the event. “Ergenekon is London is still alive” she wrote, referring to the shadowy ultra-nationalist organisation that is allegedly involved in plots to topple the Turkish government.

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Face-to-face interview for your Ankara visa

Turkish nationals who want to work in Britain under the Ankara agreement scheme are to be subjected to a face-to-face interview as part of Home Office plans to combat fraudulent applications.

The new measure, which is to begin before the end of this month, represents yet another hurdle of scrutiny for a work permit scheme that existing applicants have criticised as slow and inefficient.

It was discussed during a meeting in January between the Turkish consulate and representatives from the Home Office team that handles Ankara agreement applications held in January, but details only emerged this week during a briefing for law firms and visa agencies.

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “We are introducing sweeping changes to the immigration system while ensuring we continue to attract the brightest and best who will help to drive economic growth.

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Bağış visits London, boasts Turkey’s wares

Turkey’s EU affairs minister said he was optimistic about progress on UK visas for Turkish nationals and slammed Cypriot obstacles to membership talks during his working visit to London.

Egemen Bağış said his country would ignore the rotating European Council presidency if, as expected, it is assumed on 1 July by the Greek Cypriot administration alone and not by a united Cyprus.

In a confident lecture at the London School of Economics that argued Europe needed Turkey’s extensive markets, robust growth and youthful population much more than Turkey that needed the European Union’s prescription of accession reforms, the minister unveiled a new slogan for his country’s EU membership bid: “Hold on Europe, Turkey is coming to your rescue”.

OPTIMISTIC ON VISAS

A question posed to the minister by Londra Gazete concerned visa regulations for Turkish nationals, an issue that affects large numbers in the London-based community as well as their relatives back home.

“I’ve been to UK many times,” Mr Bağış said, “but I enjoyed my entry the most yesterday because for the first time I came in without a visa because Turkish diplomatic passports no longer require visas.

“That only covers around 10 thousand of the 74 million people but it’s a good beginning.”

When asked whether Turkey’s negotiations to drop visas for its nationals in the Schengen Area were being mirrored by talks with the British government, which is outside the zone, Mr Bağış appeared to signal work was underway by saying he was optimistic about progress: “all great journeys start with the first step. I think with the UK we have taken the first step. I am more optimistic.”

“I believe being just, being rightful, having merits of your case is important, but being strong is more important. If Turkey continues to prosper economically, the fears of Turkish migration will evaporate and countries will continue to lift visas to our citizens.”

MORE TRANSPARENT

Londra Gazete also asked Mr Bağış about his country’s press freedom record, in particular the imprisonment of journalists serving terms because of their writing.

Mr Bağış’s reply was initally defensive:

“Turkey does not provide immunity to members of media,” he began, in a reply that was defensive at first. “Some of the people who are listed in these international NGOs as journalists who are detained have actually killed people. Some of them were actually captured while robbing a bank.

“And the fact that they were reporting at one stage in life in a newspaper or a radio station does not give them an immunity to commit crimes.”

But he added Turkish transparency needed to improve: “I’m not a judge, neither a prosecutor. My job is to pass laws to make sure everyone, those who work for me and those who don’t, live better. That’s why we’re coming with all these judicial reform packages to make things easier.

“It was the judicial branch that prevented us from solving some of the problems, but now – through changing the constitution, changing the legislation – we’re determined to make Turkey much more transparent for everyone.”

EUROPE NEEDS TURKEY

On his cabinet portfolio, Turkey’s relations with the European Union, Mr Bağış made reference to old adage often cited by opponents that Turkey is too big, too Muslim and too poor to ever join. He said Turkey’s youthful vigour and booming economy had turned these qualities into benefits.

“As far as I’m concerned, the EU is Turkey’s dietician,” he said. “All of us know for a fact that in order to lead a healthy life you need to watch what you eat and you need to exercise regularly, but usually when a dietician gives you a prescription of what to do, what not to do, what to eat, what not to eat, and when you implement that, you become a healthier person.

“Turkey is implementing the EU prescription, which is called the acquis. The fact that the dietician himself, the fact that Europe is overweight, is moody, has a few clogged arteries does not make the prescription bad. The prescription is still the best about.”

“Everyone should know Turkey is not coming to be an additional burden, but Turkey is coming … to take away some of the existing burdens from the EU. That is why we are implementing a new slogan in our process: ‘hold on tight Europe, Turkey is coming to your rescue’.

“Turkey’s membership will not downsize the slice but will enlarge the cake itself. That is the new concept that future leaders of Europe should start thinking about.”

Originally published in Londra Gazete, 01 March 2012.

Turkish interpreter fails to appear for arson hearing

A judge described the Ministry of Justice’s new interpretation system as “descending into the farcical” after a Turkish interpreter failed to turn up at the hearing of a woman accused of arson.

Judge Simon Carr made the remark at a preliminary hearing for Sevcan Davaz at Wood Green Crown Court yesterday, after an interpreter booked to translate for her did not appear. He instructed the interpreter and a representative from Applied Language Services, which supplies translation services at Wood Green Crown Court, to appear before him at 9.30am this morning to explain the absence.

Ms Davaz’s defence counsel said the interpreter had been present that morning, but could not be located after earlier hearings in the same courtroom were delayed. However, he said he was confident they could proceed with the hearing without need for an interpreter.

Sevcan Davaz is charged with two counts of arson in connection to a fire at a flat in Crofton Way, Enfield. She is accused of deliberately starting the fire with the intention of endangering lives. She spoke only to confirm her name and to enter a not guilty plea on both counts.

Her defence counsel submitted to the court the findings of a psychiatric report to “highlight certain issues” relating to the plea. The judge adjourned the hearing until 7 March to allow the Crown to consider the psychiatric evidence and to accept an amended plea.

Ms Davaz will be remanded in custody until her next hearing.

Ban North Cyprus adverts,London politician says

A London Assembly member is campaigning to ban Tube advertisements for flights to North Cyprus, despite a similar campaign eight years ago costing taxpayers over £150,000 in legal fees.

Brian Coleman, the Conservative assembly member for Barnet and Camden, has been branded “a disgrace to politics” for wanting to remove Pegasus Airlines posters promoting flights to Turkey and North Cyprus from the London Underground. His latest bid aims to convince Transport for London to remove the airline’s advertisements because they are “deeply offensive” to his Greek Cypriot constituents.

“Many families lost their homes when they were illegally taken after the invasion,” Mr Coleman said, referring to Turkey’s 1974 military intervention in Cyprus in response to a Greek-backed coup. “I have set up an online campaign to encourage Londoners to write to the Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy to voice their concerns, and to call for the adverts to be removed.”

But a former Liberal Democrat councillor said the campaign was a political attempt to obstruct trade with North Cyprus and not based on the adverts’ content.

“Coleman is a disgrace to politics. The adverts do not deceive holiday-makers in the slightest,” said John Oakes, a former Haringey councillor. “Adverts for flights to Tokyo don’t carry stopover details – you learn those once you book.”

LEGAL FEES

Baroness Hussein-Ece, the Liberal Democrat peer who has Turkish Cypriot origins, said “lessons should be learned” from the previous attempt to ban North Cyprus advertisements.

In 2004, Mr Coleman persuaded Transport for London to refuse advertising from the North Cypriot Tourist Centre, which had been using London buses to promote holidays in North Cyprus. TfL argued the destination was a country not recognised by the UK government, that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus “has no lawful interest in tourism in Cyprus” and that many Greek Cypriots in London were offended by adverts promoting holidays in the north.

The case was taken to the High Court, which ruled TfL had “failed to demonstrate any ‘pressing social need’ for the decision”. TfL, a publicly funded body, was ordered to pay £154,000 in legal costs. North Cyprus tourism advertising has since appeared across London transport.

“It is regrettable that an elected member of the Greater London Assembly should attempt to get embroiled in the Cyprus issue which the UN has been actively engaged in trying to resolve for 40 years,” Baroness Hussein-Ece said in respone to Mr Coleman’s latest campaign.

“He should focus on matters he was elected to do. This is a slap in the face for the well-established Turkish-Cypriot community in London.”

FACEBOOK CAMPAIGN

The campaign, “Greek Cypriots against Pegasus Tube Advertisement”, has launched a Facebook page, where it invites respondents to email Peter Hendy, TfL’s Transport Commissioner, with a message urging him to remove the Pegasus adverts.

The campaign also calls on participants to share their thoughts using the #PegasusAds hashtag on Twitter. As Londra Gazete went to press last night, just one message of support had been posted.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey, meaning that any flights headed there from the UK must land at a Turkish airport first. Pegasus Airlines posters indicate its North Cyprus destinations are reached via Istanbul.

In a statement, Pegasus said: “The purpose our advertisements is to inform passengers and promote the airline’s flights. These adverts comply with the relevant British advertising codes.”

Brian Coleman’s office refused to comment.

Originally published in Londra Gazete, 16 February 2012.

Traders hail £2m award for Green Lanes facelift

The main shopping area in Green Lanes will be radically transformed after the Mayor of London awarded £2million to a local traders’ group, rejecting the option preferred by Haringey Council.

Shopfronts will be restored, Green Lanes railway bridge will adorned with lights and and 14 street corners on the Harringay Ladder will be turned into “micro squares” as part of the group’s plan, which was the only one of three proposals in the borough to be funded.

“This is the highest Green Lanes has achieved,” said Rob Chau, secretary of the Green Lanes Traders Association (GLTA), which won the bid. “It shows Boris Johnson understands high street life and wants to engage with residents.”

The bid was greatly helped by last September’s Food Festival on Green Lanes, he said, which attracted a crowd of nearly 20 thousand people to the food stalls and music on offer.

The Mayor’s Outer London Fund yesterday awarded nearly £32m of funding to 18 boroughs across London, after filtering through over 80 bids. The Green Lanes was successful despite Haringey Council withdrawing its support for the application. Council leaders chose instead to support a rival bid for regeneration in nearby Tottenham High Road, which was not successful.

Cllr Nilgün Canver, who chairs the Green Lanes Strategy Group, said it was brilliant news: “This is a testament to 10 years of partnership working with the council, traders, community groups, residents, local councillors and the police. Together we have helped transform the image of Green Lanes and now we can transform the infrastructure too.

“With this help from the Outer London Fund I can’t wait to see a new, improved street scene for local people and visitors to the borough.”

Cllr Karen Alexander, councillor for the Harringay ward covered by the scheme, said it was the quality of bid that helped it triumph, despite the Council’s withdrawal of support. :A third Haringey bids for an improvement scheme Muswell Hill was also unsuccessful.

The Green Lanes scheme covers the area of north of the London Overground station. The first stage involves improving lighting on the underside of the railway bridge itself, creating a glittering gateway to the street beyond. Work here should be completed by the end of this year.

The next stages involve regenerating the high street’s shopfronts and creating public seating areas on payment junctions with streets of the Ladder. Mr Chou said one of his association’s ideas was to build canopies that stretch across the road and the microsquares, allowing greater all-weather use and the possibility to hold regular street markets.

“Green Lanes is a Victorian high street, more than a hundred years old,” he said. “It has always missed out on funding before. We want to buff it up and bring it out.” It is the largest public funding boost the street has received in more than thirty years.

The GLTA will be putting their ideas forward in a public consultation before work begins. The group aims to target independent traders, rather than the larger banks and supermarkets, and help them restore their buildings – for instance, by replacing ageing aluminum with more resilient hardwood.

Tony Staples, from Jan Kattein Architects, which worked with the GLTA on the winning bid, said the first stage of the scheme – illuminating the railway bridge – should be finished by the end of this year, while the entire project delivered by 2014.

Mr Staples said they had understood Haringey’s Tottenham scheme was more likely to be awarded funding: “We didn’t think we would win at all. We’re delighted that it has been successful.”

Originally published in Londra Gazete, 19 January 2012.