Rochester by-election: Voters drift from main UK parties

By Michael Daventry

LONDON

British Prime Minister David Cameron must rue the day in 2006 when, as the newish leader of his Conservative Party, he described members of the U.K. Independence Party as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly”.

That same party, commonly referred to as Ukip, comfortably defeated the Conservatives on Thursday to win a parliamentary seat in a special election in Rochester and Strood, a suburban district around 60 kilometers (38 miles) southeast of London.

The right-wing party favors Britain’s immediate withdrawal from the European Union and placing much stricter curbs on migration to the country.

What makes the defeat embarrassing for the British premier is that the winning candidate, Mark Reckless, was the second person in as many months to defect from Cameron’s party and successfully defend the seat for Ukip.

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Turkey’s next leader? Same man, same double standards

jc-2aThis year will be an excellent one for Turkey’s ties with Israel. The two countries are projected to trade a record $6bn (£3.6bn) in goods and services. A quarter of a million Israelis will visit Turkey, the highest number in five years. And this month, 13 daily Istanbul-Tel Aviv flights will facilitate this burgeoning traffic of business and tourism.

It is a remarkably healthy relationship for two countries that have barely spoken to each other in four years. Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Tel Aviv and expelled Israel’s own envoy following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine people died in an IDF raid on a flotilla of ships bound for blockaded Gaza. Despite an Israeli apology, diplomatic ties have not been restored.

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Ambassador Çeviköz: No UK vendetta against Turkey

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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Turkey’s record blemished by its leaders

After 301 people were confirmed dead in Turkey’s single worst mining disaster last month, critics blamed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turkish prime minister’s business-friendly government had privatised the mine in Soma and its inspectors had given a clean bill of health just weeks before disaster struck.

Mr Erdoğan’s supporters tried to shift the blame elsewhere. Their principal target was the mine’s owning company and its director Alp Gürkan. Among the many personal attacks on Mr Gürkan in the pro-government press, one headline was distinctive: “That boss’s son-in-law is a Jew”. For the pious daily YeniAkit, a board member who changed his name from Mario Asafrana to the more Turkish-sounding “Mahir”was sufficient for a front page splash.

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BBC suspends deal with NTV after Turkish TV censors broadcast

By Michael Daventry

The BBC dramatically suspended its deal with its Turkish broadcast partner NTV tonight after it failed to show an item on media censorship produced by the World Service’s Turkish section.

The item on the flagship Dünya Gündemi programme, which was filed by BBC Turkish correspondents Selin Girit and Göktay Koraltan, covered the atmosphere of media censorship in Turkey and included a candid interview with NTV director Ahmet Yeşiltepe.

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Like a prisoner

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

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.