The Turkish prime minister aims to mend fences with Kurds living in the southeastern province of Siirt, where he won a parliamentary seat in a by-election in November 2003. While many still support the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, locals strongly favor the independent candidates supported by pro-Kurdish groups

Thousand of locals on Thursday filled the main square of Siirt, where Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to mend fences with Kurds in the southeastern province.

Outside of a group of women cheering for the ruling party's leader, little support was visible, however. While many voters in the area still support the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, independent candidates backed by pro-Kurdish groups are strongly favored.

Noting that he had won a parliamentary seat in Siirt in a by-election in November 2003, Erdoğan asked local residents to give "the same support that you have given before."

Often referring to religion in the conservative city, the prime minister reminded the audience of recent remarks by Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, calling him the "God of the status quo."

Many people strolling through the streets of the poor city strongly criticized Erdoğan, saying the region has been left behind, with no major investment but with high unemployment. Ahmet E., a 21-year-old unemployed man, said Erdoğan would not get the support he once did.

"We will not repeat our mistake," he said, noting that many mayors have been detained in the region as part of the investigation into the illegal Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, that started last year.

"Independent candidates in the region are highly supported," said the unemployed young man, accusing the AKP of threatening people with canceling their social aid.

"Let's cry our tears together," Erdoğan said at his campaign rally, promising the end the pain caused by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The prime minister emphasized that many AKP bureaus has been set on fire by the supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP. "What kind of democracy inquiry is this?" asked Erdoğan, referring to protests that erupted after 12 suspected PKK militants were killed in clashes earlier this week.

"The veto [of Kurdish candidates] by the YSK [Supreme Election Board] and the silence of the AKP after the decision has played a significant role in changing the political landscape in the region," said Bedri E., a 28-year-old cook. He believes the prime minister is seeking to gain political advantage through the 10% election threshold, which would prevent the BDP from being represented in Parliament.

"This time Kurds are thinking of vetoing the prime minister and his party at election time," he said. General elections in Turkey are set for June 12.

"Look at the streets of the city filled with hopeless and unemployed people," restaurant owner Ahmet M. told the Hürriyet Daily News. "Often Erdoğan says that he is the brother-in-law of the city as his wife is originally from this city, but when it comes to investment and development, we have nothing."

"We fear to talk freely and demonstrate democratically against the AKP as almost all attempts face prevention from security forces, unlike with the supporters of the AKP," he added.

According to Cahit C., who is 30 years old and unemployed, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, might get support from the hopeless and unemployed locals of the region. "More than the issues related to Kurdish and Turkish identities, we have a poverty problem here," Cahit C. said, adding that many would still support the Kurdish candidates of the region in the election.

The women speaking to the Daily News without giving their names all agreed that Erdoğan still ranks as the top choice of the locals in the region. "He is a real leader who helps us and our kids and understands our problems," said a woman while waiving an AKP and Turkish flag together in her hand.

Dancing happily under the burning sun, another said, "I will vote for AKP, with that way I can continue to benefit from social aid. What if another party comes into power and turns its face from us and not feed my kids?"


As a new aid convoy to Gaza is made ready to sail at the end of June, organizers say they are willing to have their cargo inspected and their ships escorted by international observers. Israel dismisses the move as a "publicity stunt," while supporters of the flotilla in the EU have questioned the legal necessity of such an escort

Organizers of the Turkish branch of the aid flotilla set to leave for Gaza at the end of June have said they are willing to have their cargo inspected and their ships escorted by international observers.

Israel, however, has dismissed the move as a "publicity stunt," while supporters of the flotilla in the European Union have questioned the legal necessity of such an escort.

"We are ready to talk with everybody. We have already started these kinds of visits for the European Parliament, for the United Nations to make some solution," Hüseyin Oruç, an administrative board member of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Tuesday.

"All these boats can be checked by the U.N., or the European Parliament's commissions. We are ready to show all the details of our preparation," he said. "They can check [the boats] in the ports, they can check on international waters, they can guide us, they can guide the distribution of all items in Gaza. It's open to all international mediators."

An Israeli official dismissed the proposal as a "publicity stunt," saying that Israel is always willing to accept, process and transmit Gaza-bound aid.

"That obviously won't happen," an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Daily News. "All the international players, [U.N. chief] Ban Ki-moon, [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs] Catherine Ashton have all called the move provocative."

The İHH is organizing the Mavi Marmara and an additional cargo ship as the Turkish part of what will be a 15-boat aid flotilla. On its voyage to Gaza last year, the Mavi Marmara was attacked by Israeli forces who boarded the ship and killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American onboard.

Last week, a group of American congressional representatives sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asking him to discourage the flotilla from "provoking a confrontation" with Israel in a bid to "save lives." The Turkish government's response so far has been that the letter was incorrectly directed to them, as the flotilla is being organized by civilian, non-governmental organizations that the government does not control.

The İHH, responding to the letter, echoed the Turkish government response, saying that the group had no contact with the Turkish government, but added that Israel was in fact the party that the U.S. Congress needed to address to avoid another crisis.

"Also we are asking all these congresspeople, if you are looking for the solution, don't ask the prime minister of Turkey. Why are you not asking the Prime Minister of Israel? They need to talk with [Benjamin] Netanyahu," Oruç said.

Regarding the possibility of an EU parliamentary commission escorting the flotilla, a spokesman for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats, the party with the second largest representation in the EU Parliament, said the party has been supportive of the flotilla, but had not seen any proposal regarding a European escort.

"I question the necessity" of an international escort for the ship, said Tony Robinson, head of press and communications for the alliance.

International participation

This year the Mavi Marmara will have 500 people aboard, 400 of whom will be of nationalities other than Turkish, Oruç said. The remaining 100 will be Turks, of whom 50 will be journalists.

"On the first [Mavi Marmara aid trip] there were 38 nationalities; on the second flotilla it will be more coverage. About 100 nationalities will be on the boat. Only a very limited number of Turkish people will be on the Mavi Marmara," Oruç told the Daily News.

Those on the ship will be mostly from the media and "representatives of societies" and local communities, he said.

The İHH has also sent two aid flotillas to Libya in recent weeks, one to Misrata, besieged by Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces, and one to rebel-held Benghazi. According to Oruç, "all international forces" involved in NATO operations in Libya supported the İHH flotilla to these besieged cities – something he said indicated a double standard imposed on the İHH in its attempt to distribute aid.

"Gaza people have the same right as Misrata people," Oruç said.

The İHH was scheduled to address members of the media at a press conference Friday morning.


Political tension ahead of the upcoming election was reflected in the celebrations held across the country Thursday to mark the beginning of the struggle for national independence.

Though both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu attended a state ceremony early in the day in Ankara, they did not speak to each other. Observers said they tried to avoid even looking at each other during the visit to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

President Abdullah Gül led the visit by high-levels state officials to Anıtkabir, where they observed a moment of silence and then sang the national anthem.

Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, chief Devlet Bahçeli was visibly absent from the ceremony, while the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, also reportedly refrained from joining the event.

The BDP boycotted celebrations in the Southeast as well, with the mayor of Şırnak's Silopi district, Emer Toğrulu, and Siirt Mayor Selim Sadak, both BDP members, not participating in the ceremonies held in Silopi and Siirt.

Turkish ministers participated in May 19 celebrations around the country. Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek went to the southeastern province of Batman; Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu joined celebrations in the Central Anatolian province of Konya, and State Minister Zafer Çağlayan and Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker went to Mersin and Diyarbakır, respectively. Istanbul Gov. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu, Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş and Gen. Hulusi Akar all participated in the event at Istanbul's Türk Telecom Arena.

Constitutional Court head Haşim Kılıç, Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner, Supreme Court of Appeals head Hasan Gerçeker and members of the Cabinet all attended the ceremony at Anıtkabir. Gül later signed the guest book after laying a wreath, and writing that the Turkish Republic is moving forward powered by Atatürk's ideals.

Prime Minister Erdoğan, who was observed coughing at the mausoleum, was not able to attend a ceremony later in the day at the May 19 Stadium due to having the flu. He did, however, fly to the southeastern province of Siirt as part of his election campaign tour.

Thursday marked the 92nd anniversary of Atatürk's 1919 landing in the Black Sea province of Samsun, from where he launched the struggle for national independence.

Because Atatürk chose to dedicate May 19 to youth, the historic date is commemorated as Youth and Sports Day, reflecting his belief that young people are the guarantee of Turkey's future.

Interesting activities held to mark the day included a show by World Champion motorcyclist Kenan Sofuoğlu in the Black Sea province of Adapazarı.

Some school children participating in celebrations in the southern province of Osmaniye fainted because of very high temperatures, which reached 28 degrees Celsius.


The European Union has decided to "simplify" its Schengen visa procedure starting in July. Accordingly, the number of documents requested for visa applications will be reduced, and applications will be assessed in 15 days at the longest. Moreover, all consulates will accept a single-type application form. With the new procedure, an applicant whose application is rejected will be informed in writing about the reasons for the rejection. In the next phase, certain professional groups will be given long-term visas, and visa fees will be reduced by half.


Turkey has been deeply disappointed with Europe's stance on terrorists. In the past 15 years, Turkey made 237 extradition requests to Europe. Europe did not accept any of the requests and did not extradite any terrorists to Turkey.


Turkey's southernmost district, Yayladağı, is welcoming springtime and a number of new guests – 500 Syrians who have fled the uprising in their country and are now being housed in a tent city.

"Their conditions are good within the tents. But the situation is not fine in Syria. They have come, leaving all their families and relatives there," said a person from the district in Hatay who had gone to visit relatives currently staying there.

The refugees came to Turkey's border on the night of April 29, carrying Turkish flags in their hands and asking to enter Turkey after crossing the Yayladağı border point. At first, only 252 of them were taken into the country, but others as well were later permitted to enter.

They were first taken into a sports hall, then to a tent-city established by the Turkish Red Crescent, or Kızılay, a few kilometers away from the border.

Journalists are not allowed to enter the tent city, according to the police, who say they were instructed to bar reporters' entry on the orders of the district governor, or kaymakam. Hatay Gov. Tolga Polat also said journalists were not allowed to enter the tent city, but did not provide an explanation for the order.

Not classified as refugees

The Syrians who fled the crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad for the safety of Yayladağı are not considered refugees due to an older definition of the term under Turkish law, which says that only people fleeing from threats in continental Europe can be classified as such.

The tent city has been established in the garden of an abandoned cigarette factory, which used to produce Yayladağı tobacco, which is noted for its smooth and sweet taste. Tobacco pipe shops in London's well-known Charing Cross Road used to have special departments for Yayladağı Tobacco, according to reports.

The factory was an income source for the district and surrounding villages, but it was closed in 2009, leaving the district in a poor financial condition. Left with no chance of making a living, residents of the district have been migrating to other parts of the country. Some 7,500 people lived in Yayladağı at the time of the factory's closure, but this number has now fallen to 6,000.

Despite such an unpleasant coincidence, residents of the province have opened both their doors and hearts to the Syrian refugees.

"Why should there be any reaction? Most of [the refugees] have their relatives living here anyway. But they were in very bad condition when they came," said Yahya Oktay, the owner of a gas station at the entrance of the district.

Most of the refugees come from urban areas where conflict is fiercer, rather than from villages close to the Turkish-Syrian border.

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