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INTERNATIONAL REPORT

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  • Turkish 'Madonna' faces jail as crackdown on pop music intensifies
    One of Turkey's leading pop stars, Gulsen, dubbed the Turkish Madonna, is facing jail as a crackdown on pop music intensifies. The crackdown is seen as an attempt by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan to court his religious base as elections loom amid youth dissatisfaction at economic malaise.    Drawing thousands, Gulsen regularly performs at sell-out concerts. Her music, her outfits, and her support of LGBTQ rights, has seen her widely dubbed the "Turkish Madonna". But Gulsen ended up in court and jail when a video of a private joke denigrating religious schools went public on social media. "Gulsen has become a target for Islamists for a long time not just because of the way she appears in her shows but also for her support for LGBT movements," said sociologist Nazli Okten of Galatasaray University, an expert on popular culture. Gulsen jailed But Gulsen's jailing sparked outrage, with football supporters even singing her songs in support. The US State Department also expressed concern over her detention. Public pressure saw her released, but she still faces prison if convicted of inciting religious hatred. Erdogan addressing his supporters strongly backed Gulsen's prosecution. With elections less than a year away and lagging in the polls, Erodgan is seeking to rally his religious base. Outrage as Turkish courts seek to silence anti-femicide campaigners This summer, Turkish authorities have also banned music festivals across Turkey, hitting the industry hard. "There is big money turning around these festivals, not only for the artists but people working behind the scene," said Ipek Kocyigit, head of Turkey's Musicians Union. "I know there were 20 festivals canceled recently, which is a big number," added Kocyigit. "These 20 festivals were canceled for what? For the ethnic identity or the political view of the artist or for the way of dressing of a female singer." Pop music Pop music festivals often drawing tens of thousands have spread to Turkey's more conservative regions. The result of the success of Erdogan's massive expansion of universities, from 78 to over 200 institutions argues Okten. "The number of universities are going up, the scene in the cities is also changing with not also with the coming of university students," she said.   "Also these university students are changing their lives, because they are independent, they are not living with the family, they are not living in this traditional environment, they have a different kind of liberties. "These gatherings (concerts) become a kind of not just for symbolising a different way of life, but also at the end of these concerts people sometimes there are slogans. There is a tone; there is a sharing of discontent." Tensions rise between Greece and Turkey over island military bases With elections due next year and near hundred percent inflation, young voters who've known only Erdogan as a ruler pose his most significant threat says pollster Can Selcuki, of Istanbul Economics Research. "This young group of people aged between 18 to 30 is growing becoming adults into an age where they are highly indebted, they have very little wealth accumulation, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to look into the future and be hopeful. So they have sort of have this resentment to the current system," Selcuki said. "An overwhelming majority of young people in Turkey prefer a pluralistic democratic system to a strong one-man system," Selcuki added, "The second good piece of news is that over 80% prioritize freedom of expression above all." Gulsen is due in court in October, where she faces up to three years in jail. While such a move is likely to be welcomed by Erdogan's conservative base, it could also risk further alienating an increasingly disaffected youth as elections loom.
    10/1/2022
    4:58
  • Rights group blasts Turkey over plastic recycling health risks
    Turkey's plastic recycling industry has been harshly criticised in a Human Rights Watch report that highlights health problems for workers and residents who live near processing plants. The report also attacks the European Union, for which Turkey is the primary plastics recycler. In an 88-page report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Turkey's plastic recycling industry of threatening workers' lives. "Plastics contain toxic chemical additives, things like dioxins and phthalates that can cause cancer," said Krista Shennum, author of the report, "The reproductive system is harmed. as well as short-term health impacts like asthma and skin ailments, things like that."  "We documented that there is quite a bit of child labour in plastic recycling facilities." Added Shennum, "despite legal protection for children working in such hazardous conditions, as well as lots of migrants and refugees working in plastics recycling facilities without adequate protection." In Istanbul's Bayrampasa district, the heart of the city's recycling industry, the air is thick with chemicals used in recycle plastic. Residential apartment blocks surround the factories, there is a hospital nearby, while children play in a local park. The Human Rights Watch report says most plastic recycling factories are located in Istanbul and Adana, two of Turkey's most densely populated cities. "The factories and houses are located side by side," explained local Sedef Kurt, "We spent a lot of time in the noise, the smell, the filth. This is how our childhood passed. I am 34, and I now have problems with my lungs." Strict regulations, strictly enforced The recycling industry maintains that strict regulations are enforced to protect both workers and residents. Dr Salih Kanbak of the Turkish Recycling Association admits that such criticism may have been warranted in the past, but insists the industry has cleaned up its act. Kanbak claims strict monitoring is enforced on the plastics imported for recycling and the factories processing them. "There are some extreme regulations in the last legislation," said Kanbak, speaking of laws which date from 2021. "We are also having inspectors not only from the Environment Ministry but also from the other ministries as well.  "They give no warning before they visit. We see them at the door; we are here to check your company," he added. "They will discover if there are children working, which is not legitimate. If they are making illicit or illegitimate recycling, we would like to know their names so we can eradicate them from the system because this is very important." But the Human Rights Watch Report claims the regulations are often not enforced and that there aren't enough regulators. Where inspections occur, the report claims that the factories receive advanced warnings in many cases. So far, the government has not responded to the report. A booming sector of the Turkish economy  The Turkish recycling industry is booming, supporting over one million people. After China ended importing plastic for recycling, Turkey became the European Union's primary plastics recycler. "Since 2018, when the Chinese government banned it, banned plastic waste, roughly 450,000 tons from the EU has been sent to Turkey each year," said Shennum Human Right Watch said the EU has the responsibility to those recycling Europes waste. "We'll be following up with decision-makers in the EU to kind of push them to have stronger regulations to respect the rights of people who are in countries impacted by European waste exports," said Shennum. Plastic recycling is a central part of environmental efforts for a greener world. But, according to Human Rights Watch, many among Turkey's most vulnerable are paying the price for that aspiration.
    9/26/2022
    4:33
  • Tensions rise between Greece and Turkey over island military bases
    Tensions continue to escalate between Turkey and Greece over territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea. In the past, such tensions have been defused by US or European leaders, but this time there are fears they could be distracted by the Ukraine conflict. Addressing supporters earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a fiery speech against Greece, accusing it of threatening Turkey with its militarisation of islands close to Turkish shores and promising to respond. "We don't care about you occupying the islands," Erdogan said, referring to Greek Aegean islands with military bases. "When the time, the hour, comes, we will do what is necessary. Like we always say: we may come suddenly one night." The nationalist crowd cheered.  Ankara claims Athens's building of military bases violates an international agreement that stipulates some Aegean islands should remain demilitarised. Athens says it's only protecting its people from the growing Turkish military threat. 'More than the usual tit-for-tat' Greece and Turkey are no strangers to tensions, but some analysts warn this time could be worryingly different.   "I think this is significant and potentially very dangerous. It's quite a bit more than the usual tit-for-tat we're used to in terms of political accusations by both side," warned Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow of the Washington-based Brookings Institute think tank. "Clearly, both sides feel the other country is a threat. We are seeing Turkey and Greece accusing each other of airspace violations, but also Turkey accusing Greece of building military bases and arming the Greek islands that are adjacent to mainland Turkey, and Greece accusing Turkey of questioning Greek sovereignty over the islands. Potentially these are dangerous accusations."  Turkish and Greek forces went to the verge of war in 1996 over the contested uninhabited islet of Imia, or Kardak in Turkish. In the last few years, Athens has embarked on a major rearmament programme that has closed the military gap with Turkey, emboldening Greece to stand up to Turkish threats.  "A madness can happen anytime, like in Imia, way back in the '90s. Of course it won't last, but they are prepared for this possibility," said Cengiz Aktar of Athens University. "They are taking all the necessary military, political, diplomatic measures to make sure that nothing will happen."  Greece has powerful diplomatic allies. French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged full support to Athens. The two countries have recently developed strong military ties.   Greece takes delivery of first Rafale jets from France Greece and US expand defence pact as tensions mount between Turkey and Europe The United States, building a series of bases across Greece, has also criticized Ankara's stance. A useful distraction?   Erdogan, who's facing a difficult re-election next year with the Turkish economy in trouble, is accused of seeking to provoke a crisis with Greece to distract the electorate.  Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also goes to the polls next year and, like Erdogan, faces a challenging election, embroiled in a scandal over the phone tapping of political opponents.  "There will always be potential for politicians on both sides to exploit those issues, either in promoting their national interests or promoting their personal political interests at home," said international relations professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul's Kadir Has University. "Because this much tension probably will help them domestically." Yet "crossing the threshold may lead to unintended consequences and Erdogan especially cannot afford to deal with the unintended consequences of an escalation with Greece in such a critical period of time," Guvenc added.  France condemns Erdogan's 'provocative' two-state comments on Cyprus Turkey risks slipping off diplomatic tightrope as tensions between Russia and Ukraine grow Analysts warn that any confrontation would almost inevitably trigger European Union sanctions against Turkey, dealing a hammer blow to its weakened economy. But for now, neither Athens nor Ankara appear ready to step back, with their evenly matched militaries facing off across the Aegean Sea. Overshadowed by Ukraine Analyst Aydintasbas says that in the past, similar tensions were defused by the diplomatic intervention of the US or a European leader. But this time, she says, they may be distracted.  "There are no interlocutors; in Europe and the US, they're focused on the war in Ukraine and in containing Russian aggression. You don't also have a dedicated US role. "I'm old enough to remember [US diplomat] Richard Holbrooke, who stepped in during the Clinton administration and was designated to prevent a similar escalation between Turkey and Greece. I don't see a figure as such, nor do I see a focus from Washington on keeping good neighbourly relations between these two countries. So it's quite problematic that there are no meditators or interlocutors in this current flare-up," said Aydintasbas. The Turkish-Greek tensions turned fatal this month with the deaths of six refugees, including two babies who drowned in the Aegean while crossing from Turkey to Greece. Turkish authorities accused the Greek coastguard of forcibly sending the refugees back to sea, while Athens blames Ankara for failing to stop the crossings. With bilateral tensions showing little signs of abating and neither leader seemingly interested in stepping back, the fear is these latest deaths in the Aegean may not be the last.
    9/25/2022
    6:34
  • Police seek to build trust with child victims in India's Rajasthan
    In many parts of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, child labour is prevalent, with those forced to do menial jobs often victims of trafficking. Handling rescued children is a sensitive process that requires special skills – something the police are looking to improve on. Rajasthan ranks seventh in India in crimes against children reported between 2018 and 2020. According to the ministry of women and child development, more than 19,000 incidents of crimes against minors were reported during that period. For children in difficult circumstances, often the first point of contact in the juvenile justice system is the police and they have been criticised for how they interact with rescued children. But now helped by Unicef, a series of initiatives is creating a more inclusive and inviting atmosphere for children to have a trusting dialogue with police officers. “There are issues and concerns related to children. Now, police officers are friendly with children and know how to deal with them. Before they were talking to the children as if they were criminals,” said Sindhu Binujeeth, a child protection consultant at Unicef. Interventions by the One Stop Security workers, who are associated with local police stations to inform the police of problems of children, especially relating with adolescent girls is also helping. Trained police officers with expertise in child protection also operate alongside these workers. “We have registered a lot of cases of crimes against children at my police station," said police inspector Hanwant Singh Rajpurohit. "We have freed a lot of children from child labour and arrested those involved in keeping these children in bonded labour because of the help of these community workers. A humane touch “Children were mostly scared whenever they had to come to a police station," he added. "But we have child friendly stations with rooms that will provide them with a congenial atmosphere and also help them open up to the police.” More than 137 such child-friendly police stations have opened up in the Udaipur division of the state. Despite various laws and schemes to protect the rights of children, bonded labour and trafficking, and sexual abuse is rampant. A large number of tribal children are trafficked from southern Rajasthan bordering north Gujarat, to work as bonded labourers. Children are trafficked as bonded labour, where physical and sexual abuse at worksites is also not uncommon. Why are Indian women increasingly taking their own lives? Child's murder shows discrimination and violence towards India’s ‘untouchables’ “Awareness that police can be friendly is spreading slowly and surely," said Sheela Sen, a child welfare officer. "The police station has child welfare officers, a critical need in this part of the state, where child labour is rampant." Sanjay Nirala, a Unicef representative of Rajasthan points out that intensive work is going on in and around the area of child protection and safeguarding of children. “The situation is improving in terms of child migration, child labour and out of school children," said Nirala. "It has drastically reduced in the last four to five years because of various interventions of the police department, education and other departments.” These are still early days as the police try to change their image and implement a string of child-centric initiatives. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot recently said his government was committed to eradicating offences against children such as sexual violence, child marriage and child labour.
    9/11/2022
    5:18
  • France pushes Turkey to support sanctions, stand up to Russian aggression
    With Turkish Russian trade booming since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna's visit to Turkey this week focused on efforts to further isolate Moscow. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu welcomed Colonna. But behind the diplomatic pleasantries, there are growing concerns in the EU over Ankara's refusal to enforce western sanctions against Moscow. At a joint press conference with Cavusoglu, Colonna stressed the importance of unity in standing up to Russian aggression. "The European Union and other partner and allied countries have the same objective: to limit the renewal of the Russian war effort and to make Russia understand that it has chosen a dead end," said Colonna. "In this context, it is important that as many countries as possible send the same message." Deep financial ties Russian-Turkish trade has surged to record levels since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. Bilateral trade with European countries, which had strong trading ties with Russia, has spiked fuelling suspicions that Turkey is becoming a backdoor to circumvent sanctions. Turkish-Russian financial ties deepened further, with Moscow depositing five billion dollars in Turkey, ostensibly to aid a Russian company's construction of a nuclear power station in Turkey. A further 10 billion dollars is reportedly expected in the next few weeks. The infusion of hard currency is a welcome boost for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose 2023 campaign for reelection is dogged by a plunging lira and inflation running at nearly 80 percent. "By helping Russia get around sanctions, Turkey can earn key balance of payments receipts, and that will help support the lira, write down inflation and help Erdogan win the elections," explained Timothy Ash, a senior strategist with Bluebay Asset Management. 'Black knight' To safeguard his close ties with Vladimir Putin, Erdogan has resisted calls from his western allies to enforce sanctions against Russia. Last month at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the two leaders discussed further developing trade ties. Turkey has doubled Russian oil imports since this year's assault on Ukraine. Russian oligarchs continue to moor their yachts in Turkish marinas, knowing that Turkish authorities won't attempt to seize them. "Turkey has de facto become a black knight. In academic literature, that means a state that is willing to help a sanctioned country, at least to mitigate sanctions," said Maria Shagina, a specialist on international sanctions at the Institute for Strategic Studies.  "And this is where Russia sees Turkey in that light, that it can come in handy in terms of developing its economic ties against the background of Western companies fleeing the country," added Shagina. Grain deal Turkey and the United Nations have brokered a deal to export Ukrainian grain to world markets, and those export operations are based in Istanbul. Erdogan claims credit for the agreement, saying it was possible only because of his close ties with Putin, relations which analysts suggest are set to deepen. Turkey's Erdogan due in Russia to 'sound out' Putin on Ukraine and Syria "The current Turkish Russian relations have definite bonds with the current war in Ukraine. Ukraine wheat exports is a new chapter for the region, and Turkey plays a quite significant role as an intermediary," said Russia Turkey expert Zaur Gasimov of Bonn University. "And also close military cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey and the aspect of Turkey not joining the anti-Russian sanctions, all that results in dynamics of importance for Moscow and for Ankara," said Gasimov. Ukraine drone sales Erdogan routinely points out that along with close ties with Putin, Turkish firms continue to sell military drones to Ukraine, weapons which are proving effective against Russian forces. But this balancing act between Ukraine and Russia raises questions about where the Turkish leader's loyalties lie. In a move interpreted as further stoking questions over Erdogan's loyalties, Putin invited the Turkish leader to this month's meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a Chinese-Russian-led, Eurasian security grouping. Turkey lays the ground for a smoothing of relations with Syria Galip Dalay, a Russia Turkey expert at the London-based Chatham House, says Putin's invitation and regular meetings with Erdogan are part of a broader Russian strategy. "Putin's telling the international community, 'actually I am not as isolated as the West wants or portrays me to be'," said Dalay. "So, the symbolism of these meetings, including Erdogan potentially joining the Shanghai Cooperation meeting in Uzbekistan, the symbolism is more important than the substance." High technology Analysts warn that Putin may seek to further leverage Erdogan's relationship and growing financial dependency on Russia to circumvent Western technology sanctions, putting Ankara on a collision course with its allies. "To me, the game-breaker is high technology," warned Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners, "If I understand it correctly, both in a civilian area and in a military area, Russia is denied high technology that is really hitting their supply lines. "If Turkish companies are used to import proscribed items to reexport to Russia, that will blow the game open, and Turkey will be sanctioned," added Yesilada. In a sign that Turkey's western allies are losing patience, the US Treasury sent a letter to Turkey this month bluntly warning Turkish businesses of the financial dangers of trading with sanctioned Russian companies. With Turkey's economy in a weak state, sanctions could trigger a devastating economic crisis. At the same time, analysts say Erdogan is placing his bets on Russia in the hope that Russian trade and support will revitalise his nation's economy ahead of next year's elections.
    9/10/2022
    6:51

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