Turkey cautiously reopens after national Eid curfew

27 May 2020

Turkish families normally come together for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, but this year most stayed apart, observing a four-day nationwide curfew imposed to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The curfew ended midnight Wednesday and may be the last of its kind as state officials ease restrictions in the country, which has seen new infection numbers decline in recent weeks. Now mosques, restaurants and stores are preparing to reopen in the coming days, but Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Wednesday some preventive measures will remain in place.

“Returning to the days before the first case of coronavirus occurred in the world?” Koca asked in a tweet. “This does not seem possible yet. We must be vigilant.”

In a separate tweet, Koca added that curfews on senior citizens and people under 20 years of age would continue until further notice. The mixed measures come as Turkey ranks ninth worldwide in confirmed COVID-19 cases and 14th in virus-linked deaths, according to John Hopkins University data. To date, Turkish health officials have recorded 159,797 cases in the country and 4,431 deaths.

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Qatar triples swap line with Turkey

20 May 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rattle global economies, Turkish banking officials have been seeking fiscal support from a number of countries and Qatar was the first to respond.

On Wednesday, Qatar expanded an existing swap deal to $15 billion, raising the prior limit from $5 billion to help bolster depleted Turkish central bank reserves and help steady the lira. The move underlines strong relations between the two nations, which opened swap arrangements during a 2018 currency crisis in Turkey and continue to cooperate amid a Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates-led economic blockade on Qatar.

In a statement, the Turkish central bank said the expansion sought to “facilitate bilateral trade in respective local currencies and to support financial stability of the two countries.” The deal will allow the trade of Turkish liras for Qatari riyals, which are pegged to the US dollar.

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New banking regulations threaten press freedom in Turkey

19 May 2020

The Turkish media have come under increasing pressure in recent years as dozens of journalists remain behind bars and the country continues to rank toward the bottom of global press freedom indexes.

Now, recently introduced banking regulations pose new threats for reporters covering economic developments in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, which media advocates say should be immediately revised to limit future prosecutions on journalists and domestic media organizations.

On May 7, Turkey’s banking regulator, the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency, published measures in the nation’s Official Gazette that mandated the imposition of fines for disseminating information that “would damage the financial system and lead to systemic risks due to the loss of trust in the financial system.”

The regulations would also impose fines for the creation of false or misleading impressions “regarding the supply, demand or price” of financial instruments. Though the measures are not primarily aimed at journalists, the wording could have an effect on media professionals reporting on economic trends as Turkey, like other countries, grapples with the economic shocks of the COVID-19 crisis, said Ozgur Ogret, Turkey representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The experts we have talked to all stated that the vagueness of the text makes it potentially dangerous and I agree,” Ogret told Al-Monitor. “The regulation is one more reason for journalists to worry and maybe self-censor, if nothing else.”

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Turkish opposition trades favors as AKP limps

18 May 2020

While Turkey’s next general elections are scheduled for 2023, an economic slowdown stemming from the coronavirus pandemic is shifting the nation’s political dynamics and giving rise to rumors that snap elections might be called in the not-so-distant future.

Last week, Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), added fire to such speculation by proposing changes to electoral laws. The measures would make it more difficult for members of parliament to join newly formed opposition parties and pose a more formidable electoral threat to Ankara’s ruling bloc known as the “People’s Alliance,” which is composed of the MHP and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Bahceli floated the idea in response to statements by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who said he was open to transferring some of his party’s deputies to the new DEVA and Future parties to help them reach electoral eligibility, as the CHP had done for the IYI Party ahead of the 2018 elections.

Analysts say Bahceli’s proposals, which would require constitutional amendments through a parliamentary supermajority, may be hard to achieve but signal Turkey’s political players are positioning themselves to best navigate the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and any political fallout it might bring about, including the prospect for early elections.

“Bahceli has bitter memories from the earlier CHP move to lend 15 deputies for Meral Aksener’s IYI Party to be able to form a group of at least 20 MPs in the parliament and get into the elections without the need to complete other formalities written in the law,” Murat Yetkin, editor of the Yetkin Report news site, told Al-Monitor. “Bahceli is doing this as a goodwill gesture to Erdogan as a show of his solidarity.”

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European court rejects Turkish appeal of Osman Kavala ruling

13 May 2020

Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala has been jailed without conviction for 925 days and a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has increased pressure on the Turkish justice system to release the prominent civil society figure.

On Tuesday, the ECHR rejected a Turkish appeal of a Dec. 10 ruling that found Kavala’s imprisonment to be politically motivated and called for his immediate release. Kavala has since remained behind bars as Turkish officials sought a referral to the court’s Grand Chamber on March 9, the last possible date to do so.

With the appeal now rejected, the ECHR upheld its December ruling and human rights advocates are calling on Turkish justice officials to abide by the decision and release Kavala without further delay.

“Turkey should immediately release Osman Kavala … and drop all the charges against him,” Milena Buyum, Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International, told Al-Monitor. “There is no evidence of wrongdoing, which has been the case for two and a half years now and continues to be the case.”

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Feuds continue over Turkey’s East Med gas drilling as global energy prices plummet

12 May 2020

With global energy prices down sharply amid the coronavirus pandemic, tensions remain high over disputed gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Turkish drilling ships are reportedly prepping to continue gas exploration activities in the region, drawing condemnation from the Republic of Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece and the United Arab Emirates in a joint statement Monday. The five nations accused Turkey of violating international laws through its operations in waters claimed by the Republic of Cyprus, which Ankara does not recognize.

In response, Hami Aksoy, a spokesperson for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accused the nations of forming an “alliance of evil” in a strongly worded statement Tuesday, saying the group had “fallen into a delirium, as their agendas are being disrupted by Turkey.”

The feud comes as several eastern Mediterranean gas projects have been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak and a slump in global energy prices has rendered the deep water drilling required in the region financially unviable for the foreseeable future, according to analysts tracking the industry.

Yet the spat has apparently become less about profits and maritime borders, and is now more clearly delineated by geopolitical interests rising from the Libyan conflict, where Ankara is backing the UN-recognized Tripoli government and the five-nation bloc is supporting eastern Libya’s Khalifa Hifter in his ongoing offensive to rule the nation.

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Malls reopen, antivirus measures eased as Turkish economy teeters

11 May 2020

Wearing face masks and standing meters apart, Istanbul residents lined up outside reopened shopping malls Monday as urban areas across Turkey began to ease coronavirus measures in a cautious effort to resume normalcy as new infections continue to decline in the country.

For the first time in nearly two months, shopping malls, barbershops, hair dressers and some stores reopened in Turkey today as citizens sought to get back to work and lawmakers looked to bolster an economy battered by the global pandemic.

Strict social distancing and hygiene provisions remain in place, with shoppers’ temperatures screened at mall entrances, but not all eligible stores reopened for business as managers remain wary of the threats posed by the novel coronavirus, which in Turkey has been most prevalent in Istanbul with about 60% of cases recorded nationally.

An employee who requested to remain anonymous at the Kanyon mall in Istanbul’s Levent district said 16 of about 160 stores in the shopping complex had opened Monday.

“The shops that opened today were willing to do so, while many decided to remain closed despite having permission to conduct business,” the employee told Al-Monitor.

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Turkey’s finance minister assures investors as lira slides

06 May 2020

The Turkish lira fell for the fifth consecutive day Wednesday, approaching record lows last seen in the 2018 currency crisis, as the nation’s economy continues to weather the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The lira lost 1.5% against the dollar Wednesday, slumping to 7.19 per greenback. Negative pressure persisted on the currency despite a rare conference call by Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, in which he assured investors bank reserves were more than adequate and that state regulators would not impose capital controls.

While the pandemic has strained most emerging markets, Turkey’s economy has been particularly impacted due to concerns over state policies that have depleted central bank reserves in effort to prop up the lira in recent months.

“There is no confidence in what the authorities in Turkey are doing and that is why Turkey gets punished at the end of the day,” Wolf Piccoli, co-president and political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence, told Al-Monitor.

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Turkey grapples with manufacturing downturn, weak demand amid pandemic

04 May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on global economies and Turkey is no exception. To date, the nation has recorded 127,659 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,461 virus-linked deaths. Turkish leaders continue working to stem the spread of the disease with mixed success, as its domestic economic impacts materialize in the latest financial data.

A gauge on manufacturing output in April fell to its lowest point since the 2008 financial crisis, posing employment challenges for the sector, according to a report published Monday by Istanbul Chamber of Industry and IHS Markit.

The Purchasing Managers Index, a composite figure of manufacturing performance, dropped from 48.1 in March to 33.4 last month as a devalued Turkish lira increased input costs for companies, with repercussions for new orders and staffing.

The news comes after Turkey’s Central Bank lowered its 2020 inflation forecast Thursday to 7.4%, down from 8.2% in January, though April figures released today indicate inflation slowed slightly less than expected. While Turkish regulators have highlighted a record slump in oil prices as a key deflationary trend, rising food prices put upward pressure on overall inflation in the country.

The mixed developments will continue to pose challenges for the Turkish economy as the nation grapples with the impacts of the pandemic, though economic analysts warn current trends may reverse in the coming months due to weak demand and continued strain on the labor market.

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Domestic assault, violent crimes rise in Turkey amid coronavirus measures

28 April 2020

Domestic violence hotlines have been strained in Turkey amid the novel coronavirus pandemic as many families spend more time indoors, in line with protocols to stem the spread of the disease.

Canan Gullu, president of the Federation of Women Associations of Turkey, said her organization received 80% more reports of domestic assaults last month compared to March 2019.

She said the rise comes as the police emergency number, 155, has been reportedly overburdened and the KADES mobile app, a state system used to report domestic and gender-based violence, is also facing service blackouts.

“Before the coronavirus, Turkey did not have strong mechanisms to combat domestic violence and now this crisis is overburdening some state systems and putting families at risk,” Gullu told Al-Monitor.

Women’s rights advocates say the rise in violence is not only being spurred by a string of urban curfews, which lock families in close quarters with potentially abusive relatives, but may also be the result of a prisoner-release bill passed on April 13 to reduce jail populations and curb the spread of COVID-19 in state penitentiaries.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.