Turkish Voters Weigh Final Decision on Next President, Visions for Future

24 May 2023, Berlin: People line up in front of the Turkish Consulate General's property to cast their votes in containers set up for the runoff election in Türkiye. Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/dpa
24 May 2023, Berlin: People line up in front of the Turkish Consulate General's property to cast their votes in containers set up for the runoff election in Türkiye. Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/dpa
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Turkish Voters Weigh Final Decision on Next President, Visions for Future

24 May 2023, Berlin: People line up in front of the Turkish Consulate General's property to cast their votes in containers set up for the runoff election in Türkiye. Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/dpa
24 May 2023, Berlin: People line up in front of the Turkish Consulate General's property to cast their votes in containers set up for the runoff election in Türkiye. Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/dpa

Two opposing visions for Türkiye’s future are on the ballot when voters return to the polls Sunday for a runoff presidential election that will decide between an increasingly authoritarian incumbent and a challenger who has pledged to restore democracy.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a populist and polarizing leader who has ruled Türkiye for 20 years, is well positioned to win after falling just short of victory in the first round of balloting on May 14. He was the top finisher even as the country reels from sky-high inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake in February, The Associated Press said.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Türkiye’s pro-secular main opposition party and a six-party alliance, has campaigned on a promise to undo Erdogan's authoritarian tilt. The 74-year-old former bureaucrat has described the runoff as a referendum on the direction of the strategically located NATO country, which is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and has a key say over the alliance's expansion.

“This is an existential struggle. Türkiye will either be dragged into darkness or light,” Kilicdaroglu said. “This is more than an election. It has turned into a referendum.”

In a bid to sway nationalist voters ahead of Sunday's runoff, the normally soft-mannered Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo) shifted gear and hardened his stance, vowing to send back millions of refugees if he is elected and rejecting any possibility of peace negotiations with Kurdish fighters.

The social democrat had previously said he planned to repatriate Syrians within two years, after establishing economic and safety conditions conducive to their return.

He has also repeatedly called on 8 million people who stayed away from the polls in the first round to cast votes in the make-or-break runoff.

Erdogan scored 49.5% of the vote in the first round. Kilicdaroglu received 44.9%.

At 69, Erdogan is already Türkiye’s longest-serving leader, having ruled over the country as prime minister since 2003 and as president since 2014. He could remain in power until 2028 if reelected.

Under Erdogan, Türkiye has proven to be an indispensable and sometimes troublesome NATO ally.

It vetoed Sweden’s bid to join the alliance and purchased Russian missile-defense systems, which prompted the United States to oust Türkiye from a US-led fighter-jet project. Yet together with the UN Türkiye also brokered a vital deal that allowed Ukraine to ship grain through the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger.

This week, Erdogan received the endorsement of the nationalist third-place candidate, Sinan Ogan, who garnered 5.2% of the vote. The move was seen as a boost for Erdogan even though Ogan’s supporters are not a monolithic bloc and not all of his votes are expected to go to Erdogan.

Erdogan’s nationalist-Islamist alliance also retained its hold on parliament in legislative elections two weeks ago, further increasing his chances for reelection as many voters are likely to want to avoid a split government.

On Wednesday, the leader of a hardline anti-migrant party that had backed Ogan threw its weight behind Kilicdaroglu after the two signed a protocol pledging to send back millions of migrants and refugees within the year.

Kilicdaroglu’s chances of turning the vote around in his favor appear to be slim but could hinge on the opposition’s ability to mobilize voters who did not cast ballots in the first round.

“It’s not possible to say that the odds are favoring him, but nevertheless, technically, he stands a chance,” said professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

If the opposition can reach the voters who previously stayed home, "it may be a different story.”

In Istanbul, 45-year-old Serra Ural accused Erdogan of mishandling the economy and said she would vote for Kilicdaroglu.

She also expressed concerns over the rights of women after Erdogan extended his alliance to include Huda-Par, a hardline Kurdish Islamist political party with alleged links to a group that was responsible for a series of gruesome killings in the 1990s. The party wants to abolish mixed-gender education, advocates for the criminalization of adultery and says women should prioritize their homes over work.

“We don’t know what will happen to women tomorrow or the next day, what condition they’ll be in,” she said. “To be honest Huda-Par scares us, especially women.”

Mehmet Nergis, 29, said he would vote for Erdogan for stability.

Erdogan "is the guarantee for a more stable future,” Nergis said. “Everyone around the world has already seen how far he has brought Türkiye.”

He dismissed the country’s economic woes and expressed confidence that Erdogan would make improvements.

Erdogan’s campaign has focused on rebuilding areas that were devastated by the earthquake, which leveled cities and left more 50,000 dead in Türkiye. He has promised to build 319,000 homes within the year.

In the parliamentary election, Erdogan’s alliance won 10 out 11 provinces in the region affected by the quake despite criticism that his government’s initial disaster response was slow.

“Yes, there was a delay, but the roads were blocked,” said Yasar Sunulu, an Erdogan supporter in Kahramanmaras, the quake’s epicenter. “We cannot complain about the state ... It gave us food, bread and whatever else needed."

He and his family members are staying in a tent after their house was destroyed.

Nursel Karci, a mother of four living in the same camp, said she too would vote for Erdogan.

Erdogan "did all that I couldn’t,” she said. “He clothed my children where I couldn’t clothe them. He fed them where I couldn’t ... Not a penny left my pocket.”

Erdogan has repeatedly portrayed Kilicdaroglu as colluding with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, after the opposition party leader received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party.

During a rally in Istanbul, Erdogan broadcast a faked video purporting to show a PKK commander singing the opposition’s campaign song to hundreds of thousands of his supporters. On Monday, Erdogan doubled down on the narrative, insisting that the PKK has thrown its support to Kilicdaroglu whether the video is “faked or not.”

“Most analysts failed to gauge the impact of Erdogan’s campaign against Kilicdaroglu,” Guvenc said. “This obviously did strike a chord with the average nationalist-religious electorate in Türkiye.”

“Politics today is about building and sustaining a narrative which shadows the reality," he added. "Erdogan and his people are very successful in building narratives that eclipse realities.”



Israel Gave US Last-Minute Warning About Drone Attack on Iran, Italian FM Says at G7 

An Iranian woman walks past an anti-Israel banner with a picture of Iranian missiles on a street in Tehran, Iran April 19, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
An Iranian woman walks past an anti-Israel banner with a picture of Iranian missiles on a street in Tehran, Iran April 19, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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Israel Gave US Last-Minute Warning About Drone Attack on Iran, Italian FM Says at G7 

An Iranian woman walks past an anti-Israel banner with a picture of Iranian missiles on a street in Tehran, Iran April 19, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
An Iranian woman walks past an anti-Israel banner with a picture of Iranian missiles on a street in Tehran, Iran April 19, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

The United States told the Group of Seven foreign ministers on Friday that it received “last minute” information from Israel about a drone action in Iran, Italy’s foreign minister said.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who chaired the meeting of ministers of industrialized countries, said the United States provided the information at a Friday morning session that was changed at the last minute to address the suspected attack.

Tajani said the US informed the G7 ministers that it had been “informed at the last minute” by Israel about the drones. “But there was no sharing of the attack by the US. It was a mere information.”

Early Friday, Iran fired air defenses at a major air base and a nuclear site near the central city of Isfahan after spotting drones. They were suspected to be part of an Israeli attack in retaliation for Tehran’s unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country last weekend.

The foreign ministers condemned Iran’s recent attacks against Israel, writing that “the G7 supports the security of Israel.”

In a closing communique, the G7 ministers warned that they are prepared to impose new sanctions on Iran, and called for both sides to avoid escalating the conflict.

“The G7 worked and will work for a de-escalation,” Tajani said in a closing press conference. He said that would include a de-escalation of tensions, followed by a ceasefire, liberation of hostages and aid to the Palestinian people.


Ukraine’s Zelenskiy Visits Frontline Donetsk Region 

Ukrainian servicemen with the 28th Separate Mechanized Brigade fire a mortar at Russian forces on the front line near the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, on March 3, 2024. (AP)
Ukrainian servicemen with the 28th Separate Mechanized Brigade fire a mortar at Russian forces on the front line near the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, on March 3, 2024. (AP)
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Ukraine’s Zelenskiy Visits Frontline Donetsk Region 

Ukrainian servicemen with the 28th Separate Mechanized Brigade fire a mortar at Russian forces on the front line near the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, on March 3, 2024. (AP)
Ukrainian servicemen with the 28th Separate Mechanized Brigade fire a mortar at Russian forces on the front line near the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, on March 3, 2024. (AP)

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday visited the frontline Donetsk region in Ukraine's east and held a meeting on the defense situation.

He said on X that he also visited a paratroopers' medical platoon and examined the construction of fortifications: "Every effort must be made in this regard."

Twenty-five months into Moscow's full-scale invasion, Ukraine is on the back foot, and Russian troops are inching forward.

Kyiv scaled up its efforts to build effective defense lines as its officials warned about Russian troops preparing a possible offensive later this spring or in summer.

Video from the trip shared by Zelenskiy showed an entrance sign to the town of Sloviansk, about 30 km from the target of a recently intensified Russian advance - Chasiv Yar.

Ukraine's army chief said Moscow troops forces aimed to capture the town by May aiming to set the stage further advance in the region. Kyiv's brigades were holding back the assaults.


Taiwan Says New Chinese Air Routes Threaten Taiwanese Islands’ Flight Safety 

Construction of Xiang'an International Airport in China's Xiamen as seen from Kinmen, Taiwan December 20, 2023. (Reuters)
Construction of Xiang'an International Airport in China's Xiamen as seen from Kinmen, Taiwan December 20, 2023. (Reuters)
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Taiwan Says New Chinese Air Routes Threaten Taiwanese Islands’ Flight Safety 

Construction of Xiang'an International Airport in China's Xiamen as seen from Kinmen, Taiwan December 20, 2023. (Reuters)
Construction of Xiang'an International Airport in China's Xiamen as seen from Kinmen, Taiwan December 20, 2023. (Reuters)

Taiwan said on Friday China's decision to open new air routes that run perilously close to two Taiwanese-controlled islands was a flight safety risk taken without consultation, adding it will demand any aircraft using them be asked to turn around.

Taiwan's government expressed anger in January after China "unilaterally" changed a flight path called M503 close to the sensitive median line in the Taiwan Strait. China claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory.

The new Chinese routes to China's Xiamen and Fuzhou cities, called W123 and W122 respectively, connect to the M503 flight route, and run alongside existing routes to the islands of Kinmen and Matsu, which have regular flights to and from Taiwan.

China had said in January it was opening routes from west to east - in other words, in the direction of Taiwan - on the two flight paths from Xiamen and Fuzhou, but had not until now announced when they would go into operation.

China's civil aviation regulator said in its brief statement on Friday that those routes were now in operation, adding that from May 16 it would "further optimize" airspace around Fuzhou airport.

It did not elaborate, but that is four days before Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te is inaugurated, a man Beijing believes is a dangerous separatist. Lai has repeatedly offered talks with China but has been rebuffed.

China's regulator added that the changes to the flight paths will help meet the "development needs" of flights along the Chinese coast, ensure flight safety, enhance the ability to respond to thunderstorms and improve normal flight operations.

Taiwan's Civil Aviation Administration said the measure seriously impacted aviation safety in Taiwanese airspace, calling it a unilateral move taken without consultation.

At its nearest point, close to Kinmen, there is only a 1.1 nautical mile distance between the Chinese and Taiwanese flight paths, it said.

"The airspace between the two sides is very small, and there are certain risks," it added.

CONTROLLED AIR SPACE

Taiwanese air traffic controllers will "strongly request" their Chinese counterparts guide any aircraft away when an aircraft approaches Taiwan's air space, it said.

Chinese aircraft are not permitted by Taiwan to fly in the airspace Taipei controls around Kinmen and Matsu.

The strait's median line had for years served as an unofficial demarcation between Taiwan and China and was not crossed by combat aircraft from either side.

But China says it does not recognize the line's existence and Chinese warplanes now regularly fly over it as Beijing seeks to pressure Taipei to accept its sovereignty claims.

Flights to and from Taiwan and China's Xiamen and Fuzhou take a circuitous route skirting the median line rather than flying directly across the strait. Domestic Taiwanese flights to Kinmen and Matsu fly directly across the strait.

Taiwan has complained about the M503 route before, in 2018, when it said China opened the northbound part of it without first informing Taipei in contravention of a 2015 deal to first discuss such flight paths.

The democratically elected government of Taiwan rejects China's sovereignty claims and says only the island's people can decide their future.


China Says It Opposes Any Action Escalating Tensions in Middle East 

Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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China Says It Opposes Any Action Escalating Tensions in Middle East 

Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

China opposes any action escalating tensions in the Middle East after the Israeli attack on Iran, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said on Friday.

Several countries had already warned that a retaliatory attack by Israel against recent Iranian strikes could risk dragging the entire region into a wider regional war.

Explosions echoed over an Iranian city on Friday in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation - a response that appeared gauged towards averting region-wide war.

The limited scale of the attack and Iran's muted response both appeared to signal a successful effort by diplomats who have been working round the clock to avert all-out war since an Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel last Saturday.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from Iran's air defenses hitting three drones over the city of Isfahan. Notably, they referred to the incident as an attack by "infiltrators", rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

An Iranian official told Reuters there were no plans to respond against Israel for the incident.


Ambrey: Ships Transiting the Gulf, Western Indian Ocean Should Stay Alert 

An Iranian drone is seen during the National Army Day parade ceremony in Tehran, Iran, April 17, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via (Reuters
An Iranian drone is seen during the National Army Day parade ceremony in Tehran, Iran, April 17, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via (Reuters
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Ambrey: Ships Transiting the Gulf, Western Indian Ocean Should Stay Alert 

An Iranian drone is seen during the National Army Day parade ceremony in Tehran, Iran, April 17, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via (Reuters
An Iranian drone is seen during the National Army Day parade ceremony in Tehran, Iran, April 17, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via (Reuters

British security firm Ambrey said on Friday merchant vessels transiting the Gulf and Western Indian Ocean were advised to stay alert in case of increased uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) activity in the region.

Ambrey said it had received information that indicated an "Israeli military strike" was conducted on Isfahan, Iran.

Earlier, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said it had seen similar reports but that there were no indications commercial maritime vessels were the intended target of the strike.

Oil prices jumped as high as $3 a barrel on Friday in reaction to reports of the strike, sparking concerns that Middle East oil supply could be disrupted. Brent crude gave up some of those gains, trading up 1.85% at $88.74 at 0551 GMT after reaching a high of $90.75.

Israel has attacked Iran, three people familiar with the matter said. Iranian state media reported early on Friday that its forces had destroyed drones, days after Iran launched a retaliatory drone strike on Israel.

Iran's Fars news agency reported three explosions were heard near an army base in the central city of Isfahan. An Iranian official told Reuters there was no missile attack and the explosions were the result of the activation of Iran's air defense systems.


Ukraine Says Russian Strikes on Dnipropetrovsk Region Kill at Least 8 

A handout photo made available by the State Emergency Service shows Ukrainian rescuers working at the site of a rocket attack on a residential building in the city of Dnipro, Dnipropetrovsk region, southeastern Ukraine, 19 April 2024, amid the Russian invasion. (EPA/State Emergency Service Handout Handout)
A handout photo made available by the State Emergency Service shows Ukrainian rescuers working at the site of a rocket attack on a residential building in the city of Dnipro, Dnipropetrovsk region, southeastern Ukraine, 19 April 2024, amid the Russian invasion. (EPA/State Emergency Service Handout Handout)
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Ukraine Says Russian Strikes on Dnipropetrovsk Region Kill at Least 8 

A handout photo made available by the State Emergency Service shows Ukrainian rescuers working at the site of a rocket attack on a residential building in the city of Dnipro, Dnipropetrovsk region, southeastern Ukraine, 19 April 2024, amid the Russian invasion. (EPA/State Emergency Service Handout Handout)
A handout photo made available by the State Emergency Service shows Ukrainian rescuers working at the site of a rocket attack on a residential building in the city of Dnipro, Dnipropetrovsk region, southeastern Ukraine, 19 April 2024, amid the Russian invasion. (EPA/State Emergency Service Handout Handout)

A major Russian missile attack on the central Dnipropetrovsk region killed at least eight people, injured 21 and damaged infrastructure facilities, local officials reported on Friday morning.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the attack damaged multiple storeys of a residential building and a train station in the regional capital, Dnipro, as he called for additional air defenses.

"Russia must be held accountable for its terror, and every missile, every Shahed must be shot down," Zelenskiy said. "The world can guarantee this, and our partners have the necessary capabilities."

State-run Ukrainian railways company Ukrzaliznytsia said Russia's attack deliberately targeted its infrastructure in the region, injuring its workers. The company closed its station in Dnipro and rerouted trains set to pass through the city.

Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said at least eight people died in the attack, two in Dnipro and six in Synelnykivskyi district of the region, where more than a dozen homes were damaged.


France, EU Call for De-Escalation After Reports of Israeli Attack on Iran 

Israel's military displays what they say is an Iranian ballistic missile which they retrieved from the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, at Julis military base, in southern Israel April 16, 2024. (Reuters)
Israel's military displays what they say is an Iranian ballistic missile which they retrieved from the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, at Julis military base, in southern Israel April 16, 2024. (Reuters)
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France, EU Call for De-Escalation After Reports of Israeli Attack on Iran 

Israel's military displays what they say is an Iranian ballistic missile which they retrieved from the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, at Julis military base, in southern Israel April 16, 2024. (Reuters)
Israel's military displays what they say is an Iranian ballistic missile which they retrieved from the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, at Julis military base, in southern Israel April 16, 2024. (Reuters)

France is calling for de-escalation in the Middle East crisis, Deputy French Foreign Minister Jean-Noel Barrot said on Friday, responding to reports that Israel launched an air attack on Iranian soil earlier that day.  

"All I can say is that France's position is to call on all actors for de-escalation and restraint," Barrot told Sud Radio. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also called on Iran, Israel and their allies to refrain from escalation in the Middle East. 

"It is absolutely necessary that the region remains stable and that all sides restrain from further action," von der Leyen said alongside Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo in Lappeenranta, Finland, about 25 km (15 miles) from the Russian border. 


Türkiye Rejects Linking its EU Membership File to Cyprus Issue

The European flag waves in front of the European Commission Headquarters in Brussels, on March 25, 2021 (AFP)
The European flag waves in front of the European Commission Headquarters in Brussels, on March 25, 2021 (AFP)
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Türkiye Rejects Linking its EU Membership File to Cyprus Issue

The European flag waves in front of the European Commission Headquarters in Brussels, on March 25, 2021 (AFP)
The European flag waves in front of the European Commission Headquarters in Brussels, on March 25, 2021 (AFP)

Türkiye on Thursday rejected a European approach that links Ankara’s EU membership to the Cyprus issue.
Türkiye applied for EU membership in 1987 and has been a candidate country since 1999.
“The conclusions on Türkiye by the Special European Council held in Brussels on 17-18 April 2024 are yet another example of the EU's lack of strategic vision on Türkiye and global developments,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in an official statement.
It said Ankara will never accept an approach that links progress in Türkiye-EU relations to the ongoing dispute over Cyprus, stressing that the EU has a strategic interest in developing a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Türkiye.
“In the coming period, we will review our dialogue with the EU on the basis of reciprocity, taking into account the pace, level and scope of the EU's steps towards Türkiye,” it added.
In the conclusions adopted on Türkiye this week, the Special European Council said, “The European Union has a strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Türkiye.”
It also called for progress in implementing the recommendations outlined in a joint report presented by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell with the European Commission in November 2023.
But Ankara said the conclusions on Türkiye are yet another example of the EU's lack of strategic vision on Türkiye and global developments.
“It is necessary to abandon an understanding which reduces these multifaceted relations to the Cyprus issue. Such a mentality cannot make a positive and constructive contribution to the problem, nor to the other regional and global issues,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
Borrell's report prepared with the European Commission concerning Türkiye suggested restarting Partnership Council and High-Level Political Forum meetings at the ministerial level, increasing the number of sectoral high-level dialogues on climate, health, migration and security, agriculture and research and innovation.
Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign ministry reiterated its commitment to the bloc’s membership. “However, we reject the selective limitation of bilateral cooperation to certain areas. In the coming period, we will review our dialogue with the EU on the basis of reciprocity, taking into account the pace, level and scope of the EU's steps toward Türkiye,” it said.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, stressed in a post on X how the EU has a strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Türkiye.
Elsewhere, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Wednesday that advancements in relations between the EU and Türkiye are linked to progress on the Cyprus problem.
“I am satisfied with the conclusions we have reached, which recognize the fact that relations between the European Union and Türkiye may progress, but always within the framework of the decisions taken by the European Council in recent years,” he said.
“I welcome the fact that there is an explicit reference linking the progress of EU-Türkiye relations with the progress that can be made on the Cyprus issue,” he added.
In a related development, Türkiye's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan is scheduled to meet with his Dutch counterpart Hanke Bruins Slot in a visit to the Netherlands on Friday, marking the tenth edition of the Wittenburg Conference between the two countries.
“Minister Fidan and his Dutch counterpart will exchange views on bilateral relations, Türkiye-EU relations, and regional developments,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Türkiye and the Netherlands signed a memorandum of understanding on strengthening Türkiye-Netherlands relations and establishing the Türkiye-Netherlands Conference in 2008.

 


Burkina Faso Expels Three French Diplomats

The entrance to the French embassy in Ouagadougou pictured on October 3, 2022, after it was damaged by protesters supporting a military coup. AFP file photo
The entrance to the French embassy in Ouagadougou pictured on October 3, 2022, after it was damaged by protesters supporting a military coup. AFP file photo
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Burkina Faso Expels Three French Diplomats

The entrance to the French embassy in Ouagadougou pictured on October 3, 2022, after it was damaged by protesters supporting a military coup. AFP file photo
The entrance to the French embassy in Ouagadougou pictured on October 3, 2022, after it was damaged by protesters supporting a military coup. AFP file photo

The military Junta ruling Burkina Faso expelled three French diplomats for alleged subversive activities, the country’s foreign ministry said in a letter on Thursday.
The French foreign ministry rejected the allegation and said the work of the diplomats is fully consistent with the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.
The incident comes amid a series of tensions that have marked relations between the two countries since Captain Ibrahim Traore seized power in a coup in 2022, leading to a breakdown in relations with its former colonial ruler France.
Burkina Faso’s foreign ministry announced the decision in a note sent to the French embassy in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on Tuesday. The note was kept secret until Thursday.
In the note, the three diplomats were declared “persona non grata” and told to leave the country within 48 hours.
Radio France International (RFI), which is banned in Burkina Faso, said the three diplomats held “classic diplomatic activities in recent days, including meetings with civil society members, social media influencers, businessmen and CEOs of some institutions.”
The radio, which is close to the French State, said the three diplomats also held meetings with “local media outlets opposed to the ruling military council,” wondering if the diplomats were expelled because of those meetings.
FRI added that one of the diplomats had left Burkina Faso several days ago. It did not disclose information about the two other.
In the first official comment on the issue, Paris regretted Ouagadougou's decision to expel the French diplomats, categorically denying all charges against them.
“There were no legitimate grounds for the Burkinabe authorities' decision. We can only deplore it,” said Christophe Lemoine, a French foreign ministry spokesman.
He said allegations against the three were “unfounded,” after Ouagadougou accused them of “subversive activities.”
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated considerably since Captain Ibrahim Traoré came to power in a coup d'état in September 2022, the second in eight months.
Burkina Faso canceled a 1961 military accord between the two countries and had ordered a withdrawal of French troops.

 

 


Iran Plays Down Reported Israeli Attacks, Signals No Further Retaliation

Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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Iran Plays Down Reported Israeli Attacks, Signals No Further Retaliation

Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran, April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

Explosions echoed over an Iranian city on Friday in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation - a response that appeared gauged towards averting region-wide war. 

The limited scale of the attack and Iran's muted response both appeared to signal a successful effort by diplomats who have been working round the clock to avert all-out war since an Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel last Saturday. 

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from Iran's air defenses hitting three drones over the city of Isfahan. Notably, they referred to the incident as an attack by "infiltrators", rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation. 

An Iranian official told Reuters there were no plans to respond against Israel for the incident. 

"The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed. We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more towards infiltration than attack," the official said. 

Israel said nothing about the incident. It had said for days it was planning to retaliate against Iran for Saturday's strikes, the first ever direct attack on Israel by Iran in decades of shadow war waged by proxies which has escalated throughout the Middle East through six months of battle in Gaza. 

The two longstanding foes had been heading towards direct confrontation since a presumed Israeli airstrike on April 1 that destroyed a building in Iran's embassy compound in Damascus and killed several Iranian officers including a top general. 

Iran's response, with a direct attack on Israel, was unprecedented but caused no deaths and only minor damage because Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of missiles and drones. 

Allies including the United States had since been pressing hard to ensure any further retaliation would be calibrated not to provoke a spiral of hostilities. The British and German foreign ministers visited Jerusalem this week, and Western countries tightened sanctions on Iran to mollify Israel. 

In a sign of pressure within Israel's hard-right government for a stronger response, Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister tweeted a single word after Friday's strikes: "Feeble!" 

Countries around the world called on Friday for both sides to avert further escalation. 

"It is absolutely necessary that the region remains stable and that all sides restrain from further action," EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said. Similar calls came from Beijing and from Arab states in the region. 

In financial markets, global shares eased, oil prices surged and US bond yields fell as traders worried about the risks. 

No mention of Israel 

Within Iran, news reports on Friday's incident made no mention of Israel, and state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale. 

An analyst told state TV that mini drones flown by "infiltrators from inside Iran" had been shot down by air defenses in Isfahan. 

Shortly after midnight, "three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky," Iranian state TV said. 

Senior army commander Siavosh Mihandoust was quoted by state TV as saying air defense systems had targeted a "suspicious object". 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had warned Israel before Friday's strike that Tehran would deliver a "severe response" to any attack on its territory. 

Iran told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Israel "must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests" as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a "moment of maximum peril". 

By morning, Iran had reopened airports and airspace that were shut during the strikes. 

Still, there was alarm over security in Israel and elsewhere. The US Embassy in Jerusalem restricted US government employees from travel outside Jerusalem, greater Tel Aviv and Beersheba "out of an abundance of caution". 

In a statement, the embassy warned US citizens of a "continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning". 

Israel's assault on Gaza began after Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel's military offensive has killed about 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Gazan health ministry. 

Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, carrying out attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, raising fears the Gaza conflict could grow into a wider regional war.