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News in Brief: Turkish prime minister in 'revolutionary' visit to Greece

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  • Zafar Khan
    Turkish prime minister in revolutionary visit to Greece Recep Tayyip Erdogan visit aimed at soothing tensions with historic enemy and advising Greece on
    Message 1 of 1 , May 15, 2010
      Turkish prime minister in 'revolutionary' visit to Greece
      Recep Tayyip Erdogan visit aimed at soothing tensions with historic enemy and advising Greece on tackling debt crisis


      Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan flies into Athens tomorrow for a "revolutionary" visit aimed at soothing the often tense ties between the historic enemies – and helping Greece out of its worst debt crisis in decades.

      With the red carpet rolled out as never before for the neo-Islamist leader, the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the landmark trip would not only improve co-operation but would "surmount the psychological threshold" that has long divided them.

      Highlighting the seismic shift, the Greek government will hold an unprecedented joint cabinet meeting with Erdogan and his 10-strong entourage of ministers.

      "We are trying to change the perception that the two countries are in competition with each other," said Davutoglu ahead of the two-day talks. "The visit is in a sense a revolution … we have to minimise tensions, but also maximise areas of co-operation so the notion of 'tension' is eradicated from the minds of the parties."

      For most Greeks, the prospect of their longstanding eastern rival extending a helping hand, even a few years back, would have been inconceivable.

      The two nations have nearly gone to war three times in the last 30 years. Deadlock over the war-divided island of Cyprus – invaded by Turkish troops in 1974 after an Athens-inspired attempt to annex it to Greece – and persistent tensions over territorial disputes in the Aegean have kept the two at loggerheads. Though Nato allies, both regularly exchange accusations over the treatment of respective ethnic minorities, the legacy of an exchange of populations in 1923.

      But Turkey's change of status as a regional superpower, its membership of the G20 group of leading world economies, and its dynamic rate of growth, expected to exceed 5% this year, has made it increasingly hard to ignore.

      Brothers, bread and the Bosphorus


      The stocky, powerful man, in his 40s settled into his seat to begin our interview. We were in or around Istanbul at a location I had promised not to mention.

      "Umar Israilov was killed specifically on the orders of Kadyrov ..." he told me.

      Many Chechen rebels have been gunned down on the streets of Turkey in recent times.

      Dissident Umar Israilov was killed in Austria in April. The man seated across from me was adamant that Israilov was killed via an order from the Chechen president.

      Did my interviewee fear for his own life, I asked.

      "You have to be careful but not be afraid. Because death will come whether you are scared or not," he told me.


      I was talking to Vakha Umarov, the brother of the man who claimed to be the mastermind behind the Moscow metro bombings in March. He wore a pink t-shirt that seemed odd for the occasion.

      Officially, he assured me, he has nothing to do with the rebels. His brother Doku, who he looks remarkably like minus the fist-length beard, is the self-proclaimed "Emir of the Islamic Republic of the North Caucasus".

      "The last time I saw Doku ... we separated in 2000," Vakha said.

      But does he support Doku and his dream of complete independence from Moscow and an Islamic state across the Caucasus?

      "We didn't start this war ... The end will be ours. Because if Doku is killed, he will go to paradise ... The fact is, he is fighting for truth."

      I had heard from various reports that Vakha was looking after Doku's six children. He confirmed that to us, and more.

      Doku's daughter, far younger than ten, with her father's features etched on her headscarf-framed face was in the apartment as we conducted the interview. Doku's wife was just next door.

      And what about the Moscow bombings, which indiscriminately targeted civilians, were they justified in Vakha's eyes?

      "If we are going to talk about justice, those two blasts in the Moscow metro killed only 40 people. During the second Chechen campaign only, over 45,000 children alone were killed."

      I was also intrigued about a claim he was alleged to have made to a journalist in January. There he said weapons and cash find their way to the Chechen rebels from the government of Ramzan Kadyrov.

      Kadyrov, the leader of semi-autonomous Chechnya, is a strong ally of Moscow, and has been at war with the rebels.

      'All Pakistanis are terrorists' - Part 2


      Last week I wrote a blog post about how Pakistanis were being singled out because they, and men of Pakistani descent, seemed to be involved in an inordinate number of so called terrorist attacks and plots.

      The blog drew a number of comments and I read each one with interest. If you wrote in, I thank you. Free speech is important (even though some of you disagreed with my assertion that I am British).

      As I am currently in the newsroom in Doha, I have had a chance to reflect on why so many Pakistanis have turned to so-called terror tactics to make their point. Over the years I have read a great number of books and articles on the subject (I highly recommend "Descent into chaos" by Ahmed Rashid; accessible, well-written, and a great explainer) and spoken to experts, academics, friends and family.

      It's key to try to understand the reasons why violent attacks have become popular if Pakistan is to become a stable, secure country.

      Speaking up: Young muslims take on the extremists
      Young Muslims have a forum where they're learning to combat fundamentalism

      By Hilary Wilce


      How can mainstream young Muslim students get heard when fundamentalists often have a stranglehold on their groups and societies? Saniya Gour, 17, an east London A-level student, has struggled. "Everyone where I live is so extreme. There are very few who are not hardline about things. And, as a girl, they don't want to hear what you have to say. I go to Leyton Sixth Form College and when I asked one of the heads of Isoc (the Islamic Society) if I could speak, he said no. They don't even like me talking to guys. They say: 'You're wearing a headscarf, you shouldn't be talking to boys'."

      However, Saniya and other young Muslims now have a national forum where they can learn leadership skills and how to speak up. The Young Muslim Leadership Network (YMLN), funded by the Government as part of its controversial Prevent programme designed to stop violent extremism, is working hard to make its mark. It needs to. Early soundings by some of its two dozen members show that it is up against powerful forces.

      The network was founded last year for young people aged 16 to 21, and has three groups – two in London and one in Birmingham. The central London group is researching university Islamic societies, and members have been shocked at what they have found. Hazura Bazeer, 18, a member of the central London branch of the YMLN, is in her final year at Coombe Girls' School in New Malden, Surrey, and has a place to study medicine at King's College, London. She says: "In one case that we heard of, a girl was slapped in the face for not wearing a headscarf, and, in one society, women were not allowed to speak and had to hold up their questions in writing."

      Rageh Omaar Report: Turkey


      While leaders of the Middle East are caught between solving new and old economic and political problems, and while the peoples of the region are losing hope due to a lack of direction or solutions, one country is quietly forging ahead with plans to become a regional superpower. And one man is directing and implementing this drive.

      Ahmet Davutoglu was a professor at Marmara University and the chairman of the Department of International relations at Beykent University. He was the chief adviser to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, before being appointed foreign minister in May 2009.

      Davutoglu believes that Turkey has the makings of a regional superpower and that its deep historical and geographical connections with Arabs, Kurds, Persians, Central Asians and Caucasians are an advantage.

      Located on the Mediterranean as well as the Black Sea, Turkey is both in Asia and Europe, a member of Nato and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Muslim yet secular and democratic, economically and politically stable, and prospering.

      In an increasingly volatile world, Davutoglu believes that Turkey has the right, ability and confidence to play a major role according to its own interests and not those of any alliance it is part of.

      Israel slams Medvedev's Hamas call


      Israel's foreign ministry has rejected Russian president Dmitry Medvedev's call for immediate engagement with the Palestinian group Hamas.

      So what if Egypt's Copts find a book insulting?


      Following the lead of Islamists, Egyptian Christians are trying to ban an award-winning novel because it 'insults' Christianity

      Egypt extends emergency law


      Kosovo Albanian mass grave found under car park in Serbia
      Belgrade confirms site near Kosovan border believed to contain some 250 victims of Slobodan Milosevic's reign


      Scouts appeal for Muslim leaders


      The scouts have launched an urgent recruitment drive targeted at Britain's Muslim community.

      The move is an attempt to plug a shortfall in group leaders as the number of young people applying to be Scouts continues to rise. There are 33,500 people on the organisation's waiting list, and the number is rapidly growing.

      Indonesian Christians under attack


      Violent attacks against Christians in Indonesia have forced the closure of 20 churches in recent months, testing the fragile religious balance in predominantly-Muslim nation.

      But the government denies the incidents are a sign of growing religious intolerance, putting the blame on politics and regional elections instead.

      Jordan River 'to run dry next year'


      Woman jailed for kiss denounces 'hypocrisy'


      A British woman jailed for kissing a man in public in Dubai today spoke of the "hypocrisy" of the Emirate's strict decency laws.

      Charlotte Adams was arrested with Ayman Najafi last November after a local woman complained they had been seen kissing on the mouth in a restaurant.

      Ms Adams, an estate agent, and Mr Najafi insisted they had given each other only a peck on the cheek but were sentenced to a month in prison by a Dubai court last month.

      The 26-year-old, from Mersea Island, Essex, served 23 days and was freed on Friday and deported.

      Mr Najafi, a management consultant from north London who has lived in Dubai for the past 18 months, is understood to be continuing his fight against the conviction after being backed by his employers.

      Ms Adams told The Mail on Sunday of her relief at being reunited with her family, including twin brother Christopher and sister Emma, 20.

      She said: "It is such a relief. I've thought of nothing else for the last few months.

      "I love (Dubai) and it makes me sad that I'll never come back, although I think I'd struggle to ever feel free here again.

      "The laws need to evolve to match the culture here. At the moment, it's all just hypocrisy."

      She said hotels in Dubai regularly offer free alcohol, particularly to women, though drinking in public is still officially illegal in the Gulf state.

      "Everyone gets so drunk they forget where they are, particularly the Westerners, which is when their behaviour can become dangerous legally."

      Saudi king's photo brings women's rights into focus

      King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan flanked by 40 women in abayas but mostly with their faces bare


      King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is not normally associated with radical moves but the 85-year-old monarch is making waves with signals encouraging greater tolerance of women's rights.

      In recent days Abdullah's appearance in an unusual group photograph has become a talking point across his realm and the wider Arab world. The king and his brother Crown Prince Sultan were flanked by 40 women dressed in modest abayas but mostly with their faces bare, a novelty that is seen as evidence of rare liberalism at the top.

      The king's pose, at a conference in the southern city of Najran last month, is big news because it appears to challenge the norm in a country where unrelated men and women are kept strictly apart, women are covered from head to toe and alcohol and women's driving are banned. Under Saudi law a woman must not leave home without a male "guardian" (her father, husband or brother) to whom she is legally subordinated.

      "I think this is a great picture and everyone is talking about it," said Dr Maha Muneef, a prominent physician and government adviser. "This is a picture that sent a message that it is OK to work with women ... and that there's nothing wrong with that."

      Overzealous enforcement by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – the morality police – is routinely criticised by liberals. Saudi and foreign observers detected royal intervention when the commission suddenly reversed a decision to sack Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamdi, its head for the Mecca region, after he questioned whether Islam in fact required gender segregration.

      Ghamdi's swift reinstatement was widely interpreted as a vote of confidence by the palace in reformist ideas. The presence of the crown prince in the group photograph, which was distributed to selected media by the palace, suggested a pointer to future policies.

      Nigeria swears in new president


      Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's acting president, has been sworn in as the country's new leader following the death of Umaru Yar'Adua.

      Jonathan took the oath of office at a ceremony in the capital, Abuja, on Thursday, just hours after officials announced the death of Yar'Adua following a long illness.

      Thousands of mourners attended Yar'Adua's funeral in his northern home state of Katsina late on Thursday, as the country began seven days of mourning.

      Jonathan had already been running the country after assuming the position of acting president on February 9, while Yar'Adua was in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment.

      Under the constitution, Jonathan is now the head of state until the country's next elections scheduled to be held by April 2011. He will also nominate a vice-president, subject to approval by the senate.

      Italy fines Muslim woman over veil


      Italian police have fined a Muslim woman for wearing a face-covering veil in public, officials in the northern city of Novara said.

      The $650 fine, thought to be the first in Italy, comes under a rule that bans people from wearing clothes that obscure their identity.

      "City hall adopted a decree in late January banning the burqa in public places and their vicinity," Mauro Franzinelli of the Novara police told the AFP news agency.

      The decree comes under an Italian law in place since 1975 that bans people from covering their face in public - whether it be with a veil or motorcycle helmet.

      The Tunisian-born woman received the fine after being stopped outside a post office on Monday, while she was with her husband.

      She is believed to have been wearing the niqab, a veil that covers all of the face apart from the eyes.

      Scapegoating Middle Eastern women

      I'm a Muslim & the BNP got my VOTE!

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      General election 2010: first female Muslim MPs elected
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