Turkey Pays Price as It Seeks to Save Tourism Amid Pandemic

Turkey is seeking to save its vital tourism sector amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the easing of restrictions as part of the government’s return to normalcy is leading to a surge in infections. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul on the government’s difficult balancing act.
Camera: Berke Bas 
 

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Thousands in Belarus Form ‘Lines of Solidarity’ in Protest

Crowds of protesters in Belarus swarmed the streets and thousands of workers rallied outside industrial plants Thursday to denounce a police crackdown on demonstrations over a disputed election that extended the 26-year rule of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Beginning in the morning, hundreds of women formed long “lines of solidarity” in several areas of the capital, Minsk. Many were dressed in white and carried flowers and portraits of loved ones who have been detained during protests that began shortly after Sunday’s vote, which they said was rigged.  The human chains grew throughout the day, filling the main central squares and avenues as motorists honked in support. In Minsk and many other cities, thousands of factory workers also rallied against the police violence, raising the prospect of strikes in a new challenge to the government. Amid growing public dismay, dozens of military and police veterans posted videos in which they dumped their uniforms and insignia in the trash. Several popular anchors at Belarus’ state TV stations have quit. People hold a handmade banner of an old Belarusian national flag as they gather to protest results of the country’s presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 13, 2020.Nearly 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in the clampdown on demonstrators protesting the official results that said Lukashenko won 80% of the vote and his top opposition challenger got only 10%. Police have broken up protests with stun grenades, tear gas, rubber bullets and severe beatings. “Belarusians have seen the villainous face of this government. I argued with my husband and voted for Lukashenko. And this is what I got in the end — I can’t find my relatives in prisons,” said Valentina Chailytko, 49, whose husband and son were detained in protests Sunday. She has been unable to get any information on their whereabouts.  One protester died Monday in Minsk after, the Interior Ministry says, an explosive device he tried to throw at police blew up in his hand. Some media reports have challenged that official version. Neither the ministry nor the media outlets have provided evidence.  Thousands of people converged Thursday on the place where he died, many carrying flowers. European ambassadors also laid flowers at the site earlier in the day. The authorities also confirmed that a detainee died in the southeastern city of Gomel, but the circumstances of his death weren’t immediately clear. ‘War against us’Hundreds of medical workers joined the demonstrations Thursday in Minsk and many other cities. “There is a feeling that a war is going on, but it’s a war against us,” said Mikhail Portnov, a 33-year-old general practitioner. “We, doctors, see the price of this war as no one else. We were ready for violence, but the brutality of it has crossed all limits.” The unprecedented public opposition and unrest has been driven by the painful economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and Lukashenko’s dismissal of the outbreak as a “psychosis.” The vote and the brutality of the subsequent crackdown — remarkable even for Lukashenko’s iron-fisted rule — have made the anger boil over. The 65-year-old former state farm director has been in power since 1994 and was nicknamed “Europe’s last dictator” by the West for his suppression of dissent. “You can see the election result in the streets,” said 32-year old engineer Andrei Gubarevich, who joined a demonstration in Minsk. “Lukashenko has already lost.” Belarus’ Investigative Committee launched a criminal probe into the organization of mass rioting — an indication authorities may start leveling those charges against some detainees. The charges could carry prison terms of up to 15 years for those found guilty. The ministry said 103 police officers have been injured since Sunday, and 28 of them were hospitalized. In Minsk and the western city of Baranovichi, people ran over traffic police with their vehicles on Wednesday before being detained. Global reactionThe brutal suppression of protests drew harsh criticism in the West.The European Union foreign ministers are set to meet Friday to discuss a response, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the 27-nation bloc would “increase the pressure” on Belarus. “The brutal actions and the arrest of peaceful protesters and even journalists in Belarus isn’t acceptable in Europe in the 21st century,” he told reporters in Berlin. A member of the Belarus diaspora holds a placard depicting Alexander Lukashenko with blood on his mouth during a rally outside the Belarusian embassy in Kyiv, Aug. 13, 2020.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the election wasn’t free or fair and urged the government to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters.  “I’m confident that EU and the United States fully share the same concerns about what has taken place and what is taking place in Belarus and I’m very hopeful that we can collectively work in a way that gets a better outcome for the people of Belarus,” Pompeo said Thursday on a visit to Slovenia. Police responsePolice appeared to scale back their response on Wednesday. In many parts of Minsk, the all-female “lines of solidarity” stood unchallenged for some time before police dispersed some of them without violence. Similar peaceful demonstrations were seen across the capital and other cities Thursday, but police refrained from dispersing them immediately. People react during an opposition rally to protest against police violence and to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 13, 2020.Also Thursday, hundreds of workers at plants across the country, including the huge truck factories in Minsk and Zhodino, held rallies to protest the clampdown and demand a recount of the vote. Many shouted “Go away!” to demand Lukashenko’s resignation. During a meeting with workers of a plant in Grodno, near the border with Poland, the local police chief apologized for the violent crackdown, according to tut.by news portal.  The demonstrations have spread even though the protest lacks leaders. The top opposition challenger in the vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, suddenly emerged Tuesday in neighboring Lithuania and called on her supporters to stop protests in a video that her associates said was recorded under pressure from law enforcement officials before she left. The 37-year-old former teacher joined the race to replace her husband, an opposition blogger, who has been jailed since May. Lukashenko has derided the political opposition as “sheep” manipulated by foreign masters and vowed to continue taking a tough position on protests. But that has not deterred many. “Protests will only grow,” said 25-year-old demonstrator Anna Shestakova in Minsk. “They can cheat some, but they can’t cheat the entire people.” 
 

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British PM Meets Irish and Northern Irish Officials

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Northern Ireland Thursday where he held talks with his Irish counterpart and other Irish officials to promote British unity and a strong rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.Johnson met Irish Prime Minister – also known in Ireland as Taoiseach – Micheal Martin, arriving at Hillsborough Castle and bumping elbows with each other for reporters. It was the first time the two leaders had met in person since Martin was elected to his position as part of a new Irish coalition government in June.A short time later, Johnson also met with Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, and her deputy, Michelle O’Neill.Relations between Johnson and Northern Ireland have been strained after years of sometimes acrimonious negotiations regarding Britain’s departure from the European Union, commonly known as “Brexit.”  Johnson was a strong proponent of the plan, while, in a 2016 referendum, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, 56 to 44 percent.Following their talks, Martin told reporters he and Johnson both agreed on the necessity for a free trade agreement with the EU that would be “tariff and quota-free.” The Irish leader said Johnson was “very committed” to reaching a comprehensive agreement with the alliance.Talks between Britain and the EU have stalled but are scheduled to begin again in Brussels next week. 

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US, Slovenia to Sign 5G Joint Declaration

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting Thursday with leaders in Slovenia, where they are set to sign a joint declaration on 5G technology.Over the past year, European countries including Poland, Estonia and the Czech Republic have signed agreements with the United States pledging that 5G suppliers would not be subject to control by a foreign government without independent judicial review, which effectively excludes Chinese firms.Pompeo’s visit to Slovenia is the first by a U.S. secretary of state since 2011.His schedule Thursday includes meetings with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Foreign Minister Anze Logar and President Borut Pahor.The State Department said some of the key topics in the talks would be nuclear energy, Western Balkan integration and energy issues.Pompeo was in the Czech Republic on Wednesday and said there that China’s economic power is in some ways a greater global threat than the Soviet Union was during the Cold War.“The challenge of resisting the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) threat is in some ways more difficult,” Pompeo said in a speech to the senate in the Czech Republic. “The CCP is already enmeshed in our economies, in our politics, in our societies in ways the Soviet Union never was.”Pompeo’s remarks came after China’s ambassador to London accused the United States last month of instigating conflict with Beijing before the November U.S. presidential election.US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, arrives for a meeting of the senate in Prague, Czech Republic, Aug. 12, 2020.U.S.-China relations have deteriorated sharply this year over issues such as Beijing’s management of the coronavirus, its security clampdown in Hong Kong and activities in the disputed South China Sea.Pompeo held talks with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Prague earlier Wednesday on the second day of his weeklong visit to central Europe.The two leaders discussed nuclear energy cooperation and the Three Seas Initiative, a political platform to promote connectivity among nations in central and eastern Europe by supporting infrastructure, energy and digital interconnectivity projects.The initiative gets its name from the three seas that border the region: the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas.The chief U.S. diplomat began the day taking part in a roundtable discussion with a group of leaders from tech companies from the U.S. and the Czech Republic to highlight the benefits of U.S. investment, and according to the State Department, “underscore the attractiveness of the United States as an investment destination for Czech start-ups.”Pompeo’s trip this week will also include stops in Vienna, Austria; and Warsaw, Poland.The trip comes as the Pentagon prepares to move forward with a plan to pull almost 12,000 troops from Germany and redeploy part of the U.S. forces to Poland and other NATO nations, raising concerns at home and in Europe even as senior FILE – A view of a Verizon 5G promo poster during the coronavirus pandemic on May 13, 2020, in New York City.Austria hosts the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations in charge of monitoring Iran’s adherence to the 2015 nuclear deal from which the U.S. has withdrawn.Pompeo will also hold talks with IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, as Washington is calling on other members of the U.N. Security Council to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire on October 18.In Warsaw, the chief U.S. diplomat will meet with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz on deepening defense ties, recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, securing 5G networks, and improving regional energy and infrastructure through the Three Seas Initiative. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.Pompeo will also meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda, who visited the White House in late June.Poland sees Nord Stream 2, which would double Russia’s gas export capacity via the Baltic Sea, as a threat to Europe’s energy security.Last month, the State Department said people making investments or engaging in activities related to Nord Stream 2, including pipe-laying vessels and engineering service in the deployment of the pipelines, could face U.S. sanctions.”It’s a clear warning to companies: aiding and abetting Russia’s malign influence projects will not be tolerated,” said Pompeo during a July 15 news conference.”Let me be clear. These aren’t commercial projects. They are the Kremlin’s key tools to exploit and expand European dependence on Russian energy supplies,” Pompeo said. 

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Fourth Straight Night of Protests in Belarus

Thousands protested in Belarus for the fourth straight night Wednesday against what they said was the fraudulent election of President Alexander Lukashenko for a sixth term.Demonstrators in Minsk formed human chains to try to block police from approaching.Witnesses said on one street in the capital riot police fired rubber bullets at people who stood on their balconies to cheer the demonstrators.Earlier Wednesday, groups of women also formed human chains and carried bouquets of flowers as police stood by, making no effort to disperse them.Similar demonstrations were held in other Belarusian cities.As many as 6,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured after police used tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets to break up the nightly marches.They include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Vital Tsyhankou, who was badly beaten by police, the Associated Press reported, along with two independent Belarusian television reporters.People flocked to the jails to look for missing relatives.Lukashenko has said he will not be intimidated.“The core of these so-called protesters are people with a criminal past and (those who are) currently unemployed,” he said Wednesday.European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has called for a meeting of foreign ministers Friday to talk about Belarus. He is threatening sanctions against “those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests and falsification of election results.”The Belarusian election commission declared Lukashenko the winner of Sunday’s presidential election with 80 percent of the vote and 10 percent for the only serious challenger, former teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.She entered the race at the last minute after police arrested her husband, an opposition blogger who was planning to run for president.Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania Tuesday for what she said was the safety of her children.Lukashenko has frequently been called Europe’s last dictator because of his suppression of free speech and human rights while showing little tolerance for dissent. He has ruled Belarus since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.Many of the protesters are also angry at his refusal to take any significant action to fight the coronavirus.Lukashenko has sought to lighten his image as a brutal dictator who cozies up to the Kremlin by seeking closer relations with the European Union and United States.

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RFE/RL: Pompeo Vows US Action to Ensure ‘Good Outcome’ for Belarusian People

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking about the contentious Belarusian presidential election and the ensuing police crackdown against peaceful protesters, says that “we want good outcomes for the Belarusian people, and we’ll take actions consistent with that.” Pompeo, who earlier condemned the conduct of the election that handed authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth-straight term by a landslide, said in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with RFE/RL in Prague that “we’ve watched the violence and the aftermath, peaceful protesters being treated in ways that are inconsistent with how they should be treated.” The vote Sunday, which the opposition has called “rigged,” has resulted in three-straight evenings of mass protests marred by police violence and thousands of detentions. Pompeo said that the United States had not yet settled on the appropriate response but would work with Washington’s European partners to determine what action to take. Asked whether the election and its aftermath would affect the future of U.S.-Belarus relations, including the promised delivery of U.S. oil, Pompeo said: “We’re going to have to work through that…we were incredibly troubled by the election and deeply disappointed that it wasn’t more free and more fair.” U.S. troops in Afghanistan Pompeo, who was in Prague at the start of a five-day trip to Europe that will also take him to Slovenia, Austria and Poland, discussed a number of other issues, including allegations that Russia was involved in offering Taliban militants bounties to attack U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; expectations that Washington will seek to extend the U.N. arms embargo against Iran; and the effect violence against protesters in the United States might have on Washington’s image abroad. WATCH: See Mike Pompeo’s entire interviewThe U.S. secretary of state declined to comment on whether he believed U.S. intelligence reports that said Russia had offered money to the Taliban and their proxies in Afghanistan to kill U.S. soldiers, saying he never commented on U.S. intelligence matters. “What we’ve said is this: If the Russians are offering money to kill Americans or for that matter, other Westerners as well, there will be an enormous price to pay,” Pompeo said. “That’s what I shared with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov. I know our military has talked to their senior leaders as well. We won’t brook that. We won’t tolerate that.”  Last month, in an interview with VOA, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie said the allegations were ” very worrisome, it’s very concerning, but it’s not proven to my satisfaction that it actually occurred.” Regarding the prospect of resistance among European allies to U.S. efforts to extend the expiring arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, Pompeo said it “makes no sense for any European country to support the Iranians being able to have arms.” “I think they recognize it for exactly what it is,” he said of the U.S. proposal, a draft resolution of which is reportedly currently being floated in the 15-member Security Council. “And I hope that they will vote that way at the United Nations. I hope they will see.” “The resolution that we’re going to present is simply asking for a rollover of the extension of the arms embargo,” Pompeo said. “It’s that straightforward.” Asked specifically about the prospect that Iranian allies Russia and China could veto such a proposal, the U.S. secretary of state said: “We’re going to make it come back. We have the right to do it under 2231 and we’re going to do it.” U.N. Resolution 2231 was passed unanimously by the United Nations in 2015, endorsing the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) The United States withdrew from the deal, which offered sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for security guarantees aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, in 2018. Russian media pressure  Pompeo also discussed recent efforts by Russia to target foreign media operating there, which the secretary of state earlier warned would “impose new burdensome requirements” on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice Of America. In a statement Monday, Pompeo said that the two U.S.-funded media outlets already faced “significant and undue restrictions” in Russia, and that a recent draft order by Russia’s state media regulator requiring all media registered as “foreign agents” to label their content as such or face fines of up to 5 million rubles ($70,000) had left Washington “deeply concerned.” In Prague on Wednesday, Pompeo said that he believed that “we think we can put real pressure and convince them that the right thing to do is to allow press freedom.” “We’ve condemned it. We’ve also imposed enormous sanctions on Russia for other elements of their malign activity,” Pompeo said. “We hope that the rest of the world will join us in this. We hope that those nations that value the freedom of press, who want independent reporters to be able to ask questions, even if sometimes leaders don’t like them, will join with us.” Asked whether the recent handling of protests against social injustice in the United States, which has included the use of police force against civilians and journalists, had harmed Washington’s image and weakened its moral authority in scolding authoritarian regimes, Pompeo called the question “insulting.”  He said that the “difference between the United States and these authoritarian regimes couldn’t be more clear.” “We have the rule of law, we have the freedom of press, every one of those people gets due process. When we have peaceful protesters, we create the space for them to say their mind, to speak their piece,” he said. “Contrast that with what happens in an authoritarian regime. To even begin to compare them, to somehow suggest that America’s moral authority is challenged by the amazing work that our police forces, our law enforcement people do all across America — I, frankly, just find the question itself incomprehensible and insulting.” VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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