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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Turkish PM Signals End to Controversial Emergency Rule

By Dorian Jones July 05, 2018

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has indicated the end of emergency rule before it expires two weeks from now, on July 19.

"I suppose the government will be announced on Monday, the Cabinet will start work, and an emergency rule will have ended," Yildirim said in an interview with the state news agency Anadolu.

As a result of the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, Turkey moves to a powerful executive presidency. The role of the prime minister will end, and ministers will report directly to the president. During his campaign for re-election, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would end emergency rule.

Parliament introduced emergency rule after a July 15, 2016, coup attempt. The measure allowed the president to rule by decree and extended sweeping powers to security forces.

The announcement has been cautiously welcomed by rights groups. "Lifting of the state of the emergency is a positive step," U.S.-based Human Rights Watch senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb said.

"But it's only beginning because there need to be bold measures taken to provide redress to the hundreds of thousands of people who've been deprived of their rights under the state of emergency," added Sinclair-Webb.

Under the emergency rule, about 200,000 people have been purged from their jobs, and tens of thousands of others detained. Sinclair-Webb said only a thousand or so people had been reinstated in their positions by a body set up to review cases.

Analysts see the ending of emergency rule as a politically shrewd move. "The polls do show a majority of Turks do want emergency rule to be lifted, around 65 percent," said Sinan Ulgen, head of the Edam research group in Istanbul. "People want to go back to normalcy, so it's understandable there is this aspiration to lift emergency rule."

Continued 'rule by decree'

Ulgen suggests that ending emergency rule could prove to be more cosmetic than meaningful.

"Under the new presidential system, they (ruling AKP) may not need emergency rule, given the president can continue to rule by decree. There will not be emergency rule decrees, but executive decrees under the new presidential system."

The new presidential system comes into effect Monday when Erdogan takes the oath of office. He will then be allowed to issue decrees with the force of law.

Turkey's main pro-Kurdish HDP party has reservations about the impact of lifting emergency rule.

"I don't think there will be any change," HDP honorary president Ertugrul Kurkcu said. "Looking at the legislation introduced, in particular the Domestic Security Act, it gives them (security forces) all the necessary powers without declaring a state of emergency."

Emergency rule initially targeted followers of the U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for the attempted coup. But the extraordinary powers have also been used against the HDP, Turkey's second-largest opposition party. The government accuses the pro-Kurdish party of having links to the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey for decades.

Under emergency rule, thousands of HDP activists and officials have been jailed.

New security measures will be introduced before the emergency rule ends. "The last decree law will include necessary regulations in order to avoid weakness in the fight against terrorism in the period when the state of emergency is lifted," Yildirim said.

Mixed views

HDP's Kurkcu warns even if some draconian powers end, the mentality created under special powers will likely continue. "The state of emergency, which blanketed the country for two years, will leave behind a security approach for every issue; in order for us to leave this behind will take much time," Kurkcu said.

Critics say emergency rule has been used by the government to intimidate opponents, a charge it denies.

Some observers argue even if the ending of emergency rule offers the return of few freedoms and rights, its passing is still significant. "It can be more important symbolically," said a prominent newspaper columnist who requested anonymity. "It created an atmosphere of oppression. Even if things don't change much on the ground, its ending can psychologically be significant, especially for opponents and critics," the columnist added.

The ending of emergency rule is also likely to boost Ankara's efforts to repair its relations with the European Union. The bloc has strongly criticized the crackdown and repeatedly called for it to be ended.

Next week, Erdogan is due to meet with key European leaders when he attends a NATO summit in Brussels.

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