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Russia, Turkey and Iran Sign Deal on Safe Zones in Syria

Russia and Iran which are allies of the Syrian regime as well as the rebel supporter Turkey signed a Russia-backed plan for creating safe zones in Syria. The pact which was signed in the Kazakh capital Astana was meant to halt fighting in the war-torn Syria. However, the Syrian government and rebel delegations were not signatories to the agreement. Russia-backed plan to create safe zones in Syria is targeted at further pacification and cessation of hostilities and a halt in fighting in the zones.

Salient Highlights

As per the plan, the zones were set to remain in place for six months. The time period could eventually be extended. The zones would cover the whole of Idlib province, portions of the Latakia, Aleppo, Hama and Homs provinces, parts of the Deraa and Quneitra provinces, as well as the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

As per the memorandum, there will be a halt in the usage of all categories of arms among belligerents, including aerial weapons.

The major objective of the memorandum is to halt the violence and facilitate conditions for the safe, voluntary return of refugees as well as to provide rapid and uninterrupted delivery of relief supplies and medical aid.

However, the ways to monitor and police the safe zones are not clearly spelt out. Russia has stated that ways to monitor the zones would be an issue for separate talks.

Background

Russia-backed plan has to be viewed at the backdrop of US President Donald Trump’s call for the establishment of safe zones in Syria.

The Syrian conflict is six years old. It has been estimated that more than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the war began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

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Turkey Referendum: President Erdogan wins sweeping powers

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the referendum on granting him sweeping new powers by a clear majority. The “Yes” vote garnered by Erdogan was 51.36% and “No” was 48.64%. while the supporters of Erdogan has hailed the results, the two main opposition parties have challenged the results.

New Constitution

The draft of the new constitution has the following salient features:

  • Next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on 3 November 2019;
  • It provides for a five year tenure and maximum of two terms for the President;
  • The president will have powers to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers;
  • President will be able to assign one or several vice-presidents;
  • The job of prime minister would be scrapped;
  • President will have power to intervene in the judiciary;
  • The president will have power to decide whether or not to impose a state of emergency

Why Referendum?

According Erdogan, changes were needed to address security concerns especially after an attempted coup nine months earlier. He also wants these changes to avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

The new system Erdogan envisages will resemble those in France and the US and would help to bring calm to the turmoil caused by the Kurdish insurgency, Islamist militancy and conflict in neighbouring Syria, which has resulted in a huge refugee influx.

Criticism

Critics fear that the proposed changes would make the president’s position too powerful without any checks and balances present in other presidential systems. They also complain of massive irregularities with the voting.

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Turkey declares three-month state of emergency after a failed military coup

Turkey has declared three-month state of emergency after a failed military coup to overthrow the democratically elected government.

Announcement in this regard was taken by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a meeting with Cabinet ministers and top security advisers in Ankara.

Three-month state of emergency was declared as measure to counter threats to Turkish democracy. The emergency allows officials to set curfews, issue search and arrests warrants and restrict gatherings.

2016 military coup in Turkey

  • The 2016 military coup in Turkey was attempted against the ruling Justice and Development Party Government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However it failed to overthrow ruling democratically elected government and ended one day later.
  • The coup was carried out by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces under a council calling itself the Peace at Home Council. It had attempted to seize control of several key places in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere across the Turkey.
  • It is said that the coup to overthrow government was undertaken due eroding secularism, human rights, democracy and international reputation of Turkey under the current government.
  • The forces loyal to President Erdogan toppled the coup and took control of military factions that tried to overthrow Turkey’s democratically government and military leadership with military rule.
  • The Turkish Government has blamed soldiers linked to the Gülen movement—a group designated as a terrorist organization led by Fethullah Gülen were behind the coup.
  • However, Fethullah Gülen has condemned the coup and denied any involvement.

Earlier in 1987, Turkey had imposed martial law-like emergency rule in the southeast of the country and was gradually lifted by 2002. It had allowed officials to set curfews, issue search and arrest warrants and restrict gatherings as the security forces fought Kurdish rebels in the region.

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