Turkish police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters outside a courthouse near Istanbul where 275 suspected coup plotters are on trial.
Some protesters tried to tear down police barriers in front of the courthouse in Silivri.
Many waved Turkish flags and chanted anti-government slogans, showing solidarity with the defendants.
The “Ergenekon” plot allegedly aimed to topple the AK Party government.
Since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power, heading an Islamist-rooted movement, hundreds of military officers - serving or retired - have been arrested.
The investigations have undermined the traditionally powerful influence of the military in Turkish politics.
The whole prison-court complex in Silivri was under a cloud of tear gas, and it even leaked into the courtroom, where the hearing was interrupted with arguments about who could sit where.
Thousands of people, from several towns, started arriving by coach very early on Monday to support the defendants. They shouted “We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!” - a reference to Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic, who gave the state secularist foundations.
Retired armed forces commander Gen Ilker Basbug is among the defendants, who include other military officers, politicians, academics and journalists.
Prosecutors have demanded life imprisonment for Gen Basbug and 63 others, including nine other generals.
They are accused of links to an ultra-nationalist secret network called Ergenekon, which allegedly tried to foment chaos and trigger a military coup to oust the AKP. Erdogan has been in power since 2002.
Critics say there is little evidence for the charges and accuse the government of trying to silence its secularist opponents.
In a separate trial last September three former army generals were sentenced to 20 years in jail each for plotting a coup against the AKP.
Nearly 330 other officers - including some senior military figures--were also convicted over the “Operation Sledgehammer” plot.
Turkey’s military has long seen itself as the guarantor of the country’s secular constitution.
It staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and has a history of tension with the AKP.
15 Killed in Damascus Car Bombing
A suicide car bomb exploded in the main business district of Damascus on Monday, killing at least 15 people, setting cars ablaze and damaging buildings, according to state television.
A Damascus resident who described the blast as the biggest she had heard in the capital during the two-year-old unrest in the country, said large plumes of black smoke were rising from the Sabaa Bahrat district, Reuters reported.
State television said the explosion had occurred near a school in Sabaa Bahrat, a heavily populated area that also houses the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry. It said 53 people were wounded.
Residents and opposition activists reported hearing gunfire and ambulance sirens in the vicinity. State television said shots had been fired in the air to clear a path for ambulances.
It showed footage of seven bodies in the street, including at least two charred corpses in the wreckage of an overturned bus. The fire brigade was dousing flames from cars crushed by the blast. Other vehicles were still on fire, lined up in what appeared to be a car park.
Men carried away a woman on a stretcher whose face was covered in blood. Panic-stricken women in long black dresses and headscarves ran towards the scene. State television showed some bandaged children in school uniform.
Monday’s blast is the latest in a series of car bombs and suicide bombings to hit the Syrian capital. The last such explosion in central Damascus was on Feb. 22, when a suicide car bombing near the ruling Baath Party headquarters killed 53 people and wounded more than 200, according to state media.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with a network of local sources, including hospitals, said at least eight people had been killed.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but state media blamed terrorists for the bomb blast.
Insurgents in Syria based in the outskirts of Damascus have pushed into areas near the government-held heart of the city, stepping up mortar and car bomb attacks in recent weeks.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which started about two years ago. An armed struggle ensued, forcing more than a million Syrians to flee abroad, and displacing millions more inside the country.
Death Toll in Egypt’s Sectarian Clashes Rises to 2
One person was killed and more than 80 wounded in clashes at the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in central Cairo on Sunday after a funeral service for four Egyptian Christians killed in sectarian violence with Muslims, state media said.
Christian-Muslim confrontations have increased in Muslim-majority Egypt since the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Reuters reported.
The state news agency MENA said 84 people had been injured in several hours of fighting after a ceremony at the cathedral, headquarters of the Coptic church, which was showered with stones, petrol bombs and bird-shot.
The man killed on Sunday was identified by MENA as 30-year-old Mahrous Hana Tadros, a Christian name.
Police fired tear gas to try to disperse the crowds but clashes continued late into the evening. MENA said 11 policemen were among the wounded.
Violence also broke out near a Coptic church in El Khusus north of Cairo, where four Christians and one Muslim were killed late on Friday when members of both communities started shooting at each other.
MENA said 12 people were wounded, and two apartments and a cafe set on fire by petrol bombs.
In Cairo, trouble erupted after hundreds of angry Copts attended the funeral service at St. Mark’s Cathedral for Friday’s killed Copts, chanting “With our blood and soul we will sacrifice ourselves for the cross.”
Some mourners also shouted slogans calling for the departure of President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement as the coffins were carried head-high into the church.
Morsi condemned the violence, telling Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II in a telephone call that any attack on the cathedral “is like an attack on me personally,” MENA reported.
After an emotional church service, where relatives of the dead wept, young Christians chanted anti-government slogans and started hurling rocks at police officers outside the cathedral.
Some protesters, believed to be Copts, smashed six private cars and set two on fire, prompting an angry reaction from Muslims living in the neighborhood, who threw home-made petrol bombs and stones at them, a witness said.
Muslim residents said they had felt offended by the slogans shouted during the funeral, which was shown on television.
Police officers were not available to comment on the accusation. The interior minister later went to the scene at Morsi’s request to investigate but did not speak to the media.
Dozens of people, mostly Copts, took cover in the cathedral compound while petrol bombs and stones rained down from residential buildings across the street in the densely inhabited area, witnesses said. Some of them threw back stones.
UN Arms Trade Treaty’s Deadly Loophole
By NILE BOWIE
Foundation fellows and diplomats have lauded the overwhelming approval of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by the General Assembly of the United Nations, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon describing it as a means to obstruct the illicit arms flow to warlords, pirates, terrorists, criminals and the like.
Many who have critically monitored the situation in Syria and the ramifications of foreign intervention in Libya may have difficulty swallowing Ban’s words, as some would argue that the UN has itself been complicit in these crises for turning a blind eye to arms and funding going to al-Qaeda-linked rebels in various countries.
Twenty-three countries abstained from the vote (representing half the world’s population), including Russia, China, India, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Egypt, while three--Syria, Iran and North Korea--voted against.
Iran’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Gholamhussein Dehqani called the treaty a political document disguised as an Arms Trade Treaty, and with highly legitimate reasons for doing so.
“The right to acquire and import arms for their (importer states’) security needs is subject to the discretionary judgment and extremely subjective assessment of the exporting states. That is why this text is highly abusable and susceptible to politicization, manipulation and discrimination,” said Dehqani, referring to conditions that arms exporting states would be able to impose on importing states.
The pact prohibits the export of conventional arms to countries deemed guilty of violating international human rights laws and committing crimes against humanity--sure, this appears to be ethical and just at first glance, but more careful reflection is required.
If we assume that the United Nations makes the call on which states qualify as human rights abusers and which states do not, then Israel would not be hindered from purchasing conventional weapons, but a country like Syria would be barred from purchasing arms to defend itself and its territorial sovereignty.
What makes the treaty not only toothless, but also particularly dangerous, is the fact that it lacks any explicit prohibitions regarding arms proliferation to terrorists and unlawful non-state actors.
“Without such provisions, the ATT would in fact lower the bar on obligations of all states not to support terrorists and/or terrorists acts. We cannot allow such a loophole in the ATT,” said Sujata Mehta, India’s lead negotiator for the ATT in a statement.
What this means is that NATO and Persian Gulf Arab states that supply arms to opposition groups in Syria will retain the flexibility to continue to do so, while at the same time having a greater say over whether individual importing states can arm themselves in accordance with their legitimate defense and national security interests. There is no doubt that certain states would take advantage of this loophole’s vast potential for misuse.
The treaty does not recognize the rights of all states to acquire, produce, export, import and possess conventional weapons for their own legitimate security purposes. In theory, this treaty gives the United States, the world’s largest arms exporter with heavy sway over the UN, much greater ability to influence whether or not an individual country is allowed to obtain weapons for its own defense.
The treaty, in its glaring bias and predictability, completely fails to prohibit the transfer of arms to countries engaged in military aggression against other nations, such as Israel.
“Somebody probably wants to have free rein to send arms to anti-government groups in countries ruled by regimes they consider inconvenient… When we started work on the document, the General Assembly set the task of establishing the highest possible international standards in the area of arms transfers. In reality though, the treaty has established minimally acceptable standards,” said Russian treaty negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov in a recent interview.
The treaty applies to the transfer of conventional weapons such as battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, small and light weapons, while the proliferation of UAV drones and other modern military technology is not addressed or scrutinized. While feel-good rhetoric prevails and politicians pat themselves on the back, the United Nations by its own admission concedes that the treaty does not ban or prohibit the export of any type of weapon. It is clear that the countries that rely most on the illicit trafficking of arms to execute their foreign policy objectives have had noticeable influence over the contents of this treaty. The treaty depends on how stringently individual countries implement it, and international arms transfers that involve barter deals or leases are also not scrutinized.
While many call it a welcomed development and the first step in regulating the $70 billion global conventional arms trade, there is little evidence that it will accomplish anything more than increase the frequency of illicit transfers under different guises and further legitimize the ‘Good Terrorist-Bad Terrorist’ dichotomy – it also contains no language concerning the right to self-determination by people who are under occupation, as is the case in Palestine.
The treaty contains some reasonable common-sense measures, such as introducing national systems that monitor arms circulation in countries that lack such systems, but the absence of progressive processes lends credence to accusations that the text is highly industry-friendly and serves to reinforce the status quo.
Most importantly, the treaty pays no focus to actually reducing the sale of arms by limiting global production, which should rightfully be the objective of a treaty that uses global mass causality figures to legitimize itself.
According to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, armed violence kills more than half a million people each year, a figure that should rightfully strengthen calls to regulate and decrease global production rather than solely focusing simply on trade. Rather, the treaty institutionalizes and legalizes the arming of good terrorists while denying arms to unfriendly governments.
Until the UN can cease being an appendage of a handful of the most powerful arms exporting states, there is little hope that any international arms trade treaty can reduce human suffering and have a meaningful impact on the lives of the most vulnerable in conflict zones around the world and elsewhere.
Mideast Peace Talks
US Secretary of State John Kerry was looking to breathe new life into dormant Mideast peace talks in meetings Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.