Erdogan says Turkey will overcome coronavirus in two-three weeks through measures

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will overcome the coronavirus outbreak in two to three weeks through good measures, with as little damage as possible, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that he expected patience, understanding and support from Turks in the process.

“We have preparations for every scenario,” Erdogan told a televised address to the nation. “By breaking the speed of the virus’ spread in two to three weeks, we will get through this period as soon as possible with as little damage as possible.”

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Turkey sets shop, bus restrictions as coronavirus death toll rises to 37

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey imposed restrictions on Tuesday on grocery store opening hours and numbers of shop customers and bus passengers, adding to steps to combat the spread of the coronavirus after the country’s death toll from the illness rose to 37.

Ankara has already closed schools, cafes and bars, banned mass prayers and indefinitely postponed matches in its main sports leagues, as well suspending flights to many countries as it looks to limit the spread of the virus.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced the new death toll overnight and said the number of confirmed cases rose by 293 on Monday to 1,529, with a total of more than 24,000 tests carried out on people. [L8N2BG98C]

In the latest moves, the Interior Ministry said grocery stores and supermarkets’ opening hours will be limited to between 9 am (0600 GMT) and 9 pm (2100 GMT), with a maximum of one customer for every 10 square meters of shop space.

Buses within towns and between cities will not be allowed to exceed 50% of the vehicle’s capacity, with space to be kept between the passengers, the ministry statement said.

Separately, the Turkish Competition Board said on Monday night there had been opportunist, excessive food price rises, notably for fruit and vegetable products, and said it would impose severed fines on those found to be responsible.

On Monday evening, the health minister said that Turkey will hire 32,000 more medical staff and stop exporting locally made face masks so its own services can use them as the coronavirus spreads across the country.

He said Turkey had ordered rapid testing kits from China, as well as medicine that he said he been used to treat coronavirus patients – though he did not give details on the treatments.

“We have activated the rapid test kit. Today, 50,000 arrived from China. On Thursday, 300,000 additional kits will come, and we have made arrangements to use up to one million kits,” Koca told a news conference.

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Turkish shops close after Erdogan promises support for economy

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish clothing retailers said on Thursday they were shutting stores and shopping centers were set to close due to the spread of the coronavirus, after Ankara promised economic support and advised Turks to stay home for three weeks unless necessary.

Turkey announced a second death and said cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness had nearly doubled to 191, as it ramps up steps to rein in the virus, closing cafes, banning mass prayers and halting flights to 20 countries.

There are some 435 shopping malls in Turkey which have annual turnover of $160 billion and directly employ 530,000 people, according to the AYD shopping centers’ association.

On Wednesday President Tayyip Erdogan called on people to minimize social contact until the virus threat recedes, but he did not tell them to stay away from work as he announced a 100 billion lira ($15.40 billion) economic support package.

Retailers including Mavi Giyim and Vakko Tekstil, listed on the Istanbul stock exchange, said they were closing their retail stores. Mavi shares dropped 4.7% and Vakko fell 3.5% after the announcements.

“Our first and foremost priority is the health and safety of our employees and our consumers globally,” Mavi said as it announced the closure of stores in Turkey, Germany and Canada, adding that its online stores would remain open.

After the latest steps, the lira was nearly 0.5% weaker against the dollar, hitting its weakest level since September 2018, and bringing its losses this year to some 9%.

The AYD said its board recommended malls shut in line with Erdogan’s comments and was awaiting instructions from authorities. “None of our employees will lose their work and (the situation of) our tenants will be eased as necessary,” it said.

Luxury goods chain Vakko said it was temporarily halting production activities as well as shutting stores. Other retailers who announced store closures included Boyner, Ipekyol and Marks & Spencer stores in Turkey, operated by Fiba Retail.

After meeting ministers and business leaders, Erdogan said on Wednesday Turkey would postpone debt payments and reduce the tax burden on some sectors in a package of measures to support the economy, but called on people to limit their movements.

“None of our citizens must leave their homes or get into contact with anyone, unless absolutely necessary, until the threat disappears,” Erdogan said.

Among specific measures, Erdogan said Turkey’s tourism accommodation tax was being suspended until November to support the key tourism sector, which accounts for some 12% of the economy. Debt repayments of companies affected by the coronavirus will be postponed for a minimum of three months.

Turkey has already suspended mass prayer in mosques, temporarily closed cafes, sports and entertainment venues, as well as extended a flight ban to 20 countries, including major European destinations.

On Tuesday, Turkey’s central bank cut its key interest rate by 100 basis points at an earlier-than-scheduled policy meeting, and acted to support volatile financial markets.

The bank postponed its ordinary general assembly that was set for Friday.

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Greek police fire tear gas as migrants seek to enter from Turkey

Latest flare-up on Turkish-Greek land border comes as Erdogan orders coastguard to prevent Aegean Sea crossings.

Greek police have fired tear gas at refugees and migrants attempting to cross the border from Turkey, in the latest incident since Ankara declared its borders with the European Union open.

Saturday’s unrest also saw tear gas coming from Turkish territory and being fired towards Greek police near the crossing at the Pazarkule border, known as Kastanies on the Greek side, according to reports.


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Meanwhile, hundreds of people could be seen on the Turkish side of the high perimeter fence, with some pushing at it.

A Greek government statement issued on Saturday said nearly 600 people, aided by the Turkish army and the military police, threw tear gas canisters at the Greek side of the border overnight.

There were several attempts to breach the border fence, and fires were lit in an attempt to damage the barrier, the statement said.

Sea crossings

The development came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the coastguard to prevent migrants crossing the Aegean Sea because of the risks.

“On the orders of the president … permission will not be given for migrants to cross the Aegean Sea because it is dangerous,” the coastguard tweeted on Friday.

“The approach of not intervening against migrants wishing to leave Turkey remains in practice but this [new] approach covers sea crossings because of the dangers,” it added in another tweet.

The coastguard said 97 migrants were rescued on Thursday after “the Greek side flattened three boats and left them in a half-sinking state in the middle of the sea”.

The instruction comes after Erdogan said last month that refugees and migrants would not be prevented by Turkish authorities from leaving Turkey if that was their wish. That move came after an escalation of violence in Syria’s northwest that saw dozens of Turkish soldiers killed in Syrian government air raids amid an offensive by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad aimed at seizing the war-torn country’s last rebel bastion.

The Russia-backed military push has forced nearly one million people towards the shut Turkish border, prompting fears of a major humanitarian catastrophe. Already hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Ankara is determined to prevent any further influx from Syria while also accusing the EU of not fulfilling its promises under a 2016 migration deal.

On Saturday, the Turkish president’s office said Erdogan plans to be in Brussels on Monday for a one-day working visit, in a statement that came hours after EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Croatia on Friday criticised Turkey.

The ministers said Ankara was using the migrants’ desperation “for political purposes”.

New migrant camps

Also on Saturday, the Greek migration minister said Greece plans to build two new temporary camps to house hundreds of additional asylum seekers who arrived in recent days.

“We want to build two closed centres in [the northern region of] Serres and the greater Athens area with 1,000 places,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV.

“We need the backing of local communities. We cannot leave all [these] people on the islands,” he said.

Mitarachi said the camps would host asylum seekers who arrived after March 1.

Residents of a Serres town rumoured to host one of the camps staged protests earlier this week and local officials declared their opposition to the plan.

More than 1,700 migrants have landed on Lesbos and four other Aegean islands from Turkey over the past week, adding to the 38,000 already crammed into abysmal and overstretched refugee centres.

The new surge has ramped up already high tensions on an island that has been on the migration front line for years.

Frustration exploded into violence last weekend with mobs setting up roadblocks, attacking cars carrying NGO workers and beating journalists.

Inside Story

Are Turkey and Greece closer to an armed conflict?

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Greece condemned over ill-treatment of refugees held on ship

HRW says Greece’s move to detain more than 450 people on a naval vessel ‘flagrantly’ violates international law.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Greece to reverse its “draconian policy” towards more than 450 refugees and migrants detained on a navy ship docked in Mytilene port on the island of Lesbos.

The men, women and children are among those picked up by the Greek coastguard since late February when Turkey decided to stop preventing asylum seekers from reaching the European Union by land and sea.  

Since then, hundreds of people have arrived on the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea off the Turkish coast.


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Many of those who reached Lesbos, which is already struggling to cope with the number of refugees there, were transferred last week to the ship.

Last week, Greece also announced it would suspend asylum applications for a month – a move condemned by the United Nations’s refugee agency (UNHCR).

HRW, quoting a Syrian asylum seeker on board the ship, said many of the 451 people detained were women and children.

“Greece’s decision to detain more than 450 people on a naval vessel and refuse to allow them to lodge asylum claims flagrantly violates international and European law,” the New York-based rights group said in a statement.

“The action may amount to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”

‘Children not receiving sufficient food’

The rights group said that the Greek authorities had denied them access to the dock area where the detainees are being held during the day, or to the vessel where they spend the night.     

Bill Frelick, HRW’s director of migrant and refugee rights, said: “Greece should immediately reverse this draconian policy, properly receive these people in safe and decent conditions, and allow them to lodge asylum claims.”   

The Syrian asylum seeker who contacted HRW by telephone said most of the detainees were Afghans, but that 118 were Arabs, including Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians. Somalis, Congolese and others from Africa were also on board.    

“The children are not receiving sufficient food and clothing,” he told HRW.    

“We had only three toilets for 451 people until today, when they brought five portable toilets. There is no shower, no soap.”    

Pregnant women were among those detained, but it was not clear if they were getting proper medical care, he added.    

He also said he had been denied direct access to a lawyer. 

Ankara to file case against Greece

In Lesbos, more than 18,000 refugees live in miserable conditions in and around the infamous Moria camp, which was built to hold fewer than 3,000 people. Tension has escalated on the island with the surge in arrivals last week, with residents as well as refugees and migrants staging protests.    

Separately, Turkey said on Wednesday it was preparing a case in the European Court of Human Rights over Greece‘s treatment of refugees, and added the EU has so far made no concrete offer to deal with thousands trying to enter the bloc. 

Turkey, which hosts approximately four million mostly Syrian refugees, fears it may be forced to admit another million following a recent escalation in fighting in northwest Syria where its forces back rebel groups against a Russian-backed government offensive.

In March 2016, Turkey and the EU agreed upon a deal in which Brussels would provide billions of euros in aid to help Ankara finance housing, schools and medical centres for the refugees it hosts on its soil.

But Ankara has repeatedly accused the bloc of not fulfilling its commitments under the deal, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and an enhanced customs union.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met European Council President Charles Michel on Wednesday to discuss the issue. 

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Turkey defies EU pressure to shut border, says to host migration summit

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would not stop migrants trying to cross Turkey’s border into Greece despite EU pressure to do so, but he also announced a summit next week in Istanbul with European leaders to seek a solution to the crisis.

Tens of thousands of migrants have been trying to get into Greece, a European Union member state, since Turkey said on Feb. 28 it would no longer keep them on its territory as part of a 2016 deal with Brussels in return for EU aid for the refugees.

Greece has sent troops to the border area and used tear gas and water cannon against the migrants, but the pressure has continued. Greece said it stopped 963 illegal migrants in the 24 hours to 6 a.m. on Tuesday and arrested 52.

Erdogan, speaking to reporters on his plane back to Turkey after discussing the migrant crisis on Monday in Brussels with top EU officials, repeated his call on Greece to change tack.

“We are not thinking of closing these gates. Our proposal to Greece is to open the gates. These people won’t stay in Greece. Let them cross from Greece into other European countries,” he said, calling for a “just, humane sharing” of the burden.

His comments will revive memories of the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when more than one million people, mostly fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Asia, reached the EU via Turkey and Greece, boosting support for far-right parties.

Greek military vehicles and soldiers on foot continued on Tuesday to patrol along the wire and steel fence that separates the Kastanies crossing from Turkey’s border post at Pazarkule.

Greek officials said the 52 migrants arrested from Monday to Tuesday included Syrians, Afghans and Iranians.


Erdogan said he would convene a summit in Istanbul on March 17 on the migrant issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and possibly British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He said he had stressed in the Brussels talks the need to update both the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and the EU and Turkey’s customs union with the bloc, and also to revive Turkey’s stalled EU accession process.

“The EU leaders accepted that Turkey had fulfilled its responsibilities under the March 18 (2016) agreement and that the EU had acted slowly,” Erdogan said, adding that technical and political teams would now produce a road map.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, will conduct this process and try to come up with proposals in time for a summit of EU leaders on March 26, Erdogan said.

Ankara says the EU has so far handed over only about half of the six billion euros initially promised to help house, feed, educate and care for the 3.6 million refugees living in Turkey.

Turkey also wants more European support over the war in neighboring Syria, where Turkish troops face off against Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

The 2016 pact also envisaged European countries taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from camps in Turkey and rewarding Turks with visa-free travel to the EU.

On Tuesday a German official said Germany would take in up to 100 children living in refugee camps in Greece. Germany took in nearly one million refugees in 2015-16, but Merkel has since faced a political backlash from right-wing voters.

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Migrants are boon for poor Roma villagers on Turkey-Greece border

KARAAGAC, Turkey (Reuters) – For members of the Roma minority in the Turkish village of Karaagac on the border with Greece, the arrival of thousands of migrants desperately seeking to cross into the European Union could not have been better news.

Poor and living mainly from cultivating their gardens and collecting cardboard and plastics for recycling, Roma families are now looking to cash in catering to the needs of 4,000 migrants now in a makeshift tent camp at the frontier.

Farmers set up stands selling everything from tomatoes and cucumbers to quince and pomegranate. Others sold mineral water, bread, yoghurt and tinned teapots.

A few turned their horse-drawn carts into taxis to ferry exhausted migrants and their shopping to the border.

Among all the Roma scrambling to make more money on the edge of the village overlooking fields and a dirt road running to the Pazarkule border crossing, teenager Sevgi Katirci stood out.

She was the only woman riding a horse cart and her clients were solely men. Wearing a green jacket and black jeans, she would gracefully whip her horse and race to the border as her passengers held tight.

“The migrants are here today, but they could be gone tomorrow,” said her father Mehmet, operating his own cart and watching his hard-working daughter with pride. “So we have to make the best of it.”

Like many children of Roma in Turkey, Sevgi doesn’t go to school. Her work helps her family earn about 150 Turkish liras ($25) a day, charging 10-15 liras per passenger.

The Roma and their foreign clients have turned the dirt road to the border into a multicultural market where migrants compare notes on their experiences and discuss what to do next.

Hassan Tunai, who was selling water bottles, fruit juice and yoghurt, said earning money from the migrants left him with a bad feeling.

“I wish it would not be like this,” he said, wearing sunglasses and hoisting the Turkish flag on his stand. “When we see them (the migrants), the money that we earned loses its meaning. It does not make us happy.”

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Rallies held across Turkey for children and women in Syria jails

Events organised on occasion of International Women’s Day protest unjust imprisonment of women and children in Syria.

    Rallies across Turkey have urged the international community to take immediate action for the release of women and children in Syrian prisons.

    Friday’s events, organised on the occasion of International Women’s Day by several rights and humanitarian groups, protested human rights breaches and unjust imprisonment of women and children by the Syrian government.

    During the demonstrations, held simultaneously in various countries around the world and Turkish cities, representatives of organising groups read out a joint statement titled: Together for the freedom of captive women and children in Syria.

    According to the Conscience Movement, an umbrella group founded for the cause, more than 13,500 women have been jailed since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, and more than 7,000 women remain in detention where they are reportedly subjected to torture, rape and sexual violence.

    Bulent Yildirim, head of the organiser group Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), said at the press conference in Istanbul that Muslim countries should be “ashamed” of not doing enough for women and children held in Syrian prisons.

    “We must not persecute anyone no matter what their language, religion or race is,” Yildirim said, adding that women and children in Syrian prisons live in terrible conditions.

    Seymaros Baris, a member of Conscience Movement, said in eastern Bitlis province: “We will continue our struggle until the last woman and child in the Syrian dungeons are free.” 

    IHH’s Hatay province representative Ismail Dokmeci said from the province: “We are calling on the Syrian regime and its partners. Stop using rape as a weapon of war. Stop the brutal torture against women. Release our Syrian sisters.”

    Group founded for the cause

    The Conscience Movement was founded last year after an all-woman international convoy was organised to raise awareness about the abuses suffered by female prisoners of the Syrian regime.

    Last year, a 55-bus convoy made a three-day journey from Istanbul to Turkey’s southern Hatay province near the Syrian border, where thousands of women staged a rally marking the International Women’s Day.  

    The Syrian civil war started as a largely peaceful uprising against the Syrian government in March 2011 but quickly developed into a full-scale conflict after the Syrian leader refused to concede power.

    The former United Nations special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, estimated at least 400,000 people had died over the first five years of conflict. Hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced by the violence.

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    Turkey reinstated press accreditation, says German journalist

    Joerg Brase, Istanbul bureau chief for ZDF public television, says Ankara ‘took back their rejection’ of his press card.

      A German journalist who was recently refused a renewal of his press accreditation by Turkey said that he had received his work credentials after all, days after the German foreign minister had spoken out against the refusal.

      Joerg Brase, Istanbul bureau chief for ZDF public television, said on Twitter on Tuesday that Ankara “took back their rejection” of his press card for 2019 and that he would return to Istanbul soon.

      However, there was no immediate news from Thomas Seibert, who writes for Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel, and who had also been denied credentials for unknown reasons.

      Both men were forced to leave Turkey on Sunday, a day after Germany‘s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas complained it was “unacceptable” that German correspondents could not do “their job freely” in Turkey.

      Another German journalist, Turkish-born NDR television correspondent Halil Gulbeyaz, also had his application rejected.

      ‘We will keep reporting’

      “The Turkish government has managed to more or less silence the national media. They are now trying to do it with international media. And we should not submit to that,” Brase told ZDF before leaving Istanbul on Sunday.

      ZDF Director Thomas Bellut said Brase had reported from Turkey factually and knowledgeably, adding: “ZDF will continue to report about this important country extensively, impartially, factually and critically”.

      Berlin-Ankara relations were badly strained following a failed 2016 coup in Turkey and the subsequent arrests and purges by Turkish authorities targeting tens of thousands of people, including Germans.

      However, ties improved after Turkey released German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel and others whom Berlin labelled political prisoners, while Ankara accused them of terrorism-related charges.

      Both sides are eager to avoid a severe deterioration in ties with Turkey’s economy in crisis and Germany, home to three million people of Turkish origin, reliant on Ankara to help contain a Syrian migrant and refugee crisis beyond Europe’s borders.

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      Turkish foreign minister calls for U.S. Patriot missiles as support in Idlib

      ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara wants the United States to send Patriot missiles to Turkey for back-up in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.

      Cavusoglu made the comment to reporters on Saturday in the Qatari capital Doha after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

      Attacks by Syrian government forces killed 55 Turkish soldiers this month in Idlib. President Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to push back Syrian forces if they do not pull back to pre-determined lines.

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