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Ankara Slams Washington on Kurdish Arms

Washington’s decision to arm the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, has provoked outrage among some in Turkey. 

“We will not accept this decision by the U.S.,” said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, before a visit to London. “The U.S. knows well the Syrian Kurds are a terrorist organization.”

The YPG militia is widely recognized as the most effective in Syria in fighting Islamic State. However, it is considered by Ankara to be an affiliate of the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish State and is designated by Washington as a terrorist organization.

“Every weapon obtained by the People’s Protection Units [YPG] constitutes a threat to Turkey,” declared Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli, speaking on television, promised to oppose its NATO ally. “We hope the U.S. administration will put a stop to this wrong and turn back from it,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision comes in the face of months of lobbying led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and warnings of serious repercussion to bilateral ties. However, Erdogan has remained silent since Tuesday’s announcement. 

Erdogan in Washington

“The reaction is quite low key, compared to previous statements from the highest level, namely the president,” observed former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, who served in Washington and in Iraq. “The way there was no high-level reaction and that the Washington visit will go ahead, shows to me that this decision will not have a destructive effect on relations.”

Erdogan is due in Washington next week for a long-awaited meeting with Trump. “This photo opportunity in the White House is too big an opportunity to miss by Ankara,” Selcen said, “and if this is seen by Washington, then they will believe they have a free hand.”

The Washington visit is seen as the most important leg of an international tour by Erdogan to bolster his legitimacy, after last month’s controversial referendum victory granting him sweeping powers. The vote remains marred by voter fraud allegations.

The ongoing controversy over Kurdish fighters is a running sore between allies, especially as most experts predicted Washington would ultimately arm the YPG.

“It’s obvious Americans are quite pragmatic about the Syrian question,” said Atilla Yesilada, political consultant of Global Source Partners. “They prefer Kurds, not because they are in love with them, but simply because Kurds have 50,000 valiant fighters at the gates of Raqqa. What they need is heavy weaponry.”

Weapons and PKK

The kind of weapons Washington will ultimately deliver to the YPG will likely be closely followed by Ankara. The Turkish military has repeatedly claimed sophisticated anti-tank missiles delivered by its Western allies to Syrian Kurdish forces have fallen into the hands of the PKK fighting in Turkey.

Washington is going on the charm offensive.

“We’ll work out any of the concerns,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mathis said Wednesday. “We will work very closely with Turkey in support of their security on their southern border. It’s Europe’s southern border, and we’ll stay closely connected.”

A Pentagon statement Tuesday stressed the delivery of weapons to the YPG and their use would be closely monitored.

But the YPG is still claiming victory.

“We believe that from now on and after this historic decision, [the YPG] will play a stronger, more influential and more decisive role in combating terrorism at a fast pace,” spokesman Redur Xelil said in a written statement to Reuters.

Ankara has threatened retaliation against its Western partners if they pursued a policy of arming what it considered terrorist organization. U.S. forces depend heavily on the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, not only for military operations against Islamic State, but also as a strategic logistics hub. Turkish ministers from time to time have threatened Washington over its use, but analysts predict Ankara remains reluctant to take such a drastic step and risk wrecking relations with Trump.

Erdogan has met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, five times in less than a year, most recently this month in Sochi. But given that Moscow also is backing the YPG, Ankara’s room for maneuvering is viewed as limited.

Washington’s decision to support the YPG will also likely preclude any repeat of last month’s Turkish military strikes against the Syrian Kurdish militia, both in Syria and Iraq.

“The Americans have pushed Ankara into a corner where no military operations against the presence of YPG in Syria are possible and, second, Ankara from now on will have to live with the fact the YPG is a political organization like any other that is fighting Islamic state,” said former senior Turkish diplomat Selcen.

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Kosovo Lawmakers Dismiss Government

Lawmakers in Kosovo voted to dismiss the government of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa in a no-confidence motion Wednesday, leading to a snap election next month.

Seventy-eight members in the 120-seat parliament voted to dismiss the government after months of political gridlock over a border deal which critics argued would mean less land for the tiny Balkan country.

The opposition more broadly accused the government of failing to deliver on campaign promises and claimed there was diminishing public trust in the government.

“The country is badly governed. The country needs a new government,” said Valdete Bajrami of the opposition Initiative for Kosovo party, which proposed the motion.

Mustafa, however, has argued that his government has lowered unemployment and debt, and warned that the the consequence of this vote will be “the country’s destabilization through creating a lack of trust in institutions, and an institutional vacuum.”

According to the law in Kosovo, elections must be held within 45 days. Mustafa, who’s government was slated to run the country for another year, is expected to call the elections by the end of the week.

 

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Romanian Museum Celebrates Creativity of Kitsch

Visitors to Romania who yearn for a taste of communist-era kitsch now have an entire museum to enjoy.

From the mundane (wedding champagne flutes covered in sequins and bows) to the spectacular (a life-sized Dracula and flashing neon crucifixes), Bucharest’s Kitsch Museum celebrates questionable taste of the past and present.

“My favorite kitsch, which has unfortunately been damaged, is a statue of Christ with an incorporated room thermometer,” said Cristian Lica, who opened the museum to show off a collection he has amassed over two decades. “The creativity behind kitsch must be admired.”

The 215 exhibits are curated into several categories: communist, Dracula, Orthodox Church, contemporary and Gypsy kitsch, which, Lica said, was not meant to offend the Roma minority.

“We don’t want to insult anyone. We didn’t invent anything. We just picked up items from the reality around us,” he said.

Lica, who has traveled to over 100 countries and has written a travel book, said he thought Romania has been particularly prone to kitsch as it rushed to catch up with the aspirational living standards of its richer Western neighbors.

In the communism collection, plain cotton underwear hangs out to dry, a common sight on apartment balconies of the era. For Romanians, the tiny museum in the capital’s picturesque old town, is full of recognizable artifacts both from pre-1989 communist times and the present.

“It reminded me of my childhood, how I grew up, how the house looked,” said local visitor Simona Constantin. “I am glad such a museum has opened. Everything I have seen has made me nostalgic.”

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Stirring Portraits of Communist Albania’s Women Recall Different Reality

Three women stare down from the gallery wall — colorful, defiant and imbued with a spirit of working for the many not the few.

They are a brigadier, a factory worker and a youth volunteer with a hoe. They are paintings of socialist realism. They are also all Albanian women from the time of Enver Hoxha, who created one of the world’s most closed societies until his death in 1985.

Visitors to Greece’s capital have a relatively rare opportunity to see Hoxha-era art on display outside its regular home in Tirana’s National Gallery of Art.

The portraits are part of documenta 14, the Kassel, Germany-based exhibition of Western European modern art that this year is being hosted both in Kassel and Athens.

Hundreds of documenta 14 displays are to be found in museums across the Greek city until July, with the three women portraits among the offerings at EMST, the National Museum of Contemporary Art located in the old but renovated Fix brewery building.

The paintings — by Spiro Kristo (1976), Zef Shoshi (1969) and Hasan Nallbani (1968) — draw you in and can inspire.

But they were also political, more than acceptable to Hoxha, who saw threats from the West, Russia, the then-Yugolavia and just about everywhere.

In a sense, they are modernist icons for the only society in the world that was officially atheist.

As Edi Muka, an Albanian art critic and curator, notes of Shoshi’s factory worker, “representations of motherhood as constitutive of women’s central role in religious art are carefully removed.”

Hoxha-era paranoia was to be found everywhere from spikes in vineyards to deter potential enemy paratroopers to more than 700,000 concrete bunkers across the country, housing soldiers on guard for potential attack.

So it was not all easy for painters. Not far from the three women, documenta 14 has hung a 1971 painting “Planting of Trees” by Edi Hila.

It depicts blissfully happy young people planting trees for their country.

Too blissfully happy, perhaps. Almost “expressive dancing,” in the words of the painter.

“My work stepped out of the contours of socialist realism,” Hila told Reuters in Tirana. “Generally in those works the positive, the hero, is in the center. … The compositional structure was different so this hurt their taste.”

Hila, deemed to be in need of re-education, ended up being sentenced to work as a loader on a chicken farm. His drawings from that time — showing a different kind of realism — are also on display in Athens.

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EU’s Mogherini: Bloc Strong as it Turns 60

The European Union foreign policy chief Tuesday sought to reassure the international community that the bloc remains strong, despite Britain’s planned departure and anxiety caused by elections in several member states.

 

In her annual briefing to the United Nations Security Council, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said the bloc marks its 60th birthday, about to lose member Britain but as strong as ever.

 

“Indeed, our British friends have decided to leave us – which is very sad for all of us – but life goes on and the European Union as well goes on,” she told the council. “Since the U.K. referendum last year, we Europeans have recommitted to being the strong and united power that our citizens and our partners need and deserve.”

  

Asked by reporters about the outcome of the presidential election in France on Sunday, when the right-wing nationalist candidate was soundly defeated by the centrist, pro-Europe one, she said there has been a similar pattern in recent European elections, including in the Netherlands and Austria.

 

“It is clear to me that Europeans have now focused on what there is to lose and on the fact that what can sound attractive in an electoral speech might become scary if it turns reality,” Mogherini said. “When they face the reality of political choices – as they do through elections – they know what to choose,” she said.

 

Challenges

 

Mogherini said the 28-nation bloc is committed to finding a political settlement to the war in Syria through U.N.-led intra-Syrian peace talks, which are scheduled to resume next week in Geneva.

She also had pointed messages for the Trump administration on the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal – don’t withdraw from them.

 

As the White House debates whether to stay in the Paris climate accord and honor the Obama administration’s commitment to drastically reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, Mogherini stressed that Europe expects Washington to remain committed to the agreement.

 

“But 195 countries have signed the deal on climate change, and there will be 195 different paths to meeting the Paris goals and honoring the agreement,” she noted. “I am sure there is room for the U.S. administration to find its own path, being part of what the world has agreed together and finding its own way to do so.”

 

On the 2015 deal that aims to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and which U.S. President Donald Trump has called “terrible” and said should be torn up, Mogherini said it has made the Middle East, Europe and the world more secure.

 

“World powers negotiated the deal, but the agreement was immediately ratified by the Security Council, and the deal now belongs to the entire international community,” she said. She added that the EU supports full implementation and monitoring of the agreement.

 

“We look forward to deepened cooperation with the EU to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities and to hold the Iranian government accountable for its actions,” U.S. envoy Nikki Haley told the council. “The EU can and should do more to underscore to Iran that its destabilizing actions in the region – including support for extremist and terrorist groups – must cease.”

 

Haley also called for stepped up EU action to deter North Korea from its nuclear path, and for more rigorous sanctions on Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons.

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Germany’s Steinmeier Calls for Arab-Jewish Co-existence in Mideast

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has appealed to Jews and Arabs in the Middle East to keep the window open for peace. Steinmeier is on his first foreign trip outside Europe since he was elected president in February. His visit coincides with the election of a new Hamas leader who is based in Gaza, unlike his predecessors. Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Tillerson, Lavrov to Discuss Syria and Ukraine Wednesday

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is due to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Wednesday in Washington to discuss Syria, Ukraine and other issues.

“On Syria, the secretary intends to discuss efforts to de-escalate violence, provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and set the stage for a political settlement of the conflict,” the State Department said in a statement Monday.

The announcement comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the U.S. will closely examine Russia’s plan to establish “de-escalation” zones in Syria.

“The devil is always in the details,” Mattis said Monday when asked about the initiative. “We will look at the proposal, see if it can work.”

Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to a Moscow-proposed deal last week to establish the so-called “de-escalation” zones in Syria in an effort to end the six-year conflict.   

The proposal calls for taking measures to reduce fighting in four designated areas of Syria where rebels not associated with Islamic State militants control significant territory.

The plan emerged from the latest round of peace talks that Russia, Iran and Turkey held in Astana, Kazakhstan.  The U.S. had a senior official at the meeting, but is not a signatory to the agreement.

The initiative went into effect at midnight Friday.  Russia said the zones are closed to aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition.

The Astana peace talks are separate from a United Nations effort to bring Syria’s warring sides together for negotiations aimed at stopping the fighting and launching a political transition with a new constitution and elections.

U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said Monday he hopes the Astana de-escalation plan will be fully implemented and help set a good tone for the next round of U.N.-led talks between the Syrian government and rebels due to begin May 16 in Geneva.

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Europe Celebrates Macron Victory

Reactions continue to pour in as newly-elected president Emmanuel Macron whose business-friendly vision of European integration defeated Marine Le Pen, the far-right French nationalist who threatened to take France out of the European Union. Mariama Diallo reports.

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World Leaders Congratulate Macron for French Election Win

World leaders and other political heavyweights have sent congratulatory messages to France’s president-elect, Emmanuel Macron on his victory over Marine Le Pen.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win today as the next President of France. I look very much forward to working with him!”

Trump had not publicly endorsed either candidate ahead of the election, but let it be known he generally favored Marine Le Pen’s views.

Former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and New York mayor Bill de Blasio, among others, congratulated Macron and the people of France for the presidential election result.

“Your victory is a victory for a strong and united Europe and for French-German friendship,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said in statement.

Macron spoke with Merkel after his victory was announced, telling her that he would travel to Berlin “very quickly.”

A British spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that May “warmly congratulates President-elect Macron on his election success. France is one of our closest allies and we look forward to working with the new President on a wide range of shared priorities.”

May also discussed Brexit with Macron, saying “the UK wants a strong partnership with a secure and prosperous EU once we leave,” the spokesman added.

European Union leaders also offered congratulations to Macron: “Happy that the French chose a European future,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote on Twitter.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the French had chosen “liberty, equality and fraternity” and “said no to the tyranny of fake news.”

In a message posted Monday on the Kremlin website, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Macron and called on him to “overcome mutual mistrust and unite to ensure international stability and security.”

Putin said, “The citizens of France have entrusted you to lead the country in a period that is difficult for Europe and for all of world society. The growing threat of terrorism and militant extremism is accompanied by an escalation of local conflicts and the destabilization of entire regions.”

The Kremlin said Putin told Macron the Russian leader is ready to cooperate on bilateral, regional and global issues.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said “the victory of President-elect Macron is a symbolic victory against inward-looking and protectionist moves and shows a vote of confidence in the EU.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his message to Macron that China is willing to push partnership with France to a higher level. Xi said their countries share a “responsibility toward peace and development in the world.”

Xi recalled that France was the first Western power to establish diplomatic relations with communist-ruled China in 1964.

Other world leaders from Canada to Latin America to Australia also congratulated Macron on his historic victory.

Macron, the youngest French leader since the Emperor Napoleon, will take office on May 14, 2017.

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World Leaders Congratulate Macron for French Presidential Election Win

World leaders and other political heavyweights have sent congratulatory messages to France’s president-elect, Emmanuel Macron on his victory over Marine Le Pen.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win today as the next President of France. I look very much forward to working with him!”

Trump had not publicly endorsed either candidate ahead of the election, but let it be known he generally favored Marine Le Pen’s views.

Former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and New York mayor Bill de Blasio, among others, congratulated Macron and the people of France for the presidential election result.

“Your victory is a victory for a strong and united Europe and for French-German friendship,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said in statement.

Macron spoke with Merkel after his victory was announced, telling her that he would travel to Berlin “very quickly.”

A British spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that May “warmly congratulates President-elect Macron on his election success. France is one of our closest allies and we look forward to working with the new President on a wide range of shared priorities.”

May also discussed Brexit with Macron, saying “the UK wants a strong partnership with a secure and prosperous EU once we leave,” the spokesman added.

European Union leaders also offered congratulations to Macron: “Happy that the French chose a European future,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote on Twitter.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the French had chosen “liberty, equality and fraternity” and “said no to the tyranny of fake news”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said “the victory of President-elect Macron is a symbolic victory against inward-looking and protectionist moves and shows a vote of confidence in the EU.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his message to Macron that China is willing to push partnership with France to a higher level. Xi said their countries share a “responsibility toward peace and development in the world.”

Xi recalled that France was the first Western power to establish diplomatic relations with communist-ruled China in 1964.

Other world leaders from Canada to Latin America to Australia also congratulated Macron on his historic victory.

Macron, the youngest French leader since the Emperor Napoleon, will take office on May 14, 2017.