Friday, July 22, 2011

Clinton Chides Turkey on Human Rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, chiding a NATO ally whose support is critical to American goals in the Mideast, said Saturday that Turkey must act on concerns about backsliding on human rights and its secular traditions

Speaking politely but firmly about the moderate Muslim nation, Clinton said the recent arrests of dozens of journalists and curbs placed on religious freedom were "inconsistent" with Turkey's economic and political progress.

She said Turkey should recommit itself to the course of modernization and embrace the democratic institutions of statehood. By doing so, Turkey could serve as a model for Arab nations now in the midst of revolt or transition, America's top diplomat said.

"Across the region, people in the Middle East and North Africa are seeking to draw lessons from Turkey's experience," she told reporters at a news conference with Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. "Turkey's history serves as a reminder that democratic development also depends on responsible leadership."

She called on the Turkish people to use their constitutional reform process to "address concerns ... about recent restrictions on freedom of expression and religion" and boost protection for the rights of minorities.

Those concerns have stalled Turkey's bid to join the European Union and further cement ties with the West. Mrs. Clinton noted that the U.S. long has backed Turkey's EU membership.

At a town hall event earlier where she took questions from young Turks, Mrs. Clinton criticized the arrests of journalists. She said the detentions have fed fears about threats to press freedom in the majority Muslim nation.

"I do not think it is necessary or in Turkey's interests to be cracking down. It seems to me inconsistent with all the other advances Turkey has made," she said.

Turkey's institutions should be able to withstand the scrutiny and debate that a free press brings, Mrs. Clinton said.

Turkish media groups say more than 60 journalists are in jail. The groups accuse authorities of using flimsy evidence to bring the charges.

Government officials said in April there were 26 journalists jail in Turkey for activities unrelated to journalism. Officials have cited the role of some media sectors over the decades in fanning support for coups led by the Turkish military, a staunch supporter of the secular system.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Turkey is a member, says 57 journalists are in jail in Turkey, mostly on anti-terror charges. That includes people with alleged ties to Kurdish rebels and extremists.

Mrs. Clinton's comments were likely to encourage more liberal Turks but irritate Turkey's leaders, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A small group protested Clinton's visit outside the U.S. Embassy. In Istanbul, one man holding a Turkish flag staged a protest as Clinton met Orthodox Patriarchate Bartholomew, accusing Washington of "killing millions of Muslims."

Mr. Erdogan, long seen as a vital bridge between East and West, has worried some by taking steps at odds with U.S. and Western policies.

He insists that his ruling party, which has Islamist roots, is committed to secularism. But since President Barack Obama took office, Mr. Erdogan has clashed with Israel and opposed U.N. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

During George W. Bush's administration, Turkey opposed the war in Iraq and refused to allow troops to enter Iraq from its territory, creating additional divisions over the conflict within NATO.

At the coffee house, Clinton also urged Turks to continue to embrace inclusive traditions and serve as the East-West bridge, without choosing one or the other.

"I don't think there is any reason for Turkey to shift from West to East," she said. "As an outsider, I have always thought the debate is a debate without real meaning to it because why would you give up one for another? You can look both ways and to me that is an incredible advantage."


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Suu Kyi says Arab revolts give hope to Myanmar

The recent uprisings in the Middle East have given fresh hope to people in military-dominated Myanmar, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in a BBC lecture.

"The universal human aspiration to be free has been brought home to us by the stirring developments in the Middle East," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said in the lecture broadcast Tuesday.

"The Burmese are as excited by these events as peoples elsewhere," she said, according to an official transcript.

"Do we envy the people of Tunisia and Egypt? Yes, we do envy them their quick and peaceful transitions. But more than envy is a sense of solidarity and of renewed commitment to our cause, which is the cause of all women and men who value human dignity and freedom," Suu Kyi added.

The address was pre-recorded in Myanmar and formed part of the 2011 Reith Lectures, a major annual event in the BBC calendar which honours the first head of the broadcaster, John Reith.

A second lecture by Suu Kyi, who was married to British academic Michael Aris, who died in 1999, and studied at Britain's prestigious Oxford University, will be broadcast on Tuesday next week.

Pro-democracy protests in 1988 and 2007 were brutally crushed by the military rulers of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Suu Kyi was freed in November after seven straight years of house arrest, less than a week after an election that critics said was a charade aimed at preserving military rule behind a civilian facade in Myanmar.

In her lecture, Suu Kyi drew extensive parallels between the Arab Spring and uprisings in Myanmar, saying the revolution that toppled Tunisian president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January was particularly similar to Myanmar in 1988.

"In Tunis and in Burma, the deaths of two young men were the mirrors that made the people see how unbearable were the burdens of injustice and oppression they had to endure," he said.

She also cited the role of rappers in the Tunisian revolt, saying that young rap artists were playing a similar role in Myanmar, with some of them jailed after the monk-led "Saffron Revolution" in 2007.

But Suu Kyi said there was an important difference in that a "communications revolution" had helped the Arab uprisings, while in Myanmar it had been more difficult to get information out.

"Not just every single death, but even every single wounded can be made known to the world within minutes. In Libya, in Syria, and in Yemen now, the revolutionaries keep the world informed of the atrocities of those in power," she said.

Suu Kyi has previously said she wants to launch her first political tour of the country since her release, although a schedule has not yet been announced.

Security is a top concern for the party as Suu Kyi's convoy was attacked in 2003 in an ambush apparently organised by a regime frightened by her popularity.

The opposition leader, who turned 66 this month, has won international acclaim for her peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

In 1990 she led her National League for Democracy party to a landslide election win that was never recognised by Myanmar's military rulers. She boycotted last year's vote, saying the rules were unfair.