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Turkey’s Erdogan Breaks Silence To Push For Coalition

Ankara (AFP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday called for the swift formation of a new coalition government, ending almost four days of unusual silence after legislative polls seen as a blow to his authority.

Erdogan’s comments added weight to expectations of a coalition government in Turkey after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) he co-founded lost its majority in Sunday’s dramatic polls.

“Everyone should put their egos aside and a government must be formed as soon as possible, within the constitutional process,” Erdogan said in his first public comments since Sunday’s vote.

In a message to investors rattled by the political uncertainty, Erdogan insisted that the election result “certainly does not mean Turkey will remain without a government”.

He said he hoped political parties would “prefer a solution rather than crisis.

“We cannot leave Turkey without a government, without a head. Those who are condemned to their egos will neither be able to give account to history, nor to our people.”

Although the AKP won the biggest share of the vote in the elections, it lost its majority for the first time since it came to power in 2002.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday that the AKP would lead coalition talks with other parties but warned that snap elections were not ruled out should the discussions fail.

The elections were also seen as a huge personal blow to Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey first as premier from 2003-2014 and now as president.

Erdogan wanted the AKP to win a supermajority to push through a new constitution that would give him reinforced powers as president. But this plan has now been scuttled for the foreseeable future.

Erdogan said the election result was “the people’s will” and must be respected.

“Nobody, no matter which politician, has the right to say ‘I’. We must say ‘We,'” he said.

Erdogan’s relatively conciliatory comments helped support the Turkish lira reverse early losses against the dollar to gain 0.5 percent in value. On the Istanbul bourse, the BIST 100 Index was up 0.9 percent.

The president — known for his raucous speeches and omnipresence on Turkish television news channels — had not spoken in public since he cast his vote in Sunday’s polls.

According to a “ticking clock” set up by bloggers, he had been “off air” for three days, 22 hours and one minute.

Reports have suggested that some in the AKP were unhappy with Erdogan’s aggressive conduct of the campaign, where he lashed out at enemies in all directions.

However in Thursday’s speech, the combative leader showed no sign of retreating into a corner.

He lashed out at the Western media following a series of “ugly” articles critical of his conduct as president.

“It is hard to understand their intolerance. It means, thank God, we are on the right path. I would doubt about myself if they had praised (me),” Erdogan said.

Erdogan also lashed out at Western foreign policy in Syria, saying while war planes bombed Arabs and Turkmen the West allowed “a terrorist organisation” like the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to move in.

“How can we look at this positively? How can we look to the West sincerely?” he asked.

He also accused the West of leaving refugees to “drown” in the Mediterranean. “We cannot allow this,” he said.

Erdogan warned that all those “who pinned their hopes on Turkey entering into a climate of crisis or chaos will be disappointed once again”.

The election results meant the AKP will have 258 seats in the hung 550-seat parliament, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) 132, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) 80 apiece.

Analysts have said an AKP-MHP coalition is the most likely option, with the AKP sharing a conservative and nationalist voter base with the MHP.

But such a partnership could also spell trouble for the peace process with Turkey’s Kurds, which is opposed by the MHP.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas said that the peace process would continue once a government was formed, indicating the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan was readying a new appeal to lay down arms.

“It is Mr Ocalan who will appeal for disarmament. He is waiting on Imrali ready to make an appeal,” said Demirtas, referring to the prison island where Ocalan is held.

Photo: Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan says “egos” should be cast aside in order to form a government as soon as possible (AFP / Adem Altan)

Backed By Strikes, Kurds Battle To Defend Key Syria Town

Mursitpinar (Turkey) — Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes were locked in a fierce battle Wednesday to prevent a key Syrian border town from falling into the hands of jihadists.

The heavy clashes in Ain al-Arab on the border with Turkey — a crucial recent battleground in the fight against the Islamic State group — left at least 10 people dead overnight, monitors said.

Kurdish forces have been on the retreat for more than two weeks in the face of a jihadist assault on the town that sent tens of thousands of refugees streaming across the border.

With IS fighters less than three kilometers (two miles) from the town, the U.S.-led coalition carried out at least five air strikes on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitoring group said the strikes hit IS fronts south and southeast of the town, known as Kobane by the Kurds, where at least nine Kurdish fighters and one IS militant were killed in overnight fighting.

Ain al-Arab would be a key prize for IS, giving it unbroken control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

The U.S.-led coalition of Western and Arab allies is providing air support to local forces in their ground war against IS, an extremist Sunni Muslim group that has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.

The U.S. launched strikes in Iraq in August and has been joined by Western allies. Last week, Washington and Arab states also began hitting IS targets in Syria.

In Iraq, Kurdish fighters were advancing against IS militants on three fronts, with support from British and U.S. air strikes.

Backed by 11 coalition strikes, Kurdish forces went on the offensive on Tuesday in the town of Rabia on the Syrian border, north of jihadist-controlled second city Mosul, and south of oil hub Kirkuk, commanders said.

– Pentagon appeals for patience –

The Pentagon meanwhile appealed for patience, warning that there would be no quick and easy end to the fighting.

“No one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate air strikes,” Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, told reporters.

“We will not, we cannot bomb them into obscurity.”

A long-term effort will be needed to train and arm Syrian rebel forces and strengthen Iraq’s army, he said.

He said “military action alone will not win this effort”.

The U.S. Marine Corps plans to deploy 2,300 troops to the Middle East for a new “special purpose marine air ground task force” designed to quickly respond to crises in the volatile region, Kirby added.

The idea for the task force originated before the U.S. air strikes against the Islamic State group and is not related “to the ongoing operations in Iraq,” he said.

NATO member Turkey, after months of caution in the fight against IS, has decided to harden its policy, and the government asked parliament Tuesday to authorize military action against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Lawmakers are due to debate a motion Thursday that Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said would “meet all the demands and eliminate the risks and threats”.

Turkey has remained tight-lipped about what its intervention will entail, but Arinc indicated the parliamentary mandate will be kept as broad as possible to allow the government freedom to decide.

Australia announced that its military jets were joining the U.S.-led air campaign in neighboring Iraq in a support capacity, a day after Britain carried out its first strikes on IS targets there.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has described IS as an “apocalyptic death cult” said the aircraft would provide reconnaissance and refueling support only for now.

“We have not yet made a final decision to commit our forces to combat but Australian aircraft from today will start flying over Iraq in support of allied operations,” Abbott told parliament.

“Ours are support operations, not strike missions. Australian air strikes await final clearances from the Iraqi government and a further decision by our own.”

Britain said its jets had destroyed an IS convoy west of Baghdad on Wednesday in their second strikes on the jihadists in Iraq in as many days.

On Tuesday, British warplanes destroyed an IS heavy weapons post and a machine gun-mounted vehicle in the country’s first air strikes against the group in Iraq.

AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic

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