Sunday, 21 December 2014

Scottish Labour



Support for the SNP has surged to record levels according to a new YouGov poll.

Apparently some 47% of voters in Scotland now back the SNP, against 27% who support Labour, 16% who back the Conservatives and only 3% sticking with the Lib Dems.

So the SNP’s support is up 27% on its 2010 figure and if the mood of Scottish voters holds time until May 2015, there will be fewer Labour MPs heading back down to Westminster which would be a good thing if you ask me.

Because no single party is going to win a majority of MPs at the 2015 election - the largest party will either be the Conservatives or Labour who will have to form a minority government or, more likely, enter into some kind of Coalition Government similar to the Conservative/Lib Dem alliance that has been running the country since 2010.

Now I'm not an SNP member and don't even class myself as an SNP supporter, but in the messy negotiations that will follow another 'hung' Westminster Parliament I suspect that the SNP will be much better at standing up for Scotland's interests than Labour whose Scottish contingent of MPs are a pretty dire bunch who have been largely invisible over issues like equal pay.

Take North and South Lanarkshire, for example, where the fight for equal pay has raged fiercely during the lifetime of the present Westminster Parliament - what have the local MPs or the Scottish Labour leadership had to say about equal pay?

Not a 'cheep', as they say and if you ask me that's why Scottish Labour deserves a bloody nose from the voters because the party in Scotland has lost the ability to stand up and be counted and its MPs at Westminster are really just cannon fodder who have little, if anything, to show for their collective efforts.

Clear the Deadwood (19 November 2014)



I was pleased to read this report from the BBC that the SNP are prepared to changed the party's rules to allow non-members to stand in the May 2015 general election.

Because if you ask me, the best way to secure lasting political change in Scotland is a 'Popular Front' committed to cutting the Westminster Parliament down to size.

In turn that means taking the Labour Party down a peg or two, something that has already happened in the Scottish Parliament and in Scottish council elections where Labour is no longer the largest party.

So Westminster remains the last redoubt where the old Conservative v Labour politics holds sway and I think that Scotland's interests after the next general election would be better served by a Popular Front of 'independent minded' MPs.

As opposed to the present Labour contingent who have shown over equal pay, for example, to have all the backbone of a jellyfish when it comes to standing up for the interests of their local constituents.

Consider for a moment the behaviour of Labour MPs in North Lanarkshire where a fierce fight over equal pay has been raging for the past 10 years. What have any of them had to say to support the position of low paid workers such as Home Carers?   

In neighbouring South Lanarkshire Council the same thing happened even while the Labour-run Council was dragged all the way to the UK Supreme Court before being forced to publish details of the huge pay gap between traditional male and female jobs.

And what did all the Labour MPs in South Lanarkshire Council have to say about the scandal?

Nothing.  

One of their number, Michael McCann MP, happens to be the former deputy leader of South Lanarkshire Council and he must have known what was going on, yet decided not to stand up and be counted.

So I think it would be great if these Labour MPs were driven out of Westminster and replaced by people who are committed to doing the right thing without fear or favour - and without pulling their punches. 

SNP to allow non-members to stand

The "Yes" campaign attracted activists from a wide range of organisations

SNP leaders plan to change party rules to allow non-members to stand as candidates in the general election.

The move is designed to appeal to activists who campaigned for a "Yes" vote in the independence referendum.

The plan will be unveiled at the party's conference, which will open in Perth later.

Under the plan, prominent "Yes" campaigners who are not in the SNP would be able to stand for election under the party's overall banner.

In order to do so, they would need to be on an approved list and be adopted by a local constituency.

Party sources have told BBC Scotland that this would harness "the strength and diversity" of the wider "Yes" campaign.

The plan is expected to be adopted by delegates in Perth as Alex Salmond hands over the leadership of the party to his deputy Nicola Sturgeon.

In his keynote speech, Mr Salmond will forecast that Scotland remains on course for independence, despite defeat in the referendum on 18 September,

And he will say of his opponents: "They thought it was all over... well, it isn't now".
  

Equal Pay Candidate (25 November 2014)



A regular reader from North Lanarkshire has been in touch with an 'off the wall' suggestion - why doesn't an Equal Pay candidate stand against one of the sitting North Lanarkshire Labour MPs in the May 2015 general election?

Now this might not be as crazy as you first think because, as I wrote on the blog site recently, the SNP have agreed to support 'independent minded' candidates (who are not SNP members) in an effort to cut the Labour Party at Westminster down to size.

Which sounds a great idea because Labour has an awful lot to answer for over equal pay and the best way to get the Party to take a long hard look at itself if you ask me, would be to sweep away all the political deadwood at Westminster.

And a good place to start would be with the four North Lanarkshire Labour MPs who have stood on the sidelines while the fight for equal pay with Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council has been raging for the past 10 years.

Now my contacts with the SNP are not great, but I imagine there must be readers in North Lanarkshire who are able to speak to their local SNP councillor or MSP and discuss the idea in more detail.  

Because wouldn't it be just great of one of the Equal Pay claimants, a Home Carer perhaps, were to stand in the forthcoming election and give the Labour MPs a real showing up for their cowardly political behaviour? 

Secrecy Over Pay

Image result for made in dagenham + images

The Telegraph reports that the star of the stage version of Made in Dagenham, Gemma Atherton, joined an equal pay protest outside the Westminster Parliament the other day.

But I had to laugh at the various Labour MPS queuing up to declare their support for brining in legislation to force employers with more than 250 staff to publish information showing the difference between male and female pay.

Because if the Labour Party us such a great supporter of open and transparent pay arrangements then, why has it been so difficult to get this kind of pay information out of Labour-run North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire Councils, for example? 

In South Lanarkshire Council, as regular readers know, the issue went all the way to the UK Supreme Court before the Council finally admitted defeat.

Maybe I'll write to the new Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, to see what he thinks of this behaviour because if you ask me, it can only give the Labour Party a bad name.


Gemma Arterton joins veteran Dagenham protesters for equal pay campaign

Former Bond girl starring in Made In Dagenham says even Hollywood 'lagging behind' in equal pay, citing lower earnings of American Hustle star Jennifer Lawrence

Gemma Arterton with one of the original Dagenham women strikers, Vera Sime, outside Parliament Photo: PA/Yui Mok

By Agency

Gemma Arterton, the Made In Dagenham stage star, said "any man worth their soul" should be supporting an equal pay campaign outside Parliament.

The former Bond girl is starring in the West End musical adaptation of the story of the female workers at Ford's Dagenham plant, who went on strike over equal pay in 1968.

She joined the original Dagenham workers and politicians at a rally timed to coincide with a Labour bid to force big firms to publish the difference in pay between male and female employees.

She said industry is behind the times, in reference to leaks from Sony Pictures that revealed stars Jennifer Lawrence and Amy McAdams were paid less than their male co-stars in American Hustle.

The actor said: "Yeah, it is lagging behind the times. I think there's something interesting in that we don't like to talk about what we earn because it's not the done thing.

"But actually we should because then we can say, 'hang on a minute - that's not right', and challenge it. That's part of the reason equal pay is not in place, because we are shy to speak up. That's why, if we can anonymously get companies to publish that, we will be able to see for ourselves."

Veterans of the Dagenham protest said they were not surprised that women are still not getting equal pay, "because men are too powerful". They added that more women should be in Parliament and more women like former Labour politician Barbara Castle were needed.

Labour claims women earn £210,000 less over a lifetime than men. The party's Equal Pay (Transparency) Bill would bring into effect measures in the 2010 Equality Act that were not implemented by the coalition Government and would require employers with more than 250 staff to publish information showing the difference between male and female pay.

Backbencher Sarah Champion will propose new legislation under the 10-minute rule, although without Government support there is little chance of it becoming law due to a lack of parliamentary time.

Labour's analysis of the Office for National Statistics' annual survey of hours and earnings showed that over a career, from the age of 22 to 64, a woman earned an average of £209,976 less.

Gloria De Piero, the shadow women's minister, said: "We'd like all companies to publish the pay gap. Some companies do it already but we want all big companies to do it."

Ms De Piero added if the vote did not go through a Labour government would make it happen.

Arterton she said she was "optimistic" that a Parliament dominated by men would pass the motion, but she added: "We shall see won't we? I'm optimistic. If you have a woman in your life and you believe in women and you respect them you should vote for it.

"However, my local MP was not kind of supportive of the whole process and she's a woman, so there we go."

The actor also said: "It's something I'm deeply passionate about. It's not just about pay, it's about being treated with respect and it's about equality.

"If you have a woman in your life in any way - whether it be mother, daughter, sister - you should support this campaign because if your wife is earning less, if your daughter is going to go into a workplace where she's going to be treated less than her male counterparts, it should interest you. So of course any man worth their soul should be supporting this campaign."

Labour MP Emily Thornberry was also at the rally and said she believed the Bill would be passed. She added: "But there are many other stages it has to go through before it becomes law and the Tories are likely to kill it off because there are large businesses that don't want to publish their pay levels."

Poles Apart



The Times reports that the battle for exploration rights in the Arctic is heating up with Denmark being the latest country to throw its hat in the ring over the ownership of the North Pole.

So we now have Denmark, Canada, America and Russia all jockeying for position although I thought I read somewhere that Norway was in the running as well.

But I have my doubts that the United Nations will come up with a solution because if Crimea is anything to go by, Russia will presumably feel able to annex parts of the frozen north if it doesn't like the 'referee's' decision. 

Denmark lays claim to riches of the Arctic

The Arctic, much of which is neutral territory, contains 30 per cent of the world’s untapped natural gas and 15 per cent of its oil, the US Geological Survey says Sylvain Cordier/Ardea/Caters News Agency


By Ben Hoyle - The Times

The battle for the Arctic is heating up after Denmark became the first country to lodge a formal claim to the North Pole and any energy reserves beneath it.

Martin Lidegaard, the Danish foreign minister, was expected to deliver the claim for about 900,000 sq km of territory north of Greenland to the UN panel that will award control of the region.

He described the application as a “historic milestone for Denmark and many others” but said he did not expect to receive a decision for “a few decades”.

According to Danish scientists, new research shows that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,800km underwater mountain range running from off the coast of Greenland to the sea above eastern Siberia, is geologically attached to Greenland, a semi-autonomous Danish territory. The North Pole is in the area of the ridge.

The Arctic, much of which is neutral territory, contains 30 per cent of the world’s untapped natural gas and 15 per cent of its oil, according to the US Geological Survey.

Denmark’s conclusions are likely to be fiercely contested by the other countries with an interest in exploiting the potentially rich resources and growing strategic value of the Arctic, including Canada, the United States and Russia.

So far, none of the other claimants has formally submitted their cases, but tensions over the region have been rising for some time.

In March Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, called for the US and Canada to counter Russian assertiveness in the Arctic, where Moscow has been “aggressively reopening military bases” left over from the Cold War.

President Putin of Russia has intensified efforts to press Moscow’s military, economic and legal claims to the far north. In 2007 a Russian explorer in a small submarine planted a Russian flag on the sea-bed under the North Pole.

In the past two years Mr Putin has ordered several large scale naval and military exercises in the region.

On March 15, at about the same time that Russia annexed Crimea, its acquisition of a section of sea bed in the Sea of Okhotsk about the size of Switzerland was approved by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the body that will adjudicate on the Arctic claims.

Mr Muscle

Peter Brookes cartoon

The Times cartoonist, Peter Brookes, captures the dilemma facing President Putin who likes to behave as if he's a modern-day Russian Tsar, as if this former KGB officer and 'loyal' member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has been reincarnated as Peter the Great. 

But the fact of the matter is that the Russian economy is something of a 'basket case' relying as it does on the country's natural resources of oil and gas.

Long Pants and Hung Parliaments






















The Independent reports that the nation's bookies have slashed the odds of another hung Westminster Parliament though Tony Booth - the 'Scouse git' from 'Till Death Us Do Part - seems less impressed at the chances of Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister until the Labour leader starts wearing long pants.

Odds cut on Labour minority government after Alex Salmond hints at SNP support

Ed Miliband is the favourite to be Prime Minister after the general election

By LIZZIE DEARDEN - The Independent

Bookmakers have cut their odds on Labour forming a minority government after the general election with the Scottish National Party (SNP).

William Hill have Ed Miliband as the favourite to become the next Prime Minister at 4/5 and has taken “three figure bets” on his party entering a coalition with the SNP at odds of 13/2.

The bets are rolling in after Alex Salmond, the party’s former leader, told The Independent that the SNP could set aside its convention of MPs abstaining from votes on English-only laws to prop up a minority Labour government.

Graham Sharpe, William Hill’s politics spokesperson, said: “We have had to cut our odds for a Labour minority government from an original 7/1 to 4/1 in the face of continued support, perhaps on the basis of them forging an agreement or understanding with the SNP.

“We have taken a number of three figure bets for such an eventuality, including one of £200 from a new client based in Derbyshire.”

Scotland's former First Minister Alex SalmondSome critics do not deem Labour's success so likely - Tony Booth, the actor and father of Cherie Blair, said the party could only win under Mr Miliband in their "f****** dreams".

"This is not play school,” he told Newsweek, claiming his son-in-law Tony Blair would stand a better chance.

He added: “With Miliband, you find yourself thinking, ‘This is a good kid, but when is he going to get into long pants? Are we just putting him up as a dummy until we find the right person?’”

Mr Salmond told The Independent he would “lay odds on a balanced parliament” that would put power in the SNP's hands and stridently ruled out any co-operation with the Tories.

“That’s an opportunity to have delivered to Scotland what we have been promised,” he added.

The former Scottish First Minister is the 1/8 favourite to become an MP in the Gordon constituency and 6/1 to become a government minister following the election.

William Hill have opened the books 2/5 on there being no overall majority after May’s election, 4/1 on a Labour victory, 9/2 on the Tories winning, 50/1 for Ukip and only 500/1 on the Liberal Democrats.

A coalition involving Ukip is on 6/1 and 40/1 for one involving the Green Party.

Ladbrokes also has Labour and Mr Miliband as the favourites, with a Labour/SNP coalition at 16/1, down from from 20/1, and the books open on Mr Salmond becoming Deputy Prime Minister.

Not the Messiah



Some chap with long hair and a beard has taken to following the UKIP leader Nigel Farage around which reminded me of the famous line from Monty Python's 'The Life of Brian' - "he's not the Messiah, he's just a very naughty boy!"

Turkey Shoot



I'd love to read more about the 'evidence' on which prosecutors have drawn up an warrant for the arrest of a American-based political rival of Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan.

After being accused of corruption himself earlier this year, Prime Minister turned on his accusers and effectively hounded them all out of office following which the charges against Prime Minister Erdogan were all dropped.

I think the American authorities should publish the details if and hone they receive an extradition request, otherwise it all looks like a bit of a stunt.

Turkey issues arrest warrant for Erdoğan rival Fethullah Gülen

Prosecutor charges elderly US-based Islamic cleric with operating armed terror group following raids on media outlets

By Constanze Letsch - The Guardian

The warrant marks an escalation in the battle between Erdogan and Gülen whose movement has millions of followers worldwide. Photograph: Stringer/Turkey/Reuters

A Turkish court has issued an arrest warrant for the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former ally of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has since become a fierce critic.

In his request for the warrant, Istanbul public prosecutor Hasan Yilmaz accused Gülen of leading a criminal organisation. According to Turkish media reports, the charges include operating an armed terror group, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. Yilmaz said that “sufficient tangible evidence showing that Gülen committed a crime was collected during the investigation”.

Turkish authorities are now able to apply to Washington for extradition of the elderly cleric, though such a request is likely to put strained relations with Turkey’s Nato ally under further pressure.

Following a string of orchestrated raids on media outlets with ties to the cleric last Sunday, the warrant marks another escalation in the battle between Erdoğan and Gülen, whose movement, also known as Hizmet, has millions of followers worldwide.

Erdoğan has accused his foe of establishing a “parallel structure” within the state by placing his followers in institutions such as the judiciary and the police, and of exerting strong influence through his media empire. Gülen denies any intent to overthrow Erdoğan or the Turkish government.

The European Union has strongly condemned the raids, which Erdoğan defended as a necessary response to “dirty operations” against the Turkish government.

Speaking at the opening of an extension to an oil refinery near Istanbul, Erdoğan told his EU critics to mind their own business: “We have no concern about what the EU might say, whether the EU accepts us as members or not, we have no such concern. Please keep your wisdom to yourself,” he said.

EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn described the police operation as “not really an invitation to move further forward” with Turkey. The US State Department has also expressed concern, urging Turkish authorities “to ensure their actions do not violate [the] core values [media freedom, due process, and judicial independence]”.

On Friday, a Turkish court also kept a media executive and three other people detained during Sunday’s raids in custody pending trial, all of them on charges of being members of a terrorist group.

Hidayet Karaca is the head of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group, a media organisation known to have close ties to the Gülen movement. Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper also linked to Gülen, was released pending trial, but forbidden from travelling abroad before the completion of the criminal investigation.

Human rights groups criticised the court’s decision. “Human Rights Watch is concerned at today’s court decision to place journalist and Samanyolu broadcasting group head, Hidayet Karaca, in pre-trial detention,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, HRW’s senior Turkey researcher. “Pre-trial detention should be the exception, and keeping journalists in custody on dubious terrorism charges without clear justification harms media freedom and is likely to further dent Turkey’s international reputation.”

The power and influence of the elderly cleric and his far-reaching network have long been a defining issue of Turkish politics. The domination of Erdoğan’s AKP in Turkey was aided by his alliance with Gülen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1998. Those who dared to speak up and criticise the Gülen movement were swiftly punished, often through dubious court cases and on fabricated charges.

The relationship between the two turned sour after a corruption scandal in December last year that implicated the government, Erdoğan’s closest associates and his family. Maintaining that the sleaze allegations were unfounded and part of a coup attempt led by Gülen, Erdoğan purged the police of thousands of officers, transferred prosecutors linked to the investigation and tightened control over the judiciary. Prosecutors dropped the corruption charges this year.

Erdoğan said that both the operations and the purges of state institutions would continue, and added that the judiciary and some others, including the state scientific agency Tubitak, must yet be “cleansed of all traitors”.

Shoe Box Scandal (6 January 2014)


Here's a fascinating article from the Independent which lifts the lid on dirty financial dealings within the highest levels of the Turkish Government.

Seems like Turkey has some way to go with its application to join the European Union because I can't envisage any other member country approving of a situation where the Prime Minister can effectively block a judge-led investigation into allegations of serious corruption within his own Government. 

Beneath Turkey's turmoil is a bitter battle between two wounded men

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's abuse of power is being exposed by the equally intimidating exiled spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen


By Fiachra Gibbons


Images of Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen at a protest against Turkey's ruling AK party in Istanbul. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

Imagine for a moment you saw yourself as a "model for the world" like the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently not only retained the world titles for locking up journalists and ordering Google to take down web pages, but also declared yet again that he would not rest until Turkey was a "top 10 democracy".

So what would you do if half of your inner circle of ministers and their sons were implicated in the biggest corruption scandal in Turkish history, accused among other things of taking bribes of tens of millions to ignore to billions of dollars of dodgy dealings?

Would you – as Erdoğan did – fire the police who uncovered the corruption; threaten to jail judges and curb their powers; bring in new prosecutors who are relaxed about people keeping millions in cash in shoe boxes, and order that henceforth police must tell ministers if they are thinking of investigating them, so they can tidy their shoe boxes away?

And would you also claim, like him, that "dark forces" in the same judiciary and police that you recently used to lock up your enemies, were plotting to assassinate you?

In a final flourish, Erdoğan allowed his interior minister not only to pick off the detectives investigating the minister and his son, but also to get rid of 70 police chiefs and 580 other officers in six days, while an equal number of Erdoğan supporters were rewarded with their jobs. The new police chiefs' first act was to refuse to investigate fresh corruption cases, one of which allegedly involves Erdoğan's son, Bilal.

Yet until the last few days, Erdoğan seemed as immune as ever to the normal rules of political gravity. This was a leader who not only remained after the deaths of young people during the Gezi protests this summer, but also persuaded a large section of the Turkish public that a crisis he himself had created was actually an international conspiracy against him by the EU, the US, Lufthansa – yes Lufthansa – and of course, Israel.

This time, however, Erdoğan appears to have been undermined by a fatal moment of sanity. After seven days of sacking and shredding, he finally asked four ministers to step down. One refused to go – and said that Erdogan himself should also resign.

In an ideal world the scandal would have been exposed by a fearless cadre of impartial prosecutors. The truth is more complicated. Almost certainly nothing would have come to light if Erdoğan had not crossed his most important former ally, the exiled spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen. The head of a worldwide movement dedicated to interfaith dialogue and reconciling Islam with science, Gülen's followers run a network of schools and media outlets including Turkey's biggest selling newspaper, Zaman.

Gülenists are widely believed to have infiltrated intelligence and the special courts, which were crucial to breaking the malign power of Turkey's coup-happy military by exposing alleged plots against Erdoğan and his moderately Islamist AK party, who were once seen as Turkey's great hope for reform. Awkward questions, however, began to surface when journalists who pried into the movement were rounded up with the ultra-secularist generals. As he was carted off to prison, one investigative reporter, Ahmet Sik, famously cried: "Touch them and you burn."

It is now Erdoğan who is feeling the heat after he threatened to close Gülen's schools. He was convinced the Gülenists were plotting to rid of him and afraid his authoritarianism would destroy the AK party if he assumed Putinesque presidential powers after a referendum later this year.

The first wave of corruption inquiries stopped just short of Erdoğan's own family, whose spectacular enrichment was one of the sparks of the Gezi protests. However, the usually circumspect Gülen delivered the lowest blow personally, saying he once warned a powerful politician of the dangers of his relationship with "a promiscuous woman". Ever the macho, Erdoğan threatened to "break the hands of the traitors" and declared a "new war of independence" against foreign interference (Gülen is exiled in the US). While some secularists revel in the battle, far more in Turkey are terrified at the damage that might be done by Erdoğan's fury.

Turkey has made huge strides in the past decade. Erdoğan and Gülen will be thanked by history for neutering the military, despite the questionable methods used. All that and more is now at risk as these two ill and wounded men go all out to destroy each other — the latest salvo being Erdoğan's use of the military yesterday to allege that it was Gülen, and Gülen alone, who was behind a plot against them. Oh the irony.

There was once much good in Erdoğan, a hardman footballer turned self-styled national saviour – and his fall is a great political tragedy. He promised Turks and Kurds peace, freedom and prosperity, and for a while seemed capable of delivering this. But he will leave a legacy of fear, censorship and corruption.

Now as he winds himself in the rhetoric of martyrdom and conspiracy, Erdoğan has one last chance to redeem himself in the manner of his going. Turkish history, however, is not littered with many edifying precedents.

Semi-secret organisations such as Gülen's Hizmet are not ideal champions of transparent democracy, particularly in a country cursed since Ottoman times by the unseen hand of masonic fraternities and a notorious "deep state". Like the military, they too must be tackled if real democracy is ever to thrive. But for now, with no opposition worthy of the name, and a civil society not yet strong enough to count, they are all Turkey has got.

Turkish Thug (26 June 2014)



The Turkish prime minister, Recip Erdogan, has a well justified reputation as a bit of a thug and just the other week one of his trusted advisers was caught on camera in the process of giving a defenceless protester a good kicking while he was on the ground being restrained by two armed soldiers.

Now to make matters worse PM Erdogan then singled out a member of the international press corps, CNN's Ivan Watson, for special criticism calling him a 'flunky' and an 'agent' which is code language for 'spy' and an incitement to violence, if you ask me. 

Here's the incident captured live on CNN's own cameras as a bunch of goons drag the TV crew away for filming what the Turkish police are doing.  

Turkish PM says CNN correspondent is an agent after police harass him on air

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attacks foreign media days after Ivan Watson is interrupted during live broadcast on Istanbul protests

Reuters in Istanbul

Ivan Watson, CNN's Turkey correspondent, is detained in Taksim Square on Saturday. Photograph: Selcuk Bulent/AP

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has called the CNN correspondent Ivan Watson a "flunky" and an agent for his coverage of anti-government protests days after police harassed him live on air.

Istanbul police interrupted a live CNN International broadcast on Saturday and briefly held Watson, the news broadcaster's long-time Istanbul correspondent. He was reporting on the first anniversary of Turkey's biggest anti-government protests in decades.

Erdoğan has repeatedly accused the foreign media and governments of having a hand in the protests, which have erupted sporadically but with far smaller numbers since last June. He also blames an international conspiracy for a graft scandal that implicated his inner circle in December.

Saturday's demonstrations were muted, with a heavy police presence at Taksim Square, where last year's protests began, to prevent any unrest. They fired teargas and water cannon to disperse 1,000 or so protesters.

"The international media that came to Istanbul and made exaggerated, provocative calls were licking their paws. One of them was that CNN flunky," Erdogan told members of his AK party in parliament in a speech aired live by several channels.

"He was caught red-handed. These people have nothing to do with a free, impartial, independent press. These people are literally executing their duties as agents. That's why they are here."

Erdoğan recalled CNN's hours-long live coverage of the 2013 protests in Istanbul's central Taksim Square and said it was aimed at fomenting unrest.

At the time, hundreds of thousands of people occupied Taksim for two weeks to protest against the government, following plans by Erdoğan to raze a park in Istanbul to make space for a mall.

"We stand unequivocally by our reporting from Turkey, which has been and continues to be fair, factual and impartial," said a spokesperson for CNN, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia.

On Saturday, police shoved and kicked Watson, then dragged him off camera while he spoke during a live broadcast from Taksim. Watson is seen showing his Turkish press accreditation.

"Turkish police detained me and my crew in the middle of a live report in Taksim Square. One officer kneed me in the butt," Watson tweeted on Saturday.

"Turkish police released CNN team after half an hour. Officer apologised for another officer who kneed me while I was being detained," he tweeted 30 minutes later.

A government official said on Saturday that the prime minister's office had phoned Watson to inquire about his situation to ensure he was safe and said he was only held for a few minutes because he was not carrying his passport.

Groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch have expressed worries about the climate for journalists in Turkey.


Aide-de-Camp (17 May 2014)


I once wrote that Alistair Campbell (Tony Blair's press secretary) would have swum the English Channel with an anvil on his back, if such a deed was necessary to fulfil his role as the Prime Minister's aide-de-camp. 

But this is as nothing compared to the lengths that some people are prepared to go to including Yusuf Yerkel who is seen here sticking the boot into a protester during a visit to the site of the Soma mining disaster in the western Turkey.

Now the security people seem to have the situation under control, but Yusuf is clearly  the kind of person who leaves nothing to chance.

Yusuf Yerkel, by the way, is a special advisor to the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan.

Sorry for your loss, but.... (16 May 2014)

Image AP/Kayhan Ozer, Turkish Prime Minister's Press Office, HO
The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan has a reputation as a tough old political cookie who knows how many beans make five.

Until yesterday that is when he shot himself in both feet, politically speaking,while visiting the site of the Soma mining disaster where at least 282 Turkish miners lost their lives in a tragic underground accident.  

Because after commiserating with the locals saying the right things such as 'Sorry for your loss', the Prime Minister Erdogan went on to play down the significance of the incident - by comparing Soma to other terrible mining disasters which have taken place in other countries over the years, including Britain.   

But this is not, of course, what people expect to hear when they are mourning for their loved ones, many of whom are still lost down the mine and so there has been an understandably angry reaction to what Prime Minister Erdogan had to say. 

Just imagine that instead of capturing the national mood by describing Princess Diana as the 'People's Princess' Tony Blair had said - "Well it's a terrible tragedy, but as everyone knows accidents happen all the time!"