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Daily Archives: April 1, 2008

Turkish court takes up case against ruling party

Turkey's top court convened yesterday to decide whether to put the Islamist-rooted ruling party on trial for anti-secular activity, in a case which threatens national stability and Ankara's bid to join the EU.
A court official said the Constitutional Court was expected to announce its decision later in the day.
Turkey's chief prosecutor on March 14 asked the court to ban the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on charges of undermining the country's secular order and trying to replace it with an Islamist system.
Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya also called for 71 officials, among them Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, to be barred from politics for five years.
Last week, a court-appointed rapporteur completed a technical study on the charges, paving the way for the 11-member tribunal to decide whether the indictment is admissible.
The trial will formally begin if the court — which has banned more than 20 parties since the 1960s — accepts the indictment. A verdict is expected to take up to six months.
The European Union has urged the judges to take Turkey's interests into consideration when making their decision, warning that the case could hit Ankara's drive to join the bloc.
"I hope the judges will consider Turkey's long-term interests… to be an important European democracy respecting all democratic principles of the EU," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Saturday in Slovenia after a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
"The EU accession negotiation framework says that in case of a serious breach of democratic principles in Turkey, the Commission is obliged to look at what ramifications this could have for negotiations," he said.
The prosecutor charges that the AKP, the moderate offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, is turning its religious rhetoric into action in a bid to establish an "Islamist-inspired" system.
The indictment cites moves such as the abolition of a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities last month and a ban on alcohol in restaurants run by AKP municipalities as evidence of the party's ambitions.
The AKP, which says it had disawoved its roots and embraced secularism, has rejected the charges and slammed the case as a blow to democracy.
If the court bans the party and bars Erdogan, it could spell the end of a political force which won a re-election last year with nearly 47 percent of the vote, a rare feat in Turkish politics.
The AKP announced last week that it is working on a constitutional amendment to make bans on political parties more difficult, drawing criticism that it is seeking to circumvent checks in the system to save itself.
Legal experts are divided on whether such an amendment would help the AKP fight an eventual ban, some saying the constitution forbids parliament from debating or ruling on issues under judicial process.

Teams search flooded Tanzania mine for bodies or survivors

by Ephrem Rugiririza*

Rescuers searched for dozens of miners trapped by floods in a pit in northern Tanzania yesterday with little hope of finding survivors from the mining disaster.
Only six bodies have been recovered from the tanzanite concession in Mirerani, near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, since the accident occurred early Saturday.
"I was shocked to receive reports of the accident where many people are feared to have died," Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said.
Only six bodies have been recovered from the site in Mirerani, near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, since the early Saturday accident.
Officials gave diverging counts of the number of miners believed to be trapped inside the network of pits, where thousands dig to find the precious purple-blue mineral named after this country.
Manyara regional commissioner Henry Shekifu said about 100 people were trapped of whom 35 managed the get out alive.
"We are still looking for the bodies of 59 people," he added.
Another official said more than 80 miners might be missing. Miners said it was difficult to establish the exact number of missing as all of them had not signed in before going down.
The region's top government official was jeered by some of the miners when he was addressing them near the entrance to the pit.
"You come with Land Cruisers instead of machines to help us pull out colleagues," said one of the miners.
Although weather conditions improved, rescuers and miners trying to descend into the pit to retrieve bodies had very little equipment at their disposal, making the operation near-impossible.
Philip Marmo, the minister of state at the prime minister's office in charge of disaster response, said the government had "approached the army for assistance."
Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda said authorities had hired 80 additional rescuers to assist ground teams and had allocated 250 million shillings (250,000 dollars) for the operation.
Miners and relatives of those missing assembled there said they had no hope of ever seeing their relatives alive.
"My husband is still down there. There are also two brothers-in-law of mine. All I want is to find their bodies," said Rosa Manka, a young woman, sobbing as two aunts supported her.
In June 2002, at least 39 tanzanite miners died after inhaling carbon monoxide produced from a dynamite explosion, one of the many fatal accidents linked to mining in Tanzania.
Tanzanite, a purple-blue shimmering stone, has been found only in northern Tanzania and in 2005 a leading gemstone miner said it unearthed the world's largest tanzanite stone weighing about three kilograms (6.6 pounds).
The lure of striking riches has drawn thousands of miners to Mirerani, which resembles a gold-rush town dotted with brothels, bars and hardware stores supplying the miners.
Small-scale miners such as those affected by disaster only get food rations from their employers and are paid only if they hit tanzanite. Some of them work months, if not years, without pay.
Many dig in highly unsafe and unstable mines using primitive tools and garden implements such as hoes, picks and spades in a bid to cash in on the potential wealth from the semi-precious stones.
Tanzanite is believed to be limited to east Africa's Rift Valley region and the pits where the accident happened are located in the heart of Maasai land, a short distance from Mount Kilimanjaro.
The gemstone was discovered by Maasai tribesmen in 1967 and gained fame when it was launched by New York's Tiffany & Co. the following year.