US to Impose More Sanctions on Turkey Over Detained Pastor

The United States says Turkey faces more U.S. sanctions if it refuses to release an American pastor held on allegations of helping the organizers of the failed 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The United States says Ankara has no evidence for the allegations and has held the pastor for too long. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday the United States is ready to hit Ankara with more sanctions if it does not release the American soon. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

Ukraine Demands 15-Year Sentence for Ousted President

Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office on Thursday said had it demanded a 15-year prison sentence for former President Viktor Yanukovych, accusing him of “betraying his nation” to Russia. 

Pro-Moscow Yanukovych has lived in exile in Russia since he was ousted in a Western-backed popular uprising in 2014, and it is highly unlikely he will ever face trial as the two countries remain locked in a bitter standoff.

“Viktor Yanukovych betrayed his nation. He betrayed his army. At the most difficult time for the country and the people,” prosecutors said in court, according to a statement.

“He left the country at the mercy of fate and fled into the arms of the aggressor,” it said. “Without a drop of remorse, in order to please the enemy, he did everything in his power for Ukrainian territory to be seized by the aggressor.”

Yanukovych sparked massive protests when he ditched an association accord with the European Union and then fled to Russia in early 2014 after a bloody crackdown in Kyiv failed to quell the demonstrations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin later revealed this was made possible by a special operation organized by Moscow to exfiltrate Yanukovych. 

After Yanukovych fled Ukraine, Moscow annexed the country’s Crimean Peninsula and war erupted between Kyiv and Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country.

Since then, the fighting has cost 10,000 lives despite repeated international efforts to forge a lasting cease-fire.

Finance Minister: Turkey Will Emerge Stronger from Lira Crisis Despite Row with US

Finance Minister Berat Albayrak assured international investors on Thursday that Turkey would emerge stronger from its currency crisis, insisting its banks were healthy and signalling it could ride out a dispute with the United States.

In a conference call with thousands of investors and economists, Albayrak — who is President Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law — said Turkey fully understood and recognised all its domestic challenges but was dealing with what he described as a market anomaly.

With Ankara locked in a complex rift with Washington, he also played down a decision by President Donald Trump to double tariffs on imports of Turkish metals. Washington later said it was ready to impose further economic sanctions on Turkey.

Many countries had been the target of similar U.S. trade measures, Albayrak said, and Turkey would navigate this period with other parties such as Germany, Russia and China.

Turkey, he said, has no plans to seek help from the International Monetary Fund or impose capital controls to stop money flowing abroad in response to the recent collapse of its lira currency.  Before he spoke, the lira strengthened more than 3 percent, despite signs that the dispute with the United States is as wide as ever.

The lira held steady during Albayrak’s conference call but later weakened when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States was prepared to levy more sanctions on Turkey if detained American pastor Andrew Brunson was not freed.

The Turkish currency was trading at 5.85 at 1740 GMT, more than 1 percent stronger on the day. Turkey’s sovereign dollar bonds extended their gains.

The lira hit a record low of 7.24 to the dollar earlier this week, down 40 percent this year, as investors fretted over Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy and the row with the United States.

Turkey’s foreign minister said Ankara did not want any problems with Washington.

“We can solve issues with the United States very easily, but not with the current approach,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara late on Thursday.

Facing Turkey’s gravest currency crisis since 2001 in his first month in the job, Albayrak has the daunting task of persuading investors that the economy is not hostage to political interference.

Albayrak, a 40-year-old former company executive with a doctorate in finance, said Turkey would not hesitate to provide support to the banking sector. The banks were capable of managing the volatility, and there had been no major flow of cash out of deposits lately, he added.

Qatari pledge

Economists gave Albayrak’s comments a qualified welcome, and praised his ambition to get inflation down into single figures next year from above 15 percent now. But his father-in-law’s opposition to higher interest rates may complicate that quest.

“He said all the right things, but it’s one thing saying them and another thing doing them,” said Sailesh Lad at AXA Investment Managers. “He said capital controls weren’t part of the agenda, and never will be. I think a lot of the market liked hearing that.”

The lira gained some support from the announcement late on Wednesday of a Qatari pledge to invest $15 billion in Turkey. Trump has used trade tariffs in a series of disputes ranging from with Turkey and China to the European Union.

In a sign that Turkey may hope to make common cause with other affected countries, Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone on Thursday, discussing developing economic and trade ties and boosting bilateral investment, a Turkish presidential source said.

Albayrak will also meet his German counterpart Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Sept. 21.

However, in a potential complication, a foreign ministry source in Berlin said Turkish police had arrested a German citizen. ARD TV reported the man was accused of “terrorist propaganda” after criticising the government on social media.

In another element of the row with Washington, a U.S. court sentenced a senior executive of state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank to 32 months in prison in May for taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions. That case has increased speculation that the bank itself could be fined for sanctions-busting.

Halkbank has said all of its transactions were lawful and Albayrak played down the risk. “We are not expecting any fines on Halkbank for sure,” he said. “But hypothetically speaking, …if one of our public banks need help, the government will stand strong by it for sure.”

The White House said on Wednesday that it would not remove steel tariffs on Turkey, appearing to give Ankara little incentive to work for the release of Brunson, a pastor on trial in Turkey on terrorism charges.

Washington wants the evangelical Christian freed but Turkish officials say the case is a matter for the courts.

The pastor row is one of several between the NATO allies, including diverging interests in Syria and U.S. objections to Ankara’s ambition to buy Russian defence systems, that have contributed to instability in Turkish financial markets.

Economic war

Erdogan has repeatedly told Turks to exchange gold and hard currency into lira, saying the country was involved in an economic war with enemies.

However, Turks appeared not to be heeding his appeal. Central bank data showed foreign currency deposits held by local investors rose to $159.9 billion in the week to Aug. 10, from $158.6 billion a week earlier.

Erdogan has called for a boycott of U.S. electronic goods and Turkish media have given extensive coverage to anti-U.S. protests, including videos on social media showing Turks apparently burning dollar bills and destroying iPhones.

Russia Calls Latest US Sanctions on Companies in Russia, China, and Singapore ‘Useless’

Russia says the latest U.S. sanctions imposed on Russian, Chinese, and Singaporean companies are “destructive” and “useless.”  

The U.S. penalized the three companies Wednesday, accusing them of helping North Korea avoid international sanctions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday the new U.S. sanctions come when “joint international efforts” are needed toward a settlement in North Korea. Moscow said the sanctions could undermine denuclearization talks.

The U.S. has accused a Chinese trading company and its affiliate in Singapore of falsifying documents aimed at easing illegal shipments of alcohol and cigarettes into North Korea. The companies are said to have earned more than $1 billion.

A Russian company was also sanctioned for providing port services to North Korean-flagged ships engaged in illegal oil shipments.

The sanctions freeze any assets the companies may have in the United States and bars Americans from doing business with them.

EU Judicial Body to Suspend Poland for Flouting Freedom of Courts

An organization made up of the judiciaries of European Union states said  Thursday that it planned to suspend Poland, contending that political interference had rendered its legal system no longer independent of the government.

The European Network of Councils for the Judiciary’s (ENCJ) announcement added to widespread criticism of the nationalist government’s changes to the courts since coming to power in late 2015.

The ENCJ’s board said the Polish National Judiciary Council (KRS), which appoints judges and represents Poland at the ENCJ, “is no longer an institution which is independent of the executive and … guarantees the final responsibility for the support of the judiciary in the independent delivery of

justice.”

The ENCJ, which advises the EU’s executive on upholding the rule of law in the bloc, will convene its members September 17 to decide whether to suspend the KRS.

The EU has several legal cases open against Poland for its overhaul of the judiciary, but the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party says the changes are needed to clear out the legacy of communism and make the courts more effective.

The president of Poland’s Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, has defied a new law that forces her into early retirement and has called on the European Union to defend her country’s judiciary from government interference.

Russian Strategic Bombers Deploy Near Alaska

The Russian military says that two nuclear-capable strategic bombers have flown to the easternmost Chukotka Peninsula, near Alaska, as part of an air force exercise.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Tu-160 bombers flew about 7,000 kilometers (4,350 Miles) from their home base near Saratov in southwestern Russia to Anadyr, on Chukotka, before returning to their home base. The ministry said the mission was the first time the bombers had flown to Chukotka, which faces Alaska across the Bering Strait.

The ministry said the air force exercise also involved the Tu-95 strategic bombers and tanker planes.

The Russian military has increased the intensity and scope of its drills amid strain in relations with the U.S. and its allies. The flight demonstrated that Russian bombers could be deployed close to the U.S.

In US Dispute, A Few Turks Destroy iPhones in Online Posts

A small number of Turks are responding to their president’s call to boycott American electronic goods by posting videos in which they smash iPhones with bats, hammers and other blunt instruments.

In one video , a man collects iPhones from several youths squatting in front of a Turkish flag, lays the devices on the ground and pounds them with a sledgehammer. “For the motherland!” he says at one point.

 

In another video, a boy pours a plastic bottle of Coca Cola into a toilet in a show of repugnance for U.S. goods.

 

American products remain widely used in Turkey, which is locked in a dispute with Washington over an American pastor being tried in a Turkish court and other issues. The two countries have also imposed tariffs on each other’s goods.

Government Leaders Call Italian Bridge Collapse Manslaughter

Rescuers continue their search for possible survivors and bodies of victims of Tuesday’s highway bridge collapse in Italy. The death toll is at 38, but authorities say some people are still unaccounted for and no one is prepared to call off the search and rescue operation. Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes near parts of the bridge that remained standing.

The city of Genoa’s chief prosecutor has said there may still be 10 to 20 people missing and not all the recovered bodies have been identified. Sniffer dogs and large earth-movers are being used to search around large chunks of concrete in the debris of the collapsed bridge. Family members of those unaccounted for still hope a miracle may have kept their loved ones alive.

 

Meanwhile, hundreds of people have been evacuated from homes near parts of the bridge left standing and were told they may never be able to go back to their homes. Authorities said the homes might have to be torn down, along with the remaining bridge, which will then be rebuilt.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte met with Deputy Prime Ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio, and the infrastructure minister, Danilo Toninelli, to take immediate measures following the disaster.

 

Conte declared a state of emergency for the northern port city of Genoa for 12-months and earmarked $5.6 million from national emergency funds for removal of the remaining parts of the bridge and re-developing the road system. He also said Italians would observe a national day of mourning Saturday when state funerals will be held for the victims.

The prime minister also announced the government has begun the process of revoking the contract of the company managing Italy’s highway system. The firm, Autostrade per l’Italia, said it carried out regular maintenance and safety checks on the bridge that gave reassuring results.

 

A criminal investigation has been launched to ascertain the cause of the collapse. Prosecutors are investigating negligence in maintenance and the bridge’s design.

Genoa chief prosecutor Francesco Cozzi said it is a disaster caused by human failure and those responsible will be liable for manslaughter.

 

Experts like Antonio Brencich, a professor of construction at Genoa University, had warned two years ago the bridge was in need of being replaced, but his message was not heeded. Since its completion in 1967, the number of vehicles and weight load on the bridge each day significantly increased.

 

Local residents had also long complained the bridge was unsafe.

 

Speaking on national television, this Genoa resident said it was an expected tragedy because every day she traveled on it she could feel it move. She added that there was always some repair going on. Even in recent days, workmen were busy on the bridge.

White House: ‘We Won’t Forget’ How Turkey is Treating US Pastor

The U.S. continued to press Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release detained American Pastor Andrew Brunson, after a Turkish court Wednesday rejected a second legal appeal to release him from house arrest. And Turkey is pushing back hard, sharply raising tariffs on a range of American goods in retaliation to the tariffs imposed last week by President Trump. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from the State Department on deteriorating relations with a U.S. NATO ally.

US F-22 Stealth Jets Take on Norway’s F-35 in Simulated Dogfights

Two U.S. F-22 stealth fighter jets squared off in simulated dogfights with two of Norway’s expanding fleet of F-35 aircraft Wednesday as part of an exercise aimed at strengthening the NATO alliance and increasing its deterrent power.

The two U.S. F-22s are among 13 in Europe for a series of short-term deployments in places such as Greece and Poland, with further training missions planned in undisclosed locations in coming days.

The Norwegian deployment lasted one day but will lay the groundwork for NATO allies as they work to integrate their stealth warfare capabilities, Colonel Leslie Hauck, chief of the fifth generation integration division at the U.S. Air Force’s headquarters in Europe, told reporters in Norway.

The deployment is part of U.S. efforts to reassure European allies after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

F-35s arriving in Europe

Growing numbers of Lockheed Martin Corp F-35s are arriving in Europe as the world’s most advanced warplane and most expensive weapons program matures following a raft of cost increases and technical challenges in its early years.

“Every training opportunity that we have betters our readiness for any potential adversary of the future,” Hauck said at the Orland air base, home to six of Norway’s expected 52 F-35s.

Hauck leads a new office at Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany, that is working to ensure a smooth transition for about 40 F-35s scheduled to be in Europe by year’s end. The first of which are set to arrive in 2021.

Next month, a group of senior officials from the United States and seven other F-35 operator countries — Norway, Denmark, Italy, Turkey, Israel, Britain and the Netherlands — will meet to compare notes on the new warplane, which was first used in combat by Israel in May.

Better battlefield overview

The United States has more than 150 of the aircraft, whose sensors pilots say give them the most extensive overview of a battlefield of any combat jet available.

Norwegian Air Force Major Morten Hanche, who piloted one of the Norwegian F-35s, said the mock fight with the F-22s was great practice, especially since the F-35s generally surprise and overpower other nonstealth aircraft.

He declined to name the winning aircraft, saying only: “The F-22 is a very formidable opponent.”