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New F-35 fighter jets to be stationed in eastern Turkey’s Malatya

The Turkish Air Forces Command is making last preparations to house new F-35 fighter jets, which will initially be delivered on June 21, Anadolu Agency reported Friday.

Turkish pilots will be flying two fighter jets to Turkey in September next year, after completing necessary training in the United States.

The jets will be refueled by a squirt, which will accompany the pilots during their return journey.

Anadolu Agency also reported that the new F-35 aircrafts would be brought to the 7th Main Jet Base Command located in eastern Turkey’s Malatya province, replacing F-4 fighter jets.

The command is currently constructing new maintenance hangars and modernizing some aircraft shelters. The constructions, which started end of last year, are expected to be finalized in early 2019.

Turkey ordered 100 aircraft, 30 of which were approved. The aircraft ordered by Turkey are reported to have the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variants. STOVL aircraft can take off without needing a long runway and make vertical landings. F-16 pilots currently serving in the Turkish Air Force will be able use the planes after the completion of a six-week training program.

Apart from Turkey, the U.S., U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark are also present as participant members to the program.

Turkey’s cooperation with prime contractor U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin dates back to the 1990s, when it previously purchased F-16 fighter jets. Turkish firms continue cooperation in the areas of system development and drills as part of the F-35 project.

Last month, three U.S. senators moved to block Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets from being delivered to Turkey, voicing concerns that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had embarked on a “path of reckless governance and disregard for the rule of law.”

Ankara slammed the plans to block Turkey’s role in the making of the F-35s. Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Head Volkan Bozkır said that the U.S. has been threatening Turkey with a move regarding the F-35 deal if Turkey purchased S-400 missile defense systems from Russia.

“They cannot be such thing that we will cancel the F-35 planes if you do not buy Patriots. There can be no conditions like ‘we will sell you the Patriots, do not buy the S-400s’ either,” Bozkır said, adding that Turkey can buy defense systems from wherever it sees fit.

Several Turkish firms are involved in producing the fighter jets as part of Turkey’s partner role in the joint program. Turkish firms participating in the F-35 project are expected to make a profit of $12 billion. For instance, Alp Aviation partook in the production of the bodywork and landing gear; Ayesaş supplied the missile remote control interface and panoramic cockpit imaging system; and Fokker Elma produced the electrical cabling and internal connection systems for the F-35s. Moreover, Havelsan provided the training systems for the F-35 jets, while Kale Aviation produced the body structure, connections and landing gear locking systems.

Erdogan says youth will lead way in next term

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that the upcoming June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections will be elections determined by young voters, stressing his strong belief and trust in young voters and politicians in the country.

Speaking at the congress of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) Ankara youth branches, Erdogan said, “There is no other political party in Turkey that trusts young people and relies on them as much as we do.”

“Inspired by youth, we have announced our objectives for 2023. We have entrusted our visions for 2053 and 2071 to young people,” he added.

The ruling AK Party has long been stressing that young people need to be more active in politics and play a pivotal role in shaping future policies.

Previously, Erdogan had highlighted the significance of dynamism in politics and launched a rejuvenation process in his party, lamenting sluggishness that he had termed “metal fatigue.” Party sources said 52 percent of the AK Party’s local administrations have changed in line with the needs of the party.

In line with emphasis on youth, the referendum held on April 16, 2017, which paved the way for constitutional amendments, lowered the minimum age of eligibility for Parliament from 25 to 18, which is expected to increase active participation of young people in politics.

“We said the age for eligibility to be elected and elect should be 18. We lowered the age to 18 as we have trust in young people,” Erdogan added.

As young people aged 18 will be able apply for candidacy for the first time, it is believed that interest in the elections among young voters will rise, as well.

In addition, there are also 1.5 million new, young voters who will be participating in the elections for the first time on June 24.

As a country that already has a huge young population, with 16 percent of its overall population consisting of young people between the ages of 15-24, which is the biggest percentage among the European countries, Turkey’s political future is expected to be highly affected by the young voters’ preferences.

Referring to the AK Party’s manifesto announced last week, Erdogan stated that there were special remarks addressing youth. Erdogan added, “Young people will not be ordered around; we will work alongside you.” He also called on them to join efforts to implement the new presidential governing system. Turkey will shift to a presidential governing system from the parliamentary one with the elections in June.

Underlining the successes of historical figures at very young ages, Erdogan told young supporters that they could achieve success at a young age, as well.

The president also highlighted that the AK Party has been ruling the country for 16 years and managed to bring about many changes in the lives of people by upholding many democratic rights and liberties. He said that Turkey has grown 3 1/2 times larger over that span and added that there are major differences between before the AK Party came into power and the current situation of the country.

Erdoğan, Turkey’s first popularly elected president, has served in the post since 2014. Before that, he served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014. If he wins the June 24 election, Erdoğan would be Turkey’s first leader under the presidential system, doing away with the prime minister’s post, among other changes.

Prior to founding the AK Party in 2001, Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul, the home of nearly one-fifth of Turkeys’ population, from 1994 to 1998.

Speaking before Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım addressed the crowd of around 25,000 supporters. “You are not only illuminating our beautiful country, but the entire region,” Yıldırm told the young AK Party members.

Pakistan foreign minister disqualified from parliament

A Pakistani court has disqualified Foreign Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif from holding public office on charges that he made omissions on a parliamentary wealth declaration, the latest blow to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

A three-member bench of the Islamabad High Court issued the verdict in the Pakistani capital on Thursday.

Asif later told local media that he would appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.

The ruling marked the latest dismissal of a member of parliament for not being “honest and trustworthy”, based on an article of the Pakistani constitution that sets out criteria of eligibility to be elected to the National Assembly.

In July last year, the country’s Supreme Court dismissed then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the chief of the ruling PML-N party to which Asif also belongs, for omissions on his parliamentary wealth declaration.

Asif’s case was similar to that of Sharif, in that it pertains to a salary linked to a United Arab Emirates (UAE) work permit.

“It is obvious from the facts and circumstances in the instant case that the Respondent had deliberately and willfully not disclosed his status as an employee of the Company, nor receiving of the salary per month pursuant thereto, despite having been expressly put to challenge by the other contesting candidates,” reads the verdict.

Asif had an employment contract as a legal adviser with a UAE-based firm called International Mechanical and Electrical Company.

Banned for lifetime

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that Sharif and other legislators had violated the “honest and trustworthy” criteria for membership of parliament, and were banned from public office for life.

Jahangir Tareen, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was also disqualified for incomplete income disclosures in December.

In Thursday’s judgment, the judges warned against the conduct of politics through the courts, as it “lowers public confidence in the Legislature on the one hand and on the other hand exposes the institution of the judiciary to the controversies of adversarial politics”.

“We have handed down this judgment with a heavy heart not only because a seasoned and accomplished political figure stands disqualified but more so because the dreams and aspirations of 342,125 registered voters have suffered a setback,” the verdict said.

Pakistan is due to hold a general election in July 2018. Sharif’s PML-N has been campaigning on a platform of being unfairly victimised by the courts.

The PTI, which had filed the complaints against both Sharif and Asif, lauded the verdict as a victory for democracy.

Asif, a seasoned political leader, had previously won three elections from his constituency in the central city of Sialkot, and served as minister of defence, as well as heading the water and power ministry, prior to being appointed as foreign minister in August.

Turkey: 14 Cumhuriyet staff sentenced on ‘terror’ charges

A Turkish court has handed prison sentences to 14 staff of the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper on “terrorism” charges, and acquitted three others, according to state media.

The sentences for those convicted on Wednesday by the Istanbul-based court ranged from two-and-a-half years to seven-and-a-half years.

Among them are renowned journalists, including investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, who was sentenced to seven years and six months. Journalist and columnist Kadri Gursel was sentenced to 30 months.

The court handed cartoonist Musa Kart a three-year-and-nine-month sentence, while Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu was sentenced to seven years and six months.

The convicted staff members will remain free pending appeal, but they are barred from leaving Turkey. They will also regularly report to the judicial authorities.

Three staff members were acquitted by the court.

The court also ruled that the case against the prominent journalist Can Dundar, previously the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, would continue separately, the Cumhuriyet reported.

Another defendant in the case, who was not employed by the paper and had been charged for his activities on Twitter, got the stiffest sentence: 10 years.

The staff of the newspaper, one of the rare voices in Turkey that is still critical of the government, were charged with supporting in their coverage three groups that Turkey considers “terror” groups – the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the organisation of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim religious leader Ankara holds responsible for a failed 2016 coup attempt.

The Turkish government says the members of Gulen’s movement have run “a parallel state” within the civilian and military bureaucracy, following their own agenda. Gulen, who is based in the United States, has denied the charges.

A recent European Commission report said that under the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the coup bid, more than 150,000 people had been taken into custody, 78,000 arrested and over 110,000 civil servants dismissed. Turkish authorities say that some 40,000 have been reinstated in the process.

Turkey’s Western allies have repeatedly condemned the Turkish government’s detentions and purges after the coup attempt.

Local and international rights groups accuse the government of using the coup bid as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.

The government says that the purges and detentions are in line with the rule of law and aim to remove Gulen’s supporters from state institutions and other parts of society.