Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
War watch March 16 , 2014 -- Syria -- Syria claims to have captured rebel stronghold on Lebanese border Fall of Yabroud, a key rebel supply line into Lebanon, would be latest success for President Assad as conflict enters fourth year ....... Iraq -- another day of death dealing across Iraq ..... Afghanistan Election outlook - murky is the word presently as to who might win and what happens next ? Libya rebels offer to talk to Libya Government regarding sharing oil revenues - even as a second oil tanker lurks near Tobruk to load a second load of oil from the oil bandits .....Turkish PM risks inflaming tensions by linking dead teenager to terrorism
Influential Syrian rebel Kamal al-Labwani’s comments today have raised the prospect of even further splintering the rebels, as he offered to “trade” the Golan Heights to Israel in return for cash and military aid for the rebellion.
Israel occupied the Golan Heights during 1967, and the prospect of returning the heights as part of an overall peace deal with Syria has been repeatedly broached, most recently in 2008.
Labwani suggested that instead, an agreement by the rebels to sign over claims to the Golan in perpetuity could be had for cash concessions as well as an Israeli-imposed “no-fly zone” across southern Syria.
Labwani’s comments are just another effort to get a foreign power sucked into the civil war on the rebels’ side, and such a promise would likely not be honored by the Islamist rebels that dominate the civil war at any rate.
The fall of Yabroud would deal a signifcant blow to rebels since the initiative passed to the government in spring of 2013. Photograph: Sana/Reuters
Syria claims its military has seized a key town on the Lebanese border that was the target of a months-long offensive. Activists said fighting was continuing but the government was in control of much of Yabroud.
Yabroud was an key supply line for rebels into neighbouring Lebanonand overlooked an important cross-country highway. Its fall, coming as the Syrian conflict enters fourth year, would be a significant blow to rebels since the initiative passed to the government in the spring of 2013.
It is the last major rebel-held town in the mountainous Qalamoun region, where President Bashar al-Assad's forces have been waging an offensive for months to try to cut rebel supply lines across the porous border into eastern Lebanon. Its fall would come a week after the Syrian army seized the village of Zara, which also served as a conduit for rebels from northern Lebanon into central Syria.
Syria's state news agency Sana reported that military forces seized Yabroud early on Sunday and were combing the city to remove booby-traps and bombs and hunt down rebel holdouts.
Kasem Alzein, a Syrian pro-rebel doctor who lives in the nearby border town of Arsal, said military forces entered the eastern part of Yabroud and that rebels fled to the nearby town of Flita. He said a small hardcore group of fighters said they would fight to the death in the city.
"They don't want to surrender," he said, adding that supplies were cut off and weapons promised to rebels never arrived.
"Qusair will repeat itself," Alzein said, referring to the strategic rebel-held town on the Syrian border that fell to pro-Assad forces last summer. As in the Qalamoun offensive, Lebanese Hezbollah militants played a key role backing government troops.
Gunfire could be heard on footage broadcast live by the Lebanon-based TV station Al-Mayadeen, which also showed troops walking through empty streets.
Meanwhile, a flare-up of violence in the northern Lebanese city of Tripolihas left 12 people dead in recent days, Lebanon's state-run news agency said.
NNA said the latest fatality was a soldier who was killed on Sunday when attackers fired on his armoured vehicle with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. His death brings the death toll to 12 since clashes erupted Thursday, the NNA said.
The clashes pit Sunni gunmen from Bab Tabbaneh who back Syria's Sunni-majority rebels against rivals from nearby Jabal Mohsen, dominated by the Alawite sect, Assad's faith.
Sunni gunmen have also attacked Lebanese soldiers, accusing them of loyalty to rival sectarian factions in Lebanon.
An anniversary not likely to be acknowledged heavily (if at all) by US officials, Mondaymarks the 11-year anniversary of the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, starting a protracted occupation the left huge numbers of Iraqi civilians dead.
Spun as a victory and a war that “ended” with the US pullout, Iraq saw a brief decline in violence after the US finally left, but a big escalation over the past year that has seen al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a group in large part created to resist the US occupation, seizing significant portions of the Anbar Province.
And while US involvement doesn’t include boots on the ground, the US isn’t exactly “out” of Iraq, pumping large amounts of weapons into the country today as part of a promise to help them fight AQI.
Between the weapons shipments and constant calls from hawks to return to a direct military role inside Iraq, the US seems less “out” of Iraq than any time since they physically withdrew, and are looking forward to years of intervention in various forms.
Evening Bombing Spree in Baghdad; 46 Killed, 68 Wounded Across Iraq
When US General Joseph Dunford, the senior coalition commander in Afghanistan, addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on 12 March, he spoke largely to the four walls and empty seats in a room that once used to be packed with journalists, diplomats and academics analysing every twist of US policy in Afghanistan.
The empty room illustrated how Afghanistan has disappeared from the top of the agenda of US and European policy makers and public and media consciousness.
However, in a few weeks, Afghans go to the polls to elect a new president. A fraud-free election and a peaceful political transition from President Hamid Karzai to a new president, accepted by the majority of the people, will ultimately matter far more for the future stability of Afghanistan and the region than speculation about the US troop withdrawal or the machinations of the Taliban.
The need for a free and fair election is paramount for the country and the region.”
Yet critically, even after thousands of dead and $1 trillion (£602bn) spent, no-one has a clue as to the outcome of the elections or what will happen next.
A series of recent events has left Afghans and the international community even more uncertain as to the outcome of the elections on 5 April and whether they will be free and fair.
The untimely death of Vice-President Marshal Mohammed Fahim has left a huge vacuum in Mr Karzai's plans to get his favoured candidate - the former Pashtun national security adviser Zalmai Rassoul - elected.
As the leader of the powerful Panjsheri Tajiks and the designated leader of the former Shura-e Nezar or what used to be called the Northern Alliance made up of all the non-Pashtun ethnic groups and warlords, Mr Fahim's powers of wheeling and dealing with those groups were vital to Mr Karzai's plans.
Mr Karzai needs to appoint a successor quickly who has to be a Tajik, or the leading opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah - who commands the partial support of the Northern Alliance vote bank and is ahead in the polls - could become the undisputed leader of both the Tajiks and all non-Pashtuns.
Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and author based in Lahore
His latest book is Pakistan on the Brink - The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan
Earlier works include Descent into Chaos and Taliban, first published in 2000, which became a bestseller
The half Tajik, half Pashtun Mr Abdullah viewed Mr Fahim as an incompetent and scheming rival - the two never got on - but Mr Abdullah now has everything to gain from the leadership vacuum that his death has created.
It suits Mr Abdullah that Mr Karzai delays any appointment of a new vice-president, so that Mr Abdullah can consolidate his vote bank in the former Northern Alliance.
Secondly, Mr Karzai's attempts to support Zalmai Rassoul as the leading - and his favoured - Pashtun candidate is not working out.
Mr Karzai's strategy has always been to get all the Pashtun candidates to support his single choice by getting other Pashtun candidates to stand down at the right moment in favour of Mr Rassoul. That would ensure a formidable vote bank against Mr Abdullah.
However, it took Mr Karzai far too long to get his brother Qayuum Karzai to stand down as a candidate and support Mr Rassoul. Now Mr Karzai has left it too late to get other Pashtun candidates, such as the fundamentalist Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and the warlord Gul Agha Sherzai, to do the same.
These candidates may now calculate that they can get a better deal from whoever becomes the next president than from Mr Karzai's candidate who may lose.
These Afghan women attended an election rally of Afghan presidential candidate Gul Agha Sherzai in Jalalabad
Ashraf Ghani is now considered the leading Pashtun candidate
Moreover, the leading Mr Pashtun candidate now is not Mr Rassoul, but Ashraf Ghani, a well known technocrat who has been in and out of government since 2001 and is popular with the youth vote, but is someone whom Mr Karzai has never liked nor trusted and is unlikely to endorse.
According to polling undertaken by Tolo TV, Mr Ghani is trailing just behind Mr Abdullah, with Mr Rassoul a distant third. Mr Ghani's strategy is now to muster support and the vote banks from the very same Pashtun candidates that Mr Karzai is trying to swing to his side.
The greatest danger is the fear of rigging by Mr Karzai's supporters, who control the government machinery. Alleged ballot box stuffing by Mr Karzai's supporters in his 2009 re-election nearly led to civil war between Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah.
Unfortunately, the reasons for rigging then are still present today. Back in 2009, Mr Karzai feared that the Pashtun vote bank would not turn out on election day due to Taliban threats and intimidation.
That proved true, as very few Pashtuns in the south and east actually did turn out. Instead, the government was accused of carrying out massive ballot box stuffing of Pashtun votes that made it appear that millions of Pashtuns had voted and gave Mr Karzai an undisputed advantage against Mr Abdullah.
Today, the Taliban are once again threatening death to anyone who takes part in the elections. They can most safely carry out such threats in the south and the east - the Pashtun belt - rather than in the north and west where Mr Abdullah will carry most votes.
Thus to defeat Ashraf Ghani in the first round and ensure Zalmai Rassoul becomes the leading Pashtun candidate for the second round of polling in June, the Pashtun turnout has to be large and decisive. That can only be assured by more vote rigging by government supporters, Mr Karzai's opponents say.
The hasty departure of Western troops, the major reduction of any electoral role for the United Nations by the international community, the unwillingness of any global body to carry out serious monitoring of the polls and the overall lack of international attention to the polls are likely to help create another constitutional crisis.
Tragically for Afghans, the West is already washing its hands of the polls.
If there is rigging, the losing candidates will unite against the government and Kabul.
Many Afghans are not willing to tolerate another fraudulent election. The need for a free and fair election is paramount for the country and the region.
The Libyan former prime minister Ali Zeidan fled last week after parliament voted him out of office. A North Korean-flagged oil tanker, the Morning Glory, illegally picked up a cargo of crude from rebels in the east of the country and sailed safely away, despite a government minister’s threat that the vessel would be “turned into a pile of metal” if it left port: the Libyan navy blamed rough weather for its failure to stop the ship. Militias based in Misrata, western Libya, notorious for their violence and independence, have launched an offensive against the eastern rebels in what could be the opening shots in a civil war between western and eastern Libya.
Without a central government with any real power, Libya is falling apart. And this is happening almost three years after 19 March 2011 when the French air force stopped Mu’ammer Gaddafi’s counter-offensive to crush the uprising in Benghazi. Months later, his burnt-out tanks still lay by the road to the city. With the United States keeping its involvement as low-profile as possible, Nato launched a war in which rebel militiamen played a secondary, supportive role and ended with the overthrow and killing of Gaddafi.
A striking feature of events in Libya in the past week is how little interest is being shown by leaders and countries which enthusiastically went to war in 2011 in the supposed interests of the Libyan people. President Obama has since spoken proudly of his role in preventing a “massacre” in Benghazi at that time. But when the militiamen, whose victory Nato had assured, opened fire on a demonstration against their presence in Tripoli in November last year, killing at least 42 protesters and firing at children with anti-aircraft machine guns, there was scarcely a squeak of protest from Washington, London or Paris.
Coincidentally, it was last week that Al-Jazeera broadcast the final episode in a three-year investigation of the Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people in 1988. For years this was deemed to be Gaddafi’s greatest and certainly best-publicised crime, but the documentary proved beyond reasonable doubt that the Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of carrying out the bombing, was innocent. Iran, working through the Palestinian Front for The Liberation of Palestine – General Command, ordered the blowing up of Pan Am 103 in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by the US navy earlier in 1988.
Much of this had been strongly suspected for years. The new evidence comes primarily from Abolghasem Mesbahi, an Iranian intelligence officer who later defected and confirmed the Iranian link. The US Defense Intelligence Agency had long ago reached the same conclusion. The documentary emphasises the sheer number of important politicians and senior officials over the years who must have looked at intelligence reports revealing the truth about Lockerbie, but still happily lied about it.
It is an old journalistic saying that if you want to find out government policy, imagine the worst thing they can do and then assume they are doing it. Such cynicism is not deserved in all cases, but it does seem to be a sure guide to western policy towards Libya. This is not to defend Gaddafi, a maverick dictator who inflicted his puerile personality cult on his people, though he was never as bloodthirsty as Saddam Hussein or Hafez al-Assad.
But the Nato powers that overthrew him – and by some accounts gave the orders to kill him – did not do so because he was a tyrannical ruler. It was rather because he pursued a quirkily nationalist policy backed by a great deal of money which was at odds with western policies in the Middle East. It is absurd to imagine that if the real objective of the war was to replace Gaddafi with a secular democracy that the West’s regional allies in the conflict should be theocratic absolute monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. This is equally true of Western and Saudi intervention in Syria which has the supposed intention of replacing President Bashar al-Assad with a freely elected government that will establish the rule of law.
Libya is imploding. Its oil exports have fallen from 1.4 million barrels a day in 2011 to 235,000 barrels a day. Militias hold 8,000 people in prisons, many of whom say they have been tortured. Some 40,000 people from the town of Tawergha south of Misrata were driven from their homes which have been destroyed. “The longer Libyan authorities tolerate the militias acting with impunity, the more entrenched they become, and the less willing to step down” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Putting off repeated deadlines to disarm and disband militias only prolongs the havoc they are creating throughout the country.”
Unfortunately, the militias are getting stronger not weaker. Libya is a land of regional, tribal, ethnic warlords who are often simply well-armed racketeers exploiting their power and the absence of an adequate police force. Nobody is safe: the head of Libya’s military police was assassinated in Benghazi in October while Libya’s first post-Gaddafi prosecutor general was shot dead in Derna on 8 February. Sometimes the motive for the killing is obscure, such as the murder last week of an Indian doctor, also in Derna, which may lead to an exodus of 1,600 Indian doctors who have come to Libya since 2011 and on whom its health system depends.
Western and regional governments share responsibility for much that has happened in Libya, but so too should the media. The Libyan uprising was reported as a simple-minded clash between good and evil. Gaddafi and his regime were demonised and his opponents treated with a naïve lack of scepticism and enquiry. The foreign media have dealt with the subsequent collapse of the Libyan state since 2011 mostly by ignoring it, though politicians have stopped referring to Libya as an exemplar of successful foreign intervention.
Can anything positive be learnt from the Libyan experience which might be useful in establishing states that are an improvement on those ruled by Gaddafi, Assad and the like? An important point is that demands for civil, political and economic rights – which were at the centre of the Arab Spring uprisings – mean nothing without a nation state to guarantee them; otherwise national loyalties are submerged by sectarian, regional and ethnic hatreds.
This should be obvious, but few of those supporting the Arab uprisings, for reasons other than self-interest, seem to have taken it on board. “Freedom under the rule of law is almost unknown outside nation-states,” writes the journalist and MEP Daniel Hannan in a succinct analysis of why the Arab Spring failed. “Constitutional liberty requires a measure of patriotism, meaning a readiness to accept your countrymen’s disagreeable decisions, to abide by election results when you lose.”
Even this level of commitment may not be enough, but without it only force can hold the state together. The escape of Morning Glory, the ousting of Ali Zeidan and the triumph of the militias all go to show that the Libyan state has so far neither the popular support nor military power to preserve itself.
The long, meandering voyage of the North Korea-flagged oil tanker Morning Glory came to an end overnight, when a “large number of commandos” from the USS Roosevelt attacked and captured the ship.
The Morning Glory was carrying tens of millions of dollars worth of oil from the Sidra oil terminal, a Libyan terminal once operated by the state oil company in cooperation with Western oil companies (primarily Italy’s Eni) but now under control of secessionists.
The Libyan government botched their attempt to capture the Morning Glory, setting it on fire with a missile but allowing it to escape into the sea. The ship apparently had no idea who to sell the oil to, however, and was just milling about the Mediterranean Sea near Cyprus hoping to find a buyer for its grey-market crude.
The US spun the attack as “supporting our Libyan partners.” Libya considered the ship loading oil an “act of piracy,” though the International Maritime Bureau insisted this was not the case.
Considering how long it took for the US to catch up with the ship it may not be much deterrent for future tankers to try the same thing, as if they’d actually had someplace to sell the oil lined up beforehand the transaction would likely have been completed before the US got there.
Oil tanker last seen off the coast of Cyprus
Tripoli, 16 March 2014:
The oil tanker Morning Glory which left Libya loaded with a shipment of illegal crude has been spotted off the coast of Cyprus.
The country’s marine authorities said it had been seen in international waters around 18 nautical miles from Cyprus, according to the Cypriot media.
It apparently changed course yesterday and headed back out into international waters.
The vessel is not only only carrying the illegal shipment of oil but it is believed to be sailing without being registered to any country – a requirement for merchant vessels under international maritime law. The Morning Glory was stripped of its right to sail under the North Korean flag after taking on the crude from eastern oil ports blockaded by federalists. North Korea said this breached the terms of the contract, made through an Egyptian shipping logistics firm.
Mystery continues to surround who owns and operates the vessel, which reportedly changed its name, owner, flag of convenience some three weeks ago.
Sharara oilfield closed – again
By Jamal Adel.
Tripoli, 16 March 2014:
Production at Sharara oilfield has been stopped – again – this time by Petroleum Facilities’ Guards (PFG) loyal to Obari’s Supreme Council of Revolutionaries.
The oilfield was open for only four days following the withdrawal of Tuareg protestors from Sharara just over one week ago. The PFG forces, with indirect links to the protestors, resumed the blockade over unpaid salaries on Thursday.
The previous embargo imposed by Tuareg demonstrators was due to be suspended for two weeks as a show of good faith while authorities addressed their demands. A leading member among the Sharara protestors, Mahmoud Al-Ansari, who has himself supported the two-week deadline, told the Libya Herald that this had, however, proved too long for Obari’s PFG.
“The number of protesters with differing demands is increasing on a daily basis and we are all yet to see results and an end to government negligence,” he said.
Protesters at Sharara were originally demanding the removal of Obari’s old, unelected council which they said had not represented the town’s Tuareg minority. Subsequently, however, many called for national ID numbers to be distributed to those who had not been issued with them.
The manager at Sharara, Hassan Al-Sideek, said it was apparent that demonstrators were now divided. He added that in the brief period that the oilfield was recently open it had produced at total of 700,000 barrels of oil. When working at full capacity Sharara should produce 350,000 barrels per day.
National oil production has been slashed by the on-off closure of Sharara, Libya’s second largest oilfield, which began in January. Its closure equates to the loss of roughly $34 million a day.
Militia holding Libyan port offers to talk with government
March 15, 20145:33PM ET
Group that filled rogue tanker last week wants a greater share of country's oil money
An independent Libyan militia controlling three oil export ports said on Saturday they were ready to negotiate with the government over ending their six-month blockade if Tripoli abandoned plans for a military offensive.
Libyan officials on Wednesday gave the armed protesters two weeks to clear the ports they have seized, or face a military strike. Pro-government and rebel forces clashed briefly this week in central Sirte, a city linking western and eastern Libya.
The militia, which is calling for a greater share in the OPEC nation's oil wealth, managed last week to load oil on to a tanker, which escaped the Libyan navy. The incident embarrassed the weak central government and prompted parliament on Tuesday to vote the country's prime minister out of office.
Abb-Rabbo al-Barassi, the eastern autonomy movement's self-appointed "prime minister,” told Reuters by phone that talks could only begin if the central government withdrew any troops it had sent to central Libya confront them.
"This is the condition," he said.
He also said the tanker that had loaded oil last week at one of the rebel-held ports had reached its destination, though he declined to say where. He said more ships were expected at the seized ports.
Earlier on Saturday, al-Barassi gave a speech on the militia-controlled television channel showing him in front of several vessels docking in what the station said was Es Sider port, from where the first tanker sailed. Those details could not immediately be independently confirmed.
The Libyan navy lost contact with the North Korean-flagged tanker after firing on it on Monday or Tuesday, officials said. The tanker's exact whereabouts since then have not been confirmed by Libyan officials.
The standoff over control of Libya's oil is part of wider turmoil that has engulfed the vast North African country since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi nearly three years ago.
Since then the government and nascent army have struggled to control brigades of former anti-Gaddafi fighters who have refused to disarm and have used their military muscle to make political demands on the state, often by targeting the oil sector.
NOC reactivates force majeure for Tobruk oil port
Tripoli, 15 March 2014:
The Marsa Hariga oil export terminal at Tobruk has been placed back under force majeure by the National Oil Company (NOC).
The announcement was confirmed by NOC spokesman Mohammed Al-Harrari. He declined to give further details but said that, under the present conditions: “We expect anything.”
There have been reports that an oil tanker is moored in the vicinity of Tobruk, sparking concerns that this is a second vessel waiting to try and load oil from the country’s eastern oil ports. The Morning Glory last week successfully loaded an illegal shipment of oil, and escaped a Navy blockade to sail into international waters.
Marsa Hariga was under force majeure from August until October last year after protestors, demanding better pay and conditions and in solidarity with federalist demands for . The refinery and export terminal are both run by NOC subsidiary AGOCO.
Turkish PM risks inflaming tensions by linking dead teenager to terrorism
March 15, 20149:03AM ET
Death of 15-year old Berkin Elvan led to Turkey's worst violence since massive protests rocked the country last June
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said a teenager who died this week after sustaining a head injury in anti-government protests last summer was linked to "terrorist organizations," in comments likely to fan political tensions.
The death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan on Tuesday after nine months in a coma sparked Turkey's worst unrest since nationwide anti-government demonstrations last June, compounding Erdogan's woes as he battles a graft scandal that has become one of the biggest challenges of his decade in power.
Erdogan made his remarks, his first about Elvan, late on Friday at a campaign rally in southeastTurkey ahead of nationwide municipal elections on March 30.
"This kid with steel marbles in his pockets, with a slingshot in his hand, his face covered with a scarf, who had been taken up into terror organizations, was unfortunately subjected to pepper gas," Erdogan told a crowd of supporters in a speech broadcast on state-run TRT-Haber news channel.
"How could the police determine how old that person was who had a scarf on his face and was hurling steel marbles with a slingshot in his hand?"
Elvan, then 14, got caught up in street battles in Istanbul on June 16 while going to buy bread for his family. He was hit in the head by what is believed to be a police gas canister, slipped into a coma and became a rallying point for government opponents, who held regular vigils at the hospital where he lay in intensive care.
After his death, riot police used water cannon, tear gas and rubber pellets to disperse tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets of Turkey's largest cities chanting "Tayyip! Killer!" and "Everywhere is Berkin, everywhere is resistance."
At campaign rallies in the past few days, Erdogan has accused a coalition of "anarchists, terrorists and vandals" as well as opposition parties and an influential U.S.-based Islamic cleric of orchestrating the unrest to undermine him.
Using harsh words unlikely to soothe public anger, Erdogan – who unlike President Abdullah Gul and other public figures did not send condolences to Elvan's family – criticized the boy's parents and suggested he had not really gone to buy bread.
"His mother says 'my son's killer is the prime minister.' I know love, fondness for one's child, but I could not understand why you threw steel marbles and carnations into your son's grave," Erdogan said at his election campaign rally.
Elvan's family are Alevis, a religious minority in mainly Sunni Muslim Turkey which espouses a liberal version of Islam and has often been at odds with the Islamist-rooted government.
Erdogan contrasted Elvan's death with that of 22-year-old Burakcan Karamanoglu, who was shot dead in Istanbul on Wednesday after an apparent standoff with a group of anti-government protesters. Erdogan has blamed his death on a far-leftist group.
"Our son Burakcan was martyred just three months after coming back from his military service. Burakcan was not carrying a slingshot or a gun," Erdogan said.
The fathers of Elvan and Karamanoglu spoke together on Friday and made a joint appeal on television to Turks to remain calm and not to use their sons' deaths for political ends.
Erdogan, who has presided over a decade of rising living standards, remains Turkey's most popular politician and his AK Party is expected to outstrip its rivals in the local polls.
But critics say Erdogan is becoming increasingly authoritarian and intolerant, pointing to moves to tighten government control of the judiciary and of the Internet.
Erdogan says the moves are necessary to counter what he sees as attempts by a former ally-turned-foe, U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, to unseat him.
Gulen's many followers in Turkey's police and judiciary are widely believed to be behind a series of leaked audio recordings purportedly exposing graft and other malpractices in Erdogan's inner circle. Gulen denies any involvement in the scandal.