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Turkey calls haul of handguns 'a surprise'

Turkish government taken aback by alleged ties between that country and the weapons seized in Dubai.

ISTANBUL // Turkey said yesterday it was "surprised" by the alleged involvement of its nationals in the case of 16,000 handguns seized in Dubai.

"I'm pretty surprised," a diplomatic source in Ankara said in an e-mail. "I can't imagine it being true."

The online edition of the Radikal newspaper reported that the foreign ministry in Ankara had begun an investigation. There was no official statement by the government and no word from Turkey's law enforcement agencies about the two arrests made in Turkey in connection with the suspected arms smuggling.

The news of the seizure in Dubai came one day after a visit to Ankara by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed. Sheikh Abdullah held talks with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, and Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, but it is not known if the issue of the arms seizure was discussed.

Turkey is known to have an illegal arms industry capable of producing thousands of handguns every year. Only last year, police arrested two suspects in the northern Anatolian city of Ordu and accused them of having manufactured thousands of handguns in an illegal factory that was officially registered as a manufacturing centre for plastic goods.

Still, the arms seizure in Dubai raises questions. Many illegal arms factories in Turkey are small back room outfits, capable of producing a small number of weapons only. By contrast, the number of handguns seized in Dubai almost equals the volume of the legal market for handguns in Turkey. According to industry figures quoted by the Anatolia news agency this month, Turks buy an average of 17,000 pistols a year, most of them made domestically.

There are no estimates for how many weapons are sold there illegally, however.

On top of the 2.5 million registered guns in the country, Turks possess an estimated 6.5 million illegal guns. The Foundation of Hope, an organisation campaigning for tighter gun control, says 3,000 people die of gunshot wounds in Turkey every year.

The Dubai news came only days after Turkish authorities foiled a suspected international arms-smuggling operation, according to news reports. Arms and ammunition, including assault rifles, rocket launchers and mortars, were found in the hold of an Iranian cargo plane that had been forced to land in the eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir by the Turkish government.

The plane, which had been bound for Aleppo, Syria, carried "goods banned under UN sanctions", the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the plane was allowed to return to Iran without the banned goods.



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