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Shooting remark hits anti-arms campaign

As opposition and rights activists raise alarm, deputy in Turkey's ruling party defends his statement saying it was directed at terrorists

Istanbul // Anti-gun activists and opposition politicians in Turkey say efforts to rein in a culture of arms and violence have taken a serious blow after a parliamentary deputy from the ruling party said publicly that he liked people to be shot if they attacked the state.

"I am not a man who likes shooting," Abdulkadir Akgul, a member of the prime minister's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said during a debate in the budget committee of Turkey's parliament in Ankara last week. "But of course I like it if those who are against my state and my nation are shot." He later said his remarks were meant to describe "terrorists", a term that is mostly used for Kurdish extremists in Turkish political parlance. "I am not a killer," he said. "I was talking about terrorists. Ninety-eight per cent of Turks agree with me." Still, Mr Akgul was sharply criticised by opposition politicians, human rights activists and the press.

Only a few days before Mr Akgul's statement, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, caused a storm of protest when he said he could understand people who defended themselves with firearms against Kurdish activists. The opposition said Mr Erdogan's statement was an open invitation to people to take the law into their own hands. Taken together, the statements by Mr Akgul and Mr Erdogan were signs of a "disturbing" attitude in the government, said Esengul Ayyildiz, of Umut Vakfi, or Foundation of Hope, an anti-gun lobbying group in Istanbul. "It is dangerous because incidents of gun use could rise. People see government politicians as role models," she said.

According to the foundation, there are 2.5 million legal and about three times as many illegal fire arms in Turkey. About 3,000 people are killed by bullets in Turkey every year, Ms Ayyildiz said. Some of the victims die as the result of celebratory shooting after big football matches or at weddings. "Turks love weapons," Ms Ayyildiz said. Some think this is the real reason why Mr Akgul spoke out. An opposition deputy accused Mr Akgul of trying to curry favour with the far Right. Local elections, seen as a major test for the governing party that is facing declining support in opinion polls because of a string of corruption scandals and of a darkening economic outlook, are set for March. "Akgul's statement was not spontaneous," Isa Gok, a politician of the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, told the television news channel Haberturk. "The AKP is beginning to talk like the MHP," Mr Gok said, referring to the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.

"To say that you like if a human being is killed is a very big danger," Mr Gok said. Turkey's main two human rights groups agreed. A total of 35 people were killed or injured because of excessive police force this year alone, the Human Rights Association and the Turkish Human Rights Foundation said in a joint statement. One of the reasons was a new law that was introduced last year and that relaxed rules on the use of firearms by the police, they said.

The two groups accused Mr Akgul of inciting the police to commit crimes and called on parliament to lift his immunity so the deputy could be tried in court. Mr Akgul was not available for comment on the accusations against him, his office said. To illustrate their point that trigger-happy Turkish police have been displaying a dangerous tendency to shoot first and ask questions later even without the encouragement officers may take from Mr Akgul's statements, rights activists point to several incidents in recent weeks.

On Nov 9, only days before Mr Akgul made his remarks, police in the southern city of Adana shot a 14-year-old boy in the back. Authorities said that Ahmet Yildirim was fleeing on a motorcycle that he had allegedly stolen and that officers opened fire on the motorcycle's tyres to stop him, accidentally hitting the boy. But the Human Rights Association quoted witnesses as saying the police had shot the boy in the back from close range. He will remain paralysed as a consequence of the shooting, press reports said.

In late September, an 18-year-old was shot in the head twice and killed by policemen in the resort town of Antalya after he failed to stop as demanded by the officers. Policemen are accused of having killed several people in similar circumstances, but convictions of officers are rare. "There is a lack of prompt, impartial and independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations by members of security forces," the EU said in a report on Turkey's progress as a candidate for membership earlier this month. "Judicial proceedings into allegations of torture and ill-treatment are often delayed by the lack of efficient trial procedures or abuse of such procedures."

In a case that attracted nationwide attention last year, Baran Tursun, 20, a student, was killed by police in the Aegean port city of Izmir after he drove through a police control point and officers sprayed his car with bullets. Mr Tursun's car veered off the road and slammed into a tree. Doctors later found a bullet in his head. The police officer who fired the deadly shot was released from custody by the court on the first day of his trial.

tseibert@thenational.ae