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Fearing future, some Turks flee abroad

412 suspected Kurdish militants detained

A woman waves a Turkish fl ag decorated with an image of Turkey’s founder Kemal Ataturk, in Istanbul on April 12. Turkey is heading to a contentious April 16 referendum on constitutional reforms to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. (AP)

ISTANBUL, April 13, (Agencies): Lawyer Savas Ersoy and his wife turned down many chances to leave Turkey and work abroad. But after a failed coup, a wave of bombs and the referendum on expanding presidential powers on Sunday, they are packing their bags. Like other professionals who are leaving Turkey, the Ersoys say they are uncertain about the country’s political future and afraid of instability.

“We have been thinking of moving abroad for about a year and a half. However, with the developments in Turkey over the past six to seven months, we have decided to move,” said the 37-yearold lawyer.

Sunday’s referendum could grant President Tayyip Erdogan new authority and transform Turkish politics. Already the most powerful leader since the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Erdogan has won successive elections and enjoys strong support among pious and conservative voters, mainly in rural areas. But he is viewed with suspicion by many liberal Turks, who say the secular foundations of the country of 80 million people are being eroded by an increasingly authoritarian president. The Ersoys are moving to the Danish capital Copenhagen this month after Ersoy’s wife, who works in the pharmaceutical sector, took up the offer of a job they had previously declined.

Offers
“We have had job offers from abroad before as well. We didn’t accept them, thinking ‘Why would we go?’ But the developments after (the failed coup on) July 15, the referendum, this executive presidency issue, things have gotten out of hand,” Ersoy said. “We don’t know what will happen in six months. Bombs are exploding in many parts of the nation. I have a threeyear old daughter and Europe is safer.” A “Yes” vote on Sunday would empower Erdogan to appoint ministers, top officials and judges, dissolve parliament and declare emergency rule — powers his backers say are needed to confront Islamic State and Kurdish militants and root out those behind last July’s attempted coup.

Erdogan’s critics say the changes would remove checks on his power, lurching Turkey closer to becoming an authoritarian state, after a post-coup crackdown in which more than 100,000 people were sacked or suspended over suspected links with terrorist organisations. Statistics on exactly how many professionals are leaving Turkey are hard to find, but Ersoy’s comments echo those of several who spoke to Reuters in the run-up to the referendum.

Footsteps
Gokhan Gokceoglu, who runs a financial consultancy firm in Britain, said a growing number of Turks were trying to follow in his footsteps. “As someone who lives in Britain, I can say that there is an increase in demand from white-collar and well-educated people in recent times to live in Britain and get citizenship,” he told Reuters while on a holiday break in Istanbul. In another report, Facing harassment, enforced shutdowns and the threat of jail at home, Turkey’s journalists in exile are using Germany as a base to report on political turmoil in their country ahead of Sunday’s referendum. “We are here because there is no freedom of the press, and no freedom of expression in Turkey anymore,” said Can Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of the respected Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Dundar was convicted of revealing state secrets after he published a report saying that Turkey’s intelligence agency was involved in sending weapons to Syrian rebels. He was jailed for three months and shot at in front of a court house as he was briefing reporters. Dundar was sentenced to prison but left for Germany after he was freed on appeal without travel restrictions. Now he’s running the bilingual news website Ozguruz in Berlin, with the help of the German nonprofit news organization Correctiv . “Ozguruz” means “We are free” in Turkish.

Struggling
“There are of course friends and colleagues still struggling in Turkey, but it is a really dangerous task,” Dundar told The Associated Press. “I spent three months in jail and I was shot in front court house, and my only fault was writing the news. So because of that we decided to do this from outside.” On Sunday, Turks will vote “yes” or “no” to constitutional amendments that would abolish the office of the prime minister and transfer executive powers to the president, something Erdogan’s critics fear would cement his powers and further mold Turkey according to his conservative and pro-Islamic views. Opinion polls suggest he could win by a whisker.

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