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Erdoğan targets medical association over chairman’s remarks about use of chemical weapons

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has targeted the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), the head of which is currently under investigation due to her comments on recent allegations that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had used chemical weapons in their operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), local media reported on Monday.

Speaking to the press following a cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdoğan said he had instructed his ministers to speed up the work towards devising a new structure for professional organizations, especially the TTB.

“The judiciary has taken action regarding the head of the [Turkish] Medical Association. We will ensure that this [association’s] name is changed by law if necessary,” Erdoğan said.

The president said he believed that such a person as Şebnem Korur Fincancı being the head of the TTB, whose name begins with the word “Turkish,” “disturbs all our citizens.”

Erdoğan’s far-right election ally, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, also targeted the TTB and its chair Fincancı in a speech at a party meeting on Tuesday, saying that the TTB should be closed down and Fincancı’s Turkish citizenship revoked due to her remarks about the TSK’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ gave a similar message in a statement to the state-run TRT Haber earlier on Monday, referring to the investigation launched into Fincancı by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office last week on accusations of disseminating propaganda for the terrorist PKK and publicly denigrating the Turkish military in her comments on the chemical weapons allegations.

“I am addressing all our physicians who are members of the Turkish Medical Association [and] the [medical] chambers. They don’t have to tolerate such a chairperson. I don’t see it as right to associate the Turkish Medical Association with someone who is an enemy of their nation, an enemy of their state and a fan of the terrorist organization,” Bozdağ said.

However, Fincancı, who is currently in Germany, said in a statement to the Kronos news website that she did not accuse the TSK of having used chemical weapons against PKK militants, she just wanted an investigation into the claims. She said she can’t understand why the Turkish authorities get so offended when it is the northern Iraqi administration that won’t allow an investigation.

On Oct. 18 the pro-Kurdish Fırat News Agency (ANF) published a video that showed two members of the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, apparently under the influence of a chemical agent.

Fincancı commented on the video during a live broadcast on Medya Haber TV on Oct. 20, saying, “I saw the footage earlier. It’s obvious that one of the toxic chemical gases that directly affect the nervous system has been used. … Although their use is prohibited, we can unfortunately see that these banned weapons are used in conflict.”

She added that an effective investigation by an independent body should be carried out in order to hold the states that use such weapons accountable.

The allegations about the use of chemical weapons have been denied by the Presidency, the Defense Ministry and a group of senior officials from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government since the release of the video footage.

Fincancı, also a famous human rights activist, is frequently targeted by the Turkish government and subjected to judicial harassment for standing up against widespread human rights violations in the country, which reached new heights following a failed coup in July 2016.

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