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Turkey

An Homage To Himself, Erdogan's Own Personal Versailles

At 1,000 rooms and a $350 million pricetag, the vast new palace the Turkish president has had built for himself is both illegal and a bold expression of his own power and that of the "new Turkey."

Erdogan and his wife during the celebration of his presidential victory, on Aug. 10.
Erdogan and his wife during the celebration of his presidential victory, on Aug. 10.
Boris Kálnoky

ISTANBUL — If he had a choice today, Sun King Louis XIV might actually prefer to be the Turkish rather than the French head of state. Only a few buildings since Versailles have offered as salient an expression of a sitting leader's claims to power as the new official residence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Though there was also the "People's House" of erstwhile Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the villainous leader was executed before the colossal construction was finished. By comparison to "Genius of the Carpathians" Ceausescu, who laid claim to 3,000 rooms in Bucharest, the ruler of the "new Turkey" is relatively modest with a mere 1,000 rooms.

The best thing about the $350 million new palace, to be inaugurated Oct. 29, is its name, Aksaray, which means "pure, white palace." Those who have leveled corruption allegations at the government would hardly call it a stronghold of virtue. And never mind the occasional nasty tricks the government plays on its critics. The Turkish newspaper Gazeteport published pictures showing just how grand the new compound is.

Of course, the entire construction and massive public expenditure is illegal. It was built without permission in the Atatürk Forest, on land that is under both monument and nature protection. This violation is symbolic: Erdogan is above Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. And obviously above the law too.

"Just let them try to tear it down," Erdogan said as one court after another ordered construction stopped. "I will inaugurate the building, and I will move in."

From the start, the palace was conceived as a place Erdogan would live. Construction began in 2011 when he was still prime minister. Even if, against all expectations, Erdogan had lost the presidential election in August, he still would have moved into the palace as prime minister.

The president, who unlike the prime minister does not constitutionally possess particular authority, will enjoy greater security than Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The assumption is that at Aksaray there are bomb-proof rooms as well as areas safe from bio and chemical attacks. What's not clear is whether Erdogan is also safe from telekinesis there. His chief advisor Yigil Bulut is of the opinion that the dark forces of this world want to assassinate the leader of the Turks using telekinesis or "the supposed ability to move objects at a distance by mental power or other non-physical means."

It is assumed that Erdogan will not claim all 1,000 rooms for his private use. Various offices are due to be set up there from which he could govern, officials say. That's all the more interesting, as the constitution gives the president no powers to govern. But details like that won't stop Erdogan, who has generously told the prime minister he will "always help" him run the country.

In terms of its architectural style, Erdogan says the palace is intended to show that Ankara "is a Seljuq capital." Historically, that is sheer nonsense: The Seljuqs, to some extent the predecessors of the Ottomans, never ruled from Ankara. But what's history? Ankara's history "begins with the AKP Justice and Development Party," says Mayor Mehli Gökcek, an Erdogan loyalist. So of course the party of Erdogan should be able to do is re-write city history to suit itself.

But all this nevertheless demonstrates what's on Erdogan's mind. The Seljuqs were there before the Ottomans. In 1071, a Seljuq victory established the Turks in what had been Byzantine (Greek) Anatolia. Erdogan wants to create a leadership position for himself that ties him in with the old Seljuqs.

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China

How China's Mass Protest Took The World By Surprise — And Where It Will End

China is facing its biggest political protests in decades as frustration grows with its harsh Zero-COVID strategy. However, the real reasons for the protests run much deeper. Could it be the starting point for a new civic movement?

Photo of police during protests in China against covid-19 restrictions

Security measures during a protest against COVID-19 restrictions

Changren Zheng

In just one weekend, protests spread across China. A fire in an apartment block in Urumqi in China’s western Xinjiang region killed 10, with many blaming lockdown rules for the deaths. Anti-lockdown demonstrations spread to Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu and other cities. University students from more than half of China's provinces organized various protests against COVID restrictions.

Why and how did the movement spread so rapidly?

At the core, protesters are unhappy with President Xi Jinping's three-year-long Zero-COVID strategy that has meant mass testing, harsh lockdowns, and digital tracking. Yet, the general belief about the Chinese people was that they lacked the awareness and experience for mass political action. Even though discontent had been growing about the Zero-COVID strategy, no one expected these protests.

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