Turkey’s highest court: YouTube ban violates rights

Elizabeth Robinson

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s highest court on Thursday ruled that the country’s two month-old ban on YouTube violates constitutional rights to freedom of expression, a setback for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wanted to shut down the video-sharing website.

The Constitutional Court said it would order telecommunications authorities to “ensure that the rights violation is removed,” the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. It was not clear how soon access to YouTube would be restored.

The restrictions on YouTube were imposed in late March after the leak of an audio recording of a government security meeting. In the recording, senior officials appeared to be discussing a possible military intervention in Syria. The Turkish Bar Association, a lawyer representing YouTube and legislators from Turkey’s main opposition party appealed to the high court, seeking to overturn the ban.

Turkey also blocked access to Twitter in March, but early last month the high court also ordered Turkish authorities to end the ban on Twitter.

Erdogan said his government would comply, even though it did not respect the decision.

Many tech-savvy users, including Erdogan ally President Abdullah Gul, found ways to circumvent the bans both on Twitter and YouTube while they were in place.

CIA winds down drone strike program in Pakistan

WASHINGTON — The CIA’s targeted killing program in Pakistan, once the mainstay of President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism effort, is winding down.

American officials say opportunities for drone attacks will dwindle further as the CIA and the military leave Afghanistan, reducing their intelligence-gathering footprint. Obama announced this week a plan to pull nearly all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016. The targeted killing program in Pakistan relies on drones flown from, and intelligence gathered in, U.S. bases in Afghanistan that would then be closed.

In a major foreign policy speech at the U.S. Military Academy Wednesday, Obama said the U.S. would continue to carry out occasional drone strikes against terrorist targets. Armed U.S. drones are still flying over Pakistan’s tribal areas, and CIA targeting officers are still nominating militants to the kill list, according to anonymous U.S. officials.

For as long as they are able to fly over Pakistan, CIA drones will hunt for senior al-Qaida figures, including Ayman al-Zawahri, the group’s leader, U.S. officials say. If the agency gets a clean shot at such a target next week or next year, it will push the button.

But as the CIA closes its remote Afghanistan outposts where case officers met with Pakistani sources and technicians eavesdropped on cellphones, intelligence collection will dry up, making militants harder to track and hit without harming noncombatants.

China planning for extra 2 million babies per year

BEIJING — China is preparing for 2 million extra babies a year as a result of a loosening of its “one child” birth limits, health officials said Thursday.

The ruling Communist Party announced in November that couples in which one parent was an only child would be allowed to have a second baby in some areas. Previously, both parents had to be an only child to qualify for this exemption.

Local authorities have been told to build more health facilities for women and children and add maternity beds, said Zhang Shikun, an official with the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The party introduced birth limits in 1980 to curb population growth and demand for water and other resources. Most urban couples are allowed one child and face fines and other penalties for additional births.

China had 18.5 million births in 2013, according to UNICEF. The forecast increase would be almost 11 percent of that.

The figure of 2 million additional births is at the top end of forecasts by experts based on the less restrictive policy. Some say the figure might be lower due to the growing acceptance in China of smaller families.

The looser policy has taken effect in the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing, and the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Anhui, Sichuan, Guangdong and Jiangsu.

On Thursday, the government of the northwestern region of Ningxia announced a similar change.

Thailand’s junta bans all anti-coup protests

BANGKOK — More than 1,000 Thai troops and police sealed off one of Bangkok’s busiest intersections Thursday to prevent a planned protest, as authorities said they would no longer allow any demonstrations against last week’s military coup.

Truckloads of soldiers blocked all incoming roads to the capital’s Victory Monument in a massive show of force at the height of evening rush hour in an area that serves as one of the city’s commuter bus hubs.

The anti-coup demonstrations have been generally small and mostly leaderless, but protesters had planned to gather Thursday and called for a mass rally on Sunday. Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung, the deputy national police chief, said the small protests would no longer be allowed.

“We know their rally is mainly for symbolic reasons, but it’s against the law,” Poompanmoung said. “We have to keep the law sacred.”

Last week the army seized power, overthrowing a government that won a landslide election victory three years earlier. The army says it had to act to restore order after seven months of increasingly violent political turbulence.

Earlier Thursday, the army told foreign media that it eventually plans to hold elections, but offered no time frame or roadmap for guiding the country back to democratic rule.

“We will definitely have an election,” he said. But he added, “this will take some time. If you ask me how long it will take, that’s difficult to answer.”

In the past week, the junta has acted to silence its critics and has warned that it will not tolerate dissent.

Chatchalerm cited the anti-coup protests as a reason that elections cannot take place immediately.

“Today there are still protests. It shows that some people want to create turmoil. So it’s impossible to hold elections at the moment,” he said.A curfew remains in effect, although it was shortened Wednesday. The curfew has not affected critical travel, including that of tourists arriving at airports.

— Associated Press

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