Never too old or too young

THE Olympics is a showcase of youthful energy, explosive power and impossible flexibility, that comes as no surprise, given that the average age of an Olympian is just under 22 years.

But beyond who wins gold, silver and bronze in the 306 events in 28 sports, the world’s top female athletes give us some overarching stories that are record-breakers of their own.

The oldest and youngest athletes at Rio 2016 are women, with a 48-year age gap between them. The youngest is 100m breast stroke swimmer, 13-year-old Nepalese swimmer Gaurika Singh. The oldest is 61-year-old Australian Mary Hanna who competes in the equestrian discipline of dressage.

Uzbekistan gymnast Oksana Chusovitina at age 41, competes in a sport known for its pre-pubescent, impossibly flexible athletes. In this Olympic appearance — her seventh — she placed seventh and has already set her sights on Tokyo 2020.

Her longevity in the sport was driven by a 2002 leukaemia diagnosis of her three-year-old son. Living and training in Germany at that time, she needed money to pay for his expensive treatments, and she found it in sponsorships and prize money at competitions. Her son is now 17 and completely healed.

“Of course I’m not entirely happy with this year’s performance, but what are you going to do? So we are going to move forward,” she said.

When asked about her decision to compete in the 2020 Games when she will be 44 years old, her German manager shrugged and said: “I don’t think she’ll ever retire!”

Then there is the first mother-son team to compete in the same Olympics.

Three-time medalist Nino Salukvadze is making her eighth Olympic appearance; she and her son Tsotne are representing Georgia in the pistol events.

For the first time since women competed in the 1900 Games in Paris, 45 per cent (4,700) of the athletes are women.

Seven countries have more female athletes than male — Australia (212 women, 207 men), China (255 women,157 men), the US (292 women, 262 men), the Netherlands (135 women,107 men), New Zealand (100 women, 99 men), Sweden (86 women, 66 men) and Bahrain (19 women, 7 men).

Saudi Arabia — the world’s most conservative Muslim country — have four female athletes in Rio, up from two who competed for the first time at the 2012 London Games.

Women are also setting records for being the first winners of medals for their countries. Malaysian national women divers Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong won Malaysia’s first silver medal in Rio in the 10m synchronised platform event, the second silver came from mixed doubles badminton pair Goh Liu Ying and Chan Peng Soon.

Canada’s first dozen medals over the first eight days of the Games were won by women. Kenya’s Jemima Sumgong won her country’s first ever women’s marathon gold.

Japan’s Kaori Icho became the first wrestler in Olympic history to win four gold medals in the 58kg women’s freestyle.

Majlinda Kelmendi, 25, made history by becoming the first athlete from Kosovo to win an Olympic gold.

Egyptian athlete Sara Ahmed become the first woman from an Arab country to win an Olympic medal (bronze) in weightlifting (69kg weight class). Hidilyn Diaz lifted 200kg to become the first Filipina woman to win an Olympic medal when she won the silver in the 53kg women’s weightlifting.

Surely one of the most inspirational stories comes from 42-year-old American cyclist Kristin Armstrong who won her third gold in the gruelling 29.7km cycling time trial race. No cyclist — male or female — has ever won the same event in three consecutive Games.

“I think that for so long, we’ve been told that we should be finished at a certain age, and I think that there are a lot of athletes out there that are actually showing that that’s not true,” she said.

When asked why she keeps competing, her answer is simple: “Because I can.”

At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896, its founder Pierre de Coubertin did not allow women to compete calling it “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic,

and incorrect”.

Thank God no one took him seriously.

Over a century later, what a show these elite female athletes continue to give us. They come together every four years — the old and the young, from rich countries and poor, in their quest for that elusive Olympic gold — inspiring us with their guts and grace to show us exactly “why women can”.

Faridah is an international speaker and trainer on the Language of Leadership fro Women. Connect with her at faridahhameed.com.


Animal kingdom

It is considered one of the oldest zoos in Malaysia as it was built in 1928. There are more than 100 species of animals living there such as gorillas, elephants, flamingos and horses. Originally called an animal garden, the place was handed over to the state government to manage in the 1960s.


Education through film

THE annual Freedom Film Festival returns from today till Aug 27 at PJ Live Arts, Petaling Jaya.

More than 30 local and international documentaries and short films will be screened such as The Borneo Case, The Disappearing Hills, The Promise, 10 Billion: What’s On Your Plate, A Syrian Love Story and more.

The festival is also set to open with the premiere screening of film grant winners Unlocking Bengoh and Stories from My Father.

Directed by Nova Goh, Unlocking Bengoh follows the director’s journey as he discovers the true cost of relocation that three indigenous families have to endure in the name of development.

Meanwhile, Stories from My Father by Ashleigh Lim Chun-Ling tells the story of a daughter who uncovers her father’s past of being detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.

Another film that will screen on the opening night is Voyage to Terengganu by Amir Muhammad and Badrul Hisham Ismail.

Additional screenings will be held in other cities including Johor Baru (Sept 24), Muar (Sept 25), Penang (Sept 30 to Oct 2), Ipoh (Oct 8), Kota Kinabalu (Oct 15) and Kuching (Nov 5). Screening will also take place in Singapore from Nov 19 to 20.

Keeping with the theme of “What Lies Beneath,” this year’s line-ups reflect the festival’s objective to raise the awareness on under represented human rights issues.

Besides screenings, the festival also features awards night, masterclasses, talks, and Southeast Asia Video for Change Forum, which is intended for Malaysian and regional activists who use videos for activism and community organising in their respective Southeast Asian countries.

Organised by Pusat Komuniti Masyarakat, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to using creative and participative methodology in human rights education, the festival aims to create a platform to showcase outstanding human rights documentaries and seek to build the culture of documenting or telling stories about social realities via screenings and discussions.
— Kr8tif Express


George Town’s living heritage

THEY are slow and look a little worse for wear, and frankly can be quite a nuisance on the road but the Penang trishaws have been a part of the state’s heritage for more than 80 years.

These three-wheelers used to be the main mode of transportation in the inner city of George Town, ferrying children to and from school, women to the market, men to their workplace and families to their favourite restaurants.

Today, the humble beca (trishaw in Malay) no longer serves that purpose, instead, their customers these days are mostly tourists.

Times have changed and the trishaw that used to number in the thousands has been reduced to fewer than 200 in the city.

They cannot compete with buses, taxis, cars, motorcycles and now, bicycles and quad-cycles that are popular among tourists.

To help the riders, Penang Institute spearheaded the “Back to Beca” project under its My George Town programme.

“They are George Town’s living heritage … we have an 86-year-old man who has been a trishaw rider for 67 years with no plans of retiring. We have riders who have been doing it for decades, they are a part of the city’s heritage,” said the head of urban studies Stuart MacDonald.

Penang Institute documented information and suggestions from 112 trishaw riders in Penang to come up with a sustainable model that allows them to continue plying their trade.

“They are earning poverty level wages of between RM700 and RM1,100 each month and I think half of them are homeless so they live in their trishaws.”

In recent years, MacDonald said 70 per cent of the trishaw riders claimed they had been negatively affected by the booming bicycle rental business in the city.

Penang Institute is finalising its “Back to Beca” report and coming up with proposals on how to help the trishaw industry.

“Our survey revealed that there needs to be a proper directory and information on trishaws for visitors such as where to get them, how much they charge and what area they cover,” MacDonald said.

Currently, the trishaws are stationed along roadsides, by the pavements and sidewalks around the city but there is no proper spot where visitors can go to take a ride.

He said they would propose a proper rest stop for the trishaw riders, with lockers and bathroom facilities, for them to freshen up and keep their belongings.

“Now, they are going around with all of their worldly belongings in the trishaws since it is also their home.”

The institute will also propose a way to create a sustainable programme for the riders, including cleaning up their trishaws and maybe introducing a standard uniform to make them look more presentable to visitors.

The report is almost complete and will be released next month. Find out more about Penang Institute’s urban initiatives at www.mygeorgetown.my. — Malay Mail Online


The man behind the beautiful game

JOAO HAVELANGE, a Brazilian businessman and former Olympic athlete, was one of the most influential figures in sports from the 1970s through the 1990s as president of Fifa.

Ruling over his empire like a monarch, he introduced lucrative deals that made football a global industry and brought immense wealth to Fifa and his inner circle.

When Havelange’s reign ended in 1998, football was unrivaled in its international popularity, and the quadrennial World Cup was eagerly followed on television by billions of spectators.

However, he was considered the architect of a climate of high-level corruption that tainted football for decades and eventually forced his successor and protege, Sepp Blatter, from power.

Havelange, who was 100, died Aug 16 in Rio de Janeiro. He was a high-ranking Olympic Committee official and played an instrumental role in securing the 2016 Games for his hometown.

As football grew in popularity around the world, Havelange became a key sports administrator in Brazil, where he helped guide the development of the country’s national team. Led by Pele, Brazil won three World Cup titles between 1958 and 1970.

Havelange parlayed his success in Brazil into an international campaign for the Fifa presidency.

He visited 86 countries, often with Pele at his side, developing a power base among football federations in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, and unseated Fifa president, Sir Stanley Rous of England in 1974.

At the time, there were only seven employees at Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich, and the World Cup brought in US$10 million (RM40 million) every four years. Havelange spent 24 years in office, the second-longest tenure after Frenchman Jules Rimet, who led the body from 1921 to 1954.

He launched the Youth World Cup in 1977 and the Women’s World Cup in 1991. He shrewdly brought the men’s World Cup to the United States in 1994, helping spur the sport’s growth.

Perhaps the most dramatic sign of Havelange’s worldwide reach was that, under his reign, Fifa grew to include more member countries than the United Nations.

Beginning in the 1970s, Havelange consolidated World Cup TV coverage, giving Fifa sole broadcasting rights.

“When I went to Fifa in 1974,” Havelange said in 2004, “I found an old house and US$20 in the kitty. On the day I departed 24 years later, I left property and contracts worth over US$4 billion.”

During Havelange’s tenure, the organisation prospered through an arrangement with a marketing company International Sports and Leisure, or ISL. For years, ISL also handled marketing for the Olympics, largely through the presence of Havelange, who joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1963.

Havelange’s authority was not questioned until 1992, when a Dutch newspaper charged he solicited bribes from cities seeking to host the Olympics.

A year later, a company associated with Pele failed to win a contract to broadcast football games in Brazil. The TV rights went instead to a company controlled by Ricardo Teixeira, who was president of the Brazilian football federation and at the time was Havelange’s son-in-law.

Pele went public with charges of corruption. Teixeira sued for defamation and Pele filed suit in return.

At a promotional event in Las Vegas in December 1993, Havelange ordered Pele to be removed from the premises in what became known in the football world as “the snub”.

After engineering the election of his chief deputy, Joseph S. “Sepp” Blatter, a Swiss-born economist who joined Fifa’s administration in the 1970s, Havelange became the organisation’s “honorary president”.

In 2001, ISL collapsed in financial ruin. Amid the fallout, it was learned that Havelange and his associates had profited for years through bribery.

Yet he never faced prosecution because, during his years as president, corporate bribery was not a crime in Switzerland, where Fifa was based.

Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid de Havelange was born May 8, 1916, in Rio de Janeiro to Belgian-born parents.

The powerfully built Havelange excelled in several sports as a young man, including football and boxing. He competed as a swimmer for Brazil at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, then was a member of Brazil’s water polo team at the 1952 Olympics at Helsinki. He did not win a medal.

He graduated from the law school of Rio de Janeiro’s Fluminense Federal University in 1940 and worked as a legal adviser for a bus company before becoming an insurance broker and an executive with an industrial conglomerate. He was still the titular head of Brazil’s leading bus company long after he became Fifa president.

In the 1950s, Havelange became president of Brazil’s national sports federation.

A skilled organiser, he was among the first to introduce the use of psychologists in sports, seeking to give the Brazilian football team an edge in confidence in international competition.

He married Anna Maria Hermanny in 1946. They had one daughter, Lucia Havelange Teixeira, and several grandchildren.

There is no question that Havelange made football a billion-dollar industry played by millions of people around the world, and enjoyed by even more.

But as it thrived on the pitch, even its most ardent fans could not fail to look at the ugly side of the beautiful game.
— The Washington Post


Obviously stellar

WHEN producer, actor and Malaysia’s “godfather of comedy” Harith Iskander announced he would be hosting his own talk show, nobody foresaw how good it would be.

Obviously Harith Iskander, which has been airing weekly on Astro Awani from May 28, has featured at least 32 A-list personalities including politicians and athletes. Its 12th episode last week featured former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam, PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar and racing champion Alex Yoong.

And to be sure, nobody but Harith could have done it, cementing his reputation as a stellar entertainer. But the larger than life personality is quick to credit his talented writers and creative production team behind the show, saying that everything shown on TV took lots of collaboration and exchange of ideas.

Those who have attended a number of live recording TV shows before would know that most of the time, the audience would have to be prompted to applaud or cheer.

But that did not happen at all at Studio 1, Astro Bukit Jalil when this writer attended the recording. The floor manager did not have to prompt them to smile or clap as the audience was thoroughly entertained.

The audience also enjoyed themseves during commercial breaks, when local comedian Karan Jay, who is also one of Harith’s writers came to the front and filled the time.

“The audience plays the biggest part of the show. We want the audience to have a good time,” said Harith.

“Even in between filming, during commercial breaks, the entertainment continues with music and more jokes, so the audience feels like they are having a day out.

“That experience is thoroughly planned. It was not automatic. Even before the show starts, I’d tell this to the team that I want the audience to walk away telling themselves that they just had fun sitting in the studio with us.”

Harith said the other important element of the show, of course, was the guests who agree to come on board.

“The biggest challenge for the show is to get people to say yes to it. I have no problem of inviting anyone, but it will still up to them to accept it or not, and the biggest issue that we have to face is their schedules.

“Most of the guests are big figures in Malaysia and time is gold to them. So we got most of the guests on our wishlist while those who couldn’t make for this season, we are looking forward to see them in next season.”

To gather politicians or personalities of different views on the same stage is no easy task, but with years of experience, Harith makes conversations flow in a comfortable — and more importantly, entertaining — manner.

It is common for talk show hosts to grill invited guests with controversial questions, but Harith said it was important to make them feel comfortable throughout the question-and-answer session.

“It’s important to have a humane approach when we are addressing these prominent people.

“We need to have personalities who have something to say, something current to say.

“I want to have people whom you might not have seen being interviewed and via this show, you will get to know more about them.

“That is why we invited people like Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Tun Musa Hitam, Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim and more. They agreed to come to the show as the show has spoken for itself.

“It is not about grilling people and bombarding them with controversial questions. It’s about getting to know the other side of them.”

As any other new idea, the show has had its share of trials and errors.

“One of the unplanned ideas we had on the show that became a regular is the car segment.

“I would go and pick up the figure I’m going to interview, have a jolly ride and talk with them in the car.

“It was just an idea when we did it with Tony but it somehow fell into place and it suits the show very well.

“That’s how I ended picking up Datuk Seri Nazir and having Tan Sri Rafidah taking over the wheel.”

Catch Obviously Harith Iskander tonight at 9.30pm on Astro Awani (Ch 501), or catch up on episodes at www.obviouslyharith.com.


Good time to be Schumer

AMY SCHUMER is ambivalent about marriage.

She’s witnessed her parents go through three each, some of them fleeting. “I’ve had UTIs that lasted longer than some of my parents’ marriages,” she writes in her new book of essays, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo.

She knows how hard it can be to share your life with someone when you’re used to being independent. Schumer writes: “You have to ask questions like ‘What do you want for dinner?’ or ‘Can I have more of the blanket?’ or ‘Can I have more of your dinner?’ or ‘Can dinner be pigs in a blanket?’”

And she’s strong in her belief that women should keep their standards high.

After a particularly bad setup from a matchmaker, she writes: “I wanted to run to the top of the Empire State Building and make an announcement to all (single women) … that they don’t need to wrangle some warm body to sit next to them just so they aren’t alone on holidays. That they should never let a magazine or dating site or matchmaker monster tell them they’re in a lower bracket of desirability because of their age or weight or face or sense of humour.”

Still, she has panicked about growing old alone.

“I started making pacts with my male friends that if we were still alone in our 40s, we’d get married and allow each other to see other people but keep our commitment to grow old together.”

It’s an arrangement she envisioned as a “reverse Big Love situation — a bunch of real live brother-husbands”.

Then, out of nowhere, “the fear I had of growing old unmarried just faded,” she writes. “My life was feeling full.”

What does that fullness look like for the Emmy-winning actor and comedian?

“I was settling into my 30s,” she writes. “I was dating a little but was not as at all consumed with it as I had been in my teens and twenties. The days of ‘He didn’t call me today and it’s 3pm — what does this mean?!’ were truly behind me. I realised that nothing was missing. I felt pretty and strong in my own skin … I was feeling like I had it all.”

In her eyes, she “had it all” without a partner or a child. When Schumer reached this zen-like state of singledom, Trainwreck had been released, she’d hosted Saturday Night Live, filmed an HBO special with Chris Rock, and Barbara Walters had labelled her one of the most fascinating people of the year.

In other words: It was a good time to be Amy Schumer.

Her days of sharing a studio apartment with a roommate and paying comedy clubs for stage time were behind her. A self-described introvert, Schumer felt just fine on her own.

“Being alone is sometimes a great place to be,” she writes, “but people are always trying to correct this ‘problem’ for you, even if you yourself don’t have any kind of problem with it.”

It was around this time that she ventured on to a dating app and met her current boyfriend, Ben Hanisch. (She’s refuted rumours that they met on Bumble and doesn’t name the app in her book. But it sounds like Raya, an exclusive app that draws celebrities and creative types.)

She calls the dating-app experience “very discouraging”. Schumer complains that the men were too attractive and therefore her competition would be too steep; most of them had very similar profile photos, she writes, of European or tropical vacations.

But one guy stood out — her first match.

“He was dancing with his grandmother in his profile picture at what looked like a wedding. He wasn’t an actor or photographer by trade like all the other guys — and he didn’t live in LA or New York. He was a Chicago guy. We sent each other very simple hellos and short, funny messages.”

Like many an online dater, Schumer was worried she was being catfished.

“He was funny, kind of odd, and interesting, and that made me paranoid. This must be a trick. I’m a celebrity, and I will be reading this whole conversation on some trashy website tomorrow. I had slowly worked myself into a full frenzy. I told him that I wanted to FaceTime to make sure I wasn’t being catfished by a basement-dweller with a comedy podcast.”

They ended up talking the old-fashioned way — over the phone — and she enjoyed it.

“I thought he seemed cool and that I’d like to meet him at some point, but I didn’t think much more about it.”

In the meantime, Schumer writes, she messaged with a few other men on the app and made plans to meet up with some of them but never followed up.

“I took my profile down in under 48 hours.

“The experience was too intense, and if I saw one more guy looking off into the distance on a boat, I was gonna open my wrists and get into a warm bath.”

But it turns out she didn’t need to keep messaging with models and photographers. Schumer and Hanisch met up in New York a few weeks later and have been together since.

Schumer is cautiously optimistic about the relationship.

“Maybe we’ll grow old together,” she writes, “or maybe we’ll be apart before this book is on shelves next to Godiva chocolates and gift cards.”

Now the book is on shelves, and they still appear to be going strong. In a photo booth shot from a wedding they attended last weekend, a guest is holding a sign that reads “husband material,” pointing it at Hanisch.


Feeding time

AS any pet owner will tell you, caring for animals is a full-time responsibility. Every year, the Taiping Zoo and Night Safari spend around RM2 million to keep its inhabitants well-fed and healthy.

The zoo is home to over 1,300 animals across 140 species. According to its operators, special care is taken to ensure the food given to the animals suit their diet requirements and eating habits. The zoo operators create a similar feeding habits like in the wild.

Zoo personnel Fahizat Ahmad, 30, and Roslan Ismail, 40, are tasked with feeding the animals daily.

I had the opportunity to follow them on their rounds recently. It was a fun day and educational too.

The menu is varied. Among the “dishes” prepared daily are jackfruit leaves, banana, carrot, papaya, mustard leaves, bread, rice, chicken and beef.

Multivitamins in powder form is also mixed in the animals’ food to keep them healthy.


Pokemon Go — Can a place be declared off-limits?

THE global Pokemon Go craze has prompted a slew of complaints, from memorial sites arguing it’s disrespectful to play there to whole countries imposing a ban on the smartphone game.

But is it really possible to declare a place a no-go zone for people hunting the cartoon monsters?

Which places have declared war

on Pokemon?

Sites that have expressed irritation at Pokemon Go players include private properties, government buildings, historic monuments and memorial sites.

The museum at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, the Holocaust memorial in Berlin and Japan’s Hiroshima memorial have all complained about visitors bent over their mobiles trying to catch Pikachus instead of contemplating the weight of history.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have also declared blanket bans on the game.

The Iranian ban came days after its release last month, with officials saying it could be used for spying because the app leads users to real-life locations — though youngsters are playing regardless, using VPN connections to mask their location.

In Saudi Arabia, the top clerical body has meanwhile re-issued a 15-year-old fatwa banning Pokemon in response to the new smartphone version, saying it is too much like gambling and appears to be based on the theory of evolution, which is rejected by Islam.

With other sites, there is a warning playing could actually be life-threatening. In Bosnia, people have been warned not to risk entering areas littered with mines from the 1990s war just because a much-coveted Pokemon may be lurking nearby.

How are the game’s locations chosen?

Much of the game’s appeal lies in the way the Pokemon — little cartoon monsters in the shape of everything from goldfish to dragons — pop up around you, overlaid on your phone’s camera images.

The game also encourages players to explore the world around them by making them visit landmarks designated as “Pokestops” and “Gyms”. These could be anything from the local school to a major tourist attraction like India’s Taj Mahal.

At Pokestops players can collect the tools they need to catch the critters, while at Gyms they can fight them against each other.

In both cases, the locations are designated by the game’s California-based designer Niantic.

The company used data from an earlier game called Ingress in which players could walk around the streets capturing locations on a GPS map. Niantic grew its original list of landmarks with extra suggestions from players.

Where do Pokemon appear?

A Pokemon can appear on your smartphone screen at any time, in any place.

The game’s algorithm places the monsters more or less at random — although you are more likely to find different types of Pokemon in different locations.

Fish-type Pokemons, for example, can often be found near lakes or rivers.

There’s no need to be right on top of a Pokemon to catch it — the system allows for a capture within a several-metre radius, meaning you shouldn’t have to drive to a screeching halt in the middle of the road just to add it to your collection.

So can a place declare itself a Pokemon no-go zone?

It depends on whether the place in question is a Pokestop, a Gym, or simply somewhere the little critters have been popping up.

It is possible to ask Niantic for a location to be removed as a Pokestop or Gym. The developer cannot remove them from the game instantly, but each update of the app can see sites added or removed from the list.

The most recent update saw the Hiroshima and Berlin Holocaust memorials disappear as Pokemon landmarks.

But it’s a lot more complicated to stop the monsters themselves from popping up at a site that would like to see them banned.

That would require a modification of the game’s algorithm, a complex process which presents a headache for the developers.

The Pokemon Company, the Japanese firm which manages the hugely popular brand, says Niantic is working on improving the algorithm. — AFP

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Turkey transformed one month after coup bid

WITH a thorough shake-up of its armed forces, a reassessment of foreign policy and the biggest purge in its modern history, Turkey has undergone a transformation in the month since the July 15 coup bid.

On the surface, street life has returned to its normal bustle in Istanbul and Ankara, where terrified residents witnessed bombings by fighter jets and tanks driving amok in the streets on the night of the attempted putsch.

But the huge red Turkish flags hanging from public buildings, billboards hailing the coup’s defeat and pictures in metro stations of the “martyrs” killed are all reminders life is not the same as it was before the events which began at around on July 15.

The plotters, whom Ankara says were directed by the mysterious US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, sought to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power and impose a military regime.

Instead, they were arrested en-masse, giving the president a chance to drive through some of the most significant changes in this country of 79 million since the foundation in 1923 of the modern Turkish Republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

At strategic crossroads

The authorities say the coup was driven by rogue Gulen loyalists within the military, which has been a pillar of the republic since its foundation, and almost one half of its contingent of generals have since been detained and fired.

Erdogan has moved to bring the general staff and other military departments directly under his control and that of his government in a historic “civilianisation” of an institution which had previously ousted governments three times by means of a coup.

“A revolutionary civilianisation process has been spearheaded by the government with the aim of further decreasing the scope of the military in politics and society,” Metin Gurcan and Megan Gisclon wrote in a paper for the Istanbul Policy Centre (IPC).

They said the authorities could now choose between continuing the reforms in a democratic way or subduing the military without consultation.

“A strategic turning point is now before Turkey.”

So far untouched by the shake-up is the powerful National Intelligence Agency (MIT), which has faced vehement criticism for failing to warn Erdogan about the coup. But the government has vowed it will also undergo restructuring.

‘Test to rebuild’

The scale of the general crackdown after the coup has prompted accusations from the West of a witch-hunt. But Turkish officials say it points to the extent to which Gulen had penetrated all state institutions.

Over 76,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs, mostly in the education sector where Gulen’s influence was greatest and a total of over 35,000 people detained.

Ankara has swatted back the criticism of the West, angrily accusing it of failing to show solidarity in Turkey’s time of need and with pro-government media speculating the United States even had a hand in the plot.

Washington and Ankara could be heading for a collision course over Gulen, whom Turkey wants to see extradited from his secluded compound in Pennsylvania in a potentially fraught process.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s bid to join the European Union (EU) which dates back to the 1960s is enduring its worst crisis in years as controversy simmers over the crackdown which prompted Austria to break a years-long taboo and call for accession talks to be stopped.

“The failed coup wasn’t in any way a test that the EU or US failed…. The ‘test’ is for Turkey to rebuild itself as best it can,” said Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Ankara and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

“West-bashing won’t help Turkey return to normalcy. It will just complicate matters.”

Erdogan’s popularity has surged in opinion polls and he has brought two opposition parties into talks on constitutional reforms — but has excluded the main Kurdish political force whom he accuses of links to militants.

‘Reset with Russia’

The pro-Western tilt of Turkey — a NATO member since 1952 — has been the cornerstone of its foreign policy ever since it troubled the allies by staying neutral for almost all of World War II.

In late June, Turkey moved to overcome a months-long diplomatic crisis caused by the shooting-down of a Russian war plane, and Erdogan’s first foreign visit after the coup was to meet President Vladimir Putin, raising fears Ankara could be re-orientating its stance.

The Turkish leader, who had earlier castigated the West’s response to the coup, thanked Putin for expressing support so quickly and declared cooperation on key projects like a Black Sea gas pipeline was back on track.

“In contrast to Western leaders, Putin is using the occasion to reset Russian-Turkish relations,” said Kemal Kirisci of the Brookings Institution.

But he said with 44 per cent of Turkish exports going to the EU in 2014 and four per cent to Russia, the “bloc is still Turkey’s economic lifeline.” — AFP

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