EU's Tusk offers UK 'flexible extension' for Brexit

             </p>                 <p>By Serife Cetin</p>    <p>BRUSSELS (AA) - The president of European Council on Tuesday offered the U.K. a “flexible extension” for Brexit not exceeding one year.</p>    <p>“One possibility would be a flexible extension, which would last only as long as necessary and no longer than one year, as beyond that date we will need to decide unanimously on some key European projects,” Donald Tusk said in his letter to the leaders of EU countries ahead of the emergency Brexit summit.

The EU leaders are scheduled to meet in Brussels on Wednesday for a special summit to discuss May’s request.

On U.K.’s Prime Minister Theresa May's request for a Brexit extension until June 30, Tusk said “an alternative and longer extension” should be discussed.

“Given the risks posed by a no-deal Brexit for people and businesses on both sides of the English Channel, I trust that we will continue to do our utmost to avoid this scenario,” Tusk said.

Stating that there are “deep divisions” in the U.K. parliament, he said it was unlikely that the ratification process could be completed by the end of June, and it would pave the way for further uncertainties.

“The flexibility would allow to terminate the extension automatically, as soon as both sides have ratified the Withdrawal Agreement,” Tusk said, adding that the U.K. would leave the bloc whenever it is ready to do so.

“And the EU27 would avoid repeated Brexit summits,” he said.

Tusk went on to say: “Importantly, a long extension would provide more certainty and predictability by removing the threat of constantly shifting cliff-edge dates.

“Furthermore, in the event of a continued stalemate, such a longer extension would allow the U.K. to rethink its Brexit strategy.”

May’s Brexit deal was rejected three times by the British lawmakers, and last week British MPs also rejected four alternative proposals for the U.K.’s exit from the EU.

The U.K. is due to leave the bloc on April 12 — pushed back last month from March 29 — if the EU would not agree on an extension to Brexit.-In a 2016 referendum, U.K. voters decided to leave the 28-member bloc after a more than 40-year-long membership.

*Writing by Sena Guler

NATO marks its 70th anniversary

             By Serife Cetin and Vakkas Dogantekin</p>  <p>BRUSSELS (AA) - Founded in Washington on April 4, 1949, with 12 founding members, this Thursday the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is marking 70 years of the alliance, currently boasting 29 members, including longtime pillar Turkey.</p>  <p>Headquartered in Brussels, now NATO is preparing to welcome its 30th member, the recently renamed North Macedonia, which signed an accession protocol in February. </p>  <p>NATO, which defines its main objective as securing the independence and security of the member countries through military and political means, is perhaps best known for its Article 5, which commits its members to collective defense. </p>  <p>Under Article 5, &quot;the Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.&quot;</p>  <p>To date, the article has been invoked precisely once, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>- Boost its effectiveness</p>  <p>During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s military might and expansionist policies triggered debates about NATO’s effectiveness in the face of increasingly complex security threats.</p>  <p>When the threat perception changed as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early ‘90s, NATO allies made significant reductions in defense spending.</p>  <p>But Russia's unlawful annexation of Crimea in 2014 showed that threats to the alliance had not disappeared.</p>  <p>With this prod, at their 2014 Warsaw summit, alliance members committed to allocate 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to defense expenditures. </p>  <p>After fall 2016, U.S. President Donald Trump's oft-repeated accusation that alliance members are failing to pay for their fair share may also have played a role in increasing the budget for collective defense. </p>  <p>According to current NATO data, the allies have spent an additional $41 billion on defense since 2016.</p>  <p> By the end of the year, this figure is expected to rise to $100 billion.</p>  <p>In 2018, the defense expenditures of seven members of the alliance topped 2 percent of their GDP.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>- Updated alliance</p>  <p>The alliance has taken notable steps to modernize itself, especially in 2018.<br> 

At the 2018 summit in Brussels, NATO took important decisions to adapt and modernize its command structure in a bid to enhance the allies’ responsiveness and deterrence capabilities, especially against potential threats from Russia.

By 2020, NATO is expected to keep 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air combat fleets, and 30 combat ships ready to serve in 30 days or less with the contribution of all allies.

Aiming to play a more active role in the fight against terrorism, NATO's training mission in Iraq is considered an important step.

With more than a hundred drills in 2018, and Trident Juncture standing out as one of the largest, NATO still has an active and powerful militarily.

A total of 50,000 soldiers, 250 aircraft, 65 ships and 10,000 vehicles took part in Trident Juncture, which was held in Norway and is considered the largest and most comprehensive exercise since the Cold War.

– New member states

Another tool that NATO uses to increase its effectiveness is its open-door policy.

Under this policy, any country seeking membership in the alliance must be geographically in Europe, governed by democracy, and "have the capacity and will to contribute to the security of the Euro-Atlantic region."

Along these lines NATO is on track to expand with the accession of North Macedonia after all the member states sign the accession protocol. Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ukraine also want to join NATO — all in the face of fierce Russian opposition.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has described NATO as "the most powerful and successful alliance in history."

Stoltenberg ties the alliance’s success to its being adept at "adapting to change".

Although its effectiveness has long been debated, NATO continues to exist even after 70 years in an era of military alliances with short lifespans.

– Turkey's journey and effectiveness in NATO

Ever since its joined NATO in 1952, NATO has played a key role in Turkey’s security and contributed to its integration with the Euro-Atlantic community.

Turkey has successfully fulfilled its responsibilities in defending the common values of the alliance.

Turkey also supports NATO’s transformation efforts by making substantial contributions to the NATO Response Force.

A force command at high readiness level is established in Istanbul.

Within the new NATO command structure, the air command in the Aegean province of Izmir will be replaced by a land command.

The “Partnership for Peace Training Center” was created in 1998 within the Turkish General Staff in an effort to contribute to training and interoperability efforts.

Turkey also believes that a constructive dialogue between NATO and Russia is important for Euro-Atlantic stability and that the NATO-Russia Council provides the necessary forum.

Turkey, with its EU membership perspective, believes that the integration of all Western Balkan countries is important and thus supports the membership of interested countries in NATO, in particular North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

With the understanding that European security cannot be dissociated from Mediterranean security, Turkey also supports enhancing relations with Gulf countries through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

* Writing by Vakkas Dogantekin

UPDATE – Brexit: 1M march in London for new people's vote

             UPDATES WITH REMARKS FROM PROTESTERS<br>

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal and Muhammad Mussa

LONDON (AA) – Up to a million people took to the streets of London on Saturday afternoon, demanding a people’s vote on the final deal after London and Brussels agreed to a short extension to the Brexit date.

The demonstration is the largest anti-Brexit protest the country has seen and one of the largest overall, as people from all over the country travelled into London to voice their opposition to Brexit and its handling by the government.

British citizens living in Europe also flew into the capital on Friday to attend the march, demanding a final say on a decision they argue they couldn’t vote on in the 2016 EU referendum.

A protester who asked not to be named said he was “here because it is important that the U.K. stays in the European Union."

<p>He told Anadolu Agency: “Brexit is going to cause extreme damage to the U.K. if we don’t stay in the EU. If we leave I can’t see… how the poor people of the country will benefit from that … We can't survive without the EU.”</p>    <p>Francois Minaar, a French-British protester, says he is “marching to get a second referendum on Brexit.”</p>    <p>He added: “We believe that, with Brexit, we will have a massive negative impact both on the economy but also on our relationships with other European countries. We would like to reverse the decision on Brexit.”</p>    <p>Martin Howard, a scientist from Norfolk who marched with his family, called Brexit &quot;an absolute disaster.”</p>    <p>“People were lied to during the original referendum... And we deserve to have another chance to say what’s going to happen in the future to this country.&quot;</p>    <p>Howard added that the politicians in the country are “incapable of making any decision.</p>    <p>“So they should return to us for a final say, and we can decide what to do with the future.”</p>    <p>Claudia Howards, a Dutch-British protester who has lived in the U.K. for 18 years, said Brexit caused a lot of “discrimination” from day one.</p>    <p>She said Brexit has deprived poor people of the U.K. of sufficient investment, adding that “the government can't address the right problems at the moment.”</p>    <p>“I think it's just rubbish,” she said. “Brexit is useless.”</p>    <p>Graham Hibbert says he attended the march to promote a people’s vote on Brexit.</p>    <p>Attending today’s march from Rugby, Hibbert said: “I'm stopping Brexit.”</p>    <p>Kara from London said: “What’s happening is so so wrong for this country and the young people of this country.”</p>  <p><br></p>  <p>- Politicians join in march

A large number of MPs and public figures were at the march, including Anna Soubry of the Independent Group, Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and special guest Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour party.

“The current impasse is not working for people who voted to leave or people who voted to stay. I really don’t think parliament will be able to resolve this,” Watson said in a statement.

“That’s why I’ve come to the reluctant view that the only way to resolve this and have legitimacy in the eyes of the public is for the people themselves to sign it off.”

The demonstration was organized by a plethora of movements, such as the People’s Vote Campaign, Another Europe is Possible, LabourSay, and Our Future Our Choice, all campaigning for a second referendum on the U.K.’s relationship with the European bloc.

Also at the demonstration was Nicola Sturgeon, the head of the Scottish National Party, who said: “The EU’s decision to postpone things until at least April 12 has opened a window, and those of us who oppose Brexit must seize the chance it offers.”

The procession of Pro-EU campaigners and Remainers began at Hyde Park and marched passed Pall Mall near the Queen’s residence, the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, and Trafalgar Square, and will end with a rally at Parliament Square, where MPs will address the mass crowds.

More than 4 million people this week signed an online petition calling for Article 50 to be revoked and for Brexit to be cancelled, crashing the petition’s servers several times in the process.

The march continued into the early hours of Saturday evening.

Belgium: Area near EU HQ evacuated after bomb threat

             By Yusuf Hatip </p>    <p>BRUSSELS (AA) - A total of 40 people were evacuated from a territory near the EU headquarters in Belgium's capital Brussels upon a bomb threat on Tuesday.</p>    <p>A building of institution providing consultancy services to the EU Commission was evacuated On Breydel Street after it received a bomb threat.</p>    <p>Police have cordoned off part of the street.</p>    <p>Firefighters and bomb disposal experts were referred to the scene.

Brussels to host EU-Turkey meeting on Friday

             By Jeyhun Aliyev</p>    <p>ANKARA (AA) - The 54th meeting of the Turkey-EU Association Council will be held in Brussels on Friday, Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.</p>    <p>The meeting of the highest decision-making body between Turkey and the EU will take place after an interval of almost four years, and is important for the continuation and diversification of the institutional dialogue with the EU.</p>    <p>Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakci, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the EU’s Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, will attend the meeting.</p>    <p>“Turkish and EU sides are expected to meet at an unofficial format before the official session to address foreign policy issues and regional developments,” according to the statement.</p>    <p>The meeting will address Turkey’s EU accession, political and economic criteria, alignment to EU acquis, visa liberalization talks, Customs Union and financial cooperation, it said.</p>    <p>The 53rd meeting of the EU-Turkey Association Council was held on May 18, 2015, in Brussels.</p>    <p>The Turkey-EU Association Council was established in accordance with the Ankara Agreement, which entered into force on Dec. 1, 1964.</p>    <p>Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005.</p>    <p>However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus, as well as opposition from Germany and France.

UK ready to be 'flexible' over backstop concerns

             By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal</p>    <p>LONDON (AA) - The U.K. is prepared to be flexible over how to deal with concerns about the Northern Ireland backstop issue to strike a withdrawal agreement with the EU leaders, Britain’s foreign secretary said Tuesday.</p>    <p>Jeremy Hunt said the leaders in Europe were giving “positive signals” as the British government is trying to get concessions over a deal which was previously rejected by the parliament.</p>    <p>“The signals we are getting are reasonably positive. I don’t want to overstate them because I still think there is a lot of work to do but I think they do understand that we are being sincere,” Hunt told BBC. </p>    <p>“They are beginning to realize that we can get a majority in parliament because they are seeing the signals coming from the people who voted against the deal before who are saying, crucially, that they are prepared to be reasonable about how we get to that position that we can’t legally be trapped in the backstop,” he added.</p>    <p>Hunt’s remarks came on a day when Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox are in Brussels to try to secure changes to the backstop clause in Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal.</p>    <p>Hunt said he hoped a no-deal Brexit “does not happen.”</p>    <p>“What I am working for, alongside all members of parliament, is to get that deal through and I think we can.”</p>    <p>He said: “I have always said whatever happens in negotiations, we are a strong country and will find a way to prosper. But no deal would cause huge disruption. No one in the cabinet wants no deal. What we want is a deal.”</p>    <p>The U.K. is set to leave the European Union on March 29, following a 2016 referendum that saw 52 percent of British voters opt to leave the bloc after more than 40 years of membership.</p>    <p>A “meaningful vote” will be held in the House of Commons next week with supposed “legally binding changes” to the previously rejected deal.

EU-Turkey meeting to be held in Brussels

                By Yusuf Hatip</p>    <p>BRUSSELS (AA) - The EU-Turkey Association Council meeting will be held in Brussels on March 15, according to diplomatic sources on Tuesday.</p>    <p>The meeting of Association Council -- the highest decision-making body between Turkey and the EU -- will take place after an interval of almost four years.</p>    <p>The meeting, which is important for the continuation and diversification of the institutional dialogue with the EU, will be co-chaired by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.</p>    <p>Johannes Hahn,  the EU’s Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, is also expected to attend the meeting.</p>    <p>The regional issues and bilateral relations are expected to be extensively evaluated in the meeting.</p>    <p>In this context, issues such as visa liberalization, updates on the Customs Union, the point reached in the EU accession process and the cooperation in the fight against terrorism are also expected to be addressed. </p>    <p>The 53rd meeting of the EU-Turkey Association Council was held on May 18, 2015, in Brussels.</p>    <p>The Turkey-EU Association Council was established in accordance with the Ankara Agreement, which entered into force on Dec. 1, 1964.</p>    <p>Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005.</p>    <p>However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus, as well as opposition from Germany and France.

EU responds to Hungarian anti-immigration campaign

            By Beyza Binnur Donmez</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - The European Commission on Thursday responded to an anti-immigration campaign by the Hungarian government blaming Brussels for withholding its intentions on allowing refugees into the bloc. </p>  <p> Last week, the Hungarian government introduced a new public campaign sporting billboards, posters and ads under the slogan: &quot;You too, have the right to know what Brussels is planning to do.&quot;</p>  <p>In addition, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban published a letter warning EU citizens that Brussels wanted to break the resistance of countries opposed to immigration and was threatening Hungary's security. </p>  <p>&quot;The European Commission agrees, citizens do deserve to know the truth about what the EU is doing,&quot; said the Commission in a statement.</p>  <p>It added that Budapest's campaign distorted the truth and sought to &quot;paint a dark picture of a secret plot to drive more migration to Europe.&quot;

"The truth is that there is no conspiracy," it added.

‘Youth for Climate’ protests continue in Brussels

              By Ata Ufuk Seker</p>    <p>BRUSSELS (AA) - Dozens of young Belgians marched Thursday to protest the government's policies on climate.</p>    <p>Around 1,500 high school and university students descended upon the city for the 8th time for protest calling for action on climate change.</p>    <p>The students gathered in front of Brussels’ North Railway Station as part of the protest with a theme &quot;Youth for Climate&quot; and walked up the Brussels-Midi station.</p>    <p>Demonstrators chanted slogans and carried colored banners calling on the government to prioritize policies combating global warming and climate change.</p>    <p>They demand government to adopt eco-friendly transport policy and call for more affordable train services prices.</p>    <p>The first march of young people started in January. The movement of climate activists has kept growing with youngsters hitting the streets of Brussels each Thursday.</p>    <p>Similar protests are held in various European countries including France, the Netherlands, U.K., Germany and Sweden.

Backstop in focus at May-Juncker meeting

            By Ata Ufuk Seker </p>  <p>BRUSSELS (AA) – British Prime Minister Theresa May said she stressed the need for &quot;legally binding changes&quot; during her meeting Wednesday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to ensure the contentious Irish backstop would not be indefinite.</p>  <p>Following the meeting in Brussels, May told journalists that such a measure would be necessary for any Brexit deal to pass in parliament.</p>  <p>&quot;Time is of the essence, and it's in both our interests that when the UK leaves the EU, it does so in an orderly way,&quot; May said, adding the country’s attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, would engage in further talks in Brussels on Thursday. </p>  <p>As the UK will leave the bloc, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will remain the only land border between the UK and the European Union.</p>  <p>The border at the moment is invisible, and people, goods and services can travel through it freely. But as the UK leaves the EU, the border, technically, will need some sort of checks.</p>  <p>Due to the sensitive nature of the region and because free passage is one of the crucial articles of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the UK, EU, Northern Ireland and Ireland all reject the idea of returning to a hard border where checkpoints and customs buildings will need to be installed.</p>  <p>The main disagreement over the border issue has been over the EU-suggested backstop -- keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market and customs union after Brexit until a solution is found -- because it would create a sort of border within the UK in the Irish Sea.