News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Turkey smoke ban extends to bars

Turkey smoke ban extends to bars

A man hangs a no smoking sign in Istanbul, Turkey (16 July 2009)

Local authority staff will impose fines on those breaking the ban

Turkey has extended an existing ban on smoking in public places to all bars, cafes and restaurants.

The ban has come into force despite opposition from some bar and cafe owners who fear losing business.

It comes after the government banned smoking from most enclosed public spaces in May last year in an effort to improve the nation’s health.

Turkey has more than 20 million smokers but polls suggest 95% of people support the ban.

“We are working to protect our future, to save our youth,” said Health Minister Recep Akdag.

Anyone caught lighting up in a designated smoke-free area faces a fine of 69 liras ($45:£28) while bar owners who fail to enforce the ban could be fined from 560 liras for a first offence up to 5,600 liras.

Local authorities have hired thousands of extra staff to track down smokers and impose the fines.

Many people in Istanbul said they thought the ban was a good move.

“We were being destroyed in the places where you were allowed to smoke inside,” said Istanbul cafe patron Hanife Demirm.

“I was choosing the non-smoking places automatically, but after the ban is extended I will not need to be selective. I’ll be very comfortable in every place that I go,” he told the AP news agency.

‘Unnecessary stress’

A man smoking in a cafe in Istanbul, Turkey (17 July 2009)

Turkey is one of the world’s heaviest smoking countries

But the BBC’s David O’Byrne in Istanbul says many Turkish people see the ban as an erosion of their democratic rights and have called for bars to be able to apply for a smoking licence.

Some cafe owners have also said they were concerned the ban would drive away customers.

“They will simply leave and never come back, or we would get in trouble for letting them smoke,” said Istanbul cafe owner Selahattin Nar.

“Then both we and they would be filled with unnecessary stresses. In the end they will not be able to relax and we will have to shut down.”

But Mr Akdag said there was no reason for cafe and bar owners to be worried about a drop in trade.

“The public supports a smoke-free environment and the only ones to suffer will be the cigarette producers and sellers,” he said.

A no smoking rule has been in place for the past 15 months in government offices, workplaces, shopping malls, schools and hospitals.

All forms of public transport, including trains, taxis and ferries, are also affected but there are exemptions for special zones in psychiatric hospitals and prisons.

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September 4, 2008

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Thai PM plans crisis referendum

Anti-government protesters react as they watch a TV report about Mr Samak's address

Protesters listened to Mr Samak’s address, hoping he would resign

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has announced plans to hold a national referendum in an effort to defuse the ongoing political crisis.

An exact date has not been decided, but a referendum can be held 30 days after being approved by the Senate.

In an earlier radio address, Mr Samak said he would not resign or bow to the demands of protesters who have been occupying his offices since last week.

A state of emergency has been in place in Bangkok since Tuesday.

The anti-government protesters – from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – say Mr Samak is merely a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is now in exile.

‘Threat of anarchy’

“I am not resigning, I will not dissolve parliament. I have to protect the democracy of this country,” Mr Samak said in his radio address on Thursday morning.

He said he was a defender of democracy against a movement that threatened to bring “anarchy” to Thailand.

“The PAD is an illegal group who have seized the Government House and declared their victory. How can that be correct?” he said.

After his address, Mr Samak summoned his cabinet for an emergency meeting, and they agreed to hold a referendum to try to resolve the crisis.

BANGKOK PROTESTS
26 Aug: Protesters occupy government buildings, demand the government step down
27 Aug: Authorities issue arrest warrants for nine protest leaders
28 Aug: PM Samak promises no use of force against the protesters
29 Aug: Police try to evict protesters but pull back; crowds blockade two regional airports
30 Aug: PM Samak rules out resignation, following a meeting with Thailand’s king
31 Aug: Parliament meets for a special session on the protests
1 Sep: A late-night clash between pro- and anti-government groups leaves one person dead
2 Sep: PM Samak declares a state of emergency
3 Sept: Thai FM Tej Bunnag resigns

A government spokesman said the referendum could take place by early October if the Senate quickly endorsed a bill to organize the vote.

Culture Minister Somsak Kietsuranond said the referendum would ask a range of questions including whether the government should resign, whether it should dissolve parliament and what people think about the ongoing protests.

After hearing Mr Samak’s radio broadcast, one of the PAD’s leaders, Sondhi Limthongkul, told the French news agency AFP: “His speech only increased my confidence that what we are doing is not wrong. We will not go anywhere as long as he stays.”

The PAD has a passionate following in various parts of the country, especially Bangkok, and some powerful backers among the elite.

But it has little support in most of rural Thailand, which voted strongly for Mr Samak, and Mr Thaksin before him. Thai society remains deeply divided over the issue.

As the standoff has developed, some unions have begun supporting the protesters. However, a strike called by an umbrella group of 43 unions on Wednesday appeared to have failed – one piece of good news for the government.

But the prime minister’s attempt to contain the PAD protests with a state of emergency seem to have fallen flat.

The army has refused to exercise the extra powers he gave them, arguing that the conflict is a political one that cannot be solved by military intervention.


Are you in Thailand? Do you believe a referendum will diffuse the political crisis? Send us your comments

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