Justice for olive trees blocks coal plant plan

Justice for olive trees blocks coal plant plan

Justice for olive trees blocks coal plant plan

Far from being discouraged, villagers from Yırca have already started replanting the trees illegally felled by the energy constructor company. DHA Photo

Villagers in a small Aegean town who resisted but could not stop the cutting down of around 6,000 olive trees by an energy company for a coal plant construction are celebrating the Council of State’s decision halting construction in the area.

The Council of State canceled the rapid expropriation decision in the Yırca village of Manisa province a few hours after the Kolin İnşaat company felled around 6,000 olive trees and its security officers beat up villagers who resisted the expropriation. In its reasoning, the Council of State said it halted both the Cabinet’s rapid expropriation decision and the construction of the coal plant in the area. Its ruling - which was only published on Nov. 10, after the trees were cut down - made clear that the verdict could not be appealed and said there was no public interest in building the power plant on the olive grove.

The first move of the company after the ruling was to lay off some 100 personnel, half of whom were security officers and half of whom were construction workers, after meeting with the construction site head and the chief of the security team.

The security officers claimed that the company had offered them lifelong job security and retirement packages if they attacked the villagers who opposed the construction. “They made us come here by giving us a guarantee of work and even retirement. They made us attack the villagers. We were used [by the company]. Now we will stay here until we get fair [treatment],” one of the security officers reportedly said, while refusing to leave the site.

After the halting decision, the construction workers have been removed from the area.

Meanwhile, a senior government official has issued a controversial statement on the “problems caused by the large amount of olive trees” in Turkey.

“There are olive groves all over the country thanks to the incentives our government has provided. Even mountains and high plains are full of olive trees. Those trees have created a lucrative industry, but Turkey needs energy too,” Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said after a Cabinet meeting late on Nov. 10.

“It’s our duty to make sure that the court decision is implemented,” he added.

However, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said the cutting down of olive trees stems from the government’s unprincipled economic policies, which favor the interests of companies that support it over those of the citizenry.

According to MHP head Devlet Bahçeli, “opportunist” companies have grown thanks to “state tenders” granted by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, setting their eyes on resources from which citizens earn their living.

“Incidents that took place in the Yırca town of Soma last week have revealed the level of unlawfulness and tyranny,” Bahçeli said on Nov. 11, while addressing a regular meeting of his party’s parliamentary group.

The Kolin Group, one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates, uprooted the trees on Nov. 7 to make room for a coal power plant in the Soma district of Manisa, where locals had been guarding the grove for more than 52 days.

Clashes erupted after security guards for the company tried to remove the protesting villagers from the olive grove.

“The Kolin Group, which is a partner of the consortium that won the tender for the third [Istanbul] airport, not only cut down 6,000 trees but also seized the hopes of local people,” Bahçeli said.

“I am asking you, [Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu, as you say on every occasion that you stand against brutality: Isn’t what happened in Yırca tyranny and banditry?” he asked, while recalling that just hours after the confrontation, Turkey’s Council of State threw out a decision permitting Kolin İnşaat to seize control of the grove.

Although the Council of State made its related decision on Oct. 28, it was released too late, only “after the massacre of the trees,” Bahçeli said, stressing that the controversy should be resolved by the justice system.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also accused the government of favoring certain energy firms at the expense of local environments.

“They decided [to have rapid expropriation] for businessman who works for the ‘pool media,’” said Kıulıçdaroğlu during his own party’s group meeting, referring to government-linked media groups. A group of villagers from Yırca was also in attendance at the CHP’s group meeting.