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Turkey’s inflation soars to 36 percent, highest in Erdogan era

Turkey's annual inflation rate surged to 36.1 percent last month, its highest in the 19 years Tayyip Erdogan has ruled, laying bare the depths of a currency crisis engineered by the president's unorthodox interest rate-cutting.

In December alone, consumer prices took a rare step into double-digits, rising 13.58 percent, Turkish Statistical Institute data showed on Monday, eating deeper into the earnings and savings of Turks rattled by the economic turmoil.

The year-over-year CPI outstripped a median Reuters poll forecast of 30.6 percent with staples such as transportation and food – which took increasing shares of households' budgets during 2021 – rising even faster.

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Turkey's lira shed 44 percent of its value last year as the central bank slashed interest rates under a drive by Erdogan to prioritize credit and exports over currency and price stability.

On Monday it whipsawed down 5 percent then up 3 percent, before trading flat at 13.22 versus the dollar at 1500 GMT.

Some economists predict that inflation could reach as high as 50 percent by spring unless the direction of monetary policy is reversed. Goldman Sachs said it would remain above 40 percent for most of the year ahead.

“Rates should be immediately and aggressively hiked because this is urgent,” said Ozlem Derici Sengul, founding partner at Spinn Consulting in Istanbul.

The central bank was however unlikely to act, she added, and annual inflation “will probably reach 40-50 percent by March”, by when administered price rises would have been added into the mix, including a 50 percent minimum wage hike.

Turkey now has the eighth-highest inflation in the world, behind Zimbabwe and Argentina and ahead of Iran and Ethiopia, according to a Trading Economics listing.

Last year was the worst for the lira in nearly two decades, while the annual CPI was the highest since the 37.0 percent reading of September of 2002, two months before Erdogan's AK Party first took office.

But Erdogan's focus on Monday was on trade data which showed exports surged by a third to $225 billion last year.

“We have only one concern: exports, exports and exports,” he said in a speech, adding the trade data showed a six-fold rise in exports during his tenure as leader.

To support the local currency and replenish its depleted reserves, the central bank said on Monday it had asked exporters to sell 25 percent of their hard-currency revenues to the bank for lira.

“We don't go out”

Erdogan, a self-declared enemy of interest rates, overhauled the central bank's leadership last year. The bank has slashed the policy rate to 14 percent from 19 percent since September, leaving Turkey with deeply negative real yields that have spooked savers and investors.

The subsequent accelerating surge in prices and drop in the lira have also upended household and company budgets, scuttled travel plans and left many Turks scrambling to cut costs. Many queued last month for subsidized bread in Istanbul, where the municipality says the cost of living is up 50 percent in a year.

“We don't sit with our friends in a cafe and drink coffee any more,” Mehmet, 26, a university graduate, said as he did his job as a pollster in Istanbul.

“We don't go out, just from home to work and back again,” he said, adding that he was buying smaller meal portions and believed inflation was higher than official data showed.

The central bank has argued that temporary factors had been driving prices and forecast a volatile course for inflation, which – having been around 20 percent in recent months and mostly double-digits over the last five years – it said in October would end the year at 18.4 percent.

Sengul suggested that, with Monday's data, that argument had run its course.

“This reflects a vicious cycle of demand-pull inflation, which is very dangerous because the central bank had implied the price pressure was from cost-push (supply constraints), and that it couldn't do anything about it,” she said.

Reflecting soaring import prices, December's producer price index rose 19.08 percent month-on-month and 79.89 percent year on year. Annual transportation prices soared 53.66 percent while the food and drinks basket jumped 43.8 percent, the CPI data showed.

The economic turmoil has also hit Erdogan's opinion polls ahead of a tough election scheduled for no later than mid-2023.

The lira touched a record low of 18.4 against the dollar in December before rebounding sharply two weeks ago after state-backed market interventions, and after Erdogan announced a scheme to protect lira deposits against currency volatility.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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