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#1 21-11-2018 04:09:33

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ISTANBUL, April 20 (Xinhua) -- A carpet made of 563,000 tulips is adding splashes of color to the historical Sultanahmet square in central Istanbul, but not throngs of tourists, as the metropolis has been overshadowed by the threat of fresh terror attacks.


Normally the opening of the annul Tulip Festival in April marks the beginning of tourist season for Istanbul and other tourist sites in Turkey, which in turn brings good business and earnings to Hanifi Ugur Kupeli and many others.


These days Kupeli has seen much fewer tourists come up to his small kiosk in Sultanahmet for souvenirs, maps or tour tickets for sailing on the beautiful Bosphorus Strait.


"Those were the good old days," bemoaned Kupeli, as he looked around the square, the most attractive location in Istanbul surrounded by such hotspots as Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.


But Kupeli can see only scattered tourists.


The Tulip Festival has brought tulips in a variety of colors to parks, avenues and traffic roundabouts, but not an unending flow of travellers to Sultanahmet and other tourist attractions as was seen in the previous years.


Kupeli, 70, has been in the tourism business for 50 years. With his earnings he was able to support a family of five. Now his monthly income has dropped by 80 to 90 percent, as the number of tourists coming to the tulip-carpet, which extends 1,728 square meters, the adjacent Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque meters away is dwindling fast.


On many days, he has "zero business," Kupeli said.


About one hundred meters away from Kupeli's kiosk, the ancient Egyptian obelisk stands as an eyewitness to one of the deadliest terrorist attacks that has ever hit the city.


An Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber blew himself up at the Sultanahmet square in January, claiming the lives of 12 German tourists.


Then came another bombing attack, again at the heart of Istanbul, in March, killing four foreign tourists in Istiklal Street, a pedestrian street popular with both locals and tourists for its numerous shops and malls.


Simultaneous bombing attacks on Ankara, Turkey's capital, coupled with repeated warnings of more to come by the U.S. and other foreign countries, have augmented the sense of insecurity among Turks and foreigners alike.


Russia's ban on travel packages to Turkey, imposed right after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane last November, has made things worse.


Figures released by Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry indicated that the number of foreign arrivals had tumbled by more than 8 percent during the first two months of this year.


This year, the number of tulips planted across Istanbul totals 20 million, exceeding the city's population of 15 million, according to Mayor Kadir Topbas.


"There is one tulip planted for each person living in the city and the remaining 5 million tulips are for our tourists," Topbas said while announcing the opening of the Tulip Festival lately.


Yusuf Akkaya, a tour operator, said the number of tourists fell 80 percent as compared with the previous year.


"Look around," he said. "And tell me how many persons you are going to count. Five? Ten?"


In Akkaya's view, Turkey's reputation abroad has deteriorated as if "some kind of war is going on here."


Aurora, a French citizen in her 20s, was among the handful of foreign tourists who came to visit the tulip carpet.


"Terror is everywhere. You know what happened in Paris," she said, referring to the deadly attack in November last year that killed some 130 people in the French capital.


Aurora saw no big difference between what had happened in Istanbul and Paris. "So, I can say that I'm not scared at all," she said.


Security measures have been boosted for the Tulip Festival, said the head of a private security team in charge of the Sultanahmet area.


"We have removed all the waste bins as a move to prevent the terrorists from placing bombs inside them," he said on the condition of anonymity.


His 90-strong team has been working in three shifts to provide a 24-hour protection, with shopkeepers in the area offering help as well by reporting every suspicious person or unaccompanied packages and bags.


"Istanbul can no longer tolerate another incident," he said.


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