"We Are All Waiting for the Allegations To Be Made Public"
BALANLI COMMENT FROM KILICDAROGLU
CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıcdaroglu warns the Turkish General Staff not to react about the arrest of General Balanlı. He said:" The Turkish General Staff should remain silent now as the judicial process continues. We are all waiting for the allegations against General Balanlı to be made public".
CRITICAL DEVELOPMENT IN ANKARA
General Bilgin Balanlı, Commander of the War Academies, was arrested yesterday under "Sledgehammer" case. He was the highest ranking officer arrested on duty. He testified to the Istanbul deputy public prosecutor and was then arrested and sent to Hasdal Military Prison.
An Istanbul court has ordered the arrest of the highest-ranking active-duty military officer charged with plotting to overthrow the government.
War Academies Commander Gen. Bilgin Balanlı, who testified for three hours in front of the prosecutor before being sent to court, and then testified in court for another four hours on Monday, is the first active-duty top general to be arrested in connection with the alleged coup plans.
Gen. Balanlı was arrested as a suspect in the ongoing "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) case, which is based on documents reportedly seized in February from a house that belonged to Col. Hakan Büyük. A member of the intelligence branch of the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, Col. Büyük has already been arrested on charges of plotting a military coup.
The new evidence regarding the case, according to police reports, consists of written documents, video files and digital material on a flash disk it also includes plans to be put into action if the alleged coup attempt were to fail.
Eight active-duty officers were released early Saturday after providing 12 hours of testimony in Istanbul on the same charges.
The testimonies came at a time when relation between the government and the TSK were becoming increasingly tense, reportedly due to the ongoing investigations of alleged coup plots. Of the TSK's approximately 300 active-duty generals, 29 are under arrest on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
More than 160 soldiers – both active-duty and retired – are in prison, pending trial on suspected links to the alleged coup plans.
SECOND GAZA FLOTILLA TO SAIL FROM TURKEY BY THE END OF JUNE
More than 1,000 people representing some 100 countries will set sail the last week of June on a second international flotilla attempting to break Israel's siege on the Gaza Strip, human-rights activists announced Monday.
"We will not allow Israel to set up open prisons and concentration camps," Vangelis Pisias, the coordinator for the participating team from Greece, said Monday at a press conference organized by flotilla activists, adding that the group intended to show the world that problems can be solved peacefully.
"Palestine is in our heart and could be the symbol of a new era in the region," Pisias said.
The announcement of the new flotilla came a day before the one-year anniversary of when Israeli commandos raided ships participating in a previous aid mission, killing nine Turkish activists on board the vessel " Mavi Marmara".
The press conference was organized on the ship, which has been anchored for some time in Istanbul's shipyard in the Kasımpaşa neighborhood.
Fifteen ships will sail toward Gaza the last week of June, carrying approximately 1,500 activists from about 100 countries. The first flotilla, which set sail in May 2010, contained about 700 activists from 38 countries on six ships. The "Mavi Marmara" will be among the 15 vessels carrying humanitarian aid, as well as medical, school and construction materials, along with other ships departing from the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Ireland.
"We do not believe that Israel will make the same mistake [as last year, to attack the flotilla]... We will sail peacefully, everything will be open," said Hüseyin Oruç, a representative of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, which is one of 22 national networks in the coalition organizing the international flotilla.
Oruç also responded to the Israeli government's efforts to get other countries' governments to stop their citizens from participating in the flotilla. "We are living in democratic countries, where all rules are defined. No government has the right to tell us not to join the flotilla," he said, adding that the activists are acting within the norms of both national and international laws.
"We are not violating the law. Israel needs to understand this is the democratic right of all people of the world," Oruç said.
Israel's May 31, 2010, raid killed nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara, including Furkan Doğan, an American of Turkish descent, and eight Turkish citizens. Activists participating in the second flotilla, called "Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human," renewed their calls in a joint statement Monday for their governments to do their utmost to ensure that Israel does not repeat its attack.
"We contacted our government last week to inform them that we are joining the flotilla and to tell them that we expect them to tell Israel not to attack the ships. They said they had done this, and that they would not advise that we should not go," Dror Feiler, the Israel-born-and-raised spokesman from the Swedish group, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday. Around 30 Swedish activists will join the flotilla, and hundreds more would have liked to participate if there had been enough room, Feiler said. He added that the flotilla would be carrying 600 to 700 tons of cement, one of the goods that is not allowed to enter Gaza.
"We contacted the U.S. government last Monday, and the first thing they gave us was a travel warning to Gaza," Ann Wright told the Daily News on Monday, adding that more than 60 U.S. activists would neverthe;ess join the flotilla. She said they would ship 10,000 to 15,000 letters from Americans to the Palestinian people.
"We are going to carry the thoughts of the American people [to Gaza]," Wright said.
Despite their determination, activists also revealed some fear about joining the new flotilla. "You should fear young men and guns," Wright said, adding that she hoped Israel would respond to the group's nonviolence and that the Israeli military would recognize the flotilla was threat to Israel's policies but not to them.
"I try not to have too much fantasy [regarding my safety during the trip], as there are many factors. We know, however, that we will be peaceful on our part; we will check all our ships and all our passengers and we know well what we are taking into the ships," Feiler said. He added that this time the organizers would try to mix up people from different countries on the boats, so there would be "no scenario of good and bad ships."
"I have already broken down the wall of fear," Muhammet Zeida, a member of the Israeli parliament who also joined the first flotilla in 2010, told the Daily News on Monday, adding that he hoped Israel would not make any "stupidness" this time.
Zeida is still being judged by an Israeli court for "having put at risk the Israeli state and military, for cooperating with Israel's enemies and for having carried a weapon," which he said was just a fantasy of the Israeli authorities.
DEATH TAKES ONE TURKISH COUP LEADER AS COURT CALLS TWO OTHERS
One of the leaders of the 1980 military coup d'etat died in an Istanbul hospital Monday, hours before a prosecutor called the last two coup leaders still living to testify in court.
A prosecutor in Ankara sent invitations to Kenan Evren, the chief of General Staff at the time of the coup, and Tahsin Şahinkaya, then the Air Force commander, to testify in an investigation into the military coup and crimes of the post-coup era.
The two men are the last living members of the National Security Council, or MGK, formed after the army brass took over the control of the country.
Retired Gen. Nejat Tümer, who died Monday at the age of 87, was the Navy commander at the time of the Sept. 12, 1980, coup. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer at the Gülhane Military Academy Hospital, or GATA.
A ceremony will be held for Tümer at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Navy War Academy and he will be buried at the Zincirlikuyu Cemetery following the noon prayer.
Evren and Şahinkaya were invited to testify by Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Murat Demir, who was assigned in early April to launch an investigation into the 1980 coup. Such a probe became possible after a Sept. 12, 2010, referendum annulled the constitutional article that banned judicial action against the coup's leaders. Hundreds of criminal complaints filed in prosecutors' offices all over the country have been sent to Ankara, the site of the coup.
Evren's lawyer came to the Ankara courthouse Monday, met the prosecutor and requested that his client be allowed to testify at his house in Ankara due to his age and to health problems. The prosecutor's office said it would assess the request and then make a decision. It will also decide where and how Şahinkaya, who lives in Istanbul, will give his testimony.
Evren, the country's seventh president, had previously said he would never testify and claimed he would commit suicide before that would happen. "I promise in front of my nation that I will not let this matter be dealt with in the courts. I will commit suicide," he said when the idea of a coup trial was discussed in 2009.
The investigation could result in a case being opened against Evren and Şahinkaya; alternatively, the prosecutors could decide not to pursue the case.
'A very important development'
Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin called the invitation to testify a "very important development."
"Just three days ago, on the anniversary of the May 27, 1960 coup, we talked about how useless military interventions are, and what such interventions made this country lose," Şahin told reporters in Parliament.
He noted that debate was still continuing on whether the coup leaders could be put on trial, as some experts argue that the statute of limitations should apply to the crimes, which would make it too late to charge the generals.
"We will wait and see what the prosecutors and the court decide to do," Şahin said.
Many experts argue that even a very liberal interpretation of the statute of limitations would not allow crimes – except for crimes against humanity – to be prosecuted more than 30 years after the fact. Others say the statute of limitations did not actually start until the law banning prosecution of the coup leaders was canceled.
Evren and Şahinkaya are the only top generals from the 1980 coup who are still alive. Then-Land Forces Commander Nurettin Ersin died Nov. 3, 2005, and Gendarmerie Commander Sedat Celasun died July 16, 1998.
The 1980 military coup was launched "to bring peace to a polarized society where thousands of people were being killed on the streets," according to the coup generals and their supporters. The results, however, were devastating: 650,000 people were taken into custody and 230,000 were put on trial. Military prosecutors demanded the death penalty for 7,000 people; 517 of them received the death penalty and 50 were hanged.
The military rule revoked the citizenships of more than 14,000 Turks and another 30,000 left the country to seek refugee abroad.
In prisons, 299 inmates died of "indeterminate" reasons and 14 died while on hunger strikes. Torture by security forces reportedly claimed 171 lives.
Corruption charges for Şahinkaya
In addition to the coup-era killings, torture and mistrials, Şahinkaya has also been accused of corruption. Turkey selected the F-16 as its Air Force's main fighter jet and more than 230 F-16s were jointly produced with the United States at a plant near Ankara between the late 1980s and 1999. Şahinkaya is accused of accepting bribes to promote F-16 over F-18 jets.
In a televised interview last September, the retired general flatly denied the allegations against him and said he had made a major contribution to the establishment of the aircraft industry in Turkey.
"In fact, I thought that Turkey should buy the two-engine F-18s, but other generals decided to go with the F-16s," he said in the interview.
BUSINESS AS USUAL BETWEEN TURKEY, ISRAEL
The diplomatic tension between Turkey and Israel since a deadly attack last year on a Gaza-bound aid ship has not hampered mutual trade, which continues to rise on the sale of military and other goods.
While Turkey purchases high-tech defense-industry equipment from Israel, the military goods going the other way mostly include boots and uniforms. "Turkey dresses the Israeli army, mainly exporting army boots," said an executive from Turkey's Yakupoğlu, who spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday on condition of anonymity.
The company manufactures materials in Ankara and exports them to Israel. Despite the political problems between the two countries, there has been no interruption in the firm's business thus far, the executive said.
The export of military boots constitutes just a tiny portion of the long-standing trade relations between the two parties, and both Turkish and Israeli businessmen are enjoying a golden age of trade as official figures indicate that commercial bonds are stronger than ever.
Trade between Israel and Turkey increased by 25% between 2009 and 2010, and by 40% in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same period last year. Bilateral trade by the end of last year peaked at $3.442 billion, up from $2.580 billion in 2009.
"Turkey and Israel's business relations are getting stronger despite the political conflicts," Uriel Lynn, the president of the Tel Aviv & Central Israeli Chamber of Commerce, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday.
"Turks and Israelis are not in a fight – the trade boom in both countries proves that," said Lynn, adding that the "bilateral trade and investments have not been affected by the political situation at all."
Political relations between the two countries have been strained since Israeli soldiers staged a raid May 31, 2010, on the Mavi Marmara, the leading ship of an international flotilla trying to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The raid led to the death of eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent. A second attempt to break the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory is set sail in late June, with the Mavi Marmara and fourteen other ships carrying humanitarian aid departing for Gaza from various European ports.
'Free market wins'
"The main sectors in the recent increase of the bilateral trade volume [between Turkey and Israel] are mainly chemicals and metals," Lynn said, noting there are several reasons for this increase and "none of them is connected with the political situation."
He said both countries are enjoying the rise based on free trade agreements and economic growth. "The bonds between the Turkish and Israeli business sectors are still strong," Lynn said. "All the reasons prove that in spite of political disagreement, the free market wins."
Turkey made exports worth $2.083 billion while importing $1.359 billion worth of goods from Israel last year, according to Turkish Statistical Institute, or TurkStat, figures. In the first three months of 2011, Turkey exported products worth $579.3 million to Israel and imported goods worth $397.3 million.
Iron, steel, automotive products, oil and oil products, electrical machinery, chemicals, building materials, ready-to-wear products and metal goods are the main products exported from Turkey to Israel. In addition, there has been a rise in exports from Turkey of plastics, textiles, semi-precious stones and transportation equipment, according to the Israeli Chamber of Commerce.
Biggest trade partner
Turkey is currently Israel's biggest trade partner in the region and its second-biggest in the world, after the United States, according to Ahmet Reyiz Yılmaz, the head of Yılmazlar Group, which has been undertaking large construction projects in Israel for many years.
He said Turkey could replace the United States in trade with Israel if the volume keeps climbing at its current pace.
"The inhumane attitude and the state terror conducted by Israel may cause the discarding of all trade figures, no matter how high they might be," Zafer Çağlayan, Turkey's state minister responsible for foreign trade, told the press in Ankara last year in the wake of the Mavi Marmara raid.
Some obstacles rooted in the political unrest between the two countries still concern some Turkish businesses in Israel.
"The Israeli Foreign Ministry has rejected extending the visas of more than 1,000 Turkish laborers," said Ahmet Reyiz Yılmaz, head of Yılmazlar Group, the only Turkish construction company running projects worth nearly $2 billion. Yılmaz is also the head of Turkey's Nationalists and Conservative Party.
"We have been actively running construction projects in Israel for 17 years," he said, noting that the Israeli authority's rejection of the visa extensions causes delays and interruptions in his business. "The Turkish government also remains indifferent to our situation," Yılmaz, said, adding that he is expecting resolution from the decision-makers of both countries.