The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.
ERDOĞAN TRAVELS TO KUWAIT AND QATAR
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has left for Kuwait. Prior to his departure, Erdoğan said that some circles blamed the government for the heavy workload of the judiciary. "It is nothing to do with politics. No one can blame politicians for this," he said.
Erdoğan will proceed to Qatar after completing his visit to Kuwait.
HE CHALLENGES HIZBULLAH
The head of PKK terrorist organization, Abdullah Öcalan, who sent new messages from İmrali prison, expressed his uneasiness about the release of Hizbullah suspects from prison.
Öcalan said: "How can the people of Diyarbakır (a southeastern province) allow such a thing? Those who committed violent murders are released and people welcome them with dances and celebrations? If Hizbullah members do not [admit their wrong-doing], then [the people] will action in self-defense and Hizbullah supporters are no longer allowed in Diyarbakır."
GREEK PM'S VISIT TO TURKEY
Allegations that Turkish fighter jets have been flying over half a dozen Greek islands in the Aegean Sea ruined plans for a successful "gesture visit" by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to Turkey late last week. The allegations come as Greece plans to fence off part of its land border with Turkey.
Shortly before Papandreou began a two-day visit on Thursday, there were reports of seven Turkish fighter aircraft flying illegally over six Greek islands, Greek sources in Athens told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
"This was an apparent provocation on the eve of Papandreou's visit," said one source. "Are the Turks implementing (Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet) Davutoglu's 'zero problems with neighbors' policy like this?"
After six Turkish fighter aircraft reportedly flew over five Greek islands on Dec. 30, another Turkish jet reportedly illegally passed into Greek airspace Jan. 5, one day before Papandreou's arrival in Turkey, Greek sources said. All Greek islands beneath the alleged flyovers were part of the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean Sea, they said.
The Dodecanese Islands, 12 islands that belonged to the Ottoman Empire before World War I, were given to Italy after the war and then given to the Greeks after World War II. Papandreou harshly criticized the alleged flyovers during a speech at a conference in Erzurum for Turkish ambassadors from around the world hosted by the Foreign Ministry. "What is Turkey trying to prove?" he asked. "This might be routine for Turkey, but such actions lead the Greek people to wonder whether Turkey is seeking a different course."
Papandreou's visit was planned to be a peaceful gesture, but after the flyovers the Greek government thought about canceling the event, Greek sources said. Papandreou only decided to come to Turkey at the last minute to make his point there, they said.
The website of the office of the Turkish General Staff said Turkish F-16s were intercepted twice by Greek Mirage 2000 jets last Wednesday. The military said Greek jets had intercepted Turkish planes seven times since the previous week.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's response to Papandreou's remarks at the conference was conciliatory. "We have to find a solution to the problems in the Aegean based on mutual benefits, and we will," he said, adding that Papandreou is Turkey's friend.
"We have to get into the spirit of consensus. There is no reason why we cannot solve this problem."
Papandreou also said during remarks at the conference that Turkey would never be able to become a member of the European Union while its "occupation" of a part of Cyprus continues. "The international community will not legitimate an invasion. Turkey's European course will not be completed as long as the occupation continues. A new effort is needed," he said.
Erdoğan countered by saying that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots cannot be "giving way constantly" on Cyprus. European diplomats qualified the exchange of words as "unusually strong."
NATO allies and former Aegean adversaries Turkey and Greece have greatly improved ties over the past decade, with Greece saying it supports Turkey's EU membership bid and Turkey last year removing Greece from a list of potential enemies in keeps its national security document.
But the two countries remain at odds over Cyprus as well as water and air boundaries in the Aegean Sea. Greece claims 10 miles of airspace, but Turkey rejects this, accepting only six miles of Greek airspace. As a result, Turkish and Greek fighter jets are often involved in dangerous encounters, or dogfights, in the disputed area.
But Greek officials said the recent problems were the "direct flyovers" undertaken by Turkish fighters that flew straight over the top of the inhabited Greek islands.
"Generally, 2010 was a great year for the Turkish-Greek relationship. There were several high-level and successful visits mutually," one Turkish Foreign Ministry official said. "But we need to resolve our outstanding differences."
Another recent glitch in ties is Athens' plan to build a 12-kilometer fence on the northern part of its land border with Turkey in order to stem illegal immigration by nationals of third countries.
Athens says a total of nearly a million migrants traveled illegally from Turkey to Greece, whose population is about 10 million, over the past few years. The immigrants are mostly from Somalia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and a variety of African countries. "Turkey kind of feels humiliated by the concept of a fence, seen as similar to such examples between the United States and Mexico and between Israel and the Palestinian territory," said a Washington-based analyst. "In addition, as a psychological symbol it is seen as a separation between Europe and Turkey." "We need highways, not walls," Erdoğan said at the conference in Erzurum.
RELEASE OF TURKISH HIZBULLAH MEMBERS SPARKS CONTROVERSY OVER ITS FUTURE STRATEGY
The recent release of leading members of Turkish Hizbullah, an illegal organization that has left a bloody trail in Southeast Anatolia, has prompted speculation regarding the organization's possible revival.
The organization, unrelated to the Lebanese Hezbollah, is regarded as responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people during the mid-1990s, the worst years of the conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Turkish forces.
"The current circumstances don't impel Hizbullah to resort to weapons [again]. But those who were released may play a leading role in the organization and bring it into politics," former daily Cumhuriyet columnist Mehmet Faraç, known for his research into Hizbullah, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview Thursday.
While some commentators argue that, contrary to its violent actions in the past, Hizbullah will politicize its activities in the upcoming period, others – including government officials – have raised concerns the group may return to the violence it is accused of having practiced in the past.
Some claim Hizbullah will "redefine itself" and enter a new era, but others say the possibility that the group returns to violence is now stronger than ever, given that it has grown into a "mass movement of militants" through traffic on its websites and the charity activities of some of the front organizations for Hizbullah.
"The Turkish Hizbullah may even push to obtain seats in the forthcoming elections from independent candidates and may run in provinces such as Batman, Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin," Faraç said.
While pro-Kurdish circles claim Hizbullah was a weapon against the Kurdish political movement, the wider public knew of the organization after mass graves that held dozens of hogtied bodies were discovered in the year 2000.
The public relived those days of horror when five Hizbullah members, two of which were allegedly leaders of the organization, were freed last week, as their cases, waiting to be discussed at the high court, did not come to a conclusion in 10 years' time.
Hizbullah came to prominence in the late 1980s in southeastern Turkey. Some experts say its aim is to destroy the secular order and spread "true Islam" throughout the country, by force if necessary. However, strong claims have surfaced that it was the state itself that established the organization to fight the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) through illegal means, such as summary executions.
Other experts dismiss such claims, but acknowledge that the Turkish state has long failed to appropriately investigate the group.
Indeed, many of those killed in the Southeast during the 1990s, usually with meat cleavers or a bullet in the neck, were known to be active pro-Kurdish politicians or journalists.
Many members of groups that preceded today's Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) are believed to have been killed by Hizbullah, though hundreds of such murders still remain unsolved. The state "did not create the Turkish Hizbullah but did use it against the PKK," according to Faraç.
Sedat Laçiner, president of Ankara-based think tank USAK, however, said such claims are the product of an "urban legend" that has no evidence to support it.
Most experts agreed that the groups are ideologically different, with Hizbullah espousing fundamentalist Islamist views while the PKK is based on a separatist Marxist vision; a distinction many believe led to the conflict between the two groups in the 1990s.
For Laçiner, Hizbullah gained support by voicing a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in the conservative southeast, a region that was prone to terrorist attacks from the PKK and that suffered from the state's failure to adequately protect its residents.
Hizbullah grew stronger in the 1990s when it is said to have started killing PKK members and supporters. The state's real tension and conflict with Hizbullah emerged in the mid-1990s when the organization grew excessively and expanded its target base from PKK members to moderate Islamists and other opponents.
In the late 1990s Hizbullah reportedly widened its area of operations from the east to the big cities in the west – including Istanbul. The organization's collapse began when Turkish security forces killed one of the group's leaders, Hüseyin Velioğlu, during an operation in Istanbul in January 2000. Subsequent operations led to the discovery of dozens of mass graves containing the bodies of victims who had been kidnapped, tortured and buried alive.
Velioğlu's death led the group to target Turkish security forces in 2001, a principal motivation behind government crackdowns on the organization in the following years.
The organization is also charged with the murders of 188 people, including Islamist feminist writer Konca Kuriş and Diyarbakır Police Chief Gaffar Okkan, who commanded huge respect in the city.
For Faraç, over time the organization went through some critical self-reflection and tried to restore its image, with 2003 seeing the establishment of various foundations and associations. "The organization has come to the conclusion that the process of politicization will be better for its future interests," Faraç said.
Following operations by the Turkish security forces in the early 2000s, the organization laid down its arms and demilitarized, according to Laçiner. "But, this demilitarization process does not mean the group has given up on terror. Rather, it implies the group is structuring itself underground, with a strategy to protect itself from the Turkish state and restore its strength," Laçiner said. "It is a strategy to come back in a stronger, massive way. The group still has an aim to come back with violent actions."
The recent prison releases may imbue in the organization a degree of excitement, but the released prisoners' contribution to the organization is likely to be only symbolic, as they will remain under the observation of security forces. It is likely the whole structure of the organization was re-oriented while those who have been released were in detention, he said.
"The organization is now stronger as it is growing into a mass movement. There is unemployment and a gap in the Southeast that either the PKK or Hizbullah can fill. "The PKK doesn't satisfy the soul while Hizbullah promises a more spiritual world to those living in the region, a crucial factor in it's being a potentially massive movement," Laçiner said.
In a column in daily Vatan last week, Ruşen Çakır said the releases had added morale to the organization, which has become stronger compared to 10 years ago.
The organization entered its second phase when it laid down arms and displayed its "civic sensibilities" by maintaining social and cultural activities, such as coordinating websites, running publishing houses and establishing foundations, associations and local newspapers following Velioğlu's death, according to Çakır.
The recent prison releases represent the "third Hizbullah phase," according to Çakır. The releases, which have coincided with the organization's efforts to redefine itself, are likely to change the balance within the group and direct the organization's future strategy and tactics, he said.
The Daily Radikal's Ankara representative Murat Yetkin, who spoke to a senior government official, said Friday the official was concerned that the group could return to its violent ways.
Former Interior Minister Saadettin Tantan, who ran operations against the organization 10 years ago, was quoted as saying the released prisoners could escape to Iran or revive the organization's activities from underground.
The releases added morale to the organization and could trigger a battle between the PKK, Hizbullah and Fethullah Gülen, the founder and leader of the Islamist Gülen Movement, for the support of many locals in Turkey's east southeast regions, according to Tantan.