The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT REVEALS ASSASSINATION PLOT AGAINST TURKISH PRIME MINISTER
Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MİT) has said it foiled a plot to kill Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2007.
An intelligence report sent to Erdoğan's office on July 24, 2007 – just two days after Erdoğan's AKP won a sweeping 47 percent victory at general elections – said two Chechen nationals had arrived in Istanbul to kill the Turkish prime minister on July 22. The report said the two Chechens had acted on orders they received from a retired Turkish colonel based in Bulgaria.
The retired colonel had previously gave the order of an attack in May 2006 on Turkey's top administrative court, which killed a senior judge and wounded several others. The report cited another retired Turkish colonel, Zekeriya Özturk, who allegedly rented an apartment in a building on a street in Istanbul's Kısıklı district where some of Erdoğan's relatives also lived, adding that "two bricks were removed from the wall" in one of the apartment's rooms that faced the street.
The report said the plot was aimed at forcing the armed forces to launch a coup. Acting on the intelligence report, Erdoğan and his family arrived in Antalya on July 26 and checked in a hotel for a four-day stay. Erdoğan skipped Friday prayer, which he usually observes, on the alleged assassination day.
RHETORIC HEATS UP AS TURKISH ELECTION LOOMS
With tension between Turkey's ruling and main opposition parties on the rise and the quality of political dialogue between them on the decline, experts are blaming the next general elections, which are likely to be held in June. "Elections bring political polarization and both sides benefit from this political tension. It is a provocative conflict that is being launched deliberately," says a columnist for conservative daily Yeni Şafak.
A split over the government's move to reshape the judiciary has turned into a full-fledged battle among political leaders, political analysts have said, suggesting the heightened tensions are being used to garner votes in upcoming elections.
For voters, however, such tension is not desirable, experts said.
"Sometimes party leaders hope for help from using such a harsh tone. They are a type of 'high-tension politics' to give excitement to party supporters and embolden them ahead of approaching elections," Erol Tuncer, head of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TESAV) told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday.
"Party leaders think such a 'passion of words,' proves useful to hold party grassroots together, but voters don't favor such an approach. They are not happy to be pushed by party leaders like that," he said.
Turkish politics has recently seen rising political tensions, starting with a debate over a peace monument in the eastern province of Kars to the recent spat over the judiciary. With political party leaders engaged in such fierce rhetoric, the quality of the political discourse has been reduced.
The government's attempts to restructure the judiciary have been met by a surge of protests by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which called for the public to use their right to protest against the government's efforts to reshape the judiciary.
The protest was later followed by the resignation of five CHP members from the Parliament's Justice Commission, in which a government-written draft bill increasing the number of personnel at the Council of State and Supreme Court of Appeals was discussed.
The tension escalated when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the CHP's calls to show resistance as "banditry," while CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the real banditry was to limit speaking time for CHP members.
"Both the opposition and ruling parties are engaging in politics in the same manner. Elections bring political polarization and both benefit from this political tension. It is a provocative conflict which is being launched deliberately," said Akif Emre, a columnist for the conservative daily Yeni Şafak.
"The CHP thinks such a conflict is saving the party from collapse while the AKP [Justice and Development Party] assumes that it is escaping from the criticism," Emre said.
'Conflicts disguise real problems'
For former Parliament Speaker and CHP leader Hikmet Çetin, such artificial conflicts and disagreements serve to distract from the country's real problems, such as poverty and unemployment.
"There is a mounting tension caused by the prime minister himself. It is the duty of the political party that holds the majority in parliament to ease the tension," Çetin said.
"However, artificial agendas are intentionally created in the run up to elections to overshadow the country's real problems. Turkey's real problems including poverty, corruption and unemployment, don't come to the agenda once the conflicts dominate the country's dialogue," Çetin said. "However, my observation is that the public is not on the side of [increased] tension."
Daily Hürriyet columnist Şükrü Küçükşahin said he perceived the recent tension as an AKP ploy.
"The prime minister has adopted a harsher tone than that of the CHP leader. The AKP believes that it will garner further votes and affect the voters much more once it adopts an aggressive manner," Küçükşahin said.
"The CHP leader adapts himself to [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's possible reaction. The CHP leader has responded to the prime minister's aggressive manner to avoid creating an image that he has nothing to say back to the prime minister," the columnist said.
For Professor Mehmet Altan, a political analyst and daily Star columnist, the debates are the reflection of party leaders' efforts to take power.
"Political ambitions get out of control in cases of approaching elections. Political leaders reveal their true faces. The AKP wants to strengthen its power and the CHP wants to grab power," Altan said.
TURKISH OPPOSITION CALLS FOR FRESH TALKS ON JUDICIARY LAW
The main opposition party has threatened to challenge a proposed law restructuring the judiciary in the Constitutional Court, if it passed in its current form.
"If need be, we can, of course, take it to the Constitutional Court. We'll sure use our rights. However we shall not leave the courts under any shadow. The way is clear: The draft law should be taken back to the commission for a new round of talks," Akif Hamzaçebi, deputy parliamentary group leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP) told reporters Monday.
The CHP's call was discussed Monday at a meeting under the leadership of Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin with the participation of all political parties that are represented in Parliament.
A political debate over the government-proposed draft law, which reshapes the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State, grew over the weekend when CHP deputies resigned from a parliamentary commission to protest the ruling party's efforts to limit allotted time for speeches to five minutes, marking a first in the country's political history.
The draft law proposes to increase the number of chambers for both institutions, which would require additional judicial appointments.
Hamzaçebi said the commission's approval of the draft law was null and void, as the opposition was not represented at the meeting. "It's the first time in the history that the speaking times of commission members have been limited. It's a very undemocratic move and pushed our deputies to use their democratic right [of resignation]."
Hamzaçebi said they had notified the parliament speaker about the developments, with a promise to appoint new members to the commission if the ruling party decides to take the draft law back to the commission to renew the talks.
Under normal conditions, draft laws are taken to parliament's General Assembly following the commission's initial approval.
"I assume full responsibility for my rights and wrongs, which I thought right," İyimaya said in a written statement he released Monday, defending his decision to limit the time allotted commission members. "I have always spoken of my sensitivity on loyalty to democracy and rule law."
Responding to Hamzaçebi's comments, Bekir Bozdağ, the AKP's deputy parliamentary group leader, insisted on the validity of the commission approval, citing articles of parliament's internal regulations in remarks to reporters Monday.
Bozdağ described the CHP's move as a political theatre.
The tension between the ruling and the opposition rose over the weekend following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's description of the CHP deputies, who had called on the people to resist the government's move to reshape the judiciary, as "bandits."
"The true bandit was at the Parliament Justice Commission on Saturday," Hamzaçebi said in response to Erdoğan on Monday. "He calls our move resistance or banditry, but he never addresses what we are saying. We are claiming that Turkey is running toward fascism, but Erdoğan has no words on this, because he is speedily distancing himself from democracy."
BEFORE IT GETS TOO LATE!
Bar associations in 24 provinces, including Ankara and Istanbul, released a joint statement under the banner "Before it gets too late", criticizing the process of legal changes. "A high court needs to be created for the government by increasing the number of members in the Court of Appeals and the Council of State in an unusual way."
AL JAZEERA OFFERS HALF PRICE FOR STATE-SEIZED TV STATION
Al Jazeera Turk on Monday placed a $21 million bid for the purchase of a national TV channel, which had been seized by Turkey's savings deposit insurance fund.
The Qatar-based news network was the sole bidder in the tender for the sale of the TV channel, CINE 5, once owned by bankrupt media mogul, Erol Aksoy. Al Jazeera's offer is almost half of the initial price the Turkish fund sought. The $21 million bid is set to be referred to a higher authority, which would decide either to bargain further or close the auction as is.
February 4 is set as the date for further bargaining if the board opts to proceed with the sale of the TV channel.
Turkish Defense Industry Executive Committee made a historic decision at its December 15, 2010 meeting. Turkey will manufacture its own tank engine. Talks will be held on research and development budget worth $150 million.
ARABS' NEW WORLD TO RESEMBLE TURKEY, PROF. KHALIDI SAYS
A close friend of U.S. President Barack Obama and a political scientist from Columbia University, Prof. Rashid Khalidi, said that Turkey had a crucial role in the region. "A democratic Arab world will resemble the democracy of Turkey. The new Arab world would be more assertive and be less willing to accept Israel's demands. The new Arab world would also be more independent," Prof. Khalidi said.
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), said that democratic demands should be met in Egypt as soon as possible. İhsanoğlu said that the country needed a peaceful transition to democracy.
A democratic constitution should be prepared, parliamentary elections should be held in the country, judiciary freedom should be secured and the opposition should be represented in the new government, he said.
FINANCE MINISTER SIMSEK SPEAKS TO WALL STREET JOURNAL
Turkey's finance minister said that China was deliberately depressing its exchange rate and that that was giving it an "unfair advantage" against countries like Turkey.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Simsek, who is currently in Swiss city of Davos to attend the World Economic Summit, said: "It does not matter whether or not China and the USA are actively trying to keep their currencies low, the end result is pain for emerging markets."
"I think China is deliberately depressing its exchange rate and that that is giving it an unfair advantage against countries like Turkey that compete for the same products in the same markets. Why else would a country accumulate almost $3 trillion worth of foreign reserves? It is quite obvious," he said.
The newspaper wrote that Simsek was less damning about the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy of quantitative easing, quoting him as saying that he did not think the U.S. was trying to manipulate its currency, but the consequences were also highly negative for Turkey by helping to inflate the price of commodities such as oil that Turkey needs to import and by stimulating inflows of "hot money" in search of higher returns than those offered in dollars.
Simsek also declined to criticize the European Central Bank for running a historically loose policy, saying, "there are real issues with some countries in the periphery. It is understandable."
"Imports are now growing twice as fast as exports, a trend that analysts say threatens to unbalance the economy that had otherwise recovered quickly from the global financial crisis. The oil import bill alone this year is likely to be close to 5 percent of gross domestic product," Simsek said.
Simsek backed the unconventional policy that the Turkish central bank has adopted to reduce the capital inflows, cutting interest rates and raising reserve requirements on banks, limiting the amount that they can lend. "The policy is unconventional but it has our support. The last thing we want is another boom-and-bust. We want a break with the past," he said.
Simsek stressed that it would be wrong to draw any parallels between the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences on the one hand and Turkey's on the other. "Not only does the AKP have far greater democratic legitimacy, having won a string of elections since 2002, but it has also made greater progress in eradicating poverty. Gross domestic product in per capita terms has tripled in the last nine years, and the country now devotes more a greater share of GDP to research and development than eight of the EU's 27 member states. No one in Turkey is now living on less than $2.30 a day, and that less than 10 percent is living on twice that much. Car sales, meanwhile, a traditional reflection of middle-class affluence, hit a record 150,000 in December," he said.
"We want a stable, prosperous, democratic neighborhood, and any progress to that end is not necessarily negative in the long run for Turkey," Simsek added.
The Wall Street Journal added that secular, Muslim and democratic, Turkey was arguably a role model and a natural place to look for assistance.
TURKISH YOUTH PROTEST AKP BY DRINKING ALCOHOL IN STREETS
Turkish citizens protested new regulations on alcohol and smoking, which were recently approved by the government, led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), by drinking alcohol in public Saturday in an event organized by the "Let's Drink to the AKP" campaign.
The protesters, mostly young people, organized via social networking website Facebook.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square and Moda Seaport, in Ankara's Kuğulu Park, on Edirne's Saraçlar Street and in Bartın's Cumhuriyet Square with bottles or cups of alcoholic beverages to protest the regulation.
The protesters in Istanbul marched from Taksim Square to the Galatasaray High School, where they shouted slogans and then continued their march to Tünel, shouting slogans against the ruling party while imbibing.
Some 100 protesters also gathered in Istanbul's Moda Seaport, where they also protested the regulation with slogans and alcoholic drinks.
Protesters in Ankara said they were protesting the fact that the legal age for drinking alcohol had been raised, even when the age to use weapons was recently reduced. They also protested with placards and alcoholic drinks.
Some 500 protesters gathered in İzmir, shouting: "We are drinking to [Deputy Prime Minister] Bülent Arınç and AKP."
The protesters in Edirne also toasted: "For our freedom and against any official that tries to prohibit alcoholic drinks."
Dozens of young people gathered in Bartın's Cumhuriyet Square to protest the regulations with alcoholic drinks and traditional dances.
TURKISH MILITARY SEES HIGH SUICIDE RATE
More than 400 soldiers have committed suicide over the last five years, the Turkish defense minister has said in response to a question posed by a parliamentary deputy representing the eastern province of Van.
Minister Vecdi Gönül said in his written reply that 408 suicides had been reported in the military during the past five years, but added that there had been a decrease in suicides compared to previous periods due to precautionary measures and the efficient functioning of the police department's Accident Prevention System.
"In any incident that ends with the death of a soldier, the family is notified by the garrison's commander," the minister said, adding that families are also invited to the scene of the incident to avoid any suspicion of cover-ups.
The minister said the records on accidental deaths and suicides were being carefully monitored by the Turkish Armed Forces.
The minister also said guidance and counseling centers were available at every military post, to minimize suicide by assessing the psychological and social problems of soldiers and examining the military environment's psychological and social effects on them.
"Privates and soldiers that join the unit for the first time undergo a psychological risk factor survey," Gönül said, adding that a special form is issued to those identified as emotionally at-risk.
Such individuals, in turn, are then sent for treatment and are constantly kept under watch while in military facilities, he said.
The minister said soldiers with psychological problems who were believed to be "potentially suicidal" were not allowed to carry weapons.
Gönül also said weapons, medicines and other materials that might assist in a suicide are kept under guard.