Police on Monday searched the premises of a dissident news website and detained its owner over possible links to an alleged secularist network accused of conspiring to topple the Turkish government.

Police raided the Istanbul headquarters of the Oda TV website and the homes of its owner, journalist and author Soner Yalcin, and three colleagues, Oda TV lawyer Serkan Gunel told reporters. Yalcin was later detained for questioning, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Turkish news reports said the raids came hours after Oda TV posted a video that allegedly discredits police investigating the network. The website could be accessed only sporadically on Monday and there was no link to a video.

There has been a surge in the number of cases filed by state prosecutors against Turkish media, many related to the trials of the alleged network, called Ergenekon— after a legendary valley in Central Asia believed to be the ancestral homeland of the Turkish people. The Association says thousands of journalists face prosecution and 58 are currently imprisoned for their writings or opinions.

Some 400 people, including politicians, retired military officers, professors and journalists, are already on trial accused of being a part of the Ergenekon conspiracy. One of the most prominent defendants is Mustafa Balbay, a columnist for pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper and a fierce government critic, who has been in jail for more than two years.

Turkish journalist groups decried Monday's raid as an affront to press freedoms and free speech.

"This raid isn't against Oda TV, it is against press freedoms," said Atilla Sertel, who heads the Turkish Federation of Journalists. The group said police confiscated the website's computers as well as journalists' notes.

The Istanbul-based Turkish Journalists' Association said the raid was the latest example of "intolerance" toward journalists.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government insists the Ergenekon trials are a step toward democratic reform. Opponents counter that many of the accused are innocent and have been targeted as part of a broader plan to muzzle dissent and undermine Turkey's secular legacy.

Meanwhile, in a separate case Monday, a high-ranking retired general, Cetin Dogan, turned himself over to authorities and was taken to an Istanbul jail, days after a court ruled that some 160 current and former military officers must be jailed pending the outcome of a trial dubbed "Sledgehammer" on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

Most of the defendants in the case—including Turkey's former air and navy chiefs—were jailed on Friday after the court announced its decision. The court issued arrest warrants for 29 officers who had not attended Friday's hearing, including Dogan, the commander of Turkey's first army, who is accused of leading the alleged coup plot.

The charges against the officers stem from leaked documents published by the Taraf newspaper. The prosecutor says the alleged conspirators hoped to create chaos through a series of assassinations and attacks which would lead to calls for a military takeover.
The military, which has overthrown three Turkish governments since 1960 and pressured an Islamic-led government to step down in 1997, has denied such a plot, saying documents used as evidence are from a military training seminar, chaired by Dogan, during which officers simulated a scenario of internal strife. Many of the defendants were officers who attended the seminar.

"There is no evidence, but we're being jailed," Dogan told reporters before he was escorted to jail.



Retired Gen. Çetin Doğan, the former commander of Turkey's 1st Army and the top suspect in the "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) coup-plot trial, obeyed a court order and turned himself in to the authorities Monday.

Five other suspects surrendered along with Doğan, while active-duty Gen. Nejat Bek, considered another top suspect in the case, surrendered in a separate group along with three other suspects at the Beşiktaş Courthouse in Istanbul.

The retired arrested suspects were transferred to Metris Prison, which increased its security measures after the arrests started last week, while the active-duty personnel are being transferred to Hasdal Military Prison.

Out of 196 total suspects in the case, 167 were present at the Friday hearing and 133 were arrested immediately. The defendants face between 15 and 20 years in prison if convicted on charges of "attempting to topple the government by force."

Speaking to daily Milliyet before surrendering, Doğan said: "Our morale is good, it will never be disrupted because our trust in the Turkish nation continues. Even though our trust in justice is shaken, the Turkish nation will find a way out."

The retired general also said he would no longer offer a defense and "write his own indictment" in the case.

His wife, Nilgül Doğan, spoke to daily Hürriyet and criticized the trial, saying the suspects, including her husband, are elderly people who cannot handle prison conditions. Saying the families of the suspects would organize in challenge to the case, she said: "What can we do against this injustice, how can we organize, what other legal rights do we have and how can we make our voice heard to the world? I will work on these issues."

"Balyoz" is the code name for an alleged military coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), drafted in 2003. The case has put dozens of soldiers behind bars. This weekend's arrest decision is the third against the suspects since the beginning of the trial's investigation process.

The conflict over repeated arrests and releases last year caused rumors of a pro-military versus pro-AKP polarization within the judiciary. The head judge of the case was changed two days shy of the first hearing, which was protested by the defense as an "intervention" into the case by the political authority.



Twenty-two suspects were arrested and sent to prison on Monday over alleged coup plans known publicly as "Balyoz (Sledgehammer)". Retired 1st Army commander Cetin Dogan was also among them. Dogan said that all of the indictments were unsound. Dogan said that they would submit a petition objecting to their arrest warrant to the 11th Criminal Court and, if it was not accepted, they would not defend themselves.



President Abdullah Gul, who is visiting Iran, said that Iran aims to construct 1 million dwellings in the coming years. "Foreign capital will flow into this country. You (Turkish contractors) should follow these auctions for construction of those dwellings," he said. Gul who met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that countries should implement both political and economic reforms in line with their peoples' requests. "Sometimes people push for the changes that cannot be realized by governments and leaders. This is the current situation in our region. The public acts as the pioneer when leaders fail to do so. We hope all nations would get over the current process in a strong, honorable and happy way as soon as possible," he noted.



Iranian policy, not a U.S. embargo, is the biggest obstacle to expanding the Islamic republic's trade with other countries, Turkish businessmen accompanying President Abdullah Gül in Iran reported him as saying Monday.

With Iran and Turkey determined to boost their political and economic ties, more than 100 Turkish businessmen have accompanied the president on a visit to Iran that began Sunday evening and is scheduled to last until Wednesday. Turkey aims to increase its trade with Iran from $10 billion to $30 billion, Gül said without giving a timeframe.

The Turkish president told a joint press conference on Monday with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the two countries held detailed discussions on key issues of mutual interest and that important decisions have been made, Agence France-Presse reported.

"We have decided to give orders to our respective parties to remove all obstacles," Gül said without elaborating. The president is heading a delegation of business leaders and ministers, including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, on the four-day official visit.

Gül also urged governments in the Middle East to listen to the demands of their people, saying he hoped transformation processes would have an honorable and happy ending for all nations in the region, the Anatolia news agency reported.

"Nowadays, we are witnessing major changes in our region, especially in the Middle East and the Islamic world," Gül said, adding that countries should implement both political and economic reforms in line with their peoples' requests.

Speaking at the same press conference, Ahmadinejad said Turkey and Iran shared similar views on peace, security and development, adding that cooperation between the two countries would transform the region into an economic, political and cultural power. "Our relations with Turkey are deep, permanent and brotherly, and they have made significant progress in many fields over the past years," Ahmadinejad told reporters.

The Iranian president also took the public opportunity Monday to thank "the Turkish president for his country's position concerning Iran's nuclear rights." He added that Iran and Turkey are determined to strengthen ties both politically and economically.

Turkey voted against the latest round of U.S.-backed sanctions imposed against Iran by the United Nations Security Council, saying diplomacy is the best way to ease international concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

Last month, Turkey hosted a second round of negotiations between Iran and world powers to peacefully settle the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, but the meeting ended with the Western nations failing to persuade Iran to dispel fears of covert weapons activity by allowing increased International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring of its nuclear programs. The outcome left the U.N. agency short of the ability to apply all inspecting instruments it says it should have a right to employ.

Iran's enrichment program is of international interest because the process can create both nuclear fuel and fissile nuclear-warhead material. While Iran insists it wants to enrich uranium only to run a nuclear-reactor network, its nuclear secrecy, refusal to accept fuel from abroad and resistance to IAEA efforts to follow up on suspicions of covert experiments with components of a nuclear-weapons program have heightened concerns.

Turkey recently said it would not apply U.S. economic sanctions against Iran, saying it would only respect measures passed by the U.N. Security Council.

Turkish banks are needlessly hindering trade with Iran through excessive caution in enforcing sanctions, Turkish businessmen told Gül, according to an emailed statement from Turkey's Foreign Economic Relations Board, or DEİK, Bloomberg reported.

"Turkish banks aren't providing support for us even in areas where U.S. prohibitions don't apply," Mehmet Koca, general manager of Gübre Fabrikalari A.S., a fertilizer company that is Turkey's largest investor in Iran, told Gül during an official visit to Iran, DEİK said. "There's a lot of business to be done even if we abide by the U.S. embargo."

In an interview carried by Iran's state news agency IRNA on Saturday, Gül said Turkey backs a negotiated settlement to the Islamic republic's nuclear issue. "Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Thus, Iran's nuclear issue should be solved through negotiation and Turkey will continue to facilitate this," he said.

Turkey's improving ties with Iran, coupled with a deep crisis in its relations with longtime ally Israel, have sparked concern that NATO's sole Muslim-majority member is sliding away from the West. Turkey strongly denies any policy shift.



Turkey's foreign minister met his Iranian counterpart and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator on Monday. Ahmet Davutoglu had talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Tehran to set the road map on negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear program. Davutoglu's meetings took place on the sidelines of Turkish President Abdullah Gul's formal visit to the Iranian capital.

During the meeting, Davutoglu discussed with Iranian executives the meeting that took place in Istanbul in January between Iran and P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council including the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany).

Davutoglu also tried to set a new date and place for negotiations during his talks.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the next meeting would probably take place in Istanbul.

Iran and P5+1 countries had a two-day meeting in Istanbul on January 21-22. Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, and Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, headed the meetings.

The first meeting between Iran and P5+1 took place in Geneva, Switzerland in October 2009.



Britain seeks military cooperation with Turkey after a decision to cut its expenses back at home. The Wall Street Journal has claimed that the two countries had signed a cooperation deal which included Turkey's participation in the construction of warship for Britain as well as the training of British helicopter pilots in Turkey. Turkish officers will join programs at Britain Royal War Academy.



Following its submission of its final report to the U.N. panel probing Israel's fatal May 31, 2010, raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Turkey has said it expects the panel to call for Israel to accept the blame for the incident.

"We expect the truth to be revealed and Israel to accept its wrongdoings and apologize," Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomat Mithat Rende, the country's contact point with the United Nations for the inquiries into the attack, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday.

A diplomat familiar with the issue told the Daily News, however, that the U.N. panel cannot take any action against individual countries, as that is not within its mandate. Its findings could, however, lead to action by the U.N. secretary-general.

"The panel cannot do anything other than publish its own findings," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This is a battle in the international arena and both sides interpret the incident from their own perspectives."

Rende said that since the raid occurred, Turkey has called for an impartial, transparent and prompt investigation in compliance with international standards.

On Friday, Turkey presented to the U.N. panel the final version of its national report on Israeli commandos' attack on the Mavi Marmara, which killed eight Turks and one American of Turkish origin. Turkey's report is based on testimonies from more than 100 passengers on the vessel and opinions from Turkish and foreign experts on international law.

Rende told the Daily News that the U.N. panel would convene in February to examine the national reports of Turkey and Israel and then meet again in March, when he and his Israeli counterpart would verbally respond to the panel's questions.

He said it is not yet clear if the panel will hold another meeting after that, a decision that depends entirely on the panel chairman. At the end of the process, the U.N. panel is expected to present a report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

According to Rende, the U.N. panel could recommend the secretary-general make a call to Israel to accept its wrongdoings, which he said would mean the international community considers the Israeli action as "unjust."

The U.N. panel is tasked with reviewing reports of national investigations, requesting clarification and additional information and examining and identifying facts about the incident. "It is important that Israel accepted an international inquiry for the first time in its history, but we'll see what will come out of this investigation," said Rende.

"We want justice to find its place. Our aim is not to slander Israel and its people. We place importance on friendship between our nations, but the Israeli government's actions do not bode well with the history of the two nations," he said.

Some observers closely following the issue have argued that Turkey drafted a final report to address its shortcomings because its first document, submitted to the U.N. panel in September, contained legal weaknesses.

"This is completely untrue," Rende said. "This is not a second report. This is the final version of our interim report. We haven't rewritten it."

He said that was the expectation of the panel, which was supposed to conclude its inquiry in six months. "But the Israelis delayed the process for more than five months," Rende said.

The U.N. panel on the incident is chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, co-chaired by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and includes Israeli representative Joseph Ciechanover and Turkish representative Özdem Sanberk. Israel submitted its national report to the U.N. in January.



A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State has said that U.S. would continue to engage Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

At a daily press briefing, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said: "We will continue to engage Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and see how we can move forward."

When a reporter asked, "Armenia's President Sargsian just said that the normalization process with Turkey is dead, and the U.S. has invested so much work and time on this process. What's the next step you are taking?"

Crowley said: "Well, I mean, there have been – it's been something that we've placed a great deal of emphasis in. The Secretary herself has been fully engaged in this. We've understood for a number of months that there have been obstacles to progress. We will continue to engage Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and see how we can move forward."



Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for an international conference on Egypt during a telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama on February 12. "The functioning of a full democracy in Egypt must be secured in the shortest possible time," Erdogan told Obama. Obama reportedly said in response: "We should begin working for a such a conference. You are the most important figure in the region. I need your opinion. Your remarks will make a big contribution to Egypt," Obama reportedly said.



Constitutional Court President Hasim Kilic said that high court did not do anything other than "sleeping" so far. Kilic said that heads of Supreme Court of Appeals and Council of State did not meet with their members [judges] to handle dossiers.



The Turkish government is set to submit a second package to reform the country's justice system to cut the work load of the first instance courts. The Justice Ministry has completed the draft law and asked for opinion from bar associations and scholars. The draft law includes arrangements that would help resolve legal disputes without resorting to the courts.



The heads of the supreme judiciary expressed their concern Monday that a law approved by the president to reshape the two top courts is unlikely to solve the problems of the judiciary.

"I hope the law will be beneficial. I hope the law will prevent the statute of limitations [from being triggered] on cases [currently being handled by the courts]," Hasan Gerçeker, chief judge at the Supreme Court of Appeals, told reporters. "But we've already expressed our view that the problem can't be overcome by increasing the number of members and departments in the courts."

Gerçeker made the comment in response to Gül's remarks that 200,000 cases could have faced the statute of limitations if he had not approved the bill.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP) announced Monday that they would take the law, which was approved by President Abdullah Gül on Sunday, to the Constitutional Court to seek its annulment.

Gül approved the government-proposed law to reshape the Supreme Court of Appeals and Council of State despite being visited by the two courts' heads Friday to request that he veto the bill and despite calls from the opposition asking him to "think twice" before signing it.

Gerçeker said the bill's measures were temporary solutions to the problem of the statute of limitations for many cases.

"Deep-rooted reforms are needed in the judiciary. Otherwise, it is not possible to solve the judiciary's problems by reducing the number of cases pending at the court," Gerçeker said.

"Priority should be given to the establishment of regional courts of justice. Otherwise, you have to add six other chambers to the court next year in addition to the six departments set up this year," he said.

Gerçeker has argued that once the regional courts are established, there will be no need to expand the departments in the court.

Echoing concerns voiced by Gerçeker, Mustafa Birden, chief judge of the Council of State, said Monday the law would not lessen the load of his court.

The motive behind the law was ostensibly to halt the triggering of the statute of limitations on the backlog of cases pending at the high courts, Birden said, but added that the council did not face such a problem.

Recalling that they prepared a report in 2010 on their proposals to reduce the workload of the council and submitted it to Justice Ministry and the Prime Minister's offce, Birden said: "If our proposals had been taken into consideration, our workload would have been reduced. The [new] law will not lessen our load."

Birden said that while they had conveyed their concerns to Gül, they would now have to implement the law.


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