U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Riccardone held a reception last night to meet prominent people in Ankara. Asked about Sledgehammer case, he said: "We are watching very carefully and closely. We expect the trial period to be transparent and in accordance with the law." He said he did not understand how Turkish journalists could be detained while at the same time public speeches about freedom of expression are made.

Regarding the recent raid on news web portal Oda TV, which is a staunch critic of the current government, Ricciardone said he did not know about the charges against the site or any details about the matter.

"Turkey wants a free press. Turkish people want a critical press, even if it is a dissident one. The opposition parties and the government say they support freedom of the press. We are following the process closely. Journalists are being detained on the one hand, while addresses about freedom of the speech are given on the other. We do not understand this. The Turkish people's opinion is important. But freedom of the press and freedom of speech are vital for Turkey, the United States and the people of this region," Ricciardone said.



The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) replied to remarks by attorneys of several suspects who claimed that the latest decision to arrest 163 soldiers in "Sledgehammer" case came after the judges in charge were changed. The board's deputy head Ahmet Hamsici said the place of duty [where judges are based]of the judges of 10th and 14th High Criminal Courts had been changed due to "bribery" claims, not in connection with the "Sledgehammer" case.



Commenting on the developments regarding the Ergenekon case, Republican People's Party (CHP) chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that the case had been ongoing for 3 years and detentions continued.

Pointing to the people who had been arrested as part of the case for being a member of a terrorist organization, Kılıçdaroğlu said: "So you can become a member of this organization anytime you want. I wonder where this organization is. I will go and become a member."



Press organizations and journalists have reacted harshly against a police raid on the headquarters of Oda TV, a website that is known for being a fierce critic of government policies.

The website's office in Istanbul and the home of Soner Yalçın, a well-known journalist who runs the site, was searched for nearly half a day on Monday by security forces. Yalcin and three other journalists are currently in custody on suspicions of alleged links to the Ergenekon gang.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, journalists said the move is "an effort to intimidate" and apply political pressure against government critics.

"Oda TV's line is obvious. It is a staunch critic of the government. The operations [against it] are ideological and a reflection of political pressure against [government] dissidents," Ahmet Abakay, president of the Contemporary Journalists Association, or ÇGD, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

"This new wave of arrests is ... a threat not only to Oda TV but to all media members and will likely result in self-censorship [of future criticism of the government]," Abakay said.

The police raid of the news website, a fierce critic of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), further fueled debate on freedom of the press in Turkey amid the ongoing detention of journalists Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, both critics of the government who have been accused of having links with the alleged Ergenekon gang. Their detention is being interpreted, in many circles, as the suppression of dissidents by the AKP.

On Monday, police raided the Istanbul headquarters of the web portal, the house of Soner Yalçın, a daily Hürriyet columnist and the founder of Oda TV, and the homes of the website's editors, also taking them into custody based on suspected links to the same gang.

According to Oda TV, the move came hours after the web portal posted a video claiming that the police investigating the Ergenekon case have been trained by Americans and that the ammunition found in Ankara's Zir Valley, during the investigation, was planted by police. ÇGD President Abakay attributed political motives to the timing of the raids, saying they came after the government launched a series of initiatives to reshape and politicize the judiciary.

The operations reflect political pressure against the media, said Press Council Chairman Orhan Birgit. The council wrote on its website that the move appeared to be an extension of the existing intolerance toward critical broadcasts and created an impression that the arrests took place against the activities of a media organization that often opposes the government.

Nazlı Ilıcak, a columnist for pro-government daily Sabah, described the Press Council's move as "impertinence" in her column Monday. "While there is a widespread belief that the ruling party is threatening its opponents using the Ergenekon case, the raid of Oda TV is wrong," Ilıcak wrote.

"Oda TV is a dissident Internet site that belongs to Soner Yalçın. Let's assume that it has or had links with the Ergenekon gang. The Ergenekon probe started in 2007. Do those who conducted the raid think that Ergenekon documents have been stored at Oda TV since 2007?" she asked.

The Ergenekon case started in June 2007 with the discovery of 27 hand grenades in a shanty house belonging to a retired noncommissioned officer. The finding has led to scores of arrests and put nearly 200 journalists, writers, military personnel, gang leaders, scholars, businessmen and politicians in detention. In the later stages of the investigation, those in custody have been accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem.

'Move a violation of press freedom'

The raids violated the freedom of the press, said Ercan İpekçi, president of the Turkish Journalists Union. "I have difficulty understanding the reason behind the operation. It is the duty of journalists to disclose the truth to the public and Oda TV's activities are no more than that," İpekçi said.

"Freedom of the press is safeguarded by the Constitution and the European Court of Human Rights. But the move contradicts with what both have said about freedom of the press," he added. "What journalists do is create discussion and offer readers a different point of view on topics. They lack the power to influence the judiciary with their pens; it is those who hold the sources of public opinion that have the power to affect the judiciary with their statements."

Cüneyt Özdemir, a columnist for daily Radikal and a former partner of Yalçın in his old TV business, also criticized the raid on Oda TV. "If [authorities] arrest Soner Yalçın or others and raid their homes and offices just because [they are] uncomfortable with their journalism, or if one stays silent about all these raids because one is scared to death, then shame on all of us," Özdemir wrote Tuesday.



While chatting with Turkish reporters accompanying him during his visit to Iran, Turkish President Abdullah Gül received the news that mobile phones and the Internet had been cut due to the demonstrations in Tehran. Commenting on the issue, Gül said telephone lines might be cut, but the TV showed everything.

"The biggest problems in totalitarian regimes are injustice, corruption, lack of accountability and underuse of resources," Gül noted.

"Countries in the region experience such incidents as none of them has an audit mechanism concerning these principles," he also said.



U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has selected Marc Grossman, a former ambassador to Turkey, as Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, State Department officials said Tuesday.

Grossman, a top retired official at the State Department, will be replacing Richard Holbrooke, known as the "architect of the Bosnian peace," who unexpectedly died in December of a torn aorta.

Clinton is expected to officially announce Grossman's appointment during a major speech on Afghanistan and Pakistan later this week. She met with the diplomat at the State Department on Monday, where he was informally introduced to Holbrooke's staff.

"Grossman is a very pragmatic and flexible diplomat. As his career shows, he can easily work with both Democratic and Republican administrations," a Washington political insider told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday on condition of anonymity. "He is a good technocrat, but will face daunting tasks in his new job."

In Afghanistan, Grossman is expected to oversee U.S. efforts toward a political settlement, including potential negotiations with the Taliban. The United States also plans to begin to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan this summer.

In Pakistan, a key partner with which the United States' ties have plummeted to their lowest state in years, Grossman will likely face challenges. Authorities in the country have arrested an American official in the killing of two Pakistanis, a move the United States has protested, saying it violates the official's diplomatic immunity.

Roles in Pakistan and Turkey

Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1951, Grossman graduated from the University of California in Santa Barbara, and later received a master's of science degree in international relations from the London School of Economics.

He served at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, between 1976 and 1983 and then as deputy chief of mission at the Ankara embassy from 1989 to 1992. Following a job in Washington, he returned to Ankara as ambassador in 1994 and served until 1997. Frank Ricciardone, the present U.S. ambassador to Ankara, was deputy chief of mission under Grossman.

The later part of Grossman's tenure in Ankara coincided with major tensions between the Islamist-led coalition government of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and the Turkish military. In 1997, he was replaced by Mark Parris as ambassador to Ankara, and went back to Washington to become assistant secretary of state for European affairs in the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton. He remained in that job until 2000.

Grossman played a lead role in orchestrating NATO's 1999 Washington summit, marking the alliance's 50th anniversary, and helped direct U.S. participation in NATO's military campaign in Kosovo that same year.

Iraq war

After Republican George W. Bush won the presidential elections in 2000, Grossman was appointed undersecretary of state for political affairs, the department's third-ranking post, in 2001. He served there until his retirement in 2005.

In late 2002, shortly after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the general elections in Turkey. Grossman and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz jointly visited Ankara to lobby for Turkish help in the planned Iraq war.

In a television interview March 2, 2003, one day after the Turkish Parliament declined to allow U.S. forces to use Turkish territory as a second front in the upcoming war with Iraq, Grossman became the first senior U.S. official to voice Washington's "deep disappointment" with Ankara's move.


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