MILITARY SHOULD GET RID OF ROTTEN APPLES, TURKISH MINISTER SAYS
Turkish State Minister Faruk Celik has said the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) must eliminate any corrupt personnel within its ranks. "I believe that all of our public institutions, primarily the TSK, need to adapt to the post-Cold War era. The TSK must get rid of the rotten apples if it has any, and I believe it has," Celik told reporters when responding to questions over ongoing probes into Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) cases.
U.S. ENVOY'S TOUGH TALK DRAWS TOUGH RESPONSE FROM ISLAMIST OFFICIALS
The new U.S. envoy to Turkey, who criticized Turkey on Tuesday for detaining journalists while saying it supports freedom of speech, has been slammed by ruling party officials for "interfering" in domestic affairs.
"Ambassadors cannot interfere in domestic issues. They have limits," Hüseyin Çelik, the deputy leader and spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, told reporters Wednesday. "Whether this is the U.S. or the Russian ambassador, they have to adhere to the limits."
Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone drew Çelik's ire with comments he made at a reception at his residence late Tuesday, where reporters asked him his opinion about a recent raid on Oda TV, a dissident online news portal.
"Journalists are being detained on the one hand, while speeches about freedom of speech are given on the other. We do not understand this, so we ask you," Ricciardone said, adding that he does "not have full knowledge of the details," but is "following the process closely."
The offices of Oda TV and the homes of its owner, the well-known journalist Soner Yalçın, and several staff members were raided Monday by Istanbul police based on suspected links to the alleged Ergenekon gang, which is accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem.
"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," Ricciardone. "The Turkish people's opinion is important. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are vital for Turkey, the United States and the people of this region."
Ricciardone's words also drew a reaction from Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. envoy "had praised Turkey's democratization process" during a meeting with him Tuesday. "He may have been influenced by the media [coverage]," Arınç said.
Deputy AKP leader Çelik also criticized the journalists' decision to pose such questions to a foreign ambassador. "We have this habit: We ask in-bounds and out-of-bounds questions. And when we get a reply, we ask others why he or she has spoken this way," he said. "OK, but why do you ask questions? I mean, why do you ask questions to irrelevant people?"
CHP supports envoy's observation
The country's main opposition party, however, expressed approval of Ricciardone's statement on press freedom. "The mission of the envoys is to closely follow the developments in the countries they are appointed to and inform their governments. If need be, the ambassadors also express openly their opinions. Is it possible for him not to make any observations when these things are happening?" Osman Korutürk, deputy leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP) told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.
Saying the U.S. envoy's observation is shared by ambassadors from other countries as well, Korutürk added: "We are a candidate country to the European Union. It's very normal for the ambassadors of EU countries and other countries to speak about deficiencies in terms of democracy and human rights."
DO NOT GO BEYOND YOUR AUTHORITIES
The ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) strongly reacted to U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone's comment on Operation Balyoz (Sledgehammer) and raid on offices of news portal Odatv.com. On the other hand, Washington said the United States was backing the ambassador's remarks. Ricciardone had said the United States was watching the Operation Balyoz very closely and it could not understand detention of journalists when Turkey was talking about freedom of press. Deputy AKP Chairman Huseyin Celik said: "Ambassadors cannot intervene in our internal affairs, they have limits. Neither the prime minister nor the president or the chief of general staff should make suggestions to the judiciary. Foreign mission chiefs do not have such an authority."
On the other hand, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley said the United States stood by ambassador's statement. "But as I say, we do have broad concerns about trends involving intimidations of journalists in Turkey," Crowley said. He also said, "Turkey is an ally and friend of the United States. But as we've made clear, anytime that we think that a friend or ally or adversary has crossed a line and – in terms of respect for universal principles, we will not hesitate to raise our voice."
U.S. CABLE EVALUATES TURKISH INVESTMENTS IN EGYPT
U.S. diplomats are closely following Turkey's rush to invest in Egypt, according to a WikiLeaks document leaked by a British newspaper.
The Jan. 12, 2010, cable, revealed by the Daily Telegraph, sent from the Cairo Embassy of the State Department, titled "Turkish investments in Egypt growing fast," notes that Turkish investments in the North African country have tripled in the past few years.
"The favorable outlook by Turkish investors is driven by lower costs of doing business and Egypt's solid market access to the European Union, the United States and countries in Africa and the Middle East," the cable says. "Despite issues with the Egyptian Customs Authority and a publicized dispute over Turkish steel imports, bilateral trade continues to grow at a rapid pace."
However, it also notes that Egypt's policy of providing subsidized energy and strong support for the textile industry "conflicts with [its] long-term goals of moving beyond garment exports and removing subsidies."
The document emphasizes that nearly 250 Turkish companies have been operating in Egypt, with investments totaling $1.5 billion. "[According to estimates,] 40,000 Egyptians are employed in Turkish-owned factories around Cairo and Alexandria," it says, adding that since a free trade deal was signed in 2007, bilateral trade volume has more than doubled, reaching $3 billion as of the end of 2009.
According to a Turkish source named "Şahin" in the WikiLeaks document, large U.S. garment importers, such as The Gap and Target, have recommended that their Turkish suppliers consider relocating to Egypt to take advantage of both market access and lower costs.
"Turkish investors are looking for other sectors in which to invest, such as durable goods," the source was quoted as saying. "Some Turkish companies are looking to invest in glass and electronics factories."
TURKEY SEES CRISIS LOOMING IN EU TALKS, DIPLOMAT SAYS
Turkish-EU ties are headed towards a crisis—unless Brussels fails to make gestures to overcome an impasse in Ankara's struggling membership talks, a senior Turkish diplomat said Tuesday.
If Turkey fails to open a new chapter in the accession talks under the European Union's current Hungarian presidency until July, it would make one year without progress, the diplomat, who asked not to be named, said.
"This will probably lead to some kind of... don't know whether I should say crisis but we've been through many crises with the EU so it has become a common word for us," he told reporters.
"The EU has to wake up... We believe the EU should at least make some kind of gestures towards Turkey," he said.
The diplomat insisted that Turkey would continue to pursue membership despite the difficulties.
"We are stubborn, you may even say masochistic... If the EU finally says 'sorry, we can't have you in' then so be it. But we won't be the one quitting first," he said.
Out of the 35 policy chapters that candidates must negotiate, Turkey has opened talks on only 13 since the accession negotiations began in 2005.
Eight chapters remain frozen as a sanction to Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels under a trade pact with the EU, with France blocking several others in line with its vocal opposition to Turkey's accession.
The diplomat charged that Greek Cypriots have been hampering efforts to resolve the trade row, adding that Ankara did not expect "much to come out" of ongoing talks between Cyprus' Greek and Turkish communities to end the island's 36-year division, which lays at the core of the entangled disputes.
Only three chapters "without political baggage" -- on competition, public procurement and social policy -- remain open for negotiations but they are some of the hardest and are usually discussed at the end of the accession process, he said.
"If there is not going to be any membership in the end, why does Turkey have to change its laws on many things that actually have to be done with membership? ... The bureaucracy does not have the motivation to move ahead," he said.
TURKISH PM SAYS THERE HAS BEEN NO GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE IN COUP TRIAL
Turkey's prime minister on Tuesday rejected allegations by the opposition that his government was trying to silence critics through intimidation after a court ruling jailed 10 percent of the country's generals and admirals on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
An Istanbul court jailed at least 155 officers, including former air force and navy chiefs, so far this week in a long-standing conflict between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's popular government and Turkey's secular establishment, which has long been led by the military. Among the jailed were 30 active generals and admirals who lost their chances for promotion once put behind bars, the Cumhuriyet newspaper reported Tuesday.
Erdogan insisted the courts are independent of the executive branch in Turkey.
"This trial process will answer all questions in the minds of people and strengthen the Turkish Armed Forces further," Erdogan told lawmakers in parliament. "All should respect the judicial process."
Erdogan was responding to criticism by Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Action Party, who accused the government of "portraying itself as the victim of a coup plot ahead of elections."
The ruling Justice and Development Party, which won 46.6 percent of the vote in 2007, is widely expected to win its third consecutive election victory in June.
Since taking power in 2002, Erdogan's party has repeatedly denied that it is trying to impose religion on politics and society. However, secularists view as alarming its attempts to permit Islamic style head scarves at universities, criminalize adultery and restrict alcohol sales.
The main opposition pro-secular Republican People's Party has long accused the government of silencing its critics using flimsy excuses. The Star newspaper on Tuesday said prosecutors believe documents seized during a recent raid to a naval base confirms the officers were planning to create chaos to trigger a coup in a plot dubbed "Sledgehammer."
Prosecutors have separately charged about 400 soldiers, professors, journalists and politicians of forming an alleged network, called Ergenekon, and conspire to overthrow Erdogan's government in a previous case. No one has yet been convicted.
On Monday, the police raided a dissident news website, the Oda TV, and detained its owner, journalist Soner Yalcin, and three colleagues for questioning for alleged links to the Ergenekon network.
Turkish news reports said Oda TV was targeted hours after posting a video that allegedly discredits police investigating the network. Journalists' groups denounced the raid as an attack on press freedom.
OPPOSITION LEADER CRITICIZES TURKEY'S GOVERNMENT
An opposition leader has accused Turkey's Islamic-rooted government of trying to silence its critics by intimidating them.
Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Action Party, cited two examples: a court ruling to detain 10 percent of the country's active duty generals and admirals on charges of plotting to topple the government in 2003, and police raids on a dissident news website this week.
But the government has denied the accusation, saying that courts are independent of the executive in Turkey.
The two events cited by Bahceli are part of a long-standing conflict between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's publicly popular government and the secular establishment in Turkey, which has long been led by the military.
TURKISH OPPOSITION LEADER CONDEMNS WIRETAPPING: REPORT
Turkey's main opposition leader slammed the Islamist-rooted government Wednesday over alleged eavesdropping on his telephones, Anatolia news agency reported.
"My telephones are being wiretapped... my telephone at home, my children's telephones. And they call this an advanced democracy. What can I say?" Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the centre-left Republican People's Party, said, according to Anatolia.
He was reacting to media reports that the police eavesdropped on him as part of a probe into Ergenekon, a purported secularist network that allegedly plotted to foment political unrest and pave the way for a military coup against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The latest stage of the sprawling probe targeted four opposition journalists who were detained Monday, among them Soner Yalcin, a well-known newsman, author and founder of a popular news site, odatv.com.
The Aksam daily Wednesday carried allegations that the investigation file contained wiretaps of conversations between Yalcin and opposition figures, including Kilicdaroglu.
The journalists' detention fuelled accusations that the Ergenekon probe has degenerated into a government-backed campaign to bully the opposition and discredit the military, which has often clashed with the AKP.
Dozens of people, among them soldiers, academics, journalists and politicians, are already on trial under several indictments the investigation has produced since it began in 2007.
The probe has progressed amid massive wiretappings, targeting also senior judges and prosecutors.
OPPOSITION LEADERS AND JOURNALISTS AMONG THE 3,000 ILLEGALLY WIRETAPPED
Cetin Soysal, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said journalists were being illegally subject to wiretaps. Soysal said he had seen the list of more than 3,000 "tapped" people, which includes CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, former CHP leader Deniz Baykal, executives of CHP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), judicial executives, members of security department and journalists.
TURKISH PRIME MINISTER TO MEET TURKISH CYPRIOT COUNTERPART
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to meet with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Irsen Kucuk in capital Ankara on Thursday. The meeting is the first high level contact after tensions were heightened between the two countries due to an anti-Turkey demonstration in the TRNC. The meeting will be held on the request of the Turkish Cypriot leadership.
IRAN WANTS HONORABLE SOLUTION
Turkish President Abdullah Gul made public the content of his meeting with Iran's clergyman Ali Hoseini-Khamenei. Gul said nuclear crisis was brought up in the meeting. "Iran wants to solve this issue in an honorable way, and progress can be made if the West does not make any procedural mistake," he said.
KURDISH FOLK SINGER DECLARES WAR ON PKK
Kurdish folk singer Sivan Perwer has lashed out at the PKK for accusing him of treachery for meeting with Turkish Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc in Germany. "If someone is to be called a traitor, it has to be the one who blames others with treachery. I am the same person now as I was before," Perwer said.
TERRORIST ORGANIZATION PLANNING TO INCREASE VIOLENCE AHEAD OF ELECTIONS
Terrorist organization PKK's secret urban wing KCK is planning to stage demonstrations to foment chaos in the run to the general elections in June, according to intelligence reports. Security officials say the KCK will intensify provocative demonstrations in March. The terrorist organization has followed the same strategy before ahead of elections in 2004, 2007 and in 2009.