FORMER TURKISH PM, AN ISLAMIST, DIES
Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of Turkey's Islamic political movement and a former prime minister, died Sunday at the age of 84 due to multiple organ failure triggered by a protracted illness.
His death came a day before Feb. 28, the date when he was forced by the military in 1997 to step down from the government.
"The world has lost one of its greatest leaders," Yasin Hatipoğlu, a longtime associate of Erbakan, told reporters Sunday at the private Güven Hospital where the prominent Islamist politician had been receiving treatment since early January. Head doctor Tevfik Ali Küçükbaş said Erbakan's death occurred at 11:40 a.m. despite doctors' efforts to keep him alive. The doctor added that the cause of death was multiple organ failure.
As the news broke in the media, thousands of supporters of the man known as "Erbakan Hoca," or "Teacher Erbakan," flocked to the hospital in Ankara and to the headquarters of the Felicity Party (SP), the last political party for which he served as chairman. Erbakan's son Fatih Erbakan and former SP leader Recai Kutan accepted condolences at the party headquarters.
Party officials and family members said Erbakan would be buried in Istanbul on Tuesday after a funeral at the Fatih Mosque. His family rejected proposals for an official ceremony in parliament, a custom applied to all former deputies and ministers. Erbakan served as prime minister between 1996 and 1997.
"He was against flashy ceremonies. He was asking for a modest one," Oğuzhan Asiltürk, an SP party official, told reporters.
"His last message was: 'Work hard. If you do not work hard, you can never save this country,'" said Asiltürk, who had been closely following the treatment process at the hospital. He added that Erbakan was very upset to see the recent turmoil in Islamic countries.
During his time as prime minister, Erbakan's Islamist-led coalition government experienced major tensions with the Turkish military and the country's secular circles. In 1997, the military used an incendiary, anti-secular speech and a play during "Jerusalem Day" festivities in an Ankara suburb as an excuse to send tanks rolling through the area in a show of intimidation. It then forced the elected pro-Islamic government to resign in what became known as the "Feb. 28 process" or the "post-modern coup."
"We are in great sorrow at losing a statesman, a man of politics and science," President Abdullah Gül said in a written statement Sunday. Both Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, along with deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and dozens of other current politicians, were students of Erbakan and introduced to the political arena by him.
"It's no doubt that Necmettin Erbakan, who I had the happiness of working together with for a long time and of knowing closely, has left his mark on our history," Gül said. The president also phoned Fatih Erbakan to express his condolences personally.
"I want to express that we will always gratefully talk about him with his teaching, his fighting personality," Erdoğan said in a speech in Istanbul. "He was a very good example for younger generations with his principles as a human, as a hoca [teacher] and as a leader. Let his place be heaven."
Former Prime Minister and President Süleyman Demirel, a classmate of Erbakan's at Istanbul Technical University, said he was deeply sorry to have lost a schoolmate and friend, and for the country to have lost a statesman. Erbakan had fiercely criticized Demirel in 1997, when the latter was president and played a crucial role in the military's pressure on Erbakan to leave the government.
Tansu Çiller, a coalition partner of Erbakan, told the private channel CNNTürk on Sunday that she was very upset at the loss. "He was a very important political personality. He was persistent and a man of struggle and of faith. But at the same time he was a gentleman," Çiller said, adding that she witnessed his resistance and his faith during the 1997 period.
The main opposition leader also expressed his feelings of sorrow due to the death of Erbakan. "He was one the main figures of Turkish politics. I am deeply sorry for his loss," Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters in Eskişehir on Sunday.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli cut short his election campaign in the Aegean region and returned to Ankara to convey his condolences to Erbakan's family.
Numan Kurtulmuş, the leader of the People's Voice Party, which split off from the SP after Kurtulmuş unsuccessfully challenged Erbakan for the [SP] party leadership, said he was very sorry to hear about his political rival's death. "We have learned a lot from him. He put his mark on political history," Kurtulmuş said, denying there was any resentment over the split.
Even while hospitalized, Erbakan continued to work to prepare his party for the general elections that will take place June 12. He sought to form an alliance with other small political parties such as the Turkey Party run by Abdüllatif Şener, another Erbakan student.
"In my last meeting with him, we discussed possibilities of forming alliances for the elections," Şener told reporters Sunday.
With only three and a half months to go before the polls, the SP will have to rapidly work to elect a new leader for the party. One of the strongest candidates seems to be Erbakan's son Fatih, who is also a member of the party's executive committee.
HAMAS LEADER TO ATTEND FUNERAL OF ERBAKAN
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal will attend former Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's funeral in Istanbul, CNNTürk reported Monday.
Erbakan, one of the pioneers of Turkey's Islamic political movement, died Sunday in Ankara after a prolonged illness. He was 84. Meshaal leads Hamas from exile in Damascus. Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and kicked out Fatah forces after a week of bloody street battles, has refused to recognize President Mahmoud Abbas' authority since his term as president ended in January 2009.
TURKEY A WORLD APART ON LIBYA SANCTIONS
Turkey's large investments in Libya and the ongoing presence of many Turks in the North African country prompted Ankara to oppose UN Security Council-backed sanctions, analysts say.
Turkey's vocal objection to sanctions on Libya fizzled as the U.N. Security Council slapped sweeping sanctions on the country Saturday in response to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's deadly crackdown on ongoing anti-government protests.
The debate over sanctions has set Turkey, which has large investments in Libya and many citizens working there, in opposition to much of the rest of the world.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged the U.N. Security Council not to impose sanctions, warning that the Libyan people, rather than Gadhafi's government, would suffer most.
"The people are already struggling to find food, how will you feed the Libyan people?" Erdoğan asked in a televised speech in Ankara. "Sanctions, an intervention, would force the Libyan people, who are already up against hunger and violence, into a more desperate situation. We call on the international community to act with conscience, justice, laws and universal human values – not out of oil concerns."
Shortly later, the U.N. Security Council, voting 15-0, imposed an arms embargo and urged U.N. member countries to freeze the assets of Gadhafi, four of his sons and a daughter.
The council also backed a travel ban on the Gadhafi family and close associates, including leaders of the revolutionary committees accused of much of the violence against opponents, the Associated Press reported.
Why Turkey opposes sanctions
"Turkey has investments worth over $15 billion in Libya, and thousands of Turkish workers are still stranded in the country. That's why Ankara was very reluctant to join this international action," one Washington-based analyst familiar with the situation told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "The business lobby's concerns have prevailed in determining the Turkish position. The Turkish businesses fear their lucrative contracts with the Gadhafi administration may turn into worthless pieces of paper if or when Gadhafi leaves."
In the first several days after the wave of regional uprisings reached Libya, the United States joined Turkey in pursuing an incremental response. At the time, American officials were concerned about the potential of an oil crisis and were scrambling to find out who might replace Gadhafi.
"But their current hardened position suggests that the Americans are now convinced that Gadhafi is a goner anyway," the Washington-based analyst said.
Even China, a Security Council permanent member with veto-wielding powers, voted for the sanctions resolution, although it is concerned about the global consequences of the protests in the Middle East and North Africa.
"The indiscriminate attacks by Gadhafi's thugs and African mercenaries on the Libyan people became the tipping point for the Security Council resolution," Bülent Aliriza, head of the Turkey Project and a Middle East expert at the Washington-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Daily News.
Council members did not consider imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, and no U.N.-sanctioned military action was planned. NATO also has ruled out any intervention in Libya.
Before the Security Council resolution passed, Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed ways to respond to the Libyan crisis. "The president and the prime minister expressed their deep concern about the Libyan government's use of violence against its people, which is completely unacceptable, and discussed appropriate and effective ways for the international community to immediately respond," the White House said after the conversation late Friday. It made no mention of sanctions in the statement.
In addition to putting it at odds with much of the international community, Turkey's position on Libya also is in sharp contrast with how it dealt with the earlier crisis in Egypt. Turkish leaders were in line with their U.S. counterparts in calling for the exit of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, with some analysts suggesting at the time that Mubarak's Egypt was a rival to Turkey's emerging leadership in the Middle East.
Turkey's regional stances have raised eyebrows in the West before, though. Last June, as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Turkey voted against fresh sanctions on Iran over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.
UNDER ARREST, UP FOR ELECTION: TURKEY'S BDP EYES CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATES
Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party has announced it may back figures with alleged links to an outlawed terrorist group as it seeks to win at least 40 seats in Parliament.
"We will have candidates who are on trial in the KCK [Kurdish Communities Union] case. There are names that we support, and we are getting applications from them too," Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday.
More than 150 people, including 12 elected mayors from the BDP, are on trial in the KCK case, accused of links to the group, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Demirtaş also cautiously hinted that the BDP might consider nominating some figures from the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, where the outlawed PKK has camps.
"We are not enforcing any limitations. And we are not saying that they must be from there. If their legal circumstance permits it, we will consider their applications," he said.
Demirtaş added that the party has "not set aside a quota for those from Makhmour, Habur prison," referring to the Makhmour refugee camp in northern Iraq and the controversial group of returnees who entered Turkey through the Habur border gate in October 2009.
The BDP currently holds 20 seats in parliament, a figure Demirtaş said the party aims to double in the June general elections.
"Our goal is to double the number of our group and reach 40 deputies in parliament. This is a realistic goal for us," he said. "We can have four deputies from Istanbul. We will also have deputies from Adana, Mersin and İzmir for certain. We are also assertive in Bursa, Manisa, Aydın and Kocaeli."
Because the BDP has not met the 10 percent national election threshold for representation in parliament, the party will run in the elections with independent candidates. Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, who were dropped as deputies last year, will return this year, according to Demirtaş. He said the ethnic identities of candidates are not important, and that the BDP treats everyone equally, whether Turkish or Armenian.
No alliance with CHP or MHP
Agreeing with observers who have said the BDP could play a key role in determining the composition of the next Parliament, Demirtaş implied a possible election alliance with the ruling Justice and Development Party. He ruled out, however, making one with either the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) or the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
"Principles are what matter here. We are on the side of freedom and peace in the Kurdish issue. We are on the side of a new constitution that respects different beliefs, identities and gender. We will work together with a party that accepts all of this," the BDP co-chair said. "We will never be with those who claim that we support terror. We will work toward Turkey's future together with organizations that respect our will and demands."
Despite his signals of a possible alliance with the ruling AKP, Demirtaş also expressed his discontent with the ruling party's Kurdish politics, accusing the government of using the PKK's temporary cease-fire as a way to garner votes in the election.
"The end of the cease-fire means war and death. We did our job; the ball is now in the government's court. The government must take a solid step in order for the cease-fire to continue," he said. "The Kurdish issue cannot be solved by calculating votes. It worries us that no solid step has been taken yet. We hope the government puts effort into preserving the cease-fire."
In his comments, Demirtaş also warned that the political outcome of the government ignoring the PKK's and the BDP's demands would be very serious. "Who knows when another cease-fire will be declared? This is why we are worried," he said. "The cease-fire must not end, and the government must be braver."
'Hurtful' politics against the BDP
Vote-gaining tactics used by the government and many political parties under the name of a "Kurdish initiative" are "hurtful," according to Demirtaş.
"It's like the Kurdish people are sick and need treatment, like it is wrong to vote for the BDP. This view is wrong," he said. "All parties, including the AKP, that use the initiative to get votes from Kurdish people have failed." He added that parties must take Kurdish people's innate rights into consideration when making politics.
The CHP's approach to the Kurdish issue is "timid," according to Demirtaş, but he allowed that the current main opposition chief, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, is being more proactive on this subject than former leader Deniz Baykal.
"There is a pursuit, a change in the CHP, but they have just begun. There was no pursuit during Baykal's term, that is the only difference," the BDP co-chief said. He added that the social democrat approach taken by Kılıçdaroğlu instead of an ethnic- or religious-based view, is what "ended the CHP" in the Southeast Anatolia region.
"It is a hurtful approach. It is hurtful to see people voting for the BDP as dangerous. What ended the CHP was its lack of respect for the people of the region. This is what ended the AKP too," Demirtaş said.
BDP to take action on mass graves
Demirtaş told the Daily News that the BDP is planning a series of activities to raise public awareness about the region's biggest problem, mass graves and unidentified murders, and criticized the government for not taking steps to resolve the matter.
"We go to a mass grave at least once a week and make statements," he said, adding that the government had failed in investigating the many mass graves in the area – 114 in Hakkari, 100 in Bitlis and another 100 in the Cizre-Nusaybin-Silopi region.
"The prime minister has yet to say a single word on the matter. The prime minister's only concern is votes. If public opinion formed [to address the issue], he would say, 'Let's meet with the families.' He is a pragmatist like that," Demirtaş said.
TURKISH PM SLAMS GERMAN 'XENOPHOBIA,' COMPARES "ISLAMOPHOBIA" TO ANTI-SEMETISM
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday criticized "xenophobia" in Germany as he urged Turkish workers there to integrate [assimilate] into German society, but without abandoning their own culture.
"We are following xenophobia in some European countries, primarily Germany, with great concern. ... We urge politicians and especially the media ... not to fan it," he told a crowd of Turkish immigrants in the western German city of Dusseldorf, in a speech aired on Turkish television.
"Islamophobia is a crime against humanity as much as anti-Semitism is," Erdoğan said.
Germany is home to 2.5 million Turks, mostly workers living in often closed communities, frequently under fire for a poor integration record despite having settled in the country decades ago.
A German central banker sparked a controversy last year when he said that poorly educated and unproductive Muslim immigrants made Germany "more stupid."
"I want everybody to learn German and get the best education. ... I want Turks to be present at all levels in Germany - in the administration, in politics, in civil society," Erdoğan told the crowd.
"Yes to integration. ... But no to assimilation. ... No one can tear us from our culture," he said.
Erdoğan's remarks were similar to controversial comments he made in nearby Cologne in 2008 that assimilation, which he defined as a person being "forced" to abandon their culture, was a "crime against humanity."
Erdoğan said Turkey would issue special documents — "blue cards" — for Turks who abandon their Turkish citizenship in favor of German nationality, a procedure required under German law.
"We will recognize the blue card as an identity document and make it easier for you to make transactions at government offices and banks" in Turkey, he said.
On Monday, Erdoğan was to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover, where the two will jointly open a technology fair.
Germany, together with France, opposes Turkey's bid to join the European Union and advocates a special partnership for the sizable mainly Muslim nation, an idea Ankara flatly rejects.
Speaking in Istanbul before his departure to Germany, Erdoğan reiterated frustration over the sluggish pace of his country's accession talks, which face the risk of grinding to a halt.
"If they do not want Turkey in, they should say this openly ... and then we will mind our own business and will not bother them," Erdoğan said.
"But there is a lot we can give the EU and the EU has a lot to give Turkey. ... We want to work on in solidarity," he added.
Out of the 35 policy chapters that candidates must negotiate, Turkey has opened talks on only 13 since the negotiations began in 2005.
Eight chapters remain frozen as a sanction for Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels under a trade pact with the EU, with France and Greek Cyprus blocking several others.
If Turkey fails to open a new chapter in the accession talks by July, it would make one year without progress.