'THANKS, BUT WE'LL MAKE OUR OWN MODEL,' TUNISIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS
Holding up Turkey as a model would not be the right approach for Tunisia, which seeks a democracy of its own, a key opposition leader who is seen as a future president of that country, said Monday.
"The Islamic party in Tunisia looks at the ruling Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a model, but Tunisia doesn't want to follow a model, we want to construct our own democracy," Ahmed Nejib Chebbi told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview after speaking at a roundtable discussion organized by Turkish Policy Quarterly magazine.
"Tunisian society is very sympathic towards Turkey, not just historically, but also because of its economic success and because of the new role that Turkey is playing in the international scene," Chebbi said, as his country paves the way to a new constitutional assembly in June.
The whole world follows Turkey's political agenda "because people want to see the reconciliation between political Islam and democracy," said the opposition movement leader, who is in Turkey to attend the Leaders of Change Summit being held in Istanbul on Monday and Tuesday. "Turkey's accession process to the European Union is very important for the other states in the region to see," Chebbi added.
"The process of integrating with the EU greatly helped Turkey in reforming its state institutions, however some European countries say Turkey is not European and they don't want to be neighbors with Syria and Iran," he said. "This is the wrong attitude and I would like to see Turkey as a part of Europe. This would bring Turkey, and the whole region, stability and peace."
'Tunisia is not secular'
Describing Tunisia as "a country that has a secular mentality" with a long history of modernity over more than 150 years, Chebbi added: "Tunisia is not a secular country. In our constitution it is written that we are an Arab and Islamic state, but we are not governed by religious law, we are governed by the rule of law. Women gained their freedom in many areas in 1956; we have a secular mentality in our society."
Chebbi said Islamic parties are not something to be feared in Tunisia. "I don't think Tunisia is subject to the fear of Islamism. Islamic parties are part of our political spectrum," he said. "They were banned from the political arena for a long time, for more than 20 years. Now they are free and they are in the recovery process. They will take part in the political democratic framework like the other parties."
Tunisia today is a free country where freedom to demonstrate and freedom of expression exist, Chebbi said. "There are 50 political parties right now, and thousands of social communities everywhere in the country," he added. Since the first spark of the revolution was ignited in Tunisia, it has been very important for the country to build free elections and democratic institutions, Chebbi said.
"We are proud to be the first country to succeed in this revolution, but there are many challenges," he said. "We made the first step. If we succeed in building the country and if we can manage to conduct free elections, then we can be an example for the other Arab countries in the region where revolts take place."
Chebbi also said social media played an important role in the Tunisian revolution.
"We, as Tunisians, knew that something would happen to topple the despotic government and that day came with the young generation," he said. "Facebook and other social networks have played a big role; in the end everything has developed just in four weeks."
TURKISH JUSTICE MINISTRY DENIES PERMISSION FOR ARTICLE 301 TRIAL AGAINST AVCI
The Turkish Justice Ministry has refused a request from Interior Ministry inspectors that jailed former police chief Hanefi Avcı be tried for "insulting the state of the Turkish republic" in statements he made in his book.
Avcı has been in the media spotlight since publishing a book last year titled "Haliç'te Yaşayan Simonlar: Dün Devlet Bugün Cemaat" ("Devotee" Residents of Haliç: Yesterday State, Today Religious Community), which alleges that the religious Gülen community has covertly taken control of the state.
The former police chief was arrested following the book's publication for alleged contacts with the outlawed Revolutionary Headquarters, a leftist organization. Prior to the publication of the book, Avcı was considered to be close to the Gülen community and was on record as saying that he had fought against leftists throughout his career.
The request for Avcı to be tried under Article 301, which criminalizes insulting the Turkish state or Turkishness, was based on his recent book, which alleged that there are a number of links between the Fethullah Gülen community and the country's police force. The authority to try people under that article requires the Justice Ministry's permission. The ministry ruled Avcı's book fell within the scope of freedom of thought and speech.
Many authors and intellectuals, including the assassinated Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink were sentenced under Article 301 for their published works before its practice was limited to the ministry's authority. However, a claim that Avcı had "praised members of a terrorist organization" was separated from the demand as a different file and sent to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's office for examination.
TURKISH PM: LEADERS DEAF TO CHANGE WILL BE DEFEATED
Addressing the opening of Leaders of Change Summit 2011, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "leaders should read well the changes in the society."
In reply to statements criticizing freedom of press in Turkey, Erdogan said, "those that could not be written, spoken and discussed previously. Now [these comments] are on the [public] agenda with the bold steps we have taken."
TURKISH PRIME MINISTER CITES SYSTEMATIC CAMPAIGN TO HOLD TURKEY'S REFORM DRIVE BACK
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected what he described as "a systematic campaign to besmirch Turkey" through unsubstantiated discussions over freedom of press in the country. Speaking at "the Leaders of Change Summit" in Istanbul, Erdogan said others are trying to cast "a veil of shadow over Turkey's transition and reform movement."
TURKISH MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS ADDRESSES "LEADERS OF CHANGE SUMMIT"
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu delivered a speech on Monday at "the Leaders of Change Summit" in Istanbul. "We would like to see the borders in the Balkans and the Middle East are removed. We want the peoples of these regions to live together as they did in the past," Davutoglu said. He described change in the Middle East as "the return of history to its natural course." [In Ottoman times, Turkey ruled the Balkans and large parts of the Middle East.]
TURKISH PM OPPOSES NATO INTERVENTION IN LIBYA
Foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan convened in Paris on Monday and assessed possible intervention and a flight ban on Libya. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking in Ankara, said, "We consider any NATO intervention in Libya extremely useless and furthermore dangerous." Prime Minister Erdogan also suggested that Libyan leaders appoint someone who has the support of the Libyan people in Khadafi's place.
OPPOSITION LEADER SENDS LETTER TO PM ASKING FOR PROBE INTO CORRUPTION
The leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Monday sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan asking the premier to launch an investigation into corruption allegations in the Metropolitan Municipality of the central province of Kayseri. Kilicdaroglu also sent a ledger book belonging to an alleged suspect which he said included bribe accounts.
CHP'S NEW PROJECT FOCUSES ON 'CIVIL SOCIETY REVOLUTION'
Turkey's social democrat opposition party has launched a fresh campaign to shift its pro-army image to that of a pro-society one through a new civil society policy, without totally rejecting the role of religious communities.
"The Republican People's Party [CHP] has accomplished three main revolutions: It founded the Republic, it allowed the multiple party system and it brought social democracy to Turkey. Now we are ready to introduce a fourth one: Turkey will be a liberal democracy under CHP rule," Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Monday at a meeting with a small group of journalists. Accompanied by deputy leaders Sencer Ayata and Umut Oran, Kılıçdaroğlu unveiled the details of the policy, titled "Free People, Brotherly Life."
"We are committed to changing the consensus of 'strong state-weak society.'" The contrary will work," Kılıçdaroğlu said. "The state can only be strong with the existence of a strong civil society."
This groundbreaking policy introduced by the CHP aims at strengthening the civil society in Turkey, placing "the free individual in its center." "In order to secure the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, oppressive state acts should be ended. That's why the implementation of liberal democracy is a must," Ayata said, adding that they aimed at renewing the state-society relations.
The 30-page report firstly notes the CHP's philosophy about how they see the ideal civil society. It should neither be under the guidance of the state nor oppressive communities, the report reads, underlining that civil society is the real basis for the development of democracy. It also touches on its role of social solidarity and that role as a driving force for human development. Analyzing the current state of civil society in the second part, the report suggests ways to overcome hurdles before developing the civil society.
"The 'Family Insurance' project is among the pillars of this report. It ensures an economic independence for the people, an essential part of a healthy civil society. This will be followed by our economic program. Altogether this will make a comprehensive approach to the country's current problems," Kılıçdaroğlu said. The economic program will envisage a 7% annual growth rate for all of Turkey, and 9.5% for the least developed East and Southeast Anatolia regions.
Among the proposals the CHP makes for a stronger civil society are the removal of bureaucratic obstacles, establishing centers for the use by private organizations and providing more public funds. Religious communities are not to be banned. Religious communities play an important role in Turkey, often triggering questions on their relations to the political parties, especially the pro-Islamic ones. In his most comprehensive statement on how he sees religious communities, Kılıçdaroğlu preferred to use cautious and balanced language.
"No one can ban groups who come together to celebrate their moral values and they should not be banned. The problem begins if they become the backyards of the political parties," Kılıçdaroğlu said. For Kılıçdaroğlu, the main problem in this regard is the fact that politics transfers some financial resources to these groups through state tenders. "This is how these groups are becoming the backyard of politics."
But the main remedy he suggests for the solution of this problem is "leaving it to time." "They have returned more powerful whenever they have been prohibited. The society will surely realize the difference when they are left free. With the development of a genuine civil society, the people will realize," he said.
"The faiths have their own nature; politics can be changed but the faiths do not. That's why we believe that even these religious communities should put a distance between themselves and political parties."
Who is pro-status quo?
Complaining of a wide perception that his party is stuck on the status quo while the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is pro-change, Kılıçdaroğlu recalled that a number of reform proposals made by the CHP were not embraced by the ruling party. Among the CHP's suggestions dismissed by the AKP were "decreasing the 10% national election threshold; removing the articles that are seen as the legal basis of the military's intervention; identifying constitutional articles that limit freedoms and amending them; and removing all political immunities from politicians, bureaucrats, etc. In fact, this is the AKP which defends the status quo," he said.
For Kılıçdaroğlu, the AKP government's suppression of journalists and civil society organizations (like the Support for Contemporary Living Association (ÇYDD), and other organizations that do not take the AKP's side) are the best examples of "oppressive state acts."
"If journalists feel the need to take to the streets, you can no longer talk about democracy in that country," he said. These violations of human rights, he said, are being seen clearly by the European Union, the United States and the Turkish people.
U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY SAYS THE USA CONSIDERS MORE TRADE WITH TURKEY
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke has said a U.S. commerce coordination body had designated Turkey as " a market of priority," adding the U.S. government sought more business deals with the country.
"We need to do more to help deepen further our already strong relations. The Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee has assigned Turkey as a market of priority. We plan to send to Turkey two trade mission groups to devise ways to boost deals in oil and gas as well as in renewable energy," Locke told a Washington meeting co-hosted by the Confederation of Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists and the Washington-based think-tank, Center for American Progress.
Locke said the Turkish-U.S. cooperation in economic relations had a growing importance, adding trade volume increased in 2010 by 40% over a year earlier to hit a record high of $15 billion.
Locke recalled that in 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched the Strategic, Economic and Commercial Cooperation Mechanism, which he said is a powerful device to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.
The U.S. secretary said the Obama administration worked hard to help Turkey achieve its goals in the area of renewable energy. "The U.S. Department of Energy is working on a 'Near-Zero-Zone' project to assist Turkey to make progress in energy efficiency," Locke said.
PARTNERSHIP SIGNATURE WITH WORLD GIANT IN GAS
Turkey signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Qatar, the biggest liquified-natural gas exporter of the world. Under the memorandum, Turkey will carry out joint exploration and production projects in Qatar. Gas shipments will be made from Qatar to Turkey and in parallel with the agreement, a liquified-natural gas will be established in Turkey.
NO PRISON SENTENCE FOR KURDISH POSTERS
Political candidates could conduct election propaganda in the Kurdish language in preparation for the elections of June 12 in Turkey. In the past, those making political statements in the Kurdish language were punished with prison sentences.