SECULARISM TO BE RE-DEFINED
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) wants the principle of secularism to be clearly defined in the preamble of the new draft constitution. The CHP contends that different definitions of secularism have caused chaos and misunderstanding and that the principle of secularism is the main guarantee of democracy and contemporary life. "None of Turkey's problems can be solved by making concessions to the principle of secularism."
BABACAN SAYS CENTRAL BANK'S DECISION ON RESERVE REQUIREMENT IS "TIMELY"
Turkish Economy Minister Ali Babacan has expressed support for a decision by the Turkish Central Bank to increase the level of reserves that banks must keep on deposit with the Turkish Central Bank, saying however that the move could cause a hike in loan rates.
"There are measures that need to be taken at the right time and at the right place; otherwise they would prove useless. I believe the decision of the Central Bank is utterly timely and it is right on the mark. Most of us did not expect such a move though," Babacan told reporters.
Babacan said the increase in reserve requirements might impose additional costs on banks, which he said would drive up their loan rates.
REFRAIN FROM OUR IMITATIONS
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to Republican People's Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu who said, "The Justice & Development Party (AKP) panicked against our proposals."
Erdogan said: "They have started to imitate us. Refrain from the imitations."
Reacting against the Peace & Democracy Party (BDP), Erdogan said: "they say civil disobedience. How can you say civil? They are against violence, but they use violence. They say human rights, but they put pressure and threaten authors and artists."
ONLY THE VIEW OF TWO PROFESSORS
The Turkish Industrialists' & Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD) released a statement on Sunday to respond to criticisms about its studies of the new constitution.
"TUSIAD never had any views or proposals to amend the unchangeable articles of the constitution, neither in the past, nor now."
It was also said that this was the personal assessment of Prof. Ergun Ozbudun and Prof. Turgut Tarhanli.
Those whose grandfathers had been martyred in Tripoli applied to the Turkish Armed Forces, voluntering to go to Libya. The volunteers said: "Others want to go there for occupation, but we want to go there for assistance."
The Turkish Armed Forces has started to assess the requests of those who want to go to Tripoli voluntarily.
U.S. REFUSES TO HELP PROSECUTE PREMIER CARICATURE IN TURKEY
The U.S. Department of Justice has refused to extend technical assistance to a Turkish prosecutor probing a caricature of the Turkish premier. The Trabzon prosecutor asked the U.S. Justice Department for access to information of the IP numbers of the owners of e-mail accounts that appeared on the flyers handed out during a protest in a Trabzon university last year.
The Justice Department denied help saying that the act was protected by the U.S. Constitution under freedom of expression.
TURKISH PRIME MINISTER ERDOGAN TALKS WITH SYRIA'S ASSAD
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a telephone conversation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday to express his support for the leader of Turkey's neighbor and warn him of the image of security officials using force against the Syrian people.
The Syrian president reassured Erdoğan of his decision to make reforms; however, he complained that there were circles whose aim was to stir up trouble rather than protest for reforms, Prime Ministry officials told Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review on Sunday.
Welcoming Assad's decision to institute reforms, Erdoğan urged his Syrian counterpart to implement social and economic reforms posthaste. People should implement concrete reforms as soon as possible, Erdoğan told Assad.
The Turkish prime minister drew attention to the pictures of Syrian security officials' intervention in protests and warned against the confrontational image of police, officials said.
Prime Ministry officials recalled that Erdoğan urged Assad to implement urgent reforms during his visit to Aleppo in February. Erdoğan said last week he had spoken to Assad during his last visit to Syria about the upheaval in the Arab world and had urged him to find a more democratic path.
The telephone call, a gesture to anti-government protesters in Syria, came after the Turkish Foreign Ministry's statement on Friday urging the Syrian administration to conduct reform as soon as possible in the face of growing unrest.
"We welcome the statements of Syrian officials on starting work for reform on social and economic issues to meet the Syrian people's legitimate demands and expectations," the statement said. It called for the completion of necessary work immediately and the implementation of decisions without losing time.
Turkey was ready to contribute to the reform process, the statement said. Syria has not asked for support over their reform process, Prime Ministry officials said.
The demonstrations began this month in Damascus but have been largely contained in the capital. On Friday protests erupted in other Syrian cities in support of protests in the city of Daraa.
Relations between Turkey and Syria have improved markedly since the Justice and Development Party (AKP), came to power. Turkey is boosting its relationships with its Arab-Muslim neighbors, among whom Syria is clearly a key state.
REGIONAL TURMOIL OPENS NEW CHANNELS IN TURKEY-EU TIES
Regional leaders and figures at the 'Brussels Forum' this weekend highlighted the roles Turkey can play in the changes sweeping through the countries to the south and east. While some participants rehashed familiar criticisms of Turkey, others noted the strategic value of the country's historic relationships.
As upheaval continues to sweep through the countries to the east and south of Turkey, a new relationship appears to be emerging to the west, in and among the countries so often antagonistic to Turkey's stalled European Union aspirations.
The final day of a three-day conference of senior EU political, diplomatic and academic leaders, the "Brussels Forum," sponsored by the German Marshall Fund, offered a glimpse of shifting relations – if not yet a clear picture.
The unfolding weekend violence in Syria dictates that Europe's crisis managers focused on Libya and other Arab countries immediately engage Turkey, said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a German member of the European Parliament.
Lambsdorff added he was "flabbergasted that Turkey was not invited" to early planning meetings of the still-unfocused operation to protect Libyan rebels, to which Turkey joined late and reluctantly but has committed not only a flotilla of ships but an air base in İzmir as well.
On the same Libya-focused panel was Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who seconded the critical role of Turkey. "The Turks have been engaged at high levels in Syria in recent weeks," Bildt told the gathering, saying they will certainly be asked to do more.
The meetings, which included Turkey's EU negotiator Egemen Bağış, also demonstrated that all problems with the EU are not going to disappear. Lambsdorff, the EU's Director General for Enlargement Michael Leigh and others criticized Turkey over familiar areas. Those included its resistance to open ports to Greek Cyprus, slowing commitment to EU reforms and continuing assaults on press freedom and arrests of journalists, explanations for which "strain plausibility," Leigh said.
Bağış gave oft-repeated answers, including the government's standard claim that journalist arrests are a function of an independent judiciary over which neither the government nor the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has authority.
But those issues faded behind Turkey's growing profile and its assets that can help solve the region's increasing turmoil, which most recently spread to Syria, on Turkey's border. Bağış noted that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as recently as Saturday night and stands ready to play a greater role.
He noted Turkey's years of policing for NATO forces in Afghanistan without a single casualty. "We know how to communicate to the people in the region," he said. He went on to lecture the gathering about how "the dynamics of the growing revolts in Arab countries are in many ways inspired by Turkey's democratic example, and said the EU has a responsibility to better treat the "source of that inspiration," namely Turkey. "We are the most Western country in the East and the most Eastern country in the West," Bağış said. Others quickly picked up on his argument: Europe and the United States should not ask if Turkey's axis has shifted or if it can be a model, said Robert Wexler, a former U.S. congressman who now heads the Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. "That's not the question," Wexler said. "The question should be, 'How do we as Americans take advantage of Turkey's historical relationships?'"
Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the German parliament, said Turkey's engagement in recent years, as known "zero problems with neighbors," is squarely in conformity with Turkey's duties as an EU candidate. "The zero problem policy is in accordance with EU demands," Polenz said. "There should be no suspicions of Turkey's motives."
Leigh said the obvious mood in Turkey is that "if you don't want us, we have other options." In the face of that mood, both sides need to work together, but the EU needs to work hardest, he suggested. Switching to the topic of the Balkans, where Bosnia continues to bedevil European policy-makers, he said: "I don't think we are going to get to a solution of Bosnian governance without Turkey."
Bağış made it clear that Turkey is more than willing to be helpful, but expects more consultations and respect. He noted Turkey's early exclusion from NATO's planning on Libya, the lack of leadership from Brussels to break the Cyprus deadlock and Turkey's exclusion in recent years from meetings of the EU Council of Ministers.
"We have 500 years of history in the region," Bağış said, noting the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, studied in today's Macedonia and later served in today's Libya, all then part of Ottoman Turkey. "If Europe wants to have influence in this part of the world," he said, "Turkey wants to be heard." At least on Sunday, at a forum in a Brussels hotel, Turkey was.
KURD-TURKMEN TALKS TOP TURKEY-IRAQ AGENDA
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit Iraq and attempt to broker talks between ethnic Turkmen and Kurds over their rival claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a Turkmen politician said on Sunday.
"Turkey is pressuring us to narrow our differences with the Kurds" over Kirkuk, said Saadeddin Arkij, head of Iraq's Turkmen Front, the largest political party representing the country's Turkmen minority.
Erdogan arrives on Monday for a two-day visit to Iraq, during which he will also visit the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, becoming the first Turkish prime minister to do so.
"One of the aims of the visit is to try and narrow the gap between Turkmen and Kurds, but it is not yet certain what measures he will take," Arkij said, adding that Turkmen politicians and MPs had been invited to visit the Turkish embassy in Baghdad during Erdogan's trip.
The principal dispute between the Kurds and Turkmen is over the oil hub of Kirkuk, which has a mixed Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen population and is claimed by all three groups.
The governor of Kirkuk province and the head of its provincial council, who officially report to the Arab-led central government in Baghdad, quit earlier this month, complaining it was impossible to govern because of the competing claims.
Kirkuk province is one of a number of territories that the Kurds want to incorporate in their autonomous region in the north. The fight against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has rear-bases in the border area, will be discussed during Erdogan's visit, the sources in Ankara said.
Turkey has repeatedly accused the Iraqi Kurds of turning a blind eye to activity within Iraq by the PKK but their leaders have been careful not to anger the larger neighbor.
Turkish firms provide some 80 percent of the region's food and clothes, and trade rose 30 percent between 2008 and 2009. Overall Iraq-Turkish trade, much of which passes through Kurdistan, amounted to seven billion dollars in 2009.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a delegation of businessmen are to accompany Erdogan.
TURKEY'S DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TRAVELS TO IRAN
Turkey's State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc travelled to Iran early on Sunday to attend the Second International Nevruz Festival.
Before flying to Tehran, Arinc said he would propose to host the World Nevruz Festival in Turkey in 2012. Arinc said he was planning to meet Iranian President Mahmut Ahmadi-Nejad and Supreme Leader Ali Hoseini-Khamenei.
Deputy Premier Arinc will return to Turkey on March 29.
TURKEY'S PRESIDENT CALLS HIS AFRICA VISIT 'FRUITFUL'
President Abdullah Gul said on Saturday his fourth visit to Africa was fruitful and successful regarding Turkey's strategies.
"We have signed political, economic and military agreements," Gul told a press conference at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport as he returned from his tour of Ghana and Gabon.
Gul said infrastructure and housing investments were important in Ghana and Gabon, and those countries are rich in mines.
"I am glad to learn that our companies interested in mining have made significant pre-agreements during this visit," Gul also said.
President Gul met President John Evans Atta Mills of Ghana in Accra, the first stop of his tour, and inaugurated Turkish embassy building in the capital city of Ghana.
On March 24, President Gul proceeded to Gabon to meet President Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba. The Turkish president attended business forum meetings held by the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON) both in Ghana and Gabon.
President Gul was the first Turkish president to visit Ghana and Gabon formally.
DAVUTOGLU SAYS TURKEY WANTS TO CREATE A 'GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD'
Turkey's foreign minister said on Saturday that Turkey wanted to create a new region based on friendship, good neighborhood and integration.
Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey's target was not to have only two or three sovereign countries in its region in 2023 -- when the Turkish Republic would celebrate the 100th anniversary of its foundation.
"Every person is equal in this region, and we are sharing the same geography," he said in a Wilton Park conference on "Turkey's polices for engagement in the contemporary world" in Istanbul.
Davutoglu said Turkey wanted a comprehensive security, stability and freedom by 2023. Also, the minister said Turkey was eager to become a full member of the European Union (EU), but at the same time it wanted to boost its relations with the Middle East, Russia and the United States. Davutoglu said Turkey was also willing to become an active power in its geography.
SOLVE IT OR SEE YOU IN COURT, GREECE SAYS
Greece has urged Turkey to move forward on a solution to decades-old Aegean problems after the general election in June or to be ready to face the issue at court in The Hague.
"We respect the fact that Turkey is in the run-up to elections right now, but after the elections comes the moment of truth. We must have a solution or we go to The Hague," Greek Foreign Minister Dimitri Droutsas told the daily Hürriyet in an interview Friday last week in Athens.
Droutsas' statement came a few days after he met with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Athens, where the two colleagues discussed bilateral problems in depth.
Turkey and Greece launched "exploratory talks" to identify and find solutions on problems stemming from the Aegean Sea nearly a decade ago but have not been able to make a breakthrough. Droutsas said the strong personal relationship between Greek Prime Minister Yorgo Papandreou and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could bypass the quagmires and stereotypes that have plagued Greek-Turkish relations. Noting that Greece and the European Union were expecting Turkey to sign the 1982-dated United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, Droutsas said, "When Turkey does this, we will be able to make the swift progress that no one thinks is possible today."
The convention allows coastal countries to extend their territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles, something Turkey is strongly against, arguing that could sharply limit its usage of the sea and navigation. Turkish Parliament issued a statement in 1995 and openly said Greece's extension of its continental shelf would be evaluated as a hostile act and thus would constitute a reason of war, or "casus belli." Davutoğlu called for this issue to be dropped from the bilateral relations during his meetings in Athens but it seems unrealistic for the time being.
"These calls are nothing new. Just like Greece's reply is not new, which I repeated to Mr. Davutoglu," Droutsas stated, repeating his country's official position that it has the right to extend its territorial waters up to 12 miles.
"But Turkey has threatened Greece with war if we act on this right. This is a flagrant violation of the U.N. charter, the most 'sacred' text in international law. And I wonder: Is this really how Turkey wants to go about developing its 'zero problems' doctrine?"
Turkey should sign the law
According to Droutsas: "The main problem is Turkey's 'poor relationship' with the Law of the Sea." Noting that Turkey is one of very few countries to not ratify the convention, he said: "I understand that this position from Ankara isn't set in stone, so I'm waiting for the Turkish government to act. This would give a great deal of momentum to our talks and our relations in general."
"Does Turkey have anything to fear from international law?" Droutsas asked. "So I say this to Turkey: Instead of making threats of war, sign the Convention on the Law of the Sea, and we can go to The Hague for the continental shelf. We are prepared to take this major step together with Turkey, in the interest of peace. We are living in civilized times, when threats of war have no place. In the end, an attempt to impose one's will by threatening violence is a sign of weakness, not strength."
Spat over location of Meis
When asked his thoughts about Davutoğlu's statement that the island of Kastelorizo (Meis in Turkish) should be considered in the Mediterranean rather than the Aegean, Droutsas did not hide his frustration. "Of course this headline disturbed me – it disturbed every Greek. We did have the opportunity to discuss it. Kastelorizo is part of the Dodecanese and its maritime zones overlap Turkey's. This is the reality of the situation – there are no question marks here," he stated, adding that Davutoğlu's comment did nothing but chill the atmosphere.
"So in our joint statements we had to confirm the obvious: The purpose of the exploratory talks is the delimitation of the continental shelf between our two countries, from Evros to Kastelorizo," he said. "The two of us have clocked many hours of talks, and I think that together we can make major achievements to our mutual benefit. He is a skillful diplomat and an accomplished academic and so – if you allow me – I have high expectations of him."
Turkish minority of Western Thrace
Greece's top diplomat also reflected his criticisms of Ankara's approach toward the Muslim minority in Western Thrace.
"There are some in Turkey who treat population groups in neighboring countries as a kind of property, using religion or language to gain footholds. This is obsolete thinking that treats people as disposable pawns on a geopolitical chessboard," he said. "This is the thinking that led to Istanbul's loss of its Greek community, which now numbers 2,000 at most, but once numbered more than 200,000. But there is no reciprocity on human rights issues. There are the obligations governments have to their citizens."
Is their return possible?
On Erdoğan's statement that suggested the return of Greeks who had to flee Istanbul in the past, Droutsas said: "I think Mr. Erdogan is speaking from the heart. I wish we could bring the Greek minority in Istanbul back to life, on Imvros and Tenedos. I want to visit Imvros with Patriarch Bartholomew – who was born there – and Mr. Davutoglu, so that together we can talk to the few Greeks who have stayed and find out how to make their lives easier and how to teach their children and grandchildren, who have left, to love the island and maintain their ties with it."
Repeating Greece's position with regard to the Cyprus problem, the Greek foreign minister asked Turkey to withdraw its troops from the island. "Turkey has nothing to lose by withdrawing its troops, by letting the island breathe. Nor does the notion of 'motherland' have any place in our day. The settlers and military are a problem for the Turkish Cypriots, as we saw from the recent demonstrations. The Greek and Turkish Cypriots want to live together again, free, in their common homeland, the reunited Cyprus."
Turkey should stick to EU
On the much-discussed question, "Is Turkey turning its back to West?" Droutsas made Athens' view clear by saying, "Turkey should stick to the European Union."
"Will Turkey close the door on the West? That's when Turkey will cease to be a useful partner to the West and thus become of less importance to the East," he said.
"The fact is that the accession process is the greatest force for change that your country has seen in recent years. Turkey has carried out major reforms that have given it dynamism and a fresh perspective. But anyone who thinks that things are working themselves out – that the goal of accession to the EU is no longer necessary – needs to think again," he said. "The EU is helping Turkey become better and work out its inner contradictions. If you take the model – the EU – away, I'm afraid Turkey's course to progress will be reversed."
EXCERPTS OF BANNED BOOK MADE PUBLIC
Excerpts from a contentious unpublished book about the Turkish police have reached the public via a newly launched website, which claims it will publish an electronic version of the draft book on April 11.
The pro-government newspapers published excerpts from prosecutors' reports over the weekend. The reports reportedly contained excerpts from the book, which police have been working to quash.
The website www.imaminordusu.com, which is owned by anonymous persons, announced Friday that it would publish Şık's "İmamın Ordusu" (The Imam's Army) on April 11 in a WikiLeaks format. As of Sunday it had posted several lines that it claimed came directly from the text.
Three buildings, including the offices of a mainstream newspaper, were raided by police last week following a court decision to confiscate all copies of the book draft by journalist Şık, who was arrested two weeks ago. The 12th Court for Serious Crimes in Istanbul characterized the draft book as an "illegal organizational document" and also ruled that anyone who refused to hand in copies of the book would be accused of "aiding a criminal organization."
The website, which includes a countdown timer to April 11, read Friday, "All Turkey will be shocked," announcing that very few days remained until the publishing of the book online.
News about the website circulated via several Twitter accounts. "We have obtained the much-searched-for [copy of] Ahmet Şık's draft book, which explains the relations between Gülen's religious community and the Turkish police," the website said, adding that it was currently under construction and would be launched April 11.
The website's manager appears to be "cemaat" and the address in the site's "Information" section is that of Fethullah Gülen's real address in Pennsylvania. The person who purchased the URL apparently lives in Washington. The website also clarified that the published content was for informational purposes only and it did not intend to do any advertising or gathering of information on Internet users that accessed it.
Various solidarity groups have been created on social networking websites in the days following the seizure of copies of the unpublished books by the police.
Şık's unpublished book deals with an alleged group within the Turkish police that is run by the Gülen religious community. This has led to suspicions that Şık was arrested due to the book's contents, rather than his involvement in the alleged Ergenekon gang, which he has worked as a journalist to expose.
Pro-government newspapers publish the secret investigation reports
The Prosecutors Office's reports on Şık's unpublished book draft were not shown to Şık's lawyers, under the argument that they were part of a "secret investigation." However, the reports were leaked to pro-government newspapers daily Zaman and daily Bugün yesterday.
Daily Bugün has published 50 pages of the secret investigation on its website. Daily Zaman also discussed the "secret" investigation reports in its headlines. Both newspapers accuse the arrested journalist Şık of "getting orders from the alleged Ergenekon organization while writing his book." The reports that accused Şık of being a member of Ergenekon were not shared with the arrested journalist or his lawyers, which legal experts called a "violation of Şık's right to defense."