In an historic move, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited to Irbil, the center of the regional Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.

Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish administration, welcomed Erdoğan as the Turkish prime minister stepped off of his plane.

Erdoğan greeted Barzani by calling him "Mr. Chairman."

An army of security guards escorted the Turkish prime minister's motorcade.



Three million dollars, which PKK collected by illicit drug sales and human trafficking, vanished in Iraq.

The PKK was planning to spend that money in the June 12 general elections in Turkey.



Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to the center of the regional administration in northern Iraq, Irbil, on Tuesday showed the change Kurdish policy by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) after 2003.

Following the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Turkey did not want to establish dialogue with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and leader of the regional administration in the north of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, due to their [alleged] support for the terrorist PKK and their anti-Turkish remarks.

After eight years, Turkey has changed its Kurdish policy with Erdoğan's visit to Irbil on Tuesday.



Police raided a number of theology professor's houses in seven cities. The most well-known theology professor, Zekeriya Beyaz, told the press that he wrote a book about political impacts and harms of Fethullah Gulen and Said-i Nursi.

Police are searching for the whole manuscripts as well as drafts of his book.

The former Dean of Theology Faculty at Konya Selçuk University, Professor Mehmet Aydın's house was also searched.



Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu asked a world-renowned economist, Daron Acemoğlu, to be Turkey's ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD).

Acemoğlu, who is working at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and is of Armenian-origin, has not responded to the offer.

Acemoğlu was previously listed among the top 20 most-important economists in the world.



Turkey's ruling party has requested "broad authorization" while parliament is out of session this spring. Opposition parties on Tuesday criticized the move, saying the executive branch would be "bypassing parliament."

A draft law was submitted to parliament late Monday for a six-month authorization to rule by decree. Thus, the ruliong party will be able to issue decrees instead of passing laws, as parliament will cease its work on April 8.

The draft law will be discussed in Parliament on Thursday.

"Parliament is going to go on vacation, the executive branch is going to take over the judiciary branch and release laws without opposition, and we will wake up in the morning to new laws. Let's work until June 1, we will do whatever it takes," said Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

As part of the authority, the government will also be able to reshape the cabinet after the elections without waiting for the establishment of parliament.

If the draft signed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is passed, the government will be able to promote, transfer, dismiss and retire civil servants and contracted employees at public institutions, especially the Turkish Armed Forces.

"What does this authority mean? It is bypassing parliament. This cannot happen in a democracy. This is a result of an oppressive administration," said Kılıçdaroğlu.

Gültan Kışanak, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), said Tuesday the move was sending a message to all public employees that they could remain in their seats if they vote for their party but their positions were not safe if they didn't support the ruling Justice and Development Party.



Turkish State Minister & Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said that Turkey's 2010 growth rate would exceed 8 percent.

Consumer and producer confidence in 2010 was too high and, as such, we expect the Turkish economy to have grown by 8 percent in 2010, Babacan said. "The exact growth figure of Turkey in 2010 will be announced at the end of this month. Turkey's growth rate in 2010 was the highest in Europe. The number of employed people in 2010 in Turkey increased by 1.3 million. This figure is one of the best in the world," Babacan said.



Turkey and the United States had prepared a document outlining how United Nations resolutions, numbered 1970 and 1973, regarding Libya would be implemented.

The three-page document encompasses the preparation of a [Libyan] constitution and possible election preparations.



Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that NATO may have to use force if Gaddafi's troops attack civilians. An international meeting about Libya was held in London on Tuesday.

At the meeting, Italy and Britain mulled the possibility that Gaddafi may be sent into exile.



The Turkish foreign minister has said Turkey would have a seat in a "contact group" that would help the Libyan people undergo a sound transition process.

"Turkey will take part in this contact group. The shape and the functions of the group have yet to be decided but Turkey will definitely be there," Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in a press meeting on Tuesday at Turkey's Embassy in London.

Davutoglu is in the British capital to participate in an international conference on Libya. He said the multinational military operation in Libya would be under NATO's command and control. "Taking action in case of a threat against civilians in Libya would be military call, not a civilian one. The entire mission will be run by military leaders."

"Measures will surely be taken if civilians came under any threat. But without such a threat, a military action, a bombardment, is out of question," Davutoglu said.

The Turkish foreign minister said Turkey had been talking to Libyan opposition groups, adding one such contact had recently been held in the Turkish capital.

"We have already declared that we have been talking to the Libyan opposition. We do talk to any party if that would yield a positive result and make a contribution," he said.



As Syrian protests turned increasingly violent in recent days, Turkey urged the country's administration to make reforms "without delay," an adviser to the Turkish president has said.

"Waiting for the protests to end to make reforms is the wrong approach. Necessary reforms should be made now, not later. Leaders should be brave," Erşat Hürmüzlü, adviser to President Abdullah Gül on the Middle East, told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview on Monday.

Syria is a very important country for Turkey, Hürmüzlü said, recalling that this country is in a significant process of transformation. "The system, stability and demands of the Syrian people are all equally important for us," he said.

Citing indirectly the aspect of the Syrian administration that resists reforms, Hürmüzlü said some defects could occur in the administrative systems, such as corruption. "Yet, leaders should push them," he said.

Syrian authorities accused fundamentalists and "armed gangs" of aiming to incite unrest in the country, after the demonstrations turned violent in recent days.

Giving Turkey as an example for its recent transformation, Hürmüzlü said: "We, as Turkey, faced our mistakes and made reforms. We changed our minds rather than laws. Economic and social-cultural changes follow that. Changing the vision is more important than changing laws. Implementers of law may resist, however, a complete change of mind can pave the reforms," he said.

Hürmüzlü drew attention to the differences between Syria and other Arab countries. "Similarly, the people of the region are pouring into the streets not for food, but for their dignity. The difference is that the foreign policy and domestic policy of other Arab countries, such as in Egypt, was kept separate. The expectations of the people were not reflected in foreign policies," he said.

However, foreign policy and people's expectations almost overlap in Syria, Hürmüzlü said, adding that this was the reason Syria was the last country to witness protests, he added.

The adviser is optimistic that the protests would not end with a change of regime. "The reforms can respond to the demands of the Syrian people. It would be an easy transformation if the Syrian administration can make significant reforms on human rights and democracy and find solutions in the struggle against corruption," Hürmüzlü said.

"There have been coups and monarchic republics. A normal birth of a regime can only come with elections," he said, adding that the systems in the Middle East were created very late, 20 years after the Cold War had finished. He recalled Turkey also suffered similar troubles, but transformed more easily.

He ruled out that foreign countries' intervention caused uprisings in Arab countries. "Some say that these uprisings came one after another because some circles pushed the button for the natural resources of these countries. Saying someone pushed the button is an insult for people of the region," he said. Hürmüzlü described the reaction of those people as a "burst of anger, which was suppressed for many years by fear."

Asked about the criticisms against Turkey for not voicing a stronger stance on democracy for countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which also have been facing revolts, Hürmüzlü said Turkey would not impose anything on other countries. People of the region could observe what Turkey had been doing in the name of democracy and they could inspire, he said. "Turkey can't be a sub-contractor."

For the case of Bahrain, Gulf states not only sent troops to the conflict-hit country, but also supported it financially with $10 billion to help Bahrain make reforms, Hürmüzlü said. "States in the region should solve their problems within the region. They should not seek solutions outside the region by delegating to powerful countries as sub-contractors," he said.

Asked about Turkey's shift in policy regarding NATO intervention in Libya, Hürmüzlü said Turkey opposed a military occupation to accomplish a regime change in Libya. Prime Minister Erdoğan's remarks ruling out NATO intervention in Libya were to prevent an illegitimate military occupation of the country, he said.

"We don't want Libya to turn into an Iraq. No country or countries independently can decide to intervene in another state. That decision should be taken within the scope of international laws."



President Abdullah Gül said that he was uneasy that the decision to confiscate the unpublished book of imprisoned journalist Ahmet Şık and to erase it in digital form would cast a shadow over Turkey. "All of these [arrrests and property seizures] have become the biggest PR activity for the books and the journalists. Prosecutors have to act according to the procedures. Now, I think they helped the book's sale figure to increase from 10,000 to 100,000."



Daily Radikal's Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, the journalist whose computer, featuring the unpublished book of an Ergenekon suspect, provoked last week's raid of the newspaper's Istanbul office, has written about the contents of the book.

The content of "İmamın Ordusu" (The Imam's Army), by journalist Ahmet Şık, has been the hottest topic in Turkey since his arrest on March 3. At the time of his arrest, he said to reporters, "Those who touch, burn."

Mavioğlu wrote he had not read the book Şık sent him to ask his opinion about, but skimmed through it after he was arrested. Mavioğlu spoke to others who read the contents of the book on the alleged organization founded within Turkish Police by members of the Fethullah Gülen religious community.

The book begins with the "necessity relationship" between the state and Islam and how today's Islamist movements were encouraged in the early '80s by the military junta despite their secularist language. This was the "green belt" project of the U.S. to eliminate leftist movements. The book says the Gulen community was in harmony with the state not only during the Sept. 12, 1980 coup's junta but during other critical times too. It also said that though Gülen served seven months of prison time after the March 12, 1971 coup, his loyalty to the state was not changed.

The book features a detailed biography of Gülen and how his community organized on multiple fronts, with regular community schools and the "Light Houses" where the ideology of the community is taught. The importance of media for the community is also mentioned, with allegations of the daily Zaman and Samanyolu TV channel being affiliated with them.

The community is organized within the police force, as the youth taught at Light Houses systematically joined the police college and police academy, the book suggests; hence the name "The Imam's Army." Allegations of exam questions being stolen and provided to community members were also made. The community rapidly promotes its members within the police force while eliminating others, according to the book, which also suggested some police members active in the Ergenekon investigation are also community members.



Growing pressure on media freedom and increasing human rights violations in the prosecution of the alleged Ergenekon coup-plotting gang are the main concerns of U.S. officials, who believe that Turkish democracy has been on the decline, a main opposition official visiting Washington has said.

"We have seen that the impression that democracy in Turkey is degenerating, which is correct, is the most attention-grabbing point here. We have faced these kinds of questions wherever we have been," deputy leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Osman Korutürk told reporters in Washington early Tuesday. A CHP delegation led by Korutürk with the participation of former ambassador to Washington Faruk Loğoğlu and deputy leaders Umut Oran, Faik Öztrak and Gülsün Bilgehan was sent to Washington to explain the "new CHP" policies to U.S. officials.

On the first day of their visit, the delegation met with senior State Department officials, Tina Kaidanow and Nancy McEldowney, as well as Republican Senator John McCain and the head of the American-Turkish Council James Holmes. They also met with the representatives of the Israeli lobby, upon the request of the latter.

"We have been welcomed with great interest," Korutürk said, adding that officials paid attention to the fact that the CHP sent such a high-level delegation to Washington. Despite the fact that this sort of visit from Turkey to the United States often witnesses a limited agenda featuring Armenian genocide claims, Cyprus and Turkish-Greek ties, Korutürk said none of these issues were highlighted. "Instead, we have been asked questions about constraints with regard to the freedom of press, fundamental freedoms and deleting unpublished books," he said.

"Being subject to these sorts of questions did not please us," he said, noting that the CHP was determined to fight the pressure imposed on the media and other fundamental freedoms.

Korutürk dismissed the Turkish government's justifications that recent arrests had nothing to do with the journalistic activities. "[The U.S. officials] asked: 'More than 60 journalists are in prison. How is it possible?' It seems the government's statements were not very embraced here so that none of them were reflected to us."

Korutürk said the Ergenekon case was also discussed, with U.S. officials focusing on "whether a fair prosecution could be possible."

Another interesting question posed to the CHP delegation by the officials was on election security. "We haven't been asked these kind of questions in the past. 'Do you think the elections will be in a regular way?' they asked."

Washington follows Kılıçdaroğlu

Expressing the delegation's satisfaction over their counterparts' interest in the CHP and its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Korutürk said they explained the party's outlook on fundamental freedoms and human rights as well as foreign policy.

"Seeing our interlocutors welcoming the CHP's new image as a party developing its international relations and opening up to the world satisfied us," Korutürk said. "The new CHP arouses interest here."

"They know and closely follow Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu. They have said they would welcome Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu if he could visit Washington," he said.



Turkish State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Monday that Turkey and Iran had to form alliance and support each other in order to preserve global peace and to solve regional problems.

Speaking to the AA in Tehran where he arrived to attend the "Second International Nevruz Celebrations", Arinc said that Iran was highly pleased to see Turkey's participation in Nevruz celebrations at the level of a deputy prime minister.

Stressing that he met Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad twice in Tehran, Arinc said that Ahmadi-Nejad and he discussed regional matters and how Turkish-Iranian relations could be strengthened further.

We have historic and cultural relations with Iran. Turkey and Iran are countries where great civilizations were established in the past, Arinc noted.

We believe that we have to form an alliance in order to preserve global peace and to solve regional problems. We wish to promote our relations in all fields and make them as strong as the relations between our parliaments and governments. I think that commercial, economic, tourism related, educational and cultural relations between Turkey and Iran will be at a much better level in the upcoming years, Arinc said.

The annual trade volume between Turkey and Iran is around $10 billion. This figure will go up to $20 billion in the next few years, Arinc stressed.

Around two million Iranians visit Turkey annually. Iranians are the fourth largest group of foreign tourists visiting Turkey, Arinc said.

We hope that more Turks would visit Iran. Iran has historic sites in all corners of the country, Arinc said.

More and more Turkish businessmen are visible in Iran. Aside from investments, Turkish businessmen have reached important status in Iran in the construction sector, Arinc added.


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