Top Ergenekon prosecutor Zekeriya Öz has been removed from the coup-plot investigation in what he called a "surprise" reassignment that observers characterized as both a promotion and a punishment for his aggressive moves in the case.
"I did not expect this, it came as a surprise," Öz said following the announcement Monday of a series of new appointments by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). He added that he had not requested a reassignment.
The way Öz has carried out the investigation of the alleged coup plot has met with criticism from broad segments of society, especially the arrests of journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık and the police raids to confiscate copies of Şık's unpublished manuscript on the religious Gülen community. His reassignment has raised questions about the motivation for the move and how it will affect the Ergenekon case.
Lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, the head of Human Rights Agenda Association and a close observer of the Ergenekon case, claimed that although the announcement came from the high court, the move was driven by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Government officials have criticized the decision, which they said was made independently by the HSYK.
According to Cengiz, who supports the Ergenekon investigation but has been critical of recent developments, the move represents both a promotion and a punishment for Öz. "On the one hand the government gave an answer to the criticism on the Şık issue, on the other, the past successful works of Öz were rewarded," he said, adding that he does not believe a pro-Ergenekon prosecutor will be assigned in Öz's place and that the investigation process will continue.
Professor Caner Yenidünya, a criminal law expert, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that is not his business to evaluate the background of the reassignment and that one prosecutor may take other's place in such matters. "Switching from prosecutor A from prosecutor B does not affect how the investigation will be run," he said.
Cavit Tatlı, the head of the Istanbul-based Lawyers' Association, said that the group is not concerned about the move if there is nothing unlawful about the change. "If the process of a case would be hurt by the changing of a prosecutor, then there is not an actual case there at all," Tatlı said.
The HSYK reassigned Öz and Ercan Şafak, another Ergenekon prosecutor, as deputies to the Istanbul chief public prosecutor. Öz will serve as the acting Istanbul chief public prosecutor until Fikret Seçen replaces former head Turan Çolakkadı, who was also reassigned. Öz and Şafak lost their special authorities and will no longer be prosecutors for the Ergenekon case due to possible conflict of interest.
Lawyer Celal Ülgen, a critic of the case since the beginning, agreed with Cengiz that the move originated from the government. "The assignment is not a routine one," he said, adding that the government had "lost a lot of blood" in the political sense due to public opinion about the events related to Şık's book, something it hoped the move to reassign Öz would halt with the general elections three months away.
"The government could not tolerate such a dense wear down," Ülgen said, adding that he does not have any hopes for the future of the case.
"Even I could have been assigned there as Ergenekon prosecutor," he said with irony. "As long as HSYK continues in its current state, without judicial independence being provided, nothing will change."
Ergenekon is an alleged ultranationalist, part of a shadowy gang accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem. It is an alleged extension of the "deep state," an unofficial organization within the state that has operated independently of elected governments since the beginning of the Cold War.
CHP DELEGATION SAYS U.S. HAS CONCERNS ABOUT TURKISH DEVELOPMENTS
CHP Deputy Cahirman and Osman Koruturk who headed the CHP Delegation to the U.S. said that they had meetings with officials from Democrats and Republicans during their visit. These officials included: Joe Lieberman, Ileana Roth Lieternan, Howard Berman, and Brent Scowcroft. Koruturk says both parties raised their concerns about recent Turkish developments and asked if CHP is free to speak out regarding their opposition and if the press is free to publish oppositional opinions.
COMMAND OFFICIALLY AT NATO
Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that NATO officially took over the command of operation in Libya under coalition forces with U.S. leadership as of 8:00 a.m. Turkish time today.
NATO South forces will be the command post located in Naples, Italy.
DEATH SENTENCE IS NOT IN OUR AGENDA
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, commented on the death sentence discussions which erupted after the killing of three children in central Anatolian province of Kayseri. He stated that the death sentence was not on the government's agenda.
Erdoğan also reacted to those who are against the nuclear power plant. He said, "This mentality has not served to the protection of environment; on the contrary it became a reason of many environmental disasters."
IRAQI PARLIAMENT AHEAD OF US
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, "There are every type of representatives in the Iraqi parliament. They are ahead of us in this respect." Erdoğan said, "Eighty-two of 325 lawmakers in Iraqi's parliament are women."
Deputy Chairman of Republican People's Party (CHP) Süheyl Batum, who carries out CHP's constitutional studies, said linking of General Staff to the National Defense Ministry could be discussed. He said the National Security Council may be removed.
Batum said headscarfs may be worn in universities, not as a religious symbol but as a measure of individual freedom.
KAYA: KURDS NEED LIBERAL PARTY
Former Democracy Party (DEP), leader Yaşar Kaya, who came up during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Arbil, spoke to the Radikal daily newspaper. Kaya said, "I have been living in exile for years. Exile is like an open-air prison. I want to return back. If I were in Turkey, I would help the democratic initiative. I would like to join active politics. Kurds need a liberal party."
USE TURKISH LIRA IN NORTH OF IRAQ
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while commenting on his visit to Iraq, made public the offer he made to Massoud Barzani, the head of the regional administration in north of Iraq. Erdoğan said he proposed to Barzani the same model Turkey was using with Russia and Iran. Erdoğan quoted himself as telling Barzani, "let's use dinar in Turkey and Turkish lira here. Let's save our currencies from USD pressure. This way we can obtain an income of 20 percent."
TIME HAD COME TO VISIT IRBIL, BUT IT WAS NOT EASY
Commenting on his visit to Iraq, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said they showed too much patience to pass from a policy that only focuses on the Turkmen policy to a policy viewing the whole of Iraq.
Erdoğan said business investments were important for construction of Iraq and normalization of daily life.
WİTHOUT MAJOR REFORM PLEDGE, SYRIA'S AL-ASSAD WARNS OF 'CONSPIRACY'
On Wednesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed conspirators for deadly unrest in the country but failed to lift emergency rule or offer other concessions in his first speech since protests demanding greater freedoms erupted earlier this month.
In a highly anticipated address to parliament that lasted almost one hour, al-Assad took aim at social-networking websites and pan-Arabic satellite television news channels but made no mention of any plans to lift the state of emergency.
Presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban had told Agence France-Presse on Sunday that Syria had decided to lift emergency rule, which has been in force in the country since 1963. The autocratic regime of al-Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez al-Assad in 2000, has been rocked by a wave of demonstrations in defiance of the law over the past two weeks, with protesters emboldened by uprisings in the Arab world.
"I know that the Syrian people have been awaiting this speech since last week, but I was waiting to get the full picture... to avoid giving an emotional address that would put the people at ease but have no real effect, at a time when our enemies are targeting Syria," al-Assad told parliament.
The president, who warned Syria was going through a "test of its unity," said his country's enemies had taken advantage of the needs of the people to incite strife. "This conspiracy is different in shape and timing from what is going on in the Arab world," he said. "Syria is not isolated from the region, but we are not a copy of other countries. We are all for reform. That is the duty of the state, but we are not for strife."
"Reform is not a trend," al-Assad added. "When the people demand their rights, it is the state's duty to fulfill their demands. What we should watch out for is starting reforms under these circumstances right now, this passing wave."
An ally of Iran and sworn foe of Washington's key regional partner Israel, Syria's government has been facing demands for major change. Al-Assad was widely expected in his speech to elaborate on a string of reforms announced last week, which came in response to two weeks of protests demanding reform and more freedoms in the country ruled by the Baath party since 1963.
Shaaban on Sunday told AFP in an interview that the decision to lift the state of emergency had already been made, but could not elaborate on the "time frame." Al-Assad echoed that statement Wednesday.
"The measures announced Thursday were not made suddenly," he said. "The emergency law and political parties law have been under study for a year. There are more, unannounced reforms, but giving a timeframe is a logistical matter. When we announce it in such circumstances, it is difficult to make that deadline."
The wave of protests, which began March 15 in Damascus, was quickly contained by security forces before taking root in the southern tribal region of Daraa and the multi-faith coastal city of Latakia in the north. Daraa has sustained the most casualties, with an estimated 100 activists killed last Wednesday in clashes with security forces. Syrian rights activists have accused security forces of killing 130 people in the crackdown, while Amnesty International says upward of 55 people have been killed. Officials put the toll at some 30 killed.
Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri tendered his government's resignation Tuesday and now acts in a caretaker capacity. The new Cabinet, which is expected to be announced by the end of the week, will face the task of implementing the reforms.
Authorities have accused fundamentalists and "armed gangs" of aiming to incite unrest in the country, particularly Daraa and Latakia, which have emerged as the focal points of dissent.
TURKISH POLICE TARGET SCHOLARS IN MASSACRE PROBE
Turkish police on Wednesday raided the homes of several scholars, including popular theologian Zekeriya Beyaz, and seized documents in the latest development in a probe into the 2007 killing of three Christians in Malatya.
Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said the police searched locations in Istanbul and six other cities but were not authorized to make arrests. The raids were carried out on orders from the prosecutor's office investigating the alleged Ergenekon coup-plotting gang.
Beyaz said police confiscated documents he had collected for a yet-unfinished book critical of influential Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and his followers. He told Skyturk television that the book would "tell about their harmful activities."
"Theologian Zekeriya Beyaz had pretty negative rhetoric against the Protestant missionaries in Turkey before 2007," Fikret Böcek, the priest of a Protestant church in the Aegean province of İzmir, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "However he stopped using this kind of hate speech after 2007. I don't know what kind of ties he might have with the Ergenekon probe though."
Seven suspects, including five active-duty Turkish officers and two civilians, were arrested March 20 in connection with the massacre at the Zirve Publishing House, a Bible publisher in the eastern Anatolian province of Malatya.
There have a been a string of attacks on Christians in recent years in predominantly Muslim Turkey, where Christians make up less than 1 percent of the total population of 74 million. Prosecutors have said the alleged Ergenekon coup plot included plans to target Christians and minority figures.
Hundreds of people, including military officers, politicians and journalists, are already on trial as part of the Ergenekon case for allegedly attempting to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government, which came to power in 2002. Prosecutors allege that members of the alleged plot sought to overthrow the government by sowing societal discord and provoking a military intervention.
Critics contend that the government is using the case to jail secular-minded foes and to silence opponents. The government insists the trial is strengthening democratic rule in Turkey by helping to unravel shadowy networks that once operated with impunity.
ERDOGAN GREETED BY BARZANI IN IRBIL
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Tuesday. There Erdogan addressed the inauguration ceremony at an international airport in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.
Erdogan was greeted at the Irbil Airport by Massoud Barzai, the leader of the regional administration in north of Iraq, and other dignitaries. A group of students presented flowers to Erdogan while they carried flags of Turkey, Iraq and the regional administration. After the ceremony, Prime Minister Erdogan attended the inauguration of Turkey's Consulate General in Irbil and Vakifbank's Irbil Branch.
"This airport will bring closer Turkey to the world, Iraq and this beautiful region. The International Irbil Airport is one of the biggest the investments in this region," Erdogan said at the ceremony. He added: "The airport has a capacity to serve 2.75 million passengers annually and its 4.5 km runway is the seventh longest in the world. The Turkish premier also said Turkey's national air carrier, the Turkish Airlines, was set to launch direct flights to Irbil as of April 14.