TURKEY HEADS TOWARD PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the presidential system could be presented for a referendum after the parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 12.
Speaking to Bloomberg TV during a visit to London, Erdoğan said: "The presidential system could be presented for a referendum; it is not possible to take the issue to a referendum straightaway. This matter is not on our election agenda, either. We can discuss it following the general elections."
THEY CONFISCATED 2,000 PAGES
Theology professor Zekeriya Oz told to press that police officers confiscated 2,000 pages of documents after the search at his office.
Professor Oz said: "I asked them what they are looking for. They told me that they are looking for documents proving that I was attempting to turn the public against missionary activities. The police confiscated documents not related to missionary activities. I opposed it, but they had a search warrant and I could not do anything."
ERDOĞAN VISITS QUEEN ELIZABETH II
While in London the Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan paid a formal visit to Queen of the United Kingdom.
The meeting between Erdoğan and Queen Elizabeth II took place at Buckingham Palace. The Turkish premier's spouse Emine Erdoğan was also in attendance.
U.S. AMBASSADOR PRAISES DEMOCRACY IN TURKEY
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone said that Turkey has achieved an open democracy. "The Turkish people wanted improvement for their democracy." he said.
Ricciardone visited the International Strategic Research Organization, (USAK), in Ankara. "There has been a great development in democratic structure in Turkey," he said.
REMOVAL OF ERGENEKON PROSECUTOR DIVIDES TURKISH POLITICIANS
Political reaction to Ergenekon prosecutor Zekeriya Öz's removal from the coup-plot case have been varied, with opposition parties blaming the ruling party for meddling in the judiciary, and the judiciary calling Oz's new appointment a "promotion."
Before boarding his flight to the United Kingdom on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said it was an issue for the judiciary, not the executive branch.
"Turkey is a democratic, secular state of law. I cannot intervene with the judiciary and the judiciary cannot intervene with my job," said Erdoğan.
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, however, said the change makes little difference.
"The chief prosecutor did not change, because the chief prosecutor is Mr. Erdoğan. He said: 'I am the prosecutor of the case.' What difference does it make if they promote Zekeriya Öz? They will replace him with another Zekeriya Öz. They are trying to change the current negative picture," the CHP chief said.
"It doesn't matter if Öz's position has changed. He was a prosecutor. What matters are the judges who will make the final verdict and [they] have been proven to have lost their neutrality by the Supreme Court of Appeals," said Kılıçdaroğlu.
"If the case is handled by a judge who was deemed as biased, then what difference does it make if they change the prosecutors?" asked Kılıçdaroğlu.
"The decision was not an intervention with the case, but a promotion to a higher position based on performance," Justice Minister Ahmet Kahraman said after a protocol ceremony for the new members of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State.
"The shuffle of several prosecutors, of which Öz was just one, was a routine decision that had been made many times in recent years," Kahraman said, adding: "Öz was not singled out for special treatment."
"Turkey has a constitution and the judiciary is an independent constitutional institution," Interior Minister Osman Güneş said. "It makes decisions within its own system and legislation. The HSYK made this decision. As the interior minister, I do not think that it is my job to intervene," said Güneş.
Meanwhile, President Abudllah Gül said the Ergenekon investigations would continue with the same seriousness and that the main concern was for the process to continue with speed. "The government has continuity, whatever is in the law will happen," said Gül.
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.
TURKEY'S TOP BANKER RESIGNS AFTER CRITICIZING MINISTER
The general manager of Turkish lender İşbank has announced his resignation just two days after reacting to a provocative statement from the Turkish state minister for the economy.
Ersin Özince, 58, the embodiment of Turkish banking for many people, has announced he is also leaving his job as the chairman of the Turkish Banks Association.
Özince's statement Thursday came after an exchange of tense words with State Minister Ali Babacan, who earlier this week said the government "does not wish to take police-type measures" against banks that do not limit loan growth. Özince replied: "What does he mean by this? I suppose it is about police coming and taking us bankers, like we see in the press. What kind of police-type measures could be imposed against a bank? Isn't this a state of law?"
The words, which were a thinly veiled protest regarding the recent and controversial arrest of two prominent journalists, appeared to be the main reason behind Thursday's resignation. At a press conference Thursday, Özince went even further when a reporter asked whether government pressure on journalists had moved to bankers, he said, "yes," without hesitation.
"Even though I personally appreciate Minister Babacan, if one insists on using words like 'police measures,' things in our subconscious come to the surface," said Özince, who had been an İşbank employee and executive for more than three decades.
"All the managers of Turkish banks agreed with my comments, even the managers of state-owned banks," Özince told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "How I could explain it better? They are clear enough," he said, when asked whether he could amplify his previous statements.
Özince was scheduled to retire in 18 months, but he "wanted to resign just before the bank's shareholders meeting," an İşbank executive told the Daily News on condition of anonymity. "He might serve in different positions at İşbank after April."
Huge loss in profits
Turkish banking might lose nearly $2.6 billion in revenue this year as a result of the Turkish Central Bank's policy to hike reserve requirements, according to Özince's calculations. He said İşbank might also be forced to pay less in dividends to shareholders from last year's profits.
"The reserve requirement hike has been an indirect tax for us, as there is no interest paid for these reserves," said the top banker.
Due to an extra tax applied on the opening of new branches, İşbank's income might fall by 300 million Turkish liras this year, he added.
On March 23, the Central Bank raised reserve requirements for lira deposits of one month or less to 15 percent from as low as 10 percent. The measures, which accompany an unusual policy of low interest rates, are expected to drain nearly 20 billion liras of liquidity from the system.
Speaking on the record-high current account deficit, Özince said: "I do not think the deficit can be reduced with a shrinking in consumer loans. A pill could heal an illness, but it also could produce side effects." A possible decline in loan growth would also hurt the real economy deeply, he added.
Commenting on the 9.2 percent annual growth in the fourth quarter, Özince said Turkey's growth figures should be compared with emerging markets, not with the European Union.
TURKEY'S GDP RISES TO 1.1 TRILLION LIRAS
Turkey showed a great performance in 2010 despite negative impacts of global economic crisis. Turkey grew 8.9 percent in 2010, Turkey's statistics authority, TurkStat, said. Turkey's GDP was $204.7 billion (298.2 billion Turkish liras) in current prices in Q4 of 2010. The GDP rose to $735.8 billion (1.1 trillion TL) in current prices last year. Turkey has become the fastest growing country of Europe.
SIGNS OF A SHIFT IN EU'S TRUST IN TURKEY'S RULING PARTY
Trust in Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), appears to be diminishing in European circles due to growing concerns about fundamental freedoms, particularly in connection to the ongoing Ergenekon coup-plot case.
The views of EU institutions vis-a-vis Turkey have seen a clear shift, according to Demir Murat Seyrek, a senior policy adviser for the European Foundation for Democracy.
"There is an erosion of confidence in the AKP's democratic rhetoric," he said, adding that up until now some backpedaling on democratic reform had gone largely ignored by the EU.
"At the beginning of their governance, the AKP delivered beyond the expectations of Europeans as far as democratic reform was concerned. When shortcomings started, no one wanted to listen," Seyrek told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review earlier this week. "Those criticizing the AKP were blamed in EU circles of being critical because they are not of the same political view and might exaggerate negative developments."
"EU institutions have been extremely restrained until recently in their reactions to developments around the Ergenekon case," said Çimen Baturalp, a reporter at daily Cumhuriyet.
"Even six months ago, the AKP still enjoyed the image of a political party pursuing democratic reform, but the tide is now turning against the ruling party," Seyrek said.
Recent developments linked to the Ergenekon case seem to have been instrumental in changing the mood in Brussels. The arrests of journalists such as Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, followed by police raids to confiscate copies of Şık's unpublished manuscript on the religious Gülen community, have rung alarm bells in Europe.
The Ergenekon case has been portrayed as a necessary step toward democratization by pro-AKP circles with strong influence on EU institutions, Baturalp said. "They have been listening to everything from the AKP angle," she said, adding that even the Social Democrats within the European Parliament have more contacts with the AKP than with the main opposition Republican's People Party (CHP), with which they are more naturally politically aligned.
"The impression among European circles that the Ergenekon case is necessary to address previously "untouchable" elements within the state and society is weakening, and the case is now increasingly perceived by the EU as a way of carrying out a vendetta against people seen as opposing the AKP," said Amanda Paul from the European Policy Center.
"The EU has thus far been accommodating to Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, with its institutions expressing more criticism of limitations placed on freedom of the press in Ukraine, for example, compared to Turkey," Paul said. She added that "The change in the EU's perception is reflected in the European Commission's progress report as well as the European Parliament's recent resolution on Turkey."
Adopted March 9, the resolution said the European Parliament is concerned about the deterioration in freedom of the press in Turkey and called on the government in Ankara to uphold the principles of press freedom.
"The resolution is one of the harshest adopted for Turkey in the past couple of years," said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the European Parliament. He said this is due to increasing concerns among those who favor Turkey's membership in the EU. "Those who are supporting Turkey's membership are deeply worried about the developments there," he said.
The existence of a strong opposition to Turkey's entry into the EU forces those who are supportive of the Turkish bid to be very careful in voicing criticism of the Turkish government, however, lest they strengthen the hand of those opposing Turkey's bid.
TURKISH-ISRAELI RELATIONS IMPORTANT FOR REGIONAL PEACE, CHP'S DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The deputy chairman of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said on Wednesday that Turkish-Israeli relations were important for regional peace.
Osman Koruturk said Turkey could contribute to the solution of Middle Eastern problems as Turkey has good relations with and is at an equal distance to all parties.
"Our good relations with Israel and other parties will enable us to re-play our past roles," Koruturk told a conference at the U.S. think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Koruturk said: "Changes in the Middle East would be in the best interest of the region and Turkey in the long term. Turkey supports legitimate demands of regional people, it is time for regimes to change." He added,
"The reason why we could not create a cooperative atmosphere in the region is because regime's have not allowed it. When problems are solved in the long term, there will be more democracy and this situation will ensure a wider economic, social and political cooperation."
Faruk Logoglu, CHP Party Assembly member and adviser, said the CHP wanted to create a new Turkey and the party aims to give Turkey an equal voice with Brussels and Washington in the Euro-Atlantic community.
Logoglu said the CHP wanted Turkey to assume its former efficient role in the Mideast peace process.
"To this end, we have to mend our relations with Israel because without Israel's trust, Turkey cannot play efficient role in the region. A Turkey, which can play a role in the region, is a strategic asset for the region," he said. Logoglu said CHP aimed to re-establish a relationship with the United States based on mutual respect and interests.
CHP's other deputy chairpeson Faik Oztrak said Turkey needed a new growth strategy, while Gulsun Bilgehan said gender equality was a prior issue for the party.
The delegation later departed for home.
UN SPOKESPERSON SAYS NO TRILATERAL MEETING PLAN
A spokesperson for the United Nations (UN) said on Wednesday that the organization had no plans to hold a trilateral meeting with Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders in April.
The spokesperson said in a daily press briefing that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not planning to meet President Dervis Eroglu of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias in April.
In a March 15 press conference Ban's special adviser for Cyprus Alexander Downer, he said an April meeting would depend on whether or not the two parties made any progress during their ongoing negotiations which continue until March 31.
Sources at the UN said the trilateral meeting might take place in June.
Ban, Eroglu and Christofias had a trilateral meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on January 26. Their previous meeting was in New York on November 18, 2010. Talks, which aim to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, began in September 2008.