The planned dispatch of a flotilla of ships attempting to break the blockade on Gaza "must be stopped," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of European representatives Monday.

Speaking at a lunch with EU heads of mission in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said stopping the flotilla from heading to the coastal territory was a "common interest" for Israel and Europe.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu called on U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to stop the ships seeking to break the Gaza blockade.

"We are aware that there is a planned provocation in May, or possibly early June, of another so-called flotilla – not a peace flotilla but a provocation, a deliberate provocation to seek to ignite this part of the Middle East," Netanyahu said. "I think it's in our common interest and I think it's something that you should... relay to your governments, that this flotilla must be stopped," Netanyahu said. He also said that the organizers include "extremist Islamic elements whose aim is to create a provocation and bring about a conflagration."

Activists from 25 countries plan to sail approximately 15 ships to Gaza in May to mark the first anniversary of a smaller flotilla that attempted to sail to the territory last year but was intercepted by Israeli troops. The Turkish Islamic aid organization that organized that trip, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), recently announced that it is preparing another aid flotilla to Gaza.

Israeli commandos raided the boats May 31, 2010, in a controversial operation that left nine pro-Palestinian activists, eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American, dead and drew international condemnation.

Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in June 2006 after militants captured conscript Gilad Shalit in deadly cross-border raid from the territory, where he remains in captivity.

Israeli restrictions on imports and exports were tightened a year later when Hamas seized power in the territory of 1.5 million people, ousting loyalists of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

In the face of international condemnation of its raid on the flotilla, Israel eased some of its restrictions on goods entering and leaving Gaza. However, it maintains tight restrictions on items it says could be used by Hamas, including some building materials, and continues to control Gaza's airspace and sea access.


Turkish mediation between rival Palestinian groups appeared even more unlikely Monday after Hamas announced its conditions for talks in Istanbul following a parallel move by al-Fatah.

Hamas will only meet with the rival group al-Fatah if it can hold the presidency post in a potential Palestinian unity government, a senior Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday.

An envoy from the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday that Hamas would have to agree to join a unity government for al-Fatah to schedule talks, potentially mediated by Turkey.

"We will contribute if Hamas and al-Fatah want to talk. Yet the parties seem to be far from reconciliation," the Turkish diplomat said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu contacted Hamas leader Khaleed Meshaal last week in Damascus to test the waters for a new Palestinian reconciliation initiative suggested by Abbas. The leader of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, did not categorically dismiss the idea of making contact with Abbas's al-Fatah, but stated the meeting was conditional based on Abbas' confirming Meshaal's presidency in a future government.

Turkey's attempt to encourage dialogue between Hamas and al-Fatah began following Abbas's call March 16 to set up a unity government with a six-month mandate. Under his plan, the government would carry out elections under the supervision of the international community before asking the United Nations General Assembly in September to officially recognize a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders.

After Abbas asked Turkey's support for his initiative, Ankara proposed he hold a meeting in Istanbul with Meshaal to resolve their differences and form a unity government. Abbas has stated such a meeting is conditional based on Turkey convincing the Hamas leader to establish a unity government and ruling out a new round of negotiations. Given both parties' reservations, their meeting in Istanbul seems unlikely.

Davutoğlu discussed the Palestine initiative on Sunday with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Abdel Aziz Sharaf, Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.

"Turkey has been urging the rival parties to unite," Davutoğlu said in a press conference Sunday, adding that "If Egypt brought forth a proposal on the Palestinian issue, Turkey would support it."


Potential U.S. support for the idea of Turkey hosting a political office for Taliban militants from Afghanistan has given a boost to the initiative, which was first suggested late last year.

Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who heads the Afghan High Peace Council, discussed the issue during a visit to Turkey last month, a member of the council told the Associated Press.

"Turkey didn't say no," Arsala Rahmani was quoted as saying. "It is a key issue for resolving the situation in Afghanistan. It's important for the Taliban to have a political address, a place to talk to the world face-to-face. We have said in the past that without an office, solving the problem will be difficult," Rahmani said.

No official application has yet been made for such an office, but Turkish approval could bolster Afghan President Hamid Karzai's efforts to integrate moderate Taliban into mainstream society, a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomat said Monday.

"This is an issue still under discussion. The Americans also say an office can be opened," the diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We are not acting on our own. This can happen only with the positive opinion of every party concerned," he said.

Rahmani, a member of the peace council set up by the Afghan government to work toward a political solution, told the Associated Press that "Turkey is already making plans for the office but it will take time to work out the details."

The issue is expected to come up during the visit of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who was scheduled to be in Ankara late Monday.

"Pakistan fully supports Afghan efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan," a Pakistani Embassy spokesman told the Daily News.


On Wednesday during a visit to Strasbourg, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will face questions from European parliamentarians about freedom of the press in Turkey that comes after recent arrests of journalists and the seizure of a draft manuscript.

"The situation is still bad regardless of the efforts to change the laws," Mats Johansson, the standing rapporteur on media freedom of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday.

Johansson said the recent arrest of journalists in Turkey and the police seizure of an unpublished book by one of the arrested reporters was "absolutely a source of concern" in Strasbourg and a blot on Turkey's freedom of the press record.

"Turkey is mentioned in resolutions being dealt with during the session," Johansson said.

Prime Minister Erdoğan will address PACE's spring session Wednesday as the guest head of government and respond to questions from the parliamentarians.

"The Prime Minister's Strasbourg visit will be an affirmation of the strong support our country extends to the Council of Europe," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will also attend the Monday through Friday session as the chairman of the Ministers' Committee of the Council of Europe.

Many observers say, however, that the latest developments on freedom of the press are casting a shadow over Turkey's international image.

"We are not happy with the situation concerning freedom of expression in Turkey," Christos Pourgourides, the chair of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, told the Daily News.

The [lack of press freedom] in Turkey has been criticized in recent reports by the U.S. State Department and the European Parliament. Erdoğan has insisted that nobody in Turkey is behind bars due to their journalism but because of other charges, including being a member of a terrorist organization.

"We do follow the situation concerning human rights and freedoms in Turkey very closely. We are upset by this act [the arrests] against journalists," Pourgourides said, making it clear that the detention of journalists points to serious problems in Turkey with media freedom.

"It is no good for Turkey. The latest developments show that there is still a big distance between words and action on the ground," he said, referring to the Turkish government's reform efforts over the last years.

The PACE spring session was opened Monday by President Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, a Turkish parliamentarian. A debate on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue will take place Tuesday in a session attended by Professor Mehmet Görmez, head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate. Later Tuesday Davutoğlu will present a report of the Ministers' Committee to the General Assembly.

Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are expected to meet with Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland and Çavuşoğlu. Turkey will hand over the presidency of the Ministers' Committee to the Ukraine on May 11.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday said the general elections on June 12 will open a new era for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

"We have completed our foremanship and apprenticeship and now we are beginning our mastership," Erdoğan told reporters after his party announced the list of candidates for the upcoming general elections. Erdoğan said 167 of the sitting AK Party lawmakers will not run in the elections for another legislative term, adding that the party nominated 78 women for MP.


Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has left his mark on his party's candidate list for the upcoming deputy elections by leaving out the old guns and bringing in fresh faces. Former Party Leader Deniz Baykal, who resigned following a sex tape scandal nearly a year ago, was included on the candidate list, but Önder Sav and his team were removed.

After nineteen years under the leadership of Baykal, the Republican People's Party (CHP), has prepared to face the public as a newly rejuvenated party.

The CHP Central Executive Board spent until Sunday night working on the candidate list and presented it to the Party Assembly by midnight where all 435 names were approved one by one. Finishing touches and fine tunings were being made as the Hürriyet Daily News went to press.

Ex-leader Baykal is a candidate from Antalya, placed first on the list as a candidate from the first constituency region, with his colleagues Osman Kaptan, Nur Sertel Yılmaz Ateş, Mehmet Sevigen, Tacidar Seyhan, and Onur Öymen also making the list. Former Secretary-General Önder Sav and his team consisting of Hakkı Süha Okay, Kemal Anadol, and Mustafa Özyürek, however, did not make it on the list.

Spots were given to Ergenekon suspects too, with journalists Mustafa Balbay first on the list for the second region of İzmir, Mehmet Haberal first on the list for Zonguldak, and Sinan Aygün third on the list for the second region of Ankara. Tuncay Özkan, Mustafa Özbek, Kadri Özbek and İlhan Cihaner, however, did not make it on the list.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu himself was listed first in the second region of Istanbul, followed by Secretary-General Bilhun Tamaylıgil, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, and Aydın Ayaydın. Kılıçdaroğlu's deputy Gürsel Tekin headed the first region. Following Tekin on the list are Osman Korutürk, Akif Hamzaçebi, journalist Ayşe Önal's daughter Şafak Pavey, and retired Mufti İhsan. The third region includes Erdoğan Toprak, Umut, Süleyman Çelebi, journalist Oktay Ekşi, singer Sabahat Akkiraz, and Binnaz Toprak.

New faces the CHP wants in the new term were all placed in places where they would be easily selected. The European Court of Human Rights Judge Rıza Türmen was listed second in the first region of İzmir along with Güldal Mumcu. The second region consists of Alaattin Yüksel, Balbay, Mehmet Ali Susam, and Aytun Çıray. Former Mayor Ahmet Piriştina's son Levent Piriştina is also a candidate from İzmir. Sencer Ayata headed the list for the first region of Ankara, followed by deputy leader Emrehan Halıcı, Emine Ülker Tarhan, Aylin Nazlıaka, and Bülent Kuşoğlu. The second region includes deputy leaders Gülsün Bilgehan and İzzet Çetin, along with Sinan Aygün. Deputy leader Süheyl Batum is on the list for Eskişehir.

Retired ambassador Faruk Loğoğlu is a candidate for Adana, and State Minister Salih Sümer for Diyarbakır.

Deputy leader Sena Kaleli, former Minister of Defense Turhan Tayan, made it on the list for Bursa. Deputy leader Hurşit Güneş made it on for Kocaeli, with Volkan Canalioğlu for Trabzon. Ali Kılıç did not make it on the list. Group deputy chairman Muharrem İnce is a candidate for Yalova, Attila Kart for Konya, İsa Gök for Mersin, Faik Öztrak for Tekirday, Zahir Kandaşoğlu for Van, and Tolga Çandar for Muğla. Former CHP leader Hikmet Çetin, made it on the list along with Murat Karayalçın and former Minister of Culture Ercan Karakaş.

The list contained many names from the center-right, such as Aydın Ayaydın, Bülent Kuşoğlu, Ali Arif Özzeybek, Turan Tayan, Aytun Çıray, religious sociologist Muhammed Çakmak, Mahmut Öztürk and Mustafa Eren.

According to information obtained by the Hürriyet Daily News, an argument erupted over the candidacy of Sinan Aygün during the Party Assembly meeting. Kılıçdaroğlu defended Aygün, and thirty-eight of the eighty assembly members voted against him.

Didem Engin, who did not make it on the list, strongly reacted, stating that she would have made it on the list if she were close to certain people; she then stormed out of the meeting.

Journalist Enver Aysever, who was sixteenth in line for Istanbul and a member of the Party Assembly, quit, stating that he wanted to go back to his occupation, and would vote for the CHP in the next elections. It was reported that Aysever was against the candidacy of Sinan Aygün and Mehmet Haberal. Balbay's candidacy was also objected to by Binnaz Toprak.

Deniz Pınar Atılgan who did not make it on the list hinted that she might run as an independent.

CHP group deputy chairman Anadol had strong objections to the decision that excluded him from the list. "They should not have wasted individuals who contributed to the party. Önder Sav, Hakkı Suha Okay and Tekin Bingöl should not have been wasted," said Anadol, according to reports.

"Önder Sav and his team were purged from the lists, but Deniz Baykal made it. They left Baykal alone and trimmed," said CHP İzmir Deputy Canan Arıtman.

"Do you think I sleep easy at night?" asked CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu. "I lost sleep while preparing this list. There were over 4,000 qualified people to chose from, but the candidate list is limited," he said, according to reports.


There was a great change in candidate MP lists of the ruling Justice & Development Party (AK), the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) for the general elections scheduled to be held on June 12.

A total of 167 lawmakers from the AK Party were not included in the candidate MP lists. Political parties in Turkey submitted their lists of candidates who will run for the MP in the 550-seat parliament in the upcoming general elections.

Sixty-four of 101 lawmakers from CHP were not included in the list.


On Monday political parties in Turkey submitted their candidate lists for the June 12 general elections for MPs.

More than half of the sitting lawmakers have failed to win a chance for re-election in the parliament. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have nominated 255 women which could boost the number of women MPs in the parliament to as many as 100 in the new assembly. Currently there are 48 women.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) raised its growth expectation for Turkey in 2011.

In October the IMF said that Turkey would grow by 3.6 percent in 2011. IMF revised this figure in April and said that Turkey would grow by 4.6 percent in 2011. According to the IMF, Turkey will be the champion of growth in Europe in 2011.


The Turkish Central Bank announced that the current account deficit in February went up 126.7 percent when compared to the same month in 2010, and was recorded as $6.127 billion.

President of the Executive Board of the Istanbul Chamber of Industry (ISO) Tanıl Küçük said that Turkey had to review its growth model based on the current account deficit. "We can not go on with this current account deficit," Küçük said.


Haydar Saltık, secretary general of the then National Security Council who was in charge for sometime after the military takeover, died last Friday at the age of 88.

Top brass military officers bid farewell to the late general but no politicians attended the funeral ceremony or sent flowers.


On Sunday Turkey denounced what it termed Israel's "excessive and disproportionate" strikes on Gaza in retaliation for a Palestinian anti-tank missile attack last week.

"We strongly condemn the excessive and disproportionate reprisals of Israel that have injured and killed civilians in Gaza," the foreign ministry said in a statement urging Israel to employ good sense and moderation.

"The region cannot be allowed to enter into a new spiral of violence," the foreign ministry said.

Israel has launched a string of deadly air strikes across the Gaza Strip, killing at least 18 people and wounding nearly 70, according to Palestinian medical sources. This occurred last Thursday after an anti-tank missile was fired from the coastal enclave, hitting a school bus in Israel and seriously wounding a teenager.

The latest confrontation is the deadliest since an Israeli offensive in December 2008 that claimed the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians.

Relations between Israel and Turkey, once close allies, have sharply deteriorated in recent years amid Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's frequent outbursts against Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.

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