On Wednesday the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone, strongly criticized the lack of freedom of the press in Turkey by using a Turkish idiom. His comments drew a quick, harsh reaction from the prime minister.

Ricciardone dismissed claims that he had "backtracked" after his previous remarks on the same topic angered Turkish officials, saying the United States' commitment to press freedom remained firm.

He told a group of journalists during a breakfast meeting, "We [the United States and Turkey] are friends. Friends try to understand each other ... Sometimes from outside you see things in another party, in a friend, in a country that seems contradictory and we ask friends – I learned a wonderful expression – 'Bu ne perhiz bu ne lahana turşusu."

"I love that expression: 'This is not a diet, nor a cabbage pickle.' It is so hard to translate into English, so as foreigners we see it is neither a diet nor a cabbage pickle and we say, 'What is this all about?'" the ambassador said, responding to a question about recently arrested journalists and the confiscation of an unpublished book by one of the jailed reporters. "In that context, we ask the same question as you do: 'What is this all about?'" Ricciardone said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quick to respond to the ambassador's criticism. "Let them first comprehend and know themselves what democracy is," Erdoğan said in Strasbourg.

Comments the ambassador made about freedom of the press, shortly after being posted to Turkey as the top U.S. diplomat, drew criticism from the Turkish government. Ricciardone later said he was trying to understand the situation as a foreigner, a response seen as backtracking.

"There is no shifting, no backtracking when it comes to upholding our principles and our law. We support freedom of expression and that means freedom of the media," Ricciardone said Wednesday. "It is the job of foreigners, foreign diplomats in any country to try to understand what is going on. So we speak with opinion leaders like you. We speak to people in the media, people in politics, people in academia, people in business, educated people, influential people, religious leaders, cultural leaders, entertainers – we speak to everybody because we want to understand the country," Ricciardone said.

The ambassador's remarks followed the release of a human rights report by the U.S. State Department that indicated a decline in Turkish freedom of the press. Ricciardone said he talked about the issue with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom he said conveyed very strongly that no democracy can progress without a free media. "We agreed on this point," Ricciardone said.

In his remarks, Ricciardone also addressed the upcoming general elections in Turkey. "We are impartial in the elections about the political parties, but we are quite optimistic about Turkish democracy. Nobody can predict the outcome, but Turkey will emerge even stronger following the elections," he said.

Asked if the French or U.S. presidential system model would be suitable for Turkey, Ricciardone said each democracy must decide for itself, adding that all systems have their pluses and minuses and that it was Turkey that would have to choose.

Turkey and Armenia need to 'ratify' protocols

The U.S. envoy hailed the signing of protocols by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their troubled relationship but expressed his country's hopes that the two neighbors would move to ratify the protocols, something that has not yet been accomplished.

On the topic of Iran, Ricciardone said the U.S. and Turkey have a difference of perspective in dealing with the problem over Tehran's controversial nuclear program and how to get Iran to live up to its obligations, but the ambassador said the two countries were operating along pretty much the same lines strategically.

Urging Turkey to continue its Kurdish initiative, Ricciardone said the Kurdish issue was being discussed more openly and courageously today than it was in the past, when the word "Kurdish" was not even used. Now, he noted, Kurdish is being taught at Turkish universities.



Turkey should "prioritize its own interests and the protection of its citizens' lives while evaluating its response to an Islamic charity's plan to send a new aid convoy to Gaza," a CHP party official said.

"What is important are Turkish interests and not those of this civil-society organization," Faruk Loğoğlu, a former ambassador who will run for parliament from the ranks of the Republican People's Party (CHP), told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.

An international group led by Turkey's Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), plans to dispatch a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza in mid-June, in commemoration of last year's deadly attack by Israeli commandos of an earlier convoy.

The May 31 raid on last year's flotilla killed eight Turkish and one Turkish-American citizen and threw Turkey-Israel relations into turmoil.

"With general elections in the country rapidly approaching, domestic political considerations make it difficult for Turkey to avoid the new flotilla to Gaza entirely," diplomatic sources said. They added, "that Turkey could use its influence to keep the campaign on a low profile so as not to spark a new diplomatic crisis between Ankara and Tel Aviv."

"This is a civil-society initiative and has an international dimension as well. We are still reviewing the situation," a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Daily News on Wednesday. Israeli Ambassador Gaby Levy has officially asked Turkey not to allow the new Gaza-bound aid convoy, which he said Israel sees as a provocation.

Loğoğlu said the Turkish government should evaluate the situation under three principles. "The first one is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens' lives. The second one is to take last year's experience into consideration and the last one is to analyze the mission's objective and to advise in an adequate way on its implementation," he said, adding that "the government cannot simply say that it the dispatching of the new flotilla is a civil-society move in which it has no influence."

Underscoring that any aid campaign to the Palestinians should be done in such a way so as not to create a new confrontation between Turkey and Israel, Loğoğlu suggested that conducting this campaign in line with Israeli rules would help the two countries mend ties following Turkey's election.

It is unclear whether any political figures will sail onboard the flotilla in this year's campaign and the departure point for the ships has not yet been announced.


The U.S. envoy to Turkey has advised that Turkey and Israel, two important U.S. allies, should work to reestablish good ties.

"Turkish-Israeli relations are among the most vitally important relationships in the eastern Mediterranean," Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone said at a meeting Wednesday with the Diplomatic Correspondents' Association. "Turkey and Israel are two strong democracies and two close friends of the United States. They need to communicate with each other. That's the relationship we care about."



Israel has expressed its "concerns" to Turkey about plans for a new Gaza-bound flotilla which is hoping to challenge Israel's blockade on the enclave next month, an official said on Wednesday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said that Israel's Ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, had declared their worries in a meeting with Turkish officials earlier this week. "The ambassador told his Turkish counterparts about our concerns regarding the dispatching of a pro-Hamas flotilla in the coming months," he told the AFP.

Organizers say the so-called "Freedom Flotilla II" will include participants from 50 countries who will try to reach Gaza next month, exactly a year after a previous attempt ended in disaster when Israeli troops stormed the lead ship and fatally shot nine Turkish activists.

The new flotilla is believed to include some 15 ships, compared to six last year. The initiative was an "incitement to violence", said Palmor, echoing remarks made on Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The naval convoy was "not a peace flotilla but a provocation, a deliberate provocation to seek to ignite this part of the Middle East," Netanyahu told a delegation of EU heads in Jerusalem. He added, "I think it's something that you should ... transmit to your governments, that this flotilla must be stopped."

Netanyahu has also called on UN chief Ban Ki-moon to cancel the flotilla.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in June 2006 and 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 Mahmud 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. Israel still 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.



As Turkey and Israel prepare for the final rounds of discussion before a U.N. panel concludes its investigation into a deadly raid last year, hopes are dim that the panel's report will provide a diplomatic breakthrough.

The once-close allies have been estranged since Israeli Defense Forces staged a deadly attack May 31, 2010, on an aid flotilla attempting to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, killing eight Turks and one Turkish-American.

In August 2010 a U.N. panel was set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the incident. The panel is not expected to force Israel to apologize and pay compensation to the victims' families, which were the two conditions set by the Turkish government to normalize ties.

Turkey's conviction that Israel is using every possible means behind the scenes to affect the outcome of the panel was reinforced recently when the head of a separate probe on Israel's 2008-2009 military offensive in Gaza backed away from a report published last September.

The report, issued by a commission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, concluded that both Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, committed potential war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The report accused Israel of using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians, destroying civilian infrastructure, and using people as human shields. [Goldstone has since retracted parts of the report.]

The four-member panel on the flotilla raid is set to resume work next week. Led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, it includes an Israeli and a Turkish expert. Representatives of both governments will also be present during the panel discussions. The panel will meet for the last time in May and the Turkish side hopes it will give its report to the U.N. secretary-general no later than May 31, the first anniversary of the deadly incident.

While Turkey seems confident about the strength of its arguments, the behind-the-scenes weight of the Israeli lobby on the possible outcome of the U.N. probe cannot be underestimated. It has been extremely difficult to convince Israel to cooperate with the U.N. probe and the lengthy negotiations have seriously restricted the mandate of the panel. It is tasked with looking at the circumstances of the raid and reviewing the results of the Turkish and Israeli investigations into the incident, as well as considering ways to avoid similar incidents in the future. Israel is extremely sensitive about any U.N. inquiries. It has been working to cancel the Goldstone commission's report after the judge said earlier this month that he regrets that the report may have been inaccurate.

"If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a very different document," he said in a newspaper article.



Mounting a fierce defense of Turkey's moves to arrest journalists and confiscate an unpublished manuscript, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a European body that the written documents seized by police posed a serious threat.

"It is a crime to use a bomb, but it is also a crime to use materials from which a bomb is made. If informed that all materials needed to construct a bomb have been placed in a certain location, wouldn't the security forces collect these materials?" Erdoğan said Wednesday during a speech at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Erdoğan was referring to the seizure of reporter Ahmet Şık's unpublished book by police March 24.

The prime minister answered questions from PACE members about freedom of the press, minority rights and the electoral threshold in Turkey and faced criticism afterward about some of his remarks.

"The words of the Turkish PM should be backed by concrete and credible actions," Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament who represents D66 (a Dutch liberal party), told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a written statement Wednesday.

"The raid of daily Radikal's offices for digital copies of Şık's book and attempts to ban the publication and destruction of an unpublished book are very alarming. The impact on Turkish society and the freedom of expression reaches far beyond the individual cases before the courts," Schaake said.

She added that actions such as raids and the arrests of [more than 20] journalists, even if made in the name of an ongoing investigation of serious crimes, limit freedom of the press and create a climate of fear.

Turkey has been strongly criticized over freedom of the press issues, especially after the recent journalist arrests, as well as for its high election threshold for parliamentary representation and alleged violations of minority rights.

Recalling that there were only 26 Turkish journalists under arrest or in prison for journalistic activities in Turkey, Erdoğan invited European institutions to take news related to the freedom of press from objective sources.

"We discussed this issue with the Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland, and I asked him to send his deputies and staff to Turkey, so that they can investigate at the source," Erdoğan said in his speech, adding that "once the latter confirmed all information at the source, they would find out that the allegations on limited press freedom in Turkey were not true."

Erdoğan addressed PACE's spring session Wednesday and responded to questions from the parliamentarians. He said the recent arrest of journalist Ahmet Şık and seizure of his book was "not the executive's government's action, but rather a decision taken by the judiciary." He also said the independent judiciary was doing its job well.

"We talk about an independent judiciary, whenever it comes to our interest … But when it comes to Turkey, we do not want an independent judiciary," the prime minister said.

Schaake also said protecting fundamental freedoms was the responsibility of any government. "Being elected into office or the principle of judicial independence does not absolve the government of Turkey from this basic duty from which it derives its own legitimacy," she said.

The Turkish prime minister was also asked on whether certain institutions of the judiciary are being used to limit the freedom of speech, where the previous trial of Nobel winner Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk's and other writers and journalists were also mentioned.

"Regarding Pamuk's book -- surely there has been a denunciation that the judiciary is obliged to assess. It has been assessed and finalized in a positive way," Erdoğan said, re-emphasizing that other writers and journalists were not on trial for their writings and ideas, but rather for having links to terrorist organizations and coup-plotters.

Kader Sevinç, the Brussels representative of the Republican People's Party (CHP), told the Daily News on Wednesday she welcomed Erdoğan's determination regarding Turkey's accession to the EU, adding that the PM's approach was lacking the necessary democratic qualities.

"Rhetoric alone is not enough, without a vision based on the modern standards of social rights for the Turkish people, social development, technology and an economy with global competitive capacity," said Sevinç.

Election threshold to be determined by people's will

The election threshold is determined by the Turkish people's will, rather than the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdoğan said in response to a question on why the threshold had not been reduced.

"The ten percent threshold is not determined by my party. We came to power with this threshold. We established our party and managed to come to power 16 months later," he said, adding that this was an indicator of the reality.

The decision to lower the threshold is not a matter of democracy, according to Erdoğan, who said certain European countries also had thresholds of 7 and 8 percent. "We will lower the threshold when the time comes, but will do this by asking our people, not you," he said.

Erdoğan said his party stayed clear of left and right extremes, focused on the political center and "embraced all people" regardless of ethnic background.

"However, here in France, I see Italians being chased away and deported. Is this democracy? I see there is no respect for personal freedom of belief in France at the moment," he said, adding that those who would judge Turkey should "take a look at themselves first."

The prime minister also answered questions from members of the Turkish press after his speech to PACE. He criticized the General Staff's statement last week over the alleged the "Balyoz" Sledgehammer coup plan, which said the army had difficulty in understanding the continued detention of 163 military personnel as part of the probe. The application of these military personnel, who still remain under arrest, to be released on their own recognizance pending trial, was refused for the second time by a court a day prior to the statement.

Erdoğan said it was wrong to make a statement and that they should have waited for the final decision of the judiciary. He said the army is totally under civilian control.

Erdoğan's Middle East views

The prime minister also gave thoughts on international and regional issues.

"Europe must heed and support the calls for freedom emanating from the Arab world. We cannot look at those regions and see only oil wells and not the poverty and the yearnings of those people," Erdoğan said. Any foreign military intervention "must be motivated solely by humanitarian concerns. We do not want a new Iraq or Afghanistan. The situation in Libya as well as Palestine must be assessed through the prism of humanitarian values," he said.

Erdoğan also called for the establishment of a civilian government in Egypt "as soon as possible" and said he was closely monitoring the unrest in Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain.

"Turkey is able to communicate with all the parties and can play a major role in the search for peace," Erdoğan said. Turning to Turkey's bid to join the European Union, he said, "it must be treated fairly and promises must be kept. My country needs the EU and the EU needs Turkey. Those who think that Turkish accession would harm their prosperity are doing injustice to Turkey but also to Europe and their own people."

European Council to send fact-finding mission

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's invitation to the Council of Europe to send a fact-finding message to Turkey has been positively received, with Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland confirming the agreement.

Jagland's envoy will look into the circumstances and reasons for the arrest of several journalists in connection with their links to the Ergenekon gang, which is accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, according to a Council of Europe press release Wednesday.

"I will send a special representative as soon as possible. This envoy will report back to me so that we can make an assessment of the situation. This is a constructive approach and a move forward in the discussion about freedom of the press in Turkey," Jagland said.

The secretary-general had previously raised his concerns with Erdoğan by telephone in March, when he expressed the hope that the cases against the journalists could be resolved as quickly as possible.

"I welcome the invitation by Erdoğan to the secretary-general of the Council of Europe to investigate the detention of journalists," Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal party member in the European Parliament, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a written statement Wednesday.

"I believe that the council is well equipped to deploy an independent delegation to assess fundamental rights in Turkey, such as freedom of the press and the rule of law," Schaake said.



A United Nations summit will be held May 9-13, 2011 to address problems faced by the least developed countries.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso have been invited and have confirmed their participation at the Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries, a Turkish diplomat said on Tuesday. A number of other state leaders have also been invited and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also likely to attend the summit as the head of Group of 20. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will chair the conference.

Nearly 60 heads of states and governments, a hundred ministers and representatives of major international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are expected to attend the summit. Topics to be discussed will be poverty, food security, energy and climate change. These issues are particularly crucial ones for the world's 48 countries with a per capita income of less than $745.

The least developed countries of the world include 33 African countries and 14 Asia-Pacific ones, including Haiti. In 1971, the United Nations identified those countries as "the weakest and the poorest of the international community."

The UN summit on least developed countries has been held every decade since 1981.



During talks in Qatar on Wednesday, world governments rallied behind Libyan rebels as they urged NATO to increase air strikes on Moammar Gadhafi's tanks and missile sites. At the same time, Italy and Qatar said rebels needed arms to defend themselves while Britain urged regional aid.

The rebels turned down an African Union cease-fire plan this week because it did not require Gadhafi to cede power. An initiative by Turkey, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan outlined last week, to help negotiate an end to the fighting "will only be acceptable on the same condition," a member of the rebel delegation in Doha told Bloomberg.

Erdoğan called for "a real cease-fire to be settled immediately and Gadhafi's military units to end their siege of some cities and withdraw."

As Turkey was seeking international support for its initiative, Mahmoud Shammam, a member of a rebel delegation to talks in Doha, said, "Libyan rebels will only accept a Turkish initiative to end fighting in the North African nation if it includes an agreement for leader Gadhafi to relinquish power."

Turkey's foreign minister attended the Doha talks and met with Qatar's crown prince, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, Seikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr al-Thani. Turkey's road map for Libya was assessed at the meetings, Anatolia news agency reported.

Libyan rebels said Gadhafi's forces were stepping up attacks on Misrata, firing rockets into the city and urged NATO to increase air strikes on the regime's tanks and missile sites.

"Civilians are not sufficiently protected," Essawi told Agence France-Presse on the sidelines of the first meeting of the Libya contact group. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon warned that as many as 3.6 million people, or more than half of Libya's population, could need humanitarian assistance. The U.N. chief, addressing the gathering, also urged the international community to "speak with one voice," on Libya, as a rift appeared to be opening between EU partners, with Belgium expressing opposition to arming the rebels and Germany insisting there could be "no military solution."

"The discussion about arming the rebels is definitely on the table ... to defend themselves," Italy's Maurizio Massari said before the meeting. "The U.N. resolution ... does not forbid arming the rebels fighting Libyan leader Gadhafi's forces," he told reporters, while adding that a decision was unlikely to be resolved at the meeting in the Qatari capital. "We need to provide the rebels all possible defensive means," he said, singling out communication and intelligence equipment.

Qatar's crown prince, also addressing the gathering of some 20 countries and international organizations, said the Libyan people must be supplied with the means to defend themselves.

"The main aim of our meeting is to help the Libyan people decide their own fate... and to help the Libyan people defend themselves so they can decide on their future," said Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

However, Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere said, "The U.N. resolution speaks about protecting civilians, not arming them."

"We will not see a military solutio in Libya," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, but added that Libyan leader Gadhafi had to step down. "Germany is ready to support humanitarian action for the people of Libya," Westerwelle said.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rassmussen agreed that a political settlement was the only solution. "We hope this meeting can facilitate a political solution for the problem in Libya, and obviously there is no military solution so we have to initiate a political process."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague was upbeat about the meeting and said it would "strengthen" the pressure on Gadhafi to step down. "It is impossible for anyone to see a viable future for Libya with Colonel Gadhafi in power," Hague told reporters before the meeting.



On Wednesday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had made commitments to protect the rights of the Armenian people and that Turkey would also defend the rights of the people of Azerbaijan.

After his address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Erdogan answered a question on the protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia in 2009 to restore diplomatic ties and reopen their border. The protocols, however, need to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries to take effect.

"On the issue of reopening the border, we have made commitments to protect the rights of the Armenian people. However, I would like to make it clear that we would also defend the rights of the Azerbaijani people, our friends, sisters and brothers," Erdogan said.

Erdogan said the problem regarding protocols would be resolved when the Minsk Group (consisting of the United States, France and Russia) took steps and settled the long-standing dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Upper Karabakh, a breakaway region inside Azerbaijan.

Erdogan said that Turkey was home to approximately 110,000 Armenians, some 40,000 of whom were not Turkish citizens. "We do not deport them as they are in our country because of economic difficulties. These protocols have been signed to find a solution to this problem. The problem about protocols could be settled easier if the Armenian government overcame its fear of the Armenian diaspora. When that happens, solutions will be found rapidly. We do not hold a grudge against Armenia," Erdogan said.



The presidents of Turkey and Pakistan are meeting in Turkey and they are expected to discuss the possibility of Turkey hosting a political office for Taliban militants from Afghanistan in order to promote talks to end the war there.

President Abdullah Gul and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari are scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday.
Any solution to the Afghan conflict would likely require the support of Pakistan and in particular elements of its security forces that are believed to have links to insurgents in Afghanistan.

Hardline elements of the Taliban, whose leaders are based in southwest Pakistan, have publicly derided Afghan government efforts to promote peace and say no talks are possible until foreign forces leave Afghan soil.



Despite President Abdullah Gul's and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks that "they were satisfied," the Student Election and Replacement Center (OSYM) confessed the scandal.

OSYM first denied the coding scandal in the university entrance exam and then there was a problem only in the booklets distributed to the press. In the end, OSYM sent a letter to students and admitted the coding in the exam. The letter said, "booklets with a sequence was distributed by mistake." However, the OSYM claimed that the sequence was not noticed by anybody.



Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began his election campaign from Europe.

Speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Erdogan criticized not only the U.S. ambassador but also Europe, particularly France.

To a parliamentarian who voiced support for religious freedom, Erdogan said, "I guess the friend is French, however she is very French (meaning stranger in Turkish) to Turkey."

Regarding the arrest of journalist Ahmet Sik for his unpublished book, Erdogan said, "using a bomb is a crime, however it is also a crime to use the materials used in preparing a bomb."



Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his views about several issues during his meeting with Turkish journalists in Strasbourg.

Erdogan said, "The U.S. Consulate asked my daughter-in-law to supply a new photograph for a visa. Then they apologized. They should first perceive what democracy is," Erdogan said.

On another topic Erdogan said, "It was wrong for the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to make a comment on the Balyoz Sledgehammer case on its own web site, saying 'we have a difficulty in understanding Balyoz'."



Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his daughter and daughter-in-law had difficulty obtaining visas from the United States because they were wearing headscarfs.

The U.S. Embassy gave an immediate written response. The statement said, "The United States does not require headscarves to be taken off in visa photographs, but there are rules regarding photographs which are used for visas. The face of the person applying for the visa must be seen clearly. However, a headscarf does not have to be removed."



The Justice & Development Party (AKP) will make public its election declaration this weekend.

The first election rally of the Republican People's Party (CHP) will be in the northern province of Samsun on April 24. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will announce its election declaration on April 19, and the CHP on April 22.



Air Forces Commander Hasan Aksay said two months ago a team was established to manufacture a local warplane.

General Aksay said, "After waiting 25 years, Turkish Air Forces will build its own warplane."



Turkey's main opposition party will announce proposals to solve the Kurdish issue via an "election manifesto" instead of a report, the party has said.

The Republican People's Party (CHP), will print an "election brochure" containing suggestions for solutions to problems in Turkey's troubled eastern and southeastern regions. Topping the list of suggestions is a "conditional green light to education in Kurdish," the ending of the village guard system, and bringing the Dersim documents to light.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu already released the party's Economic Improvement and Strategic Goals report targeting the region in recent weeks and had planned a separate report for political suggestions to a solution to the Kurdish issue. However, a "manifesto and brochure" was brought to the agenda at the last minute. The party's Central Executive Board held a meeting Wednesday to discuss the "election manifesto."

Kılıçdaroğlu is expected to announce the manifesto in Istanbul on April 22, according to information obtained by the Hürriyet Daily News. Kılıçdaroğlu will then start his tour of the country in Samsun.

Kılıçdaroğlu had previously stated that the CHP would give the region a "third path" as an alternative to the religious and ethnic options determined by other political parties.

The "third path" will also include Kılıçdaroğlu's hometown of Dersim, where a military operation in 1937 in the area, which is now called Tunceli, killed thousands of people. The CHP is expected to release all documents on the operation, which some have called "genocide."

Kılıçdaroğlu is also expected to promise that citizens will be provided the opportunity to learn their native language of Kurdish as an elective, yet all other classes will remain Turkish. The CHP will end the village guard system if elected and all village guards will be employed in other sectors, according to the party's plan.

The CHP has also promised to convert Diyarbakır No. 5 prison, which became synonymous with torture in the wake of the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, into a museum. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has promised to restore the prison, but Kılıçdaroğlu has criticized the move, saying it would be a reminder of the grim past.

The party also plans to abolish the names of streets and institutions that carry the name of 1980 coup leader Kenan Evren if such a decision is approved by the party's Executive Central Board (MYK).

There is no consensus within the party, however, to establish a commission with the authority to delve into the cases of thousands of missing people who are believed to have been murdered, especially in the 1990s in eastern Turkey.

In its manifesto, the CHP will also promise to lower the election threshold to enter parliament from 10 percent to 5 or 7 percent in an effort to provide representation to all segments of society in parliament.

The minefields in the southeast will be cleared and the land will be given to villagers, who will also be encouraged to engage in agricultural activities, according to the manifesto.

Deputy leader Sezgin Tanrıkulu contributed to the preparation of the party's manifesto.



Armenian President Serge Sarkisian will not meet with Turkish leaders even if he decides to attend a U.N.-sponsored conference in Istanbul in May, his spokesman said Wednesday.

The Yerevan government is still considering whether or not the president will attend the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries spokesman Armen Arzumanyan told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

"We want to underscore that there will not be any diplomatic contact between Sarkisian and any Turkish leaders even if the president decides to attend Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries," Arzumanyan said.

Turkey has also invited Israeli President Shimon Peres but his attendance is not yet certain. Bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained since last year.

Mithat Rende, coordinator for the conference, said that 192 U.N. member states were invited to the conference, which aims to ensure the sustainable economic and social development of the world's least developed countries, the Anatolia news agency reported.


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