EU: "INTOLERABLE" - LEADING HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, DANIEL SAOUD, DETAINED BY SYRIA
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Saturday said the brutal Syrian crackdown was "intolerable" and urged Damascus to launch "profound political reforms."
"The killings are appalling and intolerable. All those responsible for these crimes must be brought to justice and held accountable for their actions," she said in a statement.
A United Nations spokesman said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "condemns the ongoing violence against peaceful demonstrators in Syria ... (and) calls for it to stop immediately."
Ban said that Assad's government must "respect international human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as freedom of the press."
He also repeated his demand for an "independent, transparent and effective investigation into the killings."
Thursday, Assad had issued decrees scrapping decades of emergency rule, abolishing the state security court and allowing citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations. Far from satisfying the people's demands, the steps could not soothe the tension on the streets in several cities in Syria.
A coalition of 10 Syrian human rights groups said Sunday that authorities have detained a leading activist, Daniel Saoud, who heads the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, Freedoms and Human Rights, one of the most prominent watchdog groups in Syria.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch also urged the United States and European Union to impose sanctions against Syrian officials accused of using force against demonstrators challenging the authoritarian rule of President Assad.
NUCLEAR GUARANTEE: TURKISH NUCLEAR PLANT CAN "NOT BE DEMOLISHED"
The Russian nuclear company Rasatom said the nuclear power plant to be built in Akkuyu town of the southern Turkish province of Mersin could not be demolished even if it were hit by a plane. The Rasatom executives met journalists from Turkey, China, Poland, Bulgaria and Austria. During the meeting, they said the third-generation power plant to be built in southern Turkey would cost about $20 billion.
NO ONE SATISFIED
The statement released by United States President Barack Obama to mark the incidents of 1915 has drawn harsh reactions from both Turkey and Armenia. Armenians accused President Obama, who used the Armenian expression "Meds Yeghern" meaning "great tragedy" in Turkish, to describe the incidents of 1915, of betrayal, while Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, "This statement distorts the historical facts. Therefore, we find it very problematic and deeply regret it."
TURKEY DENOUNCES OBAMA'S REMARKS ON 1915 EVENTS
Issuing annual remarks for 'Armenian Remembrance Day,' US President Barack Obama once again declines to classify the World War I-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as 'genocide,' yet Turkey still criticized his statement. US Armenians, meanwhile, were angered by the failure to use the term 'genocide'
Turkey has denounced the U.S. president's annual statement marking the deaths of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as "one-sided," criticizing Barack Obama for issuing the remarks on Turkey's National Sovereignty day.
"Obama's statement is one-sided and it reads history from a single perspective," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Sunday.
"I want to remind everyone that the statement was made on the same day that our nation was marking National Sovereignty day and the 91st anniversary of the national Parliament; it would be better if this had been noticed by the American side," the minister said Sunday in northwestern province of Çanakkale, where he was participating in a joint press conference with his New Zealand counterpart, Murray McCully, to mark the 96th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I.
The U.S. president traditionally releases a statement on April 24, "Armenian Remembrance Day," but Obama chose to issue his statement this year on April 23, which is marked as National Sovereignty and Children's Day in Turkey.
"It is saddening that each year this issue pops up and casts a shadow on our relations with the United States. Lots of pain was endured in the Ottoman territories during the break-up of the empire. We would have expected Mr. Obama to also remember the sufferings of Turks back in those days," Davutoğlu said.
Obama on Saturday called the incidents of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire a "great disaster" or "Meds Yeghern" in Armenian – but he did not term them a "genocide," greatly angering many American-Armenians.
Davutoğlu said Turkey would continue efforts to ensure that its version of the 1915 events would be fairly remembered. "[Obama's] statement is unfit historically and it is biased."
"We find these remarks that distort historical truths very problematic and we regret them," the ministry said in a statement released earlier Sunday before Davutoğlu spoke, adding that the president's statement reflected concerns about U.S. domestic policy.
"Our expectation from the United States is to facilitate a normalization process between Turkey and Armenia, not hamper it."
Obama receives Armenian anger as well
U.S. Armenians also vented their frustration at Obama's failure to use the term "genocide" in his remarks, with the Armenian National Committee of America, or ANCA, the largest and most influential U.S. Armenian group, accusing Obama of "once again betraying his promise to recognize the Armenian genocide."
"President Barack Obama again betrayed his pledge to properly condemn and commemorate this crime against humanity," ANCA said in a statement. "Despite his repeated, detailed, and unambiguous pledges to recognize the Armenian genocide [during the presidential election campaign in 2008], the president offered only euphemisms and evasive terminology to describe the murder of over 1.5 million men women and children."
In an annual message Obama urged "full" acknowledgment of the "horrific events." "We solemnly remember the horrific events that took place 96 years ago, resulting in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire," Obama said.
"As we commemorate the 'Meds Yeghern' and pay tribute to the memories of those who perished, we also recommit ourselves to ensuring that devastating events like these are never repeated. This is a contemporary cause that thousands of Armenian-Americans have made their own. "Our hearts and prayers are with Armenians everywhere as we recall the horrors of the Meds Yeghern, honor the memories of those who suffered, and pledge our friendship and deep respect for the people of Armenia."
Obama also praised "the courageous steps taken by individuals in Armenia and Turkey to foster a dialogue that acknowledges their common history."
"President Obama's disgraceful capitulation to Turkey's threats, his complicity in Turkey's denials, and his administration's active opposition to congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide represent the very opposite of the principled and honest change he promised to bring to our country's response to this crime," ANCA chairman Ken Hachikian said.
The Armenian Assembly of America, or the AAA, another major U.S. Armenian group, gave a historical account of earlier U.S. presidential statements on the matter, without directly confronting Obama. "Other U.S. presidents have used dictionary definitions of genocide or incorporated the term Armenian genocide by reference, but have yielded to Turkish threats," the AAA said.
Hundreds of Armenian-American activists flooded the streets of Culver City, near Los Angeles, California, on Thursday to protest Obama's "failure to honor his pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide."
U.S. Armenians traditionally urge U.S. presidents and the Congress to officially recognize World War I-era deaths of their kinsmen in the Ottoman Empire as "genocide." But their efforts so far have not been successful. Turkey has warned that any formal U.S. genocide recognition will worsen bilateral ties with the U.S. in a major and lasting way.
TURKEY WARNS AL-ASSAD
After giving advice several times to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Ankara gave him a warning to al-Assad as the Syrian leader did not take steps in the reform process. Ankara told Damascus to make reforms, not to use force, and not escalate tension in the country.
TURKEY JOINS US, EU IN CALLS TO SYRIA TO STOP KILLINGS
More than a hundred reported deaths among protesters demonstrating against the regime in Syria over the weekend drew sharp responses from Turkey, the US, the EU and other world powers. Turkey's ruling AKP called for maximum restraint, but the main opposition CHP says it was not enough, a diplomatic initiative should be launched
Turkey joined world powers, the United States and the European Union in calling on the Syrian leadership to stop using excessive force against its own people demanding more rights, after more than 120 people were reportedly killed over the weekend.
"Turkey appeals [to the authorities] to act with maximum restraint; to refrain from excessive use of force, and to choose the appropriate means of response to mass demonstrations," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement released late Saturday. However, this reaction was evaluated as insufficient by the main opposition party, which called on the government to launch a diplomatic action to prevent anymore killing.
Meanwhile, security forces raided homes across Syria, and arrested regime opponents as funerals were held Sunday for people killed in a bloody crackdown on protesters, activists said. Students called for a strike, and two members of parliament resigned after at least 13 mourners were shot dead Saturday when Syrians swarmed the streets to bury scores of demonstrators who had been killed in protests the previous day. Witnesses and activists said several people were also rounded up in and around Damascus but could not give exact numbers.
More than 300 people have been killed – including more than 120 on Friday and Saturday – since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad's regime began five weeks ago, according to rights groups. Friday was the deadliest day: since the uprising began, 112 have been killed, rights groups said.
Voicing deep concern over the bloody unrest in neighboring Syria, Turkey called on Damascus to continue its reform process with determination, to complete it as quickly as possible and to put it into practice without wasting time.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held phone conversations with Assad in recent weeks to advise him to heed the demands of his people and sent him envoys to convey the message that Ankara will stand by him if he continues in the reform process. The steps Bashar has taken so far are not seen as sufficient in Ankara, however, due to close ties between Assad and Erdoğan; observers claim that the Turkish government cannot voice its opposition louder than this."We are calling on the Justice and Development Party [AKP] government to end the wait-and-see policy and to launch diplomatic initiatives to the Syrian government," Osman Korutürk, deputy leader of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, said in a written statement Sunday.
Describing the situation in Syria as "very critical," Korutürk called on the Syrian administration to stop using force against civilians and to heed the demands of its people.
Obama condemns Assad
One of the strongest statements on Syria came from U.S. President Barrack Obama, who condemned the Syrian government for using force against demonstrators.
"Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies," Obama's statement read.
Calling on Assad to change course now and heed the calls of his own people, Obama said: "We strongly oppose the Syrian government's treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups. The United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Syria and around the world."
SENIOR U.S. DIPLOMAT TO VISIT TURKEY
Ann Stock, assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department for Educational and Cultural Affairs, is set to pay a visit to Turkey on April 24-29.
Stock will visit Turkish capital Ankara as well as Istanbul to meet officials with the U.S. government and diplomatic mission in Turkey to discuss and review the Fulbright program in Turkey and youth exchange programs between the two countries.
Stock will also visit several Turkish cultural and academic institutions.
TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS NEW ZEALAND COUNTERPART
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday met with his New Zealand counterpart Murray McCully, who paid a visit to the northwestern Turkish province of Canakkale to attend ceremonies on the 96th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign in the First World War.
The meeting between two top diplomats was closed to the news media.
Responding to a question on U.S. President Barack Obama's April 24 remarks on the incidents of 1915 in the Ottoman Empire, Davutoglu reiterated that Obama's statements were one-sided, and that they were an interpretation of history from a single point of view.
"It is saddening that each year this issue pops up and casts a shadow on our relations with the United States. Lots of pain was endured within the Ottaman territories during break-up of the empire. We would have expected Mr. Obama to remember also the sufferings of Turks back in those days," Davutoglu said.
ARMENIANS STAGE ANTI-TURKISH RALLY ON WWI 'GENOCIDE'
Some 10,000 people rallied in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Saturday to demand that Turkey recognize the "genocide" of up to 1.5 million of their kin during World War I under the Ottoman Empire.
The protest, organized by the influential Armenian Revolutionary Federation political party, attracted hordes of youths who marched with candles up to a hillock in Yerevan, consecrated to the memory of the victims.
The protestors, staging the rally on the eve of the 96th anniversary of the massacre, held up banners saying: "Armenia wants Turkey to own up."
The Interfax news agency put their number at 10,000.
The two countries signed landmark protocols in 2009, under Swiss mediation, which were a first step towards ending decades of hostility over World War I massacres of Armenians under Ottoman Turks.
TURKEY CELEBRATES NATIONAL SOVEREIGHTY DAY
Turkey on Saturday celebrated National Sovereignty and Children's Day on April 23, marking the 91st anniversary of the opening of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, the country main legislative body. The Turkish parliament held a special session on the occasion of the day as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, as well as Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli separately addressed Turkish MPs. A cold breeze between Erdogan and Bahceli marked the parliament's meeting as the two leaders avoided greeting each other after a fierce exchange of words during their elections rallies last week.
ERDOGAN SIGNALS REFORM IN HIGH ELECTION BOARD
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said the government might reform Turkey's High Election Board which has drawn fierce criticisms after denying ex-pat Turks right to vote in the June general elections and barring twelve independent candidates from running the upcoming ballot. "There is clearly a problem," Erdogan told reporters. Sporadic clashes erupted in Turkey's southeast cities after the board's initial decision; they killed at least one person and wounded many others, including police officers. In related news, Turkey's top judge, Hasim Kilic, said appeals against decisions made by the High Election Board could be reviewed by the Constitutional Court.
TURKEY'S DEBT TO IMF DECREASES
State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said Turkey's debt to the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, decreased to $5 billion from $24 billion. "On the other hand, gross foreign exchange reserves of the Central Bank, including gold, increased to $92 billion," he said.
The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.