"SEX TAPES" POISON TURKISH POLITICS AHEAD OF ELECTION
The "ugly" filming and strategic release of incriminating footage of politicians threatens Turkish politics, say figures from across the spectrum as six more high-ranking figures resign from the nationalist opposition party
Faced with a growing scandal centered on the sex tapes of members of the nationalist opposition party, Turkish politicians from across the spectrum are speaking out about a controversy increasingly seen as a threat to the country's entire political realm.
The secret filming, and strategic release, of incriminating footage of politicians is not an attack on an individual party, but a plot that is hurting Turkish politics in its entirety, Parliament head Mehmet Ali Şahin said Sunday. He added that he found it ugly for such incidents to shape Turkish politics.
Anonymous figures last week threatened to release R-rated footage of senior Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, officials on the website Farkliulkuculer.com if MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli did not resign.
Bahçeli challenged the threats, saying neither he nor the MHP officials in question would go anywhere and that those making the demands were free to release the images.
A sex tape featuring MHP deputy leader Mehmet Ekici was released on Farkliulkuculer.com on Saturday, with an announcement that fellow deputy leader Osman Çakır would be next. Both men resigned from the party over the weekend, as did deputy leaders Deniz Bölükbaşı and Ümit Şafak; Secretary-General Mustafa Cihan Paçacı; and Chairmanship Council member Mehmet Taytak Bahçeli.
Their departures bring to 10 the total of senior party members who have now resigned from the MHP due to the release of the tapes. Recai Yıldırım, Metin Çobanoğlu, Bülent Didinmez and Mehmet Taytak all resigned from the party in the past few months due to the release of illegally obtained footage of them with women.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the incident Sunday, while also criticizing allegations pointing to his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, as the perpetrator behind the plot.
Contrary to his former use of such incidents against the MHP, Erdoğan said some figures were now trying to shape the MHP with "ugly" plots after the longtime head of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, was felled in a similar scandal last year.
"This is very ugly and dangerous," Erdoğan said, speaking at his party's election rally in the northwestern province of Kocaeli.
"Those who blame our party for such tapes are in a serious delusion. It is an attempt for CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who came to power with a similar tape scandal, to conceal his inappropriate position by slander," Erdoğan said.
"I advise the MHP to see these gangs, dirty plans and conspiracies and stop cooperating with them before it's too late," the prime minister said. "I suggest the MHP and CHP back out of the gang alliance that they have created. Instead of losing control of his anger and blaming the AKP, the MHP leader needs to open his eyes and see these gangs."
The government has been harshly criticized by the opposition for not taking action to find the perpetrators in the MHP scandal or the one that caused CHP chief Deniz Baykal to step down last year.
Speaking to journalists Sunday, Kılıçdaroğlu agreed that "making politics through illegal discoveries is immoral," while Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said the individuals behind the tapes "are doing very bad things both morally and legally."
Bahçeli avoided making comments on the issue during his party's election rally in Isparta on Sunday, although in former speeches he had criticized the ruling party for using the incidents as political material.
With party officials agreeing that the consecutive release of the sex tapes are a plot to discredit the MHP party in the eyes of the people prior to the June 12 general elections, Bahçeli had previously hinted that the AKP and the religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who is in a self-imposed exile in the United States, might have a hand in the incidents.
AKP group deputy chairman Mustafa Elitaş said Sunday that the tapes also targeted the AKP by steering MHP votes toward the CHP.
"The deeds done are ugly, and putting them on a website is even uglier. But what bothers us is that they are trying to smear us while they struggle to free themselves of their own dirt," Elitaş said.
Daily Vatan columnist Ruşen Çakır wrote on Sunday that none of the opposition parties have the equipment to pull off such a detailed, professional and well-facilitated plot. He also said the timing of the scandal indicates that those responsible cannot be from within the MHP.
"A plot obviously trying to keep the MHP out of Parliament is not a 'restoration,' but a 'deconstruction.' They are not only trying to ensure the MHP stays below the 10% election threshold, but they are also trying to purge the party," Çakır wrote.
Columnist Fehmi Koru of the conservative daily Zaman wrote Sunday that he was extremely disturbed by the fact that the methods used to benefit from such tapes worked in political life. Introducing below-the-belt tactics in politics and benefiting from them may bring great harm, Koru wrote.
Turkey is facing a tape scandal for the first time in its history. After new footage was released on a website on Saturday, six executives of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) resigned. The website, which earlier released footage and caused Recai Yıldırım, Metin Çobanoğlu, Bülent Didinmez and İhsan Barutçu to resign, released more footage on Saturday about Mehmet Ekici. After that, Ekici, Cihan Paçacı, Deniz Bölükbaşı, Ümit Şafak, Osman Çakır and Mehmet Taytak also resigned.
TURKEY "HAS URGED" HAMAS TO RECOGNIZE ISRAEL, GUL SAYS
Turkish President Abdullah Gül said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Saturday that he had
pressed Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist.
He also hailed U.S. President Barack Obama's reference in a major speech Thursday on the Middle East to creating a Palestinian state based on Israel's pre-1967 borders.
The Turkish president welcomed Obama's pledge of debt relief and aid for Egypt and Tunisia as they struggle in the wake of popular uprisings. And he said a much larger-scale "Marshall Plan" for the Middle East was needed.
Gül told the U.S. newspaper that Obama "has a point" when he said in his speech that Israel could not be expected to negotiate with a body that does not recognize its right to exist.
Asked if he were willing to press Hamas on that issue, Gül said, "I already advised them." He recalled in particular a 2006 meeting with Khaled Mashaal in Ankara, when he said he told the Hamas leader, "you have to be rational" about recognizing Israel's right to exist.
Gül said he believed Hamas had already internalized recognizing Israel in its pre-1967 borders, but wants that to happen simultaneously with Israel's recognition of a Palestinian state. Hamas's charter calls for replacing Israel with a Palestinian state in its entirety, and while Hamas leaders have spoken of a two-state solution in the past, it has been as a temporary measure.
Turkey warns Israel over new Gaza flotilla
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu meanwhile warned Israel on Saturday against another act of bloodshed in international waters after activists announced plans to send a new aid flotilla to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
"It should be known that Turkey will give the necessary response to any repeated act of provocation by Israel on the high seas," Davutoğlu said in an interview on the private channel NTV. "Those who believe Turkey should take certain steps to stop [the new flotilla] must first warn Israel not to repeat the human tragedy it caused last year."
Turkey-Israel relations have deteriorated in recent years and reached a low point last May when eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent were killed as Israeli naval commandos raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla trying to break Israel's siege on the coastal city.
The Istanbul-based Islamist charity that spearheaded last year's mission said Friday that a new convoy of ships would sail to Gaza in the last week of June. Around 1,500 activists from more than 100 countries will take part in the convoy, organized by 22 civic groups, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, said.
Asked whether Ankara had made any attempt to dissuade the group from the campaign, Davutoğlu said: "We have never encouraged any convoy. We have shared our views about the safety of our citizens with all related parties. That was the case last year and it is not any different this time."
The minister insisted, however, that his government "cannot give instructions to civil society" and that Israel's "unlawful" blockade of Gaza lay at the core of the tensions. He urged the United States and the international community to back a recent reconciliation deal between the radical Palestinian group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the secular Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
"If the division of the Palestinian authorities is healed, the conditions that serve as Israel's justification for the blockade will be eradicated... and there will be no need for an aid convoy," he told NTV.
Transition in Syria
Addressing the ongoing uprising in Syria, Davutoğlu said the turmoil could still be resolved peacefully if Damascus initiates "shock reforms" and stops crackdowns on protesters, warning that "time is running out."
The foreign minister made the appeal after rights activists said that 44 people were killed in demonstrations Friday, in the latest episode of the bloody unrest that has been sweeping Syria since March. "There is still a chance for a stable and peaceful transition in Syria" if "comprehensive, shock reforms" are initiated "at a pace and within a scope that will satisfy the people," Davutoğlu said in the same interview.
"Time is running out. If they stick to the method of using the security forces to suppress the protests without introducing concrete reforms... there could be really negative consequences that would sadden us all," he added.
Turkey, whose ties with its southern neighbor have flourished in recent years, has been placing mounting pressure on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to initiate reform, but has stopped short of calling for his departure.
Last month, Ankara sent envoys to Damascus to press al-Assad to take steps toward democratization, offering also Turkish expertise for political and economic reforms.