US TRYING TO STOP FURTHER ROW IN ISRAEL-TURKISH TIES
The United States is trying to stop further deterioration of ties between its two regional allies, Turkey and Israel, on the eve of the first anniversary of the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara humanitarian ship incident that left nine Turkish activists dead at the hands of Israeli commandos.
Currently, for Washington there are two major concerns. The first is a possible Turkish retaliation against Israel, which could be announced on May 31 on the margins of the commemorations for the killed activists. The retaliation could be shown by ending long-awaited appointment process of Kerim Uras to Tel Aviv as the Turkish ambassador. Uras was appointed for this post before the Mavi Marmara incident, but the process was left suspended as a display of reaction against Israel after May 31, 2010.
Diplomatic sources said Uras's appointment to another post, most probably to Vienna, could be published in the Official Gazette on Tuesday. This move would be an open message to Israel that Turkey was not planning to normalize ties if its demands for apology and compensation were not met.
However, this step of Turkey's could push Israel to do the same when the terms of office of its envoy to Ankara, Gaby Levy, end this fall. According to diplomats, Israel might not replace Levy in a move to equalize the level of diplomatic representation with that of Turkey and to show that it is quick to respond.
This is what Washington is trying to avoid, believing that it would worsen the environment for mending ties between its two allies.
"No more martyrs"
The second thing the U.S. is worried about is trying to stop a second flotilla. With its opposition against another flotilla already public, the U.S. is using all diplomatic means to this end. Top American diplomats have contacted both sides in recent days to advise them to embrace a more common-sense policy. The message sent both to Ankara and Tel Aviv was that more martyrs will help nothing but instead create more instability and pain, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.
The difficulty is that the flotilla initiative is a non-governmental organization's project the governments have no authority to forbid them from joining the aid campaign, except in an advisory capacity. The U.S. government has urged U.S. citizens and NGOs not to take part in the second flotilla campaign.
Similar advice was also – though not very loudly – delivered to the Turkish NGO called the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, by the government. However, the İHH said it was an international organization and it was their responsibility to be part of the second flotilla in the name of the eight Turkish citizens and one U.S. citizen of Turkish descent who were killed by the Israeli forces.
The second flotilla is set to sail in mid-June, right after the general elections in Turkey, its organizers said.
UN steps in too
Apart from U.S. efforts, the United Nations has also called on governments to discourage the pro-Palestinian activists from sending a new flotilla to Gaza.
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon sent letters to the governments of Mediterranean countries and advised them to send aid to Gaza through "legitimate crossings and established channels." But he also called on Israel to "act responsibly" to avoid violence. The United Nations meanwhile said it was setting up a pane to investigate last year's incident more time to finish its work.
TAPE SCANDALS FUEL FEARS OF "BIG BROTHER"
The sex-tape scandal ravaging Turkey's the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, has drawn attention to the illegal surveillance of individuals across the country and provided a small boom for the private security industry. "I have been informed that at least 3,000 people including top party officials, high court judges, businessmen and police officers are being bugged," says one politician
Were the legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock to make yet another film on voyeurism after his notorious "Rear Window: Istanbul," the growing number of hidden cameras, secretly recorded affairs and fallen politicians could now provide the best scenario.
After new claims and tape recordings regarding close encounters with women went online, another six male deputy candidates from the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, resigned from their positions last week, thus making the total number of resigned senior party members 10.
The source(s) of the recordings is still unknown, and many people, from bureaucrats to politicians and other state officials, seem increasingly concerned about whether they could also become victims of such voyeurism.
Meanwhile, companies that sell hidden camera detectors and offer detective services are becoming popular.
"We received 12 requests in a few days," İsmail Yetimoğlu, head of the Private Detectives Association, told the Daily News. "And all were from people who suspected they had hidden cameras in their homes. Three of them were right."
According to security company owner Gürkan Deniz, such services are not cheap. "If people want to learn whether they have a hidden camera in their home, the charge starts from $1,000," Deniz told the Daily News.
While the paranoia of a Big Brother is getting bigger, the selling and buying of both hidden cameras and their detectors is not limited by the law in Turkey. There are detective stores in many cities, plus limitless options on the Internet.
While a hidden camera that looks like a key holder costs about 65 Turkish Liras, cameras that directly send their footage to a nearby server could cost thousands of dollars. Camera detectors are also available on the Internet ranging between 95 and 500 liras.
According to current Turkish law, any violation of an individual's right to privacy is punishable by two to five years in prison. However, a new configuration of the law proposes that if an individual's private information is published, it will be legal to use such material again for purpose of news making.
Yet, according to Law Professor Köksal Bayraktar, such a regulation will just increase the violations of people's private lives.
"Through this regulation, people will just pull information from other websites and show it as their source. Such a regulation will even legalize gossip columns," Bayraktar said.
"I had my apartment searched by professionals and there was a hidden camera inside the TV set," one source who wanted to remain anonymous told the Daily News. "I was a 100% sure my phone conversations were being listened to, but this also threatens my family. The camera proves how much our personal life is under threat."
Tayidar Seyhan, technology expert and Adana deputy for Republican People's Party, or CHP, also said about 20 other deputies from different political parties asked him to search their homes and offices.
"People came to me mostly because they suspected someone had entered their house. And in almost every space I searched, I found a hidden camera, either under the plugs or in the ceiling lamps," Seyhan told the Daily News. "I found one bug in my car as well."
While some people are furious, some seem to normalize the fear of being watched. "I am not afraid at all, I know they are listening to my phones and watching, me but I have nothing to hide," CHP Tunceli deputy Kamer Genç told the Daily News.
Not secret anymore
As the number of "concerned" politicians grows, CHP Istanbul Deputy Çetin Soysal claimed the number of the monitored people is estimated to be in the thousands.
"I have been informed that at least 3,000 people including top party officials, high court judges, businessmen and police officers are being bugged," CHP Istanbul Deputy Çetin Soysal told the Daily News. "I do think both the Ministry of Interior and the prime minister know what is happening. This is something very well organized and if the government wants to finish it, they can do it now."
Soysal said the list of monitored people includes AKP members and deputies as well.
"I don't think this secret-camera frenzy is just targeting opposition parties. Today it might seem like its against MHP, but sooner or later it will target AKP members as well. That's why the government should immediately take action," Soysal said.
Former minister and MHP Antalya deputy Tunca Toskay agreed. "The government is just watching it happen. But, if they don't do anything now, this will just continue to grow," Toska told the Daily News.
While almost everyone agreed the recent release of sex tapes seeks to leave the MHP under the 10% election threshold, AKP officials seem more cautious about commenting on the issue. After Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the tapes were released to restructure the Nationalist Movement Party's staff, Vice President Bülent Arınç also said the tapes were an MHP issue.
According to journalist Ruşen Çakır this is not the first time a tape scandal is changing Turkey's political climate.
"Right after Erdoğan established the AKP, a tape recording including Erdoğan's former speeches was broadcasted on TV by those who wanted to end the AKP before it started. But, the opposite happened and the AKP came to power alone. Such examples show releasing tapes to end a politician's career or a movement or a party can backfire," Çakır wrote in daily Vatan.
TURKEY PLANING TO BUILT A BUFFER-ZONE IN SYRIA
Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent from the Independent says that Turkey will establish a buffer zone in north Syria to prevent possible refugees from Syrian regime.
CHP CHIEF CALLS FOR PARLIAMENTARY CONTROL ON MILITARY, INTEL SERVICES
The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, wants civilian control over the military and the intelligence services through parliamentary oversight, according to CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
The call for civilian control came as part of his party's democracy package was unveiled Sunday. The package also highlighted increasing the judiciary's independence and solving the Kurdish issue by upholding individual rights.
"Issues such as how big the army should be, under what circumstances compulsory military service should take place and the size of the military expenditures should be decided by civilians," said a CHP report released Sunday.
"As the CHP, we are proposing the most comprehensive civilization project [in the country's history]," Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Sunday, adding that the CHP believed the Parliament should assume a more influential role in ensuring the civilian control of the armed forces.
The CHP stands against the intervention of the armed forces in politics, and the most important element of establishing democratic control over the armed forces is to ensure that all military decisions agree with the will of the civilian administration, the party said.
"For instance, we think that the General Chief of Staff should come to the Parliament's National Defense Commission periodically to answer the questions of parliamentarians and be accountable," Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Kılıçdaroğlu repeated his pledge to change the relevant article in the military code that enabled the army to stage a coup and also promised to abolish the Military High Administrative Courts.
Kılıçdaroğlu also repeated his conviction that the chief of the General Staff should be tied to the Defense Ministry, but added that this would not be done until there was a general consensus on the issue.
Claiming that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was implementing an "undeclared emergency law," Kılıçdaroğlu said the CHP endorsed a liberal democracy in which the rights of the individual were paramount.
In addition to the military, the police and intelligence units should also be under the control of the civil administration, Kılıçdaroğlu said.
The CHP report accused the AKP of not showing the same sensitivity it shows to civil-military relations to other elements of security forces. Security forces, including the police and intelligence units, are in a special position with their special rights and monopoly on force, the report said, adding that these forces could influence the result of the elections by using their privileges.
The undersecretary of the National Intelligence Agency, or MİT, the general director of security should give periodic information to Parliament and be held accountable, said the report. "Parliament should be the center of the institutional civilian inspection on whether security forces are abusing the privilege rights accorded to the security bureaucracy."
Kılaçdaroğlu emphasized the need for change in the political culture in order to ensure that the changes are permanent. "This requires abandoning thinking in terms of security bureaucracy. Politics should not be done with concepts such as 'threat' or 'enemy'; we think opposition movements should not be labeled as illegal so easily," he said.
Independent judiciary crucial
In order to end what he called the "undeclared emergency law" of the government, Kılıçdaroğlu said that the Turkish penal code and the law to fight terrorism would be revised with a view to harmonize them with international humanitarian standards.
"But we know it is not just enough to change those laws. As long as there is no independent judiciary to implement these laws, we are aware that respect for human rights cannot be established fully," he said.
Kılıçdaroğlu proposed the establishment of a High Board of Judges and High Board of Prosecutors to replace the existing High Board of Judges and Prosecutors. Members of both boards should be elected by the Parliament through majority voting, he added.
Kurdish issue to be solved through individual rights
With Kılıçdaroğlu preparing for a Monday rally in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, he also talked about the Kurdish issue, saying the CHP was approaching the demands for recognition from different identities from the perspective of human rights and pluralism.
"We will overcome the problems faced by Kurdish citizens on experiencing their identity by establishing full democracy," he said. "We represent the third way to solve the east, southeast and Kurdish problem. This third way accepts an ethnic identity as an individual's honor."
The third way is based on the conviction that the problem is multidimensional, he said, adding that the problem was neither entirely economic, cultural nor political.
CHP supports efforts to ensure freer media
Turkey's Public Procurement Law will be altered so that media owners will not be able to directly or indirectly enter public bids and thus influence journalistic freedom, according to Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
"Media owners are a fact of life," the CHP head said. "We don't intend to disregard or ignore media owners. But we don't want self-censorship. We want objective journalism. The only reason for the existence of certain papers are the bids those owners are winning from the government."
He said the CHP would enable journalists to become organized under the roof of trade unions so that they could write everything despite pressures from their bosses.
Kılıçdaroğlu added that freedom of expression would not be hampered and that laws on freedom of expression would be harmonized with EU standards if the CHP wins June 12 polls.
The CHP leader made the comments in the wake of the raids and arrests of several journalists, including Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, who were arrested earlier in the year on charges of being members of the alleged Ergenekon coup plot.
"Being an investigative journalism has become as risky as war reporting. Journalists like Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, who are tying to see what is going on behind the curtains, are paying a huge cost for their curiosity," Kılıçdaroğlu said.
TURKISH FM CHIDES U.S. OVER ITS ISRAEL APPROACH
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu says the US's "one-sided" approach to the Middle East is not the path to solving the problems and easing the tensions, and that Israel needs to be treated like any other ordinary country in the region. "Understanding only Israel's concerns cannot result in a solution," he says in an interview with daily Radikal
The United States' "one-sided approach" to the Middle East will bring neither peace nor stability to the region, Turkey's foreign minister has said, suggesting that the U.S. should recognize Israel merely as an "ordinary nation of the region."
"There cannot be peace in the Middle East if Israel is seen as a "privileged country that is above international law.' Israel needs to accept being subject to international law as an ordinary nation-state," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told Radikal in an interview in the Central Anatolia province of Konya, where the high-profile figure is running for Parliament.
Davutoğlu's message comes at a time of increased U.S. efforts to prevent Turkey from allowing a new humanitarian aid flotilla to sail for Gaza – something that could precipitate a fresh crisis between Turkey and Israel after the latter's commandos killed nine Turkish activists on a flotilla last May.
"The crime against humanity committed last year [by Israel] still has not been accounted for," Davutoğlu said. "Israel must be warned about this."
The key to solving the problem is Israel's recognition of the new Palestinian government and the removal of the blockade against Gaza, Davutoğlu said, adding that this message should be openly dispatched to Tel Aviv.
"The problem is that a one-sided approach that only understands Israel's concerns cannot result in a solution," he said.
Comparing Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip with that of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's oppression against his own people, Davutoğlu said: "Israel is killing civilians. It killed civilians in Gaza. What sanctions were imposed on it? Libya is [Gadhafi's] own country. Killings cannot be legitimized, but it's something happening in his own country. Israel is killing people in another country, in the Palestinian territories. For me, this is the main psychological threshold."
'Israel's argument invalid'
The unity deal between rival groups in Palestine has nullified Israeli's argument for imposing a blockade on Gaza because the new government will be composed of technocrats – none of whom will come from Gaza's Hamas, Davutoğlu said.
"There is a very solid foundation for common sense. Because for Israel, the blockade exists due to 'Hamas's authority over Gaza,'" Davutoğlu said, adding that Israel's argument would no longer have any foundation once the unity government is established.
Slamming some countries' open calls to Ankara that it turn up more pressure on non-governmental organizations, such as the one that sent last year's flotilla, the foreign minister said the messages suggested that "Turkey is not a democracy by modern standards and that they can stop the NGOs if they want to."
"Our government is giving an account to the public, and the people's sensibility toward Palestine is clear," he said, but added that the government would inform Turkish NGOs planning to send a new flotilla to Gaza of the risks involved.
"[In this sense] Israel is the one that needs to show common sense. Israel needs to learn a lesson," he said.
Assad late to reform
The foreign minister also responded to a question on ongoing revolts in neighboring Syria, whose leadership has so far failed to heed the demands of the people and launch a substantial reform campaign. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by security forces in recent weeks, resulting in international anger toward Damascus.
"If some of these reforms had been done three months ago, so many lives would not have been lost. If some of the things being done now, such as removing the state of emergency and giving Kurds their identity, had been done in January, there would not have been this much tension," Davutoğlu said.
Although Turkey sought to be a guide for its neighbor in terms of the reforms, Davutoğlu said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was continuing to seek more time for reforms.
"The prime minister spoke to Bashar al-Assad. We are saying that the situation cannot continue," Davutoğlu said.
Suggesting that leaders who resist change or only reform slowly risk losing their ability to persuade as they create tension, Davutoğlu said, "[We are] still expecting the Syrian leadership to lead toward a peaceful transition period."
"But if they say that they will continue the status quo through oppression if necessary, then serious tensions will be unavoidable. Other factors will come into play. We suggest peaceful changes for both the administration and the opposition," he said.