TURKISH SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS ELECTS NEW TOP JUDGE
Nazım Kaynak has been elected as the new head of Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals, daily Hürriyet reported on its website Thursday.
Kaynak's predecessor, Hasan Gerçeker, retired Wednesday because of age resrictions on the position.
Kaynak received 197 votes out of a total of 387 while the next closest candidate, Ahmet Ceylani Tuğrul, received 75 votes.
Kaynak will remain in office until May 5, 2012, when he too will have to retire due to age restrictions.
TURKISH PM REPEATS KURDISH PROMISES AMID CHP COMPETITION
The main opposition and the country's largest pro-Kurdish party are the biggest barriers before a solution to the Kurdish issue, the prime minister told a huge crowd Wednesday in Diyarbakır in a speech laced with religious messages.
"The patent of the Kurdish problem belongs to the CHP [Republican People's Party] while the issue is exploited by the BDP [Peace and Democracy Party]. My Kurdish brother escaped from the CHP's oppression but is now captured by the cruelty of the BDP," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during his 11th visit to the Southeast Anatolian city.
In his speech, Erdoğan invited Kurdish citizens to unity and brotherhood by highlighting religious unity instead of ethnic identity.
"Some say the Kurdish people's religion is Zoroastrianism and Islam was imposed forcefully. This is not true," Erdoğan said during the election rally for his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
"You must know that the community in Istanbul's Süleymaniye Mosque turns [their faces] to the same qibla as the community here in Ulu Mosque turns. Our qibla is same. Is there any difference? No," Erdoğan said.
He added that the "prophet" of Turkey's pro-Kurdish BDP was the Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Criticizing the BDP for dividing the country with support from the PKK, Erdoğan referred to the BDP as a "terror organization" for the first time.
He also said the BDP protected the CHP in Diyarbakır as it did in Hakkari, where shopkeepers closed their doors ahead of a rally by the prime minister.
Erdoğan spoke in Diyarbakır a day after a CHP rally in the city, addressing more than 10,000 people in Diyarbakır amid extraordinary security measures following violent clashes in the northeastern town of Hopa on Tuesday.
CHP "denied Kurdish problem"
The CHP didn't visit Diyarbakır for nine years and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu denied the Kurdish problem in Parliament but remembered the issue with just two weeks left until the June 12 general election, Erdoğan said.
"They are forced democrats. They are democrats for the ballot," Erdoğan said. "They banned tapes in the Kurdish language. They rejected the culture of Kurdish people. I know the denial policies and the assimilation policies. But the objection policy is not applied here any longer. The denial policies have ended. Assimilation has now ended."
Addressing the crowd in Diyarbakır, Erdoğan said: "You experienced the BDP terror organization's pressure and fascism. What they did is not civilian disobedience but civilian fascism. For me there is neither Turkish nationalism nor Kurdish nationalism. I love all."
Prior to Erdoğan's arrival, Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir of the BDP said the atmosphere in the city was not tense, and that he had not heard any calls for shopkeepers to close down in protest.
The majority of stores stayed open though some did close their doors, mostly in areas with heavy BDP support. Shuttered stores were evident especially the Bağlar neighborhood, which was on the prime minister's route.
Despite security preparations taken starting Tuesday night, two noise bombs exploded on the streets of Bağlar district, causing no damage, while a suspicious package was detonated by security forces. The loud explosion sounds, though, were enough to cause panic among residents.
Small incidents also broke out in the back streets as protesters burned tires. A crowd gathered in front of the BDP's offices, causing the police to use tear gas and force. Children who had been showing the peace sign the day before were now throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails while security forces used pressurized water against protesters.
One sign carried by a protester read: "We closed the stores but opened our hearts. There is no stopping now."
TURKISH PM ERDOĞAN BLAMES OPPOSITION FOR HOPA CLASHES
The Turkish prime minister issued harsh criticism Wednesday of the chief of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, accusing him of provoking violence in the country's northeast.
"CHP supporters have acted together with some other legal and illegal organizations in order not to let us enter Hopa. These are open provocations to drag the [ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP] into a trap of violence," Erdoğan said in Istanbul on Wednesday, vowing not to fall into the snare.
The prime minister blamed the CHP for the clashes that broke out between local police and protesters Tuesday in the northeastern district of Hopa. A 54-year-old protester died from a heart attack during the clashes, reportedly because of the intense tear-gas bombs used by police.
"The anger, hate speech, provocations and insults [from opposition leaders] have unfortunately prepared the ground for such incidents," Erdoğan said.
The clashes in Hopa, a district of Artvin, have been the latest subject of pre-election disputes between the prime minister and the leaders of the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.
Speaking during a meeting in Istanbul where he promoted his party's projects for Istanbul, İzmir and the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, Erdoğan said his ruling AKP was targeted by "open provocations."
"These are city bandits carrying stones and sticks. One of our policemen was hit by a stone while they were throwing stones at us [in Hopa]; he was heavily injured and is in the hospital's intensive care unit now," Erdoğan said.
Speaking about Metin Lokumcu, the protester who died Tuesday and was laid to rest Wednesday, Erdoğan said: "They are saying one died because of a heart attack; I don't know who he is."
CHP chief Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said he would be visiting Lokumcu's home to convey his condolences to the man's family. "Erdoğan is trying to rule society by creating tension. But the one who sows the wind reaps a whirlwind," Kılıçdaroğlu said during an election meeting in the Central Anatolian province of Yozgat.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli also responded angrily to Erdoğan's claims about the opposition parties trying to provoke the AKP to violence. "The prime minister doesn't know what he is talking about. I think he came to a point where he cannot realize what he is talking about because of the exhausting election activities and TV programs," Bahçeli said.
"Kılıçdaroğlu insulted God," says Erdoğan
As the tensions rose between the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties, Erdoğan make a sharp response to Kılıçdaroğlu's recent statement. "He said 'the one who sows the wind reaps a whirlwind' about me. I have never seen such a shameless, immoral and low-down attitude," the prime minister said.
Erdoğan accused Kılıçdaroğlu of "insulting the people, people's choices and moral values," adding that the CHP leader "even insulted God."
Riot police fired water cannons and tear gas a day earlier as they battled stone-throwing protesters in the Black Sea town of Hopa, where Erdoğan was campaigning. Lokumcu, a retired teacher, died due a heart attack brought on by exposure to tear gas and panic, an initial autopsy has said. A bodyguard was injured as he fell from Erdoğan's campaign bus after apparently being hit by a stone.
Artvin Gov. Mustafa Yemlihanoğlu said Police Chief Muhsin Arman has been recalled to Ankara, and Hüsrev Salmaner has been appointed as the province's new police chief, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Interior Minister Beşir Atalay criticized Artvin's governor and chief of police Tuesday for not taking the necessary measures to prevent the protests.
Lokumcu's funeral was held Wednesday in Hopa after the autopsy was finished in Trabzon. People at the funeral chanted, "We are all bandits," referring to Erdoğan's previous description of the protesters.
Alper Taş, the leader of the pro-socialist Freedom and Solidarity Party, or ÖDP, said they had "lost a revolutionary brother."
"A retired teacher has been killed by the police force. It is the mentality of the AKP, which is the real bandit," said Selahattin Demirtaş, an independent candidate supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP.
TURKEY, ISRAEL STICK TO POSITIONS ON FLOTILLA AMID US CONCERN
The United States has again shared its concerns with Ankara regarding a second flotilla set to depart for Gaza later this month as both Turkey and Israel stand firm in their positions on the issue.
"We have been in consultation with the Turkish government about this. We have shared our concerns," U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner said Wednesday in response to questions during a daily press briefing in Washington.
Toner also commented on Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's recent statement that "democratic states could not stop any flotilla and the Turkish government had no influence on NGOs," referring to the civil-society groups organizing the new flotilla attempting to break the Gaza blockade.
"That may very well be the case. These are independently operating NGOs. But what I think our concern is we don't want to see another situation arise where people are put at risk," the State Department spokesman said.
Eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent were killed May 31, 2010, when Israeli commandos raided a flotilla of Gaza-bound aid ships, an incident that has seriously hurt Turkish-Israeli relations.
Davutoğlu said in a televised interview that relations with Israel would not return to normal unless the Israeli government apologizes and compensates the victims of last year's flotilla incident, reiterating that Israel should not repeat the same mistake.
"We hope that Israel will not repeat such an action in international waters this time or make provocative statements on this issue," the Turkish foreign minister said. He added that Israel was seeing itself as outside international norms and above the law, something he said threatened both regional security and Israel's own security.
In response to questions about the second flotilla set to depart at the end of June, Davutoğlu said Israel would not dare take a similar action in international waters.
"The eastern Mediterranean does not belong to Israel. This should be known by everyone," Davutoğlu said.
The Israeli Navy is prepared to intercept and take control of ships participating in a new attempt to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli navy officer was quoted as telling The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
"We will order the ships to stop, but if they don't, we are prepared to intercept and board the ships," the senior officer reportedly said.
SYRIAN OPPOSITION DISMISSES AMNESTY, DISCUSSES REGIME CHANGE
Members of the Syrian opposition who have gathered for a meeting in the Turkish city of Antalya have dismissed the general amnesty for political prisoners issued Tuesday by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"Bashar al-Assad just wanted to confuse the people who are attending the conference [in Antalya]. We don't believe this guy, we don't trust him. We have not seen any promises from Bashar al-Assad that took place," Molhem al-Drobi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation at the Antalya meeting, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday.
"He just wants this [opposition] conference to get confused, to get different points of view in order to make this conference a failure," al-Drobi said.
Participants in the "Change in Syria Conference" received the news of the amnesty while dining together Tuesday night before the formal opening of the meeting. They chanted slogans calling on al-Assad to resign, unfurling the green, white and black Syrian flag that pre-dated Baathist rule, and shouting, "Bashar go. We don't like you and your Baath Party. Bye-bye, Bashar."
"They are expressing their views that amnesty is not applicable to them. It means they are not criminals to get an amnesty from Bashar al-Assad. They insist on their request, which is in compliance with the Syrian people in the streets, that al-Assad should leave," al-Drobi said.
"Al-Assad has arrived at the train station very late. The train has already left. This announcement is too little, too late. It is al-Assad himself who should be granted amnesty because he killed his people," he added.
"This step is insufficient. We demanded this amnesty many years ago, but [now] it's too late. We are united under the slogan, 'People want the fall of the regime and all those who have committed crimes should be brought to account,'" said Abdel Razak Eid, the head of the Damascus Declaration.
Syria's exiled opposition is meeting in Antalya for a three-day conference that gathers a broad spectrum of opposition figures from various sects and ethnicities. The conference opened Wednesday with the Syrian national anthem and a moment of silence for "the martyrs" killed in bloody crackdowns.
Speeches at the conference were interrupted by participants chanting slogans demanding the resignation of al-Assad. "Bashar, the Hague will be your fate," they chanted.
The Syrian opposition is collecting evidence to take to the Hague and will make a denunciation of the president, Hamdi Osmanoğlu, a member of Damascus Declaration, told reporters.
Supporters of al-Assad also demonstrated in Antalya on Wednesday, chanting: "You are not freedom fighters, but traitors who have sold themselves. We will never accept that Syria will be Iraq."
Despite tight security measures at the Falez Hotel, where the opposition meeting is being held, some pro-Assad demonstrators created tension when they sought to enter the conference venue. "God, Syria, Bashar," they chanted.
Almost 300 dissidents participating in the Antalya conference plan to set up an administrative committee of 31 members, including subgroups to represent the opposition in the international arena, deal with financial issues, organize protests outside Syria and publicize the uprising in the country.
"The first objective of the conference is to draw a road map for the future of Syria," al-Drobi said. He added that the committee would provide political and logistical support to the people inside Syria by talking to international organizations and other countries "to convince them that what is coming in the near future of Syria is much better than what we have today."
"The people in Syria are making their revolution and we, in exile, have a role complementing what they are doing," he added.
Regional countries are "not yet comfortable that the replacement of Bashar al-Assad is good enough," al-Drobe said.
"They are worried that if al-Assad is replaced, what will end in Syria is their benefits in the region," he added. "Our role is to complement the Syrian people in the streets by convincing countries that what is coming in the near future as a result of democratic processes is much better than Bashar al-Assad."
The committee will reflect different sects and ethnicities of Syria, Muhammed Khatib, a member of the executive committee of Damascus Declaration, told the Daily News.
"[Members will include figures] such as Salah Bedrettin, for Kurdish representation, and Molhem al-Drobi as the Sunni representative from the Muslim Brotherhood. We have qualified names: Abdel Razak Eid, Mamoun Homsi, a former member of the Syrian parliament. There will be a nomination for them," Khatib said.
The Syrian people also demand to change the current constitution, he added.
"Syria had a proper constitution in 1950. When the Baath Party came, they ruined the constitution. There are different opinions now. Some want to turn back to the previous constitution, while some want to draft a similar one that does not give all power to a single body," Khatib said.
"It's too early to talk about the constitution. Changing the constitution is the duty of the new parliament," he added.
Comparing the meeting in Antalya with the one held in Istanbul in April, Khatib said the Antalya conference was "more secular, including activists and individuals more than parties."
"It represents Syria better. Because we don't want to scare people in Syria that Islamists are coming," he said.
"The point of this conference is to put pressure on the international community. It's the Syrian people on the streets who will kick out this regime," Omar al-Muqdael, a former journalist who was imprisoned in Syria and then escaped to Turkey, told the Daily News.
"My dream is my country will become like Turkey"
Syria looks at Turkey as its big brother, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood said. "We are jealous of Turkey; it's a great country. I graduated from [Middle East Technical University] 25 years ago. Turkey has made amazing progress in 25 years, while Syria had made amazing backward steps," Molhem al-Drobi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation at the Antalya conference, told the Daily News.
"We in Syria look at Turkey as our big brother. The steps of Turkey on the road of democracy are amazing. My dream is my country will become like Turkey," he added.
Commenting on Turkey's attitude on the Syrian uprising, al-Drobi said: "There are a lot of benefits for Turkey in Syria, which it should protect. But Turkey is also looking at what's happening in Syria and is willing to help. Turkey's relationship with Syrian opposition parties, like in this conference, is very positive."
Assessing the stance of Ankara with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, he said: "I believe Turkey, as its government today, is treating those movements and parties like any other parties in the world while other countries are treating the Muslim movements unfairly."
Stressing that al-Assad is a criminal who must be brought to justice and that the Syrian regime has killed "thousands of innocent people," he said: "The families of the killed have the right to bring Bashar and his people to justice. He is a suspect of giving orders to kill innocent people. The only option for his people is [for him] to meet justice."