A written inquiry by the families of victims of the deadly Israeli raid on Mavi Marmara ship has not reached Israel, says an embassy spokesman. The families' lawyer says he does not know if the letter was sent by the Turkish Foreign Ministry

A written inquiry asking for the identities of Israelis involved in last year's attack on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid vessel does not appear to have reached Tel Aviv after a Turkish lawyer representing flotilla victims' families said Wednesday that Istanbul prosecutors had sent it to the Foreign Ministry.

"We don't know if the Foreign Ministry sent the inquiry to the Israeli government," lawyer Ramazan Arıtürk told the Hürriyet Daily News on Wednesday. The information is required as part of an investigation into the killing of eight Turkish citizens in last year's Mavi Marmara incident.

The lawyer said the written inquiry from the Istanbul Prosecutor's Office was sent to the Turkish Foreign Ministry via the Justice Ministry on June 7. The inquiry asks who gave the order for the attack on the Mavi Marmara and who was involved.

The Daily News could not confirm with the Turkish Foreign Ministry about the fate of the document, but the Israeli embassy spokesman in Ankara, Amit Zarouk, said, "No such request has reached the Israeli Foreign Ministry."


Erdogan to Lead New Government

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is assigned to the 61st Cabinet of the Turkish Republic by President Abdullah Gül. Erdoğan is expected to finalize the list of ministers to be included in the new government in the ruling Justice and Development Party's parliamentary group meeting today and submit it to Gül on Friday

President Abdullah Gül directed Erdoğan on Wednesday to form the country's 61st government.

Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won the most seats in Parliament in the June 12 general elections, garnering 49.9 percent of the votes.

All eyes have now turned to the new cabinet and the election of the new speaker of Parliament, which is slated for July 4.

It is believed that Erdoğan will form the new cabinet with a view to possibly assuming Gül's presidential seat at some point in the future.

The program of the new Cabinet is expected to be read in Parliament on July 7, and a vote of confidence is expected to be held on July 9 if Erdoğan announces the cabinet Friday.

Erdoğan is, likewise, expected to make a decision on the new speaker after polling his deputies on their favorite candidate for the post during the party's parliamentary group meeting Thursday.

Sources indicate Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek is the most likely candidate for the post.

It remains unclear if the newly established "deputy minister" positions will be filled by Erdoğan, or by the newly formed Cabinet.

The new Cabinet model anticipates four deputy prime ministers, with Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç's names being tipped for some of the positions.

Others sources, however, suggest Davutoğlu will remain in his post as foreign minister.

It is said that Erdoğan will also reward some ministers who played a role in increasing the number of AKP votes in coastal regions, including Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay, who could also become a deputy minister.

State Minister Zafer Çağlayan and Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım are also expected to retain their seats in the new Cabinet.

Erdoğan is expected to make the most radical change in the Interior Ministry, with Industry Minister Nihat Ergün likely to receive the post.

New figures are also expected to join the Cabinet. If Egemen Bağış is transferred to the position of deputy prime minister, the new European Union minister could be Volkan Bozkır. There is also speculation that the new Family and Social Policies Ministry will be headed by AKP women's branches head Fatma Şahin.


Turkish President Steps in Over Oath-Taking Protest

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has invited the main opposition leader and representatives of the independent MPs for a meeting to discuss the recent crisis after a protest by opposition parties, whose legislators have refused to take the oath of office, officials said on Wednesday.

President Gul will have a meeting with main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Thursday.

Gul will have another meeting with Ahmet Turk and Serafettin Elci, who represent independent deputies backed by Peace & Democracy Party (BDP) a day later.

On Tuesday, MPs from CHP attended the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th parliament after the June 12 elections. They did not take the oath of office, however, in protest of a court ruling that refused to release professor Mehmet Haberal and journalist Mustafa Balbay, who were elected on the CHP ticket.

CHP argues that Haberal and Balbay -- who are still jailed and on trial on charges of being involved in a Ergenekon network aiming at overthrowing the government -- should be released from jail as they have been elected lawmakers and they have not been convicted.

BDP-backed independent deputies did not attend the swearing-in ceremony either. They were also not present at the parliament in a bid to protest a ruling by Turkey's Higher Election Board that stripped Hatip Dicle, an independent MP, of his parliament seat due to a past conviction for spreading propaganda of terrorist organizations.


Israeli Tourist Numbers to Turkey Cut in Half in 2011

The number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey between January and May of this year decreased by about 59 percent compared to the same period last year, according to data published by the Tourism Ministry.

The figure stands in stark contrast to last year, when figures showed a 133 percent increase over the same time period in 2009.

About 30,000 tourists from Israel visited Turkey in the first five months of the year, compared to the 72,500 Israeli tourists who came to Turkey during the same period in 2010. The decrease was even sharper for May, when only 6,417 tourists from Israel came to Turkey, compared to 18,295 in the same month last year.

Turkey's relationship with Israel has been strained since a May 31, 2010, raid by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of an international flotilla trying to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. The raid led to the death of eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent.

Diplomatic tension, however, has not hampered mutual trade between the two countries, with trade between Israel and Turkey increasing by 25 percent between 2009 and 2010 and by 40 percent in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same period last year. Bilateral trade by the end of last year peaked at $3.44 billion, up from $2.58 billion in 2009.


Seeking Ways to Return to Parliament

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has assessed the stance of the government and the Presidential Palace, will determine its road map in Ankara. Independent MPs backed by BDP, who have held an "alternative" meeting in southeastern Diyarbakir province on the day of the oath-taking ceremony at Parliament, are now waiting for a conciliatory signal from the government in order to quit their decision to boycott Parliament.

CHP Would be Happy with Cicek as New Speaker, Party Chief Says

Turkey's main opposition would not be adverse to Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek becoming the next speaker of Parliament, the party's leader said Wednesday.

"It won't be a problem if Cemil Çiçek's name comes forward for the [position]," Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said ahead of a meeting with the deputy prime minister and another figure from the country's ruling party.

Kılıçdaroğlu did not respond to questions on the CHP's decision not to propose a law about imprisoned deputies.

Çiçek said Wednesday he visited Kılıçdaroğlu, to "listen to the views of the opposition on the new speaker of Parliament."

"We are thankful to Kılıçdaroğlu for the meeting," Cicek said, noting that no decision had been reached on the matter.

The Turkish Parliament will elect its new speaker on Monday.


Bail for Jailed Deputies Should be Seen as Nation's Will

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahceli spoke to the Vatan Daily newspaper, saying: "The judiciary should see the nation's will as bail for the jailed deputies and should release them." Bahceli recalled the objection made to an upper court for MHP's jailed lawmaker Engin Alan, and said "they should find a legal solution to the problem. The problem should be solved without any need for a legal amendment. Rights of an elected person should not be usurped. When a person is arrested, she or he can be released on bail. Here, the nation's will should be seen as the jailed deputies' bail and the deputies should be released."

Turkish Criminal Court Overturns Jailed Deputy's Request for Release

An Istanbul upper criminal court overturned the request of a jailed Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy to be released from prison on Wednesday.

Istanbul Criminal Court No. 14 upheld a lower court's decision to keep journalist Mustafa Balbay, who was elected a lawmaker for CHP in the June 12 general elections; he is to be tried within the scope of "Ergenekon" case.

Another upper court has not decided whether or not to release professor Mehmet Haberal, who is also a suspect of the "Ergenekon" case, and who has also been elected an MP from CHP.


The Sapanca Formula

As an upper court overturned Mustafa Balbay's request to be released from prison, eyes were set on Parliament again for the release of the jailed MPs. The fastest solution formula on the matter has been presented after the Justice Ministry's Sapanca Summit. According to the formula regarding Article 100 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which is shown as an obstacle preventing the release of jailed deputies, "concrete proof should be sought in detentions, instead of concrete doubt." In the meantime, President Abdullah Gul has stepped in to solve the oath crisis at Parliament. Gul will meet Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu today, and get together with Ahmet Turk and Serafettin Elci tomorrow.

Admiral Arrested in Sledgehammer Investigation

One of the eight officers, regarding whom court decided to arrest on charges of the Second Balyoz (Sledgehammer) investigation, is Admiral Sinan Ertugrul, who is actually commanding the Turkish Naval Task Group at the Persian Gulf. Currently, 34 officers are at Hasdal Military Prison. This number will be up to 41 after Sinan Ertugrul and six other generals are sent to prison.

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