Turkey still demands a formal apology and redress over the killing of its citizens by Israeli commandos aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship in May of last year, a Turkish official has said.
"About the flotilla attack, Turkey has never turned down a request from the other side to talk. However, our stance on this issue is clear cut: We still demand a formal apology and redress. And we believe that this issue needs to be left behind as soon as possible," Selcuk Unal, a spokesman with the Turkish Foreign Ministry, told a weekly press briefing on Tuesday.
The Gaza-bound aid flotilla was raided on May 31, 2010, by Israeli Special Forces while on high seas. Nine Turks were killed in the attack on convoy's lead ship, Mavi Marmara.
The incident sent relations between the two countries -- two close allies in the region -- to an historic low.
A United Nations panel has been investigating the attack for nearly a year now, and it is expected to present its final report by July 27.
Iran President Urges Arab Leaders to Accept Reform
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Arab governments to heed popular demands for reform at a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the presidential website said on Tuesday.
"Today, the people of the region must enjoy equal rights, the right to vote, security and dignity, and no government can deprive them of freedom and justice or refuse their peoples' demands," Ahmadinejad was quoted saying.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that all regional governments can run their countries by introducing reforms and realizing their peoples' demands," he added in the Monday evening talks.
Ahmadinejad did not explicitly mention Iran's closest Arab ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has faced unprecedented protests against his iron-fisted rule since mid-March.
But Iranian media had reported that the persistent clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Syria would top the agenda of the meeting.
At a joint press conference with Davutoglu on Sunday, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Syria's problems can be solved within "the family."
"Iran, Syria and Turkey are members of a family and, if one faces a problem, the family as whole should solve it," Salehi said. "The path of talks among the family members should lead to dealing with the legitimate demands of the people" and preventing "inappropriate interference," he added.
Ahmadinejad accused Washington of stirring up confessional rivalries in the region, including between Syria's Sunni Muslim majority and the minority Alawite community to which Assad belongs.
"The countries in the region should not play into America's hands," the president's website said. "They are seeking through deception to create a fight between Shiites and Sunnis, Alawites and non-Alawites, Turks and Kurds in order to reach their main goal which is saving the Zionist regime."
Iran itself faced down huge protests in 2009 against alleged fraud in a presidential election that saw Ahmadinejad given a second term of office.
Parliament Speaker Repeats Call for Meeting with BDP over Oath-Taking Protest
Turkey's Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek said Tuesday he repeated his call to the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to have a meeting and discuss ways to solve the oath-taking crisis before Parliament begins its summer recess.
BDP lawmakers have refused to take the oath of office in Turkey's newly elected Parliament in protest of court rulings that held some of its elected candidates in detention and stripped one of the BDP-backed independent lawmakers of his legislative rights due to a past conviction for spreading terrorist propaganda.
"I have invited BDP officials for a meeting at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday. I hope they would accept my invitation. I have also invited officials from Justice and Development Party (AK) for the meeting," Cicek said.
Turkish Parliament will begin its summer recess on Wednesday, after a vote of confidence on the part of the AK party government.
"BDP is part of this Parliament. The best way for them is to come to the Parliament and express their views on Turkey's problems. But they must take their oath for that," Cicek told the AA.
The main opposition party, CHP, also boycotted Parliament, as its two candidates who were chosen in the June 12 elections were not released without having been convicted. Both suspects were jailed in an anti-government conspiracy case.
CHP ended the boycott on Monday, however, after an agreement with the ruling AK Party. CHP deputies took the oath after a meeting between CHP and AK party officials.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he welcomed CHP's decision to take the oath and join Parliament sessions. He added that he expected BDP to review its decision to boycott Parliament.
Erdogan said he wanted to see BDP's contributions in the rewriting of the new constitution.
"Let's create a common mind and write a new constitution with this collective mind," Erdogan told a meeting of his party in Ankara.
China, Russia Invited to Talks in Istanbul
Turkey has invited China and Russia to join, for the first time, discussions on Libya as part of a contact group of major powers to convene this week in Istanbul, a Turkish official said Tuesday.
"Russia and China have been invited as permanent members of the UN Security Council. We think they will participate but no information has reached us so far on what level," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal told reporters.
The so-called International Contact Group on Libya, scheduled to meet Friday in Istanbul, includes the countries participating in the NATO-led campaign targeting Moamer Kadhafi's regime and regional players.
Russia abstained from a vote on a Security Council resolution in March that opened the way for international involvement in Libya and has since criticized the scale and intent of the NATO-led strikes.
China, for its part, has maintained a policy of non-interference in the conflict, but has appeared more involved recently; its officials have met several times with Libyan opposition representatives.
Along with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the foreign ministers of Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Malta, Morocco, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have confirmed their participation in the Istanbul meeting, Unal said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as well as the heads of the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Gulf Cooperation Council will also attend, he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Libyan opposition appeals for financial assistance will be discussed at the gathering.
During a visit to Ankara last week, Mahmud Jibril, a senior member of the Libyan rebel council in Benghazi, called on the international community to release Libyan funds frozen under sanctions against Kadhafi's regime and make them available to the opposition.
The UAE hosted the previous meeting of the contact group in June, at which the powers discussed what Clinton called an inevitable "post-Kadhafi Libya" and Italy promised hundreds of millions of euros in aid to answer rebel pleas for funds.
During her two-day stay in Istanbul, Clinton will also hold bilateral talks with Davutoglu, as well as Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Unal said.
U.S. Senators Voice Concern Over Turkey Radar Deal
Two key U.S. senators expressed concerns Tuesday about a possible agreement to base a missile-shield radar in Turkey, citing the NATO ally's strained ties with Israel and relations with Iran.
Republican Senators Jon Kyl and Mark Kirk wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeking reassurances on the possible deal, which was described in a news report last week.
The lawmakers asked for "written assurances" that data collected by a so-called X-band radar "will be made available, in real time" to staunch U.S. ally Israel to be "fully integrated into its battlement management and control."
They also sought a guarantee that "Turkish entities are not engaged, or suspected of engaging" in activities that fall afoul of various U.S. laws aimed at curbing suspected nuclear weapons programs in Iran and Syria and keeping sensitive know-how from North Korea.
President Barack Obama's administration must also certify that the powerful radar will only be operated by U.S. personnel and, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for maintenance breaks, the senators said.
Kirk and Kyl, the number-two Senate Republican, also questioned whether the reported decision to locate the radar in Turkey would "ensure the best defense of the United States against the Iranian long-range ballistic missile threat."
They cited a U.S. Missile Defense Agency study that found that the South Caucasus to be "the optimum placement" if the system is designed to defend against an eventual Iranian ballistic missile attack.
"The administration's plans for missile defense will require the cooperation of the Congress; the prospects for such cooperation are jeopardized if the Congress is not provided the information it requests," they warned.
Davutoglu Calls For New Set of P5+1 Negotiations
After a meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad late Monday, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu expressed hope that negotiations would restart between Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries.
"We hope that negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries [will] restart," Davutoğlu was quoted saying. "We are willing to fulfill our tasks on this matter."
Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, which refers to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, broke down after the parties failed to agree on the subject of meetings. Western countries have hoped that negotiations with Iran will focus on halting the country's uranium enrichment program, while Iran says it wants to negotiate on a host of issues, including the dropping of sanctions.
During his trip, Davutoğlu also met with Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Secretary General of the National High Security Council Saeed Jalili in talks that focused largely on events taking place in Syria. Davutoğlu, pointing out that the last set of negotiations between the parties took place in Istanbul, said he had been informed of a new letter that was sent by the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton to Jalili.
"The Iranian side said they were ready to have negotiations again in Istanbul," Davutoğlu said. Davutoğlu is set to meet with Ashton on Thursday in Istanbul on the sidelines of the Libya Contact Group meetings.
Davutoğlu reiterated that he hoped to see a peaceful resolution to the violence taking place in Syria, calling for a peaceful month of Ramadan, which is to begin in August.
"Let's hope that in the coming days these steps will be taken and especially the tension in Hamas will come to an end," Davutoğlu said. Following his meeting with Davutoğlu, Salehi met with the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, chief Yukiya Amano on Tuesday, saying Iran wanted closer cooperation with the UN atomic watchdog, but said the Vienna-based agency must agree to "explicit" guidelines.
In Cairo, Progress Made Toward Democratization, Deputy Premier Says
Turkey's Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc said that incidents in Cairo were progressing toward democratization without bloodshed.
Turkey wishes that reforms, elections and administrative changes will be made in line with the demands of people and through consensus and dialogue, not only in Egypt but also in the North African, Middle Eastern and Gulf countries, said Arinc, who spoke at a program in TRT Haber channel in Cairo on Tuesday.
Noting that he would proceed from Cairo to the Nigerian capital of Abuja to attend the 14th meeting of the council of foreign ministers of the Developing-8, or D-8, Arinc said that D8 was established with the initiatives of late Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan in 1997 and was comprised of eight countries.
Commenting on the revolutions in the Arab world, Arinc said the incidents were the desire for democracy. He added that people wanted more freedom and democracy.
Recalling that Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Egypt in March, Arinc said that Turkish and Egyptian officials decided to further develop the diplomatic relations and cooperation on every level. He added that the new administration in Egypt is pursuing good relations with Turkey.
Arinc said the trade volume between Turkey and Egypt was currently $3.2 billion, which was a good figure. He added that there were nearly 100 Turkish investments in textile, food, bottle glass and cement sectors in Egypt.
Turkish investors had $1.5 billion of capital in Egypt, Arinc said, adding that there were schools which were built by Turkish entrepreneurs in three to four cities in Egypt, and more than 3,000 students were being educated in these schools.
Noting that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would pay a visit to Egypt in July, Arinc said that Erdogan's visit would be a turning point. Erdogan's visit to Egypt will probably within ten days, he said.
Regarding the incidents in Syria, Arinc said Turkey was successfully hosting the Syrian people who --escaped from the violence in their country -- in tent-sites set up by Red Crescent in the southern Hatay province.
He said that when security was restored in Syria, these people would return to their countries.
Arinc stressed that the regime in Syria should rapidly take steps to end the incidents.
Council of Europe Report: Media Freedom, Freedom of Expression 'Worrying'
The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern over media freedom in Turkey, a report indicates. The report lists the situation of freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey as "worrying."
Freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey need to be addressed in the new constitution, as charter amendments previously adopted by the country have been insufficient, a Council of Europe commissioner has said in the report.
"Despite the progress made by Turkey in recent years regarding free and open debates on previously sensitive issues, the situation of freedom of expression and media freedom remains particularly worrying," said Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg on Tuesday. "Urgent measures are needed to uphold these rights and foster a more tolerant atmosphere toward criticism and dissent."
The European Union Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule will most likely broach these topics when he meets with Turkish officials in Ankara on Wednesday.
Hammarberg, who welcomed the recent changes to the Turkish Constitution, said the changes were not enough as the present charter and they continued to hinder full respect for pluralism and freedom of expression. The commissioner encouraged Turkish authorities to ensure that the planning of constitutional reform would include close consultation with all political parties and civil society.
"The amendments adopted so far by Turkey have not been sufficient in dealing with the root causes of numerous violations of the right to freedom of expression found by the European Court of Human Rights," Hammarberg said.
Erdogan Reiterates Harsh Statements
While crises are being overcome in Ankara, the tensions cannot be eased, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made harsh statements again on Tuesday. For the Republican People's Party (CHP), Erdogan said, "they could not stand firm." And for the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), he said, "they confused the address."
CHP Leader Responds Sharply to Erdogan's Harsh Statements
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu responded as harshly to Erdogan as his remarks regarding oath-taking crisis. Kilicdaroglu said, "As far as I know, people stand behind their signatures. The text is very obvious: We did not accept what they brought to us. We are standing firm. If you deny this signature, I will have concerns about your own spine. Virtuous people back their signatures."
Erdogan Pushes for a 'Common Mind' for New Constitution
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all political parties in Parliament would gather and work for the preparation of the new constitution with a common mind.
"We will form a team for preparation of constitution. CHP (the main opposition Republican People's Party) and BDP (the Peace and Democracy Party) should also form teams for the new constitution. All non-governmental organizations and academicians should also extend assistance to us on the matter," he said.
The final decision would be made by Parliament, he said.
Four More Detainees Sent to Ankara
Four more people were detained under the German "Deniz Feneri e.V." charity investigation conducted by Ankara public prosecutor's office. These people were sent to Ankara on Tuesday, officials said.
Turkey's Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) member Zahid Akman and three executives of Kanal 7, a private television channel, were arrested within the scope of the investigation on Sunday.
In September 2008, a German court convicted three Turks of fraud for drawing off donations and using them for other purposes outside of the charity.
The Frankfurt State Court sentenced the three men working for the charity Deniz Feneri e.V in Germany to prison terms.
The court sentenced Mehmet Gurhan to five years and 10 months, and Mehmet Taskan to two years and nine months in prison. Firdevsi Ermis was sentenced to one year and 10 months in prison, which was suspended on probation.
Court judge Johann Muller had said after the trial that Deniz Feneri e.V. had received a total of 41 million euros of donations over the last five years in Germany and 17 million euros of that had been sent to Turkey.
EU'S Enlargement Official Meets with Turkish Business Association
The European Union's Chief Official for Enlargement Stefan Fule met Umit Boyner, chairwoman of the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association or TUSIAD, in Istanbul on Tuesday.
The meeting discussed a number of key issues in relation to the EU and Turkey, including aspects of the harmonization process and the Cyprus issue, TUSIAD said in a written statement.
Boyner expressed hope that the newly established European Union Ministry in the new Turkish cabinet would help add a fresh momentum to the negotiations process, saying that drafting a new constitution would also make a valuable contribution to the membership talks.
Boyner complained that EU's visa regime on Turks put severe limitations on commercial and cultural relations, urging the European Commission to cooperate with Turkey on that issue. The meeting was held closed to the news media.
Fourteen Detained in Alleged Retaliation Plot of Osama Bin Laden Death
Police raiding a cell house in Ankara and detained 14 people who were preparing to take revenge for the death of Osama bin Laden. Ankara police followed members of a group named "Ramazan Keskin," which is active in Afghanistan, and saw that something was going on in Sincan town. Police raided a house and seized 700 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, which is used to produce bombs. Police also confiscated two AK-47 (kalashnikov) rifles, a telephone mechanism used to detonate the bomb and some land sketches. It claimed that the suspects were planning to attack U.S. facilities.
Thirty-Four Years Later, a JITEM Confession
The Interior Ministry officially announced that JITEM, remembered with unsolved murders, was set up in 1987. The first official statement regarding JITEM was made after Idris Naim Sahin was appointed as the Interior Minister. Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office earlier said: "JITEM was established with the initiative of the Gendarmerie General Command and independently from the General Staff and Interior Ministry."
In its statement, the Interior Ministry said, "JITEM was set up in 1987. It was restructured in 1990."