Turkey is set to deliver a final warning to Syria that it must end the bloodshed sweeping the country and introduce reforms or Ankara will join international measures against the regime, officials said Sunday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will go to Damascus on Tuesday to deliver this warning, following the harshest reaction yet from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the deadly unrest sweeping Syria. Erdoğan said Saturday that Ankara's patience with the situation was running out and that Davutoğlu would convey "a resolute message" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he risks losing Turkey's support.
Damascus hit back Sunday, adding to the bilateral chill ahead of the visit, but a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said Davutoğlu's visit would go ahead, barring any last-minute changes.
If Davutoğlu "is to deliver a firm message to Syria, he will hear a firmer reply regarding the Turkish stance, which didn't condemn the brutal killings and crimes committed by armed terrorist groups against civilians, the military and police members till now," Syrian presidential advisor Bouthina Shaaban said, according to the official Sana News Agency.
"Syria has always welcomed consultation among friends, but it categorically rejects all regional or international attempts of interference in its internal affairs," Shaaban added.
The outcome of Davutoğlu's meeting with al-Assad will determine the course of Turkish policy vis-a-vis Syria, Turkish officials said, signaling that Ankara has come close to abandoning the Syrian president and considering international measures that may lead to his "Saddam-like" isolation.
"The process from now on will take shape according to the response [al-Assad] will give and the practices on the ground," Erdoğan said Saturday. "Our patience is running thin. We do not see the Syria issue as an external one. It is an internal issue for us. We share a border of 850 kilometers, we have kinship, historical and cultural ties and … we cannot just watch what is happening there."
Davutoğlu "is going [to Damascus] to deliver a warning … a very sharp message," a senior diplomat who asked not to be named told the Hürriyet Daily News, dismissing reforms announced by Damascus so far as "a few minor things."
Toward a Saddam-Like Isolation?
"[Turkey and Syria] will sit down and talk for one last time -- even though one should not exclude dialogue even in wartime," another Foreign Ministry official said. "The talks will show whether the ties will be cut loose or not. If a new [Turkish] policy is to be outlined on Syria – that's the last meeting."
The official stressed that Turkey's position would influence the course of international action against Damascus.
"The situation here is not like the one in Libya. No one can do anything on Syria without Turkey… I don't think that military action against Syria is likely, but the process may lead to an embargo, isolation and a Saddam [Hussein]-like situation" for al-Assad, he said.
Thus far, Ankara has stopped short of calling for al-Assad's departure, arguing that a democratic transition should take place under his leadership.
By turning against al-Assad, Turkey would face deterioration in ties with its southern neighbor, which had flourished in recent years. The turmoil has already hit trade links between the two countries and led to an exodus to Turkey of thousands of Syrians fleeing bloodshed in their country.
In a gloomy reminder to al-Assad, Erdoğan on Saturday made a veiled reference to fallen Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, who recently appeared before a Cairo court, confined to a cage and lying on a stretcher.
"Those who sent scores of Muslims to the gallows are not up on their feet now and look where they are going on a stretcher. Those who do not learn a lesson will suffer," Erdoğan said.
"What mind, what conscience would accept the repetition of great suffering in that wounded city on a Ramadan day? Whom are you making happy by spraying your people with bullets?" the Turkish prime minister said, referring to a deadly Syrian security crackdown on the city of Hama during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Also Saturday, both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu held talks in Istanbul with Walid Jumblutt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze community, to discuss developments in Syria and the region, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Turkish Foreign Minister to Issue Final Warning to Syria
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is set to visit the Syrian capital on Tuesday as patience has grown thin in Ankara over the Syrian government's violent crackdown on Syrian protestors. Instead of renewing a call for political reform, Davutoğlu is expected to make a final warning to President Bashar al-Assad that if civilian massacres did not come to a complete halt, Syria would risk losing Turkey's support. Davutoğlu will underline that relations between the two countries cannot continue the same as before under the current circumstances.
U.S. Asks Turkey to Press Syria on Crackdown
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday asked Turkey's foreign minister to press Syria to "return its military to the barracks," during the Turkish minister's upcoming visit to Syria.
Clinton spoke by telephone with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu Sunday about Syria amid rising international calls on Damascus to stop a military crackdown on protests.
"Secretary Clinton discussed the U.S. position that Syria must immediately return its military to barracks and release all prisoners of concern," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "She asked the foreign minister to reinforce these messages with the Syrian government. She also discussed American support for a transition to democracy in Syria," he said.
Syrian security forces killed more than 50 people on Sunday, activists said, as the regime defended its crackdown on "outlaws" and Pope Benedict XVI and the Arab League condemned the violence.
The U.S. envoy to Damascus, Robert Ford, who returned to Syria on Thursday, also said in a U.S. television interview on Sunday that Washington will "try to ratchet up the pressure" on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Syria Gives Terse Response to Turkey's Final Message
A top aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday sounded displeased over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's latest remarks that Ankara's patience has grown thin over civilian massacres in a violent crackdown by the army on protestors and that he was set to send his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, to Damascus to meet Assad to make a final warning.
"In case Davutoğlu delivers a tough message, he would receive an even tougher response on Turkey's position," Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad's top aide, said. Erdogan is expected to convey the message that al-Assad should either make political reforms or quit.
CHP Chairman Calls for no Military Action in Syria
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu made a call on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying, "Western sovereign powers, today, fight with each other, and tomorrow they shake hands. Do not draw Turkey into a possible military operation on Syria."
Proposed Change to Constitutional Article Receives Wide Backing in Turkey
The army and government have reportedly agreed on the need to rewrite an article in the law governing the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, that is seen as the legal basis for military coups. The move is seen as a step toward normalizing problematic civil-military ties.
According to the Daily Radikal, the article in question, Article 35 of the TSK law, will continue to list protecting the constitutional principles of the Turkish Republic among the army's duties, but a clause will also be added emphasizing that it will also safeguard the continuation of the parliamentary system.
The proposed change has received approval from the country's main opposition party, which has typically been a strong supporter of the military.
"We are ready to support proposals for changes to Article 35," Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was quoted as saying by the Daily Milliyet on Saturday. Noting that his party introduced a proposal on the same subject in the last legislative term, the CHP chief added: "Coups d'état, never [again]! I will stand before tanks if the army intervenes in politics."
The powerful Turkish army staged coups in 1961, 1971 and 1980 on the basis of Article 35, arguing that civilian authorities were failing to preserve constitutional principles. In addition to coups, the army has frequently intervened in politics in other ways, especially during the rule of the weak coalition governments that preceded the Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, ascent to power in 2002.
The rewriting of Article 35 will be carried out after the opening of Parliament in the fall, Radikal reported, adding that there was a serious improvement in joint work with the General Staff under the supervision of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and newly appointed top commander Gen. Necdet Özel.
A turning point in civil-military ties was experienced earlier this month with the resignation of the country's top generals over a disagreement with the government on the appointments of military personnel incarcerated in connection with various alleged coup plots.
The amendment to Article 35 will be part of a broader campaign to renew the country's Constitution, which was written by the military junta in 1982, two years after the 1980 coup. Political parties represented in Parliament and many non-governmental organizations support the move, which will likely dominate Turkey's agenda after the opening of the next parliamentary session Oct. 1.
Other likely moves to reduce the military's influence in politics and adopt a more European standard in military-civil ties, including subordinating the chief of General Staff under the Defense Ministry, instead of the Prime Ministry and increasing the civilian members of the Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, have likewise received support from the opposition parties.
CHP chief Kılıçdaroğlu said he also agreed that the chief of General Staff should report to the Defense Ministry and called on the government to propose a draft law on this topic. Referring to a photo described by top ruling party officials as historically important, showing the prime minister sitting alone at the head of table at the most recent YAŞ, Kılıçdaroğlu said it was only natural for the civilian authority to lead the meetings of the high-level council. "These [previous practices] should now be changed," he said.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, also supports the proposed moves as a way to reduce the military's influence on politics. BDP Deputy Hasip Kaplan said he proposed changing Article 35 last year, but the idea was not backed by the ruling AKP at the time.
The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, is also expected to support the rewriting of Article 35, although it was tight-lipped over the weekend on any immediate change. MHP chief Devlet Bahçeli said his party was totally against military coups and called for the army to be cleansed of any figures who were still seeking attempts to stage a coup.
Seen as symbolically important for the maturity of Turkish democracy, the removal or rewriting of Article 35 was previously suggested by President Abdullah Gül in recent months.
"Both our legal system and our laws have undergone changes that will not allow for [another] coup," Gül told journalists April 27 while en route from Belgrade to Turkey. "And Article 35 should also be changed."
Turkey's EU Minister Launches Aid Campaign for Somalia
Turkey's European Union Minister Egemen Bagis on Sunday launched an aid campaign to contribute to fighting a famine in Somalia.
"We have, once more, indicated in the prosperous atmosphere of the holy month of Ramadan that we cannot remain indifferent to the tragedy our African friends are facing, and, therefore, we have been mobilized to extend a helping hand to Somali and African people," Bagis said. Meanwhile, Istanbul's Esenler municipality announced that it would extend food aid to 100,000 people in Somalia.
Egypt's New Foreign Minister to Make First Trip to Turkey
Egypt's newly appointed Foreign Minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, is set to visit Turkey later this week in his first foreign trip after assuming office on July 17, Amr's top aide said Sunday.
The Egyptian foreign minister will arrive in Turkey's capital of Ankara on Wednesday, accompanied by a group of high-level Egyptian diplomats to discuss developments in the region, said Ahmad Fathallah, first undersecretary of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Fathallah also said the importance of the role Turkey plays in the Middle East has grown significantly over the past couple of years.
Amr is expected to proceed to Germany after concluding his contacts in Turkey on Friday.
Turkey Activists Protest Nuclear Plant Construction
A group of environmental activists in Turkey on Sunday protested the government's decision to build the country's first-ever nuclear power plant in Akkuyu town, in the southern province of Mersin. A spokesperson for the group said the nuclear plans were underway "in spite of the will of the people," adding that the nuclear disaster in Fukishima, Japan, forced the Japanese government to withdraw future plans to construct more nuclear plants in its own country, as well as another in Turkey's Black Sea province of Sinop.
Turkey's Deputy PM Says Team Will Start Writing New Constitution
Turkey's deputy prime minister said on Saturday that a new team would begin efforts to make a new constitution after Parliament re-opened on October 1.
Bulent Arinc said the team would start holding talks with other political parties, and the ruling Justice and Development Party, AK, would join a constitutional harmony committee if such a committee was set up at Parliament.
"If we set up such a committee, everyone can express his/her views about the method and content, and we want to re-write the constitution in this legislative term," Arinc said during a fast-breaking dinner in the northwestern province of Bursa.
On the economy, Arinc said the economic management, including the government, Central Bank, economic committees, and all other concerned economic institutions, were taking all measures to prevent Turkey from being affected by recent developments in world economies.
Later, speaking to a private CNN Turk channel, Arinc said some were criticizing AK party government, which had been ruling the country on its own for three terms, of "becoming more powerful against the army" was not an accurate criticism.
Arinc said citizens were not worried about civilian politics becoming stronger.
Turkey, Kurds Close to Solution for First Time, Kurdish Politican Says
Kurdish politician Kemal Burkay said that Turkey was on the threshold of solving the Kurdish issue, and he gave promising messages, saying: "We are very close to peace. In the past, solution offers were considered as betrayal. Today, everything can be discussed. The solution is to lay down arms."
PKK Terrorist Member: 'We Were Waiting for the Prime Minister'
Mehmet Kurt, a member of the terrorist organization PKK, who attacked the convoy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the northern province of Kastamonu, said, after being captured two days ago: "There were four of us. We were waiting for the prime minister. We opened fire and hurled hand grenades, but then we escaped when the security guards in the vehicles responded."
Four Police Officers Wounded in Southeast Turkey Mine Blast
Four police officers were wounded when their vehicle was hit by a remote-controlled mine on Sunday in the southeastern town of Cukurca. One of the wounded police officers was reported to be in serious condition. The powerful explosion shrivelled the police car into a pile of metal and shattered windows of nearby houses.
Fear of Black Monday as S&P Downgrades U.S. Credit Rating
World stock markets were on a nervous standby before opening on Monday after Standard and Poor's downgraded the United States' credit rating. Istanbul Stock Exchange, which plummeted 9.7 percent last week, was also on pins and needles on a fear of a black Friday
There is a 'Crisis in the Western World,' Econ Professor Says
Economy Prof. Osman Kilic commented on the economic crisis, which hit the United States and many European countries, saying: "There is a crisis in the western world. The Middle East is in chaos. Turkey's cash input is high. Turkey will rule the world soon. Unemployed people in Europe will rush into Turkey to find job."
Divinity High Schools Back Among Top Choices
Islamic divinity high schools, or Imam Hatips, in Turkey have once again become a favorite of the students after a barrier in entering university exams has been removed.
In just two years, the number of Imam Hatip students reached as high as 240,000. The Higher Board of Education (YOK) has lifted different coefficient system, which has been applied for students who have graduated from Imam Hatips and vocational high schools while entering university exams to treat them equal as regular high school graduates.
New Military Chief on Uphill Track, Analysts Say
The Turkish government may have relieved the new military chief of a row over jailed comrades, but Gen. Necdet Özel remains on an uphill track, left with a demoralized army and possible operational shortcomings at a time when the Kurdish conflict is looming large, analysts said Friday.
President Abdullah Gül hailed the outcome of the tension-plagued Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, as a "good start" for Özel, after the government agreed to extend the tenure of 14 generals behind bars on coup-plot charges instead of sending them into retirement.
"The new chief of General Staff would have had a difficult start without the extensions. It would have been hard for him to work," the Milliyet Daily quoted Gül saying about what appeared to be a compromise to overcome a major rift that prompted the unprecedented resignations of Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and his three top aides last week.
Analysts, however, cautioned that such gestures might be counter-productive and shake Özel's reputation among his own subordinates.
"Koşaner quit with a very strong message. Özel is left in a difficult situation in his own neighborhood. What would the soldier think of him? That he sold them out and cooperated" with the government? said Ali Nihat Özcan, a former army officer, now a researcher at the TEPAV.
Another soldier-turned-academic, Celalettin Yavuz, argued that boosting the army's motivation in the struggle against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was critical and should be a priority for both Özel and the government.
"The armed forces are under the attack of a PKK lobby, which is growing by the day like a snowball," Yavuz, an analyst at the TÜRKSAM think-tank said, referring to routine criticism of army actions against the PKK by some media.
Analysts also warned that the judicial cases, marred by serious doubts over the authenticity of some incriminating documents, were crippling the military's operational capability as officers grew less confident in decision-making, anxious about ending up in prison, where scores of fellow officers, among them some 40 generals, are already incarcerated.
"They are no longer an orderly organization, but just a crowd. The result of hesitation and uncertainty is inaction," Özcan said.
Political scientist Soli Özel saw the turmoil as the "birth pangs of a new institutional logic and structure."
Debt Deepened Under AKP Rule, Opposition Says
The Turkish economy has been facing a huge, growing debt problem since the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power, negatively surpassing figures from the republic's history in the term before the AKP rule, according to a main opposition party report.
The AKP has created a public debt stock in the past eight years of its ruling larger than the total stock of the republic's history, according to a Republican People's Party, or CHP, report that compares the periods before and after the AKP came to power.
The gross debt stock, including both domestic and foreign public debt in Turkey, before AKP came to power was 242.6 billion Turkish Liras for the 80 years after the creation of the Turkish republic, according to the report.
The figure is 253.2 billion liras for the last eight years under AKP rule, the report said.
The total amount of gross public debt in Turkey, since the founding of the republic, has reached about 495.9 billion liras. It has grown 104.3 percent in the last eight years, compared to the previous 80 years before the AKP came to power, the report added.
While the population grew by 10 percent on average, the public debt per capita grew by 92 percent in the past eight years, the CHP report said. The public debt per capita has also increased by $2,000 during AKP rule, it read. The $2,249 of public debt per capita increased by $1,962 in the past eight years, thus reaching a level of $4,211.
Hard to Pay Back
About 2.2 million Turkish people were unable to pay their dues back to banks as of May, according to the CHP report. "Citizens whose income did not increase sufficiently are indebted more and more with time. The number of individuals unable to pay back their dues also increased every year," the report said. The ratio of Turkish citizens' debt to their disposable income has reached 41.2 percent, up from 7.5 percent in 2002, according to the report.
The total amount of debt that Turkish people currently owe banks is 30-fold higher than in 2002, according to the report. Turks owed a total of 6.5 billion liras to banks in 2002, meanwhile the figure was 170.4 billion liras in December 2010, the report said.
The foreign debt of Turkey's public and private sector also increased under AKP rule, the report reads. The foreign debt was $129.5 billion in 2002 and increased by $169.3 billion by the end of 2010, reaching a total of $298.8 billion.