Turkey welcomed Syria's Wednesday pullout of tanks from Hama, seeing it as a direct outcome of its pressure on Damascus, but remained cautious and urged more steps within "10 to 15 days" to ease the turmoil.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey's ambassador to Syria confirmed that tanks and security forces were leaving the revolt hub of Hama following Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's seven-hour talks in Damascus Tuesday.
"This is very, very important as it shows that our initiative has produced a positive result," Erdoğan said. "We hope that things are fully completed within a period of 10 to 15 days and steps are taken regarding the reform process in Syria.
"We will continue to closely monitor the developments in Syria and watch for the issues that we discussed" with al-Assad, he said, adding that Ankara's pressure was motivated by its commitment to promoting democracy in the region. Ankara expects al-Assad's government to announce a timetable for elections and the release of all political prisoners, a senior Turkish official said.
Erdoğan said the use of force against civilians must stop "as soon as possible" and stressed that al-Assad's pledges for reform "would convince neither the Syrian people nor the international community as long as people are being killed every day."
Ambassador Ömer Önhon toured Hama, the scene of the bloodiest security crackdown since anti-regime protests erupted in Syria in mid-March, talking to residents and praying with them at a mosque, Davutoğlu told reporters. The ambassador reported the city was free from tanks and heavy weaponry, but "lacked activity and vivacity."
"The second important step we expect [from Damascus] is media access" to Syria, Davutoğlu said, adding that Ankara would organize a press tour to Hama and Deir Ezzor, another flashpoint in the uprising, within a few days. Following his talks with Davutoğlu, a defiant al-Assad pledged to pursue a relentless battle against "terrorist groups" whom the regime has blamed for the violence.
Davutoğlu said Wednesday that he had spoken over the phone with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as his counterparts from Brazil, Germany and Jordan, after he returned from Damascus.
"If Syria begins to take steps in line with the demands of its people and ends the bloodshed, and if the international community unites to speak in one voice on the issue, the process may advance in a way that would ease everybody's concerns," he said.
Turkish Ambassador Watches Pullout of Tanks from Hama
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's administration took an important step after meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu Tuesday.
Following the meeting, Turkey's ambassador in Damascus reported the withdrawal of tanks from Hama. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking at provincial chairmen meeting of his Justice and Development Party, AKP, said that Davutoğlu's visit yielded results, adding: "Turkish Ambassador Omer Onhon went to Hama. He said the tanks and security forces began to withdraw."
New Turkish Charter to Model for Other Countries, Bozdag Says
Turkey's new constitution will set a model for regional and other countries that seek the "best-ever charter highlighting universal values of democracy, human rights and rule of law," according to a senior governmental official.
"I believe our new constitution, which will be the newest charter based on universal principles, will make an overwhelming impression on the world," Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Wednesday. "If you make the best (constitution), it will of course draw attention from countries that are seeking the best for them."
Bozdağ, however, said their intention was not to become a sample case for regional countries whose citizens have revolted for more democratic regimes.
Almost all political parties, civil society organizations, as well as universities, agree on the need to rewrite the current charter, which was made by the military junta in 1982, two years after a coup.
"We are not making this constitution to be praised by other countries. That would undermine the whole process. Our motto is to make the best and most modern constitution for our own people by emphasizing democratic requirements, freedoms and human rights," Bozdağ said.
Recalling that they were also analyzing the constitution of advanced democracies, he added: "Those who want to take our new constitution as a sample are free to analyze it, because we believe it's going to be a model constitution."
For the deputy prime minister, who will likely play a key role in the constitution-making process, the most important goal is consensus among the political parties as well as civil society and universities. "I hope Turkey will achieve its new constitution with the broadest consensus possible, based on not minimum common points but on maximum common points," he said.
Bozdağ said he believes there would be a few articles that would cause a debate between the political parties represented in Parliament.
"We are ready to discuss everything at the table. Prejudices or pre-conditions would hurt the process, thus we call on all parties to come to the table without conditions," he said.
One of the potential points of discussion in the making of the constitution is the removal of the first three articles, which shape the nature of the republic. Pro-Kurdish politicians have expressed their intention to ask for the three articles to be removed and replaced with items that highlight the status of the Turkish citizens with Kurdish descent. Bozdağ said his party prefers for these articles to remain, but that, "We are ready to discuss any proposal regarding these items."
'Doves Not Hawks'
Another important point Bozdağ made was on the composition of the parliamentary commission that will be set after Oct. 1, which will be the main body to draft the charter.
"It's extremely important who the parties nominate for this commission. It would be very useful if the parties would send reconciliatory personalities, figures who are capable of compromise. They would ease the working conditions of the commission and shorten the length of work," he said.
At the same time, the members of this commission should also be able to convince their own party fellows and influence public opinion. "It's going to be a three-way work," Bozdağ said.
Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek is expected to call on parties represented at Parliament to nominate two people to carry out constitutional work after Oct.1.
Bozdağ also talked about the preparations of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, for the new charter. "We have to do our homework before sitting at the table. All parties should do it in order to be fully ready for the process," he said.
A text indicating the framework of the principles that will be sought by the AKP in the new constitution is currently being written, Bozdağ said.
"We will, on the one hand, emphasize universal human rights and democratic values. On the other hand, we will also seek way to assure the implementation of these rights, unlike the current charter which obstructs accomplishment of the rights."
"The new constitution is an order to us from the people who voted for parties on June 12 elections," Bozdağ said. "That's why this Parliament has a unique mission to write the new constitution."
Coup Allegations Put Retired General in Jail
Retired Gen. Hasan Iğsız, former commander of the First Army and the former deputy chief of General Staff, was arrested Wednesday as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged propaganda Web sites.
Iğsız is a suspect in a probe into the "Internet Memorandum," an alleged document by the General Staff about setting up 42 Internet sites to distribute propaganda against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the Greeks and Armenians. The retired general arrived with his lawyer at Istanbul's Beşiktaş Courthouse on Wednesday morning after being called by the police the previous day. Iğsız did not speak during the hearing and was defended by his lawyer, Orhan Önder.
After the charges against Iğsız were read in the session, Önder said the Web sites had been active for 10 years, which was confirmed by the General Staff. However, Iğsız's lawyer said, "my client and other people who have signatures on the document are asked to pay the price."
"Iğsız spent 50 years as a military officer and accusing him of a terror-related crime is just meaningless," Önder said.
Iğsız was the second suspect to be arrested among a total of 14 people whom the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on Monday ordered to appear before the court.
The 14 suspects include Gen. Nusret Taşdeler, the former head of the Aegean forces, who was recently appointed as head of the army's educational command during the Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, and İsmail Hakkı Pekin, the intelligence chief of the General Staff.
The court also ruled that the Internet Memorandum case be merged with the Action Plan for the Fight against Fundamentalism case. This plan allegedly includes strategies to end both AKP rule and the activities of the Fethullah Gülen community, a religious group believed to have links to the government.
Önder said the Web sites were prepared within the normal command structure, with the knowledge of the top commander.
"It is not clear what material was used on these Web sites and the charges are too heavy. If the content of the Web sites had been included in the indictment, the charges could have been misconduct or defamation of the government," he said.
After Önder made his defense, the court decided to arrest Iğsız.
Eight active-duty generals, who are also suspects in the same investigation, are expected to appear before the court later this week.
Of the Turkish military's approximately 300 active-duty generals, more than 40 are under arrest on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
Turkish Journalists Aware of Media Censorship, Survey Reveals
A high percentage of journalists in Turkey accept that there is censorship and self-censorship in the Turkish media, a recent report prepared by Istanbul Bilgi University Professor Esra Arsan has revealed.
After surveying 67 journalists from various media outlets, such as Milliyet, Hürriyet, Zaman, Taraf, Sabah, Habertürk and Sözcü, roughly 85 percent of the journalists said censorship and self-censorship are definitely common in the Turkish media. Nearly 14 percent said it was fairly common.
When it comes to the actors intervening in the news-making process, 95 percent of the journalists surveyed said the government intervenes; 89 percent said the media-owners do. The report also highlighted the change in the shift of power actors that intervene in the news-making process. The report said in the past the military had a strong influence on controlling news stories; now the power seems to have shifted toward the police.
"This was one of the most interesting outcomes in the report for me," Arsan, who acts as the Media and Communication Systems Program coordinator at Bilgi University, told the Daily News. "I was expecting the military influence to be diminished, yet I didn't expect it to be replaced by the police and religious groups."
The survey also asked the journalists whether they ever soften the tone of their stories or soften what subjects believe are most censored.
According to the report, while more than 50 percent said they softened their tone because they are afraid of government and media boss pressure, roughly 64 percent said they were afraid that they might be taken to court for the content of their articles.
When asking what topics journalists think are most censored, 92 percent said relationship between the media-owners. Meanwhile, 67 percent said stories that cause other journalists to go to jail are censored. None of the surveyed journalists disagreed with stories about the gathering of religious groups in state affairs being censored.
Arsan said she finished the report a couple of months before the June 12 general elections. Forty-one percent of the surveyed journalists were in higher positions, such as head editors, while 25 percent were editors and 10 were columnists.
"I made a list of head editors, columnists and reporters who were experts in their fields and who were from media outlets with different perspectives. Although the number of participants may not sound high, they were people whom I think have a large influence on Turkish media."
The report also contained civil disobedience acts, such as protests against hydro power plants, Internet bans or disobedience acts of Kurdish groups in Turkey, and underlines that to sustain a healthy society these acts should be recognized by the media.
The report also talked about the lack of unionization among journalists, citing that only 21 percent of the people who took the survey were members of the Journalists Union. Also, 89 percent said the legal regulations protecting media freedom were not enough.