BDP Announces Decision to take Parliamentary Oath

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has announced plans to end its parliamentary boycott and return to the legislature Saturday following a series of discussions in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.

"We would like to thank everyone who supported our boycott," BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş said Wednesday following the party's group meeting. "Our decision was a position we took under the conditions of that time. Today we need to take another position. We want to announce that we will join Parliament on Oct. 1."

Demirtaş said the BDP understood those who were against them re-entering Parliament, but added that the party decided the best way to foster peace during the current period of tension was to rejoin the legislature.

"At this point, in order to defend peace, to support our people from Parliament, to realize the promises we made to those who placed their trust in us and to explicitly show the two-facedness of the AKP [the governing Justice and Development Party], we have made this decision," Demirtaş said.

BDP deputies had refused to take their parliamentary oaths after the June 12 general elections in protest of the continued imprisonment of six colleagues who were elected.

"Despite our good intentions, we didn't receive any positive signs from the AKP. Plus, there is a psychological war [against the Kurds] through the media and through the KCK operations in which many have been detained by the police," he said. "Ours was a search for peace. Still, we draw our power from the people, and our people have given their support to see us in the Parliament.

"The Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, is an illegal organization alleged to be the urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, itself listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community."

The Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, an umbrella organization for the Kurdish groups, announced their support for the BDP's decision to return to Parliament.

During the opening parliamentary session on Saturday, Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek will invite BDP deputies to take the parliamentary oath. Following their swearing-in ceremony, President Abdullah Gül will address the legislature, 95 percent of which is comprised by the Turkish electorate.

AKP Meets with Opposition to Ease Charter Concerns

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, promised Wednesday that it would not to impose its own priorities in the making of a new constitution as it launched talks with the opposition to discuss the process.

An AKP delegation met with counterparts from the second largest opposition force, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, for more than an hour in what officials described as a "very positive atmosphere."

Speaking at a party function while the meeting was under way, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said they would "keep the doors to dialogue wide open."

A planned conciliation commission in Parliament to draft the new charter will be comprised of an equal number of representatives from each party in the legislature, Erdoğan said, adding that Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek would lead the process.

AKP Deputy Chairman Ömer Çelik, the head of the team that met with the MHP, said the conciliation commission should take up all issues "from scratch" and without pre-conditions, in an apparent bid to allay opposition concerns that the AKP might hijack the process and impose its own priorities.

"There should be no pre-conditions while the [discussion] mechanism is being set up," Çelik said. "Once they sit at the table, party representatives will obviously put forward the positions of their parties."

During the meeting, both AKP and MHP officials indicated they would like to see the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, join the drive for the new constitution, sources from both sides said.

The AKP assured the MHP that it was not planning to impose its own draft on the commission, while the MHP requested equal say for all parties and suggested that the commission should be reinforced with scholars.

CHP Plans Cautious Strategy

In a related development, top officials of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, met to discuss their own strategy for the constitution-making process, outlining a cooperative, but cautious, approach.

A CHP delegation is scheduled to meet with the AKP team at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Party sources said the CHP's central administrative board formally decided Wednesday to send members to the conciliation commission, but stressed that the party would closely monitor the AKP's attitude; it would reconsider its support if the ruling party attempted fiats.

The CHP will insist that the first three articles of the current constitution remain untouched. The focus, they said, should stay on strengthening press freedom, human rights, labor rights and the independence of the judiciary, according to sources.

As the parties readied for the opening of Parliament on Saturday, Çiçek met with President Abdullah Gül in the presidential palace. He was expected to visit also the BDP on Friday after the party announced an end to its parliamentary boycott.

PKK Kidnaps Three More Teachers, Total Reaches 12

Three teachers in the southeastern Diyarbakır province were kidnapped by suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, the Anatolia News Agency reported Thursday.

The teachers were working at the Birlik village elementary school in Lice district of Diyarbakır.

As of Tuesday night, there was no information on the teachers' whereabouts, prompting authorities to investigate their disappearance.

"It was understood that the teachers were kidnapped by members of the PKK terrorist organization," a statement from the Diyarbakır Governor's Office said Thursday.

Four teachers were also kidnapped in the eastern province of Elazığ on Tuesday; two other teachers were abducted in Diyarbakır earlier in the week. Twelve teachers in total have been kidnapped this week.

Turkey Snubs EU; U.S. Calls for Cyprus Thaw

Ankara is sticking to its oil and gas exploration activities as planned in the eastern Mediterranean Sea despite continued unease voiced by its old allies, the United States and the European Union.

At the moment, the Turkish geophysical and seismic research vessel, Piri Reis, is surveying the Block 12 economic zone, where Greek Cypriot drilling is under way. The Piri Reis is expected to continue to search the area as long as needed, a senior Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Wednesday. The ship, however, will not approach the spot where Noble Energy, who is working with the Greek Cypriots, has erected a rig, the official said.

In earlier talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made known that the U.S. supports Greek Cyprus' energy exploration projects, a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Washington "supports [Greek] Cyprus's right to explore for energy" and "doesn't believe that should undermine or interfere with the talks" to resolve the Cyprus problem, the official said. The first warnings to Turkey came from EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who urged Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat against Greek Cyprus after Turkey said it would launch its own oil and gas exploration effort.

The most recent criticism of Turkey came Tuesday from EU High Commissioner Stefan Fule.

"[Turkey's policy] is irresponsible and needs to be condemned," Fule said during the parliamentary session that was discussing tensions between Turkey and Greek Cyprus. "Greek Cyprus has the right to search for natural resources within its Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, and can conclude agreements with third countries for hydrocarbon exploration," he said.

Turkish frigates will not be directly escorting the research vessel, but are sailing in the region, ready to intervene if the Piri Reis is harassed, the Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.

"We already had some armed ships in the region patrolling in international waters," the official said. "What we are doing now [since the Greek Cypriots began drilling] is increasing their visibility."

Turkey signed an oil and gas exploration deal with Turkish Cyprus last week, and the Piri Reis was deployed immediately to the Mediterranean to begin exploration on behalf of Turkish Cyprus. Still, the Turkish official drew attention to the difference between two survey processes being conducted in Mediterranean waters.

Seismic surveys for hydrocarbons carried out by CGG Veritas, a French-based geophysical services company, have been taken off the coast of Antalya in Turkey's own continental shelf, he said. Surveys in Turkish waters have nothing to do with other exploration activity carried out by the Piri Reis in disputed Cyprus waters, the official said.

In New York, Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed an agreement on the delineation of the continental shelf between the two countries in the East Mediterranean following a Greek Cypriot move to start offshore drilling for natural gas and oil southeast of the divided island.

The Piri Reis began research on Monday to cover an area reaching 1,000 kilometers, with 280 kilometers already covered, Doğan Yaşar, deputy director of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Technology at Dokuz Eylül University, told the Anatolia news agency on Wednesday.

Yaşar said seismic surveys were being conducted about 80 miles off the coast in communication with Turkish frigates. The study results would be analyzed and they could sail again to the possible determined places of gas outlets to drill one or two meters under the surface, he said.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan vowed that Turkey would not be a spectator to Greek Cypriot gas drilling in the Mediterranean. The Piri Reis was dispatched to demonstrate Turkey's determination, "to show our presence there," he said Wednesday.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız has said the activities in the eastern Mediterranean were for seismic research, not for drilling for oil.

Noting that the EU was following the issue very closely, Fule said: "The high representative and I made it very clear right from the start that threats are not an option when it comes to solving problems between neighbors. Disputes need to be settled by peaceful means. This is a guiding principle in international relations and in the EU."

The European Commission believes reaching a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus issue is a priority, Fule also said.

"We all acknowledge the most important issue right now is the Cyprus settlement talks. A united Cyprus would bring peace stability and security within the EU, in our close neighborhood and one of the most troubled regions in the world," he said. "I believe Turkey and the EU have much more to gain from integration and dialogue than tension, especially at a time when the stakes in the region following the Arab Spring are so high. Turkey and the EU need to support the aspirations of the people in the southern Mediterranean region in terms of democracy, human rights, stability and prosperity."

EU To Begin Work on Abolishing Visa Requirements for Turks

An official from the European Union Commission has said the European Union will prepare a roadmap to completely abolish visa requirements for Turkish nationals, the first positive sign from the 27-member club to revive Turkish-EU ties.

On Wednesday, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malsmtröm said that before lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens, the EU will enforce a new program on visa facilitation.

Turkey and the EU concluded a re-admission agreement on illegal immigrants earlier this year; the EU said, previously, this is essential to securing a visa deal with Turkey. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and other Turkish officials, harshly criticized the 27-nation union for failing to live up to its obligations in opening up a mechanism to facilitate visa requirements for Turkish nationals.

Turkey says it can't find a European interlocutor to start visa talks and vowed that it won't implement the re-admission agreement unless the union starts visa talks with the candidate country. Malmström said the EU recently laid down a new perspective in lifting visa requirements and that it will no longer consider the re-admission agreement as an indispensible condition for a possible visa deal.

"We are at the beginning of a journey," Malsmtröm said. "It will take time. But we will start facilitating visa requirements at this time."

Malmström also said a new program in facilitating visa requirements for Turkish nationals will kick off in autumn. According to the new initiative, the EU will issue long-term visas that will be multi-entry. The time for acquiring visas will be reduced; required documents for visas will be minimal, and long-term or permanent visas will be issued for people in certain categories.

Turkish Government Wants New Constitution Complete by First Half of 2012

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the government wants its new constitution to be ready by the first half of 2012.

"We will concentrate on this issue [of making a new constitution] with the opening of Parliament [on Saturday]. We hope to be done with this issue in the first half of 2012," Erdoğan said Thursday as he talked with reporters before heading to Macedonia for an official visit.

When asked about a recent decision by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, to end its parliamentary boycott and to join in parliamentary proceedings, Erdoğan said he had stated before that the BDP would return to Parliament, and he was proved right.

"You [reporters] are following me closely. You know I said earlier that the BDP was going to come to Parliament. I had said the same thing about the [main opposition Republican People's Party] CHP as well," the prime minister said. "The CHP has already come. Our expectations for the BDP's return also came true with their announcement yesterday."

He was referring to a similar boycott by the CHP, which, like the BDP, announced a boycott from Parliament as a response to three of its elected deputies not being allowed to take the oath office. The CHP changed its mind in July after an agreement on a joint declaration with the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

As for the question of whether the BDP would also take part in the talks to make a new constitution, Erdoğan said they can as long as they form a parliamentary group. Noting that the government had initially requested appointments with the parties that have parliamentary groups in Parliament, he added they can also meet with the BDP if they form a group. A delegation from the ruling AK Party has already begun visiting opposition parties to discuss the drafting of a new constitution on the eve of the new legislative session, set to begin on Saturday.

The five-member AKP team, led by Deputy Chairman Ömer Çelik, met with the opposition Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, on Wednesday; Çelik is meeting with the CHP on Thursday.

Since the June 12 parliamentary elections, Turkey's political parties have been planning to draft a new constitution to replace the existing one. The current one was drafted under martial law following the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup, and it has long been criticized for failing to respond to today's needs for broader rights and freedoms.

Turkey Strongly Condemns Israel's New Jewish Settlements

Turkey has strongly condemned the decision of the Israeli government to build 1,100 more Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem, questioning Israel's intentions and sincerity.

A statement released by the Turkish Foreign Minister late Wednesday strongly condemned the expansion of settlements, saying it badly damages international efforts to reach peace in the region.

On Tuesday, Israel announced it had given the green light for new construction to take place in the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, in southeast Jerusalem. The Palestinians condemned the plan, and the United States, European Union and United Nations swiftly expressed their disappointment over the settlements.

The Turkish Foreign Minister's statement pointed out that while the international community is focused on finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding more Jewish settlements, at this time, raises serious suspicions over the Jewish state's real intentions and sincerity. It said expanding Jewish settlements is a clear violation of international law.

The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital, and the adjacent West Bank -- territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war -- as a condition for resuming peace talks.

Since capturing east Jerusalem, Israel has annexed the area and built about 10 Jewish enclaves meant to solidify its control. Gilo, which is close to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, is among the largest with about 50,000 residents. Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem has not been internationally recognized.

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