The Turkish Parliament will vote Wednesday on whether to extend a mandate permitting military action against the Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, amid mounting opposition criticism of government policies on the Kurdish conflict.
The vote will be preceded by a debate on the government motion, which is asking Parliament to authorize another year of cross-border operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq. The current mandate expires Oct. 17; the motion is expected to be easily approved.
The two largest opposition groups, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, have signaled that they will support the move, leaving the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, Turkey's main Kurdish political movement, as the sole opponent. However, at least two CHP deputies of Kurdish origin, deputy chairmen, Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Hüseyin Aygün, are expected to withhold support for the motion.
The CHP and the MHP stepped up criticism Tuesday of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's suggestions that talks with the PKK could resume, accusing him of emboldening PKK violence.
MHP chairman Devlet Bahçeli called for an immediate ground operation against PKK hideouts in northern Iraq "to erect the Turkish flag in the Kandil [Mountains] once and for all" in a speech at his party's first parliamentary group meeting.
Raising the prospect of fresh talks with the PKK at a time of a drastic surge in militant violence amounted to "fragrant disrespect to our nation's honor," he said.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said talks with the PKK had backfired because Erdoğan's underlying intention was to "bargain" for a lull in violence ahead of the June 12 elections rather than secure a lasting settlement.
"I would have approved of negotiations [with the PKK] if they had put an end to terrorism [but] such private meetings will further fan terrorism rather than curbing it," he said.
Ahead of the debate on the motion, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was scheduled to meet Wednesday with Kılıçdaroğlu to brief him on the issue and other foreign policy topics. The minister is expected to hold similar meetings with the MHP and BDP leaders.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
Ahmadinejad Criticizes Turkey over Missile Defense Shield
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized Turkey on Tuesday for hosting a NATO early-warning radar system, saying it was aimed at protecting Israel.
Last month, both Turkey and the United States said the radar system would help spot missile threats coming from outside Europe, including, potentially, from Iran. The U.S.-sponsored system is to become operational later this year.
"This radar system is more aimed at defending the Zionist regime (of Israel)," Ahmadinejad said in a live television interview late on Tuesday. "They want to make sure that our missiles do not reach the occupied territories, in case they acted militarily against Iran one day. We have told our Turkish friends that it was not right to give this permission and that it was not in their benefit to do this... But such a radar system will not stop the fall of the Zionist regime."
Muslim Turkey, with NATO's second biggest military on its side, has become a bigger player in the Middle East. It is emboldened by its booming economy and seeks stronger ties with Muslim countries in the Middle East, including Iran. But Ankara, increasingly critical of Syria, has split with Iran over allying with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown on a popular uprising within his country.
Turkey has said the radar system is not intended to protect against threats from any specific country.
Washington and its allies are at odds with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, which they suspect is a front for developing atomic bombs. Iran denies this, saying it is enriching uranium only for electricity and other civilian purposes.
Israel and the U.S. have not ruled out military strikes on Iran if diplomatic means fail to stop it obtaining nuclear weapons. Iranian officials previously announced that the country's domestically produced missiles can reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf.
Turkey to Start Military Drill near Syrian Border
Turkey is considering more sanctions against Syria, saying it cannot stand idly by while Damascus shoots its own citizens, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday, the same day the Turkish military announced plans to conduct exercises near its southern border.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Deputy South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, Erdoğan said there can be no justification for killing defenseless people.
"Regarding sanctions, we will make an assessment and announce our road map after the visit to [the southern province of] Hatay, setting out the steps," Erdoğan told reporters, adding that he expected to visit the region on the weekend or at the start of next week, as Turkey plans to increase the pressure on embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The prime minister is expected to announce new sanctions during the trip.
Nonetheless, Turkey has begun partially implementing some sanctions, the prime minister said, but added that it has chosen not to announce them officially.
The plan for more sanctions heralds a further deterioration in the previously friendly relations between Ankara and Damascus since the start of al-Assad's crackdown on protesters. More than 7,500 Syrians have taken refuge in camps established in Hatay, having fled the violence at home.
Erdoğan said they had an advanced friendship with al-Assad, but that al-Assad had betrayed the principles underlying the friendship.
"What is important to us is the Syrian people. The freedoms [in Syria] are disregarded [by the government]," said Erdoğan, adding that al-Assad was repeating his father, Hafez al-Assad's violent campaign against Hama and Homs. "We never expected that."
Military Exercises on Syrian Border
Turkey's military exercises are likely to coincide with Erdoğan's planned visit to the southern province of Hatay between Oct. 5 and 13, the military said in a statement on its Web site. Previously, Turkey had said it had stopped two ships carrying arms to Syria.
The aim of the exercises is to test "the mobilization and the communication between the ministries, public institutions and Turkish army in case of a war," according to the statement.
At least 2,700 have been killed in the crackdown in Syria, the United Nations reported.
Uneasy days ahead for talks on charter in Turkey
Turkey's main opposition has signaled that it will be a tough opponent to the ruling party on a commission to help prepare a new constitution with the appointment of two fiery figures to the committee.
The Republican People's Party, or CHP, assigned Rıza Türmen, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, to the commission, as well as Süheyl Batum and Atilla Kart, both of whom are legal experts. Batum is especially knowledgeable on constitutional law.
The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, assigned former Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin, Ankara Deputy Ahmet İyimaya and Istanbul Deputy Mustafa Şentop. All three figures are former academics that specialize in law.
While the members assigned by the AKP are moderate names who have not been very vocal on the new constitution issue, Batum and Kart are known for their tough stance. Kart has been one of the most vocal names in the main opposition party against the AKP and its policies.
Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek's behind-doors request from the political parties was to assign members capable of compromise and of dialogue as the contrary would hamper the constitution-making process.
Meanwhile, confusion over a meeting between the AKP and the Peace and Development Party, or BDP, had not yet been resolved late Tuesday as the Hürriyet Daily News went to print. AKP officials informed members of the press that the meeting would take place Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Parliament, but the BDP swiftly denied the news, saying it had not yet decided on the issue.
The BDP brass convened to discuss the AKP's request for a meeting on the constitution Tuesday afternoon when two BDP officials met with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin to discuss the imprisonment conditions of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
War of Words on Foundations Accusations
German officials have hit back at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's claims that German foundations have funneled money to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, stressing that all projects are controlled by the Turkish government and, therefore, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, municipalities have also benefited from the loans without complaint ever being aired in bilateral meetings.
German Ambassador Eberhard Pohl said the municipality of Kayseri, an AKP stronghold, also received a loan for a sewage project, along with other municipalities across Turkey. Turkey's Treasury Department made the applications for projects and they approved agreements for credits, the ambassador said.
"Turkey's Treasury transfers the money to local administrations that carry out the projects," he said.
Asked if Turkish officials had conveyed their unease over the allegations, the ambassador said the prime minister's statements in the press were the first they had heard about them, but added that there was no need for an investigation into the issue.
"For each project, bidding is announced at international levels," Pohl said.
Erdoğan recently alleged that some German foundations were signing contracts with municipalities run by the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, and by the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and they make pre-deals for the companies that will take on the projects. Some of those companies had connections with the PKK, he implied, which he said was one of the reasons for the probe into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK.
In the strongest German reaction yet, the Heinrich Böll Foundation denounced Erdoğan's claims as "untrue and politically dangerous," charging that the issue is being manipulated as part of a government campaign to criminalize the Kurdish opposition.
The foundation was working with local administrations under the framework of some EU projects "without any discrimination for political parties" and they work with local administrations from the AKP, too, it said.
Erdoğan was "aiming to pull contacts with our foundation with opposition political parties into a grey area such as support for the PKK," the statement said. "It's especially for our contacts with civilian Kurdish opposition. More than 3,000 Kurdish politicians and activists were taken into custody among which some of the mayors, elected politicians, and local politicians were accused of supporting the PKK. We consider accusations against German political foundations as part of efforts to show civilian Kurdish opposition," the statement said.
Osman Baydemir, the mayor of Diyarbakır, said late Monday that Erdoğan's claims were aiming to pave the way for further detainments in the KCK case, and called on the prime minister to prove his claims. BDP Co-Chair Gültan Kışanak likened Erdoğan to a "clumsy gossiper" and said the party stood behind all its mayors and municipalities.
Germans were astonished by the allegations. Neither Turkish President Abdullah Gül, who paid an official visit to Germany in mid-September, nor other Turkish authorities raised the issue with German officials Additionally, the issue was not on the agenda of talks during Gül's Spetember meetings in, sources from the Turkish Presidency told Hürriyet Daily News.
Moreover, in a recent meeting between German and Turkish officials at the Turkish Foreign Ministry on the issue of terrorism, Ankara did not raise any unease over the German foundations, the Daily News learned.
"Turkish officials have not conveyed any unease to us. I am surprised," Franz Haller, director of the German investment bank and public sector financial institution, KfW, in Ankara told Daily News Monday.
Meanwhile, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said funneling money to the PKK was " a bigger crime if the prime minister was not pressing the issue."
"They launch raids on mayors from CHP to prevent them doing their work. There is a state terror on CHP's mayors," he added, asking Erdoğan to announce the names the CHP mayors he had accused.
CHP Deputy Leader Gürsel Tekin called on Erdoğan to make public all intelligence he has gathered from wiretapping of opposition party mayors.
"We are waiting for him to return from Africa. We will ask him to divulge whatever he has," Tekin told the CNNTürk on Tuesday, adding that no CHP mayor has received loans from German foundations or similar institutions, accusing the prime minister of trying to change the country's agenda.
Court Rejects Cemevi Closure
An Ankara court turned down a petition Tuesday to close an Alevi association that was accused of attempting to build a cemevi as a "house of worship."
Prosecutors wanted to shut down the Çankaya Cemevi Building Association, arguing that a cemevi, where Alevis gather to pray, cannot be legally deemed a house of worship and that an association cannot have such a goal.
Judge Yaşar Eren said the demand was evaluated and rejected.
Fevzi Gümüş, the lawyer for the Çankaya Cemevi Building Association, told reporters that the prosecutors would appeal the decision.
"The court is right on its decision, but the final decision on whether the cemevis are places of worship will be made by the Supreme Court of Appeals," he said.
Gümüş said all Alevis consider cemevis their houses of worship and added that everyone in the community was fighting for legal recognition of the situation.
Turkey, France to Sign Cooperation Agreement to Fight Terrorism
Turkish Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin and French Interior Minister Claude Gueant will sign an agreement next week on domestic security that will cover concrete cooperation mechanisms in combating terrorism.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant will pay a two-day formal visit to the Turkish capital of Ankara beginning on Oct. 6.
Gueant will be received by Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara. Gueant will also meet Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay and European Union Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagis.
France is staging intense operations against the terrorist organization PKK in for the last two years.
The Paris Court has recently tried 18 people, including top members of the terrorist organization in Europe. The prosecutor's office demanded prison terms ranging between six months and six years for the suspects, and requested that the headquarters of the terrorist organization in Paris be closed.
The court will make its verdict on the case on November 2.
TUSIAD Signs Cooperation Agreement with U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or TUSIAD, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States Chamber of Commerce, or USCC, in Istanbul on Tuesday.
TUSIAD's President of the Executive Board Umit Boyner and the President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thomas J. Donohue signed the MoU, which aims to develop bilateral economic relations and increase mutual investments.
As part of the cooperation, TUSIAD and the USCC will hold a conference in Washington on Oct. 26. During the conference, discussions will take place to boost economic relations between the two countries.
A report will be prepared at the end of the conference; the report will be shared with various Turkish and U.S. organizations.
TUSIAD and the USCC have established working groups to boost commercial relations. One of the working groups will convene in October.
Turkey condemns deadly suicide blast
Turkey on Tuesday condemned a suicide bomb attack that killed at least 70 people on a government compound in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
"We severely condemn this heinous attack that targeted innocent children and their families. We send our condolences to the families of the victims and our wishes of swift recovery for the wounded," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a press statement.
The attack, which also left many wounded, was claimed by anti-government group Al-Shabab.
According to the statement, students were lining up outside the Ministry of Higher Education, awaiting the results of Turkish scholarships, when the blast occurred.
"The incident causes even more concern that the attack took place at a time when a road map had been agreed upon to secure an end to the transition period in Somalia and steps were taken for a national political accord," the statement said.