The European Union holds responsibility for growing government control of the judiciary and the persecution of journalists because of the support it gave to last year's constitutional amendments, party sources say Turkey's main opposition leader told the Swedish foreign minister.

"The government has taken control of the judiciary following the constitutional amendments of 2010," sources quoted Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as telling Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt when the two met behind closed doors Monday.

Kılıçdaroğlu criticized the latest EU report on Turkey's accession progress, saying it failed to sufficiently highlight "the anti-democratic actions" of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, sources said.

Bildt, however, described the progress report as "balanced" and said Turkey must undertake further reforms. Kılıçdaroğlu also advised the EU against high expectations from the new constitution process, arguing that even the current constitution was frequently violated.

"A new constitution will not solve every single problem for Turkey. For instance, the right to privacy is being violated, although it is enshrined in the current constitution," Kılıçdaroğlu said, according to sources.

Without elaborating, Kılıçdaroğlu told Bildt the CHP was ready to support any "reasonable" proposals by the AKP on the Kurdish issue. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Bildt tacitly confirmed media reports that the Friends of Turkey group in the EU was working on a plan to end the deadlock in Turkey's accession talks.

"There are some challenges and difficulties and it requires discussion both between the different countries of the EU and between the EU and Turkey," Bildt said. "It's hardly new in that particular aspect, but of course we are working on the different items that can keep the positive momentum on certain issues."

Newly Released Palestinian Prisoners Need Erdogan OK to Living in Turkey

If Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gives his consent, a small group of Palestinian prisoners is expected to arrive in Turkey within days as part of the swap deal with Israel, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

The move would come after a covert operation that only a few Turkish officials, including the prime minister and foreign minister, had knowledge of until recently. But the deal has not been completely hammered out yet, sources told the Daily News.

"The whole process sped up as of Sunday night," a senior Turkish diplomat told the Daily News, speaking Monday on condition of anonymity. "How many [prisoners] will come to Turkey is not determined yet. But when they come, they will be free citizens. Still, there is a small possibility that no prisoners would come to Turkey."

Israel is set to release 1,027 prisoners in two stages in exchange for freedom of captured Israeli solider Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas militants in June 2006. The first stage of the exchange is planned to be finalized Monday, when Israel is expected to free 477 prisoners in exchange for Shalit's return. Of the first group, 39 are expected to be exiled overseas, including 26 from the West Bank, 13 from east Jerusalem and one from Gaza. The remaining 550 prisoners will be released in about two months, according to the terms of the deal between Israel and Hamas.

Turkey is among three countries that will receive some of the 39 Palestinians to be sent abroad, according to Hamas officials. However, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials told the Hürriyet Daily News they had no information on Turkey's involvement in the swap operation.

The Daily News revealed the names of the 39 Palestinians, which were seen by Israel as "too dangerous" to be sent to either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, on its Web site yesterday. These Palestinians, 33 of whom were serving life sentences in Israeli prisons, are expected to be deported to Turkey, Syria and Qatar.

"At the moment, the countries that will accept prisoners are Turkey, Qatar and Syria," a Hamas official in Gaza told the AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "These countries, along with Egypt and Hamas, will coordinate the procedures under which the prisoners will be moved."

Hamas' deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk also said Oct. 17 that the three countries have agreed to "absorb" the Palestinian prisoners who will be deported, according to a report by the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat.

Turkish diplomats have not yet officially confirmed that the country will host Palestinian prisoners. Therefore, talks could have been carried through Turkey's intelligence organization, which reports directly to Erdoğan, as was the case in previous negotiations to release Shalit.

It was not immediately clear whether the prisoners will have the right to free movement once they arrive in the three countries. It also remains unclear under what legal status they will be allowed to reside in the country, a Palestinian official told the Daily News. The length of the exile period will be equal to the years they were sentenced to serve in Israel, he said.

The spokesman of Hamas' military wing, Abu Obadiah, said on Oct. 16 that Israel and Egypt would meet once a year to review the status of the deported prisoners.

Among the prisoners to be released are Walid Anjas, who received 36 life sentences for a 2002 attack on a Jerusalem bar that killed 11 Israelis, and Nasr Yateyma, who was convicted of planning the 2002 Passover bombing that killed 29 people.

The others were involved in kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers. There are also several senior Hamas leaders slated for release, including Yehia al-Sinwar and Rawhi al-Mushtaha, who helped found the movement's security arm, al-Majd.

The swap deal has the support of eight out of 10 Israelis, according to a poll in the Yediot Aharonot daily.

Turkish Prime Minister Decries Mole Claims in Fraud Case as 'Pitiful'

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has scorned the main opposition in a row over a high-profile embezzlement probe, dismissing its efforts to expose an alleged government cover-up as "pitiful."

"The main opposition is going mad as it sees our party's standing. And I pity them," Erdoğan said Monday in a closing speech at the end of his party's three-day retreat at Kızılcahamam. "Sometimes I say I should be grateful for having such an opposition, but most of the time I feel sad for them."

The Republican People's Party, or CHP, "is after black propaganda," Erdoğan said, arguing that earlier allegations of fraud raised by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, against AKP officials, had proven futile.

CHP last week stepped up pressure on Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay to resign on grounds that he was the "mole" who leaked information of an impending police search to key suspects in the embezzlement probe into the Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) charity in 2009, when he was interior minister.

Erdoğan played down the accusations against Atalay as "an empty file" and urged Kılıçdaroğlu to "either give up those methods that have embarrassed him many times or change his guides."

"One cannot guarantee their political future by peddling [corruption] files. Thank God the stones they throw hit their own heads each time," Erdoğan said, referring to allegations of fraud among CHP ranks.

The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, has joined the CHP's call on Atalay to resign, declaring that he "has no credibility left." The CHP argues that the government is covering up the affair to prevent the exposure of links between the suspects and the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

New Charter

A drive to rewrite the constitution topped discussions at the AKP's gathering in Kızılcahamam, Erdoğan said, stressing that drawing up a new charter was "the most significant issue for an advanced democracy and a strong Turkey."

According to Erdoğan , the AKP had no pre-conditions and prejudices for the constitution-making process, which is scheduled to kick off in earnest tomorrow with the inaugural meeting of the cross-party Preparatory Commission in Parliament.

"It is not enough to change the old status-quo that has impeded Turkey. We are declaring, from the very start, that our perspective does not include the establishment of a new status-quo," Erdoğan said.

Despite his outburst at the opposition, the prime minister called for conciliation in the constitution-making process. Parliament "will succeed in making the new constitution if we manage to talk face-to-face and not appeal to each other from behind the soundproof walls of ideology," he said.

Erdoğan described the AKP as "the party not only of Turkey, but the world" and said it had embraced a mission "to stand by oppressed people wherever they are."

Foreign policy affairs, measures against terrorism, and economic policies were also discussed at the gathering of the AKP's lawmakers and party leaders at Kızılcahamam.

Turkey Reaches Highest Employment Volume in 88 Years

Turkey's Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said on Monday that Turkey had reached the highest employment volume in 88 years, thanks to 24,953,000 million working people.

"Employment figures indicate that unemployment has declined rapidly in Turkey, and Turkey is in a better situation than 12 European Union countries," Caglayan said.

Caglayan's remarks come after Turkish statistics authority, TurkStat, made public unemployment figures in July 2011. According to TurkStat, unemployment in Turkey was down 1.5 points to 9.1 percent in the July 2011 period, which covers the months of June, July and August.

TurkStat said the number of jobless dropped to from 2,782 thousand to 2,509 thousand while the number of the employed rose from 23,478 thousand to 24,953 thousand in this period.

Unemployment rate in urban areas was 11.5 percent and it was 4.7 percent in rural areas. Work force participation rate was 51.2 percent and employment rate was 46.5 percent. Non-agricultural unemployment dropped to 11.8 percent from 13.6 percent as youth unemployment was down to 18.3 percent from 19.5 percent.

Davutoglu Meets Syrian Opposition Representatives

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu held talks with a delegation representing the Syrian National Council, the first public contact with the Syrian opposition that is expected to boost legitimacy of the anti-regime group.

The meeting took place in Ankara on Monday evening, after a telephone conversation between Davutoğlu and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby, Foreign Ministry officials said. Al-Araby briefed Davutoğlu on the conclusions of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo earlier in the day, according to the Turkish diplomats.

The Syrian National Council was formed in İstanbul on October after months of talks among different anti-regime groups seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad. The Council says it wants to be recognized internationally as representatives of al-Assad's opponents.

Davutoğlu told the opposition members they should use peaceful means in their anti-regime efforts.

The "Syrian opposition, which works for a democratic order based on protection of fundamental rights and freedoms" should seek their goals through "legitimate and peaceful means," Davutoğlu told the councilmembers.

He also said the opposition should protect unity and work for a democratic transformation through peaceful ways. Officials said the Syrian National Council was requesting a meeting with Davutoğlu for some time.

Khaled Khoja, a councilmember, told Today's Zaman last week that they would send a delegation to Ankara for talks with Turkish Foreign Ministry officials.

"We plan to meet with members of the Foreign Ministry in order to introduce our policy and a roadmap to the Turkish government," he told Today's Zaman on Oct. 10.

The council, according to Khaled, is presently made up of "the Muslim Brotherhood, leftist secularists, Syrian Christians, Kurds and Arab nationalists."

While some of al-Assad's Western critics, including the United States and France, have welcomed the formation of the council, they have not embraced it diplomatically or offered military help as they did the Libyan rebels who later overthrew Muammar Gaddafi.

Turkey, once a close ally of al-Assad, has sharply criticized the Syrian president over a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests. Syrian officials have said that "measures would be taken" against any powers which supported the "illegitimate council."

Court Releases Remaining Jailed Hizbullah Suspects

A Turkish court has released remaining jailed suspects believed to be members of the outlawed Hizbullah organization, branded as a fundamentalist terrorist organization by the Turkish state.

The 14th İstanbul High Criminal Court has released six suspects, including Mehmet Bahattin Temel, who is believed to be chief of the terrorist organization's Turkey branch and Hacı İnan. Jailed suspects Fikret Gültekin, Sait Şahin, Mehmet Şefik Temel Mehmet Eşin were also released pending trial by the court.

The Turkish Hizbullah is a Kurdish, Sunni fundamentalist organization that arose in the late 1980s in southeastern Turkey. In the early 1990s, when the Turkish government's conflict with the PKK was at its most fierce, Hizbullah began attacking suspected PKK sympathizers. The group has mostly been inactive since the mid-90s, when the group's top leaders were either killed or arrested in a major crackdown.

It was broken up and its leaders were arrested in 2000, after police unearthed the bodies of more than 60 people the group had tortured and killed, in raids across the country. Turkish Hizbullah has no links to the Lebanese Shiite group, Hezbullah.

After a series of delays in their trials, 18 Hizbullah members were released in January this year after the introduction of new regulations limiting the period an accused person could be imprisoned without conviction.

Turkish, Azerbaijani Ministers to Meet in Joint Cabinet Session

The first meeting of a High Level Strategic Cooperation Council established between Turkey and Azerbaijan last year is scheduled to kick off in İzmir next week with the attendance of a large number of ministers from both countries at a joint Cabinet session.

Turkey is set to hold a joint session for Turkish and Azeri ministers from Oct. 25 to Oct. 26 under the chairmanship of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan and Aliyev will also be attending the groundbreaking ceremony of a new İzmir refinery at an estimated investment worth of $5 billion, a joint initiative of national Azeri oil company State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, or SOCAR, and its Turkish partner, Turcas. The Azeri share in the new refinery to be built on Petkim field is 75 percent, and it is planned to be functional in 2015 and help reduce Turkey's current account deficit, or CAD, by enabling the production of jet fuel and other similar oils.

Aliyev will be bringing along a large number of ministers, including ministers of economy, transportation, energy and foreign affairs, for the joint Cabinet session, a tradition Turkey has practiced with other countries in the past. During the joint session, the two countries are expected to discuss ways of boosting trade relations and possible fields where ministries may be able to cooperate further will also be investigated. Ankara hopes to reflect the "one nation two states" mentality on trade relations between the country; the fact that the session will be held in İzmir is perceived as a gesture toward the Azeri government.

Another critical meeting is also scheduled to be held in November in Nakhchivan, where the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran are to meet in line with a previous agreement in one of the participating countries on a rotating basis to discuss ways of increasing trade volume.

The first meeting was held in April in Iran, and the second is scheduled to be held in Nakhchivan, according to diplomatic sources. The main focus of the meeting will be on providing a solution to problems arising at border crossings and issues of businesspeople trading in one of the three countries. Azeri sources also noted that many Turkish ministers will be visiting Nakhchivan in the following days.

The most recent visit from a Turkish minister to Azerbaijan came with the Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz's visit to the country last week, when he noted that the countries agreed to cooperate and move together to meet the needs of their armed forces and bolster defenses.

"We have decided to move, work and produce together to fortify the armed forces of our countries," Yılmaz was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency on Friday, as he visited his Azeri counterpart as well as the Azeri minister of culture and tourism, and top Azeri army generals in Baku.

Yılmaz said both countries shared the same promising future and that they were sure to make progress.

The minister noted that during his visit, countries had reached a consensus to ink agreements on the defense field and the teams from both sides would gather in the near future to come up with solid projects to that end.

The foundations of the high-level strategic council were laid in July 2010, when Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan visited Baku in the company of more than a hundred-member delegation, which consisted of representatives from companies as well as press members and other government officials. The delegation was engaged in close to 500 meetings and representatives of some of the companies in the delegation signed trade agreement with their Azeri partners at sums soaring beyond $10 million. Çağlayan also negotiated the establishment of the council during his visit.

Greek Cyprus Cancels Annual Military Exercise

The Greek Cypriot defense ministry said the annual war games have been canceled again this year to avoid ratcheting up tensions amid ongoing talks to reunify the ethnically split island.

In a statement on Monday, the ministry said the decision to call off this week's three-day maneuvers was done, despite Turkey not saying whether it would also cancel a military exercise it holds jointly with Turkish Cyprus.

The ministry said it expects Turkey to follow suit.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey intervened after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

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