Turkish Charter Panel Convenes as Cracks Emerge

The cross-party parliamentary commission tasked with drafting a new constitution for Turkey is convening for its first meeting amid growing signs of disagreement between parties on what reforms the overhaul should entail.

Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek was scheduled to inaugurate the Preparatory Constitution Commission, made up of three representatives from each of the four parties in the legislature, at 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss mainly the procedural rules under which the panel will work.

Even though its formation was relatively smooth, the commission appeared headed for divisive debates as the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the opposition were already at loggerheads over last year's constitutional amendments that profoundly restructured the higher echelons of Turkey's judiciary.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the 26 constitutional amendments approved at last year's referendum should not be touched, describing them as the AKP's "red lines" for the new charter, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

"One should not get it wrong when we say that we do not have red lines. The provisions approved in the referendum represent the people's will," Erdoğan told the three lawmakers representing the AKP in the commission at his party's weekend retreat at Kızılcahamam, according to party sources.

"We will not leave the table. The efforts will continue as far as they get. Those who leave the table will get a slap in the face by the people," he was quoted as saying.

In discussions on the first three articles of the current constitution, which define the basic characteristics of the state, AKP deputy chairman Ömer Çelik argued that the actual problem lay not in their content but their wording, according to the sources.

CHP Misgivings

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, has said it wants an overhaul of the last year's amendments, which it blames for increasing government control of the judiciary.

The CHP's Atilla Kart, a member of the commission, charged that Erdoğan was making impositions even before the commission had convened, but stressed that the CHP was committed to sincere negotiations.

"The red line drawn under the 26 articles raises questions about the AKP's sincerity in the making of a new constitution. This is an outright imposition on the commission," Kart told the Daily News yesterday.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu cautioned the CHP representatives that they should be watchful over any proposal that might hint at a presidential system, which Erdoğan has said he favors for Turkey, the Daily News has learned.

He stressed the CHP's "red line" would be drawn on the first three articles of the constitution, adding that his party could be flexible on defining a constitutional citizenship that does not refer to ethnicity.

Kurdish Demands

The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, meanwhile, said the new constitution should help resolve the Kurdish conflict, insisting that no provisions should be considered untouchable.

"A constitution that cannot solve the Kurdish issue in Turkey cannot be a new constitution. We are not here to start trouble. We want a solution, but no one should expect us to turn a blind eye to our most fundamental problems," BDP co-chair Gültan Kışanak said Monday.

"All articles should be discussed without bias. The constitution says the state is a republic. We're not going to come out and say it is a sultanate. Articles that fit the spirit of the time will be left untouched, and the outdated ones will be removed. Our red line will be universal law," said Altan Tan, a BDP representative on the commission, speaking to the Daily News.

Oktay Öztürk, a commission member for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), declined to comment on his party's priorities, saying that the MHP would comment later.


Opposition Leaders Liken Prime Minister to Marie Antoinette

Turkey's opposition leaders have slammed the government over a series of tax increases, comparing the prime minister's defense of the hikes to the famous phrase attributed to French Queen Marie Antoinette: "If they have no bread, let them eat cake."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said Turks could adjust to price hikes in tobacco, alcohol and automobiles if they quit smoking, drink less and avoid buying luxurious cars like Porsches.

"Then let our people stop using also natural gas and electricity. Let them not drive cars and let them eat cake if they have no bread," Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, said at his party's parliamentary group meeting yesterday. "Let the prime minister and his partisans stroll around the world, eat and drink while our people spend less, sit down and shut up."

Government ineptitude is responsible for the gaping current account deficit, he said, adding that it was an omen of a looming "economic disaster."

The chairman of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, also lashed out at the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

"Our people are paying the price for the government's mismanagement. The prime minister and the ministers are mocking the people as they increase taxes," Kılıçdaroğlu told his party's group meeting in Parliament Monday.

Kılıçdaroğlu said Erdoğan's talk about Porsches showed that the AKP had lost touch with ordinary people's realities.

In further comments, he lauded worldwide anti-capitalist demonstrations, inspired by protests on Wall Street, as a harbinger of the revival of social democracy.

"The masses in developed countries are demanding social justice and resisting exploitation. We are at a very important stage. The doors to social democracy are opening universally. And the CHP will bring social democracy to Turkey," he said.

Kılıçdaroğlu maintained his onslaught on the AKP over the embezzlement probe into the Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) charity, charging that factual inaccuracies in explanations offered by an AKP mayor implicated in the affair "exposed their lies."

The CHP has called on Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay to step down on the grounds that he allegedly leaked information of an impending police search to Lighthouse suspects back in 2009 when he was interior minister with the help of his bodyguard and Kırıkkale Mayor Veli Korkmaz.

The CHP leader also urged Erdoğan to clarify his claims that CHP municipalities had funneled money to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, by way of loan agreements with German foundations.

"You have one week to speak. If Erdoğan fails to do that, we will submit a censure motion against him," Kılıçdaroğlu said.


Plane Carrying 11 Freed Palestinians Arrives in Ankara

A plane carrying 11 released Palestinian prisoners from Cairo as part of a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel landed in Ankara at 1 a.m. local time Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters that a Turkish plane was en route to Cairo to collect the group of Palestinians as part of the thousand-for-one prisoner exchange being carried out.

Initially, Davutoğlu said 10 Palestinians would come to Turkey, but Turkish news channels later reported that 11 Palestinian prisoners, including a female prisoner, were headed to Ankara.

The Palestinian Ambassador to Turkey, Nabil Marouf, met the prisoners at the airport.

The released prisoners were freed in exchange for the freedom of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas militants in June 2006.

Israel is set to release 1,027 prisoners in two stages. 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.

"We regard the issue as a humanitarian one. It is about 1,027 Palestinians reuniting with their families as well as one Israeli soldier reuniting with his family," Davutoğlu said. "Turkey is a country which (the Palestinians) should regard as their homeland."

Davutoğlu also rebuffed allegations that the Palestinians pose a threat to Turkey.

"Regardless of whether we see the alleged crimes committed by them as a crime, this deal with Israel amounts to (the crimes) being written off," he said.

The minister said he held talks with a Hamas delegation late Monday to discuss the transfer of the freed Palestinians to Turkey. He said he also discussed the swap deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.

Turkey's once-close ties with fellow regional power Israel have deteriorated sharply since Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turks in a May 2010 a raid on a ship carrying aid to the Gaza Strip. Turkey downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and halted defense trade after the Jewish state confirmed last month it would not apologize for the raid.


Clashes in Southeast Turkey Result in Deaths of 26 Soldiers

Twenty-four people died Tuesday in clashes between alleged members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and security forces in Hakkari province in southeast Turkey, NTV reported. Around 20 more were injured.

The clashes began around 1 a.m. Tuesday night and lasted through the morning. The attackers were reported to have hit eight targets simultaneously, most of which were known to have been near the border posts.  Clashes still continue in the area.

The death toll is reported to be the biggest single death toll for Turkish security forces in years.

Chief of Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, and the commenders of the Land Forces, Air Forces and Naval Forces flew to the area immediately.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan cancelled a planned visit to Kazakhstan after the attacks, sources in his office said. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also canceled his planned visit to Serbia.

The attacks come only a day after five policemen and three civilians, including a 2-year-old girl, were killed in a roadside bomb attack planted by suspected Kurdish militants in nearby Bitlis province.

The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.


Turkish President Vows 'Great Revenge' for Hakkari Attacks

In initial comments on simultaneous terrorist attacks in the southeastern province of Hakkari on Wednesday that killed 26 policemen and soldiers, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said those who caused this pain will be met with retaliation as he vowed a "great revenge" for the attacks.

"Those who caused us to suffer this pain will suffer equally. Those who assume that they can shake the Turkish state in this way will see that our revenge for these attacks will be great. They will eventually see that they cannot wage a war against the Turkish state," Gül told reporters in the wake of the attacks.

"Those who aid them should also learn their lessons and endure the consequences of this. The whole world should know that Turkey will go ahead with its fight against terrorism with determination until the very end. Turkey will never be shaken."


At Least Eight Killed in Bitlis Bomb Attack

Five policemen and three civilians died Tuesday in Bitlis, the Güroymak district of the southeastern province, in a suspected roadside bomb explosion that was planted in a manhole, going off when police vehicle passed, security sources said.

Bitlis Gov. Nurettin Yılmaz told reporters in that five police officers and three civilians were killed in the explosion caused by a remote-controlled bomb.

"Four other people were injured and are now receiving treatment at the Bitlis State Hospital," he said.

Security sources said the main suspects in the attack were militants from the outlawed Kurditan Workers' Party, or PKK, which, in recent months, has increased its attacks.

A 2-year-old girl and her father were reportedly among the civilian victims. According to reports, they were travelling in a van behind a police car. Eyewitnesses said a large hole was formed in the spot where the bomb went off. Several people were taken to the hospital, including police officers. Security forces launched a large-scale operation in the region.

President Abdullah Gül called Yılmaz to obtain information on the terror attack, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Meanwhile, 40 people were taken into custody Monday in simultaneous operations against the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, in the southern provinces of Mardin, Gaziantep and Adana. In a written statement, the Mardin Police Department said simultaneous operations were carried out in the Kızıltepe, Nusaybin, Derik, and Mazıdağı districts early Monday morning, with a total of 22 people detained. In Adana, gendarmerie teams detained 14 people on alleged links to the KCK, while four others were detained in Gaziantep.

The KCK is the alleged urban wing of the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Trials against the KCK started last year with 150 defendants, including 12 mayors of southeast Anatolian citie; influential Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir was one. Many local politicians who support Kurdish rights have been put on trial. Some 100 defendants have been held for nearly 18 months.

The case is in a deadlock because the court refuses to allow the suspects to give their testimony in Kurdish.


Turkey a Force for Peace in Balkans, Deputy Prime Minister Says

Turkey has long fought for peace and stability throughout the Balkans and elsewhere, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said Tuesday during a visit to Macedonia, speaking at the Seventh International Atatürk Congress in the country's capital of Skopje.

Arınç met with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov before the congress Monday and was expected to meet Minister without Portfolio Hadi Neziri, as well as members of the Turkish community living in Skopje and Ohrid.

"We were one of the first countries to recognize Macedonia. We keep assisting Macedonia in every area," Arınç said, adding that there were deep-rooted ties between the two countries.

Turkey will also continue to support Macedonia for NATO membership, the deputy prime minister said.

"[Turkish republican founder Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk became acquainted with European principles while in Macedonia, and he applied these principles in Turkey by establishing a modern republic," Ivanov said during the congress, adding that Atatürk had returned to the Balkan country a century after he went to an Ottoman military school in the modern-day Macedonian city of Bitola.

Atatürk was a reformist leader who founded a modern republic after the War of Independence following World War I, always referred to peace with his motto "Peace at Home, Peace in the World," Arınç said, adding that Turkey exerted great efforts for peaceful solutions to issues in the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Balkans and Afghanistan.

"We believe that the world and humanity can become happy by means of dialogue and mutually good relations in the direction set by Atatürk," he said.

The congress is taking place in Skopje until Oct. 22. Almost 300 academics and historians are participating in the congress, which is being organized by the Atatürk Research Center and the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts.


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