Turkey's main opposition party has raised concerns that the wave of revolt across the Arab world could give way to the rise of Islamist movements and result in new authoritarian regimes.

"We are questioning whether the Arab Spring may turn into an Islamic Spring and that the new administrations in these countries may evolve into authoritarian regimes," Umut Oran, a deputy from the Republican People's Party, or CHP, told the Daily News Monday.

Oran backed Turkey as a model in the Middle East, but questioned "which Turkey" the Arabs should be looking at. He charged that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had eroded the standards of Turkish democracy and the rule of law and "made secularism the subject of controversy."

"Turkey is definitely a model, but Republican Turkey and the AKP's Turkey are very much different," he said. "It is Republican Turkey that should serve as a model for the Middle East."

Kılıçdaroğlu met with a German delegation including Michael Link and Johannes Vogel of the Free Democratic Party, or FDP, Alexander Lambsdorff of the European Parliament and a representative of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Kılıçdaroğlu questioned whether "moderate Islam could shift to authoritarian regimes, suspend democracy and then move to a rule based on sharia law," party sources said.

Kılıçdaroğlu decried increasing government control of the judiciary and the imprisonment of journalists, lawmakers and students under the AKP, casting doubt on how the ruling party could be an inspiration for others in the region.

"The vision that the AKP is promoting does not [reflect] the secular, democratic and social state based on the rule of law," he was quoted as saying. "Yes, Turkey should be a model. But it should be the Republican Turkey and not the AKP's Turkey."

In a related development, a delegation of female members of the CHP crossed into unrest-hit Syria over the weekend for a visit to observe the situation on the ground. They were invited by Syrian women's organizations. The team, led by CHP deputy chairwoman Birgül Ayman Güler, is scheduled to return home Wednesday.


Barzani, Erdogan to Hold Weekend Talks on Anti-Terror Fight

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani will visit Turkey later this week for talks with Turkish leaders.

Barzani, who met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday, will have talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday, the Anatolia News Agency said Monday.

Talks with Barzani are expected to focus primarily on cooperation against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which uses its bases in the Kurdish-run northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkey. On Oct. 19, a series of simultaneous PKK attacks in Hakkari, near the Iraq border, resulted in the deaths of 24 Turkish soldiers, sparking a public outrage and prompting the government to order a cross-border offensive against PKK targets in Iraq.

Erdoğan, speaking in the wake of the Oct. 19 attack, said he asked Barzani to visit Turkey in order to discuss cooperation against the PKK. Nechirvan Barzani, Massoud Barzani's nephew and a senior official within his Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, rushed to Ankara after the attack to express solidarity.


Turkey Won't Form Friendship Groups with Israel, Syria in New Parliament

Turkey has decided to not form parliamentary friendship groups with five countries, including Israel and Syria, in the newly commenced parliamentary session while preparing to form friendship groups with 18 new countries.

During the previous session of Parliament, the 23rd session, there were friendship groups with parliamentarians from 110 countries, Israel and Syria included. Parliament has decided to re-establish friendship with 212 countries, which does not include Israel, Syria, Libya, Greece and Uzbekistan. The exclusion of Israel from the list was expected as Turkey's ties with the Jewish state have recently hit a low.

The first-ever parliamentary friendship group with Israel was formed during the 20th session of Parliament, between January 1996 and April 1999. The last group was formed during the 23rd session of Parliament, which opened in August 2007 and closed in June 2011.

Yet following the winter of 2008-09, when a three-week offensive by Israel in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, all members resigned from the group.

Last month, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and other senior diplomats and suspended all military agreements with the Jewish state after Israel refused to apologize for a deadly 2010 raid on an aid ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza, resulting in the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish-American.

There will not be a Syria-Turkey friendship group in Parliament in the new session after Turkey, once a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, gradually toughened its criticism of the Syrian regime for its brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests.

There will also be no Libya-Turkey friendship group as the country is going through a transition period after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime and has no Parliament.

Since Greece does not have a friendship group with Turkey in its Parliament, Turkey will not form a friendship group with the neighboring country.

Eighteen new countries with whom Turkey has recently been boosting relations will have friendship groups in Parliament in the new session. Among these countries are Bolivia, Denmark, Ecuador, Gambia, Luxembourg, Malta, Mozambique, Paraguay, Somalia, Turkmenistan and Zambia.


Deadline for New Constitution Set for End of 2012

A cross-party parliamentary commission is aiming to complete a draft for a new constitution by the end of 2012, Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek announced Monday amid news of a compromise over how the panel will operate.

"The process will kick off Nov. 1. We want to finish the constitution issue in a reasonable period by the end of next year," Çiçek told reporters after the 12-member Constitution Conciliation Commission met behind closed doors for three hours.

The speaker said the commission had reached an agreement on the procedural rules it would abide by and had drawn up 15 points as guidelines. Çiçek said the commission's work would proceed under a four-stage timetable that includes collecting and assessing data; drawing up principles and drafting the text; presenting the draft for public debate, as well as reviewing the draft and transforming it into a bill in line with the commission's final opinions.

The first stage will be completed by Dec. 31, he added. The speaker called on non-governmental groups, political parties outside Parliament, professional organizations and individuals to offer input on the process.

Çiçek added that the organizations could do so until April 30. Three sub-commissions, made up of one representative each from the four parties in Parliament, will be tasked with collecting and assessing the outside contributions, he said.

The long-anticipated announcement on the commission's timetable came after Çiçek brushed aside demands by the Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, to ensure that the new constitution would proceed in parallel with democratic reforms in some legislation, including the anti-terror law, the penal code and the law on political parties.

The two parties' demands, which they presented as confidence-building measures, had reportedly held up the commission's work. Çiçek joined the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in opposing the demands on the grounds that they were not part of the commission's job.

The CHP's Atilla Kart warned at Monday's meeting that the rejection of the proposed supplementary reforms would "weaken" work on the new charter, sources said. BDP representatives also insisted that the proposed reforms would have served as "road-cleaning" for the new charter and complained that they were under pressure from their grassroots supporters to abandon the commission over massive police operations targeting party members.


Statutory Decree Period Ends with Controversies

With only a few days left before the end of the government's authority to issue statutory decrees, law professors and politicians say Turkey has suffered more than it benefitted from the empowerment law.

The empowerment of statutory decrees, called a decree with the power of law, was granted to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in May by the Parliament for a period of six months and is set to end Nov. 3.

Reflecting back on the past six months and evaluating what items were on the government's agenda, some say that many decrees were actually against their nature.

"Using statutory decrees to re-organize public administration is for bringing solutions to urgent, compulsory matters and it is a major need. However, we see that there are many items in the recent statutory decrees that seem rushed," Ender Ethem Atay, a law professor from Ankara's Gazi University, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Controversial Decrees

Since May, the AKP government has announced 23 statutory decrees, some of which have drawn considerable public reaction, such as the decision to implement the "full-time law" for doctors working in state hospitals and the decision for the government to appoint one-third of the members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, or TÜBA, which previously appointed is own members independently.

Still, some say there are other decrees that haven't grabbed the public's attention that are more worrisome.

"When the AKP took over the task to make statutory decrees, I thought they really had a chance to re-organize the bureaucracy, which is growing more and more chaotic every day," former Istanbul deputy and head of KONDA research company, Tarhan Erdem, told the Hürriyet Daily News. "However, what each ministry did instead was to add items quickly under the item list, which has caused some items to be changed right after they were announced."

Erdem gave examples of several decrees listed as being under a single ministry, however when carefully analyzed included items related to other ministries.

"For example, the decision regarding the Academy of Sciences was listed under a decree by the Agriculture Ministry. Similarly, a decree by the Economy Ministry has an item that says 3,000 new personnel will be appointed to the Religious Affairs Directorate. What will be the exact positions of these people?" Erdem said.

'Every Government is Doing This'

According to Meltem Kutlu Gürsel, head of the Administrative Law Department at İzmir's Dokuz Eylül University, while such changes do not violate the law, they are not urgent matters either and therefore are not appropriate as statutory decrees.

"The real problem is the empowering law that the Parliament granted the government," Gürsel told the Daily News. "This is not a first in Turkey, every government that is given this authority has done this. However, this last decree period indeed has been controversial."

The empowerment law was put in effect with the 1971 constitution and since then 651 decrees have been issued. Turkey's 46th government, led by Turgut Özal, made a mark on the statutory decree by issuing 162 decrees during his time that brought major changes to the bureaucracy.

The statutory decrees also caused a crisis in 2000, between then President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and then Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, regarding civil servants' posts.


Prosecutor Stops Removal of Debris in Quake Zone for Probe

The prosecutor's office in Van's Erciş district has stopped the removal of debris, given that no samples have been taken from buildings that collapsed during the 7.2 earthquake on Oct. 23.

The prosecutor also included the contractors and licensers of the collapsed buildings as part of an investigation into poor-quality construction work.

"We will include both the contractors and municipality officers that gave the licenses into the investigation," Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said.

Search-and-rescue efforts were drawn to a close in quake-stricken Van on Oct. 30, as there it was deemed there was little chance of finding more survivors from the temblor, which killed more than 600, according to the most recent official figures.

The Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD, said 601 people had been confirmed dead as of 6 p.m. on Oct. 29. Another 4,152 were injured in the disaster, while 188 people were rescued from the rubble, AFAD said.

Search-and-rescue teams have already ended their activities in the center of the eastern province, but teams are still working on two areas of rubble in Erciş district, the epicenter of the 7.2-magnitude quake, according to reports.

The preliminary damage assessment conducted by a delegation of 20 specialists sent by the Prime Ministry and another 200 experts from various provinces across the country is also nearing completion.

The Prime Minister's Office has provided the Van Governor's Office with 13 million Turkish Liras to meet urgent needs, while more than 22 million liras have been collected in country-wide aid campaigns initiated through Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's directives.

Close to 4,500 search and rescue personnel, about 1,800 health workers, 651 engineering vehicles, over 43,000 tents and nearly 2,400 prefabricated houses have been sent to the region in the quake's aftermath in addition to numerous mobile toilets, heaters, generators and other equipment.

Some 1,561 aftershocks have hit the province since the initial quake, including seven aftershocks between the magnitudes 5.0 and 6.0.

Action Plan Drawn Up for Van Schools, Education Minister Says

Education Minister Ömer Dinçer has drawn up an action plan to jump start education in the quake-ravaged province of Van in two weeks, planning to assign 800 new teachers to the region after dozens of educators perished in the quake.

The 800 teacher positions that are currently vacant will be allocated to Van, Dinçer told the Radikal daily. Work was under way to resolve all infrastructure problems by Nov. 14, when classes are scheduled to resume in schools that withstood the 7.2-magnitude quake, he said.

The authorities are also working to ensure either temporary or permanent accommodation for teachers who left Van after the quake and are expected to return on Nov. 14. Prefabricated houses are planned for teachers assigned to villages.

The local education department has determined which schools will take over students whose schools collapsed or were damaged. It is planning daily transport for students from villages who will be re-grouped in classes at certain settlements.


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