Freedom of expression is an obligation that has to be present in every country, and Turkey must rapidly take measures to end violations, an official from the Council of Europe has said, citing the European Court of Human Rights' rulings on violations of the right of freedom of expression in the country.

"There are more than 150 cases in which the court has already found violations of the right of freedom of expression in Turkey. Most of these cases have been brought by writers, journalists and broadcasting companies," Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, said Tuesday at a workshop of European Court of Human Rights. "It's therefore crucial that measures are rapidly taken to put an end to these violations."

Expression of certain ideas was a guarantee for the state, and countries could not protect themselves against misuse of power without criticism, the official said. Beginning January 2012, the Turkish Ministry of Justice and the Council of Europe will work together to improve the situation in the field of freedom of expression and media freedom, Jagland said.

Turkey's prime minister, for his part, cited the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, activities in European countries and said Europe was still condoning a terrorist organization.

"Although we have proven with documents many times, our European friends and European leaders are condoning terrorism and tolerating broadcasting networks and financial resources of the terrorist organization," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the conference.

In a related development, the ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs signed a cooperation protocol late Monday aimed at reducing the number of applications against Turkey at the European court, which currently stands at 19,000. The Turkish Foreign Ministry handed over the prepared defense on European court cases to the Ministry of Justice, except those concerning Turkey's foreign policy.

Under the protocol, the cases will be classified in three categories, and the two ministries will expend efforts to ensure out-of-court settlement for as many cases as possible through various means, including legal amendments and offering friendly settlement to applicants, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said at the ceremony.

The first two categories will include applications related to Turkish foreign policy, like those linked to the Cyprus conflict, and "technical cases" stemming from deficiencies in Turkish law, Davutoğlu said, stressing that special attention will be paid to the third category, which will cover cases concerning free speech.

"We have to take preventive measures, including legal amendments. If any Turkish court has made a ruling violating freedom of thought, we will try to remedy the plaintiffs through friendly settlement and other alternatives, without feeling obliged to necessarily defend that ruling," he said.

Ergin said his ministry's Human Rights Department would determine all legislation that requires amendment and ensure that all European court rulings are translated into Turkish and made available to judges and prosecutors to use as precedents.

Officials will also comb out complaints on issues that have already been the subject of European court rulings and fulfill the requirements of those rulings before the applications reach the agenda of the court, he said.

In a related development, Amnesty International yesterday expressed its concerns on the arrests of Büşra Ersanlı and publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, along with 42 other suspects in the ongoing Kurdistan Communities Union, or KCK, case.

The organization urged Turkey to re-examine its regulations and prosecutions in fights against terror and send guides to judges and prosecutors to tell them how to implement international human rights laws and standards.

"The mere reasons for their arrests are their statements in the Political Academy of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and their academic works, and that leads to concerns," the statement said.

Turkey May Decriminalize Conscientious Objection to Military Service

The Turkish government is considering decriminalizing conscientious objection to military service, state ministers said on Tuesday, signaling a surprising reversal of long-held policy.

"The Defense Ministry will assess the issue of conscientious objectors," Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin told reporters in Ankara. "It will be discussed and, if it is deemed appropriate, it will be brought to Parliament's agenda."

Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, responding to questions after Ergin's remarks, said the government will examine examples from countries that provide legal protection for conscientious objectors. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government has undertaken many drastic reforms to undermine military influence over politics since it first came to power in 2002, but has been reluctant to respond to calls for legal protection for conscientious objectors.

Military service is compulsory for all healthy men aged between the ages of 20 to 40 in Turkey. Those who refuse to fulfill their military service face imprisonment. Turkey and Azerbaijan are the only two signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights that have not legalized conscientious exemption from military service.

Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli, who spoke at his party's parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, criticized the government over its announcement that it was planning to pass a new law on conscientious objectors, saying it was an "indecent proposal that is out of line," particularly because it was made at a time when Turkey is continuing its fight against terrorism and in an environment where its neighbors are facing a trial by fire.

He said the MHP was going to reject the proposal. The Republican People's Party, or CHP, however, said it had prepared a draft proposal that would be submitted to Parliament shortly.

"Conscientious objection is a constitutional right recognized in EU countries. We think similar legislation should be adopted in Turkey," said the party's İstanbul Deputy and Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu at a press conference he called on Tuesday.

The Workers' Party, or İP, which is not represented in Parliament, and whose leader and leading cadres are currently jailed as suspects in the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine gang charged with plotting to overthrow the government, also released a statement. In it, they said legal preparations for legalizing conscientious objection to military service -- and another law which would allow potential draftees to do a shortened and easier version of the usual military service -- are attempts to destroy the Turkish Armed Forces.

Erdogan Blames CHP for Faults in Judicial System

The opposition's characterization of Turkish independent courts as "theaters" and judges as "remorseless" is unfortunate for the main opposition, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday while also blaming long periods of arrest on his main political rival.

"Mr. [Kemal] Kılıçdaroğlu, who described the Silivri Prison as a concentration camp, knows much better what a concentration camp is. It was the Republican People's Party, or CHP, which built many of them in every corner of Turkey in the past, where people groaned bitterly due to their torture," Erdoğan said in his address to lawmakers in his party's weekly group meeting in Parliament.

"These tortures can be found in history. Everyone knows about them, even your own grandfather, Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu," he said, indirectly citing the 1938 Dersim operation in which Alevis were targeted by the security forces in the CHP leader's home province.

Kılıçdaroğlu recently visited Silivri Prison, where two of his deputies are being kept due to their alleged links with the Ergenekon gang, an alleged terror-related crime organization which tried to topple the government in 2003 and 2004. Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal were elected as deputies in the June 12 general elections, but the court refused to release the pair due to the severity of the charges against them.

"They claimed that we [Justice and Development Party, or AKP,] have made a protocol with them for their release. There is no such thing. We have not promised anything," Erdoğan said. "Their release is up to the courts. If they deserve to be freed, the judiciary will then do it. Long imprisonment is something else. If this process is prolonged, it is also because of you as long as you continue your course with this understanding."

Kılıçdaroğlu should also prevent his lawmakers from terrorizing Parliament and teach them about ethics instead of criticizing the ruling party, Erdoğan said, referring to last week's row between the two parties that included a physical attack on a CHP deputy by Parliament Administrator and AKP member Salim Uslu.

"The CHP does not hesitate in terrorizing Parliament," Erdoğan said, while defending Uslu's behavior. "They have efforts to launch a campaign against Uslu. We will not tolerate piracy under the roof of Parliament."

Erdoğan also criticized the CHP's proposal to declare Erciş, which was worst hit by last month's earthquake in Van, as a province in the interest of speedily reconstructing the town and providing safe living conditions for the local people.

"The only thing the main opposition leader is doing is stirring up trouble and making people's heads spin. There is no such cheap policy as populism," Erdoğan said.

Turkey Tightens Screw on Syria over Violence

Turkey increased pressure on Syria Tuesday with warnings and threats by top leaders as reports claimed it was one of the bloodiest days since the uprising began eight months ago.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the Syrian president had lost all credibility, while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu vowed sanctions, though he said they would not affect Syrians. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız warned that Turkey was considering cutting off electricity sales.

Syrian activists, meanwhile, reported that more than 70 people were killed Tuesday, as Damascus loyalists reacted angrily to growing isolation.

Prime Minister Says Europe Still Condones Terrorism

A terrorist organization is staging cruel attacks on security forces, using civilians as targets and massacring children, a pregnant woman and an unborn child, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said.

"Although we have proven with documents for many times, our European friends and European leaders are condoning terrorism and tolerating broadcasting networks and financial resources of the terrorist organization," Erdoğan said in a press conference in Ankara, adding that Turkey would never take terrorism, bureaucratic oligarchy, status quo, political structure and international double standards as an excuse.

"On the contrary, we believe democracy and law are the antidote of terrorism, and we are backing democracy and laws and raising our standards against terrorist organization and political formations fed by terrorism," he said.

Erdoğan said the recent security-freedom balance had caused terrorism to lose serious ground, saying that political parties in Turkey preferred backing terrorism and inciting bilateral ultranationalist policies instead of supporting fight against it.

"A terrorist is hijacking a ferry with a bomb threat, and threatening lives of tens of people. After this terrorist is neutralized with an operation, a political party declares the terrorist a hero," Erdogan said.

Erdogan said everyone in democratic politics should accept the fact that showing arms, violence and terrorism as a legitimate method could not bind with democracy, laws and most fundamental humanitarian values.

The prime minister defined terrorism as the biggest obstacle before democratic development, adding that the government would continue making reforms and would never make concessions of democracy, human rights and laws, and target to implement universal norms in Turkey.

'Turkey May Share Water with Cyprus'

A link providing Turkish water to Turkish Cyprus will be ready by 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said, adding that the water would be sufficient for the entire island.

"We are ready to share the water with the entire island if a settlement is found in ongoing Cyprus negotiations," Atalay said in Nicosia, where he was attending ceremonies marking the 28th anniversary of Turkish Cyprus' foundation.

Turkey supports an equal, bi-communal federal structure in Cyprus, Atalay said, adding that Turkey and Turkish Cyprus had exerted necessary efforts for a settlement.

The deputy leader also said Turkey saw January's scheduled trilateral summit among the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders, as well as the United Nations secretary-general, as a test.

"Turkey will continue to stand by Turkish Cyprus in its efforts to get economically and democratically strong whether there is a settlement or not," Atalay said.

On Nov. 15, 1983, the Turkish Cypriot Federal Assembly unanimously voted to proclaim the independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkey is the only country that recognizes the de facto state's independence.

Turkish European Union Minister Egemen Bağış also released a message to mark the 28th anniversary of northern Cyprus' foundation while taking aim at the European Union, saying the bloc became one of those responsible for the deadlock on the issue by awarding the Greek Cypriot administration, which has not exerted any effort to find a solution to the country's division, with EU membership in 2004.

"We showed the world who is in favor of a solution and who is against it. Turkish Cyprus and Turkey were and have always been in favor of a solution," he said.

Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu received dignitaries including high-level Turkish Cypriot officials, Atalay, Turkish Parliamentary Administrative head Salim Uslu, Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Turkish Air Force Cmdr. Gen. Mehmet Erten, Democratic Left Party, or DSP, Deputy Chairman Dursun Ertürk, Democrat Party, or DP, leader Namık Kemal Zeybek and veterans of the Turkish Peace Operation of 1974.

A special ceremony was held at the Nicosia Atatürk Monument during which officials placed wreaths. Participants also sang the Turkish national anthem at the event.

German Foreign Minister Vows Justice after Killings

The people responsible for racially motivated, neo-Nazi murders should be punished and their crimes highlighted, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Tuesday during a visit to a Turkish association in Berlin.

Despite the need to crack down hard on such killings, Westerwelle said a neo-Nazi cell calling itself the National Socialist Underground, and suspected of committing a string of racist murders, including those of eight Turks throughout the 2000s, did not reveal the real Germany.

Germany not only supports its citizens, but all people living within its borders, the minister told journalists after his visit to the Turkish Association in Germany, or TGD, together with Turkish Ambassador to Berlin Ahmet Acet and Turkish Consul Mustafa Pulat.

Noting that racism and xenophobia should not be tolerated in Germany, Westerwelle further conveyed his solidarity with Turks after the revelation of the far-right murders.

Acet praised Westerwelle's solidarity messages, saying Turkey knew that a majority of Germans lived in solidarity with immigrants.

The revelation that Germany was home to the lethal three-member National Socialist Underground that committed racially motivated members shocked a country in which the far-right has been largely fragmented and marginalized.

'Authorities Did Not Heed Warnings'

Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement Monday that the revelation of the far-right cell in Germany proved warnings made by Turks living in Germany were correct. Victims' family members told Turkish newspapers that German police suspected the family members, adding that authorities never took a far-right movement into account.

The German daily, Bild, also reported Tuesday that Germany's intelligence agency used people close to far-right suspects as informers in the past and that one of these informers reportedly witnessed some of the murders.

Germany's domestic intelligence agency was put on the defensive amid questions of how a neo-Nazi group, discovered in 1998, could have slipped under the radar and carried out a series of bank robberies and at least 10 murders.

The activities of far-right extremists in Germany have produced a thick chapter in the annual report of the nation's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution since the 1960s.

Predators to Provide Intel to Turkey

With U.S. forces set to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year, four U.S. unmanned aircraft will be shifted from an airfield in northern Iraq to the İncirlik Air Base in Turkey, Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters Monday.

"There is an agreement now to fly some of those ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] assets out of İncirlik at the request of the Turkish government," Kirby said. The drones have been flying reconnaissance missions against the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK from İncirlik for a couple of weeks, Kirby said.

"It's my understanding they are operating out of İncirlik now," he said. The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, attacks against the Turkish forces has escalated since the summer, with Turkey launching a major operation last month in retaliation for a PKK attack that killed 24 soldiers.

The shift will help provide intelligence support to the Turkish military "to deal with the specific threat posed by the PKK there on their southern border," Kirby said.

Turkey had acknowledged talks with the Pentagon on redeploying the unmanned aircraft to İncirlik. The mission for the drones would remain the same, with only a change in the airfield used by the planes, Kirby said.

In another step designed to bolster the Turkish military in its battle with the PKK, the Pentagon announced last month plans to sell three AH-1 Super Cobra helicopters to Ankara in a deal worth $111 million.

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