Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defiantly vowed to fight and die if needed as an Arab League deadline for his government to stop its lethal crackdown on protesters expired with 17 more people killed Saturday.
Among the dead were four intelligence agents killed by gunmen who raked their car with gunfire, and two mutinous soldiers who died in clashes with regular troops in the central town of Shayzar, rights campaigners said.
The latest bloodletting added to the more than 3,500 killed since mid-March, and came just hours before the passing of the Arab League's Saturday midnight. With rebel troops inflicting mounting losses on the regular army, Turkey and the United States both raised the specter of civil war; Russia called for restraint.
But in an interview with London's Sunday Times, conducted before the Arab League deadline lapsed, al-Assad said he was "definitely" prepared to fight and die for Syria if faced with foreign intervention. "This goes without saying and is an absolute," he said.
The president said he felt sorrow for each drop of Syrian blood spilled, but insisted Damascus must go after armed rebel gangs and enforce law and order.
"The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue," al-Assad said. "I assure you that Syria will not bow down and that it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it."
Al-Assad accused the Arab League of creating a pretext for Western military intervention, which he said would trigger an "earthquake" across the Middle East. But after talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said: "It is indispensable to increase international pressure. We have tabled a resolution at the United Nations. We hope it will find as wide support as possible."
Russia has staunchly resisted any attempt to invoke international involvement in the crisis, fearing it could clear the way for a Libya-style military campaign under a UN mandate.
"We are calling for restraint and caution. This is our position," Putin said a day after his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, likened the situation in Syria to a civil war.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu both warned that the risk of civil war was real, and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he felt al-Assad had reached "a point of no return" with a change of regime possible within months.
"I think there could be a civil war with a very determined and well-armed and eventually well-financed opposition that is, if not directed by, certainly influenced by defectors from the army," Clinton told NBC news.
The Arab League said it was examining a Syrian request to make changes to a proposal to send 500 observers to Damascus to help implement a peace deal that was agreed to earlier this month.
With the peace deal in tatters, the Arab League has already suspended Syria from the 22-member bloc and saw its deadline expire on Saturday with no compliance from al-Assad's security forces.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one civilian was killed in security force fire on Sunday in Idlib province in the northwest. This came after the Britain-based watchdog had on Saturday reported seven civilians killed in the Idlib town of Kfar Kharim, close to the Turkish border.
The Observatory also quoted a mutinous officer as saying that two army deserters "were killed in clashes with regular troops in Qusayr" in the restive central province of Homs.
The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it would convene an emergency meeting next Saturday at its Saudi headquarters to urge Syria to "end the bloodshed."
Parliament Takes up Bill Against Terror Financing
Debates on a long-delayed bill on the prevention of the financing of terrorism will begin this week in Parliament amid pressure from the United States and international bodies on Ankara to enact the measures.
The draft will be taken up on Nov. 23 at Parliament's Internal Affairs Commission, but it was not immediately clear when it would reach the General Assembly.
Government officials have said they aim to pass the bill through Parliament by the end of the year. However, other priority issues like the 2012 budget, amendments in the urban transformation law after last month's earthquake in Van, and a planned bill on paid military service are also pending.
U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, in July, asked Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek to give priority to the bill, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had signed in February but could not be passed in the last legislative year. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, has described Turkey as a "high-risk jurisdiction" in terms of implementing global standards in fighting money laundering and terror financing.
Some opposition lawmakers, however, have raised concern over the scope of the bill, arguing that it will grant the authorities excessive powers that could result in the violation of basic human rights. A provision that would open the door for the freezing of assets without a court ruling has come under particular criticism on grounds that the government might attempt to use it as a means of bullying political opponents at home.
The draft envisages jail terms of five to 10 years for those funding terrorist organizations or terrorists, even if the money is not directly used for a terrorist crime. Individuals, companies or organizations listed by the United Nations would have their funds frozen immediately after a related decision is printed in the Official Gazette.
The Financial Crimes Investigation Board, or MASAK, would be in charge of executing the freezing of funds. Individuals with frozen funds would be required to seek MASAK's approval before accessing real estate, movable property, company shares and safe-deposit boxes. Those who violate the rules would be sentenced to jail terms of six months to two years, or heavy fines.
If a foreign country requests the freezing of the funds of an individual, Turkish or foreign, an Assessment Commission will make the final decision based on the principle of reciprocity between the two countries.
Kurdish Oil Puts Turkish Firm on London Stock Exchange
Turkey has made a move to be strongly involved in a disputed Iraqi oil business, with the first Turkish company to be listed on the top 100 index of the London bourse envisions soon increasing its production 10-fold from Iraq's northern fields.
The attempt, orchestrated by the new Western partners of Genel Energy, seems like a plan broader than meeting Turkish demand, but a part of efforts to carry the rich Iraqi resource to Europe. Still, no short-term settlement of disputes between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, in the north is seen on the horizon, painting an obscure picture for investors. Energy security in Turkey – and in Europe – is another rising concern, which has already been vocalized by a top Turkish authority.
The merger process between Genel, the Turkish company owned by Mehmet Emin Karamehmet and Vallares, a fund founded by former BP chief executive Tony Hayward, British financier Nat Rothschild, banker Julian Metherell and investment manager Tom Daniel, has been finalized, Genel sources have told the Hürriyet Daily News.
The new Ankara-based Genel Energy Plc is scheduled to be listed on London's FTSE 100 index today. The Western partners have raised $2.5 million in cash to date for the company, whose total capital was said to be at $5 billion. The company will also become the third largest oil exploration and production company on the bourse.
Genel has already been operating on the Taq Taq and Takwe oil fields in northern Iraq. Even before the official finalization of the merger process, the parties cooperated in developing the Iraqi business as the company has been gradually increasing its production from 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) in February this year. Genel sources say the year-end target is 200,000 bpd. The company projects to produce 300,000 bpd by next year and one million bpd by the end of 2015.
Hayward, who was forced out of BP last year after a disaster that killed 11 rig workers and caused an environmental catastrophe, has already told the press that his company plans to spend $725 million to develop six fields in northern Iraq.
Genel also confirmed that it eyes to develop the existing oil pipeline that reaches Turkey's Yumurtalık, connecting its field in Iraq.
Still, the lucrative business and promising plans may face local difficulties as the current technical services agreement, the sole existing consensus between the Kurdish administration and the central government, permits exploration but bans any sales. Arbil needs a broader product sharing agreement.
The Black Sea Energy and Economic Forum held in Istanbul also failed to resolve the Iraqi oil disputes, as authorities from both sides did not compromise on their current positions.
"Companies have no right to work in Iraqi territory without the approval of the Iraqi government. This position has been made very clear," Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy, Hussain al-Shahristani, told the Daily News on.
In the ongoing row with Exxon Mobil over the international oil giant's deal with Arbil, Baghdad earlier announced that it might disqualify Exxon and terminate its contracts in southern fields.
The only promising development made public came from Barham Salih, the head of the regional government. Iraq's new oil investment law will be submitted to parliament by the end of this year, Salih said at a Nov. 13 meeting. Still, the calendar has not been approved by central Iraq authorities.
Such a deal is crucial for Turkey, both in terms of energy supply and security, as the country is highly concerned about the instability of its neighbors. Statements by Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yıldız back this up.
"Turkey expects the disputes between the northern Iraqi government and central government of Iraq to be resolved," the minister told the Daily News during a Wednesday interview.
Turkey Can Be EU's Growth Engine, Gul Says
Turkish President Abdullah Gül said Turkey could offer the European Union more than security assistance with its growing energy resources, population and dynamism, in an interview in Ankara with the British Sunday Telegraph newspaper released on Saturday.
"Some of us are in Asia, some in Europe. We are at the very center of both sides. Turkey is a natural part of Europe," Gül said. "Being a member of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights; being one of the oldest members of NATO, as well as being part of European culture and art -- this is a natural path Turkey is flowing along.
"People who think in a narrow scope, and who lack strategic perspective consider Turkey's EU membership a burden," he said. "But those who can think 30 years, 60 years ahead, and who can think about the changing trends in the economy and the changing centers of power, can understand how much strength Turkey could bring to the existing strength of Europe," Gül said.
Gül also said there was no longer a place for authoritarian regimes in the Mediterranean region.
"Iran is a very important country in the region, with its potential, its history and its culture," Gül said. "The situation in a way is turning into another era of the Cold War. We are trying to eliminate the lack of trust or confidence between Iran and the Western world, trying to build confidence and acting like a catalyst, for example concerning the nuclear issue."
Meanwhile, Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış said Sunday that no one could argue that Turkey was perfect with democracy, freedom of expression and individual rights at global standards.
"Today's Turkey is much better than yesterday's," he said, the Anatolia News Agency reported. "Tomorrow's Turkey will be better than today's. What makes Turkey a source of inspiration is this process of change."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Saturday that Turkey knew the EU rules and acted in accordance, during the Session of Ministers as part of the "World Turkish Entrepreneurs Congress" in Istanbul.
On Friday, Davutoğlu said Turkey's new goal was democracy at EU levels and production at Chinese levels. While producing at Chinese levels, Turkey will reach EU standards in human rights, democracy and labor union rights, he said.
The comments from Turkish leaders come as Europe is suffering through a sovereign debt crisis and mounting doubts over the viability of the Eurozone and its currency union.
Ankara, London to Sign Military Accord
Turkey and the United Kingdom are set to sign a military pact, Turkey's President Abdullah Gül told reporters as he departed for an official visit to Britain.
"The agreement on training in military, technical and scientific cooperation, along with a memorandum for cooperation in the defense industry, will contribute to strengthening our cooperation with the U.K.," Gül told reporters Sunday.
Gül's official visit will primarily cover issues regarding the EU and Cyprus.
"Our relations with the U.K., our ally and strategic partner, are enjoying a golden age. Therefore, I will pay a historic visit to the U.K., a country whose visible support for our negotiation process with the EU and our overlapping vision on international issues gives weight to our relations," Gül said.
The second meeting of the Turkish-British CEO Forum will take place on Nov. 23 in London; Gül will be the guest of honor.
Gul Sees 'Dead End' in Syria Conflict
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has painted a dark picture of Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad remains adamant to crush opponents, despite the growing international isolation of his regime.
"Sadly, things in Syria have reached a dead end and, unfortunately, things do not look bright in Syria. We have never wanted Syria to come to these days," Gül said Sunday. "That's why we shared our opinions with our Syrian friends, both publicly and behind closed doors, with our sincerest intentions. But it seems that Syria could not analyze what is going on well and could not pursue a realistic policy."
Noting that Turkey in the past stood up against international pressure against Syria and had friendly relations with its neighbor, Gül said now the Syrian administration itself is oppressing its own people.
"The Syrian people, who deserve freedom, are rising up against this oppression," Gül said, adding that Turkey fully supports the decisions of the Arab League; last wek the Arab League gave Syria three days from last Wednesday to end its bloody crackdown. It also suspended Syria's membership.
Gül also criticized the Syrian administration in remarks published in the Sunday Telegraph on Sunday.
"I strongly believe that there is no place anymore for authoritarian regimes -- single party systems that do not have accountability or transparency -- on the shores of the Mediterranean," Gül said. "As someone who has studied in the United Kingdom, lived in the United Kingdom, has this worldview, President al-Assad should be able to understand this."
Gül, who flew to London Sunday afternoon, will be hosted by Queen Elizabeth II. He will also meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, William Hague, the secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, and Boris Johnson, London's mayor of Turkish descent, during his four-day visit. The talks with officials will mainly center around recent developments in Syria and the Middle East, as well as bilateral relations.
Turkey's European Union bid will also be at the top of the president's agenda.
Queen Elizabeth II will host lunch and dinner with the participation of other members of the royal family, in honor of the Turkish president at the Buckingham Palace, where the Gül family is expected to spend part of their stay in London.
Having a busy agenda in London, Gül is to make a speech on "the historic change in the Middle East and its effects on global policies" at the Wilton Park, an executive agency of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He will also address the British Parliament.
Ahead of Gül's visit, which is a return visit for the official visit Queen Elizabeth II made to Turkey in 2008, preparations were in full swing in Britain's capital; the main street in front of the Buckingham Palace was decorated with Turkish and British flags.
Relations between Turkey and Britain have been steadily growing stronger since the Queen's visit to Turkey three years ago, during which she also visited Bursa. Gül was also in London in November 2010 to receive the prestigious Chatham House Award, and Queen Elizabeth II, while presenting the award, praised the Turkish president's "notable leadership" for improving international relations. During the same visit in 2010, Gül also met with high-ranking British officials, including Cameron.
Berlin Admits Neo-Nazi Killing Spree Turking into Scandal
No one should doubt Turkey's determination to bring those responsible for the racially motivated killings of Turks in Germany to justice, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said.
"They were killed due to racism. We consider them to be martyrs. They were killed just because they were carrying the Turkish identity that we carry," Davutoğlu said at a recent meeting in Istanbul, according to the Anatolia News Agency. "We will follow up on the acts of the racists who killed the Turks in Germany,"
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed a thorough investigation into the 10 murders allegedly committed by the National Socialist Underground, or NSU, calling them "a disgrace" and a "shame for Germany," saying she and millions of people in Germany were mourning for those killed.
In her weekly video message on Saturday, Merkel said the victims' families had to overcome the death of their loved ones in addition to the uncertainty behind their killings.
"We will not rest until the truth about these acts comes out," Merkel said."We and the families want to know who is guilty, whether there are accomplices and what the links between the two are."
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich held a crisis meeting Friday with law enforcement agencies representatives to identify the intelligence failures that allowed the murders to take place.
"We have a growing scandal," Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told the daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday. "Thirty-two state police and domestic security offices have not been able to stop a series of far-right extremist murders."
She promised compensation to relatives of those killed and said she was concerned that a probe into neo-Nazi violence might reveal more crimes.
"I fear that at the end of the investigation, we will uncover more victims of xenophobia than we are aware of today," the minister told the weekly, Welt am Sonntag.
Germany will hold a memorial service for the victims of the murder spree, the president of the country's parliament said Sunday. The Bundestag lower house of parliament has held talks with Merkel and German President Christian Wulff over the most appropriate way to remember the murder victims, parliamentary chief Norbert Lammert said.
"We have all agreed that there should be an event," he said, the daily, Tagesspiegel, reported Sunday. "How such a commemoration should take place depends on the views and expectations of the victims' families."
The murders have reheated a debate in Germany about whether the far-right National Democratic Party, or NPD, party should be banned.
Lammert said authorities should examine any possible links between the cell and the NPD but appeared skeptical as to the effectiveness of a ban. "We should not be under the illusion that banning the NPD would dispel far-right attitudes," he said.
Germany has been reeling since the discovery of the NSU, which is believed to be responsible for the unsolved murders of eight men of Turkish origin and a Greek between 2000 and 2006, as well as a policewoman in 2007.
It is believed the NSU may have up to 180 members, the Doğan news agency reported.