Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has revealed a package of sanctions on Syria over Damascus' refusal to halt a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
Following is a list of sanctions as announced Wednesday Davutoğlu in a press conference in Ankara:
No.1: Turkey will suspend its High Level Strategic Cooperation Council until a legitimate rule is established in Syria.
No. 2: Turkey will impose a travel ban and freeze bank assets of members of the Syrian leadership who have been alleged to resort to violence and unlawful methods against the Syrian people. Turkey will also take similar measures against businesspeople who give strong backing to the Syrian regime.
No. 3: Turkey will halt sale and supply of all weapons and other military equipment to the Syrian army.
No. 4: Turkey will intercept delivery of all weapons and other military equipment to the Syria through Turkish soil, air space and waters.
No. 5: Relations between Turkish and Syrian central banks will be suspended.
No. 6: Financial assets of the Syrian government in Turkey will be frozen.
No. 7: Turkey will stop all financial credit dealings with Syria.
No. 8: All operations, except for ongoing ones, with Syria will be stopped.
No. 9: Turkey will suspend a Turkish Eximbank loan deal to finance Syrian infrastructure projects.
Turkey Won't Rule Out Buffer Zone on Syrian Border
Turkey may consider setting up a buffer zone on its border in coordination with the international community in the event of a massive exodus of refugees from Syria, its foreign minister said on Tuesday.
"We are preparing for every scenario," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told Kanal 24 television channel when asked whether Turkey was mulling the creation of a buffer zone. "If hundreds of thousands of people flee to our border, this would of course create a different situation. Some steps could be taken then together with the international community."
Ankara has been critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on opposition protests after Turkish diplomatic missions came under attack by pro-government demonstrators in several Syrian cities earlier this month. Tensions deteriorated further when two busloads of Turkish pilgrims who were in Syria on their way back from the hajj in Mecca were attacked by Syrian gunmen.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week urged his one-time ally al-Assad to step down, becoming the second regional leader to do so after Jordan's King Abdullah. Davutoğlu seconded that, telling the Syrian regime that the crackdown must end.
"Syria has no chance to survive unless it makes peace with its own people," he said, while repeating that Turkey opposed military intervention.
Turkey has accommodated about 7,500 opponents of al-Assad's regime in its Hatay province, which borders Syria, after they fled the violence. Among them is Riad al-Asaad, a Syrian army colonel who heads a group of army deserters that carries out attacks inside Syria.
Ankara has distanced itself from the group, but has offered sanctuary to the broad-based opposition Syrian National Council.
SNC President Holds Secret Meeting with Syrian Army Defector in Hatay
A delegation headed by the president of the Syrian National Council, or SNC, conducted a secret meeting with the highest ranking Syrian army defector and leader of the self-proclaimed Free Syrian Army on Monday in Turkey, according to reports.
During the meeting in the southern province of Hatay on the Syrian border, SNC leader Burhan Galioun promised Free Syrian Army head Col. Riad al-Asaad that his council would support the fighting force -- an organization formed by army defectors in Syria, a SNC member told the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said they knew about the meeting but did not have any details on what was said at the meeting.
Other high-ranking members of the SNC, including Ahmed Ramadan and Sweden-based Abdulbaset Seida, also attended the meeting, according to reports. The organization, with a membership of over 260, was formed in Istanbul in September to work for the removal of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad after he intensified his military crackdown on street protests. Ghalioun, who is based in France, has led the organization since.
Al-Asaad has been staying at a refugee camp in Hatay after escaping from his post in the Syrian Air Force in July. Speaking to the Daily News on Oct. 9, al-Asaad called on the international community and the United Nations to provide armed help to Syria's opposition movement so that it can finally remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Al-Assad, who has been battling eight months of protests against his rule, faces street demonstrations, increasing armed opposition, deepening international isolation and an economic crisis triggered by the unrest and aggravated by economic sanctions.
Despite reports of army conscript desertions, the president has retained the loyalty of most military officers and government officials and has said he will not bow to international pressure to stop a crackdown on enemies he describes as "armed terrorists."
The United Nations says 3,500 people have been killed in the crackdown. Authorities blame armed groups and say 1,100 police and soldiers have been killed.
Paid Exemption from Military Service Starts Dec. 31
The new law on paid exemption from military service was finally settled last night and is set to take effect Dec. 31.
The new date for the activation will allow everyone born in 1982 to be included in the new bill as well. Those incapable of fulfilling the requirements for military service will also be able to pay for their exemption without following any age restrictions.
The opposition's several proposals, such as lowering the age restriction and the price were not accepted, neither was the conscientious objection proposal made by the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP.
The option to serve for a shortened period of 21 days will still be available without age restrictions to anyone who has worked abroad for three years.
Turkey Slams Greek Cyprus' EU Meeting Vote
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has condemned Greek Cyprus for reportedly blocking an invitation to Turkey to attend Wednesday's meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Syria.
"They can impose a veto bureaucratically, but they cannot veto Turkey's historic role in the region. It's up to the EU to decide," Davutoğlu said on the Kanal 24 channel Monday.
The European Union wants to include Turkey in the key meeting, and Turkey is ready to respond to any calls for consultations, he said.
Noting that his French counterpart invited Turkey to the foreign ministers' meeting on the ongoing unrest in Syria, Davutoğlu said the discussions in the EU on Turkey's participation were still ongoing.
Davutoğlu also said Turkey's sanctions against Syria were ready and would be announced after a meeting with President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Sanctions against Syria will not involve the issue of water and will not affect the daily lives of ordinary Syrians, he said. As part of its preparation for the unilateral sanctions against Syria, Ankara monitored the Arab countries' implementation of the list of sanctions that the Arab League declared over the weekend, the minister said.
When asked if Turkey would form a buffer zone inside the Syrian border, Davutoğlu said the issue was not on Turkey's agenda at the moment, but added that officials had not ruled out the possibility if necessary.
"We will move forward with the international community based on humanitarian needs," he said.
Ankara to Bolster Iraq Routes to Bypass Syria
Turkey is planning to open new border crossings with Iraq to provide alternative transit routes for trade with the Middle East that bypass Syria, Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım said Monday as Ankara prepared to announce sanctions against Damascus.
"If conditions aggravate in Syria, we are planning to shift transport to Iraq by opening new gates," Yıldırım said. Turkey's measures would not harm the Syrian people and basic needs such as food and medicines would be supplied regardless of how the situation develops, he said, adding that "tight control" would be ensured to prevent arms and munitions shipments to Syria by land and air.
"Shipping via Iraq to Jordan and from there to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf will be supported in particular and the formalities required for those routes will be sped up," he said, adding that alternative routes would raise transport costs but ensure safety.
Talks continue with Egypt for the inauguration of a ferry line from the southern Turkish port of Mersin to Alexandria, he said, adding that passenger flights between Turkey and Syria continue normally. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said the suspension of electricity sales to Syria was out of the question because Turkey considered the supply to be "humanitarian assistance" for Syrian people.
Business groups involved in trade with Syria voiced concern that exports would nosedive amid tightening international sanctions and a cash-crunch might result in Damascus failing to pay debts owed to Turkish companies.
The bilateral trade volume, which stood at $2.5 billion in 2010, has dropped by 20 percent since July and the downfall may hit 50 percent if Turkey implements sanctions, Doğan Narin, the head of the Turkish-Arab Countries Businessmen Association, said; exporters in the border provinces of Hatay, Gaziantep, Kilis and Şanlıurfa will bear the brunt.
The co-chair of the Turkey-Syria Business Council, Ruhsar Pekcan, said only one or two Turkish investors continued operations in Syria and sanctions would mostly impact companies exporting cement, construction materials, machines and fuel, which make up the bulk of Turkish sales to Syria.
"Under U.S. and EU sanctions, our export and import of petroleum products has stopped," he said; the measures were resulting in a drop in Syria's income.
Prime Minister's Dersim Apology a Scandal, MHP Head Says
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's apology over the 1938 killings in Dersim stirred fresh polemic in Parliament Monday, drawing both condemnation and calls for more action to face up to controversial episodes in history.
Slamming the apology as a "scandal," Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli defended the brutal military campaign on Dersim, now Tunceli, and likened the victims to modern-day Kurdish militants.
The Dersim rebellion "was part of a process to overthrow the government and destroy the young Republic. The authorities at the time did what their responsibilities required," Bahçeli said at his party's parliamentary group meeting.
Bahçeli denounced both the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, for the heated debate over Dersim, charging that they set an example of "irresponsibility and unscrupulousness."
Erdoğan extended the apology last week as part of a harsh-worded tirade against the CHP, which he holds responsible for the Dersim massacres that occurred when Turkey was ruled by a single-party regime.
Speaking at his party's parliamentary meeting, Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş questioned Erdoğan's sincerity and said an apology should be offered in Parliament after an inquiry commission investigates the massacres.
"We are not looking down on the prime minister's apology, but it is not up to the government to apologize," Demirtaş said, calling for a "commission of truth" to also look into other bloody episodes such as the 1925 Kurdish rebellion led by Şeyh Sait.
"The mentality of those who perpetrated the Dersim killings is no different from the mentality of those who are conducting the KCK [Kurdish Communities Union] operations today," Demirtaş said. The illegal KCK is the alleged urban network of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has landed hundreds of Kurds in jail.
"You may have arrested 5,000 KCK members, but you created millions of members outside. We will resist until we win," he said.
Demirtaş announced a BDP rally in Diyarbakır on Dec. 3 to denounce the KCK operations.
Main Opposition Accuses Erdogan of Preaching Hatred
Turkey's main opposition leader charged that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's rhetoric over the 1938 Dersim massacres amounted to preaching "hatred and animosity" among the people and urged him to return to the country's real problems of poverty and unemployment.
Speaking at the Republican People's Party, or CHP, parliamentary group meeting Monday, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu dismissed Erdoğan's apology over the massacres as a political maneuver to divert attention from the suffering of the earthquake victims in Van.
"Look at his speech again. You will find there nothing but animosity, hatred and feelings of vengeance. This is not how a state apologizes," Kılıçdaroğlu said. "A state apologizes by healing the wounds, embracing the citizens and not repeating the same mistakes. If you [Erdoğan] cared about what happened in Dersim, you would have not treated the people of Dersim as second-class citizens."
Kılıçdaroğlu renewed a proposal to set up a parliamentary commission to conduct an inquiry into the killings in Dersim, now Tunceli. While offering an apology last week, Erdoğan blamed the massacres on the CHP and urged Kılıçdaroğlu, himself an Alevi from Tunceli, to face up to the CHP's single-party rule in the earlier years of the Republic.
In fresh criticism over the controversial legal cases into alleged anti-government plots, Kılıçdaroğlu stressed that journalist Mustafa Balbay, elected to Parliament in June as a CHP deputy, would mark his 1,000th day in prison today. He called on party supporters to stage a "silent protest" by laying carnations at the Republican Tree monument in İzmir, Balbay's hometown.
Kılıçdaroğlu warned that he would from now on "expose" judges and prosecutors "who have put themselves under the command of the government."
U.S. Urges Halki Re-Opening
Turkey must re-open Istanbul's Greek Orthodox Halki seminary and strengthen freedoms of expression, religion and other fundamental human rights, a senior Washington official has said ahead of United States Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Turkey this week.
Speaking during a Monday conference call with reporters, Biden's national security advisor, Tony Blinken, encouraged Ankara to re-open Heybeliada Island's Halki seminary, which has remained closed since 1971.
Blinken also criticized the number of Turkish journalists who are currently behind bars.
Despite Blinken's comments on Ankara's domestic policies, the adviser lauded Turkey's regional role, saying the country set an example for neighbors currently engaged in transition and played "a strong leadership role" in the Middle East.
"It's hard to think of an international issue where we don't have close cooperation or collaboration or consultation, at the very least, with Turkey, and there's a lot on the agenda right now," Blinken said. "It's very encouraging to see Turkey play a strong leadership role. We've seen that in Syria. We've seen that in Libya. We've seen that in Egypt, in Afghanistan, in NATO. And that's something that is in the interest of the United States."
Blinken said the vice president's talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, which starts Dec. 1, would focus on ways of expanding trade, cooperation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the uprisings in Syria and other Arab nations.
"Turkey has a very important story to tell as a country that can set an example for other countries that are making transitions in the Arab world, in the Islamic world, in North Africa," he said.
Biden's agenda will also cover Turkey's troubled ties with Israel and Armenia, the Cyprus issue and the situation in Afghanistan. "We believe that opportunities are there for the two countries [Turkey and Israel] to fully repair relations and move forward," Blinken said.
Blinken pledged continued U.S. backing for Turkey against the PKK, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, and lauded Turkey's decision to install a radar as part of NATO's missile shield project while also denouncing recent threats by Iran to the installation if attacked.
"Making threatening statements doesn't serve anyone's purpose, least of all the Iranians. The fact of the matter is that the world is deeply concerned with Iran's activities in a number of areas starting with their nuclear program," Blinken said.
Following his talks in Ankara, Biden will travel to Istanbul to meet with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and address a Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Istanbul on Dec. 3, which the U.S. hopes will help promote a merchant class that can help deliver economic and political change in the Arab world.
"This summit really comes at a critical moment in the Middle East and North Africa. We've seen that millions of people have been calling out for not only political freedom but also economic opportunity and progress," Blinken said.
The gathering will bring together entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, social entrepreneurship leaders and government officials from the Middle East and North Africa.
Evidence Altered in Balyoz Case, Expert Says
An expert report presented in court Monday in the ongoing "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) probe has indicated a portable flash disk found in the home of retired Col. Hakan Büyük and used as evidence in court has been tampered with.
A document created and last modified in 2003 on the flash disk also contains a draft law dated June 15, 2005, the report said.
"This means the date the document was last modified , [a piece of information] that is included in the meta-data of the computer file containing the digital input, was altered, and that the evidential integrity and reliability of the files have all but disappeared," said Ufuk Çağlayan, who prepared the report dated Nov. 22.
Çağlayan, a professor at Istanbul's Bosphorus University department of computer engineering, prepared the five-page report upon the request of Büyük's lawyers, Celal Ülgen and Hüseyin Ersöz.
"Information [that is mentioned] in reports prepared at different dates for the same digital media, such as the date [a file] was created on, the date it was last modified or who it was authored by, remains the same unless altered," Çağlayan said.
The flash disk found in Büyük's home in the northwestern province of Eskişehir allegedly contained footage of the Bilvanis Ranch, which was established by a group within the Naqshbandi order, a religious congregation, according to reports.
Scores of high-ranking officers, generals and admirals have been arrested within the scope of the Balyoz case, including four-star Gen. Bilgin Balanli, the highest ranking suspect in the probe and the former commander of Turkey's military academies.
Balyoz is an alleged military coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said to have been set up in 2003. According to allegations, the military planned drastic measures to foment unrest in the country in order to remove the AKP from power. These measures included bombing two major mosques in Istanbul, assaulting a military museum disguised as religious extremists and raising tensions with Greece by attacking a Turkish plane and blaming the incident on the Aegean neighbor.
Iranian Protestors Storm British Embassy
Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran Monday, bringing down the Union Jack flag, burning an embassy vehicle and throwing documents from windows in scenes reminiscent of the seizing of the United States compound in 1979.
The group surged past riot police into the British Embassy complex, which they pelted with petrol bombs and stones; two days after Iran's parliament approved a bill that reduces diplomatic relations with Britain following London's support of recently upgraded Western sanctions on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.
Demonstrators outside the embassy also burned British flags and clashed with police as the rally, which had been organized by student groups at universities and seminaries. Less than two hours later, police appeared to regain control of the site. But the official IRNA news agency said about 300 protesters entered the British ambassador's residence in another part of the city and replaced British flags with Iranian ones.
The British Foreign Office harshly denounced the melee and said Iran has a "clear duty" under international law to protect diplomats and offices.
"We are outraged by this," said the statement. Britain's Foreign Office said it was in contact with embassy officials. It also warned its citizens in Iran to "stay inside and keep a low profile."
The situation there was not immediately clear. The semi-official Mehr news agency said embassy staff had left the compound before the mobs entered, but it also said those who occupied the area had taken six staff as hostages. The report was later removed from the Web site without elaboration.
Iranian police on Tuesday secured the release of six employees of the British embassy compound in northern Tehran who had been taken hostage by hardline students earlier in the day, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
"Death to England," some cried in the first significant assault of a foreign diplomatic area in Iran in years. More protesters poured into the compound as police tried to clear the site. Smoke rose from some areas of the embassy grounds and the British flag was replaced with a banner in the name of 7th century Shiite saint, Imam Hussein. Occupiers also tore down picture of Queen Elizabeth II.
The occupiers called for the closure of the embassy, calling it a "spy den" -- the same phrase used after militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and held 52 hostages for 444 days. Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since then.