A parliamentary commission tasked with preparing a draft constitution wishes to listen to the spiritual leaders of the minority communities in Turkey instead of the representatives of minority foundations.
Parliament's Constitution Conciliation Commission has decided to invite spiritual leaders of the Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Syriac communities to hear their input for Turkey's new constitution.
If the three patriarchs and chief rabbi do not wish to appear at the panel, they will be asked to recommend appropriate non-Muslim minority foundations whose representatives the commission should hear.
"There are too many minority foundations, but we have little knowledge about them. That is why we decided to invite their highest-level representatives, or to listen to those whom they would recommend," Altan Tan, member of the commission's related sub-panel, told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Greek Patriarch Bartholomew, acting Armenian Patriarch Episkopos Aram Ateşyan, Chief Rabbi İsak Haleva and the spiritual head of the Syriac Orthodox community Yusuf Çetin will be invited to avoid any controversy over whom the commission should select on behalf of the non-Muslim minorities. Over 200 minority foundations have been listed by the commission, including 162 established according to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
At a meeting of the commission held on Dec. 6, under Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek's chairmanship, experts assisting the lawmakers said they had created a Twitter account to collect opinions from citizens and give deputies a chance to respond. The commission, however, rejected the idea on grounds that Parliament had already created a Web site for the same purpose and a Twitter account might water down the process.
Commission members also raised objections to the method the experts suggested to classify the input of proposals and demands that citizens, civic groups and public institutions would make. They decided the classification would be based on the sections of the current constitution.
Syria Welcome Turkey's Vow to Not Allow Attacks
Syria's government on Wednesday welcomed a pledge by Turkey not to let its territory be used as a springboard for any attacks against its neighbors.
"We welcome any Turkish statement aiming to preserve good neighborly relations with Syria," foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi told a news conference broadcast live on state television.
His statement came after Turkey said it would not let its territory to be used as a springboard for attacks against other countries, in an apparent reference to Syria. Syria's official news agency, SANA, reported Tuesday that Syrian border guards had thwarted an attempt by "armed terrorist groups from Turkey" to cross into the country.
"Turkey is not allowing any armed groups (to launch attacks) against other countries," a Turkish diplomat who declined to be named told AFP, when asked about the reports from Syria.
Turkey is home to about 7,500 refugees who have fled a regime crackdown on protests that the United Nations estimate has killed more than 4,000 people since mid-March. It also hosts Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad in one of the camps on the Turkish-Syrian border, who claims to head a group of mutinous soldiers called the Free Syrian Army.
Ankara has been critical of the Syrian leadership's crackdown. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has even urged his one-time ally President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
Gul Unlikely to Push Annulment of Match-Fixing Law
President Abdullah Gül is unlikely to push for a Constitutional Court annulment of a controversial law reducing penalties for match-fixers out of a desire to prevent further tension between himself and the government, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.
Last week, Gül vetoed the much-debated law, which was backed by the government and two major opposition parties; the ruling party, however, has vowed to return the bill to the Presidency without any changes.
The law was scheduled to be discussed during Wednesday's Justice Commission meeting at Parliament and is expected to be voted on again on Dec. 11. If Parliament does not amend the law, the president will be forced to approve it, but will still have the right to take it to the top court for its annulment. Gül, who has previously vetoed parts of four laws, has not taken any bill to the top court since he was elected as head of state in 2007.
Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Sports and Youth Minister Suat Kılıç Tuesday refused to describe Parliament's insistence on the law as an attempt to face off with Gül, but added that the ruling party would not propose changes to the draft.
The bill, which was approved with the votes of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, calls for a reduction in the sentences of match-fixers from between five and 12 years to between one and three years. The amendment will affect an ongoing prosecution into one of the most important rigging cases in the country's history, which involves Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım and other senior football figures.
Gül's veto was welcomed by prominent figures such as Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who said the government would not resend it to the Presidency. A day after he issued his support, however, deputy parliamentary group leader Nurettin Canikli called all parties to stay united to protect the will of the Parliament and said they would not make any amendments to the bill.
However, Arınç was echoed by another minister yesterday. Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı defended Gül's choice to veto the amendment and said there was a need to discuss the content of the law, according to daily Akşam.
Parliament's three biggest parties approved the bill in the wake of a probe that was launched in July and resulted in a total of 31 football figures, including Yıldırım and Beşiktaş coach Tayfur Havutçu, being jailed pending trial.
Gül's veto last week inflamed a political debate in the capital, causing a deep rift between the president and his former political party for the first time.
Erdogan Cancels Qatar Visit
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, who is in Istanbul to attend an international conference on innovation, paid a visit to recovering Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at his Üsküdar home Tuesday.
The visit lasted around 80 minutes. Later in the day, Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister İrsen Küçük also paid a visit to Erdoğan. Erdoğan had to cancel a weekend visit to Qatar and will stay at his home as he continues to recover from a Nov. 26 intestinal surgery amid lingering uncertainty in Ankara about when he will return to his office. Tuesday marked the eighth day of Erdoğan's convalescence.
There were conflicting statements, however, on why Erdoğan would miss the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations gathering in Doha between Dec. 10 and 12, where his planned attendance had been announced by the Directorate General of Press and Information, or BYEGM.
Sources close to Erdoğan played down the directorate's statement as a routine announcement, which did not mean the prime minister had strictly scheduled the trip, saying "it was already obvious he would spend the week resting."
One official from Erdoğan's office, however, said the trip to Doha "was canceled on the advice of doctors because it was a long one." He spoke on condition of anonymity.
A decision is expected to be made on Dec. 11 as to whether he will return to Ankara next week.
Erdoğan has already started working at home, reading and signing papers and is eager to return to his office as soon as possible, the sources said.
The prime minister's office is not planning to make a fresh statement on Erdoğan's health.
"There is nothing to worry about," officials said, categorically dismissing speculation that he is not in good health.
The only official statement thus far was made Nov. 28, a few days after Erdoğan was operated on in Istanbul. It simply said the prime minister underwent successful laparoscopic surgery on his digestive system, without specifying what the illness was.
Few people have been allowed to see Erdoğan, although he did receive United States Vice President Joe Biden, who visited him at home Dec. 5. The meeting with Biden was originally scheduled for 45 minutes but continued for two hours, according to a blog of the Wall Street Journal's Washington Bureau.
Turkey, Middle East to Overcome Weakness Through Innovation
Turkey aims to become an innovation hub in its region by sparing a larger portion for research and development from the budget, according to President Abdullah Gül, who urges both private and public institutions for increased efforts to overcome the country's negligence in the field.
"Turkey can overcome its current account deficit and some other economic weaknesses through the focus in science and innovation," Gül said at the opening ceremony of the Turkish Innovation Conference organized by the Turkish Exporters' Assembly, or TİM, in Istanbul.
"Income disparity between richest and poorest countries increased dramatically in recent years," Gül said. "I believe that we need to speed up our efforts to overcome the losses incurred for long years."
The president said the time for Turkey to "walk" has already passed and the country should "run to achieve better in innovation and science."
"Due to industrialization and innovation, since the beginning of the 19th century, income disparity between the richest and the poorest countries widened at a great extent," the president said. He said the "survivability of all countries' economies including Turkey depends on their success in science and innovation."
In order to eradicate regional imbalances, and facilitate justice in income distribution, Turkey needs to pay close attention to research, development and innovation.
Turkey has spent approximately $9 billion in research and development facilities this year, according to official records. Total public and private spending on research and development in the country rose to 0.84 percent of gross domestic product this year from 0.48 percent in 2000.
"We would like to cooperate more with Turkey through our universities and scientific institutions," said Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, addressing conference participants. "We have developed many things by ourselves at our own factories."
Qatar, an oil rich country, has recently invested nearly $350 million in research and development facilities. The Qatari emir said if Muslim states aim to reach the goal of becoming a welfare nation, investment in innovation and science is the only way to reach that goal.
"The most prized possession that I have is my education, as it is something that could never leave me," said Mike Lazaridis, the chief executive and founder of Research In Motion, or RIM, which created and manufactures the BlackBerry phones, placing importance on education for a country to become an innovation hub.
"We will support 500 techno-entrepreneurs in Turkey each year starting from 2012,"said Science, Industry and Technology Minister Nihat Ergün. Nearly 100,000 Turkish Liras would be allocated for each entrepreneur, that could be increased to 500,000 liras later on, he said.
Turkey Raises Syrian Tariffs, Eyes New Routes
Turkey will begin demanding a 30 percent tax on goods from Syria and will no longer permit any vehicles older than 20 years in from the Arab republic, Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı said Tuesday.
The news came after Syria began allowing Turkish trucks to pass through its borders after a six-day halt due to problems between the two countries over Syria's measures against anti-government opposition forces. Turkey has said it will start transporting goods to Middle Eastern and Gulf countries through three alternative routes that would bypass its neighbor.
"As a strong country trading with more than 239 customs zones, Turkey is not obliged to pass through Syria to trade with Middle Eastern and Gulf countries," Zafer Çağlayan, Turkey's economy minister, told a retailers' summit in Istanbul. "We have all our plans ready on the table," said the minister, naming three alternative routes to reach Jordan – one through Alexandria in Egypt, one through Beirut in Lebanon and one through neighboring Iraq.
He also said the option of trading with the region through the Suez Canal might also be on the agenda if necessary in the future. Turkish trucks started passing through Syrian border gates Tuesday, according to Syria's International Transportation Association, or UND.
Still, Turkish trucks pay high taxes and tariffs, according to Mustafa Yılmaz, a UND board member. Syria has doubled the tax on transit to Lebanon from Turkey, while also starting to implement taxes on mutual transportation after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced nine sanctions on its neighbor last week.
The Syrian tariffs, which were set at 30 percent, were 0 percent before Turkey leveled the sanctions against Damascus. The tax on fuel prices was also increased to 80 Syrian Liras from 30 liras, Yılmaz said. The measures add $800 to transport costs to Syria per truck, he said, adding that the price has risen by $1,400 for goods heading to Lebanon.
"We wanted the Syrian economy to make a profit through the transit trade from Turkey to the region, and the Syrian government wanted trade to continue," the economy minister said. "I repeat this all the time regarding Syria, what goes around comes around."
Turkey has always had alternative routes to trade with the region, he added.
"If we start to take measures against Syria, the measures we would take might hurt them even more," he said.
Welcoming the Arab League sanctions launched recently against Syria, the minister said the country had begun acting illogically by increasing pressure over its own businessmen.
"Turkey's exports reached nearly $1.8 billion annually to Syria as the country's industry had not developed much," Çağlayan said, adding that a trade pact between Turkey and Syria remained suspended.
Damascus decided last week to suspend the 2004 trade pact after the Arab League announced a series of sanctions against the Syrian regime.
"They are punishing their own people by increasing the custom tariffs and taxes on the products exported from Turkey to the country," he said, adding that this would result in a direct increase in prices, thereby raising the economic pressure on Syrian consumers.
Turkey Denies Syrian Claims of Infiltration from Turkish Soil
Turkey denied on Wednesday a Syrian claim that an armed group attempted to infiltrate into Syria from Turkey.
An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was an incident about a month ago on the Turkish-Syrian border, where two Syrians trying to escape to Turkey were shot by Syrian soldiers near the Turkish border. The two were then transported to a hospital in Turkish military vehicles, said the official, adding, however, that the incident that SANA reported took place on Tuesday is not related to this.
Turkey has nothing to do with that alleged incident, according to the official.
Relations between Syria and Turkey have disintegrated since the government of President Bashar al-Assad began using force to suppress a popular revolt. Commanders of the Free Syrian Army, a body of army defectors, are based in Turkey and it is speculated that an attack like Tuesday's could not have been planned without Turkish officials being aware of it.
The Free Syrian Army of defectors and opponents of al-Assad are believed to be smuggling fighters and weapons into Syria from Turkey to launch attacks on al-Assad's forces.
SANA said the border guards suffered no injuries or losses during Tuesday's incident. "They warned they would stop anyone who even thinks of touching Syria's security or its citizens," SANA said.
Turkey has said a buffer zone may be required on its 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Syria if the violence causes a mass exodus of Syrians fleeing the cities.
What began nearly nine months ago as a peaceful protest against al-Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, has moved closer to civil war as armed opposition groups organize and protect city districts.
The United States, the European Union, Turkey and Jordan have called on al-Assad to step down in order to bring the violence to an end and permit democratic elections for a new government in Syria, where the al-Assad family has ruled for 40 years.
At least 4,000 people have been killed in the unrest, according to the United Nations. About a quarter of them were from the security forces, activists said. But diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have stalled, and Syria is now the target of international economic sanctions and a travel ban on VIPs close to the regime.
Syria has said it may sign a peace plan by the 22-state Arab League, which calls for forces to be withdrawn to barracks and Arab observers allowed into the country. But it says, as a precondition, the Arab League would have to revoke economic sanctions it imposed earlier this month and unblock Syria's frozen membership of the League