Tensions have grown on the Turkish-Syrian border, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army has reportedly deployed tanks as reinforcements.
The reports of reinforcements on the Syrian side of the border, which appeared in the Turkish media, came days after Syrian news agency, SANA, reported a failed infiltration attempt from Turkey by a group of "35 armed terrorists."
Foreign Ministry sources declined to comment on the reports, with one official only saying: "We have [been] following and carefully examining the reports."
Observers say Turkey would not be surprised to see Syria reinforcing its troops and increasing the number of tanks near the border. This is because Ankara is increasingly aware that Syrian troops find it more and more difficult to suppress unrest as the security situation keeps deteriorating in the country.
Turkey, once a close ally of al-Assad, has been harshly critical of his brutal crackdown on an eight-month anti-regime uprising. Ankara has already announced a set of economic sanctions on Syria to pressure al-Assad to stop a crackdown on protests, and a Turkish minister announced on Wednesday that Turkey will also impose a 30 percent tariff on all Syrian goods.
"We will place a 30 percent tax on all goods coming from Syria," Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı was quoted as saying by private NTV television.
Turkey, which fears a civil war in Syria, has said a buffer zone may be required on its 900-kilometer (550-mile) border with Syria if the violence causes a mass exodus from Syrian towns. In addition, some officers of the rebel Free Syrian Army, a group of army defectors and regime opponents, are based in Turkey, which is widely referred to as the main protector of the Syrian opposition in the international media.
As tensions escalate between the two neighbors, a news report said Syrian troops on the Turkish border opened fire in sustained bursts on Wednesday. "We heard heavy gunfire," Abu Fahd, a villager in the Turkish border village of Güveççi, told Reuters by telephone, adding that it came from the Syrian side of the frontier. "The rattle and sounds were heard until early dawn."
Another man in the village, Abu Yousef, said he saw firing coming from Syrian army positions and believed they had been aiming at people trying to cross the border. "The Syrians were firing close to the border from sniper posts on the hillside."
An officer of the Free Syrian Army told Reuters that a rebel force attacked a Syrian police station near the border on Tuesday, sparking heavy clashes. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the fighters had mounted the assault from within Syria and had not come across from Turkey. However, several of those wounded in the action were later taken to hospitals in Turkey.
"There was heavy shooting in Ain al-Baida with the army shelling homes in retaliation for an operation conducted by Free Army elements operating in the area against security forces. I can confirm several people were wounded and smuggled and taken to hospitals on the Turkish side," the officer said.
Another Syrian army defector who was aware of the incident said at least three men wounded in the clashes had been taken over into Turkey.
"The Turks don't turn anyone away," he said.
Syria Closes Border Gate with Turkey
Syria on Thursday closed one of its border gates with Turkey as relations were strained further with Ankara's sanctions on Damascus to punish the Syrian regime over its refusal to end a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
A local Turkish governor said Syrian officials had cited maintenance work for the closure of the gate at the Nusaybin town of the southeastern province of Mardin.
"They have told us that they would open the gate once the maintenance was over," said Murat Girgin, Nusaybin's governor.
The governor said a group of around 100 people, including Syrian nationals, were denied entry into Syria's Kamisli town, adding that the group was waiting on the Turkish side of border.
AKP Stands United on Match-Fixing Bill
Senior members of the ruling party have announced plans to back a controversial match-fixing law despite initial internal opposition amid denials by President Abdullah Gül that there is a conflict between himself and the government.
The Justice and Development Party's, or AKP, decision is in line with the party leadership's efforts to bridge a rift that shook the government in the absence of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan due to health reasons.
"I will act in line with my party. Do not seek anything else behind this," Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı told reporters Thursday in a U-turn from his earlier stance, which defended Gül's decision last week to veto the law reducing penalties for match- fixers and signaled that he would vote against the bill if it were returned to Parliament without changes.
"We are backing the law. We will all vote for it at the General Assembly. We have no different view," he said hours before Parliament's Justice Commission was set to meet to discuss the vetoed law.
Before his departure for Austria, Gül said the veto decision and ensuring events should not be misinterpreted.
"I used my authorization and sent the law back to Parliament. My views on the law are known by the public," Gül told reporters at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport. "The laws are made in Parliament, which will use its authority and the democratic process will continue."
Gül said he would make a decision after Parliament approves the law again.
The bill is expected to be directly sent to the General Assembly with the support of the opposition parties for ratification Dec. 11. Gül, who has no authority to reject the law, will have to sign it, but does have the right to take it to the Constitutional Court, an authority he has never used since becoming president in 2007.
The law would reduce penalties for those convicted of match-fixing from five to 12 years in jail to just one to three years. Like Yazıcı, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also said the AKP would act in unity and vote in favor of the law. Bozdağ joined Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kılıç in firmly denying any crack within the party, something the AKP's senior members have tried hard to avoid, especially in the absence of Erdoğan, who is recovering in Istanbul after an operation.
"The AKP will stand united behind this law. There is no reason to be concerned. Some of our ministers may have had a different position, but as it is not a government draft, it is their right to express their own views about it," Kılıç told reporters late Wednesday.
Match-Rigging Law to be Passed for Certain, AKP Says
The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has said a controversial bill that seeks to introduce shorter jail terms for match-fixers, which was vetoed by President Abdullah Gül last week, will pass in Parliament without any changes, amid claims that the bill had caused rifts inside the governing party.
The full name of the law to be amended is the Law to Prevent Violence and Disorder at Sporting Events, but it also lays out the terms of jail sentences for those convicted of involvement in match-fixing schemes. Its current version was passed about seven months ago, shortly before a major match-fixing and fraud investigation that would scandalize Turkish football was launched. In other words, it comes at a time when a major investigation is under way with many suspects, including Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, in jail.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, responding to a question from the press on Friday during a visit to a general convention of the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions, or Türk-İş, said the president, with the veto, had used his powers rising from the Constitution.
"Mr. President is using his authority. Parliament is also using its authority. These are the powers given by the Constitution," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, Gaziantep Deputy Şamil Tayyar and Minister of Customs and Trade Hayati Yazıcı publicly spoke against the bill this week. More than half of the AKP deputies did not attend the voting session on the amendments.
Bozdağ said the law was currently at the Justice Commission, and later will be taken up by the General Assembly. He also denied claims that discordance over the fate of the bill had caused a rift in the party.
"There are no problems inside the AK Party. We are seeing such news reports as the expression of a wish," he said.
The attempt to reduce jail terms has been received highly suspiciously by the general public, mainly due to the fact that there is currently a major match-rigging scandal taking place in Turkish football. The government and opposition parties' readiness to change the law in such a short time -- saying the initial version was wrong in terms of the proportionality between the offense and the jail time seen fit for it -- has created the impression that Parliament is under pressure from Turkey's highly organized and powerful football lobby, or has an interest in protecting the individuals currently facing charges of match-fixing.
Bozdağ also disagreed with the president's reason for vetoing the law -- the large discontent created among the public over the appearance that the initially fixed jail terms are changing to save some specific individuals.
"There is no disagreement among the public today that the jail terms [in the current version] are too heavy for match-fixing related crimes," Bozdağ said. "Everybody agrees that the penalty is too much. But there are differences over by how much it should be punished."
He also said the bill was supported by every party in Parliament, except the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, adding this was also an important point.
Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kılıç also made comments on the law on Thursday during his reception of world champion kick boxers at his office.
"There is absolutely no rift inside the AK Party. Some of our deputies might have expressed their personal opinions," Kılıç said. "The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the Republican People's Party, or CHP, also announced their support. The AKP also displays this stance. It is out of question that this discussion [over schisms] that we didn't have in tougher times might take place over this amendment."
Like Bozdağ, he said some "could be dreaming," about this, but it was not true.
He also noted that any inadequacies or problems with the current law should be attributed to everyone involved. He noted that the sporting world was pushing for a law to be passed as quickly as possible about seven months ago, when the bill was adopted.
"The four political parties in Parliament agreed. There were objections noting that the law wasn't in line with Turkey's realities," he said. "These were voiced by the union of football clubs, the clubs themselves and the Turkish Football Federation, or TFF. They were the ones who wanted an amendment, not the political parties. The political parties agreed with the amendment."
He also said the litigation process about the current probe into alleged match-fixers was still under way, noting comments that some individuals will walk away free if the law passes weren't true.
President Abdullah Gül released a written statement on Thursday regarding the developments on the match-fixing law, saying: "My views [on the amendment] are clear, I used my powers. Parliament is the lawmaker, it is performing its duty."
He also said he will have the final version that will be ratified in Parliament examined, indicating that he will have to see the latest version of the law to decide whether he will challenge it at the Constitutional Court.
Parliament was scheduled to discuss changes to the amendment at 6 p.m. on Thursday for the second time since the veto.
Yazıcı, the minister of customs and trade who had voiced opposition to the bill, also spoke to journalists during Thursday's Türk-İş convention, noting that the law would be passed. The minister, who has a legal academic background, said he had the right to offer his evolutions as a jurist, but the discipline and order in the party should be observed.
Main Opposition CHP Hits Back at Judiciary
A prosecutor who dropped probes into three ruling party deputies had been awarded with an appointment to the Supreme Court of Appeals, main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Thursday as he slammed the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK.
"What did you do about this prosecutor? You probably elected him to the Court of Appeals. You are the one to apologize to me and anybody who demands justice," the head of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, said during a parliamentary debate on the budget.
The three Justice and Development Party, or AKP, deputies that Kılıçdaroğlu accused were named by CHP sources as Nevzat Pakdil, Hüseyin Besli and Mustafa Açıkalın. Only Pakdil, however, remains a member of the incumbent Parliament, while the other two are no longer deputies. They were allegedly investigated for tender-rigging, but the probes were closed on grounds there was no evidence to substantiate the suspicions, the sources said.
But the probes could not have been dropped because Parliament members have judicial immunity and their prosecution should have been only suspended. The CHP sources said an investigation into another former AKP deputy on suspicions of fictitious exports was dropped on grounds that it fell under the statute of limitations while he was still serving as a lawmaker.
Brushing aside the HSYK's demand for an apology over his remarks that the judiciary had become the "backyard" of the AKP, Kılıçdaroğlu leveled more accusations.
"In which democratic country of the world is an inquiry opened for a lawmaker who criticizes the ruling party? Show me an example. In which country of the world is a student jailed for 19 months because of demanding free education? Show me a respectable country in which a book is banned before being printed. I'm asking the judges who demanded an apology from me," he said.
Kılıçdaroğlu also criticized the foreign policy of the AKP government. Recalling that Turkey had a very close relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's administration until few months ago, Kılıçdaroğlu asked: "Why is Turkey training armed groups on its soil for attacking another country? Which power is demanding it? Of course we demand freedom for the Syrian peoples, but we are against war. For what purpose will we declare a war? "
Kılıçdaroğlu also slammed the government's stance on Israel. He said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had declared Turkish warships would guard every vessel that carried aid to the Gaza Strip, but that did not happen.
"You presented Gaza to Israel on a golden plate," he said.
Health Minister Says Erdogan Doing 'Very Well'
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is doing "very well" following his Nov. 26 surgery and continues to rest on the insistence of his aides even though he wishes to return to work, Health Minister Recep Akdağ said Thursday.
"The prime minister's state of health is very well. There is nothing to worry about," Akdağ said at a conference in Ankara. "He wanted to go back to work earlier, but we advised him to continue resting," the minister said.
Erdoğan has been recovering at his Istanbul home since having an operation on his digestive system. The International Investors Association of Turkey, or YASED, announced in a press release that Erdoğan would deliver a speech at their annual reception Dec. 15. However, the prime minister's press office would not confirm Erdoğan's attendance at the event, saying that his program for that day had not yet been fixed.
Turkey Not Immune to Crisis, TUSIAD Says
Despite its strong economy, Turkey is not immune to economic crises, said Ümit Boyner, chair of the Turkish Industry & Business Association, or TÜSİAD.
In her presentation at the Competition Board's weekly meeting Thursday, Boyner said Turkey weathered four major economic crises over the past 20 years.
"The global economic crisis that hit during the last quarter of 2008 highlighted an important reality. Despite the positive economic indicators, external crises can come knocking on our door at any time," she said, adding that there needs to be more investment in structural reforms, education and a widening of the tax base.
"As TÜSİAD, we have said on several occasions that for our country to weather external crises, we have to implement reforms to increase our competitiveness and productivity," she said. "Only in this way can we sustain our growth rates."
On a positive note, Boyner said Turkey's export sector had undergone fundamental changes and barriers to investment had in large been lifted. Crediting the banking sector for its reforms, she said access to financing had become much easier over the past 10 years.