Long subjected to pressure for curbing free speech, Turkey and Russia have agreed to consult and cooperate at international events in a bid to confront attempts to "politicize" international human rights law, according to officials from both countries.

Both Moscow and Ankara believe the "politicization of international human rights law and humanitarian law and usage as tool for political goals" is unacceptable, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News Monday.

The comments come in the wake of a Dec. 8 visit to Ankara by Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's commissioner for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, to begin a consultation mechanism on human rights issues.

"We had bilateral consultation and exchanged views seeking to find common grounds in order to strengthen cooperation in international forums regarding human rights issues," the Turkish official said.

Dolgov met with officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and with Ayhan Sefer Üstün, chairman of the Turkish Parliament's Human Rights Commission.

There was a constructive discussion of topical aspects of the international agenda in the human rights and humanitarian sphere, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said regarding the meeting in Ankara.

"The two parties reiterated Russia and Turkey's commitment to the principle of the universality of human rights and the inadmissibility of selective application of the relevant standards, and stated the unacceptability of attempts at [the] politicization of the activity of multilateral human rights institutions," the statement said.

"From this common vantage point, they examined [the] concrete issues of the intensification of cooperation between Moscow and Ankara in this direction within the [United Nations], the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] and the Council of Europe."

In principle, Ankara opposes the politicization of international human rights law and its use as a tool for other goals, the Turkish official said, adding that Ankara had already voiced this principle in the international arena.

The meeting came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised concerns about the conduct of the Dec. 4 Duma elections during an OSCE meeting on Dec. 6 in Vilnius, at which she called for an investigation into "fraud" in the polls. Russia and Belarus vetoed a release of an OSCE statement aimed at criticizing the deterioration of fundamental rights in member states.


Turkey Dismisses Claims of U.S Mediation between Turkey, Israel

The United States is not mediating between Turkey and Israel to mend ties, Turkey said Tuesday, dismissing reports to the contrary.

The report on Monday claimed that the U.S. had urged both sides to talk to each other and report back to their people that their demands had been fulfilled. According to the report, the reconciliation formula would include telephone calls between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on normalization. Erdoğan would then tell the Turkish public that Israel has apologized for a deadly raid last year and Netanyahu would tell the Israeli public that he only expressed regret.

Turkish and Israeli relations were badly damaged last year after Israel raided the Mavi Marmara carrying humanitarian aid during an attempt to breach the Gaza blockade, which Turkey says is illegal. The storming of the ship left nine Turkish civilians dead, including an American citizen.

Turkey demands an official apology, compensation for the families of victims and an end to the blockade. Israel only expressed regret over the incident and claims its soldiers acted in self-defense.

The report also claimed that Turkey and Israel, in the following stages of the reconciliation process, will consent to the return of both countries' ambassadors and the restoration of diplomatic relations. A statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the Maariv report is false.

The statement added that it is clear what Israel needs to do for progress in Turkish-Israeli relations.

"Our position and expectations have not changed," it concluded.


First Turkish Citizen Killed in Syrian Rebellion

The Syrian opposition confirmed the death of Muhammed Munir Dolar, a Turkish citizen killed by Syrian forces in İdlib town near the Turkish Border, and stated that he did not take part in protests or marches.

An official from the Turkish Embassy in Damascus confirmed his death and said the Embassy officially asked the Syrian Government about the incident.


Ankara Sticking its Nose in Iraq, Maliki Says

Turkey is interfering in Iraq's internal affairs by "backing certain political figures and blocs," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said during an interview.

"We welcome [Turkey] to cooperate with us economically, and we are open to them, but we do not welcome interference in political matters," al-Maliki said. "Turkey interferes by backing certain political figures and blocs. We have continuously objected to their previous ambassador's involvement in local politics and officials have admitted their faults."

Al-Maliki was speaking to the Wall Street Journal in an interview that was released Dec. 12.

Noting that his country had close ties with Russia, Iran, Turkey and Arab nations, al-Maliki said relations were at risk when those countries impede Iraq's sovereignty. On the recent developments in Syria, al-Maliki said he sent a message to President Bashar al-Assad less than a month ago calling on him to make reforms and accept an Arab League initiative to stop the violence. Al-Maliki said al-Assad's answer was positive.

United States President Barack Obama, meanwhile, heralded the end of the divisive Iraq war, but said the U.S. would remain a major player in the region, even without a troop presence in Iraq, The Associated Press reported Monday.

"Our strong presence in the Middle East endures," Obama said. "And the United States will never waiver in the defense of our allies, our partners and our interests."

The U.S. plans to sell Iraq 18 more F-16 fighter jets as Baghdad seeks to secure its airspace after the full withdrawal of U.S. forces this month, a U.S. official said Monday, the Agence France-Presse reported.


Anti-Turkey Bill Approved in U.S. House of Representatives

An anti-Turkey bill, which calls on Turkey "to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties" was approved in the United States House of Representatives on Tuesday with two votes cast in favor of the bill out of three members who attended the voting session.

The bill, titled House Resolution 306, and supported by Armenian lobbies in the U.S., was first introduced in June to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as the "Return of Churches" resolution by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif. In addition to advocating for the return of confiscated churches, schools and hospitals, and providing freedom of worship to Turkey's Christian communities, the resolution also blamed the Ottoman Empire for "intentional destruction" of its Christian population, tacitly approving the allegations of an Armenian genocide.

The resolution was passed in the committee in July as part of an "omnibus" bill, although the statements concerning the destruction of the Ottoman Empire's Christian population were omitted from the text.

Six months later, Armenian and Greek lobbies accelerated their efforts to get the bill brought before the House of Representatives. In order to be adopted, the resolution needs to be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The bill was voted on in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. There were seven congressmen when the House began discussing the bill, but only three when the voting session began. Royce, Berman and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., co-president of the U.S.-Turkey Congressional Friendship Caucus, who spoke against the bill, cast the only vote against the bill. The bill was approved by two votes.

During the speeches they delivered on the bill, Berman and Joyce argued that there are increasing violations of religious freedom in Turkey. They also said a recent move by the Turkish government to return properties confiscated from religious minorities since 1936 was a belated and insufficient move.

Whitfield, on the other hand, said Turkey has made significant progress in expanding the rights of religious minorities in recent years, adding that such a country should be encouraged rather than condemned. He said this progress shows Turkey's good intentions on this issue, recalling remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had praised Turkey's move on returning properties to minorities.

The bill sparked angry reactions from Turkish residents in the U.S. and U.S.-based Turkish community organizations.

Günay Evinç, president of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, or ATAA, told the Anatolian news agency that the ATAA and the Federation of Turkish American Associations, or TADF, had prepared a letter together and sent it to members of the Senate.

Evinç claimed that the bill is nullified on the grounds that Turkey adopted a decree in August to return all confiscated properties of minority foundations, including Christians, claiming that this bill is "part of the Armenian lobby's ill-intentioned efforts seeking recognition of the Armenian genocide."


Online Poll Says Erdogan Loved and Hated

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected both as the most popular and the least popular person of 2011 by participants in an opinion poll annually held online by Time magazine.

"He is lauded as a steward of Islamic democracy. He has helped boost Turkey to its place as the world's second fastest-growing economy. Though not an Arab, he is the most admired world leader among Arabs, according to a University of Maryland poll. His diplomatic missions bring out throngs of cheering crowds that could make a rock star jealous," said an article on Time magazine's Web site.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan followed a busy schedule Monday, despite the laparoscopic gastrointestinal surgery he underwent Nov. 26. The prime minister had earlier canceled a visit to Qatar to attend a meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations on Dec. 10, as his doctors advised him to rest until he had fully recuperated.

The prime minister's first official program since the surgery kicked off at Istanbul's Dolmabahçe Palace Monday afternoon. Erdoğan first received Romanian President Traian Basescu at around 2:30 p.m., followed by a host of ministers from other Balkan states at 3:30 p.m. The prime minister is expected to return to Ankara on Dec. 15 to preside over a meeting of Turkey's Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ.

Erdoğan enjoyed a clear lead in Time magazine's poll with nearly 123,000 votes. Prominent football player, Lionel Messi, followed in second place with over 74,000 votes, while "99 percent of the people," a euphemism coined by activists from the Occupy Wall Street movement, came in third place.

Erdoğan also ranked in the top spot on the list of "least popular" persons of 2011 with more than 180,000 votes, while "the 1 percent" of the Occupy Wall Street movement came in second, with less than 35,000 votes. Casey Anthony, a released murder suspect, took third place.

Time magazine will announce its own choice for the "2011 Person of the Year" within the week. The U.S.-based magazine features its own selection on its cover page rather than the winner of the poll results.

Ruling Party Slams CHP Over Shares in Isbank

A senior ruling party official has said the Republican People's Party's, or CHP, involvement in İşbank as a share-holder has led to the "impression of a financial Ergenekon" and urged the main opposition to hand over its shares either to the Treasury or a trustee.
The accusations, coupled with a reference to Ergenekon, the purported network that allegedly plotted to overthrow the government, prompted the CHP to issue angry denials and challenge the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to initiate legal action if it believed the allegations.

AKP Deputy Chairman Bülent Gedikli said through its stake in İşbank the CHP "interfered" in decisions concerning bank shares in other companies and the channeling of advertising funds to certain media groups, particularly between 2005 and 2007.

"We cannot see clearly at the moment where all these may lead, but what media reports say gives the impression that this goes as far as a financial 'Ergenekon,'" Gedikli told Anatolia news agency. "The relationship between the CHP and İşbank must be investigated by an inquiry commission or through other ways."

The CHP inherited its 28.09 percent stake in İşbank from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of both the party and the bank. Under his will, the profits go to the Turkish Language Institution and the Turkish History Institution. The CHP appoints three members to the executive board of the bank, which is Turkey's largest publicly held private-sector bank, and, through its array of industrial investments, one of Turkey's top three corporations, representing more than 6 percent of the total market value of the Istanbul Stock Exchange, or İMKB.

"They cannot cover up this using the pretext of Atatürk's will. The current state of affairs is totally incompatible with the Constitution and the Political Parties Law," Gedikli said. "What if another party wants to do banking? The CHP must take action. They must hand over their shares either to the Treasury or to a trustee."

Gedikli said he heard of "rumors" that CHP-appointed board members pressured the bank to act in line with the party's political agenda and alleged that İşbank transactions concerning CHP shares were not fully transparent. Through its İşbank stake, the CHP is also a shareholder in two other banks and 26 companies, he said.

CHP Group Deputy Chairman Akif Hamzaçebi dismissed Gedikli's claims as a "fabrication" and said the CHP's relationship with İşbank was not one of economic partnership, with the party acting only as a representative of Atatürk's shares.

"The scenario this AKP member has made up has nothing to do with reality. It's all distortion that should not be even taken seriously. The CHP does not get a single penny from there," Hamzaçebi told the Hürriyet Daily News.

"If Mr. Gedikli has any information or documents supporting his claims, he should share them with the public and then resort to the judiciary. Instead of slinging mud at us, he'd better answer the questions about the AKP's links to the money collected by Deniz Feneri, the companies that have been founded with the money in Turkey and their financial bonds with the AKP," he said, referring to the charity investigated for embezzlement.

CHP Deputy Adnan Keskin, who has served on the İşbank executive board, denied the party had exerted any political influence on the bank's investments and expenditures, challenging Gedikli to substantiate his claims.

"This fellow must prove all his allegations. If not, his morals and dignity will be questioned. This is another AKP attempt to cover up its own corruption," he told the Daily News.
The CHP cannot hand over the İşbank shares since they were bestowed to the party as part of Atatürk's will and inheritance law does not allow for changes to wills after a person's death, Keskin said. "Atatürk is their real problem. That's their understanding of advanced democracy."


AKP Mulls Legal Action on Presidential Period Term

In a move to end discussions over the length of President Abdullah Gül's mandate, the ruling party proposed legal action to fix the current president's term in office at seven years.

"The president has been elected for a seven-year term according to laws at that time. His mandate can neither be shortened nor extended," Mustafa Elitaş, Justice and Development Party, or AKP, deputy chairman told reporters Monday. "In order to put everything back on the right track, a provisional article defining Gül's term at seven years could be inserted to the relevant law."

Gül's mandate has been a matter of discussion after a constitutional amendment reduced presidential term of office to five years with the right to be re-elected through popular vote. Elitaş has become the first official to voice the need of a legal move to end discussions on Gül's term.

Deputy Prime Ministers Bülent Arınç and Bekir Bozdağ said Gül was elected for a seven-year term. Many have speculated the government left Gül's mandate bleak on purpose so Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could run for the post.

If Parliament endorses such a move, Gül will remain in his position until Aug. 28, 2014.


CHP Delegation Holds Talks with American Jewish Committee

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, delegation, who is currently visiting the United States, held talks with several officials, including representatives from the American Jewish Committee.

CHP Deputy Chairman Faruk Logoglu said they considered that Israel should apologize to Turkey and pay compensation as the Turkish government demanded, when he was replying to a question on CHP's talks with the American Jewish Committee.

Logoglu said he also explained his views regarding an apology and compensation in CHP's meeting with the committee representatives. CHP wanted Turkish-Israeli relations to be normalized and to be based on mutual confidence and respect, he said. Logoglu said they also wanted an embargo imposed on Gaza to be lifted.

Nine Turkish nationals were killed when Israeli commandos raided Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel in a six-ship Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year in May.

The raid has drawn widespread reaction and condemnation from the international community. The incident also sent Turkish-Israel relations to a historic low. Turkey demanded an official apology from Israel for the raid, pay compensation to the families of the nine people killed in the raid.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, downsizing level of diplomatic relations to second-secretary. Turkey also canceled all military agreements.


Speaker Warns of Charter Deadline

Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek has warned the parliamentary drive to draft a new constitution for Turkey would risk failure if the process were not completed by the end of next year.

"We have said the objective is to finish the job by the end of 2012. Every day passing after that will bring about difficulties, as we will be holding three elections within four years," Çiçek said at a meeting with representatives of the Independent Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or MÜSİAD, Monday.

He emphasized the importance of participation of civic society. Instead of preparing a draft and saying "we made a new constitution," they were collecting input before even beginning the drafting process, he said. "Everyone should tell us exactly what they want."

The parliament speaker also pointed out only two out of 165 universities had submitted their views on the new charter.

"Those who say the process is taking too long should know it is not our fault. If they want to participate, they need to do it sooner rather than later, because a topic which has been on Turkey's agenda for the past 30 years should not stay there for another 30 months," he said. "We already announced our goal as 2012. We do not want to rush things but we have to be efficient with the time too. I think we have been handling the process well, despite some tension."

He later met with the newly appointed chairman of the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, Gökhan Çetinsaya, who told reporters following the closed meeting that universities were preparing input for the constitution-making process and would submit them before their allotted time is up, "within the next two or three months."


Tehran Rebuffs U.S. Demands

President Barack Obama has formally requested Iran return the United States surveillance drone captured by Iranian armed forces, but Iran and its media responded with derision.

Iranian Fars news agency published a news report with the headline "Obama Begs Iran to Give Him Back His Toy Plane."

"U.S. President Obama is hoping that the Iranian government is in a Christmas mood because he has asked Tehran to send him his Christmas present back," the report said.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Obama should apologize for sending an unmanned spy plane rather than asking for it back after it was seized.

"It seems that [Obama] has forgotten that our airspace was violated, a spying operation conducted and international law trampled," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, Reuters reported.

Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi also said the U.S. should apologize for invading Iranian airspace and the drone is now Iran's property. Obama said the U.S. wants the top-secret aircraft back.

"We have asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said they were not optimistic about getting the drone back because of recent Iranian behavior.

In a live broadcast interview Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said nothing to suggest his country would grant the U.S. request.

"The Americans have perhaps decided to give us this spy plane," Ahmadinejad said on Venezuelan state television. "Very soon, they're going to learn more about the abilities and possibilities of our country."

Meanwhile, a U.S. drone aircraft crashed at Seychelles International Airport Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Mauritius said.

"A U.S. Air Force remote-piloted MQ-9 crashed at the Seychelles International Airport in Mahe.
The MQ-9 was not armed and no injuries were reported," a statement from the embassy said.

Confirming the incident, the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority, or SCAA, said the plane was on "routine patrol" and crashed because of mechanical failure.


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