Concerned about the possibility of increased sectarian strife and submergence of Iraq into chaos yet another time, Ankara is following the developments regarding an arrest warrant issued for Iraq's top Sunni official Tareq al-Hashemi with "sensitivity" and would welcome Hashemi if he intends to visit Turkey for consultations in the future.

"We are hoping for both sides involved in this conflict to act with restraint," diplomatic sources told Today's Zaman on Wednesday, referring to the controversial arrest order of Hashemi, the Sunni vice president of Iraq, moments after the last batch of United States forces were pulled out from Iraq nine years after the initial U.S. intervention in the country.

Sources also noted that Ankara was following the tension that seems to be growing between the Sunni and Shiite blocs of power in the Iraqi administration with great attention and that it was hopeful that Iraq would not submerge into sectarian strife once more.

The arrest order for Hashemi came based on charges that the vice president was running a hit squad that targeted rival officials and security forces, but an announcement made by Hashemi himself from Erbil, where he fled following the order, made it clear that the Sunni bloc regarded the order as a political scheme.

Hashemi noted that he was ready to face the charges brought against him in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region north of Iraq, signaling that he had no plans of returning to Baghdad and did not believe he would receive a fair trial at the hands of the central Iraqi administration.

Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, on Wednesday asked that the Kurdistan region return Hashemi to Baghdad authorities.

"We ask our brothers in the Kurdistan region to take responsibility and hand the wanted person over to the judiciary. His running to another state would create problems," Maliki was quoted as saying in a Reuters press conference. Maliki also assured that there would be a fair trial provided for Hashemi.

In response to media speculations that Hashemi might flee Iraq for another country, possibly Turkey, diplomatic sources also noted that Hashemi was a frequent official guest of the country in the past and that if he wanted to come for consultations, Ankara would not turn him down. The same sources also stressed that Ankara was in touch with both sides of the argument and was following the delicate developments in its immediate neighbor country.
Hashemi's office, however, dismissed claims that he plans to flee the country, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday. The Sunni official is also banned from traveling outside Iraq and made a public appearance on Tuesday from Erbil to prove that he is inside the country and ready to face the allegations he considered "fabricated by the Maliki government."

The latest developments have pointed toward the possibility that Iraq might face sectarian chaos in the coming days and months after eight years of efforts to reach unification inside the country, initiated by U.S. mediation after Saddam Hussein was removed from power in 2003. Casualties were heavy on both sides, as U.S. intervention unleashed a shift of balance between the two communities at odds.

Allegations that the arrest order has been politically mastered by the Maliki government in a bid to increase Shiite dominance in the Iraqi administration and wipe off the decades-old Sunni clout were strengthened when Maliki further asked parliament to fire another senior Sunni politician, the deputy prime minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq, Reuters reported.

The Shiite government, however, refuses that the charges are political and claim that the cases are against individuals, not a community. Sunnis, however, fear retaliation from the Shiite majority, which was roughly treated under Sunni leader Hussein's iron fist. Maliki himself was convicted by Saddam decades ago and lived in exile to escape execution in Iraq.

The U.S. also voiced "obvious concern" regarding the arrest order, as the timing of the order strongly signaled that the U.S. forces constituted a buffer zone between blocs and their pullout caused a serious drawback in seemingly warming relations. The Shiite bloc has held considerable power since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the struggle of power share between Shiite and Sunni officials is believed to be the main reason behind the order.
The Sunni Iraqiya of the Iraqi parliament demands that Maliki share control of key posts such as the interior and defense ministry, but so far Maliki has refused to do so. Iraqiya might leave the cabinet by withdrawing its seven ministers, the AP reported on Tuesday.

Ankara Hopeful French Senate Will Decline Bill

Turkish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee head Voklan Bozkir said Tuesday he thought French Parliament would most likely adopt a resolution on Armenian allegations regarding the incidents of 1915, but was hopeful the Senate would have a policy in line with Turkey's influence.

"There is a Senate stage and I guess politics will be affected with our contacts and messages," Bozkır told reporters in Istanbul when he returned from Paris. "If the Senate adopts the resolution, then it will seriously harm France and Turkish-French relations."

Bozkır headed a Turkish parliamentary delegation that held talks in the French capital to prevent Parliament from adopting the resolution criminalizing the denial of Armenian "genocide." Bozkır complained about the role of French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the bill, referring to Sarkozy's refusal to talk to Turkish President Abdullah Gül on the phone Tuesday when Gül attempted to call him to personally convey his message over the bill.
"There is no use of meeting with [Sarkozy] if he's firm in his mind not to respond to our phone calls," Bozkır said.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the French bill was a "nonsensical" attack on freedom of expression, the Agence France-Presse reported.

"This bill is nonsensical from the start. A state that dictates to society what it cannot say is equally dictating to society what it can say and this is where the real danger lies," Davutoğlu said in an opinion piece published in the French daily Liberation. "If [France] adopts this bill up for debate, the French National Assembly will be taking a measure aimed at hushing history by condemning it to show only one side of the story and penalizing freedom of expression."

Davutoğlu questioned whether France would punish thousands of Turks if they rally in France with slogans denying the "genocide."

The Turkish delegation met with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, arguing the law was an attempt to win support among voters of Armenian origin.
"Mr. Alain Juppe reminded his guests that Turkey is for France a friend and ally, with whom it has always sought dialogue," the Foreign Ministry said.

Turkey Preparing Step-by-Step Sanctions on France

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey is preparing for step-by-step sanctions on France over a pending controversial legislation that will prohibit denying what Armenians call as genocide of mass killings of ethnic Armenians in 1915 at the hands of Ottomans.

Erdoğan told Parliament Wednesday that he will unveil the first set of sanctions on France based on the status of the bill the French assembly will vote on Thursday. He added that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's steps that are based on political gains will damage Turkish-French relations.

The lower house of the French Parliament will debate Thursday whether to criminalize the denial that the killings by Ottoman Turks more than 90 years ago amounted to genocide with a punishment of one year in prison and a 45,000 euro ($59,000) fine. That would bring legislation in line with how France treats denial of the Holocaust.

Turkey vehemently rejects the term genocide. It insists the deaths occurred during civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and that there were losses on both sides. It has threatened to withdraw its ambassador to France if the bill is passed and warned of "grave consequences" to economic and political ties.

The genocide bill threatens to further strain Turkish-French relations already tense over Sarkozy's opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

Criticizing Sarkozy for relying on votes of 500,000 Armenian voters, Erdoğan said there are also 550,000 ethnic Turks living in France and millions of people who share Turkey's position on this particular issue.

Asked about Sarkozy's refusal to answer President Abdullah Gül's telephone calls, Erdoğan called it a diplomatic disaster that could not be realized in international diplomacy.

Turkish leaders also argue that the bill, proposed by 40 deputies from Sarkozy's party, is a blatant attempt at winning the votes of 500,000 ethnic Armenians in France in next year's elections; they also say it limits freedom of speech and is an unnecessary meddling by politicians in a business best left to historians.

"This proposed law targets and is hostile to the Republic of Turkey, the Turkish nation and the Turkish community living in France," Erdoğan wrote in a tersely worded letter to Sarkozy last week. "I want to state clearly that such steps will have grave consequences for future relations between Turkey and France in political, economic, cultural and all areas."

The volume of trade between France and Turkey from January to November this year was more than $13.5 billion, according to Turkish government statistics. France is Turkey's fifth biggest export market and the sixth biggest source of its imports.

The French government has stressed that the bill is not its own initiative and pointed out that Turkey cannot impose unilateral trade sanctions.
"We have to remember international rules and with regard to Turkey it's a member of the WTO (World Trade Organization) and is linked to the European Union by a customs union and these two commitments mean a non-discriminatory policy towards all companies within the European Union," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

The Turkish government has ruled out an embargo, but has hinted at a boycott.

"There will be an effect on consumer preferences," Turkish Industry Minister Nihat Ergün said.

Others went further and suggested French firms might lose out in profitable defense deals and contracts to build energy pipelines and Turkey's first nuclear power station.

"France is about to commit a political sin. Newly arising French-Turkish ties in the energy sector may not be in a position to overcome this," the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Energy Minister Taner Yıldız as saying.

When France passed a law recognizing the killing of Armenians as genocide in 2001, Turkey was in the midst of an economic crisis, and reacted in a similar vein, but figures show trade between the two countries nevertheless grew steadily.

The French lower house of parliament first passed a bill criminalizing the denial of an Armenian genocide in 2006, but it was finally rejected by the Senate in May of this year.

The new bill was made more general to outlaw the denial of any genocide, partly in the hope of appeasing the Turks. While it is very likely to be approved by the lower house, it could also face a long passage into law, though its backers want to see it completed before April's French presidential election.

Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says some 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman Empire. Ankara denies the killings constitute genocide and says many Muslim Turks and Kurds were also put to death as Russian troops invaded eastern Anatolia, often aided by Armenian militias.

The Republic of Turkey emerged from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 after more than 10 years of almost continual warfare against the British, French, Russians, Arabs, Armenians and Greeks, all of them intent on carving off territory from the dying state.

European Politicians Criticize Genocide Denial Bill

Two heavyweights of the European Parliament have directed harsh criticisms at a French parliament draft law seeking to criminalize denying that the forceful deportation of Armenians by Ottoman rulers in 1915 was genocide.

European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle refused to comment directly on the motion in the French National Assembly, calling it "an initiative of the Parliament of a member state on which the Commission as a general rule will not comment." In a separate answer to a question by a Swedish member of European Parliament, Füle said the European Union is "not about judging history, but about reconciliation. "

The lower house of the French Parliament will debate Thursday whether to criminalize the denial that the killings by Ottoman Turks more than 90 years ago amounted to genocide with a punishment of one year in prison and a 45,000 euro ($59,000) fine. That would bring legislation in line with how France treats denial of the Holocaust.

Turkey vehemently rejects the term genocide. It insists the deaths occurred during civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and that there were losses on both sides. It has threatened to withdraw its ambassador to France if the bill is passed and warned of "grave consequences" to economic and political ties.

The genocide bill threatens to further strain Turkish-French relations already tense over French President Nicolas Sarkozy's opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

On the French initiative, however, Füle's press office said in a written statement that there is no specific European law governing freedom of expression and that each member state is free to decide how they approach this issue provided it respects European values on freedom of expression and any relevant EU legislation.

Füle's predecessor Olli Rehn had strongly warned France back in 2006 when a similar draft was submitted to the French National Assembly.
In his response to the Swedish MEP's question, Füle called on Turkey and Armenia to ratify protocols they had earlier signed without creating any new preconditions and said normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations would contribute to security, stability and cooperation in the South Caucasus. He said vision, courage and dialogue were needed to heal the wounds of the past.

President Abdullah Gül also called on France to backtrack on passing the bill in a written statement on Tuesday, stating that the bill is unacceptable.
"It is inconsiderate to distort history for political purposes," he said.

The bill would make it a crime to deny any genocide, war crime or crime against humanity recognized as such by French laws, and put Armenian genocide denial on a par with Holocaust denial, which was banned in the country in 1990.

Hannes Swoboda, deputy chairman of the European Socialists, and Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, deputy chairman of the Liberals, said in an interview with the Turkish television network STVHaber that such initiatives were not helpful at a time when Turkey has already started to look into its history from a different perspective, recalling an apology from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the massacre of thousands of Alevi-Zazas in the city of Dersim in 1937 and 1938.

"I am a liberal. Freedom of speech is the first and foremost principle for us. It is very, very important," Lambsdorff, a German, said. "I think if you want to restrict the freedom of expression, you need to have extremely good reasons, very, very good reasons. One such good reason in the German context is to make it illegal to deny the Holocaust because of our particular history. It refers only to us."

He went on to say: "But the French are trying to legislate something that did not happen in France that is not a part of their national history, really. It is part of the history of another country. Imagine, for example, Austria were to decide to make it illegal to deny that a large-scale killing of American Indians took place. That is nonsense. That is for historians to decide. I believe one can legitimately discuss whether it was a genocide or not but it should clearly not be part of the legislative process."

Swoboda, an Austrian, said he holds the same view.

"I have always defended the Austrian position, which is similar to the German one, on the Nazis and the Holocaust because we were the perpetrators. About others, we do not have the right to decide," Swoboda said.

He also said Europe needs to be "much more easy-going with Turkey," and that "Turkey is now beginning to apologize for what happened to [its minorities]." He added that many countries, including Turkey, have incidents in their past which they need to apologize for, but this is different than imposing criminal sanctions through legislation.;jsessionid=BCEDC8360133FE97F5688F941476D4C6?newsId=266385

Iran Again Criticizes Turkey on NATO Missile Shield

Iranian Deputy Alaeddin Boroujerdi criticized Turkey for its decision to host an early warning radar as part of NATO's missile defense system.
Boroujerdi, chairman for the Iranian Parliament's Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, made the remarks in a meeting with Turkish Ambassador to Tehran Ümit Yardım on Tuesday.

"Tehran and Ankara should not allow their enemies to cause strains in their friendly relations," the Mehr news agency quoted Boroujerdi as saying.
Commenting on the historical, religious, and cultural ties between the two countries, Boroujerdi said the similarities could serve as a stepping stone toward the consolidation of ties in all spheres, particularly the parliamentary relationship.

He emphasized the necessity of maintaining fraternal relations between the two countries and said enemies should not be allowed to harm Iran and Turkey's close relationship. The deputy also described Iran and Turkey as two important Muslim countries in the region and said promoting ties with neighboring countries was one of the fundamental principles of the Islamic republic's foreign policy.

Ankara previously expressed its unease to Tehran over remarks that Iran would target NATO missile defense installations in the eastern Anatolian province of Malatya, but the Iranian foreign minister rejected the views, saying those who had made such "irresponsible statements" had been warned.

Turkey to Train Libyan Military, NTC Chairman Says

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council, or NTC, said Libya's new rulers and Turkish authorities agreed to have Turkey train the Libyan military in Turkey.

Jalil spoke to Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency on Wednesday and commented on his recent visit to Turkey last week, as well as the cooperation between Turkey and the new Libyan administration in the post-Gaddafi era.

Noting that he had the chance to visit dozens of Libyans who were injured in clashes with Gaddafi loyalists and have received treatment in Turkey, he said he also wishes Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who underwent an abdominal surgery last month, a speedy recovery.

"We had the opportunity to discuss some issues with Prime Minister Erdoğan. We reached a compromise on training the Libyan army in Turkey," Jalil said. "Meanwhile, we are going ahead with our efforts to transition to a regular army. These efforts, carried out under the leadership of our Defense Minister Osama al-Juwali, will be announced to the public next week."

Commenting on the situation of Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was captured on Nov. 19, Jalil said he will stand trial in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. He added that all soldiers who were Gadafi loyalists and were currently in prison would be released.

Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the NTC as the sole representative of the Libyan people, after NTC forces entered Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli in late August and stormed the symbolic center of his more than 40-year reign. On Sept. 4, Turkish Ambassador Ali Kemal Aydın became the first foreign ambassador to be approved by the NTC and resume diplomatic work in Tripoli.

Erdoğan was among the first senior foreign leaders to visit Libya after the toppling of Gaddafi, at the end of a three-nation tour including Egypt and Tunisia. He visited Libya in September and addressed a huge crowd of Libyan people. Turkey has also granted the Libyan opposition $100 million in aid and promised an additional $200 million. Some of the money is to be used to improve the infrastructure of Benghazi and rehabilitate its airport.
In September, footage and photography provided by the İstanbul-based Cihan news agency showed that members of the Libyan opposition military forces were trained by retired special ops officers who arrived to the conflict-ridden country from Turkey.

The images show retired special ops officers training the troops of the NTC on how to use arms, provide security, search vehicles, buildings and people, and protect state authorities. The training mostly took place in Benghazi.

Commander Mustafa al-Majbri, who is responsible for communication in the NTC, and Commander Ibrahim al-Brigti, were pleased with the training by former Turkish special ops officers in Benghazi. Around 3,000 members of the Libyan opposition's military force, including those who are in volunteer groups affiliated with the al-Majbri tribe, were reportedly trained by the Turks.

In early April, the ferry Ankara, which set sail from the Aegean city of İzmir for Misrata on March 27, arrived at the İzmir port of Çeşme after rescuing hundreds of wounded Libyans and their families from the besieged Libyan cities of Misrata and Benghazi.

Former CHP Leader Visited Erdogan

Former Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Deniz Baykal paid a get-well visit to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Tuesday and the two politicians, accompanied by their wives, chatted for 45 minutes.

Erdoğan's surgery was not discussed, The Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

Bringing up the problem of lawmakers who remain in jail without conviction, Baykal asked Erdoğan to help obtain permission for CHP deputy Mehmet Haberal to visit his sick mother. He is currently incarcerated in the Silivri Prison for alleged links to the alleged Ergenekon crime gang. Baykal said Haberal had already lost his father and was not able to attend his funeral. According to the sources, Erdoğan told Baykal he would speak to Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin about the matter.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was also scheduled to visit Erdoğan Wednesday at 5 p.m. The meeting is expected to take place at the ruling party headquarters, making Kılıçdaroğlu the first CHP leader to step in the building.

Health Workers, Employees in Public Sector Hold Day Strike

Health workers and other public employees went on strike Tuesday to voice their demands and protest recent developments in the Turkish health system.

State hospital workers, except those on duty in emergency rooms, stopped working for the day around the country. Major hospitals in Istanbul, including Istanbul Medical Faculty in Çapa, Okmeydanı Hospital and Şişli Etfal Hospital were among those affected by the labor action, which was organized by the Turkish Medical Association, or TTB, and the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, or KESK.

KESK issued a number of demands, including a collective agreement that provides legal assurances for the right to strike, the continuation of severance pay, a halt to the detention and arrest of union members and an end to uninsured employment.

All departments except emergency units in hospitals walked off the job Tuesday due to the strike, while certain lines of work operated by KESK workers were also shut down for the day. Health workers set up a tent at 7:30 a.m. at Istanbul's Çapa Medical Faculty and distributed pamphlets to patients and other employees in hospital yards and polyclinics to explain the reasons for the strike.

Meanwhile, professional organizations and unions led by the TTB said they would establish their own health assemblies and vote on a recent statutory decree from the government they say would turn hospitals and health services into commercial enterprises while enslaving health workers.

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