The drive to draw up a new constitution is expected to dominate Turkey's domestic agenda in 2012, with the opposition parties wary that the ruling party could pursue amendments in line with the prime minister's ambitions for a presidential system.
The cross-party Constitution Conciliation Commission, which will take input from all segments of society until April as part of its task in helping write the new charter, aims to pen a draft by the end of 2012.
"I hope that 2012 will be the year to replace the 1982 Constitution with the 2012 Constitution," Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said over the weekend during a visit to the Central Anatolian province of Yozgat.
For the first time, the Turkish Parliament is working in mutual agreement on a constitution, with contributions from every circle in a free, pressure-free environment, he said.
"To me, this is a historic event," he said. "As of April 30, the commission will start to deliberate the parameters of the new charter based on the reports and suggestions they receive."
Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek said the new constitution was a must.
"If we fail to change the Constitution, the people should react to politicians in the same way they reacted to the hike in lawmakers' pensions," he told the private Kanal 7 channel Saturday.
Signs of disagreement have already emerged between the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, mainly due to the AKP's insistence that provisions that were adopted in the 2010 referendum, and have since profoundly reshaped the judiciary, remain untouched.
The controversy over President Abdullah Gül's term will also be a major topic of debate, with the opposition insisting that he should serve five years and threatening to seek the abolition of any law that would set his tenure to seven.
Lengthy pre-trial detentions are likely to remain in the headlines as wide-ranging cases into alleged anti-government plots and the purported urban network of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, drag on.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has said the government is working on reforms that would speed up trials and, by implication, shorten detention periods. The government is also under pressure to deliver promises for a "democracy package" to address the mounting criticism of the judiciary and curbs on free speech.
Another topic likely to occupy the agenda is the continued incarceration of eight elected deputies.
Both the AKP and the CHP are braced for party conventions in the autumn that could significantly reshape the parties. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is widely believed to be eyeing the presidency, is expected to review the party structure with a view to the future as many AKP heavyweights are currently serving their third and, according to party bylaws, last terms as parliamentary deputies.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, for his part, is faced with intra-party opposition that has been emboldened by the party's continued failure to move up in public opinion polls.
AKP to Curb Opposition's Parliament Speech Time
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has drafted controversial amendments to parliamentary rules, seen as an attempt to curb the speaking time opposition lawmakers have in the General Assembly.
The bill, submitted to Parliament by the AKP's five deputy group chairs with the stated aim of speeding up the legislative process, proposes also the banning of lawmakers from bringing banners, placards and "disturbing" objects to the General Assembly.
"What the AKP understands from democracy is the despotism of the majority. That's unacceptable. The government, which has left Parliament out with a series of legislative decrees, now wants to usurp what is left of the opposition's speaking time," Akif Hamzaçebi of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, said at the weekend.
He said the draft demonstrated that the AKP was insincere in its stated commitment to draw up a new constitution for Turkey in compromise with the opposition.
Under the draft, the currently unconstrained time for debates on verbal questions that lawmakers submit to the government is reduced to two hours, at most. Parties would be allowed to have only one representative to speak for five minutes on a given proposal submitted to the General Assembly's agenda, down from four lawmakers who have a speaking time of 10 minutes each under the existing rules.
In discussions on procedural disputes, parties would be represented by two instead of four deputies and their speaking time would be reduced from 10 to five minutes. The brief remarks lawmakers are allowed to make from their benches would be limited to one minute, while the number of proposals each deputy can submit on each article of a draft law at the related commission would be reduced to one.
The draft also proposes extending the General Assembly's routine sessions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays by two hours, from 2 to 8 p.m. The proposal that would ban lawmakers from bringing in "disturbing" objects is seen as aimed primarily at CHP deputy Kamer Genç, who has been carrying a lantern in Parliament for months in a symbolic reminder of the embezzlement scandal at the Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) charity, in which the AKP is accused of being involved.
CHP Head in Uludere after Lynch Attempt on Governor
The leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Saturday paid a visit to the district of Uludere in the southeastern province of Þýrnak where 35 civilians were killed in an air strike Dec. 28.
"Some 35 people lost their lives in an undeserved manner. We are going to pursue this. This is not an incident that could easily be forgiven. We are going to pursue this in Parliament as well as in other places," CHP leader Kemal Kýlýçdaroðlu said in the village of Gülyazý in Þýrnak's Uludere district, according to the Doðan news agency.
Kýlýçdaroðlu and his aides travelled to Uludere from Van, where the CHP leader spent the New Year's Eve with victims of the Oct. 23 earthquake. They were initially supposed to make the trip by helicopter, but eventually travelled by road after the arrangement was canceled due to what the party described as a "government intervention."
The allocation of the helicopter "was canceled without any explanation after what we were told was an instruction from Ankara," CHP deputy chairman Gürsel Tekin said. "It is hard to understand the government's obstructions at a time when the main opposition leader is making efforts for internal peace."
"The government cannot stop us from sharing the pain of our citizens. We are determined to show them they are not alone," Kýlýçdaroðlu said, before he set off for Uludere. The trip was marred by a road accident as a lorry hit a vehicle in the convoy."
Hüseyin Yaşar, a member of the CHP's party assembly, received a slight neck injury, while four other passengers in the car, including deputy party leader Gürsel Tekin and Kýlýçdaroðlu's assistant Barýþ Bozkurt, were unharmed by the incident, reported the Doðan news agency.
The lorry which hit the car bore an Iranian license plate. According to reports, its driver lost control of the vehicle due to adverse road and weather conditions.
In a related development, Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli stressed the slain smugglers were involved in illegal activity on a route frequently used by the PKK, suggesting they might be linked to the PKK and should not be regarded as completely innocent civilians.
The authorities must "urgently" clarify whether the smugglers were linked to the PKK or to the Iraq Kurds, what goods they carried and whether they were involved in a "network for recruiting militants for the PKK."
Bahçeli also slammed the harsh reactions the botched raid triggered from the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, calling their rhetoric "agitation and provocation." The government must not step back from the struggle against the PKK, he said.
Eight Terrorists Killed in Weekend Operations
Eight terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, members were killed in operations conducted by security forces in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır and in the eastern province of Tunceli over the weekend.
Two of the terrorists died when they jumped off the third floor of a building to escape during a raid of their apartment by the security forces in Diyarbakır's Kayapınar district. The identities of the two PKK members have yet to be clarified. During a shooting that broke out with the police prior to their escape, the two men wounded a police officer.
A prosecutor arrived at the scene following the clash. Two hand grenades, two Kalashnikov rifles and one handgun were found in the apartment.
Six others were killed in Tunceli on Saturday during an operation in Başakçı village, located 30 kilometers from the center of Tunceli. Specially trained rangers from the gendarmerie regional command were brought on helicopters to conduct the operation. Ground troops blocked escape routes around the province. A clash between the rangers that were brought in by helicopters followed. The six PKK members were killed in the clash that began on Saturday around noon and lasted well into the evening.
Gen. Harun Ocaklı, commander of the Tunceli Gendarmerie Command, and Commander of the Tunceli 4th Ranger Brigade Gen. Metin Akkaya directed the operation on site.
Also on Saturday, the Turkish media reported that two suspected Kurdish terrorists were killed in a police raid in Diyarbakır, the main city in southeastern Turkey.
Gulen Extends Condolences to Families of Deadly Airstrike Victims
Well-respected Turkish intellectual and scholar Fethullah Gülen has conveyed his condolences to the families of 35 people who were mistakenly killed by the military last week in an airstrike that targeted the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
"I wish God's mercy upon our 35 citizens, brothers and sons who tragically died in the incident, and extend my condolences to their grieving families, and I hope that God grants patience to them," Gülen said in message he issued on Saturday.
He said the incident comes at a time when Turkey was moving toward being a balancing power in the world and that expectations were high for Turkey's star to shine. Gülen noted that it is a source of consolation that the authorities have pledged to prevent any cover-up of the incident and that investigations into it have been launched.
"At a time when all security units are fighting together against terrorism and no tolerance is shown for banditry, the circles that want to undermine this harmony are also going ahead with their plans and are trying to sabotage preparations for a new constitution and [other] initiatives [by the state]," Gülen said.
Gülen underlined that he has full belief that the Turkish nation, which in the past did not lose its common sense and remained united in the face of many similar tragic incidents, "will -- with the help of God -- come through this critical process by preserving its unity and cooperation as well."
"It should never be ignored that those who do not hesitate to abuse the pain of the patriotic people of Ortasu village -- where our village guards who when appropriate fought against terror with our soldiers -- will not give up playing the sons of the nation against each other and trying to establish their sultanate of bloodshed," he added.
Turkish warplanes mistakenly killed 35 smugglers and other villagers in an operation that targeted PKK bases in Iraq last Wednesday night.
The government acknowledged that the victims were smugglers, not terrorists. The military said in an earlier statement that the warplanes targeted the group based on intelligence that suggested a group of weapon-carrying terrorists was heading toward the Turkish border to stage attacks on the military.
The victims were from the villages of Ortasu, Gülyazı and Ortabağ in southeastern Şırnak province's Uludere district. Uludere District Governor Naif Yavuz, who sought to offer condolences in Ortasu, was assaulted by a group that locals and authorities said did not include any villagers but were provocateurs.
Erdogan Meets with Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister in Istanbul
Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister İsmail Haniyeh met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Turkish prime minister's İstanbul home on Sunday.
Erdoğan received Haniyeh at 4 p.m. at his house, located in İstanbul's Kısıklı neighborhood, with strict security measures in place around the house. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was also present for the meeting.
During the meeting, Erdoğan expressed hope that the Palestinians "attain an all-encompassing umbrella organization with strong democratic representation powers," the Anatolis news agency reported.
Haniyeh is on an official tour of the Muslim world, his first trip outside the blockaded territory since the Islamist group overran Gaza in 2007. Turkey's ties with Israel, a former ally, deteriorated sharply over the flotilla raid that killed nine activists on the Turkish boat, and Erdoğan has demanded that Israel lift all restrictions on the Palestinian territory.
A statement by the Humanitarian Aid Foundation, or İHH, one of the organizers of the flotilla of six aid vessels headed for the Gaza Strip that was subjected to a deadly raid by the Israeli military on May 31, 2010, said on Sunday that Haniyeh will pay a visit to the İHH and hold a joint press conference with İHH Chairman Bülent Yıldırım on Monday.
The statement said Haniyeh will also visit the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara, which was part of the international flotilla that attempted to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Eight Turks and a Turkish-American were killed aboard the Mavi Marmara in the attack by Israeli.
Haniyeh's visit to Turkey follows a trip by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Turkey last month, when he met with top Turkish officials to discuss measures for recognition of the Palestinian state.
Although Abbas pays frequent visits to Turkey, it will be the first time Haniyeh has left Gaza since the Hamas movement seized power in Gaza, as the leader was busy in the region for both foreign and domestic reasons.
In June, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal visited Turkey to have talks with Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, with whom he discussed stalled efforts to create a Palestinian unity government. Mashaal's visit was unannounced and coincided with a visit from Abbas, who was in Turkey at the time to meet with Turkish officials. Turkish officials said no meeting between Abbas and Mashaal had been planned by Turkey, but the country is a known supporter of unity between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah officials, both of whom are engaged in a common bid to announce a sovereign Palestine. Unification attempts were stalled when the sides failed to agree on a prime minister.
While Fatah is considered the legitimate administration leading the Palestinian Authority, Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by European countries and Israel, which says Hamas launches deadly rocket attacks from within Gaza, targeting Israeli soldiers and civilians.