Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Tuesday defended the chief of General Staff against deriding comments by the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, in a rare show of solidarity between the Army and government.
"Targeting the chief of General Staff and insulting him with the aim of swearing at this nation is arrogance. In this country, being a non-commissioned officer is a source of honor and dignity. Go to your armed masters and they will tell you all about the heroic non-commissioned officers," Erdoğan said at the parliamentary group meeting of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
His remarks were directed at BDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who last week scoffed at Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel as a "non-commissioned officer" after the general said he was against Kurdish-language education.
Keeping up charges the BDP collaborated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, Erdoğan said the BDP was feeding "on the blood of innocent Kurdish children" and had become "leverage for terrorism."
Erdoğan also lashed out at BDP Deputy Leyla Zana, who was recently quoted as saying "the arms are an insurance" for the Kurds against the state.
The premier stressed the government was against banning political parties and favored instead the punishment of party members who broke the law. Keeping up pressure on the government to reveal who supplied the intelligence for last month's botched strike at the Iraqi border in which 35 civilians perished, Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu implied the United States or Israel could have been involved.
"Did you get the intelligence from the [Israeli-made] Herons or from the [U.S.] unmanned aircraft based at İncirlik? I'm asking openly: Did you get the intelligence from Israel or the United States? This is what happens when you entrust your intelligence-gathering to others," Kılıçdaroğlu said.
Relentless in its criticism of the government, the BDP warned a draft bill designed to ban imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from meeting his lawyers for up to six months would be applied to all anti-government intellectuals behind bars.
The law would serve as a "legal cover" for Öcalan's solitary confinement, BDP Co-Chair Gültan Kışanak said, urging Ankara to abandon the move and resume contacts with the PKK leader.
"The government must return to this track as soon as possible and develop it into a policy opening the road to peace. A government that fails to do that will be responsible for anything that happens in this country," she said. "We've seen your most murderous face in the past, and we have not surrendered. We will not surrender today either."
Kilicdaroglu Applies for Abolition of Judicial Immunity
Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu applied Tuesday for the abolition of his judicial immunity and stepped up accusations that the judiciary has become a political weapon in government hands.
"You cannot intimidate me with your special-authority courts. I am not bowing down to you. I will say what I say even if you send me to prison and even to the gallows," Kılıçdaroğlu said in an emotional address to his Republican People's Party, or CHP, parliamentary group, from whom the CHP leader received a hero's welcome.
The deputies were scheduled to collectively follow him Wednesday in applying to have their immunities lifted.
"What needed to happen has happened," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, showing no sympathy for his arch-rival. Erdoğan said the prosecutor's move targeting Kılıçdaroğlu was long due.
Speaking to his lawmakers, Kılıçdaroğlu reiterated that the Silivri Prison, where two CHP deputies are awaiting trial, had become a "concentration camp" for opponents of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. For such remarks, he now risks standing trial for "attempting to influence a fair trial" and "insulting court members."
The CHP leader will land in court if the justice minister approves the request for his trial and sends it to Parliament, where a vote is required to abolish his immunity. Kılıçdaroğlu said the trial of hundreds of people on charges of plotting to unseat the government had degenerated into a "blood feud" and added that he had "not even the slightest trust" in the judicial system.
"By fair trial, they mean seizing unpublished books and jailing students who demand free education. What we are asking for is the supremacy of law. Taking revenge is not normalization," he said.
Touching on the arrest of former Chief of the General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, Kılıçdaroğlu said the move was timed to divert attention from an air strike that mistakenly killed 35 civilians last month.
"Whenever the AKP is in trouble, files emerge from the drawers. It would be more comfortable for them if they reserve a private room for special-authority prosecutors" at the AKP headquarters, he said.
His comments were backed by members of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.
"Using the guise of 'advanced democracy,' the AKP is legitimizing oppression, lawlessness and slander," MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said. Başbuğ's arrest is "a mistake that goes beyond ill intentions."
Brushing aside the criticism, Erdoğan insisted that the coup investigations had made Turkey more democratic and freed the country from military tutelage.
Turkish President's Term Should End in 2014, Parliamentary Commission Says
A Turkish parliamentary commission recommended on Tuesday that President Abdullah Gül's term should expire in 2014, in a move to end confusion over the duration of his term, the state- run Anatolia news agency reported.
Gül was elected president, a largely figurehead role, with the support of ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, parliamentarians in 2007, but there had been doubt over whether his term would last for five or seven years.
Parliament still has to ratify the recommendation by its constitutional commission.
The change could be significant for the ambitions of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the most powerful politician in Turkey. Erdoğan plans to draft a new constitution to replace one framed after a military coup three decades ago; he reportedly favors moving Turkey to a more presidential-style of government, amid speculation that he wants to become president before his third and final term as prime minister ends in 2015.
The AKP, a socially conservative party that sprang from a banned Islamist party, won 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election last June, thanks in large degree to Erdoğan's dominant personality and his success in delivering rapid economic growth.
The parliamentary commission recommends the seven-year term only applies to the current presidency, and thereafter the term should be five years.
Prior to becoming president, Gül had been foreign minister in Erdoğan's government. He was the AKP's first prime minister after it swept to power in 2002, but he stepped aside when Erdoğan, who had been barred by the courts from contesting the election, won a parliamentary seat in a by-election a year later.
The confusion over the length of Gül's presidency stemmed from changes to the constitution made after he was elected by Parliament in 2007.
Gül had been elected for a one-time seven-year term as president, though there were already proposals, subsequently passed in a referendum, which said the presidency should be for five years for a maximum two terms.
In the future, Turkey's president will be elected by the people, instead of Parliament.
Retired General Arrested Again in Ergenekon Probe
Retired Gen. Hurşit Tolon, a former 1st Army Corps commander, was arrested Tuesday for a second time in the ongoing investigation into Ergenekon.
Ergenekon is a clandestine criminal network that has alleged links within the state and is suspected of plotting to topple the government. Tolon was arrested in 2008 as part of the investigation on charges of "being an administrator of an organization" but was later released pending trial in 2009 due to health reasons.
After Specially Authorized İstanbul Prosecutor Mehmet Ali Pekgüzel requested the arrest of Tolon for a second time during the 148th hearing of the second Ergenekon trial at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on Tuesday, the court ruled to arrest Tolon.
Tolon was cross-examined by Pekgüzel last week during the 145th hearing.
Tolon's arrest comes on the heels of the arrest of former Chief of General Staff retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ last week as part of an investigation into several websites allegedly set up by the General Staff to disseminate propaganda against the government.
Norwegian Prime Minister Stresses Democracy, Rule of Law
Restrictive press freedom in Turkey was one of the items on the agenda of the meeting between Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to Stoltenberg.
"It is important that all these people are tried in independent courts based on the rule of law," the Norwegian prime minister told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Tuesday, regarding the concerns over the arrested journalists in Turkey.
During his meeting with Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek in Ankara on Monday, Stoltenberg praised Turkey's democratic progress but questioned respect for free speech and media freedom, joining mounting international misgivings over Ankara's record.
Stoltenberg also said that during his meeting with Erdoğan they agreed to establish a dialogue on human rights through the United Nations and European Council.
The visiting prime minister avoided making any comments on the move of the public prosecutor in Silivri to file a case against main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
"The most important thing is democracy and rule of law," Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg also attended a luncheon Tuesday that was hosted in his honor at Çırağan Palace in Istanbul. Before the luncheon, the Norwegian premier cooked sashimi (raw salmon) with Norwegian cook Jostein Medhus in the Çırağan Palace kitchen. Stoltenberg said he also tried Turkish seafood and liked it very much.
Stoltenberg proceeded from Istanbul to Yalova city with Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım to attend a ceremony to launch a Norwegian-Turkish ship that was constructed at Yalova Tersan Shipyard.
Stoltenberg also talked about the Turkish girl Gizem Doğan who was killed in the two sequential terrorist attacks against the government, the civilian population and a summer camp in Norway on July 22, 2011.
Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian right-wing extremist, is currently on trial for the attacks that killed 77 people.
"Turkey is one of the countries which know best how dangerous and cruel terror can be. Now Norway also knows how dangerous and how cruel terrorism is," Stoltenberg said.
ROJ TV Fined in Denmark
Ankara has asked Denmark's supreme broadcasting board to ban a Kurdish television station affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, after a Danish court decided Tuesday not to ban ROJ TV.
A Copenhagen court sentenced ROJ TV to pay a 400,000-euro fine for making propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization, but did not order the closure of the pro-Kurdish broadcaster.
"Our expectation from the board is to adopt a [strong line] against terrorism and ban the broadcaster," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in a joint press conference with his Tunisian counterpart.
The minister said the court decision outlined links between the PKK and ROJ TV and left the decision for closure to the supreme broadcasting board. The court's decision was an initial step, he said, adding that Turkey demanded that this decision be applied.
A prosecutor had filed a lawsuit in August, requesting the closure of ROJ TV and its parent company, Mesopotamia Broadcast A/S METV, on the grounds that it was making propaganda for the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union, Turkey and the United States.
Copenhagen City Court ruled that the station violated a Danish anti-terror law, but the country's laws did not permit the shuttering of ROJ TV, The Associated Press reported. Despite this, the broadcaster was given a fine for making propaganda for the illegal group and for receiving financing from a terrorist organization.
ROJ TV does not own studios in Denmark, but broadcasts to 68 countries from Copenhagen via satellite thanks to a license it obtained in 2004.
Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek reacted to the Danish court's decision, saying: "This station supports terrorism. Those who advise us are blind to their own ugliness."
Addressing the issue via Twitter, EU Minister Egemen Bağış said he hoped the prosecutor would appeal the decision and that the higher court would "fix" the decision so that justice was served.
"I expect the prosecutor's office to appeal this verdict," Turkish Ambassador to Denmark Berki Dibek told reporters after the verdict. "Roj TV keeps broadcasting and is inciting terror."
Prosecutor Anders Riisager said he would have to study the 175-page verdict before deciding whether to appeal.
Some 300 pro-Kurdish demonstrators who had gathered at a square near the court started chanting in celebration after the verdict was announced. ROJ TV manager İmdat Yılmaz told the Associated Press he was satisfied with the ruling.
Ankara Urges Paris Not to Take Dangerous Step
Turkey called on France Tuesday to refrain from taking a dangerous step in a fresh warning ahead of a vote at the French Senate on the bill outlawing the denial of Armenian "genocide."
"I hope France will not take a dangerous step," said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to a group of reporters at Parliament. The French Senate is set to discuss the bill, which was earlier approved by French Parliament, on Jan. 23. The Senate will either drop the bill from the agenda or will pave the way for a vote before its recess in late February.
The Turkish government has launched fresh efforts to kill the bill at the Senate, as in 2006.
Turkish Ambassador Tahsin Burcuoğlu was recalled for consultations after the initial approval of the bill, which stipulates a one year jail sentence and a 45,000 euro fine for those who deny the 1915 events amounted to genocide.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the government will communicate with French investors based in Turkey to discuss ways to stop the process in France. In addition to eight sanctions, Turkey has imposed against France, Turkey is planning to issue more measures, including economic and trade measures.
The government and Foreign Ministry will increase their pressure on the French government to kill the bill at Senate. However, it is believed the bill will much more likely be approved by the Senate this time as both the ruling and oppositional parties cannot dare oppose the bill.
In the meantime, the Ankara Municipality's assembly has approved a proposal to rename Paris Street, where the French Embassy is located, to Algeria Street. It will also rename De Gaulle Street after an Algerian national hero and erect a monument dedicated to the Algerian "genocide" near the French Embassy.
Erdoğan Tuesday responded to a recent warning from the Algerian prime minister that Turkey should not use the French colonial era of Algeria as political capital. Erdoğan said he has no intention of launching a polemic with the Algerian government.
"The Algerian people know very well what Turkey means. And the Algerian opposition expressed this very well," Erdoğan said. "What is appropriate for a government is to listen to its people's sentiments."
Turkey Eyes Burgenstock Model for Talks on Cyprus
Turkey aims to hold a conference modeled after the Bürgenstock talks by March to discuss the Cyprus issue, a Turkish diplomatic source said after the Cypriot leaders gather Jan. 22 to 24 in New York under the auspices of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"The Jan. 22 to 24 meeting and the follow-up process should be perceived as a turning point [on the Cyprus issue]. It's a good opportunity if a constructive role is played and if aimed toward resolution," Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, who is responsible for relations with Turkish Cyprus, told a group of journalists Tuesday.
If the January meeting of Cyprus leaders paved the way for a higher level meeting, such as an international conference with the participation of guarantor states, then there could be relief in the talks, Atalay said.
Northern Cyprus President Derviş Eroğlu and Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias are expected to hold a trilateral meeting with Ban at Greentree, New York, at the end of the month.
"We cannot go on this way. Considering Cyprus is going to take the presidency of the European Union from July 1, then there is not much time left," Ban said Saturday.
"From now on our aim is to schedule a high-level meeting at the latest in March. The UN secretary-general also admits the need for a gathering as we did in Bürgenstock," a diplomatic source said. The model could be with participation of four parties or five, including Cyprus leaders and Turkey, Greece and Britain as guarantor countries.
Ankara prefers the EU's role in the conference to be limited as it was in the Bürgenstock talks in 2004, with a representation of an EU commissioner for consultations, the source said.
The Bürgenstock talks were held at the end of March 2004 in an attempt to get the Cypriot leaders to agree on the Annan Plan. The talks included Greece and Turkey, as well as the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders.
Turkish Cypriot Parliament Adopts Law on Delineation of Continental Shelf
Turkish Cypriot Parliament adopted on Monday a law approving the agreement on the delineation of continental shelf between Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC.
The law was adopted by a vote of 28 to eight in the Turkish Cypriot Parliament.
On September 21, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish Cypriot President Dervis Eroglu signed in New York an agreement on the delineation of the continental shelf between two countries in the East Mediterranean.
The deal gives Turkey the green light to search oil and natural gas inside the Turkish Cypriot waters, and follows a Greek Cypriot move to start offshore drilling for natural gas and oil in the southeast of the Eastern Mediterranean island.
Turkey's Prime Minister Warns of 'Civil War' in Syria
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned on Monday that civil war was looming in neighboring Syria as President Bashar al-Assad's regime was continuing to "mercilessly murder" its own people.
"The situation that has emerged there is right now heading towards a religious, sectarian and racial civil war. This must be stopped," Erdoğan said at a televised press conference. "Turkey must play a leading role here. A civil war which could emerge would put us in difficulty and pose a threat to us."
Turkey, which shares a 910-kilometre (570-mile) border with Syria, has stepped up criticism of Assad's bloody crackdown on opposition protests, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives since mid-March, according to United Nations estimates.
Erdoğan has already openly called on his one-time ally al-Assad to step down.
"Syria right now has an administration which mercilessly murders its own citizens. Nobody can expect us to applaud authoritarian regimes," Erdoğan said.
Turkey is home to around 7,500 Syrians who have fled across the border with its southern neighbor in the face of the crackdown and Ankara fears an influx of refugees on its border amid the continuing violence.
The government is also fearful that the bloodshed in Syria could stoke further unrest in Turkey and possibly lead the Kurdish communities on both sides of the border to rise up.
Ahead of Erdoğan's warning about the risk of a full-blown civil war, a foreign ministry spokesman in Ankara had called on the Syrian opposition to pursue its resistance through peaceful means.
The spokesman's comments followed a meeting on Sunday in Istanbul between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and members of the umbrella opposition group the Syrian National Council.
"The Syrian opposition demands democracy and we told them during a meeting yesterday (Sunday) that this should be done through peaceful means," the spokesman told the AFP.
Davutoğlu's meeting with a 10-member delegation headed by SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun is his third following contacts with the group in October and November last year, the spokesman said.
The SNC has an office in Istanbul and Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad, who heads a group of defectors called the Free Syrian Army, is based in a Turkish border camp.
But Turkish officials have said repeatedly that Ankara will not let its territory be used to launch attacks against the al-Assad regime after Syria-based news reports cited armed groups' infiltrations from the Turkish side.
Turkey last year joined the Arab League and Western powers in imposing a raft of economic sanctions on Damascus, including suspending all financial credit dealings with Syria, freezing Syrian government assets and banning all military sales.
Damascus retaliated by suspending a free trade pact reached with Ankara after long negotiations, and also raised import duties, increased fuel oil prices and delayed truck transportation.
Its action prompted Ankara to announce a new set of punitive measures, including the imposition of a 30 percent tax on goods from Syria.
Erdoğan said on Monday that Turkey had begun implementing sanctions against the Syrian leadership, adding that they would increase according to the situation on the ground.
Turkey has also been seeking alternative routes to bypass Syria for trade with the Middle East.
Turkey, Iran Share Same Goals in Regard to Iran, U.S. State Department Says
The spokesperson for the United States Department of State, Victoria Nuland, said Monday that Turkey and the U.S. shared the same strategic goals in regard to Iran.
Speaking at a daily press briefing in Washington, Nuland said that one of the issues U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns talked about in his meetings with Turkish officials on Monday in Ankara had to do with decreasing international dependence on Iranian oil.
In response to a journalist's remarks that Turkey was opposed to sanctions against Iran, Nuland said that she did not agree.
"We have been in close touch with the Turkish government at all levels for months on Iran," Nuland stressed. "Turkey and the U.S. share the same strategic goals in urging Iran to fulfill its international obligations and in clarifying its nuclear energy program."
"When you look at it from a strategic perspective, we believe that we share the same goals with Turkey," Nuland said. "Turkey is in a serious effort to search for what could be done so that the sanctions against Iran get implemented."
Turkish Prime Minister Urges Iraqi Leaders to Prevent Sectarian Conflict
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on political and religious leaders in Iraq on Tuesday to prevent sectarian tensions in the country.
"The last thing we want to see in Iraq is a fight between brothers," Erdoğan said in televised remarks in a weekly address to his lawmakers in parliament. "I call on all our brothers in Iraq, regardless of their persuasion and ethnic roots to listen to their conscience and hearts."
"I also invite the Iraqi government, religious leaders, community leaders and countries trying to influence Iraq to behave with consciousness and responsibility," he said. "Countries that are fanning sectarian divisions and conflicts will be responsible for each drop of blood that is shed," Erdogan added, without naming the countries.
He said a new conflict in Iraq would "disappoint" not only Iraq but the entire Islamic world.
Attacks across Iraq on Monday, many of which targeted Shiites, killed 17 people and wounded dozens, including 15 Afghans visiting the country for a religious commemoration.
The violence included multiple bombings in and around Baghdad against Shiite worshippers walking to the shrine city of Karbala, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of the capital, for Arbaeen rituals later this week.
A wave of attacks against Shiite Muslims killed at least 68 people on Thursday, the worst toll in nearly five months.