All Republican People's Party, or CHP, lawmakers submitted applications Wednesday to have their judicial immunity lifted in an unprecedented action of protest after a prosecutor moved to put CHP chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on trial for criticizing the judiciary.
The deputies gathered in Parliament and marched to the speaker's office, clapping their hands and chanting, "We want impartial judiciary."
"I do not give a damn about the charges. I will speak out to the end. I do not have any fears. I would bow down only to the people," Kılıçdaroğlu said in remarks at a farmers' congress.
Keeping up his defiant attitude, the CHP leader dismissed the prosecutor's charges that he had attempted to influence fair trials and insulted the judiciary, vowing to continue to speak out about what he described as a government-backed judicial campaign to bully opponents.
In Parliament, CHP Deputy Group Chairman Akif Hamzaçebi said the judiciary had come under government control, thanks to the constitutional changes approved in the 2010 referendum.
"The Justice and Development Party [AKP] has formed a coalition with special authority prosecutors. This coalition will be one day torn down," Hamzaçebi said. "Rights and freedoms are not guaranteed in Turkey today. The principle of the separation of powers has been abolished and therefore there is no constitution. The final phase of this process is squelching the CHP."
In southern Adana province, CHP Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu said the special authority courts had become "a tool to design politics" and vowed the CHP would "wage the struggle for democracy in the streets throughout Turkey."
Lawmakers' judicial immunities are lifted through a vote in Parliament, a procedure that is rarely implemented. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said he was against prosecuting politicians for what they said, but added "politicians must refrain from rhetoric that insults the judiciary or presents them as being under the command of others."
Bozdağ's comments were softer than the position of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has lent support to the prosecutors and said the judicial move against Kılıçdaroğlu was long overdue.
Speaking to reporters while passing by CHP deputies in Parliament, AKP Deputy Group Chairman Mustafa Elitaş said the main opposition was creating a "storm in a teacup" and similar judicial proceedings had also been launched against Erdoğan.
The CHP received support from the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, whose Deputy Group Chairman Oktay Vural said Erdoğan's vocal approval of the prosecutors was in itself an indication of political meddling with the judiciary.
Government Readies Bill to Shorten Detentions
The government is planning to submit a draft law to Parliament next week to address the frequently criticized length of detention periods with measures ensuring that all court cases are completed within one year.
"We will submit a comprehensive draft law to Parliament within a week. We will legislate on very important measures to shorten judicial prosecution periods," Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin told reporters after the Justice Commission met at Parliament Wednesday. "This will be a revolution for Turkey."
Ergin met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül Wednesday to inform both leaders on developments in the judiciary and on a recent legal move ending the confusion over Gül's term in office.
Lengthy prosecution periods stand as one of the most important problems for the government in the field of democracy and human rights, and victims have brought hundreds of cases on the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. The problem has drawn greater attention in recent years as many prominent figures, including journalists, academics and elected lawmakers, have been affected by long prosecution periods.
"I am hoping that in one year, the entire judicial process for civil proceedings will be shortened to one year, including the appeal process, and that in one-and-half to two years, criminal prosecutions will be completed in one year, including appeal periods," Ergin said.
The backlog of cases at the Supreme Court of Appeals will be cleared within a year, Ergin said, without elaborating on how so many cases would be heard.
The Justice Ministry has launched workshops with the participation of judges and prosecutors, as well as national and international academics, to examine ways to shorten prosecution periods and bring them into line with international standards.
The bill is expected to be submitted to Parliament early next week, but its legislation will take time, according to sources. The opposition parties, as well as international human rights associations, have long pressed the government to immediately deal with the issue.
In line with this proposal, the government has also announced its intention to amend the criteria for arrest through a separate law. The issue was sparked after the arrest of former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ on charges of leading a terror organization that aimed to topple the government.
In the meantime, a regulation allowing convicts to meet their first-degree relatives who are proven to be seriously ill has been approved by the Justice Commission, a move that was designed to help Mehmet Haberal, an arrested deputy from the main opposition, visit his mother, who is in intensive care.
Upon criticism that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party's, or PKK, imprisoned leader might also seek to benefit from this right, the commission decided to exclude inmates convicted of terror-related crimes.
Turkey to Help Rebuild Mosques in Gaza Strip
Turkey will help Palestinians in the Gaza Strip repair mosques damaged in Israeli strikes and rebuild those torn down, the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate Mehmet Görmez said Wednesday.
"As the Directorate of Religious Affairs, we will help them in every way possible to repair and rebuild the destroyed mosques," Görmez said after a meeting with his counterpart from Gaza, Salih Alreqed.
The Gazan official already surveyed the structures damaged in the attacks prior to his visit to Turkey, Görmez said. Alreqed thanked Turkey for its support of Gaza against Israel's blockade.
In further remarks, Görmez defended his agency's plan to organize Umrah visits to Mecca for students, which has come under fire as a breach of secular education.
"There is nothing more natural for the Religious Affairs Directorate in assisting Muslim students in a Muslim country who wish to visit the place where our Prophet was born," he said. "I advise those who criticize us to research how many students go to the Vatican from Spain, Italy and Germany during semester breaks."
Turkey's Public Security Undersecretary in Talks with U.S. Officials on Terror
Turkish Undersecretary of Public Security and Order Murat Özçelik has had a series of talks with high-level United States officials since last weekend to discuss U.S.-Turkey cooperation on counterterrorism efforts and measures aimed at preventing foreign financing for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
Özçelik, who is scheduled to stay in the U.S. until the end of the week, will have met with four undersecretaries and a special envoy by the end of his visit. Sources say that during his trip Özçelik will meet with Obama's top terrorism and intelligence adviser, John O. Brennan; Daniel Benjamin, the coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State; Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen; Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Rand Beers; and U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.
Turkey established the Undersecretariat of Public Security and Order with the aim of coordinating the work of state institutions responsible for security. The bill on the undersecretariat was passed in Parliament in 2010 and was approved by President Abdullah Gül, starting a new era in counterterrorism efforts.
The General Staff was previously the sole authority combating terrorism, but with the establishment of the undersecretariat, counterterrorism efforts are now coordinated by a civilian authority.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Set to Visit Turkey
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani will begin an official visit to Turkey late Wednesday, Turkish diplomatic sources told the AFP.
Larijani will meet Thursday with Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and possibly with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, they said.
The talks with Larijani, a former nuclear negotiator, are expected to focus on Iran's disputed nuclear progam as the international standoff escalates between Tehran and world powers.
The United States has ratcheted up sanctions on Iran over its atomic program, which the West believes masks a drive to develop atomic weapons.
Iran insists the program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The European Union is expected to announce further sanctions of its own, including an oil embargo, at the end of this month. Turkey has repeatedly said it is only bound by sanctions decided by the United Nations Security Council.
Turkey's Davutoglu was in Tehran last week, when his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi said he would like to see a resumption of the nuclear talks with world powers last held in Istanbul a year ago.
Danish Court Rules Kurdish TV Station Supported 'Terrorism'
A Danish court Tuesday found Copenhagen-based Kurdish broadcaster Roj TV guilty of backing a terrorist group over its links to Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, separatists in Turkey.
"The court finds it has been proven that T (used in the court documents to refer to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK) was a terrorist organization," the ruling said.
The Copenhagen court also said the station "supported the organization's activities" from February 2008 to September 2010.
The ruling was based on a series of programs aired by Roj TV that "relayed in a biased and uncritical manner the (PKK's) messages, including incitement to uprisings and to join the organization," according to the court documents. Danish authorities first filed charges againstRoj TV in 2010, after a five-year probe into its broadcasts, alleging it supported the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group in Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The trial opened last August. The two companies behind the broadcaster, which airs in 68 countries, were each sentenced to fines totaling 5.2 million kroner ($895,000).
Defense attorney Bjoern Elmquist described it as a "bad" ruling, but said it would be up to the broadcaster if it wanted to appeal. He did however hail the court for not following the prosecution's call to withdraw Roj TV's license.
"It would have been shameful if they had encroached on freedom of expression and press freedom just because the Turks and the Americans want them to," Elmquist told public broadcaster DR.
The PKK took up arms in the Kurdish-majority southeast of Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed roughly 45,000 lives.
Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Berki Dibek, on the other hand, said the ruling did not go far enough.
"The PKK will probably pay the fines," he told reporters as he left the courthouse, calling for the prosecution to appeal and try again to have Roj TV's license revoked.
Turkey's foreign ministry hailed the court for exposing what it said were links between the media and the PKK, adding: "It is undeniable that this ruling will create a precedent in the global fight against terrorism." However, the ministry lamented an "incomplete ruling," saying the station's broadcasting license should be withdrawn.
Turkey's Account Deficit up to $70 Billion
Turkey's current account deficit was up to $70.2 billion in the first eleven months of 2011.
The Central Bank of Turkey made public balance of payments statistics between January and Nov. 2, 2011, and said the current account deficit was up 77.7 percent year-on-year, reaching $70.2 billion.
The current account deficit rose $30.7 billion in the mentioned period when compared with the same period of 2010. In the first eleven months of 2010, current account deficit was only $39.5 billion. Moreover, current account deficit was $5.1 billion in November 2011. Rise in foreign trade deficit caused the rise in current account deficit.
Attack on Arab Observers in Syria Raises Concerns
Attacks on Arab observers in Syria are raising doubts about the sustainability of the Arab League mission there, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
"The Arab League observers could not perform their duties as desired. They met many obstacles," Davutoglu said at a press conference with his Tunisian counterpart, Rafik Abdessalem, in Ankara on Tuesday. "The attack in Latakia raised doubts about the sustainability of the mission."
Davutoglu was referring to an incident in which two Kuwaiti members of the Arab League team were injured in an attack on Monday by what the Gulf state said were unidentified protesters.
"We will go on supporting this mission of the Arab League," the Turkish minister said, but added: "It is unacceptable that the bloodshed continues while the mission is still there."
The Arab League monitors have been in Syria since December 26 to oversee a deal to protect civilians in the country, where the regime has waged a bloody crackdown on opposition protesters since mid-March.
The death toll in Syria, which the United Nations says exceeds 5,000, has kept on climbing despite the presence of the observers.
Majority of German Turks Believe State Supported Neo-Nazis
German state organs have provided varying degrees of support to a recently uncovered neo-Nazi ring in that country, according to an overwhelming majority of Turkish immigrants living in Germany, a recent survey has found.
The survey, titled "Racist Neo-Nazi Murders in Germany: Opinions and Feelings of Turks," was conducted between Dec. 5 and Dec. 15 among 1,058 respondents the researchers say are representative of the general Turkish population in Germany. It was conducted by researchers from Hacettepe University's Migration and Politics Research Center, or HÜGO.