Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu harshly denounced the prime minister Sunday for backing a prosecution attempt to put him on trial as a war of words raged on between the two.

"The prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] says the probe cannot produce a hero. True. The probe could only produce shame for democracy and gloom for freedom of speech and expression," Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kılıçdaroğlu said at a party gathering in Ankara.

Erdoğan had derided Kılıçdaroğlu for exaggerating the judicial move against him in a bid to earn himself a hero's status, arguing that even he himself was the subject of investigations.

"Erdoğan is today a person who is applauding oppression. The victim of yesterday has become the oppressor of today. He spent four months in jail. I would have expected him to develop wisdom; instead he has nourished feelings of vengeance," Kılıçdaroğlu said.

He spoke at a CHP gathering that was organized to welcome more than 1,000 new party members, including people who had recently quit Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Kılıçdaroğlu said the judicial probes against Erdoğan pertained to allegations of fraud and forgery.

"How can you consider this as equivalent to freedom of thought?" he said, referring to the charges pressed against him for criticizing the judiciary.

Kılıçdaroğlu urged Erdoğan to reveal the content of his secret meeting with former Army Chief Yaşar Büyükanıt in May 2007, held shortly after the military had issued the so-called "e-memorandum" to the government to block Abdullah Gül's way to the president's post.

Asked about reports that his opponents within the party had collected enough signatures to call a congress to amend the party statute, Kılıçdaroğlu said he would not shy away from a congress if the signatures were formally submitted to the party.

The CHP leader said the party members collecting the signatures were "using their right given to them by the party statute."

"I do not consider them as dissidents within our party. The party members are free to exercise any legal right they have," Kılıçdaroğlu said.

U.S. Reluctant to Share Defense Technology, Defense Minister Says

The world's biggest economies and not regional neighbors are Turkey's new rivals, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz has said, citing the United States' hesitation to share technology with Ankara as an example of the new situation.

"Our rivals are no longer the neighboring towns or provinces. The new competitors for the Turkish people are today those in Germany, France and the United States," Yılmaz said during the opening ceremony of a school in the Central Anatolian province of Konya's Ilgın district. "During a recent visit to America, when asked about technology transfer to Turkey, [the officials] openly said that we were their rival. 'Why should we transfer technology to you?' they asked," the minister said.

Yılmaz's remarks come only days after news reports that Turkey was still bargaining for the software of F-35 fighter jets that it has decided to acquire from the U.S.

"When it comes to the plane's software, we aren't talking about purchasing all the codes, but just those that are the most essential for the plane's freedom of operation. These are the codes that we are interested in acquiring," Murad Bayar, undersecretary of the Defense Industry, said in an interview Friday, a reference to the decisions from the most recent Defense Industry Executive Committee.

Turkey plans to buy two F-35s from the U.S. in 2015.

Obama, Erdogan Discuss Iran, Syria

President Barack Obama spoke by telephone Friday with Turkey's Prime Minister Recip Erdoğan about the situation in Syria and Iran's nuclear program, the White House said.

"They agreed that the U.S. and Turkey should continue to support the legitimate demands for democracy for the Syrian people and condemned the brutal action of the al-Assad regime," it said in a statement. "The two leaders discussed Iran's nuclear program and how Iran should engage with the international community in this regard."

The conversation -- their first of the New Year -- comes amid escalating tensions with Iran over its nuclear programs and diplomatic efforts to step up the pressure on the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to stop the killing of anti-government protesters.

The White House said Obama and Erdoğan also discussed the democratic transition in the Middle East and North Africa.

Iraq Tells Turkey to Not Meddle in Affairs

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki criticized Turkey's "interventions" into Iraqi affairs, warning that Ankara itself could suffer if its actions sparked conflict in the Middle East.

"We ... did not expect the way [Turkey to] interfere in Iraq," al-Maliki said in a Friday interview with the Al-Hurra satellite television channel.

His remarks come amid a political row in Iraq, with authorities charging Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi with running a death squad. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his concerns over the deadlock to al-Maliki in a telephone conversation on Jan. 10.

Al-Hashemi, who is currently holed up in semi-autonomous northern Iraq, has mooted the possibility of going to Turkey, although officials have already barred him from overseas travel.

"Recently, we noticed their surprise interventions with statements, as if Iraq is controlled or run by them," he said. "Their latest statements interfered in domestic Iraqi affairs and we do not allow that absolutely. If it is acceptable to talk about our judicial authority, then we can talk about theirs, and if they talk about our disputes, we can talk about theirs."

Al-Maliki warned that "Turkey is playing a role that might bring disaster and civil war to the region, and Turkey itself will suffer because it has different sects and ethnicities."

Erdoğan voiced concern over Iraq's political stand-off to al-Maliki in a Jan. 10 telephone conversation.

Turkey's Opposition Mobilizes over Genocide Row with France

Turkey's main opposition party said Friday it had appealed to France's socialist leader over French plans for a law that reinforces the view of Turkey's Ottoman-era massacre of Armenians as genocide.

In a letter to Francois Hollande, the social democratic Republican People's Party, or CHP, denounced the French bill, which would outlaw denial that the 1915-17 massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces amounted to genocide.

Hollande is the Socialist Party's contender in the French presidential elections later this year.

"If the French parliament insists on voting through anti-Turk and unconstitutional 'laws,' it could cause serious damage, not just to France's image, but also that of the European Union," the letter said.

CHP Chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu wrote directly to Hollande amid a growing diplomatic row between the countries over the bill. Passing it into law "would provoke an unprecedented crisis" between the two countries, he wrote.

Copies of the letter were also sent to other leading socialists, including the president of the Senate, Jean-Pierre Bel.

French senators will debate the bill on January 23 and, if passed, it would go to President Nicolas Sarkozy for approval. France's lower house, the national assembly, approved the bill last month.

"The Turks cannot believe that the country of Voltaire and Diderot would want to trample over freedom of expression," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the AFP.

The planned law was drawn up by right-wing politicians and proposes penalties of up to a year in prison and a 45,000-euro fine for denial of any genocide recognized under French law.

France recognized the killings as genocide in 2001, to the outrage of Turkey.

Bel said most socialist senators would vote for the bill. A majority of right-wing deputies also back it and it has Sarkozy's support.

Ankara has already hit back by freezing political and military ties with Paris.

Turkey has also accused France of hypocrisy for the thousands of killings it carried out in its then overseas territory Algeria in 1945 and during its struggle for independence between 1954 and 1962.

Armenians and their supporters say up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in a coordinated campaign of genocide by what was then the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey disputes the figure, saying 500,000 died, and denies this was genocide, ascribing the toll to wartime fighting and starvation and accusing the Armenians of siding with Russian invaders.

Davutoglu Offers Turkish Perspective on Arab Spring in UN Address

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has addressed regional issues and offered his views on Turkey's take on the social movements of the Arab Spring at a United Nations conference in Lebanon, where he stayed over the weekend to exchange views with the UN chief, as well as domestic politicians and political and religious leaders in Lebanon.

Davutoğlu delivered a speech on his country's perspective regarding the sociological developments in the Middle Eastern and North African region, popularly dubbed the Arab Spring, at a UN conference titled "Reform and Transitions to Democracy," organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, or ESCWA, the Anatolia news agency reported on Sunday.

Davutoğlu also met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the conference to discuss regional issues, with Syria being the major issue of the meeting, UN sources informed the press. In the meeting between Davutoğlu and Ban, the crisis in Syria was mentioned as "a source of grave concern" for both parties, as Ban told Davutoğlu that the Syrian case was moving in a direction that was becoming increasingly dangerous, Anatolia reported. They also discussed the Cyprus issue as negotiation talks between Turkish and Greek communities of the Cypriot island are set to resume at a UN meeting next weekend in the hope to sew the final stitches of a reunification deal.

Speaking to reporters in Beirut, Davutoğlu offered his views on an amnesty issued in Syria, but dismissed the measure as "an old move with many precedents in history," the Cihan news agency reported on Sunday. "Emergency rule was abandoned in Syria last April, which also coincided with my visit to Syria, but a more repressive rule replaced it in the aftermath," Davutoğlu said, disillusioned by attempts at democratic reform in Syria. "If this [amnesty] is applied sincerely, we will evaluate it accordingly, but our experience says such great pledges usually go unfulfilled," he added, while at the same time hinting that the move might be a strategy "to gain more time."

During his stay in Lebanon, Davutoğlu also held a meeting with Lebanon-based Hezbollah's parliamentary group chairperson Mohammad Raad on Saturday, as developments in Syria dominated the leaders' gathering. Davutoğlu stressed again that a clash among sects should be avoided vehemently and that everybody should seek an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

The Turkish minister also met Christian Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Saturday on a first time high-level visit to a Maronite patriarch from Turkey, Anatolia reported. Davutoğlu was also scheduled to meet Lebanese civil society organizations and domestic party leaders and politicians on Sunday before leaving for Turkey.

Alevis Not Hopeful On Turkey's New Charter

Alevi leaders have expressed pessimism over Parliament trying to produce a truly democratic constitution, charging that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was not sincere in pledges to respect all religious and ethnic groups.

Speaking at the Second Grand Alevi Congress Sunday, Ercan Geçmez, chairman of the Hacı Bektaşi Veli Anatolia Culture Association, stressed that the government had failed to meet basic Alevi demands despite initial promises of reconciliation.

"We would have expected that the issue of cemevis be resolved before the new constitution is drafted. They have not done that; they do not want to do it. Those who are holding us in contempt are now shouting at rallies that they will bring democracy and a new constitution to this country," he said.

The cemevi, or house of gathering, is the main Alevi place of worship, but they are not officially recognized as such and, therefore, lack the state assistance that mosques receive.

Geçmez also urged Parliament to issue a formal apology for the killing of thousands of Alevis in Dersim in the 1930s. Other participants underlined the need for the Alevi faith to be included in school textbooks, while others expressed worries of lingering divisions among the Alevi community.

In a final declaration issued at the end of the Congress, the participants stressed that the constitution-making process should go hand-in-hand with government efforts to reconcile with Alevis, Kurds, Armenians and other ethnic groups, including the restoration of the original names of their settlements and permission for relocated people to repair properties they had left behind. The declaration also called for an end to judicial onslaughts on Kurdish politicians, journalists and civic activists.

"All legislation pertaining to the freedoms of thought, speech and organization must be urgently reviewed, and preclusive reforms should be undertaken in the democratic and liberal spirit that the constitution is said it will have," it said.

Members of Alevi associations from Europe and representatives of Syrian Alevis participated in the congress, along with Republican People's Party, or CHP, lawmakers Hüseyin Aygün, Kamer Genç, Ali Hatipoğlu and Refik Eraslan.

In comments on the unrest in Syria, Geçmez said the turmoil was part of the United States' Greater Middle East project and intended to drive a rift between Alevis and Sunnis.

"We won't allow such a conflict to happen in Turkey," he said.

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