The government announced a series of planned reforms Wednesday to speed up the justice system under growing pressure over lengthy pre-trial detentions, but the opposition and jurists have cast doubt on whether the package can change things on the ground.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said government had taken into account the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, against detention practices in Turkey, but he did not say when the package would be submitted to Parliament.
"Once enacted, the amendments would reduce the number of people who await trial in jail," he said, adding that judges would be required to provide concrete justification for arrest orders and would be able to use alternative measures, such as judicial control, for a wider range of offenses.
Turkey's long pre-trial detentions have been the subject of much criticism recently, as nearly half of those behind bars are not yet convicted of any crime. The prospective reforms would also aim to widen media freedoms, Ergin said.
A provision that allows for the suspension of publications on grounds of "terror propaganda" will be abolished and confiscation orders for publications will be removed after a transition period, he said. An amendment to reduce the jail term for those who "assist terrorist organizations" is also included in the package.
The reforms would suspend all probes into offences committed via the media that are punishable with jail terms of up to five years, Ergin said. If the same offense is not re-committed within three years, the cases would be scrapped for good.
The package aims to relieve the courts of the huge burden related to relatively minor crimes such as driving offenses, check fraud and clandestine electricity use. Such breaches would be penalized with fines and the courts would be relieved of about two million cases, the minister said.
President Abdullah Gül welcomed the reform plan.
"I hope the new bill will bring a solution to lengthy detentions. As far as I can see, the amendments serve this aim," Gül told reporters.
The head of the Ankara Bar Association, Metin Feyzioğlu, played down the measures as "eyewash," arguing that they would not shorten detention periods on the ground. The journalists who have been put on trial are not charged over their professional activities, but for being terrorists, Feyzioğlu said.
"What will change if they amend the press law while the journalists are behind bars for terror-related acts?" he said.
Republican People's Party, CHP, Deputy Group Chair Emine Ülker Tarhan said the reforms wouldn't relieve the judiciary in the short-term.
"An accelerated judicial system is not a method to achieve justice. I hope accelerated justice will not lead to disasters, like a high-speed train," she said.
Hasip Kaplan of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, also slammed the package, arguing that it included no amendments to secure fair trials. The problems will persist as long as the special-authority courts continue to function under government control, he said.
EU Calls for Fresh Probe into Killing of Turkish-Armenian Journalist
A European Union official has urged Turkish officials to launch a fresh investigation into the killing of a Turkish-Armenian journalist five years ago as an Istanbul court on Tuesday sentenced a man to life in prison for instigating the murder, but stopping short of convicting him on the charges of acting as part of a clandestine criminal network.
Peter Stano, spokesperson for EU's top enlargement official, told the Anadolu Agency that a new probe was needed to bring justice before everyone who might have had a hand in the murder and "interventions by senior [Turkish] officials" in the killing of Hrant Dink, editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos.
Stano also recalled that the European Court of Human Rights ruled in September 2010 that Turkey had failed to protect Dink's right to life.
Dink was shot dead on January 19, 2007, in Istanbul, outside the offices of his weekly Agos.
Gunman Ogun Samast was sentenced last July to nearly 23 years in prison by a separate juvenile court.
The Istanbul court in Tuesday's ruling sentenced Yasin Hayal to lifetime imprisonment but said he was had not acted under orders from a wider criminal network which had been suspected of involving high level state officials, police and military officers.
The court acquitted Erhan Tuncel, another suspected instigator, of charges of being involved in the criminal network. Tuncel was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in prison in a case over the bombing of McDonald's restaurant in 2004, in the Black Sea port city of Trabzon, and the court ordered his release from prison since he had completed his term while awaiting a verdict.
Rocket Hits Turkish Mission in Baghdad
Three rockets were launched on the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad Wednesday, with one hitting the walls of the embassy, according to the Turkish Ambassador in Baghdad, Yunus Demirer.
Relations between Iraq and Turkey have already been strained due to the actions of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is running a death squad, and this last incident may increase tension. But Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was cautious when discussing the incident from Brussels, the Anatolia news agency reported.
A car exploded near the area from where the rockets were launched, and the rocket attack may have been caused by this explosion, Davutoğlu said. Demirer reportedly talked with the Iraqi minister of national security following the rocket attack.
An investigation is to be launched into whether the target of the attack was the Turkish Embassy.
"Our embassy in Baghdad is under the protection of the Iraqi government. We have conveyed the necessary messages to the Iraqi authorities and will closely monitor the developments regarding the rocket attack on our embassy," Davutoğlu said.
Demirer reported that there were no casualties.
Iraqi officials have confirmed the Turkish Embassy officials were under their protection and talks were underway with the Iraqi National Security Ministry regarding further security for the embassy compound.
Vice Chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Ömer Çelik said on his Twitter account that the Iraqi government should be sensitive about the Turkish Embassy's security instead of making statements against Turkey, referring to recent assertions made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Al-Maliki recently criticized Turkey's "interventions" in Iraqi affairs, warning Ankara that Turkey could suffer if its actions sparked conflict in the Middle East.
"It is our right to demand the full protection of the Turkish Embassy at a time when the Iraqi prime minister is making statements against Turkey," he posted on Twitter.
"We are extremely worried about the attacks in Baghdad. We hope the region and Baghdad stabilize as soon as possible," Barham Salih, the Kurdish Regional Government prime minister, said during a press meeting in Arbil. "We are concerned with the escalating violence and we are sorry about the latest attack on the Turkish Embassy. We have to cooperate against the terror. We should not let the extremists and terrorists destabilize Iraq and Turkish-Iraqi relations."
France's 'Genocide' Bill Stumbles Ahead of Vote
A Senate panel says it would be unconstitutional for France to approve a bill to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide, but the move was unlikely to stop the diplomatically fraught bill passing at a final vote on Jan. 23.
The French Lower House approved the law on Dec. 22, threatening anyone who denies the 1915 massacre of Armenians amounted to genocide with jail, drawing a threat of sanctions from Turkey. In response, Ankara froze political and military ties with France and has threatened further measures if it continues through the Senate, or is approved by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Senate's Laws Commission approved a motion Wednesday rejecting the bill as inadmissible by 23 votes for, nine against and eight abstentions.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the French bill criminalizing the denial of Armenian claims of genocide was unlawful "even by French laws," which he said was clearly shown by a French parliamentary committee decision.
"This shows that the attempt is unlawful even by the standards of the French laws. We hope that the French Senate will act wisely and drop it off the agenda even before debating it," Davutoğlu said.
A plenary Jan. 23 Senate session will now vote on the committee's motion, but most senators opposed to the bill are expected to abstain, allowing the Senate to take a final vote on the bill itself.
France recognized the killings as genocide in 2001, but the new bill would go further by punishing anyone who denies this with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros. Meanwhile, Turkish-French associations in France will hold rallies in Paris against the Armenian resolution between Jan. 21 and 23.
The rally on Jan. 21 is set to begin at the Denfert Rochereau Square and end at the French Senate. The rally on Jan. 23 will take place in front of the French Senate.
Eurozone Rout May Hurt Turkey, World Bank Says
The World Bank warned developing countries, including Turkey, to prepare for the "real" risk that an escalation in the euro area debt crisis could tip the world into more turmoil.
In a report released Wednesday, the Washington-based World Bank sharply cut its world economic growth forecasts, Reuters reported, adding that Europe was probably already in recession.
Global economic growth is now forecast to be at 2.5 percent this year and 3.1 percent in 2013, well below the 3.6 percent growth for each year projected in June.
The report included particularly worrying information for Turkey, whose large current account deficit and relatively high external debt poses a threat as the Turkish Lira remains under pressure.
The World Bank cut its gross domestic product, or GDP, growth forecast for Turkey to 2.9 percent this year, from a June 2011 estimate of 5.1 percent. The forecast for 2013 GDP growth was revised down to 4.2 percent, from 5.3 percent.
"Risks are particularly acute for countries like Turkey that combine large current account deficits, high short-term debt ratios and low reserves," the World Bank said. "Indeed, Turkey's current account gap in 2011 is estimated to be six times larger than its net foreign direct investment [FDI] flows in 2011, and its short-term debt represents 80 percent of its reserves."
The report noted that these foreign exchange reserves have been falling in recent months.
According to the report, Turkey's external financing need stands at 19 percent of GDP, assuming that the current account gap remains at 9.8 percent of GDP. Countries with such large funding requirements may be vulnerable to a tightening of credit conditions, the World Bank said.
External financing needs for developing countries are defined as the current account deficit, plus scheduled payments on short-term and longer-term debt to private creditors.
If an economic downturn similar to the one in 2008 reoccurs, Turkey could also be impacted as the volume of their exports falls sharply, due to its heavy reliance on manufacturing, the report said. The report also described inflation as "of concern" in several countries, including Turkey.
Iran's Salehi Visits Turkey for Nuclear Talks
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Turkey on Wednesday for talks with Turkish leaders expected to focus on Tehran's controversial nuclear program, an embassy spokesman said.
Salehi is due to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül in Ankara, the spokesman said, adding that political and economic issues would figure high on the agenda, without elaborating.
The visit comes as the United States has been spearheading a campaign to squeeze Iran's oil exports to put greater pressure on its nuclear program, which the West believes masks a drive to develop atomic weapons.
Iran insists the nuclear drive 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.
Iran provided about 40 percent of Turkey's oil needs in 2011 and its biggest refiner, Tupras, recently made a deal to purchase nine million tons of crude oil from Tehran.
Salehi will attend a joint economic committee meeting in Ankara on Wednesday and the next day he will meet with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu over lunch, the spokesman said.
Nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers have been stalled since they collapsed a year ago in Istanbul.
Last week, Iran's influential speaker of parliament Ali Larijani said during a visit to Turkey that his country was ready for "serious" talks with world powers on its nuclear program.
Perry Makes No U-Turn on 'Terrorist' Comments
U.S. presidential candidate Rick Perry refused Tuesday to disavow his earlier remarks that Turkey was run by "terrorists" and instead stepped up his criticism of Ankara, shaking off a rare intervention by the State Department.
Asked on CNN if he had misspoken in Tuesday's Republican campaign debate, the Texas governor said, "Not at all," before accusing Turkish leaders of condoning honor killings and saying Turkey was "not a country that America wants to be associating with."
A Turkish government report last year showed a drastic increase in the number of honor killings, the slaying of a relative who is perceived to have brought shame on one's family. The Turkish government changed the law in 2005 to increase sentences for those convicted of the crime, but activists have said more effort is needed to stop such killings.
In an unusual intervention after Perry's remarks, the U.S. State Department rejected Perry's description of Turkey as a country run by "terrorists," and hailed the NATO member as a close ally.
"We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. "Turkey is one of the oldest members of NATO, and it's been a stalwart member of NATO and a strong ally to the United States. We stand by our relationship."
Namık Tan, Turkey's ambassador to Washington, said Perry's description of Turkey simply does not exist in reality.
"I am disappointed and concerned that Turkey and its time-tested ties of alliance, partnership and friendship with the United States became the object of misplaced and ill-advised criticism," Tan said in a statement.
Tan said Turkey receives no U.S. aid and has created thousands of jobs in Texas.
In response to a question by a Fox News moderator who alleged that Ankara had militarily threatened Israel and Cyprus, Perry said during the presidential debate in South Carolina that Turkey should be kicked out of NATO.
"Obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes, [they should be kicked out]," Perry said.
Perry's campaign team said the candidate was responding to the Fox News questioner asking about issues such as violence against civilian women. A spokesman said there was a need to "send a message" to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government.
"Turkey can be a valuable ally, but the actions of the current government undermine that country's role in an organization like NATO," Ray Sullivan, Perry's communications director, said in an emailed statement. "We need to send the message to Turkey that internal violence, association with terrorist groups and radical Islamist influence are inconsistent with being a NATO ally and positive player in world affairs."
Turkey said it had joined NATO when Perry was just two-years-old and cited its long history of fighting terrorism, including co-chairing the Global Counterterrorism Forum with the U.S.
Turkish Defense Contractor Signs Euro Deal in Submarine Project
Turkish defense contractor Aselsan has signed a 95.5 million euro agreement with HDW/MFI Business Partnership in a submarine construction project, Aselsan said in regulatory filing on Wednesday.
The agreement involves the construction of submarines for the Turkish Naval Forces with air independent propulsions, or AIP, at Turkey's Golcuk Naval Shipyard.
Aselsan said its deliveries are scheduled for 2015-2023.