French state aircraft and warships are no longer using Turkish airspace and territorial waters after permission requests in three different cases were rejected by the Turkish government, France's top diplomat in Ankara said amid the ongoing spat over a French law penalizing the denial of Armenian genocide.

"Our requests [for an aircraft and two warships] have been rejected, so we are no longer issuing such requests. We are using alternative routes," France's Ambassador to Turkey Laurent Bili told the private news channel CNN Türk in an interview.

Bili said the first rejection was a request for a French military aircraft that wanted to use Turkish airspace on its way to France from Afghanistan. Similarly, two French warships were not allowed to enter Turkish territorial waters recently. Turkey's move against the French military was part of sanctions imposed against France after the adoption of the law at French Parliament late December last year.

Though enough numbers of lawmakers and senators were collected to take the law to the Constitutional Council for possible annulment, Bili's words revealed the process was not an easy one.
"There was such an atmosphere [in Ankara] that necessitated my return to France," Bili said, adding that the Turkish reaction against the move was a surprise for many French people, but did not affect Turkey's image in the country.

"France attaches great importance to its relationship with Turkey. We need to be calm. The law is not aimed against Turkey […] The number of Armenians living in France is 10 times more than the number of Armenians in Turkey," he said. "They have become a part of French history. I understand how sensitive issues are concerning ancestors, but cutting off ties is not a good idea."

The French Constitutional Council must conclude its study on the law by Feb. 29 if the government does not demand the speeding up of the process and give its verdict in eight days. If it does not embrace the law, the council will either fully reject the law or will demand a partial amendment. In both cases, the legislative process will have to start from scratch.

Turkey Remains Popular for Middle Eastern Nations, Tesev Study Finds

Turkey is one of the most popular countries for residents of Middle Eastern nations, with 78 percent of people in the region saying they support the country's policies, a recent study by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV, has found.

On Thursday, TESEV released the results of its survey titled, "Perceptions about Turkey in the Middle East," conducted on 2,323 people in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The findings are not radically different from the findings of a similar poll the foundation conducted last year in that Turkey still remains well liked in the region, but there has been a slight decrease in Turkey's popularity in some countries, most notably in Syria and Iran.

In response to a question asking participants to choose between a list of countries in terms of having positive opinions about that country, Turkey was ranked first by 78 percent of them. Seventy-seven percent also said that despite its increasingly tense relations with Israel, Turkey contributes positively to regional peace.

Seventy-five percent of respondents said Turkey should contribute to finding a solution to the situation of Palestine, while 61 percent of them said they saw Turkey as a model for their country. Twenty-two percent said they did not believe Turkey could be a good model for Middle Eastern nations, while 13 percent were undecided.

Turkey was followed by the United Arab Emirates (70 percent), Palestine (66 percent), China (65 percent), Saudi Arabia and Lebanon (64 percent) and Egypt (62 percent) in terms of positive sentiment felt toward a country.

The researchers say most of the percentages are very similar to results obtained in the previous year's survey, indicating that the positive sentiment toward Turkey in the Middle East is gaining a more structural quality. They also say that "as long as those governing Turkey do not make a serious mistake, the positive sentiment among the people of the Middle East for Turkey will remain in place."

Former Army Chief Faces Life in Prison

Prosecutors Thursday demanded life imprisonment for former Chief of Staff İlker Başbuğ, who is currently under arrest for "attempting to overthrow or hamper the government of the Turkish Republic through the use of force and violence" and "leading an armed terrorist organization."

The indictment was sent to the 13th Court of Serious Crimes in Istanbul, which now has two weeks to either accept or reject the indictment.

Başbuğ is a suspect in the Internet Memorandum case, which refers to an alleged document by the General Staff about setting up 42 Internet sites to distribute propaganda against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The former chief of staff allegedly signed the document that ordered the establishment of the Web sites.

Meanwhile, a special authority prosecutor has launched an investigation into the military's so-called "e-memorandum" of 2007 and is expected to question then-chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt and his aides, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

The "e-memorandum," posted on the military's Web site around midnight on April 27, 2007, was the first episode in a chain of events that plunged Turkey into political turmoil and forced early elections.

In the statement, the army threatened to step in to protect Turkey's secular system, hours after Parliament held an inconclusive, first-round vote to elect a new president, with the Islamist-rooted Abdullah Gül standing as the sole candidate.

Several days later, the Constitutional Court ruled that Parliament needed a super-majority quorum of 367 lawmakers to vote for a president. Parliament failed to reach the quorum in subsequent sessions as opposition deputies shunned the vote, effectively blocking the election.

The AKP responded by calling early elections it easily won. The new Parliament elected President Abdullah Gül in August that year.

Turkish President Discusses Judicial Reform Package with Executives

Turkey's President Abdullah Gül debated judicial reform package with heads of legislative, executive and judicial organs on Thursday, his office said.

Gül had a meeting with heads of legislative, executive and judicial organs at the Cankaya Presidential Residence in Ankara, where he also discussed constitutional amendment studies with the executives.

According to Gül's office, participants highlighted the importance of improving the Turkish legal system in light of universal norms and values, and raising democratic and human rights standards in Turkey.

Among the participants were Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Constitutional Court Chairman Hasim Kilic, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, Supreme Court Chief Judge Nazim Kaynak, Council of State Chairman Huseyin Karakullukcu, and chief judges of several other courts.

Turkish-American Group Voices Concern Over Anti-Turkey Sentiments on Fox News

One of the largest Turkish-American organizations, the Turkish Coalition of America, or TCA, has sent letters to News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.-owned Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes to make known its concern regarding anti-Turkey sentiments voiced on Fox News during the Jan. 17 Republican presidential debate.

The letters were prompted by media reports that Murdoch's News Corp. is considering a bid to buy one of Turkey's biggest media groups, which owns the Sabah daily and popular TV station ATV. TCA President G. Lincoln McCurdy explained his concerns in the letters sent to both Murdoch and Ailes.

He stated that during the Fox News-hosted Republican Presidential primary debate in South Carolina on Jan. 17, "Fox News' anchor Bret Baier recited a litany of out-of-context statistics arranged to portray Turkey in the worst possible light and then suggested to Texas Governor Rick Perry that such statistics might indicate that Turkey, one of the United States' most robust NATO allies, no longer deserved to be a member of NATO."

"Led on by this outrageous question, Governor Perry responded in a manner that nearly caused an international incident, accusing Turkey's democratically elected government of acting like 'Islamic terrorists' and suggesting that Turkey should be expelled from NATO," he added.

McCurdy said, taken together, the moderator's question, and the candidate's response, shocked and alarmed Turkish-Americans and the people of Turkey.

"Though this was a single broadcast, as you well know, in this global and interconnected world, everyone is listening. The negative impact of this single broadcast, therefore, should not be underestimated," he continued.

The letters concluded that "taking into account the uproar the debate caused among Turkish-Americans and throughout Turkish society, as well as News Corp.'s interests in doing business in Turkey, TCA requested meetings with senior representatives of both organizations so that it could personally convey its concerns, talk about issues related to Turkey and establish a dialogue between the Turkish-American community and Fox News to prevent future incidents which do not benefit anyone."

Istanbul to Host Turkey-Gulf Cooperation Council Forum

The first business forum of Turkey-Gulf Cooperation Council will take place in Istanbul on February 6 and 7.

The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, or TOBB, Chairman Rifat Hisarciklioglu told AA on Thursday that 165 companies from Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman confirmed they would attend the forum. He added that those companies were willing to make business or partnership with Turkish companies.

Cooperation opportunities between Turkey and regional countries will be discussed in the forum, Hisarciklioglu said, adding that sessions would be held especially on construction, energy, transportation, agriculture, food and financial cooperation.

Hisarciklioglu said Turkey, besides its existing export markets in the Western world, should open to new markets due to the economic crisis in Europe and other political developments in the region. He noted that trade volume between Turkey and Gulf Cooperation Council members, which was $2 billion in 2000, increased to $10 billion in 2011.

Turkish Firm Feels the Heat in Iran

United States and European sanctions on Iranian firms do not include Gübretaş, the Turkish fertilizer company which has large investments in the Islamic republic, according to Osman Balta, the firm's newly appointed general manager.

However, Gübretaş will act cautiously to avoid such an embargo, Balta said during his first press meeting as the company's top executive Feb. 1.

"We are taking measures in terms of both exports routes and operations to avoid being affected [by sanctions]," he said in response to a related question by journalists.

The company used to manage exports from Iran directly from its facility in Razi, the capital of the Arshaq district, in the county's north. Gübretaş launched an Istanbul-based company in Razi to continue operations from Turkey's largest city instead. The fertilizer produced in Iran is still sent to final destinations from Iran, but the Istanbul company undertakes the operation, Balta said.

Former general manager of Gübretaş, Mehmet Koca, unexpectedly resigned from his position at the end of last month, leaving his seat to Balta, hi deputy general manager. Koca had served as the general manager of the 70 percent state-controlled firm since 2005.

Gübretaş purchased Razi Petrochemical for $650 million in 2008. The company was planning to invest nearly $150 million in the company's Iran facilities, according to official statements last year.

The fertilizer firm today aims at putting $100 million into its facility in the province of Kocaeli, neighboring Istanbul.

"We will renovate our facility there. This is the largest domestic investment by Gübretaş," Balta said, adding that the company will focus on developing capacity in the Turkish facility.
Meanwhile, Iran has agreed to be paid 45 percent of revenue from its Indian oil exports in rupees, to be deposited with an Indian bank beyond the reach of new U.S. and European sanctions, a report said Thursday.

The two countries have chosen UCO Bank, headquartered in the eastern city of Kolkata, for the rupee transactions to settle part of India's $12.68-billion annual oil bill, the Indian Express reported.

India currently pays for 20 percent of its oil imports from Iran in rupees, with the remainder settled in euros at Turkish state lender Halkbank. There are concerns that the Turkish route will be closed by tough new European sanctions on oil exports from Iran.

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