Government plans to shield intelligence officials from judicial probes appear to be opening a fresh rift within the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, as some lawmakers worry that coup suspects will also benefit from the proposed amendments.

With Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan resting in Istanbul after a second operation, Parliament's Justice Commission was scheduled to convene Monday to discuss a proposal that would require special authority prosecutors to obtain the prime minister's permission to investigate members of the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, and others that he assigns to special tasks.

The debate, however, was preceded by Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin's remarks that broader changes were necessary to the Criminal Procedures Code that would require the acquisition of the prime minister's permission before any number of top officials, including military commanders, could be subjected to judicial probes.

Some AKP deputies promptly objected to the plans, raising the prospect of an intra-party rift reminiscent of recent disagreements on the match-fixing law and on whether much-criticized lengthy pre-trial detentions should be shortened by law.

AKP Deputy Recep Özel, who drafted the amendment to the MİT Act which were to be discussed Monday, cast doubt on the possible ramifications of Ergin's suggestions.

"No one knows where such changes may lead. It's unclear whom they would cover. There is no need for amendments other than the one in the MİT Act," Özel told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that a temporary provision could be appended to his own draft to cover incumbent officials.

Another AKP Deputy, Mevlüt Akgün, who is also member of the Justice Commission, raised misgivings that curbing the powers of special authority prosecutors would deal a blow to the massive investigations into the purported "Balyoz" (Sledgehammer) coup plot against the AKP and Ergenekon, the alleged network that plotted political chaos to pave the way for a coup.

"I don't think that such an arrangement would be right. Our prosecutors must have super powers, just as in Italy, when they move against shadowy groups like Ergenekon, coup attempts and extrajudicial killings," Akgün told Hürriyet.

"The prosecutors in the Ergenekon probe and similar cases are carrying out a very important task. These balances should be kept well," said Akgün, who had also opposed an amendment to the match-fixing law reducing penalties for those found guilty of rigging.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, meanwhile, signaled he was not aware of the planned changes that Ergin mentioned, saying the minister's remarks were carried only in a newspaper report and did not constitute an official statement.

"We'll see at the commission debate whether that's true. The justice minister will be at the forefront of the debate and have a determining role," Arınç said while defending the proposed amendment to the MİT Act and dismissing opposition objections that it was tailor-made for select individuals.

Deputy Prosecutor Says Evidence Obtained in MIT Probe

Istanbul's deputy chief prosecutor said Sunday the probe into the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, targeted only individuals and not political authorities, as the government pondered ways of overcoming one of its worst difficulties.

Suggestions the investigation was implicating the government as a whole over its policies on the Kurdish problem were baseless, Fikret Seçen said in a written statement.

"Any investigation into the options and policies that the government has determined with the aim of ending terror is out of the question," he said. "The probe was launched after evidence was obtained arising suspicion that some state officials went beyond the tasks they had been given by the government and thus helped the organization to carry out its acts," he said, and the investigation targeted "only the acts of those officials."

An Istanbul prosecutor dropped a bombshell last week when he summoned MİT Chief Hakan Fidan, a close confidant of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his predecessor Emre Taner, former deputy Afet Güneş and two MİT employees for questioning in a probe into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

All five had been involved in talks with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and his militants. None of them showed up at the prosecutor's office, prompting an order for Fidan to testify in Ankara and arrest warrants for the other four. In response, the prosecutor and senior police officers were removed from the investigation.

Former Kurdish lawmaker Zübeyir Aydar, who was on the PKK team in talks with MİT, pointed at a power struggle between the ruling party and the Islamic community of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen.

"It seems the community is being purged from the police. In response, the police are stealing documents from the MİT archive and leaking them," he said on Sterk TV.

Erdoğan, discharged from the hospital after a second surgery, met Sunday with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin at his home in Istanbul where he was recovering. Ergin visited Erdoğan after announcing plans for broader amendments that would shield both civilian and military officials against investigations by specially authorized prosecutors.

The government is considering legal amendments that would require prosecutors to get the prime minister's permission to investigate senior civilian and military figures, not only MİT employees, Ergin told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The amendments to Articles 250 and 251 of the Criminal Procedures Law are expected to be added to a package of judicial reforms, expected to be taken up at Parliament's Justice Commission tomorrow, Ergin told Hürriyet.

"Investigations into very high-level officials – both civilian and military – who serve at critical state posts should depend on the written permission of the prime minister," Ergin said. Those posts should be explicitly mentioned in the bill because "a general description may lead to confusion on the ground," he added.

The minister explained that a first amendment, which proposed changes only to the MİT Act, was submitted to Parliament last week "out of urgency," but ensuing discussions established "changing the Criminal Procedures Law is the solution."

When making his decision, the prime minister would "use his discretion on whether the probe would serve state and public benefit rather than making a legal assessment," Ergin said, adding the decisions would be open to appeal.

Police Detain Over 100 in Sweeping KCK Raids

Security forces rounded up 109 people Monday morning in raids conducted across Turkey, including the headquarters of several labor unions in Ankara, as part of the ongoing probe into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK.

Law enforcement officials searched the headquarters of the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, or KESK, the All Municipal and Local Administration Workers Union, or Tüm Bel Sen, and the Health Employees Union, or SES, as well as the homes of some union members, taking 15 people into custody in Ankara.

The raid of KESK's headquarters has to do with a meeting held by certain female members of the union in 2009, said İsmail Hakkı Tombul, the union's general secretary, while speaking Monday to the private channel CNN Türk.

The raids came only days before the 13th anniversary of the capture of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, by Turkish security forces on Feb. 15.

"KESK is able to go out on the street and show true opposition," Tombul said when answering a question about why the union had been targeted.

"All of those arrested within the scope of the so-called KCK operations are members and employees of our party. They are [people] pursuing democratic politics. They are unionists, intellectuals and human rights defenders. Forces of power cannot conceal this truth with their claims," said the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, in a statement.

Anti-terror and special operations police have also detained 42 people in Istanbul's Beyoğlu district after about two hours of searching in different locations. The suspects were subsequently taken through a health check and questioned by the police, according to the Doğan news agency.

Authorities have arrested dozens more in the southeastern provinces of Şırnak, İzmir, Diyarbakır, Muş, Hakkari, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep, in the southern province of Adana and the southwestern provinces of Denizli and Mersin, as well as in the northwestern province of Kocaeli.

Specially Authorized Chief Prosecutor Bilal Bayraktar issued the orders for the raids, according to reports. Another 24 suspects who were detained in Batman were allegedly involved in such acts as bomb attacks and using molotov cocktails against security officials, private shops and vehicles, and the provision of manpower and logistical support to PKK militants in the countryside, according to a written statement issued by the Batman Governor's Office.

The KCK is the alleged urban wing of the outlawed PKK, which is recognized as a terrorist group by the US, the EU and Turkey.

Turkish Troops Kill 10 PKK Militants in Southeast

Turkish security forces killed 10 suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in clashes Monday.

Two soldiers were wounded during the fighting, reports said.

Intelligence units have learned a group of PKK members were gathering near the Uludere district of Şırnak province, close to the Iraqi border.

The Şırnak 23rd Gendarmerie Border Division launched an air-backed operation on the PKK members. Specially trained soldiers dropped from helicopters and engaged the militants. Ten PKK militants were killed and their weapons were captured. The operations in the area continued, reports said.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Praises Minorities

Turkey is indebted to its non-Muslim minorities for their cultural contributions and is determined to protect their heritage, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said Monday at the opening of a European Union-funded program for museums.

"Be they Syriacs, Caldeans, Christians or Jews, we are indebted for the great monuments they have given this country. It is our duty to ensure that their civilizations live on," Arınç said, speaking at the opening of the EU-Turkey Intercultural Dialogue Museums Project, or ICD-MUSE, for multilateral training of museum professionals.

Arınç emphasized that Turkey's goal was full EU membership, saying "this intercultural dialogue must be brought to the highest level until Turkey becomes a full member."

"There are thousands of people in our country from various ethnic groups. Together, we are Turkey" he said. "If one [ethnic group] was missing, it would feel like a part of us was missing. We draw our strength from them."

Turkey Posts Record Current Account Deficit

Turkey's 2011 current account deficit increased by a substantial 65.3 percent from 2010, reaching $77.8 billion, an approximately $30.5 billion increase from the $46.6 billion last year.

Meanwhile, December's current account deficit registered at roughly $6.6 billion.

The main reason behind the substantial current account gap was the large increase in the foreign trade deficit, a $33 million increase to $89.4 million, according to the central bank data.

"The current account deficit is still close to 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) […] but with the expected slowdown in the economy in 2012, we expect to see a slight narrowing in the deficit," said Oyak Investment's economists Mehmet Besimoğlu and Gülay Girgin in a written note. They predict the current account deficit to narrow to $55 billion, roughly 7.5 percent of GDP in 2012.

According to central bank data, there was also a $567 million year on year increase in the exodus of foreign direct investment and portfolio investments from Turkey.

While Turkey registered a $29 billion deficit in trade with the EU countries, it witnessed a $6 billion surplus with Islamic trading partners, up 15 percent from 2010. Its exports to Islamic countries saw a 41.5 percent rise. Turkey exported the most to Iraq, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Azerbaijan, according to the Anatolian news agency. Turkey exported $37.3 billion and imported $31.4 billion from these countries in 2011.

Another interesting point is the $12.4 billion inflow of money without a specific source. In 2010 this amount, registered under the net errors and omissions heading, was $2.7 billion, so it has increased five-fold in one year.

Marmara University's academic Erhan Aslanoğlu told broadcaster NTV's Web site that there could be several reasons behind the mysterious inflow. Among the possible factors are possible mistakes in the calculation of tourism inflows or shuttle trade, which are usually written on an assumption, with citizens cashing in money they have been hoarding when there are increases in the exchange rate.

The inflow could also be down to companies making their trade payments via overseas partners and making mistakes in transcription, which Aslanoğlu said is unlikely.

Iraqi Kurdistan Interior Ministry Says Citizen Seized by PKK Found Dead

The interior ministry of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region said on Monday that Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, rebels had kidnapped three Iraqi citizens, one of whom was later found dead.

It is the first time that the region's government, which tolerates the PKK's presence in Kurdistan despite the resulting Turkish bombardments and ground incursions, has made such an announcement.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that on December 29, PKK members detained three Iraqi citizens -- Mussa Yunis Abdullah, Sami Mohammed Taher and Mohammed Shahwan -- in the Zakho area of Dohuk province.

Their fate was unknown until January 27, when the latter two were released, the statement said, while Abdullah's body was found two days later.

"We in the Interior Ministry and the government of the Kurdistan region of Iraq condemn these practices by Kurdistan Workers' Party gunmen toward civilian citizens in the border areas and consider them illegal actions that are far from the principles of human rights," the statement said, adding that a special committee had been formed to look into the issue "and follow the legal process against the perpetrators of this action."

"We will not permit any person or party to take the role of the courts and take decisions in detaining and carrying out orders to kill citizens," it said. "The Kurdistan region is a secure region governed by the legal and judicial system, and the first and last decision is for the courts and the rule of law."

The PKK first took up arms for self-rule in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.
Hawlati, an independent Kurdish newspaper, said on Sunday that Abdullah, the citizen found dead, was a spy for Turkish intelligence who was obtaining information from the intelligence service of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP.

The newspaper said Abdullah allegedly gave Turkey images of an area on the Iraq border that it bombed in late December, killing 35 people.

The Turkish military said it was targeting PKK militants, but the vice president of Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party then said that initial reports indicated that those killed were smugglers.

Turkey Considering All Possible Options in Syria Crisis

The Turkish foreign minister, whose country has been at the forefront of those calling for action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, has said the international community needed to look at all options as the crisis continues to unfold in its southern neighbor.

"We cannot be silent as these humanitarian tragedies continue," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said at a news conference with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "At this moment, we are talking on diplomatic and humanitarian steps to be taken. But for other scenarios, we hope that those things will not be needed, but we need to think about contingencies as well."

Clinton said at the news conference that the U.S. backs the Arab League's latest plan for Syria, but sees challenges in winning the United Nations' approval for peacekeepers to halt the Syrian government's violent crackdown on protests. Clinton discussed Syria with visiting Davutoğlu, and agreed to discuss further steps at the inaugural meeting of a new Friends of Syria contact group in Tunisia on Feb. 24.

The Arab League on Sunday threw its support behind Syria's opposition and called for a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to quell the violence, boosting pressure on Russia and China which on Feb. 4 vetoed UN Security Council action on the crisis.

Clinton said the U.S. would work to tighten international sanctions on Assad's government and seek ways to deliver humanitarian aid amid what she said was a "deplorable" escalation of violence by government forces.

"We have heard the call of the Syrian people for help and we are committed to working to allow the entry of medical supplies, of emergency help to reach those who are wounded and dying," Clinton said.

But she also suggested that the Arab peacekeeper proposal would be tough to get through given Russian and Chinese support for Damascus.

"There are a lot of challenges to be discussed as to how to put into effect all of their recommendations and certainly the peacekeeping request is one that will take agreement and consensus," Clinton said. "So, we don't know that it is going to be possible to persuade Syria. They have already, as of today, rejected that."

Hollande Vows to Revive France-Turkey Relations

The leading candidate in the upcoming French presidential elections signaled Sunday that he would rehabilitate relations with Turkey if elected.

Pierre Moscovici, head of François Hollande's presidential campaign, expected to be the new foreign minister after the elections, told reporters a new Socialist administration would end President Nicolas Sarkozy's "scapegoat" policies toward Turkey.

Moscovici said it was important to be fair about Turkey's strategic role and ongoing Turkey-European Union negotiations and they would not ignore the fact that Turkey-EU negotiations had been going on for a decade.

Hollande also accused Sarkozy of moving farther to the right in an attempt to win over supporters of National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Sarkozy, who is expected to announce his candidacy for a second term early next week, insisted on official limits to immigration in an interview with Le Figaro magazine.

The interview was published just days after one of his top ministers stirred up a political storm by saying that "all civilizations were not equal."

"The terms that have been used, the words he has used, really make one think he wants to go looking for the voters who today are leaning toward Marine Le Pen," Hollande said. "This is undoubtedly part of his strategy, but it's bad for society. The role of a president, right to the end, even as a candidate, is to unite the country, to raise its spirits and not to stigmatize people, or play on their fears."

Libya's Transitional Council Calls Turkey Model for Arab Spring Countries

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the leader of Libya's National Transitional Council, or NTC, has called Turkey a model for Libya and the other Arab Spring countries, the Anatolia news agency reported on Monday.

"Turkey's democratic structure is an example to Libya and the other countries that experienced the Arab Spring. Libya will look to Turkey as a model for its own political and democratic structure," Abdul Jalil told Anatolia.

The NTC leader underscored the strength of future Libya-Turkey relations. "Our friendly relations will be much more powerful in the new era," Abdul Jalil said.

Touching on the crisis in Syria, Abdul Jalil said Libya was one of the first countries to come out against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria; he added the NTC has ordered Syrian diplomats to leave Libya in a few days if the bloodshed in Syria does not stop.

"Assad must end the killings immediately. We hope that peace reigns in Syria again in the shortest time possible," Abdul Jalil said.

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