"Salamworld," a pioneering global Islamic social network that aims to create a "halal" environment for Muslims on the Internet, recently held its first global summit in Istanbul with the participation of 250 people from 40 countries.

"The content that is being used on other social networks is not very secure and full of haram. We don't want our young people to absorb all these ideas that are not familiar to them," one of the owners of Salamworld, Abdulvahed Niyazov, a Muslim businessman from Siberia, told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.

A group of Russian and Turkish investors have put tens of millions of dollars into the development of the site, which aims to become an Islamic version of Facebook.

"Muslims in the world are not well-represented on the Internet; we want to change this situation. However, we're not constructing an Internet mosque, we are just creating a halal environment for Muslims," Niyazov said. According to Niyazov, the advertisements will also have "halal content" on the Internet network.

Explaining what will be considered haram, Niyazov said, "Some [music videos] of Madonna, for instance, are considered haram."

When asked about "Islamic dating," Niyazov said: "This is not a dating site. It is a social network for the new generation where members can feel useful and comfortable."

Touching on the notion of atheists joining the site, Niyazov said: "I feel sorry that there are still atheists in the world. However, yes, any individual who shares our ideas can be a member."

Niyazov said they were planning to use three levels of moderation on the social Web site.

"Besides technical and editorial moderation, most importantly there will be self-moderation within the communities. This community idea will be a consistent part of our project," he said.

The project's head office is in Istanbul, and branch offices will be in Cairo, Moscow and other cities. Niyazov said they chose Istanbul as Salamworld's headquarters because "it is a bridge between civilizations, and it is one of the biggest cultural cities of the Islamic world."

"The other reason why we wanted to have our headquarters in Turkey is because today's modern Islamic government in Turkey is setting trends in the Islamic world," Niyazov said.

Salamworld will be launched in summer 2012 in eight languages. The social network aims to register 50 million users within five years.


Government Rushes Intel Law to Parliament Floor

The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, pressed ahead with a controversial bill to shield intelligence officials against judicial probes as doubts lingers on whether it would also push for broader changes to curb the powers of special prosecutors mooted by the justice minister.

Parliament was expected to debate Thursday or Friday the amendment to the act regulating the National Intelligence Organization, or MIT, which the AKP passed through the Justice Commission late Tuesday in a rush to forestall the unprecedented probe into the MÝT chief and four other officials on suspicion MIT collaborated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Despite fierce objections by the opposition, an additional provision was added to the draft to make sure the amendment covers ongoing probes.

In an apparent sign of hesitation among government ranks, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdað said he had no information about the amendments Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin recently suggested to condition probes into top civilian and military officials to the prime minister's permission. Some AKP lawmakers have already raised objections to the proposal on grounds massive probes into alleged coup plots would be hurt. Articles 250 and 251 of the Penal Code decorate specially authorized prosecutors with broad authority to allow them to carry out investigations into alleged coup plots.

Ergin had suggested the broader changes could be added to a package of reforms aimed at expediting the justice system. Parliament's Justice Commission took up the draft package Wednesday, but immediately sent it to debate at a sub-commission, a routine procedure for bulky drafts that take days, if not weeks.

Speaking on CNN Türk television, Bozdað said "improvements" could be made in the penal code, but argued that the amended MIT Act would meet the need to protect officials "carrying out strategic tasks."

The minister conceded the government also had complaints on the functioning of special authority courts but maintained Turkey needed them in the struggle against terrorism and organized crime.

"Those courts are not indispensable but there is currently a need for them. They should not be regarded as permanent. I hope the need for them would end soon," he said.

Bozdað defended the amendment to the MIT Act, brushing aside criticism it would empower the prime minister to act with impunity. "The prime minister's decisions will be open to appeal. The courts will have the final say," Bozdað said.

He rejected suggestions the probe into MIT was part of a growing rift between the AKP and the influential Islamic community of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen. Such claims were "the wishful thinking" of those who failed to beat the AKP at the ballot box, he argued, adding that the AKP did not favor people according to their religious or social affiliations.

The minister firmly denied that "Gülenists" had taken control of key posts in the police and the judiciary.


Top Ex-Soldier Indicted in E-Coup Case

An Istanbul criminal court accepted an indictment Wednesday against former General Chief of Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ in connection with the ongoing Internet Memorandum case.

The prosecution has requested aggravated life imprisonment for the country's former top general, who stands accused of orchestrating propaganda efforts over the Internet to provoke political unrest in the country in accordance with the aims of the alleged Ergenekon gang.

The 39-page indictment also implicates Başbuğ for allegedly attempting to stymie the government by means of force and violence, according to reports. The court delegation consisting of chief justice Hüseyin Özese, and judges Sedat Sami Haşıloğlu and Ercan Fırat, unanimously accepted indictment but deferred the decision over whether to merge the case with the probe into the "Action Plan for the Fight against Fundamentalism."

An Istanbul court arrested Başbuğ on Jan. 6 as part of the investigation into the action plan. The former general flatly denied having issued any directives in relation to the plan, rejecting all the other charges leveled against him as well.

The Internet Memorandum case refers to a document allegedly crafted by the Turkish General Staff calling for the establishment of 42 Internet sites to distribute propaganda against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and others.

Ergenekon is an alleged ultranationalist gang accused of plotting to overthrow the government by fomenting chaos in society.


Turkish Court Summons Former Army Chiefs to Testify in Coup Plot Probe

A Turkish court has summoned former military chiefs to testify as part of an investigation into a subversive coup plot that has already put dozens of high-ranking military officials behind bars.

The 10th İstanbul High Criminal Court demanded on Wednesday that former chiefs of General Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt and İlker Başbuğ along with Gendarmerie Commander Bekir Kalyoncu testify in the Sledgehammer probe. A prosecutor who headed an investigation of several former chiefs of General Staff, including Gen. Işık Koşaner, Gen. Başbuğ, Gen. Büyükanıt and Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı -- all of whom then stood accused of violating the constitutional order and laws -- recently dismissed the charges due to a lack of grounds for legal action. They were accused of being part of the Sledgehammer coup plan.


PM's Aide Dismisses Rift Between AKP, Gulen Movement

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's former chief advisor and Justice and Development Party, or AKP,) Deputy Yalçın Akdoğan dismissed allegations of tension between the AKP government and the faith-based Gülen movement in his article in the Yeni Şafak daily on Wednesday.

"One organ of a person cannot nourish feelings of hostility to another organ; it cannot adopt a hostile attitude against it. What some circles do not understand today is this: There cannot be a conflict or contention between members of the Gülen movement who love Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan from the heart and AK Party supporters who have love for Mr. [Fethullah] Gülen, these people cannot be separated from each other because they are the same people," Akdoğan wrote.


Parliament Speaker Says New Constitution Should Balance Security, Freedom

Turkey's Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek said on Wednesday that a new constitution should establish a balance between security and freedom, saying security was not the alternative to freedom, and vice-versa.

"Therefore, we should make such a constitution that it should be state-prior and security-prior," Cicek said at the AA News Academy in Ankara, calling on everybody to contribute to the process of writing a new constitution.


Turkey's Opposition Leader Meets EU Director

Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu met European Commission's Director General for Enlargement Stefano Sannino in the capital of Ankara on Wednesday.

The CHP press center said on Wednesday that Kilicdaroglu and Sannino got together over breakfast, and discussed Turkey-EU relations, as well as recent international developments.

Head of EU delegation to Turkey Jean-Maurice Ripert and CHP deputy leader Faruk Logoglu also attended the breakfast.


Turkey, France Attempt to Form Syria Aid Corridor

Turkey, in collaboration with the Arab League, is working on an action plan on Syria, including the Tunisia conference and the establishment of a United Nations humanitarian corridor into Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said.

Following the international conference in Tunisia, the humanitarian issue will be taken to the United Nations, Davutoğlu said Wednesday in a joint press appearance in Ankara with Bakir Izetbegovic, a Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"I believe the Tunisia meeting will produce a very strong message which will express solidarity with the Syrian people and also be a warning for the Syrian regime," Davutoğlu said.

The Syrian issue would continue to be debated at the UN after the Tunisia Friends of Syria meeting, which will take place Feb. 24. The meeting's aim is to gather together countries seeking a joint position to end violence in Syria.

"The UN should take action to help with the Syria issue, not only in political aspects, but also in humanitarian aspect," the minister said.

As Ankara launched efforts to enable humanitarian aid to Syrian people through humanitarian corridors" in Turkey, enabling NGOs to reach people caught up in the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests, Turkey and France lobbied for aid deliveries at the UN and rallied allies on pressuring the Syrian regime at the Friends of Syria meeting.

France said Wednesday that it wanted the UN Security Council to set up humanitarian corridors in Syria and was negotiating with Russia on a new UN resolution on the conflict.

"The idea of humanitarian corridors that I previously proposed, to allow NGOs to reach the zones where there are scandalous massacres, should be discussed at the Security Council," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France Info radio.

Under the French plan, humanitarian corridors would link Syrian population centers to the frontiers of Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, to the Mediterranean coast or to an airport, Reuters reported.

Juppe has said the zone could be protected by armed "observers," but has ruled out direct military intervention. A diplomatic source said a UN resolution would be needed to create the corridors, but who would protect it, be it peacekeepers or unarmed observers, was still to be assessed. Financing of such an operation would depend on its form.

Juppe was set to discuss the plan with Lavrov in Vienna Thursday. But Russia, which has already joined China in vetoing two Security Council resolutions on Syria, was firm in its stance on Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country could not support using the UN body to "help legitimize" regime change in Damascus. Lavrov was non-committal when asked whether Russia supported such a plan.

"It's impossible to answer such questions without having language [details] in your hands," he told reporters.

The Turkish Red Crescent has stockpiled food, tents and other supplies in Hatay for a possible influx of Syrian refugees and is ready to help people inside Syria, the agency's chief Ahmet Lütfi Akar said. He added, however, that they received no instructions from the government so far for a cross-border humanitarian mission.

There are currently 10,000 Syrian refugees in six tent cities in Hatay who will be transferred to housing container camps in neighboring Kilis, Akar said, saying the tents would not be dismantled against the possibility of a fresh exodus from Syria.

"We have set up also warehouses stocked with food, beverages and clothes in case of a large migration," he said, adding that factories continued to manufacture tents as the stocks were drained also by the earthquake in Van. "The Red Crescent is ready to help also those inside Syria who are in need because of the conflict. We are capable of carrying out any humanitarian assistance mission."

If an intervention takes place in Syria, humanitarian aid efforts would be conducted in cooperation with the United Nations and the Red Cross.

"The intervening countries must collaborate in these efforts," he said.


Turkey Urges Greek Cyprus, Foreign Companies over New Oil Exploration

Turkey warned Thursday that it will not allow under any circumstances foreign oil companies to conduct unauthorized oil and natural gas exploration and exploitation activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and will take all necessary measures to protect its rights in the areas within its continental shelf.

Turkey's strong worded warning came after an announcement published in the European Union Official Journal, dated Feb. 11, that the Greek Cypriot administration has called for a new international tender for off-shore hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation within its so-called economic exclusive zone.
"We protest this unilateral step, which is both irresponsible and provocative, taken by the Greek Cypriots despite all warnings," read the written statement made from the Foreign Ministry.

Recalling that the move came amid ongoing unification talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, the statement repeated that these sorts of explorations should have been made after parties reach an agreement and form a new partnership.

"This situation would bring those international companies that might be interested in bidding for this illegal tender into confrontation with the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) and the TPAO (Turkish Petroleum Corporation) , and thus would lead to an undesired tension in the region," the statement said.


Netanyahu Eyes Energy Cooperation in Greek Cyprus Visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Greek Cyprus on Thursday to discuss energy cooperation, a subject that could irritate Israel's former ally, Turkey, which challenges Greek Cyprus's jurisdiction over offshore gas finds.

Gas production in the eastern Mediterranean is set to soar following the discovery of huge offshore reserves that have sparked competing maritime claims involving Turkey, Greek Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel.

Netanyahu's visit is the first by an Israeli prime minister to the east Mediterranean island, split in a Turkish intervention in 1974 after a brief Greek inspired coup.

Natural gas reserves have been found beneath the seabed between the two countries. In December, Texas-based Noble Energy, which is working with both Greek Cyprus and Israel, reported an offshore gas prospect of between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in a Greek Cypriot field.

Turkey says Greek Cyprus has no jurisdiction over the finds.

Noble is working with Israel's Delek Energy to develop two fields in Israeli waters -- Tamar, with reserves estimated at 9.1 tcf, and Leviathan, which is nearly twice as big.

Netanyahu's talks with Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias will focus on cooperation in the natural gas sector and further steps to increase energy security in the two countries, Israeli officials said.

Ankara says the Greek Cypriots, who represent the internationally recognized government of Greek Cyprus, have no jurisdiction to search for offshore oil or gas. It has said it will carry out its own exploration off northern Cyprus with the Turkish Cypriot authorities.


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