The European Court of Human Rights, or ECtHR, ruled on Tuesday that Turkey had violated the right to free speech of a journalist who was convicted for articles critical of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In 2008, a Turkish court sentenced journalist-columnist Erbil Tuşalp to pay TL 10,000, about $5,700, in compensation to Erdoğan over two articles that were published in the Birgün daily in 2004 and 2005.
Tuşalp maintained that the articles were aimed at criticizing, not insulting, the prime minister, but the court ruled that remarks made in the article went beyond the acceptable limits of criticism. The Supreme Court of Appeals also refused to hear Tuşalp's appeal, following which he took the case to the ECtHR.
The Strasbourg court ruled that the Turkish court ruling constituted "interference with Tuşalp's right to freedom of expression." It maintained that the limits of acceptable criticism were greater for a politician than for a private individual and that Erdoğan is therefore obliged to display a greater degree of tolerance.
"It was true that Mr. Tuşalp had used a satirical style to convey his strong criticism. In that context, the Court underlined that the protection of Article 10 [regulating freedom of expression] was applicable not only to information or ideas that were favorably received but also to those which offended, shocked or disturbed. Consequently, the Court could not find that the strong remarks highlighted by the Turkish courts could be construed as a gratuitous personal attack against the Prime Minister," the court said in a statement.
Under the European court ruling, Turkey is to pay 5,000 euros, about TL 11,500, to Tuşalp.
Dozens Killed in Syria, Red Cross Urges Ceasefire
Food and water are running dangerously low in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, with frantic cries for help from residents amid the latest government shelling that has pounded rebel strongholds and killed at least 30 people, activists said.
Shells reportedly rained down Tuesday on rebellious districts at a rate of 10 per minute at one point, and the Red Cross called for a daily two-hour cease-fire so that it can deliver emergency aid to the wounded and sick.
"If they don't die in the shelling, they will die of hunger," activist and resident Omar Shaker told The Associated Press after hours of intense shelling concentrated on the rebel-held neighborhood of Baba Amr that the opposition has extolled as a symbol of their 11-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Another 33 people were killed in northern Syria's mountainous Jabal al-Zawiya region when government forces raided a town in pursuit of regime opponents, raising Tuesday's overall death toll to 63, activists said. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said more than 100 were killed Tuesday, but the report could not immediately be confirmed by others.
Russia, one of Assad's remaining allies, urged the United Nations to send a special envoy to Syria to help coordinate security issues and delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Assad's forces showed no sign of easing their assault on Homs, Syria's third-largest city, whose defiance has become an embarrassing counterpoint to the regime's insistence that the opposition is mostly armed factions with limited public support.
The rebel defenses in Homs are believed to be bolstered by hundreds of military defectors, which have possibly complicated attempts by Syrian troops to stage an offensive. On Monday, reinforcements of Syrian tanks and soldiers massed outside the city in what could be a prelude to a ground attack.
"Government troops have been unable to advance because of stiff resistance from defectors inside," an activist in Homs told the AP on condition of anonymity, because of fears of government reprisal. Another activist in Homs said the shelling started after repeated attempts by troops to storm the edges of Baba Amr, which the opposition has dubbed "Syria's Misrata" after the Libyan city that refused to fall to withering government attacks last year.
One Homs resident, communicating with the AP by Internet chat, said many people are unable or too scared to go to the hospital for treatment. Some are bleeding to death at home.
"My cousin is a doctor and he said they've given up on treating serious wounds. The numbers are too many to cope with especially with so little supplies," said the resident, who has provided reliable information in the past. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity because of the fear of reprisal.
The resident, who lives just outside Baba Amr, said people in the neighborhood were surviving mostly on stocks of rice and canned corn and tuna, but those supplies also were running out fast after several weeks of attacks.
Some people go without bread for days, and when grocery stores and bakeries reopen during a lull in the shelling, long lines form quickly, the resident said, adding that shortages exist of all kinds of foodstuffs and vegetables.
The Red Cross said it has been negotiating with Syrian authorities and members of the opposition to agree a temporary cease-fire so emergency aid can reach beleaguered parts of the country.
"The current situation requires an immediate decision to implement a humanitarian pause in the fighting," said Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. "In Homs and in other affected areas, entire families have been stuck for days in their homes, unable to step outside to get bread, other food or water, or to obtain medical care."
Kellenberger said the cease-fire should last at least two hours daily, so that Red Cross staff and Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers have enough time to deliver aid and evacuate the wounded.
Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, the ICRC's head of operations for the Middle East, described Homs as "sort of a ghost city," adding that other parts of Syria also were badly affected by the fighting.
White House spokesman Jay Carney backed a Red Cross call for a daily cease-fire in Syria in order to deliver humanitarian aid.
"The reprehensible actions perpetrated by the Syrian regime, the brutal violence perpetrated by the Syrian leader against his own people, has led us to this situation where basic supplies, humanitarian supplies are very scarce and therefore action needs to be taken," Carney said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was focused on "increasing the international isolation and the international pressure on the Assad regime to stop the violence altogether, so that we can move on to a democratic transition."
In the northern province of Aleppo, the government said a Syrian businessman, Mahmoud Ramadan, was shot to death in front of his home in what appeared to be the latest in a series of targeted killings. The attacks, which include the slaying of an Aleppo city council member Saturday, suggest that rebel factions are increasing turning to arms to strike back at members of Assad's ruling system.
Residents and activists say a months-long siege and stepped up attacks on Baba Amr recently have left the district without enough food, water, medicine and electricity.
"They bombed all the water tanks on the roofs of buildings. There's no water. Some people have gone without bread for days," said Shaker, who estimated the shells fell at a rate of about 10 per minute at some points in the attack. More than 200 people were wounded, he said, adding that two children were among the dead.
Phone lines with Homs have been cut, making it difficult to get firsthand accounts from residents.
One amateur video posted on the Internet showed thick smoke and shells slamming behind a building in Baba Amr. Another showed a shop on the ground floor of a building on fire as a narrator cries: "We are dying. Where are the Arabs?"
The Arab League has tried to pressure Assad into a peace process with the opposition, but he has refused. In another possible shift away from Assad, about 500 Palestinians gathered in Gaza at a Hamas-authorized demonstration in solidarity with Syrian protesters.
Assad has long hosted and supported leaders of the Islamic Hamas movement, which rules Gaza. But as the body count in Syria continues to rise, Hamas has been trying to distance itself from Damascus. Hamas has forged closer ties with rich Gulf states that oppose the Syrian regime and seeks to undercut Iran's influence.
A planned international meeting later this week in Tunisia will seek ways to help the Syrian people.
"People don't care if it's the devil intervening to save us from Bashar. We need the world's help," Shaker said.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Tuesday it will not attend the planned "Friends of Syria" meeting because organizers did not invite Syrian government representatives.
Russia and China have vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict and condemning Assad's crackdown on protests that killed 5,400 people in 2011 alone, according to the UN Hundreds more have been killed since, activist groups say. One of the groups puts the toll at more than 7,300.
Lukashevich said the meeting wouldn't help a dialogue, saying that the global community should act as friends of all the Syrian people, not just one part.
"It looks like an attempt to forge some kind of international coalition like it was with the setting up of a 'Contact Group' for Libya," he said.
Russia has said it will block any UN resolution that could pave the way for a replay of what happened in Libya. In that case, Russia abstained from a vote, which cleared the way for months of NATO airstrikes that helped Libyans end Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
In Jerusalem, Sen. John McCain condemned Russia and China for vetoing sanctions against Syria, saying their action was "not the behavior of mature nations." He suggested that weapons should be sent to those fighting the regime.
Iran -- Syria's other strong ally -- sent two warships through the Suez Canal on Tuesday on their way back from the Syrian port of Tartus. The ships had reportedly docked in Syria over the weekend on a mission to provide training for Syria's naval forces, according to Iranian media reports.
The Pentagon disputed those reports, saying there was no indication the ships had docked or delivered any cargo. U.S. Defense Department spokesman George Little said the Iranian ships now appear to be going back through the Suez Canal again.
Assad has announced a Feb. 26 referendum on a new constitution. The charter would allow a bigger role for political opposition to challenge Assad's Baath Party, which has controlled Syria since a 1963 coup. But leaders of the uprising have dismissed the referendum as an attempt at superficial reforms that do nothing to break the regime's hold on power.
In Jordan, Bernardino Leon, the EU's representative for the Southern Mediterranean, said Assad's regime missed the opportunity for reforms. "Syria is definitely not in a transition despite announcements of changes, despite plans for a referendum," Leon told reporters.
Prosecutors in Fraud Case May Face Government Wrath, CHP Says
Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu expressed worry Tuesday for the fate of prosecutors who have opened up a corruption probe into members of the Public Procurement Authority, or KİK, suggesting they could face the government's wrath.
"We will follow the issue closely to see whether the prosecutors and police who are conducting the operation will end up in trouble. Those who are being investigated are close to the prime minister. We will see how he will protect them," the Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader said at his party's parliamentary group meeting.
Police raided the KİK office Feb. 13 on suspicion that public tenders had been systematically rigged on behalf of certain companies. A total of 23 people were initially detained for questioning, among them KİK board member Ali Kaya, two inspectors and a number of businesspeople. Twelve were subsequently charged.
Referring to the KİK's principal mission to prevent fraud, Kılıçdaroğlu said: "We now see that the KİK has been at the heart of embezzlement. Senior members of the government speak on every issue every day, but why are they silent on this? Why doesn't the prime minister speak?"
He said the KİK Act had been amended 54 times under the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, despite European Union criticism.
"The EU progress reports have strongly criticized the amendments on the grounds that they made the institution more prone to corruption. Nobody lent an ear to these reports," Kılıçdaroğlu said. "KİK is inventing corruption models that even the devil cannot think of. It has carried out a revolution in theft."
Kılıçdaroğlu said he would also continue to ask for explanations over the high-profile embezzlement probe into the Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) charity, whose prosecutors were removed from the investigation last year and then put on trial for abuse of office. The charity's founders are close to the AKP.
BDP Urges Dialogue with Outlawed PKK
The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to create a delegation for fresh talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as the only way out of the stalemate on the Kurdish problem.
The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, "may have gained time through the policies it follows, but it has lost altitude and is about to crash," BDP Co-Chair Gültan Kışanak said at the party's parliamentary group meeting Tuesday.
"They must realize that buying time will not get a solution, and they must start an honest, sincere and open process. They should openly declare it this time," she said, referring to the earlier secret talks that were leaked to the media last year. "They should create a delegation to solve the Kurdish issue through negotiation, and send the delegation to meet with all sides. This is the only way they can solve this problem."
Meanwhile, Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli urged Erdoğan to re-focus on the Kurdish problem and raised the alarm that Arab Spring uprisings were setting an example for Kurdish separatists at home.
"The prime minister and the government must immediately return to Turkey's realities," he said.
CHP to Push to Annul New Law on Gul's Term
According to law on the presidential elections, President Abdullah Gül will complete his term in office in 2014.
After a protracted assessment, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, has decided to ask the Constitutional Court to scrap a controversial law that fixed President Abdullah Gül's term to seven years.
"It is the CHP's duty to defend the rights not only of ordinary people but also those of the president. If there is an unconstitutional law, CHP will make efforts to block it, even if pertains to the president," CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said at his party's parliamentary group meeting Tuesday.
Asked by reporters whether his remarks meant the CHP had finally made up its mind to go to the Constitutional Court, Kılıçdaroğlu said: "I mean that."
The CHP debated the move for several weeks, with some deputies opposed to such an application on grounds that the bill is part of a covert intra-party struggle within the Justice and Development Party, or AKP; Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is widely believed to be preparing to ascend to the presidency after Gül completes his tenure in 2014.
Gül had signed the bill into law on Jan. 25. The legislation, which outlines the procedural rules for the popular vote on presidential elections, includes a provision fixing his term to seven years.
Parliament elected Gül for a single seven-year term in 2007, but under constitutional amendments approved at a referendum shortly afterward, the president became entitled to a once-renewable five-year term. The opposition has argued the amendments are binding for Gül, but the AKP insisted they cannot be implemented retroactively to shorten his original tenure.
Opposition Raises Cause of Lawmakers in Prison
All three opposition parties in Turkey's Parliament called for the release of their imprisoned lawmakers Tuesday as they slammed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for double standards over his recent remarks that those elected would never be subordinate to the will of appointed officials.
"Are the jailed deputies elected or not? Why are they locked up? The person who is primarily responsible for that is the prime minister and the second is the Parliament speaker," main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said at the weekly parliamentary meeting of his Republican People's Party, or CHP.
Erdoğan made the much-debated remarks over the weekend in his first public reaction to the controversial probe into the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, which prompted the ruling party last week to rush through Parliament a law that provided a judicial shield to the MİT chief and four other officials against charges of collaboration with Kurdish separatists.
Kılıçdaroğlu dismissed Erdoğan's assurances that all institutions were in harmony, charging that the MİT crisis had exposed a "disaster" within the state.
"The prime minister doesn't trust the prosecutors and the police. A situation like this cannot be rectified with a law passed through Parliament at midnight. It is a post-modern dictatorship in which the wishes of a single person become law. The prime minister does not hesitate tramping on any value. His only goal is to stay in power," he said.
The co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, Gültan Kışanak, also lashed out at Erdoğan.
"Do you have to be elected by the prime minister in order to be considered elected? The government cannot claim legitimacy when it keeps those elected by the people in jail while passing a law in three days to save from the prosecutor those who it has appointed," she said.
Joining the criticism, Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli described the MİT Act amendment as "the reflection of political primitiveness and tribal allegiance" and charged that "such a preposterous practice" can only be found in dictatorships.
"You call it legal when deputies elected by the people are confined to jail and their freedom is shamelessly violated under fabricated coup allegations," he said.
Bahçeli gave credit to police suspicions that MİT colluded with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and argued that the MİT amendment was an attempt "to cover up the strong evidence" exposing those links.
A total of eight lawmakers elected from prison in last year's elections remain behind bars on charges of involvement in anti-government coup plots or for collaborating with the PKK. Five of them were elected on a BDP-backed ticket, two are from the CHP and one is from the MHP.
In further remarks Tuesday, Kılıçdaroğlu said he was "worried about the prime minister's mental health" as he voiced indignation over Erdoğan's weekend speech in which he insisted on raising a "devout" youth that would embrace the cause not only of its religion, language and homeland, but also of "its hatred."
China's Vice President's Visit Boosts Turkey Ties
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the frontrunner to become China's next leader, has begun a visit to Turkey that aims to strengthen bilateral ties in the economic, political and security realms.
"Turkey and China have been playing an important role in international and regional affairs in recent years," Xi said, recalling that the two countries had agreed on strategic cooperation in 2010.
"I believe that Xi's visit will bring a special meaning to relations," Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çicek said during his meeting with the vice president.
Çiçek hinted at disagreements between Ankara and Beijing -- an apparent reference to the situation of China's Uighur community -- but added that bilateral cooperation should not be affected by any problems.
"Undoubtedly, there are issues the two countries are sensitive about. But we, as Turkey, are taking up those issues delicately, in a spirit of cooperation and within a framework that would not harm our relations," he said.
Earlier in the day, police sealed off streets leading to Xi's hotel as dozens of demonstrators assembled in the area to protest China's policies against the Uighur minority in its western Xinjiang region.
The group set two Chinese flags on fire and stamped on them while chanting anti-Chinese slogans. Many members of the Uighur community, who share ethnic and historic bonds with Turkey, have taken refuge in the country.
Xi, who is on the last leg of a trip that also took him to the United States and Ireland, signed cooperation agreements with President Abdullah Gül that included financial cooperation between the Treasury Undersecretaries and the China Development Bank, a memorandum of understanding between Turkish public broadcaster TRT and Chinese Central Television, or CCTV, as well as a currency swap agreement worth 10 billion yuan ($1.58 billion).
Currency Swap Agreement
Turkey and China have been sharply at odds on the Syrian crisis, which was one of the key issues on Xi's agenda. During his talks with Gül, Xi said he gave importance to Turkey and aimed to strengthen ties, especially trade relations, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Praising Turkey's regional and international role, Xi said they would like to further cooperation with Turkey in the United Nations and G-20 mechanisms, according to the official. Turkey and China were two countries that wrote history and connected with each other via the Silk Road, Xi told Gül, adding that both sides should conduct high-level talks, according to the official.
Xi was scheduled to attend a business forum in Istanbul Wednesday during which Chinese business leaders were expected to conduct deals totaling close to $500 million, the official said.
China is Turkey's 15th biggest export market; Turkish companies sold nearly $2.5 billion worth of goods in the People's Republic last year, a rise of 8.7 percent from the previous year. Some $21.6 billion worth of Chinese goods were imported to Turkey in 2011.
Meanwhile, China and Turkey signed a three-year currency swap agreement worth 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion), or 3 billion Turkish Liras, the Turkish Central Bank said. The accord will facilitate bilateral trade in the Turkish and Chinese currencies and may be extended, the Central Bank in Ankara said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
China has been expanding currency-swap agreements as it promotes the international use of the yuan. Aiming to increase its exports, Turkey has previously signed a similar agreement with Pakistan and is expected to sign another one with Malaysia soon. Xi was due to meet Erdoğan as the Daily News went to press late Tuesday.
Turkey's Kurds Press for Rights to Use Mother Language
A pro-Kurdish party has reiterated its annual call for more rights to use the native language in public of Turkey's largest ethnic minority.
The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, released a statement on Tuesday to mark the United Nation's International Mother Language Day, demanding the authorities to allow use of Kurdish language in public.
The statement stressed the struggle of the people of Bangladesh for their native language was key for the UN to declare Feb. 21 as the international day for mother language and said maintaining, learning and using the native language in every sphere of the society is a right of people.
BDP Deputy Gülten Kışanak told a parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday that it is important to recall that language and honor are indispensable parts of people.
"Dear brothers and sisters, mother language is an honor," she said in eight languages: Kurdish, Armenians, Greek, Laz, Assyrian, Circassian, Arabic and Turkish. Kışanak said languages spoken in Turkey are already on the brink of elimination or facing imminent danger, adding that this is "torture to humanity's honor."
Kışanak said the Kurdish people could save their language by what she called an "insurgency of Kurdish people." She urged that all barriers be lifted and that mother languages must have unlimited use in public places and in education. She said in 113 UN member countries out of 194 have more than one official language.
The public use of Kurdish was prohibited following a 1980 military coup and was in place until 1991. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has recently taken significant steps in a bid to reconcile with its Kurdish population.
Among the steps was the dedication of one of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation's, or TRT, channels to broadcasting in Kurdish in a bid to fulfill a long-sought demand from the country's Kurds.
Human Rights Association, or İHD, also called on the government to recognize everyone's right to learn and teach their mother language. A statement released by the İHD Tuesday called on Turkish authorities to recognize Kurdish as a language.