Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has signaled that the government could seek permission from Parliament to deploy troops in Syria in the event of ongoing violence in the country escalating to the point where it will undermine Turkish national security.
En route to Nakhichevan after a diplomatic visit to the Netherlands on Wednesday, Davutoğlu said Turkey is currently placing emphasis on finding a diplomatic solution to quell the violence in Syria, which has been continuing for over a year, but has not ruled out other options.
"Turkey is ready to discuss every option in order to protect its national security," Davutoğlu emphasized, responding to a question on whether the government would seek parliamentary authorization to deploy Turkish troops in Syria.
Davutoğlu also noted that Turkey would not allow Syria to use the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as a trump card against Turkey, which is a friend-turned foe for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"Turkish security forces are monitoring a number of PKK groups entering Turkey from Syria. Turkey would not allow any country to undermine its security," Davutoğlu indicated.
Turkey withdrew its support from the regime as a result of Assad dragging his feet over implementing democratic reforms in Syria, instead continuing to commit atrocities in order to muzzle regime dissidents.
Speaking on Wednesday, President Abdullah Gül said the Syrian regime is on a "dead-end road," urging Assad to make a choice between staying on this road or responding to the demands of the international community.
"We have no trust in the Syrian government anymore," Gül told reporters before departing for a visit to Tunisia in a show of support for this country's post-revolution leadership. "Stability and peace are no longer attainable by oppression; that era is over. Therefore, the Syrian administration should make a choice. There is only darkness and disappointment at the end of their current road."
Gül added that proposals have been made to the Syrian regime to resolve the current crisis, apparently referring to an Arab League plan envisaging Assad handing power over to a deputy.
"It will be too late if the Syrian leadership does not agree to these proposals now," Gül said.
Davutoğlu also said the Syrian president has entirely undermined his legitimacy as a leader in the eyes of the Syrian people, due to indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians in besieged Syrian cities by regime forces.
"The Syrian people have the last word on deciding whether to dismiss Assad or not. But I don't think they will consent to his rule after those attacks," he said.
İstanbul is preparing to host the second "Friends of Syria" international meeting at the end of March, the international community in order to increase pressure on President Assad to step aside and to order an immediate cease-fire between dissidents and the Syrian army.
Davutoğlu said Turkey is still thinking of inviting Russia and China, political allies of the Assad regime, which did not attend the first conference in Tunisia in February; roughly 50 countries, including the United States, the European Union, Arab League governments and Turkey gathered to discuss ways out of the Syrian crisis.
Gul Calls on Assad to Agree to Proposals
Turkey has urged the Syrian administration to agree to settlement proposals made by the international community, President Abdullah Gül said Wednesday.
"Very soon they may regret not having done so today," Gül told reporters in a press conference before his flight to Tunisia.
Incidents in a country became an issue of humanity and the international community if they exceeded a certain level, Gül said, stressing that assault in Syria was not a domestic issue, as the number of casualties increased every day.
"We have lost confidence in the administration in Syria," the president said, adding that the Syrian regime was behaving blindly.
Recalling the proposals of the Arab League for the Syrian administration to hand power over to a national unity government, Gül said: "If they don't accept those proposals today, it will be too late in the future."
If the Syrian regime approved those proposals, it would be better not only for the Syrian administration but also for the Syrian state and Syrian people, the president said.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has pledged continued support for Syrians fleeing a violent crackdown on the opposition movement.
"Tens of thousands of people want to leave their country [Syria]. Turkey has given shelter for some 11,000 Syrian refugees so far. We are doing our best to help these people, and we will continue to extend help to our neighbors," Davutoğlu said.
Turkey Acting as Go-Between With Al-Shabaab, Mogadishu
Turkey is in talks with the extremist al-Shabaab organization, which controls Somalia's southern parts, in a move to end the two-decade-long civil war in Somalia, seen as the Turkish state's protégé in need of comprehensive efforts to be rebuilt.
Turkey's recently appointed ambassador to Somalia, former coordinator of Doctors Worldwide, Dr. Kani Torun, has been meeting with senior members of al-Shabaab for some time, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.
At the outset, the meetings aimed at providing security for the Turkish humanitarian groups who flocked to the country after the government launched an unprecedented aid campaign to Somalia in early 2011. But the sources told the Daily News the meetings also helped to establish a channel between al-Shabaab and the central government to narrow differences on the future of the world's poorest nation.
"There are serious problems with regard to security. They seem not to be solved in a short time period," Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ told a small group of reporters traveling with him to Somalia. "We have expressed our opinions on the establishment of the internal peace and comfort to our counterparts. We welcome positive developments in this regard."
He did not detail what the positive developments were. Al-Shabaab, designated as a terror organization by the United States and the United Kingdom, is fighting against Somali Transitional Federal Government and the African Union troops who have been deployed to Somalia to provide security for millions of Somalis. The group describes itself as waging jihad against enemies of Islam.
Following strong attacks by Kenyan and Ethiopian armies in southern Somalia, al-Shabaab lost control of some key cities and adopted guerilla tactics in countering the attacks of its adversaries. Recently, some reports in the local press claimed Turkey was trying to impose its own model of secularism to Somalia and the food distributed to the people was expired.
"The only reason why we are here is to fight against a humanitarian tragedy, to stop people dying of hunger. We have no objective of exporting a regime or imposing something," Bozdağ said. "We believe some circles are trying to muddy the waters."
A Turkish official said reports claiming expired food was distributed to the people saddened all Turkish NGOs and government members.
Training Somali Troops
Alongside substantial help in the health and education fields, Bozdağ said Turkey was assessing a Somali demand for training of its security forces in Turkey.
"They have expressed their demand in this field. We need to have an agreement first on this. It's not very much likely in the short run," he said.
Agency to Open in Somaliland
As part of Turkey's policy to expand its aid campaign to Somalia's different parts, Bozdağ said a development agency is planned to open in Somaliland in the near future. Somaliland is a self-declared unrecognized state, which is being considered as an autonomous region of Somalia. Sources said this move does not mean the recognition of the regional government and aims at extending hands to all regions of Somalia.
Somalis' Fate Changed
Having visited Somalia four times in the last eight months, Bozdağ said: "Turkey's entrance into this country did change the fate of Somali people. Even the United Nations came after us. Now they are in Mogadishu, and we are sure many other countries will also be present in Somalia very soon.
Ankara to Resolve Kurdish Conflict No Matter the Cost
Turkey will find a solution to the Kurdish conflict regardless of the cost, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday as Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay promised fresh democratization steps.
"Whatever the price, we will resolve this issue with the blessing of God and the support of the people – we will continue to struggle for that until our last breath," Erdoğan said. "This is a human matter before everything else. No one can harm our fraternity. We are brothers in faith."
Erdoğan made the remarks at a meeting of his party's provincial chairmen Wednesday on the eve of a visit to the southeastern province of Mardin and a day after his wife, Emine Erdoğan, and Atalay visited the families of 34 civilians who were killed in a botched air raid in the southeastern province of Şırnak's Uludere district in December. Erdoğan described the constitutional referendum of September 2010 and the Justice and Development Party's, or AKP, third election victory last year as "two consecutive approvals by the nation" for the reconciliation drive.
The government has been criticized for having stopped the so-called Kurdish initiative or the "national unity and fraternity project" in favor of a security-oriented approach that risks producing fresh violence from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Atalay, who was tasked with leading the reconciliation project, said the government was determined to realize greater democratization.
"Our efforts have not stalled. There will be new steps," he said, adding that government officials would step up visits to the southeast. The deputy prime minister also said state institutions were conducting "the most advanced coordination" in the struggle against the PKK.
The issue came under scrutiny last month when police operations against alleged urban networks of the PKK resulted in a prosecutor's attempt to investigate the head of the intelligence agency on suspicions that its operatives had collaborated with the PKK. Erdoğan accused the three parliamentary opposition parties of hampering efforts to resolve the Kurdish question and added that the peace drive had been further undermined by "dark circles" at home and abroad who collude with the PKK to advance their interests.
"We are confronted not only by an armed terrorist organization. We are confronted by an organization that acts as a subcontractor for Turkey's enemies. We are fighting not only the terrorists in the mountains, but also the dirty hands behind the curtain that are pulling the strings," he said.
Erdoğan appealed to Kurdish voters to withhold support for the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, arguing that it was sabotaging the peace process and failing to deliver proper municipal services.
Erdogan Responds to Cancer Report, Says God Determines Lifespan
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rebuffed a recently leaked email from the security analysis company, Stratfor, which said he had terminal cancer and just two years to live.
"We are [members of] a party that believes in fate. We are a party that took risks to serve our people. This soul belongs to God. God is the only one who can take it back. We did not and do not surrender to threats. Only God can determine the length of our life." Erdoğan said during a party meeting on Wednesday. "Those who believe in rumors and speculate on the lifespan of others, for us, are not only daring but insolent as well."
He also lashed out at the Taraf daily, which reported the email leak on its front page on Tuesday.
"Those who have these stories should know this well. You can neither take nor add a moment to a lifespan that has been determined by God. The plan belongs to him and that plan will be in place," he said.
During the meeting, Erdoğan also claimed that CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu -- who recently said more than a hundred journalists were in jail in Turkey -- was buttering up Western audiences when he complained about Turkey to foreign countries. He said, "Let me remind [Kılıçdaroğlu] that two Palestinian television channels were shut down [by Israel] in Ramallah last week."
He noted that a workers' union -- not openly mentioning the name, but referring to the Turkish Journalists Union, or TGS -- claimed 105 journalists were in jail.
"Twenty-five of these people have been convicted, 70 are under arrest pending trial, six don't have any prison records and four of them have been released. Only six of these individuals have press cards. The others consist of accountants or other office personnel. These people are being made to look as if they are journalists," Erdoğan said. "Sixty-nine of these people are being charged with having links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, Kongra-Gel and the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK. They are being accused of knowingly aiding and abetting PKK members, carrying ammunition and illegal firearms, using fake police IDs, launching armed attacks on police vehicles and recruiting members for the [PKK]."
Erdoğan said Kılıçdaroğlu was smearing his own country in spite of the truth about these people in jail.
Polls Shows Large Number of Turks Uncertain of Education Reform
Ninety-one percent of Turks lack adequate information on how planned education reform will affect their children, according to a poll by the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, which has called for greater public debate on a contentious related motion.
"This situation is unacceptable for any democracy. How can we trust a government that is doing business in secret?" CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Wednesday as he revealed the results of the survey.
Nearly 87 percent of respondents disapproved of vocational training instead of regular schooling for 10-year-old boys, according to the poll. The survey also found that 97 percent disagree with homeschooling for girls after four years of basic education, a provision that has since been modified to allow distance learning after eight years. About 87 percent also said free preschool education for 5-year-olds was necessary.
"Our nation has common sense. Even if they are ill-informed, they perceive that there is something wrong with the educational bill," Kılıçdaroğlu said, reiterating a call on the ruling party to withdraw the bill and seek compromises with the opposition on a new draft.
The poll was conducted among 1,200 respondents in 25 provinces. Meanwhile, squabbles erupted in Parliament's Education Commission yesterday as the stormy debate on the bill dragged on.
Justice and Development Party, or AKP, lawmaker Osman Çakır accused the CHP of having banned "the mentioning of Allah's name" during its single-party rule in the early years of the Turkish Republic. After a harsh CHP reaction, Çakır apologized for his remarks.
The commission meeting was still continuing as the Hürriyet Daily News went to print late Wednesday.
The controversial bill has come under fire for the allegedly premature introduction of vocational classes after four years of basic education and for allowing students to opt out of school in favor of home study after eight years. Critics say the new system will encourage child labor and undermine the schooling of girls.