Large amounts of explosives found across Turkish cities over the past few days were being stored for use in violent attacks staged by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, during this year's annual spring festival of Nevruz, mainly celebrated by Kurds in Turkey, which occurs in the latter half of March, police say.
Intelligence reports have long been suggesting that the PKK is planning bloody attacks during Nevruz, which is celebrated by at least 100,000 people on the streets of Diyarbakır alone. There are also celebrations in other southeastern cities.
İstanbul counterterrorism police units on Wednesday, who were excavating two sites in İstanbul in search of explosives as part of an investigation into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, found 15 kilograms of plastic explosives. The KCK is an umbrella organization for the PKK and other affiliated groups.
Excavations are still under way in search of more explosives. Earlier in the week, the police discovered nearly five kilograms of explosives in the Başakşehir district of İstanbul, also found during a dig carried out as part of the probe into the KCK. On Thursday, 21 individuals in Diyarbakır were detained on suspicion of membership in the KCK, including the deputy mayor of the city's Yenişehir district.
The recent operations have exposed the extent of bloodshed the PKK planned for Nevruz this year. Police in Diyarbakır have long been monitoring the "self-defense units," the name the PKK gives to its urban militants assigned the task of organizing violent demonstrations in the urban centers of the mainly Kurdish-dominated Southeast and eastern cities with majority Kurdish populations.
One individual was captured as he was surveying a target site in February. The PKK -- which failed to stage violent demonstrations at the scale it aimed for on the Feb. 15 anniversary of PKK Chief Abdullah Öcalan's capture by Turkish security forces in 1997 -- does not wield the influence it has among the southeastern public and lacks the ability it previously had in organizational displays of power in the form of major demonstrations, intelligence experts believe.
This is why it had to assign about 200 of its own militants, trained in the terrorist group's camps in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq, the task of going to urban centers to provoke demonstrations. Roughly 60 people have so far been captured by police after the exposure of the PKK's plans by Turkish security forces.
Police sources have said that the PKK, which recently suffered its greatest losses ever in clashes with Turkish security forces, has declared 2012 as the year of revival and Serhilden, the Kurdish word for uprising.
Nevruz, a two or three-day spring festival that usually starts around March 18, was chosen as the beginning for the PKK's planned activities for the year. The PKK, frustrated with the low attendance rate at the illegal demonstrations it tried to stage on Feb. 15, and the refusal of many local storekeepers to shut down their business for the day in protest of Öcalan's capture, will aggressively stage violent attacks, according to intelligence reports. Only about 500 people, at an event organized by Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, deputies, gathered on Feb 15. to protest the capture of Öcalan and his current conditions of imprisonment.
Information obtained from the 60 "self-defense units" militants indicate that the PKK wanted to provoke aggression by Turkish security forces on the locals or fire on crowds with long-range rifles if it fails to provoke security units during the demonstrations.
UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan Due in Turkey over Crisis in Syria
United Nations-Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan, due in Damascus on Saturday for key talks, is expected to visit Turkey in the coming days, Turkish officials said on Thursday.
Annan, who was appointed special envoy last month, phoned Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and told him that he would like to visit Turkey as part of his tour of regional countries. Davutoğlu said Turkey would welcome his visit, Foreign Ministry officials told Today's Zaman.
It was not immediately clear when Annan planned to visit. A report by private news agency ANKA said the former UN secretary-general wants to visit Turkey after his key talks in Damascus on Saturday; Annan was in Cairo this week for talks with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Egyptian officials.
On Thursday, he said he will urge the government and opposition to halt violence and seek a political settlement after a year of conflict when he makes his trip to Damascus.
Turkey is one of the staunchest critics of the Syrian government's brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests. On Wednesday, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said the Syrian regime was at a "dead-end road" and urged President Bashar al-Assad to agree to one of the formulas proposed for a political solution, including one tabled by the Arab League last month that envisages Assad handing power to a deputy ahead of elections in the conflict-torn country.
Amos to Have Talks with Davutoğlu
Meanwhile, Annan and Davutoğlu also discussed talks between Davutoğlu and UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, officials said.
Annan told Davutoğlu that Amos seeks talks with him after completing her trip to Syria. Amos, previously denied access to Syria, began her visit this week and she is the first independent outside observer to visit the shattered Baba Amr since the Syrian military began its month-long assault of the rebellious neighborhood.
Syria had initially failed to grant Amos access to the country, but relented after growing international criticism, including from its allies Russia and China, for refusing to allow her to visit.
UN's Amos in Turkey to Visit Syrian Refugee Camps
United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos arrived in Turkey after her trip to Syria on Friday to visit camps set up for thousands of Syrians who have fled the conflict across the border, a UN official in Ankara told Reuters.
Syrian refugees have crossed to Turkey in growing numbers in recent days, frightened by a government assault to drive rebels from the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, officials said.
On her trip to Syria, Amos said she was "devastated" by the destruction she had seen in Baba Amr, and wanted to know what happened to its residents, who endured a 26-day military siege before rebels withdrew a week ago.
A Turkish foreign ministry official said Amos would meet Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and was expected to make a statement at Ankara airport. Amos was then set to make a brief visit to Istanbul, the foreign ministry said.
Some 12,000 Syrians are registered at the camps set up to provide refuge for them in Turkey's southern province of Hatay, after the arrival of around 800 during the past week, according to a foreign ministry official.
During the past year, Turkey has turned against former friend President Bashar al-Assad over his brutal crackdown, and fears that there could be massacres in Syrian towns and cities that are centers of opposition to his rule.
The United Nations is readying food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria as part of a 90-day emergency plan to help civilians deprived of basic supplies after nearly a year of conflict.
It has drawn up a 90-day aid plan of $105 million likely to translate into a funding appeal to donors, diplomats and UN sources said.
The UN World Food Program, or WFP, said it distributed some food supplies in Syria through local aid agencies, but it had not reached people in the areas worst hit by the violence.
The UN estimates more than 7,500 civilians have died during Assad's crackdown on the uprising. Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, said on Thursday he would urge Assad and his foes to stop fighting and seek a political solution.
Prosecutors Seek Prime Minister's Permission to Question Intel Chief
The İstanbul Public Prosecutors' Office has sought special permission from the Turkish Prime Ministry to allow for Turkey's incumbent intelligence chief and four other National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, officials to be summoned as part of an investigation into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK.
An İstanbul prosecutor overseeing an investigation into the KCK, a Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK-linked terrorist organization, last month asked the Ankara Prosecutor's Office to hear MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan's testimony. The office then summoned Fidan to testify, which he had not done, citing his busy schedule.
Along with Fidan, the İstanbul prosecutor also requested Fidan's predecessor Emre Taner, MİT Deputy Undersecretary Afet Güneş and two other MİT officials, Yaşar Yıldırım and Hüseyin Kuzuoğlu, testify in the ongoing investigation into the KCK, which Turkish prosecutors say is a group that controls the PKK and other affiliated groups. MİT, however, appealed the prosecutor's move to summon Fidan, arguing the prosecutor's office should have asked the prime minister for permission, but the appeal was rejected.
The prosecutor was then taken off the case on the grounds that he had exceeded his authority, and the government has countered with a bill requiring the prime minister's permission in writing before MİT officials can be questioned.
After the Turkish Parliament approved the government-sponsored bill that requires prosecutors to receive special written permission from the prime minister before taking legal action against or questioning intelligence officials, the İstanbul Public Prosecutors' Office asked the Prime Ministry for authorization. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is required to respond to the request within 60 days.
With the new law, investigations of MİT officials on charges of crimes heard by specially authorized courts can be launched only after written consent is obtained from the prime minister. Opposition parties and others have opposed the bill on the grounds that it is designed to the benefit certain people and hence runs contrary to the rule of law.
Gulen Denies 'Groundless' Stratfor Claims of Pressure on AKP
Well-respected Turkish intellectual and scholar Fethullah Gülen has denied recent media reports based on leaked emails from security analysis company Stratfor that said members of his movement were putting pressure on the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in order to control the party.
Gülen said through his lawyer, Orhan Erdemli, on Wednesday that the allegations are totally groundless. Turkey's Taraf daily reported on the leaked emails on Wednesday.
A set of email correspondence between two colleagues at Stratfor, a United States-based intelligence agency that provides geopolitical analysis to paying subscribers, was released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks as part of a massive leak of the company's correspondence. In one of the emails, analyst Emre Doğru claimed there was a conflict between the AKP and the Gülen movement.
The email alleges the Gülen movement was behind the arrest of journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, arguing that the movement put pressure on the AKP "to make these arrests."
"I discussed this with our Turkish friend who came to Austin recently. He says Gulenists want 150 MPs from the AKP if [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan wants less pressure. It's basically post-election bargaining," he had written.
"The claims put forward in the report saying Gülen was trying to take control of the AK Party and wanted 150 deputies are groundless. Those who put forth these claims should immediately reveal what kind of evidence they have on this issue. Otherwise, it will be considered slander in the eyes of the public," Erdemli said.
The lawyer's statement also criticized the way in which the claims were reported by Taraf.
"In the report, the claims were referred to as intelligence rumors. However, gossip-like correspondence between two people was presented as fact in big font on the front page. It is impossible to reconcile this situation with the principles of journalism, and the report is clearly against the law," he said. "As we explained many times in the past, Mr. Gülen has been engaged in intellectual activities based on universal values such as the rule of law, human rights, democracy and dialogue throughout his life. These studies have no political aspect. These are all legal activities and are not against the law, either."
Gul Addresses Tunisia Parliament, Hails Revolt
Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Wednesday became the first foreign president to address the Tunisian Parliament since the 2010 "Jasmine Revolution."
In his evening speech, the Turkish president advised solving economic problems and extending the realm of freedoms.
"You have to be realistic," Gül said, his words frequently cut by applause. "Neither Tunisia nor Turkey are rich in resources. But both are very rich in human resources."
He advised against populist economic policies, giving the example of Ibn Khaldun, a 13th century Islamic scientist who's seen as a reference for free market policies.
"The Tunisian flag always excites me," Gül said. "The common denominator of the two sides of the Mediterranean is the crescent and the star."
In an earlier comment, Gül emphasized that Turkey is opposed to any forces from outside the Middle East region to intervene in Syria.
"Turkey is against intervention by any force from outside the region. Such an intervention could be subject to exploitation," he said. Speaking at a joint news conference at a presidential palace overlooking the Mediterranean, both Gül and Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki urged an end to the violence.
"It is not possible for any regime to continue through the use of violence and dictatorship," Gül said. "The decision to use the armed forces against the people has transformed the issue into one of international interest."
Marzouki, meanwhile, said Tunisia would be willing to send forces to Syria as part of an Arab peacekeeping operation at the first "Friends of Syria" conference, which the North African country hosted last month. Marzouki, who has offered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asylum in Tunisia, also said the best solution was a negotiated exit for the Syrian leader followed by a transition to democracy.
Turkey, which is to host the next "Friends of Syria" meeting, would hold a preparatory conference in two weeks' time, according to Gül.
The president said Turkey wanted "the largest possible participation" in the next Friends of Syria conference, which, he said, was "being held on an international level and has nothing to do with bilateral relations" -- a reference to stalled Turkish-French ties because of an annulled French law making it a crime to deny that the 1915 events constituted genocide against Armenians.
Gül was accompanied on the visit by Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay and Development Minister Cevdet Yılmaz.
"Tunisia is also a model because it has launched efforts to ensure the rule of law in a pluralist system, elected a president and formed a government," Gül said, according to the official Web site of the Turkish Presidency.
The president also met with Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and Parliamentary Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar. He visited the Martyr's Monument and placed a wreath there in memory of those who lost their lives during the Jan. 14 revolution.
Education Bill Ignites Fistfights in Parliament
Long-running tensions over the controversial education bill degenerated into fistfights in Parliament's Education Commission Thursday when a ruling party advisor punched an opposition deputy.
The incident broke out on the fourth day of stormy debates on the bill after Republican People's Party, or CHP, deputies stood up and raised objections to Commission Chairman Nabi Avcı, closing discussions on the third article of the draft.
The advisor of the Justice and Development Party's, or AKP, Deputy Hakan Şükür punched CHP Deputy Haydar Akar, prompting the other CHP members to run to Akar's defense. AKP deputies were barely able to drag the advisor, Resul Baydak, out of the meeting room.
Commission head Avcı then called a two-hour recess to defuse the tension. Akar filed a criminal complaint against Baydak, who was also asked to give a statement by Parliament's security.
CHP Group Deputy Chairman Muharrem İnce condemned the AKP, charging that "violence used against students and laborers in street demonstrations has made its way to Parliament." İnce renewed a call for the AKP to pull back and revise the bill.
Şükür, the former football star, defended his advisor, claiming he was trying to assist him in leaving the hall when he was "pushed aside by three or four people, who then played the victim." Baydak will also file a complaint, he said.
Education Minister Ömer Dinçer played down the CHP calls for a compromise on the education bill, saying that the main opposition had proposed nothing but the withdrawal of the bill. In comments on one of the most controversial provisions, he stressed that students would not be allowed to freely choose home study, and that the Cabinet would determine the "exceptions." He also said no decision had been made for the elective courses to include the Kurdish language.
Speaking during a visit to a textile factory in Istanbul, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu insisted that pedagogues, academicians and non-governmental organizations should come together and draw up a fresh education reform plan.
"It is not the business of politicians. We are not imposing anything on the government. We are just offering to establish a commission on the issue, but obviously the AKP is far away from compromise," he said.
Earlier, Dinçer inaugurated an European Union-funded project worth 16 million euros aimed at increasing the schooling rate among girls. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül were featured in TV spots for the campaign, both calling on parents to educate their daughters and provide them with a profession.
The project will start in 16 pilot provinces, mostly in the east, where less than 50 percent of girls are enrolled in high schools, Dinçer said.
"It's a great loss that thousands of girls quit school after eight years [of compulsory education]. We will lend support in this field through the allocation of funds, free transport, increasing the capacity of girls' boarding houses and educating parents," he said, adding that the campaign would be followed by two similar EU-funded projects.
Turkish MP Receives International Woman of Courage Award
The Republican People's Party, or CHP, parliamentarian Şafak Pavey, the first disabled woman elected to the Turkish Parliament, received the International Women of Courage Award Thursday at a ceremony attended by United States First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"Safak Pavey has tireless passion and she has brought that energy to work on behalf of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities," Clinton said. "We really honor you because you are going beyond the expectations that were set for you in your life, and by doing so you are breaking down barriers not only for your fellow Turkish citizens but for women and men everywhere."
Other special guests of this year's award ceremony included Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
The prestigious Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage annually recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women's rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk. Since the inception of this award in 2007, the Department of State has honored 46 women from 34 countries.
Milestone Women Act Passed by Turkish Parliament
In a rare show of cooperation between the ruling party and the opposition, Turkish lawmakers on Thursday unanimously passed a landmark bill to curb violence against women.
The adoption of the legislation, which introduces tough measures against abusers and significantly boosts state assistance for victims, coincided with International Women's Day as the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had planned.
The debate at the General Assembly was relatively tension-free as opposition lawmakers backed the bill, even though they protested that some provisions in the original version drafted by the Family and Social Policies Ministry had been watered down.
All 208 lawmakers present in the house voted in favor of the bill.
"I'm grateful to all parties for the unanimous vote. This is our March 8 present to women. Protecting women from violence amounts to protecting the whole society from violence," said Environment Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar, who took the floor on behalf of the government.
Several changes were made to the draft during the two-day debate. Under the revised version, the authorities would not seek evidence or documents proving that the victim had been subjected to violence in order to enforce protective measures. A provision that would have enabled judges to enforce protection measures, even if they are not requested by the victim was removed from the text.
The law provides protection for all women: married, divorced, engaged or in a relationship. In cases of life-threatening danger, security chiefs would be able to make urgent protection decisions or issue restraining orders without a court ruling. An array of technological means would be employed to enforce the law.
Istanbul to Host Iran Nuclear Talks in April
The expected meeting between Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries (the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) will be held in Istanbul in early April, according to Turkey's top diplomat.
Speaking to the daily Radikal on his way back from Nakhchivan to Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the target should be for Iran to halt uranium enrichment. In this context, the May 2010 Tehran Agreement between Turkey, Iran and Brazil, which was rejected by the West, was a huge "missed opportunity," he said.
Davutoğlu said this agreement would have allowed the international community to take 1,800 kg of enriched uranium from Iran, out of a total of 3,000 kg.
"If that agreement was accepted, Iran would have taken the uranium it needed from abroad, halting the process of enrichment," he said.
Regarding Iran's oil exports, Davutoğlu said Turkey will take into consideration UN decisions. He also said Iran had to choose between "the gain and loss of sanctions and the gain and loss of nuclear power."