Obama, Erdogan Seek Common Ground on Middle East

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Spetalnick and Laura MacInnis

2011-09-20T213040Z_276114503_GM1E79L0FIG01_RTRMADP_3_OBAMA-TURKEY

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan shake hands in New York September 20, 2011. World leaders have gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.  

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sought common ground on counterterrorism and Middle East policy on Tuesday even as Washington pressed Ankara to ease tensions with close U.S. ally Israel.

Their talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly came as a showdown loomed this week over Palestinian statehood at the world body, another source of rising tensions in a region in political upheaval.

Washington has watched with concern as NATO ally Turkey’s once-friendly ties with Israel have deteriorated rapidly over Israel’s 2010 killing of Turkish activists in a Gaza-bound aid convoy. The crisis has underscored Israel’s growing isolation and the new limits of U.S. influence in the Middle East.

“The president underscored his interest in seeing a resolution of that issue between those two countries and encouraged continuing work toward that end,” White House adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters after the meeting, saying Obama also emphasized the need to calm tensions throughout the region.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama would make the same points to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he meets him on Wednesday.

The two leaders also discussed Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s unrelenting crackdown on anti-government protests has alarmed neighboring Turkey and led to U.S. calls he step aside.

Obama and Erdogan agreed on the need to increase pressure on Assad and agreed to consult on possible further steps that “could include sanctions, political pressure, other measures,” Rhodes said.

Obama and Erdogan, in their public comments to reporters, focused on deadly attacks in Turkey on Tuesday that they agreed underscored the need for cooperation on counterterrorism.

“This reminds us that terrorism exists in many parts of the world, and Turkey and the United States are going to be strong partners in preventing terrorism,” Obama said.

An explosion from a suspected car bomb ripped through a street in the Turkish capital, Ankara, near a neighborhood housing government buildings, killing three people.

Also on Tuesday, Kurdish guerrillas attacked a police college in southeastern Turkey, killing four people in a passing vehicle, broadcaster CNN Turk reported on its website.

NEED ‘TO WORK TOGETHER’

Erdogan said the United States and Turkey needed to “work together in planning, use technology so that we can continue to take more steps in trying to fight against terrorism.”

Turkey is in talks with the United States to provide a base for a fleet of U.S. Predator drones now stationed in Iraq. It is reported to want surveillance drones to carry out operations against Kurdish separatist rebels based in northern Iraq.

The Obama administration is seeking to preserve close ties with Turkey, an increasingly assertive economic and military power in the region that has become a champion of democracy movements roiling the Arab world.

Ankara backed efforts that led to the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and aids U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan, and plays a crucial role in neighboring Iraq.

Obama praised Erdogan for “great leadership” in promoting democracy in the region. But problems remain.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Turkey on Monday not to do anything to worsen its relationship with Israel.

Israeli-Turkish relations have spiraled downward in recent weeks with the release of a U.N. report on the 2010 flotilla raid, in which Israeli commandos raid killed nine Turkish activists, and Israel’s refusal to apologize to Ankara.

Erdogan’s government has expelled Israel’s envoy, frozen military cooperation and warned that the Turkish navy could escort future aid flotillas — raising the prospect of confrontation between Turkey and the Jewish state.

Erdogan has also kept up a stream of harsh rhetoric against Israel, using a tour of Arab states last week to support a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations and chide Israel as a spoiled client of the West.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)

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Erdoğan Offers ‘Arab Spring’ Neo-Laicism

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Daily News

TUNIS

2011-09-16T144830Z_1057611084_GM1E79G1N2G01_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil wave to people during a rally at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli September 16, 2011. 

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Following criticism in Egypt, the Turkish PM repeats his support for secular governments where he says all religious groups are treated equally

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan (L) draws intense interest during his visit to a covered bazaar in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. AA photo Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday repeated his controversial call for uprising-hit Arab countries to adopt “secular states,” following Turkey’s model.

“Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state of law. As for secularism, a secular state has an equal distance to all religious groups, including Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist people,”
Erdoğan said during a visit to Tunis, the place where the wave of pro-democracy revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa began late last year.

“Tunisia will prove to the whole world that Islam and democracy can co-exist. Turkey with its predominantly Muslim population has achieved it,” Erdoğan said. His administration is seen by many as a model for post-revolution Arab countries, though Islamic groups in Egypt were split over his pro-secularism remarks there.

“On the subject of secularism, this is not secularism in the Anglo-Saxon or Western sense; a person is not secular, the state is secular,” Erdoğan said, describing Turkey as democratic and secular. “A Muslim can govern a secular state in a successful way. In Turkey, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and it did not pose any problem.

You can do the same here.”

Erdoğan traveled to Tunisia following a rapturous welcome in Cairo and issued the kind of trademark warning to Israel that has earned him hero status on his “Arab Spring tour.”

“Israel will no longer be able to do what it wants in the Mediterranean and you’ll be seeing Turkish warships in this sea,” the Turkish prime minister said after meeting with his Tunisian counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi, on the third day of his visit to North Africa.

Erdoğan reiterated his insistence on an Israeli apology for last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead.

“Relations with Israel cannot normalize if Israel does not apologize for the flotilla raid, compensate the martyrs’ families and lift the blockade on Gaza,” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey would assure protection for Turkish vessels bound for Gaza or elsewhere in international waters. “Israel cannot do whatever it wants in the eastern Mediterranean. It will see our determination. Our frigates, our assault boats will be there.”

Erdoğan’s visit marks “the willingness to strengthen brotherly relations and cooperation between Tunisia and Turkey,” the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was one of the first top foreign officials to visit Tunisia in February and is also among the Turkish ministers accompanying Erdoğan on his visit. Davutoğlu signed a friendship and cooperation agreement with his Tunisian counterpart, Mouldi Kefi, in Tunisia on Thursday.

Accompanied by a delegation of ministers and businessmen, Erdoğan arrived late Wednesday at the Tunis international airport, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Essebsi.

Around 4,000 people waving Turkish and Palestinian flags had also gathered at the airport under heavy security to show their support for the man who has become one of the region’s most popular leaders.

Erdoğan is due in Libya on Friday for the final leg of his tour. The transitional administration there has also said that Islam would be the main source of legislation in the new Libya.

* Compiled from AFP, AP, Reuters and AA stories by the Daily News staff.a

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Special Report: Erdogan: The strongest man in Turkey

August 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has an unspoken pact with the Turkish electorate: he delivers rapid economic growth, jobs and money, and voters let him shape what kind of democracy this Muslim nation of 74 million people becomes.

So far, the deal has served him well.

Erdogan has overseen a near tripling of per capita income in the last decade. That has helped blunt misgivings over the way he deals with dissent, and allowed him to subordinate Turkey’s powerful military, which has long seen itself as guardian of the country’s secular soul. Last year he used a plebiscite on constitutional reform to break the cliques in the judiciary, another bastion of Turkey‘s secular old guard.

The prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), socially conservative and successor to a banned Islamist party, won a third term with 50 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in June thanks largely to the success of its pro-growth free-market policies.

"Erdogan realizes he will be in power as long as the country prospers," Umit Ozlale, an economics professor at TOBB University in Ankara said. "When the economy is on track he handles other challenges from the military, judiciary or from the bureaucracy more easily."

At the same time, many Turks have a sneaking feeling that the prime minister’s road to democracy will always lead to his own party. With the economic boom now wobbling and the resignation on July 29 of the country’s four most senior generals, tensions at the heart of Erdogan’s Turkey are becoming harder to ignore.

"The fear amongst many of the (AKP’s) critics in Turkey is that the party is now overly dominant with fewer checks and balances given its controls all the main levers of the state," said Timothy Ash, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland.

BEATING THE GENERALS

When Chief of General Staff Isik Kosaner stepped down late last month along with the heads of the army, military and navy, he said he could no longer stand by while 250 fellow officers languished in jail, victims of charges he described as flawed and unjust.

The capitulation of the top brass confirmed what most Turks have known for years: the generals are a spent force in Turkish politics.

In many ways, that’s progress. Generals overthrew three civilian governments between 1960 and 1980 and forced an Islamist-led coalition of which Erdogan was part from power in 1997. Turks respect their military, but most want to keep the uniform out of politics.

Erdogan has managed to do just that. In 2007, the military failed to stop the AKP government installing Abdullah Gul as president. That same year, Erdogan won a second term as prime minister in a parliamentary poll that let the military know they should stop messing with democracy.

That’s created a new dynamic between soldiers and politicians. The new generals Erdogan selected last week may not love the AK Party, but they’re unlikely to ignore fellow officers plotting against the government. When Erdogan chaired a meeting of the Supreme Military Council a few days after the resignations there was no doubting who was in charge. Flanked by grim-faced four-stars, Erdogan sat alone at the top of the table, where he would normally be joined by the chief of general staff.

MAN OF THE PEOPLE

Erdogan’s followers like his forceful personality and the fact he grew up in Istanbul‘s rough Kasimpasa neighborhood, where boys learn to carry themselves with a swagger and have the last word in any argument.

More than that, they appreciate his piety and sense of justice that some ascribe to his studies of Islam. Many see him as uncorruptible.

He connects with ordinary people, using everyday language in his speeches and addressing members of the audience with comments like: "Isn’t that the case, sister?," "Don’t you think so, dear mother?"

They also like that he’s engineered a shift in power away from the old Istanbul-based business houses to the so-called Anatolian tigers in the more conservative heartland of Turkey.

And his appeal goes well beyond Turkey.

The tongue-lashing he gave Israeli president Shimon Peres at Davos in 2009 over the Gaza offensive, cemented his reputation in the Islamic world.

Last December, just before the uprising in Tunisia started the Arab Spring, a taxi driver in Tunis pointed to a photograph of Erdogan in a newspaper. "Nice man," the cabbie told a Reuters journalist. "The best leader in the Islamic world right now."

THREE TIMES A WINNER

Turkey‘s prime minister has long understood that the key to success is economic growth.

Over the past decade he’s transformed Turkey from a basket case dependent on IMF loans to the 16th largest economy in the world. He wants Turkey to be in the top 10 by 2023.

Flush with money and with their own economy faring far better than the euro zone, Turks have grown less enamored of the prospect of joining the European Union.

Last year Turkey notched up 9 percent growth. An Istanbul banker tells a story about a customer who wanted a loan. When asked how many siblings he had in his family the young man said: "We are four, but God has given us Tayyip, so now we’re five."

There is a sense that as long as Erdogan keeps Turks in jobs and the money rolling in, people won’t mind if the AKP government loses some of the democratic zeal that marked its early years. Erdogan has been very open about his plans for a new constitution that could open the way for him to become president.

Chances of the opposition unseating him are remote, and he has no real rivals within the AKP.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul- and Brussels-based think tank, reckons the greatest risk to Erdogan’s dominance is an economic crisis brought on by an external shock.

"Until then the AKP has a blank check," he said, speaking just before the latest market turmoil. "This situation can continue as long as international markets remain benign, as long as interest rates globally remain low, as long as risk aversion remains low."

"THE FINAL WORD"

That is a dismal prospect for members of the old elites, who fear Erdogan’s AKP aims to roll back the secular state envisioned by soldier-statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he founded the republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Erdogan has already been in office longer than any other leader since Ataturk. Critics refer to the possibility he will rule on as president as the "Putinisation" of Turkey, though the term is seldom seen in the press.

When foreign diplomats in Ankara are asked what action Turkey might take on an issue, the answer is often along the lines of: "In the end Erdogan will have the final word."

Normally it would fall to the judiciary and press to provide a check on the government. But Turkey‘s judges and journalists have also had their wings clipped.

Only last year, Erdogan won backing in a referendum on constitutional reforms that included changes to the way judges are selected. There’s little doubt that the judiciary needed reforming, but critics say that the changes also reduced judges’ independence.

Turkey has fallen to 138th out of 178 countries in the World Press Freedom Index produced by media freedom pressure group Reporters without Borders, from 101st in 2007. Washington and Brussels have both aired concerns.

Early this year, with the election looming, police detained around a dozen journalists said to be linked to an alleged anti-government network dubbed Ergenekon, the fabled valley of Turkish legend from where a tribe of Turks escaped their enemies by following a lone wolf.

Opposition politicians and military leaders allege some prosecutors are taking revenge for past state repression of Islamist movements. Armed with leaks from either prosecutors or the police, government-friendly media report the detentions in ways that suggest the suspects are guilty before their cases are heard.

"Many people worry that the arrests of these officers and journalists may be the product of a witch-hunt mentality by those who feel they have the power now and are using the judiciary to settle old scores," said Hurriyet Daily News columnist Semih Idiz.

POLITICAL MAKEOVER

Since coming to power, Erdogan has gone out of his way to be seen as a model of pragmatism. Alcohol may cost more, but little in the way of legislation offers evidence of a religious agenda.

An attempt to lift a ban on women wearing the Muslim headscarf entering universities or working in the public sector has not been revived since it was pushed back in 2004.

In the past year, however, there was barely a murmur when universities began taking a permissive stance toward students in headscarves.

Scaremongering over the spread of Islamism proved a vote- loser for the secular opposition, so they stopped campaigning on it, opting instead to pick holes in Erdogan’s image as a champion of democracy.

The pillar of his political program is a proposal for a new constitution to replace the one drafted after a 1980 military coup. Parliament is expected to begin work on the new charter in October, and it is likely to dominate the political agenda until next summer.

"It will be a constitution emphasizing pluralism rather than a single voice. It will take the individual and their rights as its basis, protecting national unity and our shared values and accepting the wealth of social diversity," Erdogan said late last month.

Critics are unconvinced. When Erdogan has said in the past "democracy is not an objective, it is a vehicle," his foes have pounced, pointing to the words as proof of his autocratic tendencies.

"The new constitutional order will bring not liberty and democracy, as the government is trying to persuade Westerners, but a harsher new order," former Constitutional Court chief judge Yekta Gungor Ozden told Reuters.

WHAT KIND OF PRESIDENT?

But the shape of a new constitution is far from clear. Burhan Kuzu, the head of the parliamentary commission looking at it, is a staunch advocate of the presidential system and argues that Turkey prospers from single-party rule and slips back when led by weak coalitions.

Not everyone in the AKP likes the idea of a presidential system: to win the parliamentary votes he needs to alter the constitution, Erdogan will have to reach out to rival parties.

Former justice minister Hikmet Sami Turk told Reuters that many opposition groups will not "accept a presidential system. It could lead to a dictatorial system."

If Erdogan fails to win his changes, he will likely still run for — and win — the presidency in 2014 even if the position remains a figurehead role.

His greatest threat is an economic crisis.

Against conventional wisdom, the central bank cut its policy interest rate to an all-time low on August 4, despite growing concerns about inflation and pressure on the lira currency.

In the last few months, Erdogan said that ideally he’d like to see real interest rates at zero, a notion that makes some worry that populist priorities could hurt the economy.

If inflation rises or the flow of foreign investment dries up, Turkey could easily find itself with a current account deficit climbing beyond 10 percent of GDP, leaving it vulnerable to an economic shock that could persuade voters to desert Erdogan just as they did his predecessors.

Until then, there’s no doubting who’s boss.

(Reported and written by Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir, Tulay Karadeniz, Orhan Coskun, Ozge Ozbilgin and Pinar Aydinli; Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

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High-Spending Arab Tourists Flock to Turkey

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ece Toksabay

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Dozens of Gulf Arab women in flowing black veils whisk through one of Istanbul’s most luxurious shopping malls, clutching bags of lingerie, shoes and toys, swarms of children in tow.

The summer tourist season is in full swing in Turkey and Erkan Zengin, a store manager for an upmarket Turkish jewelry company, has reason to be happy.

“Our foreign customers are mostly from Saudi Arabia. They have good taste in jewelry and usually go for the big rocks.”

A similar scene is repeated at a nearby leather shoe and jacket store, where a clerk can barely keep up with high-spending customers from the Middle East.

“They are not like Turks. They like a shoe, ask for their size, try it on, go to the cashier and pay. Turks want to try on 20 pairs of shoes before making up their mind,” the clerk said.

“Our favorite customers are Arabs because of their quick decisions and high purchasing power.”

Muslim but non-Arab Turkey has become a hot destination for Arab tourists and investors in recent years, emerging as a regional power in the Middle East under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party.

Arab interest in Turkish culture — from TV soap operas, pop music and food to Turkey’s rehabilitation of its Ottoman history — has helped bring an influx of Arab tourists.

Istanbul, the old imperial capital, has become a popular wedding destination for Arabs.

Escaping blistering desert summers, Arabs can also take advantage of a growing sector in Turkey that caters to devout wealthy Muslims — hotels where men and women have separate swimming pools and beach areas and alcohol is not served.

And with “Arab Spring” turmoil scaring visitors in the Middle East and in North Africa, stable Turkey is counting on its large Mediterranean coast and rich heritage to draw more visitors.

“The Arab Spring is positively affecting our tourism revenues,” Basaran Ulusoy, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, told Turkish media. “It made a positive contribution to Turkey’s international perception.” Data from the Ministry of Tourism showed the number of tourists visiting Turkey increased by 14.56% in the first five months of this year compared to January-May in 2010.

While Germans, Russians and British tourists continue to top the list — most of them lured to Turkey’s cheaper all-inclusive packages — high-spending tourists from Arab countries have experienced the biggest percentage jump.

The numbers speak for themselves. In May, tourists from Yemen were up 87% from last year, while the rise in tourists from Saudi Arabia and Iraq was 79.3% and 45.84 respectively.

This is a welcome boost to Turkey’s coffers, as the country struggles to plug a widening current account deficit.

Tourism is a crucial foreign currency earner in Turkey and helps to offset the widening current account deficit, which rose 77% year on year to $7.68 billion.

Turkey has sunk huge efforts into improving political and commercial ties with its neighbors in the Middle East, but “Arab Spring” unrest has cost Turkish entrepreneurs billions of dollars in Libya and has delayed infrastructure projects in neighboring Syria.

But turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt has also forced many to rethink travel plans and Turkey is seen benefitting, as tourist destinations in unstable countries suffered a major hit.
“Turkey is about to have a tremendous tourism season this year on the back of problems in MENA countries and new tourism investments in the country,” Ozgur Altug, chief economist at Istanbul-partners BGC Partners, said.

“End-May is the official start of the tourism season in Turkey and in July-August-September the amount of FX in Turkey will reach its peak due to rising tourism revenues.”

Turkey’s tourism revenue exceeded $25 billion in 2010 and officials expect more cash for 2011. More than 30 million tourists are expected by the end of the year, up from 28.6 million last year.

With 48 airports nationwide, 16 of them international, and home to Europe’s fastest growing airlines, Turkish Airlines, Turkey has also become a stepping stone to other destinations.

“We want especially Egypt’s situation to improve soon and gain stability because with Turkey, it is part of a two-step holiday destination for American tourists,” Ulusoy said.

Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and seat of Ottoman-era palaces and mosques and centuries-old bazaars, receives the most tourists followed by the Mediterranean beach resort of Antalya.

But while more Arabs are coming to Turkey, the number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey between January and May fell by 59 percent compared to the same period last year.

Ties between the two once-close allies deteriorated sharply when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish-backed flotilla bound for Gaza last year, killing nine Turkish activists.

About 30,000 tourists from Israel visited Turkey in the first five months of the year, compared to the 72,500 Israeli tourists who came to Turkey during the same period in 2010.

There have been signs of an early thaw in relations between Turkey and Israel, but in May the decrease of Israeli tourists was even sharper — only 6,417 tourists from Israel came to Turkey, compared to 18,295 in the same month last year.

This does not seem to bother Zengin, the jeweller, who is looking forward to more Arab tourists.

“Our Arab A+ customers, who choose the best jewels, have not arrived yet. We can say this crowd here is B or A-, but still, we sell much more to Arabs than Turks. We are looking forward to July, when our richer customers arrive.”

(Editing by Alison Williams)

13-28

Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Consensus After Big Win

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Pinar Aydinli and Ibon Villelabeitia

2011-06-12T211440Z_1243616371_GM1E76D0ER301_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY-ELECTION

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, with a slogan reads that “We are Turkey together” in the background, greets his supporters at the AK Party headquarters in Ankara June 12, 2011. Erdogan’s ruling AK Party was set to win Sunday’s parliamentary election with 50.2 percent of the vote, but looked unlikely to get enough seats to call a referendum on a planned new constitution.

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will start a third term of one-party rule strengthened by Sunday’s decisive election victory but also burdened by the need for consensus to push ahead with plans for a new constitution.

Erdogan will have to focus first on a pressing foreign policy issue right on his borders: unrest in neighboring Syria has led to nearly 7,000 Syrian fleeing to Turkey to escape a brutal crackdown by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, with more coming every day.

But analysts said Erdogan also must find ways to revive a stalled bid for membership of the European Union and break down French and German reluctance to let Turkey in.

Erdogan, whose AK Party has transformed Muslim Turkey into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and ended a cycle of military coups, won 49.9 percent of the vote, or 326 seats, in Sunday’s parliamentary election.

The vote was AK’s biggest electoral tally since it first came to power in 2002 but the party failed to win the 330 seats it needed to call a referendum to recast the constitution, written almost 30 years ago during a period of military rule.

Financial markets were cheered on Monday as investors saw the mixed result forcing the AK Party to compromise with others to make the constitutional change. The Turkish lira strengthened against the dollar and bonds also gained.

“The new constitution requires consensus and dialogue with other parties and the society at large,” Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, told Reuters.

“We will see if Erdogan is ready for these with his majority or will he go his own way and impose his own views on Turkey — in which case we will have difficult times.”

Turkish newspapers lauded his success.

“Turkey loves him,” “The master of the ballot box,” said front page headlines next to pictures of a smiling Erdogan waving to cheering supporters outside party headquarters.

Critics fear Erdogan, who has a reputation for being intolerant of criticism, might use the victory to cement power, limit freedoms and persecute opponents.

In a victory speech before thousands of flag-waving supporters in the capital Ankara on Sunday night, he pledged “humility” and said he would work with rivals.

“People gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation. We will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties. This new constitution will meet peace and justice demands.”

The new leader of the secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which garnered its best result in more than 30 years with 25.9 percent of the vote, warned Erdogan that he would be watching his movements closely.

“We wish all success to AKP, but they must remember there’s a stronger main opposition party now,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

Analysts saw scope for political turbulence in Turkey.

“The anticipated preparation of a new constitution has the potential to create significant political uncertainty, as it may well raise profound and controversial issues related to the division of power, secularism, religion, nationalism and ethnic minority rights,” Ed Parker, Fitch’s Head of EMEA Sovereign Ratings, said in a statement issued on Monday.

MODEL FOR ARAB SPRING

Turkey and Erdogan’s party are often are cited as models for supporters of democracy living through the “Arab Spring” series of anti-authoritarian protests in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
But opponents say Erdogan, whose party evolved from banned Islamist movements, is imposing a conservative social agenda.

Since crushing old establishment parties on a wave of support from a rising middle class of religious Turks, Erdogan has challenged the secularist military and judiciary with reforms meant to help Turkey meet EU standards of democracy.

He also has set the long-time NATO member and U.S. ally on a more assertive foreign policy course, building closer relations with Middle East countries, including Iran.

Some financial analysts had warned that too large an AK majority could polarize a country that is deeply divided over the role of religion and ethnic minorities.

A limited majority is seen making the government focus on macroeconomic imbalances, including an overheating economy.

There has been speculation that Erdogan would seek to move Turkey toward a more presidential system of government, with the ultimate aim of becoming president himself.

Besides the economy, Erdogan’s government also will need to tackle a separatist conflict in the mainly Kurdish southeast. A strong showing by the pro-Kurdish BDP in the Kurdish region played a role in denying the AK a bigger vote haul.

On Sunday night, a percussion bomb exploded in southeast Turkey, injuring 11 people celebrating election victories of Kurdish candidates, security and hospital officials said.

The explosion occurred around 11 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) in the province of Sirnak, near the Iraqi border. Casualties were being treated at a nearby hospital.

(Additional reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore, Ece Toksabay, Daren Butler in Istanbul, Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

13-25

Israel Apologizes to Turkey

January 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Zerin Elci and Allyn Fisher-Ilan

2010-01-11T102005Z_118425324_GM1E61B1EY301_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrives at a welcoming ceremony in Ankara January 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel apologized to Turkey on Wednesday for publicly dressing down Ankara’s ambassador in a dispute that has strained the once good ties between the Jewish state and the Muslim regional power.

Turkey had demanded a formal apology for Ambassador Oguz Celikkol’s treatment on Monday and threatened to recall him.

But after receiving the letter of apology on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threw a new barb at Israel, saying it should do more for peace in the region.

Turkey, as a Muslim country, is an important ally of Israel and in the past has helped forge contacts between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

But relations have deteriorated following criticism by Erdogan of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip last year.

The latest row broke out after Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned Celikkol on Monday to protest against a Turkish television drama that portrayed Israeli diplomats as masterminds of a child abduction ring.

Ayalon invited media crews to the beginning of the meeting in Jerusalem and pointed out there was no Turkish flag on the table. He also said he was deliberately avoiding a handshake with the ambassador.

In television images broadcast in Turkey, Celikkol was seen seated on a low couch, accentuating the sense of a slight.

Ayalon later conceded his behavior toward the envoy had been inappropriate. But Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who is scheduled to host Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday, said that was insufficient and demanded a full apology.

Israel sent a formal letter of apology to Celikkol on Thursday.

“I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologize for the way the demarche was handled and perceived, Ayalon said in the letter, released by the Israeli government.

“Please convey this to the Turkish people for whom we have great respect. I hope that both Israel and Turkey will seek diplomatic and courteous channels to convey messages as two allies should.”

In response, Erdogan said the Turkish foreign ministry had received “the expected, desired answer.”

But he added more criticism of Israel, telling a news conference: “Israel must put itself in order and it must be more just and more on the side of peace in the region.”

Ayalon had said earlier that his protest against the Turkish criticism of Israel remained valid. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamim Netanyahu also said thought the protest was correct but handled badly, according to his office.

As a predominantly Muslim nation, albeit with a secular constitution, as well as a NATO military power, Turkey is a key ally for Israel in the Middle East. As well as providing security cooperation, Ankara has offered Israel diplomatic help in the past, notably mediating with Syria in 2008.

But ties have become frosty since Israel’s war in the Palestinian Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip a year ago, which drew frequent public censure from Erdogan, whose AK Party’s roots lie in political Islam.

Netanyahu has said Turkey was aligning itself with Muslim countries hostile to Israel like Iran since before the Gaza war.

There was similar outrage last year over a Turkish series which featured Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian children.

On Tuesday in London, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu renewed his country’s criticism of Israel over Gaza.

He said its 2008 invasion of the territory had marked the turning point in Turkish-Israeli relations.

Despite the row, a Turkish delegation is currently in Israel to wrap up the purchase of 10 Heron drones in a deal worth $180 million, Turkish defense officials said.

Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Darren Butler in Ankara, and Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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