Erdogan casts doubt over courts hearing Turkish coup trials

By Pinar Aydinli

ANKARA, June 12 (Reuters) – Growing disquiet in Turkey over special courts’ handling of mafia and terrorism trials, that have included coup conspiracy cases against hundreds of military officers, could lead the government to curb their powers, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

The Justice Ministry is working on amendments to the criminal code, and Erdogan’s latest comments will fuel speculation that the courts could be dismantled.

“We are the government who introduced the special authority courts. They worked, and were useful at times, but unfortunately harmful at others. We have to form a balance,” Erdogan told journalists in parliament.

Erdogan, who has previously criticised special prosecutors for acting as if they were “a different power within the state”, refused to rule out the possibility that the special courts could be scrapped.

“Anything could be on the table,” he said.

“What matters to us is the contentment of our people. It is the parliament’s duty to change things into ways people will be content with, if there is discontent.”

Erdogan’s decade in power has been fraught with tension between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a staunchly secular military that distrusted the prime minister’s Islamist past.

After they were established in 2005 to replace state security courts, the special authority courts began to pursue cases against the military’s officer corps, giving the AKP the upper hand.

They shot to prominence in 2007 when police claimed to have uncovered an ultra-nationalist network, named Ergenekon, running plots against Erdogan’s government.

Many of the hundreds of suspects rounded up and held in lengthy pre-trial detention belong to the military, though others included academics, journalists and social activists.

Critics say cases spiralled out of control, and initial public support for investigations dwindled as fears grew that prosecutors were using their powers to stifle dissent.

During the past few days Turkish media has been filled with speculation that hundreds of defendants in coup conspiracy and mafia trials could be released, including some of the 365 officers currently on trial in the Sledgehammer case.

Prosecutors allege a war game seminar in 2003 laid out plans to undermine Erdogan’s government by planting bombs in historic mosques and tourist sites in Istanbul and provoke an escalation of tension with Greece, in order to pave the way for a military takeover.

Defence lawyers have boycotted the final stages of the trial in protest at the judges’ refusal to admit testimony from expert witnesses who would argue that evidence gleaned from computer files by the prosecution had been falsified.

The issue has renewed speculation of a rift in the ruling AK Party between Erdogan’s camp and followers of Fethullah Gulen, an influential Islamic preacher living in self-imposed exile in the United States.

On Monday, Bulent Arinc, one of Erdogan’s four deputy prime ministers, a former lawyer regarded as close to Islamist factions, denied there was any chance of the special courts being affected by changes under consideration by the Justice Ministry.

“There are no changes regarding the special authority courts, or articles 250, 251, 252 of the penal law in the fourth judiciary package that is being discussed nowadays,” Arinc told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Monday.

Special prosecutors clashed publicly with Erdogan earlier this year when they sought to question his intelligence chief over secret peace talks held in Oslo with representatives of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Many Turks oppose any negotiation with the militant group whose separatist struggle has resulted in the deaths or more than 40,000 people since the mid-1980s.

(Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Jon Hemming)

Tatarstan’s president holds contacts in Ankara

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu came together with Tatar President Rustem Minnikhanov for a working breakfast on Wednesday, which was followed by a joint press conference.

“We are not allowing any hindrance in our economic and cultural relations with either the Republic of Tatarstan or its friendly, neighboring Russian Federation.

Following the abolishment of visa requirements for travel between Turkey and Tatarstan, mutual visits dramatically increased and were followed by the development of bilateral economic relations,” Davutoglu said after a meeting in Ankara with Minnikhanov, emphasizing the strong relations between the nations of Turks and Tatars.

For his part, Minnikhanov thanked governors of the Republic of Turkey for their contributions to protection of the common culture of Turkish-speaking nations.

Following his meeting with Davutoglu, Minnikhanov proceeded to the Presidential Palace, where he was received by President Abdullah Gul in an official ceremony and later attended a working luncheon hosted by Gul.

Minnikhanov’s visit has particular significance in that it is the first presidential visit from Tatarstan to Turkey.

Ankara’s view of the change in the Middle East: To Understand

BY HASAN KANBOLAT TODAY’S ZAMAN- African leaders are like walnuts, they fall when they are ripe,” is a wise saying I heard in Madagascar.

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fell in North Africa. Now, it is Hosni Mubarak’s time in Egypt. Then, it appears, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen will go. These three Arab leaders are like aging walnuts. For 30 years, they have been ruling their countries with iron fists (the police, the military and the intelligence). They and a small group of their relatives have been exerting control over politics and economy in their countries. They would not distribute oil or natural gas incomes to their people. They would not create employment. On the other hand, the slighted increase in world food prices would be felt directly by their people. They would not allow justice, dignity, freedom, democracy, economic and political reform. The opposition was under pressure. The people had enough of the empty promises of the political power.

In order to make sense of the change that has started in the Middle East, we need to realize that the Middle East of the 21st century is quite different from that of the 20th century.

In the Middle East of the 20th century, people were ignorant. They were not knowledgeable about the world. They were receiving only what was given to them. They were being continually saved by their saviors. The intellectuals — writers, engineers, physicians and economists — who were employed or oppressed in their own countries were able to find jobs in the West. A Tunisian physician could practice medicine in Belgium. An Algerian engineer could work at Renault in France. Thus, by keeping its doors open, the West could prevent from the pressure cooker called the Middle East from exploding.

In the 21st century, the peoples of the Middle East are not ignorant. The use of French in North Africa and of English in the Middle East is quite popular. The use of Spanish is on the rise due to Arabs who settled in Latin America during the Ottoman era. Russian is popular among intellectuals due to the good relations with the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. Thanks to the recent improvement in the ties between Turkey and the Middle East, Turkish is also becoming popular among Arabs. Arab youth are studying and working all over the world. Arabs watch the world via the Internet and international TV channels. They are doing business with the world. We need to see that in the 21st-century Middle East, the young people of 9/11 were not ignorant, but started to wage a war against the West after understanding Western values. The Hezbollah, which Israel faced in Lebanon, was not like the Arabs of the 20th century. They did not escape or give in. They knew how to use weapons and they are well-trained, well-organized and faithful troops.

Just as the 21st-century Middle East underwent a change, so did the 21st-century Western world. The West changed their immigration laws and closed its doors to the immigrants from the East. Middle Eastern and North African people started to face racist pressures although they were born and grew in and were citizens of Western countries. Thus, by keeping its doors closed, the West started to wait for the pressure cooker of the Middle East to explode. Intellectuals who could not migrate from the Middle East to the West were doomed to live with low wages or face unemployed and endure political pressures in their own countries. This gradually increased the rage against the political powers in the Middle East and against the West. Eventually, the threshold of fear and tedium was exceeded and the first explosion came on Sept. 11, 2001. The second explosion came with the Paris incidents of October 2005. The third explosion was in Tunisia in January 2011 and then in Egypt.

The young generations of the 21st century quickly get bored with everything and consume everything speedily; they don’t like long lasting political powers. This new trend in the world is becoming stronger among young Arab people who use virtual — legal or illegal — organization methods made available by the Internet. People can pour into the streets thanks to the Internet. Thus, the Arab world is gaining a more dynamic structure.

The people and youth of the 21st-century Middle East demand a better life. However, the poor and educated Arab middle class youth lack any ideological background or organization. Revolutions — French, Bolshevik or Iranian — on the other hand, have ideological backgrounds and organizations. Therefore, there is the likelihood of new political powers becoming old powers or radicals in the Arab world.

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