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Mar 2, 2010

Turkish general charged in anti-government conspiracy case

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish prosecutors have charged the highest-ranking serving officer yet, a four-star general, in a widening circle of arrests of officers in a nation that has hitherto regarded its military as virtually untouchable.

The charges against General Saldiray Berk follow the detention of scores of officers last week over an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, which has its roots in political Islam.

Mar 2, 2010

Turkish general charged in anti-govt conspiracy case

ANKARA, March 2 (Reuters) – Turkish prosecutors have charged
the highest-ranking serving officer yet, a four-star general, in
a widening circle of arrests of officers in a nation that has
hitherto regarded its military as virtually untouchable.

The charges against General Saldiray Berk follow the
detention of scores of officers last week over an alleged
conspiracy to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan, which has its roots in political Islam.

Jan 21, 2010

Turkish army denies plot to clash with Greece

ANKARA, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Turkey’s military denied on Thursday the army had plotted to provoke Greek fighter jets into shooting down a Turkish military jet and said a newspaper report of such a plan had only served to heighten anxieties.

The daily Taraf said the intention of the alleged plot, one of several reported in Turkish media in recent months that have added to strains between the secularist military and the government, was to discredit the Islamist-rooted government.

It said the plot also had called for the army to plant bombs in mosques and museums in Istanbul to stir chaos.

"It is our view that commenting on these allegations by taking them seriously and creating information pollution will only serve the aims of those trying to create anxiety within our society," the military’s General Staff said on its website.

Taraf, which said it had obtained 5,000 pages of documents and tapes, said the alleged "Sledgehammer" plan was designed to portray the AK Party as unable to protect the public and to justify an army takeover in 2003.

The military said documents quoted by the paper were part of a military training seminar but were never meant to be carried out and were not part of a conspiracy.

The government has not commented on the report, which was published in a series appearing on Wednesday and Thursday.

Investors are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential for instability in a country where the military has ousted four governments in 50 years and which is now bidding for European Union membership, although markets on Thursday did not to react to news of the latest alleged plot.

The military, which has seen its once formidable influence in public life wane as a result of EU-inspired reforms, has described documents backing similar stories in the past as fake, and says there is a smear campaign.

Turkey and Greece have longstanding territorial and other disputes. The two countries came to the brink of war in 1996 over an islet in the Aegean and often stage mock dogfights in disputed airspace, but ties have improved over the past decade.

(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Michael Roddy)




Jan 12, 2010

Turkey demands Israeli apology as ties sour

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey demanded an apology from Israel on Tuesday over what it called the discourteous treatment of its ambassador, further souring ties between the two regional powers on the eve of a visit by Israel’s defense minister.

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

Jan 12, 2010

Turkey demands Israeli apology on eve of Barak visit

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey demanded an apology from Israel on Tuesday over what it called the discourteous treatment of its ambassador, further souring ties between the two regional powers on the eve of a visit by Israel’s defense minister.

Turkey, as a Muslim state, is an important ally of Israel and has in the past helped forge contacts between the Jewish state and the Arab world; but relations have soured following strong criticism by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip last year.

Dec 4, 2009

Iran, Afghanistan to test Turkish-U.S. ties

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan may face probing questions about whether NATO member Turkey is tilting away from the West and toward Iran when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama next week.

Erdogan, whose party has Islamist roots, visits Washington at a time when Ankara’s efforts to cultivate stronger ties with Tehran have raised concerns among Western allies.

Nov 20, 2009

New EU president raises fears in aspirant Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) – Herman Van Rompuy’s appointment as the first European Union president provoked fears in Turkey that he might hinder Ankara’s hopes of joining the bloc, with some media declaring outright that he is anti-Turkish.

Turkish newspapers were quick to dig out past comments attributed to Van Rompuy that the EU’s Christian values would lose vigor if Muslim Turkey were let in.

Nov 8, 2009

Sudan’s Bashir to miss OIC summit after EU objected

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir pulled out of an Islamic summit in Istanbul on Sunday — a trip that the European Union had objected to because of his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) .

Bashir, against whom the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region, had announced plans to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Monday.

Oct 27, 2009

Turkey’s military investigates new plot report

ANKARA, Oct 27 (Reuters) – The Turkish military said on Tuesday it was investigating reports detailing a suspected army plan to discredit the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party, which have stirred political tensions and unnerved markets.

The alleged plot was first unveiled in June by liberal newspaper Taraf, which said it had obtained a photocopy of an army document detailing a suspected plan to stop the AK Party and a religious movement from destroying Turkey’s secular order and replacing it by an Islamist state.

The military, which has clashed with the government in the past over the direction of the predominantly Moslem country, ruled at the time after conducting an investigation that the document was forged and called it part of a smear campaign.

The military, which has ousted four governments in 50 years, said it had opened a new investigation after Turkish media reported that an unnamed officer had sent the original document of the suspected plot to a prosecutor.

"For a detailed research of the issues included in the scope of the military judiciary, it was ordered that an investigation take place," the general staff said.

The armed forces are committted "in words and deeds to the rule of law," it added.

The notion of coups will likely add to arguments of those in Europe who say Turkey is unsuited for membership of the European Union.

The EU wants Ankara to push reforms aimed at meeting membership criteria, including limiting the power of the military, which regards itself as the ultimate guardian of secular values against what it sees as Islamist threats.

According to media reports, the unnamed officer also attached a letter in which the officer accuses senior military commanders of being aware of the coup plot and ordering the destruction of all evidence.

Prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who is visiting Iran, told reporters: "It is unacceptable for the Turkish armed forces to be subject to so much suspicion. I will discuss the issue with the head of the armed forces".

The alleged document lays out plans to discredit the AK Party through a media campaign, stir up party divisions, foment nationalist opposition and plant guns in houses used by associates of Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen to suggest the religious movement is involved in militant activities.



MARKETS UNNERVED

The reports have unnerved local markets, which follow military-government ties closely. Some analysts say the reports could have been leaked to media to stir tensions at a time the government has embarked on sensitive plans to expand rights to Kurds and to mend ties with Armenia.

There have been tensions between the army and the government in Turkey in the past but ties between the two have improved considerably in recent months.

Some traders said political uncertainty caused by the reports were affecting markets, which are already under pressure from the jittery global economic sentiment.

"The strength of the dollar is one reason for the loss in lira and bond markets, but there is also some uncertainty regarding the tension in the political arena, between the military and the government," said Tuncay Tursucu, head of research at Meksa Invest.

Analysts see little risk of the army staging a new putsch because of strong public support for the AK Party and concern any such move would hurt the reputation of the armed forces.

The AK Party has been at odds with the secularist establishment of generals, judges and academics, which accuses Erdogan’s AK Party of having a secret Islamist agenda. The AK Party denies any such agenda. (Additional reporting by Daren Butler) (Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Angus MacSwan)




Oct 8, 2009

Five risks to watch in Turkey

ANKARA, Oct 8 (Reuters) – European Union applicant Turkey has achieved unprecedented political and economic stability under the AK Party government, but remains a volatile investment destination that offers several risks.

Following is a summary of key Turkey risks to watch and the Reuters stories related to them.



EARLY ELECTIONS IN 2O10?

* Concern over Turkey’s recession-hit economy is fuelling speculation that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan might call early elections in 2010, ahead of a scheduled vote the following year. [ID:nL67473] The key question for investors would be whether the AK Party, in power since it shot to single-party government in 2002, can garner enough support to allow Erdogan to push his reformist drive without a ruling partner. Coalition governments have a history of infighting in Turkey, and fiscal discipline and reforms may fall prey to political point-scoring. Erdogan has not publicly discussed the possibility of an early vote. Analysts say a snap election will depend on the pace of recovery from a deep recession. The International Monetary Fund expects Turkish GDP to shrink 6.5 percent this year, and return to growth at 3.7 percent next year. A fall in revenue is putting pressure on Ankara to tighten fiscal policy and rein in spending; unpopular measures that may cost voters’ support.

The hostility of mainstream opposition parties to government plans to expand minority Kurdish rights and help end a 25-year conflict and to other EU-inspired measures such as a new constitution are seen as factors which could lead the government toward an early vote to open the way for the reforms.



MEDIA ROW WITH GOVERNMENT

* A $3.3 billion tax fine on the country’s largest media group Dogan Yayin <DYHOL.IS> has ignited concerns about press freedom and the investment climate in Turkey. Critics say the fine for unpaid taxes, which has shocked the business elite in Istanbul for its size and drawn criticism from the EU, is Ankara’s latest assault on Dogan for its hostile coverage of the AK Party government, including graft allegations. [ID:nLP67336] The government denies the fine is politically motivated. The row has also raised issues of transparency in the country’s ambiguous tax laws and of political influence over the corporate sector. [ID:nLE614238] Foreign investors have downplayed the fine’s significance for now as an isolated event stemming from a feud between Erdogan and billionaire media mogul Aydin Dogan, who has been accused of using his media empire to curry political favour and advance his business interests. However, analysts say it would be worrying if the stance was indicative of a wider trend. The pro-business AK Party, in power since 2002, has been careful of treating foreign investors fairly, but the fine could cast a new light on the business climate.



ARMENIA

* Turkey expects to sign historic accords on Saturday to normalise ties with Armenia in a step towards ending a century of hostility.[ID:nL7593552] Such a deal would bolster Turkey’s credentials as a moderniser in the West and highlight its clout in the South Caucasus, a key transit corridor for oil and gas supplies to the West. But hanging over the thaw is the decades-long dispute between Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan and Christian Armenia. [ID:nL8199985] Even if Ankara and Yerevan ink the protocols, it is far from certain the accords will be implemented and their joint border opened soon. Once the protocols are signed they must be approved by the respective parliaments. There is strong nationalist opposition in Turkey to making concessions to Armenia, which has no diplomatic ties with Turkey and a history of hostility stemming from the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One. Analysts say Turkey is keen to see progress on Karabakh to move forward on normalising ties with Armenia in order not to be seen losing face by appearing to bow to international pressure.



ROAD TO EU

* Predominantly Muslim Turkey started EU entry talks in 2005, but negotiations have stalled, partly over Ankara’s refusal to normalise relations with EU member Cyprus and the slow pace of reforms. The EU accession drive is an anchor for political and financial reform in a country prone to instability, and investors and financial markets are sensitive to any signs that Turkey’s chances of joining the EU may be receding.

On Thursday, a draft report by the bloc’s executive arm showed Turkey should step up reforms in a number of areas, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, civilian oversight of the military and women’s rights. Complicating things further, there is little appetite for further enlargement among EU member states during the economic crisis and following the bloc’s costly expansion to take in 12 new states since 2004. The French government opposes Turkey’s full membership and Germany has doubts.



TURKEY’S MILITARY

* Tension between the government and the staunchly secular military is undermining stability in Turkey. Turkey’s Constitutional Court will rule in the coming months on a new law that gives civilian courts the power to prosecute military personnel during peacetime for the first time, a bill dubbed by many a "civilian revolution". Ties between the AK Party and the military are also under strain over an investigation into a shadowy, right-wing network in which retired and active officers have been detained. In the long term, the AK Party government has the upper hand, as EU-inspired reforms have cut the influence of the once-formidable army. [ID:nLT265498] Overall, risks of a military coup are very small given the AK Party has public opinion behind it and the military, traditionally one of Turkey’s most respected institutions, has seen its reputation hurt as critics see the coup trial as evidence of the military’s involvement in undemocratic actions. Nevertheless, any escalation could still damage markets. (Editing by Jon Hemming)