Syrian opposition gathers in İstanbul, agrees on roadmap

Syrian opposition gathers in İstanbul, agrees on roadmap

Syrian National Council members George Sabra (l), Samir Nashar (c) and Wahid Saqr chat on Tuesday as they get ready for a meeting of Syrian opposition groups. (PHOTO Reuters, MURAD SEZER)

April 01, 2012, Sunday/ 12:33:00

Syrian opposition members said they have agreed on a roadmap on how to proceed with a transitional government for the post-Assad era in their İstanbul meeting ahead of a key gathering of Friends of Syria planned for April 1 in the city.

“We have agreed on the Syrian National Pact. And we have agreed to continue our struggle together in unity to win our freedom and honor back,” George Sabra, a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), told a news conference after the two-day meeting.

Leading opposition figures met in İstanbul at the invitation of Turkey and Qatar, current chair of the Arab League, to seek a common front in their year-old uprising against Bashar al-Assad. Sabra said the committee would present its work on the formation of the transitional government for a referendum by the Syrian people, allowing them to approve it freely. Sabra added the İstanbul meeting embraced all groups within the Syrian opposition, noting that the participants of the meeting expressed support to the Free Syrian Army. “The new Syria will be an independent and free country and a state equipped with necessary instruments for citizens to decide on their own fate,” he said.

The opposition aimed to show in the meeting that they can unite to form an alternative to Assad, but despite Sabra’s message of solidarity, the gathering was marred when a veteran dissident and Kurdish delegates walked out, saying their views were not being heard.

On Wednesday, Syrian opposition leaders issued a declaration in which they promised to build a democratic state and seek reconciliation with opponents once Assad is removed. “We are going to hold the first meeting tonight. We are just a preliminary committee and the goal is to develop a larger organization, such as a National Conference, in three weeks that may supersede the SNC completely,” said committee member Najati Tayyara. The declaration was meant to show the world that Assad’s opponents can form a viable alternative to the present government ahead of the Friends of Syria meeting.

March 24, Saturday

Speaking en route to Seoul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the government would abolish university entrance exams and make expensive university prep courses obsolete. “The university prep course institutions will either serve as schools or they will be closed down because we do not want families to spend all they have on these courses,” he said.

Turkish security forces killed 25 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists, including 15 women, over the past few days in clashes in southeastern Turkey. A clash in Bitlis, killing the 15 women, is believed to be the largest one-time casualty toll for women since the terrorist organization began fighting for autonomy nearly 28 years ago.

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) announced Prime Minister Erdoğan as the World Personality of the Decade for his constructive policies in the Middle East and the Balkans.

March 25, Sunday

Prime Minister Erdoğan and US President Barack Obama held a discussion before an international nuclear security summit in Seoul, focusing on Syria. The two leaders held a joint press conference after their nearly 90-minute-long meeting. Obama said they are “very much in agreement” that transition to legitimate government in Syria is needed, adding that Erdoğan is an “outstanding” partner. Erdoğan said he’s pleased his and Obama’s views are in general overlap on the subject of Syria. “As people with a conscience, we cannot remain spectators and have to do something [about Syria] via international law,” he added.

The opposition parties in Parliament spoke against the government’s move to advance an agreement on an educational exchange with Pakistan, saying the terms of the agreement are not clear enough. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in December 2010 to encourage cooperation and the exchange of experts and information in the area of education between Turkey and Pakistan has met resistance from the relevant parliamentary committees. Although the memorandum was adopted by the Foreign Affairs Commission on March 6 and the National Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Commission on Jan. 20, opposition members in the Foreign Affairs Commission have expressed dissent regarding the MoU.

March 26, Monday

Turkey suspended all activities at its embassy in Damascus, the Foreign Ministry said, as the security situation in Syria deteriorated further. Citing Turkish diplomatic sources, the state-run Anatolia news agency said Turkey also temporarily recalled its ambassador to the Syrian capital.

A court rejected a request by former military chief retired Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who is currently jailed in connection with a coup plot probe, to be tried by the Supreme State Council, a title the Constitutional Court assumes when it tries top state officials, instead of a specially authorized court as the trial of the former military chief began at an İstanbul court.

President Abdullah Gül ordered the State Audit Institution (DDK) to launch an investigation into the root cause of the death of former President Turgut Özal, who, according to official reports, died of a heart attack in 1993, as allegations mount and claims by his family suggest the former president may have been killed.

The majority of Turks believe that as long as they learn Turkish, all school students should be able to access education in their mother tongue, a survey conducted by the Ankara-based MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center in February revealed.

Turkey, acting together with the rotating Arab League leader Qatar, is pressing diverse Syrian opposition groups to unite as it hosts a two-day meeting of Syrian opposition groups in İstanbul ahead of a key international gathering on April 1. “This is by far the most significant meeting as far as the Syrian opposition is concerned,” a Turkish official told journalists. The meeting, which began on Monday, aimed to produce a “pact” outlining the Syrian opposition’s political vision for the future of the conflict-torn country, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. About 200 representatives from Syria’s different ethnic, sectarian, religious and political groups are joining the İstanbul talks.

March 27, Tuesday

Prime Minister Erdoğan promoted the safe use of nuclear energy and called on the international community to share its experience in providing nuclear security. On the final day of a two-day international nuclear security summit in Seoul, Erdoğan advocated the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy. “We should take coherent measures in terms of nuclear security. We should share all the knowledge and experience we have on ensuring the safe use of nuclear energy for the benefit of the international community,” Erdoğan said.

Parliament started discussions on changes the government proposes for Turkey’s education system, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) held a rally in Ankara’s Tandoğan Square, where it also held its parliamentary group meeting, a first for the country. The CHP protested the proposal, aiming “to explain to the people how Turkey is going backwards” with the proposed education reforms, as party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said.

Countering criticism over a recent court decision to halt the publication of the Özgür Gündem newspaper for a month, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said a government-backed judicial reform package will abolish a provision that stipulates the closure of publications under certain conditions.

Former armed forces chief Gen. İlker Başbuğ said he would not defend himself against terrorism charges, claiming that he should be tried at the Supreme State Council, the title assumed by the Constitutional Court when it tries top state officials, before he stormed out of court, angered that the prosecution played tapes of phone conversations of coup suspects. Başbuğ told the court he had no respect for the indictment, and said that the allegations were against the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and therefore a serious insult to the state.

March 28, Wednesday

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said two Turkish journalists who have been missing in Syria for over half a month are alive. Adem Özköse, a reporter for the İstanbul-based Gerçek Hayat (Real Life) magazine and the Milat daily, arrived in Syria on March 5 with cameraman Hamit Coşkun. The two men were last heard from on March 10. Deputy Prime Minister Bozdağ declared that the ministry definitely knows the two missing Turkish journalists are alive and announced that the Syrian government had revealed they know where the journalists are.

Prime Minister Erdoğan spoke to journalists en route to Tehran after his visit to Seoul this week, saying the government has a back-up plan to make sure Turkey does not fail in its ongoing efforts to adopt a more democratic constitution. He said Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek had assured him that the work being carried out by the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission had sped up significantly. “[Çiçek] told me they are planning to start drafting the text in April. My hope is that the process will move on without interruptions,” he said.

In a historic move in Turkish politics, former Ankara Police Chief Muhlis Yılmaz, known as “torturer Muhlis,” became the first suspect to testify before a prosecutor in the investigation into the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état.

The Malatya Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a new investigation into the Sivas case, which concerns the deaths of 33 intellectuals as well as two assailants and two hotel workers in a hotel fire, in the wake of a decision earlier this month to drop the case due to the statute of limitations.

March 29, Thursday

Two İstanbul prosecutors presented their final opinion regarding a case concerning an alleged coup plot against the government, seeking up to 20 years of imprisonment for 365 suspects, 250 of them currently under arrest, on charges of attempting a coup.

A document recently confiscated during a police operation in the probe into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) has suggested that the PKK may spend nearly 70 percent of its budget on public relations. The document, supposedly signed by acting PKK leader Murat Karayılan, states that out of a 60 million euro annual budget, the group spent roughly 38 million euros on “press expenses” in various countries in Europe and the Middle East.

Former Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök said it is not up to him to testify as a witness in ongoing coup cases to meet the demands of some suspects as this decision is made by courts. The name of Özkök, who retired in 2006 and settled in the western province of İzmir to lead a peaceful life, frequently lands on the nation’s agenda due to the coup plans allegedly made during his term as army chief. In earlier statements, Özkök neither confirmed nor denied the presence of such plans within the military to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

The Constitutional Court is planning to take the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as its model regarding individual applications, which the court will begin accepting in September. According to a new regulation which was approved in a public referendum in 2010, individual applications to the court (constitutional complaints) will be possible, as in most European states.

The compulsory education bill’s article on elective courses covering the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran was approved by Parliament amid heated discussions between parties.

March 30, Friday

 Specially Authorized İstanbul Public Prosecutor Hikmet Usta, investigating the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, has appealed a January court verdict that ruled out involvement of an organized criminal network in the killing, saying the murder was undoubtedly the work of Ergenekon.

 Turkey plans to purchase oil from Libya in an attempt to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil by 20 percent, a move that is expected to help the country bypass sanctions the US plans to impose on countries buying oil from Iran.

 Delivering his defense to a court as a chief suspect in an ongoing match-fixing case, Fenerbahçe Chairman Aziz Yıldırım said Trabzonspor should have been at the center of the investigation instead of his club.

 A court ruling to suspend publication of the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper for one month, citing the “dissemination of propaganda for a terrorist organization” in its March 24 edition, was repealed after lawyers for the paper appealed the decision.

Three Kurdish politicians, including Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Hasip Kaplan, have petitioned the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court demanding co-plaintiff status in an ongoing trial concerning an alleged coup plot that was devised by military officers called the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism.

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