Tuesday, December 31, 2013

War Watch December 31 , 2013 - Negotiators miss deadline for Afghan security pact , Pentagon plows forward with Afghan War plans despite Intelligence Estimate , Afghan Government releases 650 detainees from Bagram...... Iran, world powers agree to implement nuclear deal in late January , additional articles related to Iran nuclear talks........ Syria misses deadline for removal of chemical weapons , Lebanon Army fires on Syria Copters ....... Turkey corruption scandal updates - PM Erdogan and AKP attempt to fend off the ongoing probes , Another AKP Deputy quits AKP , Gold mining company Koza Atlinhas its activities halted at Cukuralan goldfield - Is the Company on the wrong side politically ? Faced with legal challenges,Turkish government tries to weaken top administrative court

Afghanistan......



US Ultimatum Fails, Afghan Troop Deal Remains Unsigned

'Deadline' Passes Without Karzai's Signature

by Jason Ditz, December 31, 2013
The Obama Administration’s “end of the year” ultimatum for President Hamid Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) has now officially come and gone, and the BSA remains unsigned.
The BSA is designed to keep troops in the nation “through 2024 and beyond,” and the administration had repeatedly warned through November and early December that all US troops would leave if Karzai didn’t sign by the end of the year.
The threat failed, and the administration, anticipating as much, began to back off the deadline last week, insisting that they’d be fine with Karzai signing some time in January too.
Karzai aides suggested they saw the threat as an empty one to start with, and that 2013 saw NATO troops take a back seat while the Afghan military suffered enormous casualties means the narrative of the US as savior of the Karzai government no longer carried much weight.
Karzai is holding firm on his position, saying he will sign the BSA only if the US agrees to end drone strikes and night raids, and otherwise intends to simply wait until after his term ends in April, leaving it for his successor to decide.



US Furious as Afghans Release Detainees Held Without Evidence

Officials Warn Release Could Mean US Withdrawal

by Jason Ditz, December 31, 2013
The handover of Bagram and other detention centers to the Afghan government came with a lot of US warnings not to release detainees, but with huge numbers held without any evidence against them, the courts have had little choice but to turn them loose.
That’s infuriated the US, and officials are now warning that it is threatening talks on a long-term American occupation, and could convince the US to follow through with its empty threats to withdraw outright.
The Afghan government has released 650 detainees from Bagram so far, and that’s 85% of the ones they’ve reviewed. US officials say that many of them have “American blood on their hands.”
That’s the claim, but there’s no evidence to back it up, and while the US claims “ample evidence” that freed insurgents return to the battlefield, they have no evidence that the guys they’re holding were insurgents in the first place.
That was never a problem for the US, which has grown unsettlingly comfortable with open-ended detention without charges or evidence. The Afghan government’s own fledgling legal system is having a harder time justifying keeping people locked up without at least a little evidence of wrongdoing, however, and that core difference is going to be a source of ongoing tension between the two nations.





Negotiators miss deadline for Afghan security pact

December 31, 2013 11:30AM ET
Failure to meet agreement by Dec. 31 comes as polls show war more unpopular than ever in U.S.
Topics:
 
Afghanistan
 
Taliban
 
Military



karzai



Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, doubts estimations of a Taliban resurgence if the U.S. pulls out completely.
Omar Sobhani/Reuters
The conflict in Afghanistan has become the most unpopular in American history, a new poll shows, as U.S. and Afghan negotiators missed a deadline Tuesday to reach an agreement on whetherU.S. troops can remain in the country after the official 2014 pullout of foreign forces.
About 82 percent of Americans don’t support the war in Afghanistan, according to a CNN-ORC poll released Monday. That’s up from around 46 percent in 2009. Those figures make America’s controversial conflicts in Iraq and even Vietnam seem relatively popular.
"Opposition to the Iraq war never got higher than 69% in CNN polling while U.S. troops were in that country, and while the Vietnam War was in progress, no more than six in 10 ever told Gallup's interviewers that war was a mistake,” said CNN’s Polling Director Keating Holland.
The United States had set a Tuesday deadline for Afghanistan to sign the pact but the White House has said it is prepared to let the deadline slip until early January.
Afghanistan on Monday rejected as baseless a U.S. intelligence forecast that the gains the United States and allies have made in the past three years will be significantly rolled back by 2017. The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate also predicted that Afghanistan would fall into chaos if Washington and Kabul failed to sign a pact to keep an international military contingent there beyond 2014.
President Hamid Karzai's spokesman dismissed the U.S. forecast, reported by the Washington Post, and suggested there was an ulterior motive for it.
"We strongly reject that as baseless as they have in the past been proved inaccurate," Faizi told Reuters.
Relations between Afghanistan and the United States have grown strained recently by Karzai's refusal to sign the security pact that would permit some U.S. forces to stay. U.S. officials have said that unless a deal is reached to keep perhaps 8,000 U.S. troops, the Taliban might stage a major comeback and al-Qaeda could regain safe havens.
The pact must also be signed for the United States and its allies to provide billions more dollars in aid. Without a deal, the United States could pull out all troops, the so-called zero option, leaving Afghan forces to battle the Taliban on their own.
The U.S. intelligence estimate predicted setbacks even if some U.S. troops remained. But some U.S. officials felt the forecast was overly pessimistic, the Washington Post said.
Faizi suggested the leaking of the gloomy U.S. intelligence report was part of a bid to press Karzai into granting the Taliban control of some areas as part of a peace moves.
"If it's a design to hand over parts of Afghanistan to the Taliban, we will never allow that and it will never succeed," Faizi said. "The Taliban can only come back through a political process."
Efforts over the past couple of years to bring the Taliban into peace talks have come to nothing. The insurgents, fighting to expel foreign forces and set up an Islamist state, denounce Karzai as a U.S. "puppet."
Karzai recently said certain foreigners had been asking him to give up control of some areas to get peace talks going.
"Foreigners told us recently to hand over or give away some areas to the Taliban, and from where a peace process could begin," Karzai told reporters at a briefing last week. He did not identify the foreigners.
Karzai also denied having reached agreement with the United States on the wording of contentious clauses in the U.S. security pact. But he added that the "zero-option" was an empty threat.
"The U.S. won't go and I have realized that," he said. "Look at all those buildings and bases they have built in Bagram, Helmand and their embassy compound," Karzai said, referring to a big air base north of Kabul and a violence-plagued southern province.








Iran.........



Iran, world powers agree to implement nuclear deal in late January

December 31, 2013 2:27PM ET
Although some work remains, agreement obliges Tehran to suspend its most sensitive nuclear work
Topics:
 
US-Iran Diplomacy
 
Iran
 
International



Iran deal



Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani (center) sits next to Finnish politician and member of the European parliament Tarja Cronberg (C-L) during a meeting in Tehran on December 17, 2013 as part of a visit of a European parliament delegation.
2013 AFP
World powers and Iran have agreed to start implementing in late January an agreement obliging Tehran to suspend its most sensitive nuclear work, an Iranian official was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

There was no immediate confirmation of the agreement from the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — or the European Union, which oversees contacts with Iran on behalf of the six.

The reported agreement follows nearly 23 hours of talks between nuclear experts from Iran and the six powers held in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday.

The seven countries have met several times since striking the breakthrough accord on Nov. 24 to iron out practical details and decide when the deal would be implemented.

An Iranian nuclear negotiator, Hamid Baeidinejad, said a date was agreed on Tuesday.



US Iran Diplomacy




"Based on the conclusions [reached in] the talks held with ... expert delegations, the implementation of the Geneva accord will start in the third ten-day of January," Baeidinejad was quoted as saying by Iranian Press TV. "The two sides managed to reach an understanding on the implementation of the agreement and now, their views and interpretations are the same."

The EU and the British government indicated however work remained to be done on how to implement the November accord. Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the experts would report back to their capitals and contacts would continue to "finalize a common understanding of implementation." He declined comment on Iran's assertion that there was an agreement on the timetable for implementing the accord.

In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said progress had been made in the latest talks in Geneva, but some issues remained to be resolved. "Our aim is to bring the agreement into force as soon as possible," she said.

Western diplomats have said in the past that Jan. 20 was a possible implementation date, because that is when EU foreign ministers next meet in Brussels and could agree on the lifting of EU sanctions.

Western countries led by the United States fear that Iran's nuclear work has military goals and have imposed years of sanctions on Iran in an effort to force Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

Iran denies seeking to build an atomic bomb and says its nuclear work is aimed at power generation and medical research.

Under the Nov. 24 agreement, Iran will suspend its most sensitive uranium enrichment efforts and, in return, Western governments will ease some economic sanctions.

The sequence of these moves appeared to be a sticking point in the expert talks, with divisions focusing on how much prior notice Iran will give Western governments that it is meeting its end of the deal before they lift the agreed sanctions.

Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, was quoted saying earlier that he was likely to meet Helga Schmid, Ashton's deputy, to further discuss some issues next week.

The technical talks started on Dec. 9 but Iran broke them off briefly after the United States blacklisted an additional 19 Iranian companies and individuals under its existing sanctions. Iranian officials said the move violated the spirit of the deal but U.S. officials said it did not breach the agreement.





Syria.......


http://www.debka.com/article/23562/Lebanese-Al-Qaeda-linked-group-chief-arrested-after-signing-pact-with-Syria%E2%80%99s-Nusra-Front



A tip-off by Western intelligence agencies tracking al Qaeda in Syria led to the Lebanese arrest of Majid al-Majid, the Saudi leader of the al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades. This group has been held responsible for recent bombing attacks on the Iranian embassy in Beirut and Hizballah strongholds, as well as rocket attacks on northern Israel four months ago.


Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn confirmed Wednesday, Jan. 1, that “the Saudi emir of the al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades,” is in the hands of the Lebanese army. Hizballah’s Al Manar TV station added that al-Majid was captured “recently.”


Both statements betrayed an effort to attribute these attacks to Saudi Arabia and/or al Qaeda. Iranian and Hizballah spokesmen generally adopt the same line in the Syria war, where Saudi intelligence is accused of backing al Qaeda and the other Islamist militias fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad as well as working against Iranian and Hizballah involvement in the Syrian conflict.


This hand was also blamed for the Nov. 19 attack by two suicide bombers on the Iranian embassy in Beirut, in which the cultural attaché was killed; and the Dec. 4 assassination of Hizballah’s undercover operations chief Hassan al-Laqis.


This week, the Shiite organization’s spokesmen provided that assassination with a new date and different circumstances to the ones published at the time. They are still baffled in their search to discover how one of the killers was able to penetrate their most secret inner councils.


Abdullah Azzam Brigades spokesmen announced Wednesday that - notwithstanding their leader’s detention - they would continue their strikes in Lebanon so long as Hizballah forces were fighting in Syria and their members remained in Syrian and Lebanese detention.


According to DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counter-terror sources, Al-Majid was detained Monday, Dec. 30, when his car accompanied by bodyguards arrived at the Lebanese army checkpoint in the Yarze quarter of Beirut, site of the Lebanese high command.


The officers and soldiers manning the checkpoint appear to have been forewarned of his arrival and placed him under arrest. What the al Qaeda leader was doing at this core of high Lebanese military commands - or even whether he might have had an appointment there - remains a mystery.


Our counter-terror sources report that he was arrested shortly after returning from Syria where, over the weekend, he met Abu Muhammad al-Golani, head of the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front fighting Bashar Assad.


Their meeting ended with Al Majid swearing an oath of allegiance to the Nusra Front leader and their signing of a cooperation pact. In other words, Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch was promised a base and logistical assistance at the Azzam Brigades’ stronghold in the big Palestinian Ain Hilwa camp outside the south Lebanese town of Sidon, not far from the Israeli border.


It is therefore more than likely that Al-Majid’s pact with his Syrian counterpart Al-Golani sealed his fate and led to his arrest.






Syria misses deadline for removal of chemical weapons

December 31, 2013 9:46AM ET
Bad weather and bureaucracy blamed for delayed transfor of deadly toxins out of the country
Topics:
 
Syria's War
 
International



Syria



A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) leaves a hotel in Damascus, on October 9, 2013.
2013 AFP
Security concerns and bureaucracy have caused President Bashar al-Assad's government to miss Tuesday's deadline for the removal of deadly toxins from Syria under an international effort to remove its chemical arsenal, a global chemical weapons agency said.
Bad weather and a complex multinational procurement effort for equipment have also delayed the operation, an official from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said.
Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by next June under a deal proposed by Russia and hashed out with the United States after an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack that Western nations blamed on Assad's forces.



Syria



Click for Al Jazeera's special coverage of the conflict in Syria 

Syria’s mainly Sunni Muslim rebels have been battling for two and a half years in an attempt to overthrow Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam and makes up about 12 percent of Syria’s 23 million people. The conflict erupted in 2011 with a violent crackdown on peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule.
Damascus agreed to transport the "most critical" chemicals, including around 20 tons of mustard nerve agent, out of the Mediterranean port of Latakia by Dec. 31 to be safely destroyed abroad away from the war zone.
The special coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, Sigrid Kaag, said on Monday that the OPCW is "comfortable in the knowledge that all the work is about to be completed" but she did not say how long the delay will last.
Kaag said on Sunday the deadline will not be met, citing technical delays, and she said on Monday there had been delays at customs without elaborating further.
The Syrian government is responsible for the safe packaging, transport along roads to Latakia -— including the main highway from the capital — and removal of chemical weapons.
Government forces took back control this month of the highway linking Damascus to the coast, which is needed to transport the toxins. Rebel were ousted from three towns along the road but activists say convoys moving along it will remain vulnerable to rebel ambushes.
Kaag said the Syrian government has repeatedly voiced a number of security concerns. Damascus "needs to plan for any eventuality in the journey from different sites to Latakia and in Latakia itself," she said.
"This is a very complex management exercise over and above the fact that it is a chemical weapons program that has to be destroyed at a time that a country is at war," she said.
Despite the delay, Kaag said "progress is very strong" and there is "a clear determination by all parties to achieve success."


Lebanese Army Fires on Syria Copters for Violating Airspace



Turkey.........



Turkey facing 'mini-coup bid', says deputy PM

Government will not yield to fraud probe, which targeted government and damaged national economy, Ali Babacan says.

Last updated: 31 Dec 2013 15:53
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Tensions within the ruling AKP follow a summer of protests centred around Istanbul's Taksim Square
Turkey's government has said it is fending off a "mini-coup attempt" by elements in the police and judiciary who serve the interests of foreign and domestic forces bent on humbling the country.
Ali Babacan, deputy prime minister with charge of the economy, says the ruling AK Party (AKP) had in the past survived military coup plots and attempts in the courts to outlaw it.
It would not now yield to a corruption investigation that he said targeted the government and was already damaging the national economy.
"These latest formations in the judiciary and the police, we can't call it a coup, but a mini-coup attempt. This is what interests foreign investors," Babacan told CNBC-e in an interview aired by the broadcaster on Tuesday, echoing suggestions by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, of a foreign interest in the crisis.
"Maybe the clearest indicator of this was the fall in share prices."
The market value of Turkish listed companies had fallen $49bn by Monday's market close, he said.
The main share index was down one percent on Tuesday.
Further resignation
Erdogan has, without naming it, accused a movement led by Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gulen of creating a "state within a state", using influence in the police and judiciary in a campaign to discredit the government.
The Hizmet [Service] movement controls a vast global network of schools and businesses.
Tensions have grown between the two former allies over elements of foreign and domestic policy and moves to close his private schools in Turkey.
The fraud inquiry became public on December 17 with a series of raids and detentions of senior businessmen close to Erdogan and of the sons of three ministers.
Since then, the media hostile to Erdogan has brimmed with tales of police raiding offices or homes and seizing caches of dollar bills.
Erdogan's supporters argue that accusations have so far lacked any substance and were driven by political ambitions.
"We as the government are on the job," Babacan said. "We created this political and economic stability with our own strength.
"We will not easily allow someone to come and take it away. However many efforts there were until now trying to shake political stability, we overcame them all."
As Babacan was speaking, news emerged of a further resignation from the AKP. A total of seven MPs have resigned from the AKP since the end of November, five since the December 17 police raids.
There is, however, no sign of any large-scale abandonment of the party, which dominates Turkish politics.




One more deputy from Turkey’s ruling AKP announces resignation


ANKARA

CİHAN photo
CİHAN photo
The Justice and Development Party’s Burdur Deputy Hasan Hami Yıldırım announced his resignation today, becoming the fifth lawmaker to part ways with the ruling party amid an ongoing major corruption operation.

Yıldırım criticized the removal of the head prosecutor in a second corruption case reported to be wider than the probe that began Dec. 17. Prosecutor Muammer Akkaş announced Dec. 26 that investigation files had been taken “from his hands,” slamming the pressure on the judiciary.

“The pressure on prosecutor Muammer Akkaş is unacceptable. This pressure cannot be considered as legitimate in a rule of law,” Yıldırım said via Twitter.

Former Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay, İzmir MP Erdal Kalkan and Ankara MP Haluk Özdalga announced their resignations from the party on Dec. 27 after the AKP’s Central Executive Board (MYK) decided in a meeting late Dec. 26 to send them to the disciplinary body due to their “verbal and written remarks stigmatizing [the] party and the government.”

Former Turkish interior minister İdris Naim Şahin also announced his resignation on Dec. 25.

Kütahya Deputy İdris Bal and Istanbul Deputy Hakan Şükür also resigned after criticizing the AKP on the decision to close the test prep schools.
December/31/2013

Turkey's former chief of general staff demands release over PM Erdoğan’s remarks


ISTANBUL – Hürriyet

This file photo shows former Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ (L), who was sentenced to life on coup plot charges, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Hürriyet photo
This file photo shows former Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ (L), who was sentenced to life on coup plot charges, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Hürriyet photo
Former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, who was sentenced to life in prison as part of the Ergenekon coup plot trial, has filed a petition for his release citing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that there are “gangs within the state” as proof of his innocence.

İlkay Sezer, the former top soldier’s lawyer, asked in his petition to the Istanbul 13th Court of Serious Crimes that it take into account Erdoğan’s recent statements over the existence of a “gang within state” and find “those who are indeed guilty.”

If the court would have heard Erdoğan as a witness over his statements that a group infiltrated the state, police and judiciary, then it would have been clear who is actually guilty at the present moment, Başbuğ’s lawyer said in his petition to the court.

Erdoğan, asserting a defiant tone, labeled a recent graft probe, in which two sons of his ministers are under arrest, as an ill-intentioned plot of local and foreign actors that aims to topple the government. The prime minister also vowed to settle scores with “gangs within the state” and “members of the parallel state” who prepared the plot against the government.

More than 70 police officers, including the head of the Istanbul police, have been dismissed or moved to different posts since the detention of the bribery suspects began last week.

Başbuğ was given a life sentence in a landmark verdict in the Ergenekon coup plot case on Aug. 5, 2013. The court did not reveal its reasoning and decided on the continuation of the arrest of Başbuğ as a precaution until its reasoning is released. Sezer, however, said the court had to announce its reasoning for the continuation of Başbuğ’s arrest monthly, but failed to do so and demanded the release of Başbuğ.

Some 275 suspects were given sentences in August 2013, receiving hundreds of years of imprisonment in total, with many high-ranking army members, journalists and academics being given aggravated life sentences.
January/01/2014

Koza Altın latest victim of government silencing political dissent


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The Çukuralan goldfield was closed for no reason, Koza Altın said in a statement. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
31 December 2013 /İBRAHİM TÜRKMEN, İSTANBUL
Gold mining company Koza Altın A.Ş., the owner of Bugün daily and Kanal Türk TV station, had its activities halted on Tuesday in Çukuralan goldfield, one of the company's five major gold mines, in a move that has been perceived as the most recent example of the government's exploitation of inspections and red tape to put pressure on those with critical views.
It has long been speculated that the government has been working to circumvent and subordinate Koza Holding's companies and to taper the critical coverage of its media groups against the authoritarian policies of the government. Websites publishing one-sided, pro-government articles and commentary mentioned the closure of the goldfield on Monday, a day before the decision of the closure had even reached the company, stirring suspicions that the move was politically motivated.
The order for the closure of the field came from the İzmir Provincial Administration and reason cited was the absence of "environmental permits or the environmental permits and licenses document.”
Koza Altın, which is stock-listed in the Borsa İstanbul (BIST), issued a statement for the Public Disclosure Platform (KAP) to announce, saying that the decision to halt production in the goldfield was illegal and that the company would pursue legal process against it.
It said the company holds a permit and a temporary activity license, which is valid until Feb. 20, 2014, from the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry's Environmental Impact Assessment, Permit and Supervision General Directorate (ÇEDGM). Koza Altın said all the necessary documents and required information were submitted on time and that every activity has been in full compliance with the laws. Additionally, the approval from Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED), in a document dated March 11, 2011, is still in effect and there is no problem with it, the statement asserted.
The gold mining company is the only one in Turkey with 100 percent domestic ownership and it is the third private company on the list of top performers in terms of corporate taxes. The company's Çukuralan field provides employment to over 1,000 workers and operates at European level standards, the statement said.
According to information on the company's website, Çukuralan field has been active since April 2010 and Koza Altın was projecting to dig a total 3.5 million tons of gold ore from the field by 2017.
After the news of the field's closure broke, Koza Altın shares in BIST nosedived by more than 7 percent to TL 22.3. Its parent company, Koza İpek Holding, also suffered a steep decline at about the same rate in the stock market, seeing its shares fall to TL 2.46.
A source close to the Finance Ministry told Today's Zaman on condition of anonymity that the inspectors of the ministry were given orders back in July to search for ways to punish companies close to the Hizmet movement. Koza İpek Holding's chairman, Akın İpek, is known for his support for the Hizmet movement.
The government's use of inspections to punish those companies that are politically dissent is not new. It imposed a fine of $850 million on publisher Doğan Yayın Holding in 2007, after which the company's newspapers and magazines had to turn down the volume on their criticisms. Similarly, the Finance Ministry's inspectors raided some heavyweight energy companies of Koç Holding after Erdoğan openly lashed out at the company, believing it was one of the plotters and instigators of the Gezi protests last summer. This scrutiny of companies' activities is continuing. steep decline at about the same rate in the stock market, seeing its shares fall to TL 2.46.
A source close to the Finance Ministry told Today's Zaman on condition of anonymity that the inspectors of the ministry were given orders back in July to search for ways to punish companies close to the Hizmet movement. Koza İpek Holding's Chairman Akın İpek is also known for his support for the Hizmet movement.
The government's use of inspections to punish those companies that are politically dissent is not new. It imposed a fine of $850 million on publisher Doğan Yayın Holding in 2007, after which the company's newspapers and magazines had to turn down the volume on their criticisms. Similarly, the Finance Ministry's inspectors raided some heavyweight energy companies of Koç Holding after Erdoğan openly lashed out at the company, believing it was one of the plotters and instigators of the Gezi protests last summer. This scrutiny of the activities of the companies is continuing.



Faced with legal challenges, gov't tries to weaken top administrative court


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31 December 2013 /TODAY'S ZAMAN, ANKARA
If passed, a new bill drafted by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government to restructure Turkey's top administrative court will deal a major blow to the right to a fair trial in the Turkish judiciary while significantly weakening individuals' ability to defend their fundamental rights against government encroachment, the opposition has said.
“The bill is strengthening the executive branch against the protection of individual rights and narrows the scope of citizens' rights,” the main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) said in its dissenting opinion on the draft bill in the Justice Commission.
The ruling party-dominated Justice Commission has already signed off on the bill, which has been sent to the Parliament floor. It is expected to pass easily.
The bill seeks to open a new chamber in the Council of State and appointed an unprecedented 32 new judges to the court. The government defends the bill by arguing that the new chamber and additional judges will help alleviated the court's caseload. The opposition, however, is arguing that the government wants to dilute the powers of the court, which functions as a check against government decisions that violate the Constitution and the law.
Ali Rıza Öztürk, a CHP deputy, told Today's Zaman that the government wants to take over the judiciary with the bill, which he claimed violated the Constitution and the law.
“By rattling the internal balance of the court as well as limiting its powers, the government wants to seize the top administrative court,” he said.
According to the 16-article bill, a new chamber for administrative cases will be added to the court's current 15. If the bill passes, the total number of judges of the institution will increase from 165 to 197.
The government already restructured the Council of State as part of the 2010 referendum. The government's move to restructure the court just three years after the last revision has given rise to concerns that the government is trying to roll back recent accomplishments in the country's judicial system.
The opposition claims that the government is trying to dominate the higher judiciary by constantly changing the rules on how new judges are appointed to the court.
The bill was brought forward in the wake of a decision by the Council of State last week to cancel an executive order requiring police and prosecutors to notify their superiors of all investigations, which would have effectively given government officials suspected of wrongdoing advance notice that they were being probed.
The decision struck a blow to the government's efforts to derail the corruption investigations with overnight decrees and purges of police departments, including a lead prosecutor.
A number of police officials who were removed from duty have challenged their dismissals at the Council of State, saying that their removals were “arbitrary decisions” lacking any legal basis.
With the latest purge, the number of police officials sacked since the start of the investigation topped 150.

Gov't focused on big contracts and tenders

The draft aims to accelerate Council of State trials involving confiscation of assets, public tenders and similar court cases with new, faster procedures.
The bill would bring to a rapid conclusion trials involving public tender procedures, excluding actions banning firms from participating in public tenders; asset confiscation proceedings; Supreme Privatization Board (ÖYK) decisions; the sale, allocation and renting of property under the Tourism Incentives Law; environmental impact assessments under environmental laws; and Cabinet decrees on redevelopment in earthquake-prone areas.
CHP Kırklareli deputy Turgut Dibek questioned the government's motives in speeding up trials involving public tenders and lucrative deals.
“Why introduce fast-track trials for cases that involve money, why not other cases? We need to understand this,” Dibek said.
In addition, the bill shortens the 60-day period for individuals and institutions to file suits at the Council of State. The period will drop to 30 days if Parliament passes the bill.
Ömer Süha Aldan, a CHP deputy who said the government was paving the way for the council to rush through cases involving money, maintained that shortening the court's application period to 30 days wouldn't streamline the court's proceedings.
“You cannot find a solution to the heavy workload by establishing a [new] chamber. [The heavy workload the council has] indicates that the state does not act in accordance with the law,” he added.
Öztürk said it was wrong to rush laws through the legislature, for which the government has often come under criticism. “There is an effort to make a hasty conclusion. It's not proper to impose one's will,” he said.

Removing the appeals process

One major argument against the bill is that it seeks to eliminate the option to appeal currently available to citizens in cases where the court renders a judgment on a request to suspend an executive decision by the government.
According to current law, plaintiffs are able to appeal rulings by chambers of the council to a higher court in the Council of State.
The opposition says that removing the appeals process will violate the fair trial principle, and thereby limit citizens' right to defense.
In addition, the courts will be chaired by the Council of State president or his aides. In their absence, the oldest judges will chair the courts. The members will serve for six years.
Murat Başesgioğlu, a deputy from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) who criticized the government for its haste in introducing the draft law, said: “Several amendments regarding the Council of State have already been made in the past year. This is just short-sightedness.”



Can't forget about Iraq......


Iraqi Army to Withdraw from Anbar Cities Amid Growing Anger

Four Killed in New Clashes After Yesterday's Crackdown

by Jason Ditz, December 31, 2013
According to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi troops will soon withdraw from cities in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, where they played a role in a Monday crackdown on political protesters that left 17 dead.
The move suggests Maliki is either trying to reconcile with Sunni politicians, whoresigned en masse last nightto protest the bloodshed, or at least recognizes that the military presence is only making matters worse.
Fighting continued today in Ramadi, where an Iraqi military sniper was killed by unnamed gunmen. Three others, all labeled “militants,” were also killed.
The initial Ramadi protests were calling for the release of a Sunni MP arrested as a “terrorist” by Maliki, and the prime minister then declared the protest to be “al-Qaeda headquarters,” ordering troops to dismantle it.
Maliki has regularly labeled rival politicians, particularly Sunnis, as “terrorists,” and the country’s sitting Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is still living in exile after a similar declaration came against him.
Though there is a big difference between Sunni politicians and al-Qaeda, it’s a distinction Maliki prefers not to acknowledge, and in conflating the two he is fueling more sympathy for the later across Iraq’s Sunni-dominated West, where the general consensus is that winning elections, as the Sunnis did in 2010, won’t actually mean gaining any political influence so long as Maliki remains in power.
















17 Dead, Mostly Civilians, as Iraq Cracks Down on Protests

Maliki Declared Peaceful Protest al-Qaeda Headquarters

by Jason Ditz, December 30, 2013
In late April, Iraqi forces cracked down on civilian protests near Mosul, sparking nine months of sectarian blood-letting that left thousands dead, and the country’s security in growing doubt.
Today, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki underscored how little he’s learned, responding to a sit-in protest in Ramadi with heavy-handed police action that killed at least 17 people, 12 of them unarmed civilians.
The Ramadi protest began over the weekend, after theMaliki government arrested a local Sunni MP on “terrorism” charges, in spite of the law explicitly not allowing the arrest of sitting MPs.
Government spokesmen claimed earlier today that a deal had been reached to release the MP in return for an end to the protests. The MP was never released, however, and police moved in en masse, attacking protesters.
Maliki defended the action, saying that the peaceful demonstration was a “headquarters” for al-Qaeda, and insisted that there had been no talks at all about a deal.
Oddly enough, even after the bloody crackdown was already a matter of public knowledge and Maliki had repudiated the notion of a deal, some government officials were continuing to insist the deal was in place, and insisted that the camp had been peacefully dismantled.



15 dead in Baghdad blasts, amid Anbar clashes

A series of bombs which were detonated across Iraq’s capital killed 15 in Baghdad alone, Reuters sources report. In the biggest attack, seven people were killed when a car bomb struck a Shi’ite neighborhood. The news comes a day after police dispelled a Sunni Muslim protest camp set up in the western province of Anbar. Over 9,000 have already been killed in Iraq this year, as the country has descended into its worst bout of sectarian violence since 2008.


http://www.juancole.com/2013/12/collapsing-withdraw-parliament.html



Ramadi (Iraq) (AFP) Mon Dec 30 2013 15:04:22 GMT-0500 (EST)
Smoke billows from the Iraqi city of Ramadi during clashes between security forces and anti-government gunmen, on December 30, 2013
Azhar Shallal/AFP
Smoke billows from the Iraqi city of Ramadi during clashes between security forces and anti-government gunmen, on December 30, 2013
Anti-Iraqi government gunmen take over a vehicle of the Wasset province police directorate on December 30, 2013 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi
Azhar Shallal/AFP
Anti-Iraqi government gunmen take over a vehicle of the Wasset province police directorate on December 30, 2013 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi
Sporadic clashes continued, and gunmen could be seen on some Ramadi streets, while security forces were visible at the edge of the city.
Dr Assem al-Hamdani said 11 gunmen were wounded.
Forty-four MPs announced their resignation on Monday evening, triggering the latest in a long line of political crises.
Demand for army withdrawal
The MPs also demanded "the withdrawal of the army... and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani," a Sunni who was arrested during a deadly raid on Saturday.
An Iraqi security forces' vehicle is seen on fire after it was set ablaze by anti-Iraqi government gunmen during clashes on December 30, 2013 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi
Azhar Shallal/AFP
An Iraqi security forces' vehicle is seen on fire after it was set ablaze by anti-Iraqi government gunmen during clashes on December 30, 2013 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi
This was done "without any losses, after Al-Qaeda and its members escaped from the camp to the city, and they are being pursued now," Mussawi told AFP.
Footage broadcast on state television showed security forces stripping cloth exteriors from large, metal-framed tents at the camp.
The sprawling protest site on the highway outside Ramadi, where the number of protesters ranged from hundreds to thousands, included a stage from which speakers could address crowds, a large roofed structure and dozens of tents.
In another incident that has escalated tensions, security forces on Saturday raided the Ramadi home of Sunni Arab MP Ahmed al-Alwani, who backs the anti-government protesters, arresting him and sparking clashes that killed his brother, five guards and a security forces member.
Anti-Iraqi government gunmen are seen during clashes with security forces on December 30, 2013 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi
Azhar Shallal/AFP
Anti-Iraqi government gunmen are seen during clashes with security forces on December 30, 2013 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi
But while the government has made some concessions aimed at placating Sunni Arabs, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Qaeda militiamen, underlying issues remain unaddressed.
Nationwide death tolls from violence have reached a level not seen since 2008, when Iraq was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
The violence continued elsewhere on Monday, with at least 17 people, among them eight security forces members, killed in attacks.
More than 6,750 people have been killed in violence since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.