Sunday, February 2, 2014

War Watch February 2 , 2014 - Nato Chief acknowledges Karzai won't sign BSA , Nato and US pray his successor is a non Karzai family member and friendly to US Interests.....Syria Geneva 2 talks between Syria Government and Syria rebels + West failure spurring US to seek direct talks with Syria government ..... Iraq Government plan diect assault on Al Qaeda controlled Fallaju , while bombs explode in Baghdad and missiles fly in Anbar Province ........Turkey seeks to abolish judicial independence and curtail structure of Judicial Academy , New Internet Bill sparks controversy , Interest rat hike threaten Turkish economy and construction....


Hamid Karzai: 'I saw no good' with America's presence in Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, admits that he has not spoken to Barack Obama in seven months as he reveals the complete breakdown of trust between his country and the United States

Hamid Karzai: 'I saw no good' with America's presence in Afghanistan
Hamid Karzai on his last visit to the USA in January 2013 Photo: MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES
The president of Afghanistan has not spoken to his American counterpart since June, he said, in an interview which showed the increasing gulf between Kabul and Washington.
Hamid Karzai, 56, has grown increasingly hostile towards Barack Obamaas Afghanistan prepares to elect a new president in April. Mr Karzai will not stand again, but he is determined to emphasise his disagreements with the United States before he steps down.
"This whole 12 years was one of constant pleading with America to treat the lives of our civilians as lives of people," he said, adding that he had not spoken to Mr Obama since June.
"We met in South Africa [at Mandela's funeral] but didn't speak. Letters have been exchanged."
Mr Karzai said that he "saw no good" in the American presence in his country.
"They did not work for me, they worked against me," he said, and referred to the Taliban in his interview with The Sunday Times as "brothers" and the Americans as "rivals".
His rhetoric has been ill received in Washington, where American politicians are evermore infuriated by Mr Karzai's stance.
America spent $648bn (£394bn) during the war, which has cost 2,211 lives. Last week Congress cut development aid to Afghanistan in half, reducing it to $1.1bn.
But Mr Karzai is unrepentant.
"The money they should have paid to the police they paid to private security firms and creating militias who caused lawlessness, corruption and highway robbery," he said.
"They then began systematically waging psychological warfare on our people, encouraging our money to go out of our country.
"What they did was create pockets of wealth and a vast countryside of deprivation and anger."
He is slightly more generous in his assessment of Britain, "which has conducted with us in a very civilised way and tried to bring better relations between us and Pakistan."
But he added: "In general the US-led Nato mission in terms of bringing security has not been successful, particularly in Helmand."
A key bone of contention between the US and Afghanistan is the bilateral security agreement, which proposes 8-12,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal of combat soldiers at the end of 2014. America is keen for the troops to remain to prevent "losing" Afghanistan, and the country's tribal elders supported the plan at an assembly in November.
Yet Mr Karzai is dragging his heels, saying that history has taught Afghanistan not to "gamble" on pacts.
"Under pressure our kings signed things and all that turned out to be disastrous for Afghanistan," he said. "Under pressure today if I do the same I don't know the consequences."
The president, who has ruled the country since 2001, said that he was proud of his legacy.
"Afghanistan is home to all Afghans now. We have a parliament where commanders, clergy, mujahids and women sit together.
"We have 11 candidates running for president who represent a combination of all Afghan people and thinking."
And he shrugged off concerns about the implications of his posturing, saying that Western anger and the cutting of financial aid did not trouble him.
"Money is not everything," he said. "If you ask me as an individual, I would rather live in poverty than uncertainty."

NATO chief doesn't see Karzai signing security pact

MUNICH Sat Feb 1, 2014 2:37pm EST
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul January 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul January 25, 2014.


(Reuters) - President Hamid Karzai is unlikely to sign a pact for U.S. and NATO forces to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 and will probably leave the choice for his successor, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Saturday.
Kabul and Washington spent months negotiating a legal framework for some U.S. troops to stay on after the end of 2014, when NATO-led forces are due to end combat operations, leaving behind a much smaller training and advisory mission.
But Karzai has said he will not sign the agreement unless certain conditions are met.
The delay has frustrated the United States and its allies, who want to plan the post-2014 training and advisory mission.
Both the United States and NATO have said they may be forced to pull their forces out ofAfghanistan entirely at the end of this year unless the agreement is signed soon.
Rasmussen acknowledged for the first time on Saturday that he did not expect Karzai to sign the U.S. pact and a similar pact that must be negotiated with other NATO forces.
Instead, he believed Karzai would leave the issue for the president elected in April 5 election.
Karzai has served two terms and cannot run again.
"I think, realistically speaking, a new president will be the one to sign," Rasmussen told reporters during the annual Munich Security Conference.
He said however he was confident that Afghanistan would sign the agreement "at the end of the day" and NATO would still have time to plan its post-2014 mission, even if it was not signed until Karzai's successor was in office.
"Most probably, it will be for a new president to sign a security agreement and in that case we are prepared to stay after 2014," Rasmussen said.
"If we don't get a signature even from a new president, then we will also be prepared to withdraw everything by the end of 2014, because in that case we don't have a legal basis for a continued presence," he said.
The NATO-led force currently has around 57,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them from the United States. Troop numbers are expected to fall to 8,000-12,000 after 2014.
Rasmussen has said a complete foreign military withdrawal from Afghanistan could also jeopardize foreign military aid needed to finance the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces as well as development aid.
The foreign aid totals about $8 billion a year.

US cancels funds for Afghan opinion polls ahead of election

US cancels funds for Afghan opinion polls ahead of election
KABUL: The United States has cancelled funding for opinion polls in the run-up to Afghanistan’s presidential election after an initial poll in December triggered accusations of US attempts to manipulate the outcome, officials said.
A spokesman for the US-funded group Democracy International said on Thursday it and other similar organisations had planned to carry out opinion polls as Afghanistan prepares for the April 5 election.
The US embassy in Kabul later confirmed the funding cut. “Statements by some electoral authorities and candidates’ camps suggested that there was ... a perception that the polling results were somehow biased,” a US embassy spokesman said.
“In order to avoid any perception - however baseless - of US interference, we have decided to forgo additional US-funded polling regarding the upcoming election,” he said.
The cut in funding comes as relations between the United States and Afghanistan have been severely strained over President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security pact that would enable US troops to stay beyond this year.
The election is seen as crucial to Afghanistan’s efforts to build stability, months before most foreign forces are due to withdraw, leaving Afghan forces to battle a resilient Taliban insurgency.
Democracy International programme officer Mohammad Atta said the group had planned three rounds of opinion polls. It published its first results in December but its findings provoked a public outcry and accusations of interference.
“There were a few agencies that were responsible for conducting the polls but all of them have been cancelled at the moment,” Atta said.
Karzai has long suspected the United States of having interfered in the last presidential election in 2009 and has warned against further meddling.
Former US defence secretary Robert Gates recently published a memoir appearing to confirm Karzai’s suspicion, saying the then top US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan had been “doing his best to bring about the defeat of Karzai”.
Karzai’s spokesman said Washington may try to use polling as a means to influence the outcome of the April election.
“It is now crystal clear that there was interference in the election in 2009,” said Aimal Faizi. “It puts the US role behind such funding under question. Why would the US fund surveys on Afghan presidential candidates?”
The United States is Afghanistan’s biggest aid donor, despite the difficult relationship with Karzai, but it is committing about 15 percent less for the 2014 election fund than it did in 2009, pledging $55 million.
Democracy International’s first poll showed the front-runners to be West-leaning intellectual and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s main challenger in 2009.
Hostility between the United States and Karzai, who has served two terms and is not running again, has escalated this month over two key issues. 

Afghan election workers for Abdullah Abdullah shot dead

Abdullah Abdullah addresses a press conference in KabulAbdullah Abdullah came second in the 2009 election
Two Afghan election campaigners working for presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah have been shot dead in the western city of Herat.
The shootings took place the day before campaigning officially starts for the 5 April vote.
Local TV reports said gunmen attacked the two as they left a campaign office.
Abdullah Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed election of 2009 to President Karzai, who cannot stand this time.
Mr Abdullah pulled out of the second round of the 2009 election because he said he feared the vote would be rigged.
His spokesman, Sayed Fazel Sangcharaki, confirmed the deaths of the campaign workers on Saturday.
"This incident at the beginning of election campaign is a bad sign as either the security forces are incapable of providing security for the election campaign or they do not take their job seriously," he said.
Analysts say Mr Abdullah is the only presidential candidate to publicly endorse a security deal with the US that would see thousands of foreign troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
American combat soldiers are due to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, but under the deal thousands would stay on to train and mentor local security forces.
Correspondents say Afghanistan's security is likely to be severely tested during the election, where candidates include warlords and former guerrilla leaders from the 1990s civil war.


U.S. denies it sought direct negotiations with Syria in Geneva

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT Sat Feb 1, 2014 6:57pm EST
A man runs with a stretcher at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in the Al-Ansari neighborhood of Aleppo January 31, 2014. REUTERS-Ammar Abdullah
1 OF 8. A man runs with a stretcher at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in the Al-Ansari neighborhood of Aleppo January 31, 2014.

(Reuters) - Washington denied claims by Syria's foreign minister on Saturday that American diplomats had sought to negotiate directly with their Syrian counterparts at last week's 'Geneva 2' peace conference in Switzerland.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States had offered to connect with Syrian officials "on a staff level" through the United Nations and Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi.
"At no point did the United States offer to negotiate directly with the Syrian regime," she said, adding that the United States had made similar offers throughout the conflict.
Psaki was responding to a query from Reuters after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said the Americans had requested direct negotiations in Montreux, the Swiss city where talks began on January 22 before moving to Geneva.
"We refused to do so before Secretary of State John Kerry apologizes for what he said at the conference," Moualem told reporters aboard the Syrian government delegation's flight back to Damascus.
In the comments published by Syria's national news agency SANA, Moualem did not specify what Kerry had said that required an apology.
But Psaki said such a gesture would not happen.
"At no point will Secretary Kerry ever apologize for speaking the truth about the brutality the Assad regime has inflicted on the people of Syria," she said.
A contentious week-long first round of talks began with uncompromising speeches, by Kerry and Moualem among others, and repeatedly seemed on the verge of collapse before the two sides even entered the same room.
The conference adjourned on Friday with no progress towards ending the civil war and the government unable to say whether it will return for the next round of negotiations beginning on February 10.


Iraqi army prepares to storm militant-held Falluja


Sunni Muslims attend Friday prayers in the city of Falluja
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Sunni Muslims attend Friday prayers in the city of Falluja, 70 km (44 miles) west of Baghdad January …
By Suadad al-Salhy
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces are preparing to storm Falluja and break a month-long standoff with militants who are in control of the city, senior security officials and troops told Reuters on Saturday.
Anti-government fighters, among them insurgents linked with al Qaeda, overran two cities in the Sunni-dominated western province of Anbar on January 1. against a backdrop of deteriorating security across the country.
At least 12 people were killed in bombings across Iraq on Saturday, mostly in the capital Baghdad, just 70 km (40 miles) away from Falluja, a city currently surrounded by the army.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had held off an all out assault on the city to give local tribesmen a chance to expel the militants themselves, but security officials told Reuters a decision had been made to enter Falluja by 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Sunday.
"That's it: they were given enough time to make their choice, but they failed," a top security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of the tribesmen and militants.
Some of the militants have raised the black banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is seeking to establish a Sunni state straddling the border between Anbar and Syria, where the group is also active.
The official said the governor of Anbar had sent a "final warning" to militants and tribal fighters in Falluja. Whoever wanted to leave the city would be given safe passage and those who lay down their arms will be offered amnesty, he added.
"The message was clear, we offered them to leave the city and be a part of the national reconciliation project," the security official said. "But, if anyone insists on fighting our forces, he will be considered an ISIL militant whether he is or not."
Maliki has appealed for international support and weapons to fight al Qaeda, although critics say his own policies towards Iraq's Sunni minority are at least partly to blame for reigniting an insurgency.
Once-dominant in Iraq, many Sunnis resent the Shi'ite-led government that came to power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
"Security operations need to go hand-in-hand with inclusive policies, based on the respect for human rights, the rule of law, social development," U.N. envoy to Iraq Nikolay Mladenov said in a statement on Saturday.
Falluja residents and local officials said communications had been cut in the city and its outskirts. Troops stationed in the surrounding area said they had received orders to be ready to raid the city.
"We are prepared to enter any minute. Some of our troops in southern and southeastern Falluja have already moved in closer to the city," said a commando whose unit was deployed on the highway just outside.
More than 140,000 people have fled their homes in Anbar in recent weeks in what the United Nations described as the largest displacement in Iraq since the sectarian slaughter that climaxed in 2006-07.
Officials said airstrikes and shelling on the city would intensify before a ground assault by special operations SWAT teams to clear remaining pockets of resistance.
"We expect to engage in a fierce battle in the southern areas of the city where militants are holed up," said a SWAT officer deployed in Falluja, who also declined to be named.
A total of 733 civilians were killed in acts of violence across Iraq January excluding Anbar, owing to the difficulty of verifying figures amid the conflict, the United Nations said on Saturday. A further 115 members of the security forces died.

Air Strikes for Anbar, Bombs Hit Baghdad: 88 Killed, 55 Wounded
by , February 01, 2014
At least 88 people were killed and 55 more were wounded in violence. In Anbar province, clashes and air strikes continued to killed militants by the score. Baghdad saw yet another round of multiple bombing attacks.
The United Nations released their casualty figured for January. UNAMI said that 733 Iraqis were killed last month. This figure does not include any casualties from Anbar province because those figures are not confirmable. Another 1,229 Iraqis were wounded.
Fifteen gunmen were killed in an air strike in Falluja. Other people were killed or injured, but the details are unknown. Mobile phone and Internet services were cutoff to the area. An attack on a checkpoint left two soldiers dead and three more wounded.Two suicide bombers were killed at another checkpoint.
Clashes are taking place there and in Ramadi where 35 militants were killedTwo soldiers were killed and five more were wounded in a clash. A car bomb exploded, but the number of casualties was not reported. Also, security forces repulsed a group of militants trying to sneak in from Syria.
In Baghdad, a bomb at a market killed three people and wounded 10 more in a southern neighborhood; a second bomb killed two soldiers and wounded another. Later, in an eastern neighborhood, another bomb killed three and wounded 11 more. A fourth bomb killed four and wounded another nine people.
Baghdad Operations Command reported killing six insurgents and wounded four more in MahasnaThree more insurgents were killed and four more were wounded in other areas of the province.
A bomb in Buhayrat killed three policemen and wounded a fourth one critically.
In Mosulone civilian was killed and two others were wounded in a small arms attack.
A roadside bomb in Mushahda killed one soldier and wounded two others.
In Ouja, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives without harming anyone else.


New Internet bill to limit freedom of information, sparks reactions

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A man uses a computer at a computer shop in central London, on Wednesday. (Photo: APİ Sang Tan)
2 February 2014 /BÜŞRA ÖZERLİ, ANKARA
A recent government initiative to amend Law No. 5651 on the Internet via a new bill to allow the blocking of websites without a court order and mass surveillance of Internet users aims to hamper freedom of information, analysts agree.

Turkish Bar Association (TBB) President Metin Feyzioğlu underlined that the Internet bill targets press freedom and is thus unacceptable. “It [the Internet bill] may adversely affect Turkey's world ranking in terms of democracy,” he said in remarks to Sunday's Zaman.

The amendment to Law No. 5651 on cybercrime was introduced by ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy Zeynep Karahan Uslu as part of an omnibus bill in early January.

Emrehan Halıcı, deputy chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), said despite all the criticisms, the government is rushing to bring these amendments into effect. “The CHP finds the bill unacceptable. I believe the public is closely following those efforts to restrict freedoms and will respond in the elections,” Halıcı noted in his comments to Sunday's Zaman.

Law No. 5651, which regulates and supervises Internet content and was brought into effect in May 2007, was also criticized by the European Parliament (EP), which called for the abolishment of the law, saying it limits freedom of expression, restricts citizens' right to access information and allows website bans of disproportionate scope and duration in a report on Turkey prepared by Dutch Christian Democrat and EP Rapporteur on Turkey Ria Oomen-Ruijten in 2012.

Amendments allow TİB head to block websites within 4 hours

According to the planned amendments to Article 9 of Law No. 5651, the head of the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) will be able to block websites upon the order of the transportation, maritime affairs and communications minister without obtaining a court order.

Article 9 also states that natural or legal persons may apply to TİB with a request to block a website due to violations of privacy, and the proposed amendment neither introduces any audits of the TİB head's decisions nor requires a court decision before blocking a website.

According to the proposed amendment to Article 9, webpages and video footage that violate individuals' privacy will be blocked within four hours while the courts are expected to announce a verdict on such issues within 48 hours. Such a limited time is not sufficient for the courts to hand out just verdicts and does not allow defendants to use their right to object, analysts say.

The bill also includes a measure that allows for the recording of Internet users' browsing histories and the storage of this information for up to two years. However, the protection of personal data was one of the most important promises of the government in the constitutional referendum of Sept. 12, 2010.

According to the proposed bill, Internet service providers will be fined while Internet access providers will be sentenced to prison if they do not remove content which is deemed to be illegal.

The bill also includes changes to Article 6, which requires all Internet service providers to become members of an association of Internet access providers which will be established in the future.
Expressing concerns about the limitations to freedoms with the Internet bill, Pınar Türenç, president of the Turkish Press Council, said the bill should not be voted on in a hurry but should instead be studied in detail.

“We have doubts about the timing of the bill as well. Why has this bill come onto the agenda at the same time as the graft investigation?” Türenç asked, referring to an ongoing corruption scandal which erupted on Dec. 17 in which four former Cabinet ministers are also allegedly involved.

Int'l press institutions voice concern over amendments

Turkey's tightening grip on the Internet has drawn reactions from numerous organizations around the world. Alev Yaman, a researcher at the PEN international writers association, expressed PEN's concerns on the regressive amendments being proposed in Turkey to the already problematic Law No. 5651.

“Such unchecked power poses a substantial threat to the rights to privacy and freedom of expression, and is part of a worrying trend of the concentration of power within the hands of the executive in Turkey,” Yaman told Sunday's Zaman.

Yaman added that under the new law, the government will have the power to censor or surveil the online activity of anyone in Turkey without judicial oversight or any form of independent checks and balances.

“PEN International calls on the authorities in Turkey to comprehensively review the legislation surrounding the Internet so that the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of expression are fully respected in line with Turkey's obligations under international law,” Yaman said.

Another criticism of the new Internet bill came from Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In remarks to Sunday's Zaman, Johann Bihr, the head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk of the RSF, said, “The draconian Internet bill recently submitted to Parliament threatens to reinforce cyber censorship, government control of the Internet and surveillance of the public.”

RSF issued a report on Jan. 17 stating that it is very concerned about the proposed changes on the Internet bill that is to be debated by Parliament in Ankara in the coming days. It urged deputies to reject this “draconian bill.”

“Law 5651 needs overhauling to remove its repressive features and to guarantee respect for freedom of information, but Parliament is unfortunately moving in the opposite direction,” the RSF said. “Its adoption would be fraught with consequences for the fundamental freedoms of Internet users and the Turkish digital economy,” it added.

Underlining the government's authoritarian method of ruling in Turkey with a special emphasis on the Gezi protests in the summer of 2013 and the government's tactics to evade the political consequences of the corruption scandal by removing large numbers of the police and prosecutors involved in the investigations, the RSF said the government should realize that the solution does not lie in more censorship.

Turks, especially youths, have staged demonstrations warning the government to step back from its undemocratic attempts to silence dissent on the Internet under the watchwords of “Hands off my Internet” and “Stop censorship.”

Steven Ellis, a senior press freedom adviser for the International Press Institute (IPI), identified Law No. 5651 as already being problematic.

“Drastically shortening the time for websites to respond to complaints and removing an independent review of decisions to block websites would likely lead to an abuse of the law by those keen to arbitrarily block access to damaging information posted online,” Ellis said in comments to Sunday's Zaman.

Ellis also noted that by increased fines for failing to remove content and potential mass surveillance of Internet users, these provisions would also likely lead to greater self-censorship by journalists and others who might otherwise air sensitive information about alleged corruption or other actions involving public figures.

“We fear that these amendments could be used to prevent necessary public scrutiny of such allegations and deprive Turkish people of the information they need to ensure accountability from their leaders, undermining the entire democratic system,” Ellis added.

Construction may come to grinding halt with jolting interest rate hikes

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The construction sector’s biggest concern is ambiguities. Both investors and consumers want to see the future clearly ahead of making decisions. (Photo: Sunday's Zaman)
The central bank's bold decision to increase the benchmark policy rates pushed the overall interest rates in the markets up as expected, and mortgage loans were no exception.

The least expensive monthly cost of a mortgage for a five-year term rose from 0.91 percent to 0.94 percent, whereas the highest rate climbed from 1.19 percent to 1.35 percent within the day following the central bank's decision. In mid-summer last year, it was possible to borrow from the banks for house purchases at levels around 0.6 percent.

Economist Deniz Gökçek noted that interest rate increases always have an effect on the industries as well as on households, and the construction sector is no exception. An increase in the interest rates naturally sends mortgage loan rates up, and hence the cost of housing, leading to a sharp fall in the demand for houses. Gökçek sees no problem with asserting that the central bank has already been deliberately trying to lower the mortgage loan rate in the face of rising domestic consumption. “What really matters here is that the higher interest rates will adversely affect investors, who generally work on loans,” he said.
For Gökçek, the major problem with the increased loan rates will be seen on the employment side. Construction is a labor-intensive sector, responsible for a considerable portion of the total employment in the country. If investors decide to slow down, even halt further investment, the initial consequence will be seen in a sharp increase in unemployment rates, he pointed out.

The construction sector has been one of the engines of growth in the Turkish economy, and this role has, especially during the last decade, been particularly salient. As usual, governments pay utmost attention to construction because of its direct and indirect mutual influence on other sectors in a way that fuels and accelerates them, creating a synergy that reinvigorates the economy as a whole. It also accounts for a large portion of a country's employment.

Although its share in the gross national product (GNP) is not very strong, which is about 5 percent in Turkey, the construction sector's effects are amplified due to its ability to employ large numbers of people and its direct and indirect impact on other sectors.

As State Planning Office (DPT) figures show, the sector performed at an average of over 11 percent during the six years before the global economic crisis of 2008, driving the economy's growth performance upwards. In both 2008 and 2009, the sector suffered the sharpest deceleration among other sectors with 8.1 percent and 16.1 percent, respectively. In 2008, the economy came to a grinding halt and the next year it hurtled down by as much as 5 percent. The construction sector bounced back in 2010, registering a growth rate of 17.1 percent and, reflecting this, overall economic performance also moved upwards, achieving growth of over 8 percent. Expectations have it that the sector will enjoy expansion by twice as much as the economy's growth rate in 2013. But sector representatives see the same achievement as an unlikely possibility this year.

The construction sector's biggest concern is ambiguities. Both investors and consumers want to see the future clearly ahead of making decisions. Association of İstanbul Construction Companies (İNDER) President Nazmi Durbakayım maintained in a statement last week that the construction sector is worse off in any case but that they prefer an interest rate increase to uncertainties stemming from extremely volatile exchange rates. “Another reason that directs us to this option is our experiences in 2004, because the mortgage rates were much higher than present levels and our sector enjoyed a period of high sales despite monthly interest rates of 1.7 percent,” he said.

Relishing the chance of having large capital inflows from abroad after the economic crisis made developed countries no longer seductive enough for the capital managers of colossal portfolio investment funds, Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government didn't hesitate to funnel this fortune into feeding the appetite of the construction sector. This seemed a rational decision to the government, since buildings are a type of fixed capital investment for the private sector.

Yet construction investments are a double-edged sword. If they consume scarce resources to the detriment of industrial investments, which have the potential of producing more wealth by adding to the production capacity of the country, the construction sector becomes a burden on the economy, which, in times of deterioration in liquidity conditions, hampers economic growth, especially when there is a stubborn current account deficit (CAD).
This is likely happening in Turkey now. The Turkish economy has a CAD of over 7 percent per year. Its exports have been on the rise for many years, but the rate of increase in exports was a lot higher and the exports were extremely contingent on intermediary good imports.

With the unexpectedly high interest rate hike, the central bank kept the economy from the gallows; however, this is only a palliative remedy. The Turkish economy has been saved from sudden death but now it seems to have been doomed to painful crucifixion.

The necessity of implementing extraordinary measures in extraordinary times may explain the central bank's shocking step to raise the key rates by 112 percent. But when conditions are extremely unusual and the atmosphere is dangerous, these bizarre solutions don't necessarily do the trick. Turkey's struggle to cope with a global nemesis may compare to the fight of a sea bass against a shark and David's victory against Goliath is a very rare exception. Similarly, the central bank's decision, although it totally outstripped expectations, was unable to raise the value of the lira.

Construction is not the backbone of the Turkish economy but since it makes a vital contribution to employment, it is one of the most critical sectors for not only the overall wellbeing of the economy but for its political repercussions. There is no better opposition to a government than unemployment.

“It is the economy, stupid!” was an effective election message that gave former US President Bill Clinton an upper hand in his campaign to unseat former President George H.W. Bush and it has evolved into a piece of global political wisdom. Ahead of a critical election cycle, this motto seems to reign again as the economy is on the edge of an abyss of stagflation, a worst-case scenario in which an economy stagnates while inflation keeps rising. And a stumble in the construction sector will only add insult to injury.

Large projects may be suspended

The lira's demise, along with reversed capital flows from emerging markets to developed economies, may hamper the government's ambitious construction plans. The government has advanced plans for the Kanal İstanbul project, which aims to dig a channel to the city's north as an alternative to the Bosporus Strait; the third bridge across the Bosporus is halfway complete; and officials have made great efforts toward the construction of a new airport in İstanbul, to be the largest in Europe with a capacity of 150 million passengers a year. The government has put forward many other grand projects, all in the construction area. These were doable in the recent past, but the deterioration of market conditions, the lira's fall and difficulty raising funds to finance these projects will likely hinder their construction.

Economist Uğur Gürses said these projects may not be finished on schedule because of adverse funding conditions and surging costs. The government had ordered local banks to provide funds for and contribute to the construction of the third bridge, but may not be able to do so again, as the banks are in a difficult position these days, he asserted. On the cost side, Gürses said the government and the companies planning ambitious construction projects that require more than $100 billion in total will likely have to make new cost assessments as the exchange rate evolves. “The lenders that may put money in these projects will now think 50 times before taking any step,” he said.

HSYK bill sets alarm bells ringing for Justice Academy

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Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ raises his hand during debates in Parliament on the HSYK bill on Jan. 24. (Photo: Mustafa Kirazlı, Sunday's Zaman)
A much-criticized plan by the government to change the structure and operation of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) not only seeks to do away with judicial independence but also aims to end the pluralistic structure and independence of the Justice Academy, according to critics.

The academy offers vocational training for judges and prosecutors both before and during their time in the judicial system.

“The ruling party is insincere in what it says regarding the HSYK and the Justice Academy,” said Atilla Kart, a deputy for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) says the planned changes to the HSYK are aimed at making the board more independent and functional. The opposition, however, says the ruling party is not sincere and that it has “other plans.”

The government plans to restructure the Justice Academy as well as the HSYK, the country's key judicial body. A bill drafted by the ruling party to this end was opened to a vote in Parliament, but the party recently decided to suspend the bill after 21 of its articles were approved. Though the plans remain suspended for now, the ruling party has a mandate to bring the bill back to Parliament's agenda, with deputies continuing to vote on the bill starting from the 22nd article.

The bill still has another 25 articles to be voted on in Parliament. The articles concerning the Justice Academy are among the ones already adopted.

There are rumors that the AK Party decided to suspend the bill following criticism from theEuropean Union, some of whose officials Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met in Brussels on Jan. 21 and 22. Erdoğan strongly denied the rumors, however. The government's change of attitude, which earlier seemed determined to go ahead with the bill, may also have something to do with the attitude of President Abdullah Gül, whom Erdoğan met with several times this month to discuss the bill.

According to Kart, his party has made several calls on the AK Party to withdraw the bill. However, the reluctance of the ruling party to do so is a clear indication that the party has “other plans” about the HSYK and the Justice Academy, according to Kart. “The academy elects one member of the HSYK. The ruling party wants to dominate the academy so as to elect that one member itself,” the deputy argued.

The HSYK bill has been vehemently criticized by opposition parties, who claim that the bill, which gives the executive a much tighter grip on the judiciary, would do away with judicial independence. Critics also complain that the government is moving away from a number of changes it made to the structure of the HSYK following the Sept. 12, 2010 referendum that sought to bring the Turkish judiciary in line with EU standards. The changes were supported by the EU and the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's (CoE) advisory body on constitutional matters.

Currently, approximately 1,200 judges and prosecutors have the right to elect 10 members to the 22-member HSYK. The president appoints four members and the Supreme Court of Appeals selects three. The Council of State names two members and the Justice Academy of Turkey selects one. Both the justice minister and his undersecretary are automatic members of the board. According to critics, the government wants to seize the academy's right to select one member of the HSYK by subordinating the academy to the Justice Ministry.

According to the HSYK bill, the Ministry of Justice will increase the number of members that it will appoint to the 31-member general assembly of the Justice Academy from eight to 22.
Currently, candidates for chairman and vice chairman of the academy are selected by the academy board and elected by the Cabinet. If the bill is adopted, the Cabinet will elect the head of the academy from three candidates chosen by the minister of justice. The vice chairman will be directly appointed by the minister of justice.

This paves the way for the chairman, vice chairman, directors of education centers, judges and all personnel working at the Justice Academy to be discharged from their posts. In addition, the position of secretary-general will be removed.

The chairman of the academy, Hüseyin Yıldırım, issued a statement in mid-January to the parliamentary Justice Commission and opposition parties harshly criticizing the content of the HSYK bill. He said plans to remove all administrators and personnel of the Justice Academy do not comply with the principles of the rule of law and the legal guarantees for members of the judiciary. “This bill, if adopted in Parliament, will cause academy personnel to suffer a loss of rights,” he complained.

According to Yıldırım, the Justice Ministry will train judges and prosecutors in accordance with its own ideology. “Judges and prosecutors are trained according to the principles of the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in democratic countries where human rights are well respected. However, the HSYK bill says that the ministry will play a significant role in the training of judges and prosecutors,” he stated. According to the bill, the justice minister will decide on a group of judges to train the judges and prosecutors.

Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk believes the HSYK bill is designed to make a massive purge in the academy. With exaggeration, he said that all personnel at the academy except clerks and guards would be removed if the bill were adopted. “The justice minister will appoint new vice chairmen and directors to the academy in 10 days following the approval of the bill. And in 15 days, the minister will determine three candidates for the post of chairman. The minister will submit a list of candidates to the Cabinet, and the Cabinet will elect the chairman from the candidates,” he said, adding, “I do not think the academy deserves such punishment.”

The former minister also said it is not enough to say that the bill seeks to strengthen the control of the justice minister over the HSYK as it seeks to allow the minister to dominate the board. “With the bill, the HSYK will no longer play a decisive role in judiciary-related matters. Instead, the minister will assume that role. This does not comply with the independence of the judiciary,” he added.

According to journalist and writer Taha Akyol, the government's plans to restructure the Justice Academy violate the principle of separation of powers. “The general assembly of the academy comprises 31 members. Currently, eight of those members are appointed by the Justice Ministry while the remaining members are elected by judicial bodies. According to the government's plans, however, the ministry will appoint 22 members. The academy elects one member of the HSYK. A change in the structure of the academy is important for this reason,” he said.