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Turkey Live Coverage (19 March): New Year Celebrations, Clashes, and the Syria Crisis

See also Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Heavy Fighting in Damascus?

1815 GMT: Publisher Ragıp Zarakolu and Professor Büşra Ersanlı are facing up to 10 and 15 years in jail respectively, due to charges of leading and aiding a "terrorist organization".

Zarakolu and Ersanli were arrested  in November on terrorism charges as part of an investigation into the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), claimed as an umbrella group for the urban sections of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

1800 GMT: Fehman Hussein, a commander of the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), a wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK), has reportedly been taken to Syria for treatment after being seriously wounded in operations carried out by gendarmerie special forces in Turkey’s southeast.

1720 GMT: According to data released by the Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), the total number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has reached 16,446

1645 GMT: AKP's deputy chairman Huseyin Celik gave his opinion on what Newroz and Kurds mean to Turkey:

Newroz celebrations on March 21 is not something invented for Abdullah Ocalan [the imprisoned leader of the outlawed PKK organisation]. The Spring is not coming just for English, Kurdish, or Turkish people; it is coming for everyone. when Newroz comes on the agenda, you change its content.

We have been saying this from the very beginning. There are millions of Kurdish citizens in this country. AKP has always been dealing with reasonable, legitimate, and logical demands of Kurdish citizens as it shall be and has met most of these demands. It will continue to meet in future too. 

Here is our formula to solve this issue: Turks must be convinced and Kurds must be satisfied. You cannot make reforms without managing the public perception well. We cannot make reforms to make others' ideological aims come true. We cannot and we will not make reforms just because BDP or PKK wanted. When we put a step forward in reforms, PKK and BDP circles say, "Excuse me, is this happening on its own? We have been giving lives and taking lives. In return we take concessions."

1615 GMT: Making no mention of a buffer zone in Syria, during a joint news conference with Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said:

It is our duty to offer them support. ust as the Syrians fought as part of the Ottoman forces against invading Western forces during the Çanakkale naval battle of 1915.

Following his remarks, Justice and Development Party (AKP)'s deputy chairman Huseyin Celik said that Turkey has not yet made a decision on setting up a buffer zone within Syria to provide shelter for civilians as well as the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

1530 GMT: Commenting on speculation that Syrian intelligence officials had captured two Turkish journalists, missing since the first week of March, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that they had no information on the whereabouts of the reporters. 

1445 GMT: Aysegul Er reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with the President of UEFA, Michel François Platini in Ankara. At the meeting, Platini invited Prime Minister to the UEFA Congress. After 34 years, the 36th Congress will be conducted at Istanbul on March 22. Presidents and managers of football associations of different countries will participate the Congress.

1300 GMT: Yakup Kurtaran, a fourth-class police officer in the northern province of Samsun at the time when he was photographed with the murderer of Armenian-decent Turkish writer Hrant Dink, has been promoted as the public security deputy manager in the eastern province of Malatya.

In an anti-terror office of Samsun, Kurtaran was photographed next to the murderer Ogün Samast behind a Turkish flag, right after the assasination incident.

In 2007, authorities launched an investigation into the unidentified people who leaked the photo on charges of "breaching an investigation's secrecy by featuring photos and videos in the visual and print media".

1145 GMT:  a student who threw an egg at Turkish European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış in December faces five years of jail time.

1100 GMT: EA's Aysegul Er reports from Ankara --- a new investigation was launched by Istanbul Specially Authorized Prosecutor's Office into journalist Ahmet Şık's remarks following his release from prison. Şık was on trial in the Oda TV case, launched as part of a probe into the Ergenekon affair of an alleged clandestine criminal network plotting to overthrow the government. Şık had said:

There are five people jailed in my case alone. Some 100 journalists are still in prison. The issue of freedom of expression is not just the problem of journalists. There are some 600 students [in prison]. We will go ahead with our struggle. The judges, prosecutors, police officers who plotted and implemented this conspiracy will be put in prison. Those community-linked [the Fettullah Gulen comunity], gang-linked people will be here. Justice will be served when they enter here.

Prosecutor Muammer Aktaş has requested video footage of Şık's remarks from the İstanbul Police Department as part of his investigation.

0530 GMT: The latest from Turkey....:

Newroz Celebrations Across Turkey

Despite of the Government’s rejection of celebrations, Kurds marked Newroz in Istanbul and Diyarbakir in the southwest city. In clashes in Istanbul, police used water cannons and tear gas. In one of these incidents, a Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) administrator, Haci Zengin, was killed  when he was struck in the head by a gas canister.

Clashes in Istanbul

In Diyarbakir, a larger crowd, including BDP MPs gathered in an open area. BDPco-chairman Selahattin Demirtas said: “We lost our hopes about the Government. We want the right of having education in the mother language and the right to live with its own language and culture for Kurds.”

Clashes in Diyarbakir

Celebration in Diyarbakir


Tense Relations With Damascus

On Friday, Ankara suspended consular service in Syria. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey was “considering all options, including the withdrawal of our ambassador.”

On Thursday, Minister of Interior Idris Naim Sener put forth the idea of establishing a buffer zone in Syria, with Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay adding his support the next day. However, senior officials told Hurriyet that there would be no buffer zone without a United Nations initiative

Prime Minister Erdogan met Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), on Saturday to discuss the recent developments in Syria and the refugee problem in Turkey. No details were given about the closed-door session.

Meanwhile, another Turkish truck driver, Mustafa Uctas, was killed near Idlib on Sunday. 

Turkey’s 97th Anniversary of Gallipoli Victory

Turkey marked the the 97th anniversary of Martyrs' Day and the Dardanelles naval victory over the Allied forces on Sunday. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınc said:

Deprived of modern weapons of any kind, the people of Anatolia fought in unison against the best-equipped armies of the day to forge an unforgettable and glorious history. This victory also serves as a symbol and a source of inspiration for other nations waging a struggle for their independence and liberty.

Hamas’s Visit to Ankara

On Friday, Hamas’s exiled chief Khaled Meshaal met Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara to consider the prospect of reconciliation amongst Palestinian groups. 

Both Hamas and Fatah had agreed that an interim government, headed by the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, would be formed and Parliamentary and Presidental elections would be held within the next 12 months. However, Israel would not allow Hamas offices in the West Bank, and Hamas' leadership in Gaza balked at giving all the credit to Meshaal.

Nevertheless, a consensus among Hamas' top officials appears to have three main objectives: weaken Abbas to the point where Hamas has an interest in pursuing an election process; find financial support from Sunni Arabs (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and maybe Turkey) at a time when support from Syria is threatened and Iranian funds are reduced, and do not lose Tehran. Amidst this, Ankara is needed more than ever as a broker for Mashaal and Gazan leader Ismail Haniyeh.  

Turkish Soldiers Killed on Afghan Mission 

Twelve Turkish soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash outside Kabul on Friday.

More than 1,800 Turkish troops are in Afghanistan. They do not see combat and are limited to patrols.

After the incident, President Abdullah Gul said: “Turkey will continue to support the brotherly Afghan people.”

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