Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stonegate Update :: Soeren Kern: Muslims Plan "Parallel Parliament" In Switzerland, and more

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Muslims Plan "Parallel Parliament" In Switzerland

by Soeren Kern
February 22, 2012 at 5:00 am

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A growing immigrant population determined to avoid assimilation.

Leading Islamic groups in Switzerland are seeking to establish a single national representative body that will enable all of the country's Muslims to "speak with one voice."

The organizers say their new "parliament" will be called "Umma Schweiz" and be based on the principles of Islamic Sharia law. The headquarters of the organization will be located in Basel with "representatives" in all 26 cantons (or "states") of Switzerland. The first "test vote" of Umma Schweiz will be held in the fall of 2012; the group will be fully functional in 2013.

Ummah, an Arabic word that means "nation," refers to the entire Muslim community throughout the world. In recent years, Muslims have stepped up efforts to unify the globally fragmented ummah in an effort to revive an Islamic Caliphate or empire. Many Muslim scholars view the political unification of the ummah as a prerequisite to the consolidation of global Muslim power and the subsequent establishment of an Islamic world order.

Swiss analysts say the initiative is an effort to establish a "parallel" legislative body in Switzerland that will be a mouthpiece for Islamic fundamentalists who are seeking to impose Sharia law on the country, according to an exposé published by the newspaper Basler Zeitung.

Umma Schweiz is being spearheaded by two of the leading Muslim groups in Switzerland: the Coordination of Islamic Organizations of Switzerland (KIOS), led by an Iranian; and the Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organizations in Switzerland (FIDS), led by a Palestinian.

The effort to unify Muslims in Switzerland comes amid calls by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to establish an umbrella organization for all Swiss Muslims to counter discrimination.

The OSCE, which sent three observers to Switzerland in November 2011, warned that Muslims in the country are being exploited by "the extreme right and populist parties." The OSCE also noted that Muslims in Switzerland are increasingly unifying around their religious identity, according to an advance copy of the OSCE trip report, which has been seen by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. "Groups like Bosnians and Albanians, who were previously defined by their ethnicity, are now identified by their religion," the OSCE report says.

Currently, there are more than 300 Muslim associations in Switzerland, and several umbrella organizations, but none is regarded as representative of Muslims as a whole.

The Muslim population in Switzerland has more than quintupled since 1980; it now numbers about 400,000, or roughly 5% of the population. Most Muslims living in Switzerland are of Turkish or Balkan origin, with a smaller minority from the Arab world. Many of them are second- and third-generation immigrants firmly establishing themselves in Switzerland.

The new Muslim demographic reality is raising tensions across large parts of Swiss society, especially as Muslims become more assertive in their demands for greater recognition of their Islamic faith.

In September 2011, for instance, an immigrant group based in Bern called for the emblematic white cross to be removed from the Swiss national flag because as a Christian symbol it "no longer corresponds to today's multicultural Switzerland."

The ensuing controversies are fuelling a debate over the role of Islam in Swiss society and how to reconcile Western values with a growing immigrant population determined to avoid assimilation.

Many of the disputes are ending up in Swiss courts, which have been packed with Islam-related cases in recent years. In one proceeding, for example, Muslim parents won a lawsuit demanding that they be allowed to dress their children in full-body bathing suits (aka "burkinis") during co-ed swimming lessons. In another, a group of Swiss supermarkets created a stir by banning Muslim employees from wearing headscarves.

In September 2010, the secretary of the Muslim Community of Basel was acquitted of publicly inciting crime and violence. The charges were pressed after the 33-year-old made comments in a Swiss television documentary saying that Islamic Sharia law should be introduced in Switzerland and that unruly wives should be beaten. The judge said the defendant was protected by freedom of expression.

In January 2011, a 66-year-old Turkish woman living in Bern was sentenced to three years and six months in prison for encouraging the father and brothers of her daughter-in-law to carry out an "honor crime" against her for her "risqué lifestyle."

In August 2010, five Muslim families in Basel were fined 350 Swiss Francs ($420) each for refusing to send their daughters to mixed-sex swimming lessons. In August 2009, the Swiss basketball association told a Muslim player she could not wear a headscarf during league games.

Swiss voters have also been fighting back against the Islamization of their country by means of the ballot box.

In November 2009, Switzerland held a referendum in which citizens approved an initiative to ban the construction of minarets. The initiative was approved 57.5% to 42.5% by some 2.67 million voters. Only four cantons or states opposed the initiative, thereby granting the double approval that now makes the minaret ban part of the Swiss constitution.

In November 2010, Swiss voters approved tough new regulations on the deportation of non-Swiss immigrants convicted of serious crimes. The measure calls for the automatic expulsion of non-Swiss offenders convicted of crimes ranging from murder to breaking and entry and social security fraud.

Also in November, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the approval or extension of residency permits should be closely linked to the efforts immigrants make to integrate themselves. "Compulsory schooling must be respected. Children should attend all courses and exceptions made on religious or other grounds, for example in swimming classes, should no longer be possible," Sommaruga said.

In December 2010, the Federal Commission on Women's Issues called for Islamic burqas and niqabs to be banned in government offices and in public schools. The government-appointed committee said the move would prevent gender discrimination.

In May 2011, voters in canton Ticino, in Switzerland's Italian-speaking region, collected enough signatures to be able to launch a referendum that would ban burqas, niqabs and other Islamic head dresses. If the referendum goes ahead, it will be the first time in Switzerland that citizens have been asked to express an opinion on burqas.

On February 14, 2012, the far-right Swiss People's Party, the country's largest, filed a petition supporting a cap on immigration to Switzerland. The petition, which is the result of a months-long campaign to gather the required 100,000 signatures, is now being reviewed by Swiss authorities. If the proposals in the petition are deemed acceptable, it will then go to a popular referendum, in accordance with Switzerland's unique system of direct democracy.

On February 27, the Swiss Parliament is scheduled to debate a series of proposals to crack down on Muslim forced marriages in Switzerland. There are an estimated 17,000 forced marriages in Switzerland; one-third of the victims are between the ages of 13 and 18, according to a ground-breaking study of the problem conducted in 2006.

The proposals being considered include: amending the Swiss Penal Code to make forced marriage a criminal offense; outlawing the marriages of minors; reviewing all future requests for marriage to ensure that no one is being married against her will; and mandating the deportation of any immigrants found to guilty of forcing someone to marry against her will.

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

Related Topics: Soeren Kern

For Middle East Peace, Postpone the Peace Talks -- at Least for Now

by Khaled Abu Toameh
February 22, 2012 at 4:30 am

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The first thing Hamas would do after winning the election is cancel all the "treacherous" agreements that were signed by Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO.

There are several reasons why the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks need to be postponed until further notice.

The first reason is the plan to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories sometime in the near future.

What would happen if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a peace treaty with Israel today and, a few months from now, Hamas is elected to lead the Palestinians?

The first thing that a new Hamas government or parliament would do is cancel all the "treacherous" agreements that were signed by Abbas and the PLO.

Hamas's chances of scoring another electoral victory have increased significantly thanks to the "Arab Spring" that has seen the rise of Islamists to power in a number of Arab countries.

Then it would be too late to prevent Hamas from extending its control to large parts of the West Bank and possibly certain areas in Jerusalem that are handed over to the Palestinian Authority.

Hence any peace agreement that is signed today between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will become meaningless once Hamas takes control after the planned elections.

Hamas leaders have in recent days reiterated their fierce opposition to any peace deal with Israel, saying they will never recognize Israel's right to exist except as another Arab and Muslim state.

They have also made it clear that the proposed unity government would not honor previous agreements signed between Israel and the PLO, above all the Oslo Accords.

When and if such elections take place, there is no guarantee that Hamas would not again win the support of a majority of Palestinians.

Abbas, for his part, has been trying to reassure world leaders that a unity government headed by him would abide by all the agreements with Israel and would recognize its right to exist -- but not as a Jewish state.

Another reason it would be advisable to put the peace talks on hold for now centers around the question of whether Abbas really has a mandate from his people to strike a deal with Israel, particularly one that includes territorial concessions.

Abbas's term in office expired in January 2009: many Palestinians therefore believe he does not have a mandate to pursue his political platform.

The feeling among many Palestinians is that Abbas and a small number of his aides in the West Bank are convinced that they have a monopoly over the decision-making process in the Palestinian arena.

For the past few years, they had been negotiating with Israel about lands, Jerusalem, settlements, security and refugees -- without consulting other Palestinians.

The Palestinian parliament has been paralyzed since 2007 due to the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas; there has therefore been no open debate about the future of the peace process with Israel. The only people with whom Abbas and his aides consult are their loyalists in Fatah and the PLO.

Abbas went all the way to New York last September to ask for a Palestinian state at a time when he cannot even visit his private house in the Gaza Strip. He asked the UN for a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem -- ignoring the fact that millions of Palestinian refugees are demanding to return to their original villages inside Israel.

Many Palestinian are opposed to Abbas's statehood bid at the UN because they do not want a state only in the territories that were captured by Israel in 1967. They want all of Palestine -- from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea; in other words, no less than 100% of the land on which Israel now sits, or they will regard themselves as traitors and collaborators.

Only new elections or a referendum will tell whether a majority of Palestinians support Abbas's willingness either to make concessions to Israel or to back Hamas's efforts to replace Israel with an Iranian-backed Islamic Emirate. That is why there is no for point in anyone to pursue peace talks with the Palestinian Authority at this stage.

Related Topics: Khaled Abu Toameh

Europe: A Tale of Three Presidents

by Peter Martino
February 22, 2012 at 4:00 am

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For Merkel, losing the French president is worse than losing the German president.

Europe's presidents usually do not figure much in the press. Last week, however, was exceptional. Two presidents whom most people outside their own countries had never heard of made the international headlines: President Karolos Papoulias of Greece, and President Christian Wulff of Germany. Last week was also the week in which French President Nicolas Sarkozy of France officially announced that he will stand for reelection.

Unlike in the U.S., in most European countries the head of state is not the head of the government. The kings and queens of the various European monarchies have only limited political powers, and the functions they fulfill are mostly ceremonial. With the exception of France, Europe's presidents have also mainly ceremonial functions, while the political leaders of their countries are the prime ministers or, in Germany's case, the chancellor.

Last Wednesday, the 82-year old President of Greece, Karolos Papoulias lashed out rather unceremoniously at Germany after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had said on German television that he doubted whether all the political parties in Greece are aware of their responsibility for the difficult situation in their country. The European Union (EU) is currently considering helping Greece to overcome its financial problems by providing it with €130bn ($171.6bn). In return, however, the Europeans – and especially Germany that will be paying the bulk of the aid packet – demand that Greece introduce austerity measures. Since Greece is heading for elections in April and since it already needs the money next month to avoid bankruptcy, the Germans want all the major Greek parties to guarantee that the austerity measures will be implemented, no matter which party leads the country after the elections.

As the promises of some parties could not be trusted, Schäuble suggested that perhaps the Greek elections might be postponed and an interim government of technocrats installed. Papoulias reacted in anger. "I don't accept insults to my country," the visibly agitated Greek president said at a dinner with military officials. "As a Greek, I don't accept it. Who is Mr. Schäuble to ridicule Greece?" The outburst came as a shock, as Papoulias, who studied in Germany in the 1950s and speaks fluent German, was considered one of the few friends the Germans have left in Greece – a country where (as we related here last week) anti-German feelings are running high.

There was not much understanding in Germany for Papoulias's agitated response. "People in Greece like to forget that there are also voters in the donor countries who do not want just to play along with everything. And their patience – like that of the politicians – has now been exhausted," the German conservative daily Die Welt wrote. "It is a bit much for the Greek president to accuse the German finance minister of insulting the Greeks," the centrist Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote. "Indeed, everyone knows that Greek politicians ran up debts, failed to collect taxes and ignored corruption."

Barely two days later, however, the Germans' own president, 52-year old Christian Wulff, resigned over allegations of corruption. As we wrote here in early January, in 2008 Wulff and his wife received an advantageous loan of €500,000 ($649,000) from the wife of a wealthy businessman. Last December, when the newspaper Bild got hold of the story, Wulff tried to intimidate the paper and its owners not to run it. When the story of this press intimidation broke, most other politicians would probably have resigned, but Wulff obstinately hung on. Last Friday, however, after the public prosecutor asked for the president's immunity of prosecution to be lifted, Wulff finally stepped down.

His resignation is an embarrassment for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Two years ago, German President Horst Köhler, a Christian-Democrat like Merkel, resigned after making a controversial political statement by advocating a greater German role in military missions abroad. As the president is a ceremonial figure, he is not supposed to make controversial political statements. Köhler stepped down under pressure from both the Socialist opposition and Merkel, who subsequently had the Bundestag install her protégé, Wulff, as the new president.

The resignation of two presidents in less than two years is an embarrassment for Germany, but especially for Merkel. The president is appointed by the parliament but needs to be a consensus figure acceptable to all the major parties. The Socialists have announced that, as the last two presidents were Christian-Democrats who undermined the credibility of the presidential institution, another Christian-Democrat is unacceptable to them. They have proposed 72-year old Joachim Gauck, a former human rights activist from Communist East Germany, and who had aleady been a candidate in 2010, for the function. As the country cannot be without a president for long, the appointment of Wulff's successor is currently Merkel's most urgent business. She wants to have to post filled as soon as possible.

Paradoxically, Gauck has a very good chance of becoming the next German President because Merkel is worrying more about the election of a president other than Germany's. In early May, France is holding presidential elections. Last week, Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he is standing for a second term. France's presidential system resembles America's. Sarkozy is the only president in Europe who, in addition to being the ceremonial head of state, is also his country's political leader. Together with Chancellor Merkel, Sarkozy is trying to save the euro, the common currency of 17 EU nations, by saving Greece from bankruptcy through massive bailouts from Europe in return for Greek austerity programs.

If Sarkozy loses the elections to his Socialist opponent, François Hollande, Merkel is in serious trouble. As we told here recently, Hollande has announced that, if he is elected, he will renegotiate the fiscal treaty which the EU countries, at Merkel's instigation, approved in late January. If Hollande, who is currently leading in the polls, becomes France's next president, Merkel's European policies collapse. Then all the political and financial capital which she has already invested in saving Greece may have been spent in vain. In short, Merkel's political future depends more on Sarkozy than on who becomes the next president in Germany. For Merkel, losing the French president is worse than losing the German president. But the resignation of the latter has tarnished her domestic credibility and might be an ominous sign of even worse things to come.

Related Topics: Peter Martino

Turkish Intel Crisis Devised to Manipulate Politics, Research Company Head Says
And more from the Turkish Press

by AK Group
February 22, 2012 at 3:00 am

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A prosecutor's office's recent call for Turkey's top intelligence staff to testify in an ongoing probe is connected to efforts to reshape the country's political landscape in 2014, according to Dr. İbrahim Uslu, the head of a prominent research company.

"The president, the prime minister, the leader of the AKP [Justice and Development Party], its top-level administrators, the situation in Parliament and the municipalities will all change in 2014. Politics, in other words, will be entirely redefined," said Uslu, the head of the Ankara Social Research Center, or ANAR. "I personally think some people may have [devised] these attacks to have a say over that process, to be able to manipulate it and gain influence over the allotment of new roles."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is widely tipped to replace President Abdullah Gül as head of state in 2014, when the president will be chosen in a popular vote for the first time. The government's aim in recently altering laws to protect Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, from prosecution does not stem from a desire to simply protect a civil servant but is also designed to preserve its own policies, he was quoted as saying by the daily Akşam.

"I am worried that attacks of this nature could step up as 2014 approaches. [These forces] want to weaken the AKP and the state and to mislead them into making the wrong choices. It is going to be a battering process," he said.

A specially authorized prosecutor in Istanbul shook Turkey's political scene on Feb. 8 when he summoned Fidan; his predecessor, Emre Taner; former MİT deputy Afet Güneş; and two other MİT personnel for questioning into a probe into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. None of them showed up at the prosecutor's office, prompting an order for Fidan to testify in Ankara and orders that the other four be detained.

In response, the prosecutor was removed from his post, while Parliament approved a law on Friday that forces prosecutors to obtain the prime minister's authorization before a criminal probe can be launched against current or former MİT officials.

Appeals Court Upholds Decision Calling KCK Terrorist Organization

The Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a lower court's decision that the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK -- an umbrella political organization for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK -- is a terrorist organization, in the appeal case of a KCK suspect who was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization.

Greek Patriarch Makes History in Turkish Parliament

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew made a landmark presentation at Parliament's constitution-making commission Monday, demanding equal treatment for non-Muslim minorities, including an equal share of public funds for religious services and education.

"It is the first official invitation to non-Muslim minorities in Republican history. We don't want to be second-class citizens. Unfortunately, there have been injustices in the past. These are all slowly being rectified. A new Turkey is being born. We are leaving the meeting with hope and are extremely grateful," the patriarch told reporters after the meeting.

Bartholomew made the presentation behind closed doors at the Constitution Conciliation Commission, tasked with drafting a new constitution for Turkey. The patriarch stressed his community's biggest problem was the fact that it did not have legal entity status and requested that the new charter guarantees that, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News.

He renewed demands for the re-opening of the Greek Orthodox seminary on Heybeliada (Halki) island off Istanbul, stressing that they accepted vocational school status for the seminary under the supervision of the Education Ministry.

"We want equality in all realms, including education and the bureaucracy. Minorities are virtually non-existent in the higher posts of the bureaucracy," he was quoted as saying.

Academic Emre Öktem, a member of the team accompanying the patriarch, suggested the new constitution should make a reference to the 1924 Lausanne Treaty, which guarantees the rights of Turkey's Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Armenian communities, and explicitly define the offense of "hate crimes."

In the 18-page paper Bartholomew gave the commission, he also said the new constitution should ensure that minorities benefit equally from public funds allocated for religion and education.

"The state has never extended financial assistance to any church or minority school," he said.

The head of the Syriac Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation, Kuryakos Ergün, also met with the commission and similarly hailed the occasion. "It's a historic day. Syriacs have lived in these lands for 6,000 years. We are not guests here," Ergün told reporters.

Ergün highlighted the need to give Syriacs official minority status similar to that granted by the Lausanne Treaty to Jews, Greeks and Armenians. Non-Muslim minorities should be represented at the Directorate of Religious Affairs, he said.

Syriacs to Visit Turkish Parliament Next Week

A delegation of Syriac Christians from Turkey and abroad will meet with Parliament's Constitution Conciliation Commission on Feb. 27 in Ankara, after months of striving to get an appointment.

"We do not believe the Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew possesses any authority to speak on behalf of all Christian minorities," Tuma Çelik, the head of the European Syriac Union, told the Hürriyet Daily News on behalf of the delegation. "At least, he does not represent us, the Syriacs. As such, he reserves no right to speak in our name. It is quite natural, however, for him to talk about ongoing problems in Turkey in a more general sense while he is laying down his own demands."

The delegation is set to meet with the commission as part of ongoing efforts to frame a new constitution will include Evgil Türker, the head of the Federation of Turkish Syriac Associations, Sabri Akbaba, the representative of Syriac institutions in Germany, and Tuma Özdemir, the representative of the Istanbul Mesopotamia Culture and Solidarity Association, as well as Çelik.

Presidency Urges New Trial in Dink Murder

The Turkish Presidency's State Supervisory Council, or DDK, recommended Monday that top police and gendarmerie officials be prosecuted in the main Hrant Dink murder case due to their alleged negligence before and after the journalist's 2007 killing.

The suggestion amounts to a non-binding call to the judiciary to restart the Dink murder trial and places the suspected public servants next to the gunman. The DDK, which outlined its recommendations in a report released Monday, also touched on the need to reform the secret services in order to have the ability to prevent the murders of key personalities or social unrest like the bloody incidents that took place in Sivas in 1993 or in Kahramanmaraş in 1978.

"Hrant Dink's murder must be evaluated as a whole, starting from when Dink was singled out as a target and threatened," the 650-page report said. An especially crucial section of the report reads: "Successive acts of negligence by public officials have not been probed as a whole. Different units conducted different probes into [these acts] in terms of authority and location … This method has resulted in not assessing the events as a whole, while also resulting in not prosecuting all claims together."

Dink, an Armenian-Turk who was editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos, was gunned down outside his paper in 2007 by an ultranationalist. President Abdullah Gül ordered the DDK to investigate the murder because the Jan. 17 verdict against the perpetrators did not satisfy public sensitivities.

According to the court's verdict, Dink's murder was not an organized crime, despite serious claims that some public servants were "indirectly" involved. Ogün Samast, the gunman, was sentenced to life in prison, while Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel were acquitted on charges of being members of an illegal organization. Hayal was sentenced to life on charges of "instigating" the murder. The verdict caused a public uproar, and insult to injury was added when it was understood that the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court even "forgot" to announce a verdict on one of the suspects.

The DDK report is non-binding and will have no official effect on the proceedings. However, the Dink family has already appealed and the report sends an "advisory" message to the Supreme Court of Appeals for the annulment of the lower court's decision.

Claims were directed at Istanbul's former Gov. Muammer Güler, as well as the Istanbul Police Department's Intelligence Director, Ahmet İlhan Güler. Accordingly, the Trabzon chief of police sent a report to the Istanbul Police Department to warn of an assassination plot against Dink, but Güler allegedly did not take it seriously. Attempts to investigate Güler after the murder have been blocked.

The report's findings regarding the negligence of the Trabzon Police Department have been omitted from the file put on the web. This section includes the assessment of six important criticisms leveled against the verdict.

The report recalled that some police officers who arrested Samast immediately after the murder allowed him to be photographed with a Turkish flag as if he were proud of what he had done and described this as the "emergence of a marginal understanding."

Noting that senior public servants had a direct affect in not protecting Dink before the murder even though they had received crucial intelligence regarding the impending danger, the report suggested that these civil servants should also be prosecuted.

China's Vice President in Turkey, Eyes Cooperation

China's leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, kicked off a key visit to Turkey on Monday night to boost already blossoming commercial ties between the two rising powers.

Xi, who is expected to be president of the world's most populous nation next year, is set to have talks with Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to a written statement he delivered upon his arrival in Ankara Monday night. Xi's key visit to Turkey came following a weeklong trip to the United States and Ireland last week.

Trade Minister Zafer Çağlayan and Ankara Governor Alaaddin Yüksel greeted the Chinese vice president upon his arrival. He said in the written statement that he came to Turkey on the invitation of President Abdullah Gül, aiming to deepen, what he described as, "understanding and friendship" between the two nations.

The last high-level visit to China by Turkish officials was in 2009, when Gül visited China, followed by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's trip to Turkey a year later. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also paid a six-day visit to China in late 2010 and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, came to Turkey in January of 2010.

The two countries referred to increasingly deepening relations between the two nations as "strategic cooperation" in 2010 and celebrated the 40th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between the two nations.

China is Turkey's largest trade partner in the Far East and its third biggest trade partner after Germany and Russia. Bilateral trade volume between Turkey and China has increased 21-fold in the past 10 years, reaching $24 billion. While Turkey exports $2.5 billion worth goods to China, Chinese exports to Turkey amount to $21.5 billion.

The two countries are hoping to reach $50 billion in 2015 and $100 billion in 2020 in the arena of bilateral trade volume. The number of Chinese tourists has also increased 67 percent since 2009, exceeding 100,000 tourists for the first time in 2011.

Xi also said in the statement that the two nations have made progress in the political, economic and cultural spheres since they established diplomatic relations in 1971 and that China and Turkey have significant shared interests in preserving world peace, supporting development and fighting against global problems. He added that China wishes to maintain the strategic cooperation it enjoys with Turkey by further strengthening ties between the two states.

The Chinese vice president is also scheduled to have talks with Gül and Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek. Xi will visit historical places in İstanbul on Wednesday and address a Turkish-Chinese business forum.

Defected Syria Soldier Vows Return, Fight

Defections from the Syrian army continue to increase as a Turkmen-origin general, Fayez Amro, and three other army officials defected to Turkey last week, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

Amro, from the Bab Amr neighborhood of the restive city of Homs, defected to Turkey last week and has been staying in a Hatay refugee camp where Syrian defector soldiers have been staying. Another intelligence general from the Syrian army defected to Turkey last week. His name has not yet been revealed due to security reasons, Syrian opposition forces said. The Turkish Foreign Ministry was not available to comment on the issue when the Daily News went to print Monday.

Two Syrian lieutenants who recently defected from the Syrian army talked to the Hürriyet Daily News regarding the alleged atrocities in Syria.
Lt. Abdulselam Abdulrezzak, who used to work in the chemical weapons department in the Syrian army, said chemical weapons were used against civilians during the military offensive of the Syrian security forces in Bab Amr.

"BZ-CS, Chlorine Benzilate, which damages people's nerves and makes them fade away, is being used in Bab Amr. They wanted to also use it in Zabadani [on the Lebanese border] but they made an agreement with the Free Syrian Army forces at the last minute and they backtracked. I couldn't stand all these and ran away," Abdulrezzak told the Daily News Sunday.

Showing his military ID in order to prove his post in the Syrian army, Abdulrezzak said Syrian soldiers were given gas masks recently in order to protect themselves from the chemical weapons that would be used against the protestors in Syria. Abdulrezzak said he will join the Free Syrian Army, whose leader, Col. Riad al-Asaad, is based at a camp in a southern province in Turkey, and then return to Syria to fight with rebel forces against the regime.

Ibrahim al-Hajiali, a lieutenant in the Syrian army who escaped to Turkey four months ago, said he had been in prison for one year because of his involvement in the opposition groups.

"My wife was a dentist in the army hospital. However, she was also blacklisted. I fought within the revolutionary forces after prison. Now we both escaped to Turkey. But I continue supporting the revolutionary forces in Syria," al-Hajiali said.

Barzani Calls on PKK to Lay Down Arms

The president of the Kurdish Regional Administration, Mesut Barzani, has called on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to lay down arms and start civil dialogue, while speaking at a conference in Iraq's northern province of Arbil.

Barzani commented on the awaited "Kurdish National Conference" plan, saying the only condition for the PKK to attend the conference was to become involved in politics and abandon arms, according to the reports from Peyamder, a Web site known for its close ties with the Kurdish Regional Administration.

"If the PKK shows good faith, stops the war and builds for peace, they can participate in the Kurdish National Conference, in which Kurds will tell the world that they build their policies based on dialog and diplomacy," Barzani reportedly said.

Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, leader Selahattin Demirtaş also attended the conference organized in remembrance of the first independent Kurdish nation state in history, the Kurdish Republic of Mabahad, which existed between 1946 and 1947.

In Kurdish, Demirtaş touched on the problems of Syrian Kurds during his speech.
"Syrian Kurds need support; all the Kurdish movements should do their bit. The conference is crucial, and it has vital importance for us," Demirtaş said.

Iraqi VP Slams Barzani's Call for Support

Following Barzani's call on all Iraqi leaders to sit together to find a way out of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi's case, Iraq's embattled Sunni vice president slammed government charges Monday that he ran death squads and called on "all honest Iraqi people" to rise up to his defense.

Al-Hashemi's words came a day after the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, Masoud Barzani, called on concerned parties to resolve the issues through dialogue.

The government's charges "are politically motivated," al-Hashemi said in a speech broadcast from the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, where he has sought haven from arrest in the autonomous Kurdish region.

Last week, a judicial panel in Baghdad concluded al-Hashemi was behind at least 150 bombings and assassinations since 2005. The conclusions stemmed from a review of a December 2011 arrest warrant accusing al-Hashemi of paying his bodyguards $3,000 to kill security forces and government officials.

Turkish Foreign Minister Favors G-20 Over UN on Syria Issue

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaking in Los Cabos, Mexico where is he attending the foreign ministers' meeting of the G-20 states, said the deadlock in the United Nations Security Council encouraged the Syrian regime to increase its assault on the dissidents.

"The Syrian government is holding bloodier operations as it has the impression that the international community will not act following the vetoes of Russia and China to the UN Security Council resolution," he said.

Blaming the UN for its ineffectiveness in the post-Cold War era because of its dependence on five permanent members' votes, Davutoğlu praised the G-20 for "having a more embracing character."

Speaking to reporters after making a speech in the first G-20 foreign ministers' meeting on Sunday, Davutoğlu also said the G-20 is more representative than the UN.

"In the aftermath of the Cold War, there is still a trend to continue with Cold War structures. However, we should be producing new values in parallel to globalization. [...] A widely participated in decision-making mechanism is needed. In this respect, the G-20 constitutes a good discussion platform," Davutoğlu said.
Davutoğlu also said turning the country into a prison would be the biggest mistake, addressing the claims that al-Assad forces are deploying landmines on the borders of Syria.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem said Monday there had been an agreement at a meeting of Mediterranean region states to preserve Syria's territorial integrity and avoid "an Iraqi scenario." Also, Syria's opposition, including Syrian National Council and other opposition groups is expected to take part in an international conference in Tunis on Friday.

In Washington, the senior U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said intervening in Syria would be "very difficult" because it was not like Libya. Syria's army is very capable, with a sophisticated, integrated air defense system and chemical and biological weapons, Dempsey said.

Iran Says UN Nuke Inspectors Will Not Visit Site

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said a United Nations team visiting Iran has no plans to inspect the country's nuclear facilities, but will only hold talks with experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency Tuesday in Tehran to "accelerate" cooperation with the UN watchdog.

The two-day IAEA visit, which started Monday, is the second in less than a month by the UN team amid growing concerns over alleged Iranian weapons experiments. On Monday, Iranian radio said the UN team had asked to visit a military complex outside Tehran that has been suspected as a secret weapons-making location.

Iran denies charges by the West that it seeks nuclear weapons.

Putin Plans Asymmetric Radar Reply

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed Monday that Russia would strengthen its military might and offer an "asymmetrical and effective" response to the deployment of a NATO missile shield.

Russia must implement strong countermeasures to respond to NATO's planned deployment of a missile shield in Europe, Putin wrote in an article on national security in the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, ahead of his bid for a third Kremlin term in the March 4 presidential polls.

"The time demands decisive steps to strengthen a single system of air and space defense of our country. We are being pushed towards these actions by the policy of the United States and NATO on the question of deploying a missile shield," Putin wrote.

He said Russia should not try to create a "costly" rival shield, but its strategic nuclear forces and air and space defense forces should aim to "overcome any system of missile defense."

"In this question there cannot be too much patriotism," the Agence France-Presse quoted Putin as saying.

Leaders of the NATO alliance gave their backing in 2010 for the Europe-wide ballistic missile shield -- which officials say is aimed at thwarting missile threats from the Middle East, particularly Iran. Turkey hosts a radar system in the eastern province of Malatya as part of the NATO anti-missile project.

Putin has dismissed the United States' claim that the prospective shield was intended to counter the Iranian missile threat, saying its real goal was to erode Russia's nuclear deterrent.

"Russia's military and technical response to a global American missile shield and its segment in Europe will be effective and asymmetrical," he said. "And it will fully correspond to the United States' steps on the missile shield."

While a nuclear conflict looks unlikely, scientific progress leads to the emergence of new weapons that could change the character of war, Putin said, The Associated Press reported. He specifically referred to precision long-range non-nuclear weapons, saying they emerge as a key instrument of modern warfare.

"We must not tempt anyone with our weakness," Putin said. "Therefore, we will never, in any circumstances, give away our potential of strategic deterrence and will strengthen it."

Putin said the government plans spending about $770 billion on modernizing its armed forces and defense industry over the next decade by purchasing more than 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles, more than 600 combat aircraft, dozens of submarines and other navy vessels and thousands of armored vehicles.

"Within the next decade, the armed forces will receive more than 400 modern ground- and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, eight ballistic missile submarines, about 20 general purpose attack submarines, over 50 surface ships and some 100 military-purpose spacecraft," Putin said, the Russian Ria Novosti news agency reported.

He said the number will also include "over 600 modern aircraft, including fifth-generation fighters, more than a thousand helicopters, 28 regimental sets of S-400 [SA-21 Growler] surface-to-air missile systems, 38 division sets of Vityaz air defense systems, 10 brigade sets of Iskander-M (SS-26 Stone) tactical missile systems, more than 2,300 modern tanks, some 2,000 self-propelled artillery systems and guns, as well as more than 17,000 military vehicles."

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