New Turkish charter to be a model for region

Turkey’s new constitution will set a model for regional and other countries that seek the “best-ever charter highlighting universal values of democracy, human rights and rule of law,” according to a senior governmental official.

“I believe our new constitution, which will be the newest charter based on universal principles, will make an overwhelming impression on the world. If you make the best (constitution), it will of course draw attention from countries that are seeking the best for them,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Wednesday. Bozdağ, however, said their intention was not to become a sample case for regional countries whose citizens have revolted for more democratic regimes.

Almost all political parties, civil society organizations as well as universities agree on the need to rewrite the current charter, which was made by the military junta in 1982, two years after a coup.

“We are not making this constitution to be praised by other countries. That would undermine the whole process. Our motto is to make the best and most modern constitution for our own people by emphasizing democratic requirements, freedoms and human rights,” he said. Recalling that they were also analyzing the constitution of advanced democracies, Bozdağ said, “Those who want to take our new constitution as a sample are free to analyze it, because we believe it’s going to be a model constitution.”

For the deputy prime minister, who will likely play a key role in the constitution-making process, the most important goal is consensus among the political parties as well as civil society and universities. “I hope Turkey will achieve its new constitution with the broadest consensus possible, based on not minimum common points but on maximum common points,” he said.

Bozdağ said he believes there would be a few articles that would cause a debate between the political parties represented in Parliament. “We are ready to discuss everything at the table. Prejudices or pre-conditions would hurt the process, thus we call on all parties to come to the table without conditions,” he said. One of the potential points of discussion in the making of the constitution is the removal of the first three articles, which shape the nature of the republic. Pro-Kurdish politicians have expressed their intention to ask for the three articles to be removed and replaced with items that highlight the status of the Turkish citizens with Kurdish descent. Bozdağ said his party prefers for these articles to remain but said, “We are ready to discuss any proposal regarding these items.”

‘Doves not hawks’

Another important point Bozdağ made was on the composition of the parliamentary commission that will be set after Oct. 1, which will be the main body to draft the charter. “It’s extremely important who the parties nominate for this commission. It would be very useful if the parties would send reconciliatory personalities, figures who are capable of compromise. They would ease the working conditions of the commission and shorten the length of work,” he said.

At the same time, Bozdağ added, the members of this commission should also be able to convince their own party fellows and influence public opinion. “It’s going to be a three-way work.”

Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek is expected to call on parties represented at the Parliament to nominate two people to carry out constitutional work after Oct.1.

Bozdağ also talked about the preparations of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, for the new charter. “We have to do our homework before sitting at the table. All parties should do it in order to be fully ready for the process,” he said.

They are writing a text indicating the framework of the AKP’s principles that will be sought in the new constitution, Bozdağ said. “For example, we will on the one hand emphasize universal human rights and democratic values and on the other hand we will also seek way to assure the implementation of these rights, unlike the current charter which obstructs accomplishment of the rights.”

The new constitution is an order to us from the people who voted for parties on June 12 elections, Bozdağ said. “That’s why this Parliament has a unique mission to write the new constitution.”


Turkey to raise arms expenses to historic high

By Umit Enginsoy

FNSS secured a $600 million contract with Malaysia this year to sell its 8X8 Pars vehicles, the largest export deal in Turkey’s history.

Turkey will spend close to $5 billion for defense procurement this year, the highest in the country’s history, a senior procurement official said on the weekend.

“Some major spending items have just started or are starting now, including those for the purchase of [around 100] Joint Strike Fighter jet aircraft [JFSs], submarines and utility helicopters,” said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity. “As a result, the arms spending is jumping, approaching $5 billion this year. Thank God, the general economic situation of the country is fine.”

In recent years Turkey has spent just over $4 billion a year on defense procurement.

Turkey’s ambitious military modernization program calls for the acquisition of the most sophisticated weaponry for the Land Forces, the Navy and the Air Force. In addition, the procurement office has made local acquisition a priority in meeting the military’s equipment demands.

Two large-scale programs are expected to begin this year; the first is Turkey’s national long-range air- and missile-defense project for which U.S., European, Russian and Chinese companies are vying to be selected as the main contractor. Turkey’s selection for the multi-billion-dollar contract is expected late this year or early next year.

Second, Turkey is preparing to soon select a Landing Platform Dock, which resembles a helicopter carrier and can carry a battalion-sized force of more than 1,000 troops overseas. Three Turkish shipyards and their foreign partners are eyeing the contract, which will be worth between $500 million and $1 billion. Turkey’s decision is expected next summer.

“There’s enough reason to think that the defense procurement budget will continue to increase gradually over the next few years to reach another saturation point,” the procurement official said.

Part of the rise in Turkey’s arms procurement budget is expected to be compensated by a parallel increase in the local defense industry’s export capabilities. The Turkish defense industry this year is expecting to garner between $1 billion and $1.5 billion from exports of defense-related equipment.

The largest sector in the Turkish defense industry’s exports business is armored vehicle makers. Among these companies, FNSS secured a $600 million contract with Malaysia this year to sell its 8X8 Pars vehicles, the largest export deal in Turkey’s history.

Also, under a new measure adopted by Turkey’s defense procurement agency, Ankara is slated to retain at least 70 percent of the money it spends for defense purchases from other countries. For past contracts, this figure was 50 percent.

In a directive released late April, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries said foreign defense companies doing business with Turkey should agree that 70 percent of the contract’s value be returned through local industry content and offsets.

In other words, if a foreign company signs a defense contract worth $100 million with Turkey, it will agree to return $70 million of this money through its payments to its Turkish partners for their local work on the project or through offsets.

In defense industry contracts, an offset is an industrial compensation. It is a commitment provided by the selling country to the purchasing country to buy defense-related products manufactured by the buying country in return for the main sale.

“Financially speaking, I think we’re doing a good job by keeping the larger part of the contract money in the country, and in the meantime, obtaining knowhow,” said the procurement official.


Russia draws up tit-for-tat US visa bans: report

Russia has drawn up a list of U.S. officials to be barred from entering the country in response to U.S. visa restrictions imposed on Russian officials over the death of a lawyer, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

If the report by the business daily Kommersant is confirmed, the decision will be the latest of several signs in the past few weeks that the “reset” aimed at improving U.S.-Russian relations under U.S. President Barack Obama is under threat.

“In the case of the United States we will simply put a cross next to the names of those who are not wanted. When a person applies for a visa at a Russian consulate he will be rejected,” a Foreign Ministry source told Kommersant.

Reuters could not immediately reach the Foreign Ministry for comment but Interfax news agency quoted a ministry source as saying Russia was still working on its response.

“There could be lists of Americans barred from entering Russia, but the issue is still being worked on,” the source told Interfax.

The U.S. State Department said last month it had placed visa restrictions on Russian officials accused of involvement in the death of hedge fund lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison as he awaited trial on tax evasion and fraud charges in 2009.

The Kremlin’s human rights council said the 37-year-old lawyer, who represented Hermitage Capital equity fund, was possibly beaten to death. His colleagues say the charges were fabricated by police investigators he had accused of cheating the state through fraudulent tax returns.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said last month the U.S. visa restrictions were unjustified and that it would respond with “adequate measures”, but gave no details.


Saudi Arabia calls for Syrian reforms, recalls envoy

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah demanded an end to the bloodshed in Syria on Monday and recalled his country’s ambassador from Damascus.

It was the sharpest criticism the oil giant — an absolute monarchy that bans political opposition — has directed against any Arab state since a wave of protests roiled the Middle East and toppled autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Saudi statement came with all the weight of the king’s personal authority, and follows similar statements since Saturday from the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

“What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia,” he said in a written statement read out on Al Arabiya satellite television.

Events in Syria had “nothing to do with religion, or values, or ethics,” the king said.

“Syria should think wisely before it’s too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms,” the Saudi king said.

“Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.”

“Dozens killed in Deir al-Zor”

A crackdown by Assad against protests has become one of the most violent episodes in the wave of unrest sweeping through the Arab world this year.

On Sunday, activists said Syrian troops with tanks had launched an assault on the city of Deir al-Zor in the east of the country, killing dozens. The past week has seen scores of people killed in a siege of Hama, a city where Assad’s father launched a crackdown nearly 30 years ago, killing thousands.

Assad’s government says it is fighting against criminals and armed extremists who have provoked violence by attacking its troops. Activists say Assad’s forces have attacked peaceful protesters.

“Clinton calls Davutoglu”

Earlier on Sunday, the Arab League, in a rare response to the escalating bloodshed in Syria, called on authorities there to stop acts of violence against civilians.

The other regional heavyweight, Turkey, whose foreign minister is due in Damascus on Tuesday, has been voicing its disapproval for months.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the ongoing violence and security operations in Syria in a phone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday, the State Department said.

Clinton discussed the U.S. position that Syria must immediately return its military to barracks and release all prisoners of concern and asked Davutoglu to “reinforce these messages” with the Syrian government, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Saudi Arabia had maintained its silence regarding Syria despite deep antagonism over the contest for regional hegemony with Iran, one of Syria’s only allies.

Shortly after the address, Al Arabiya reported Kuwaiti parliamentarians called on members of the GCC — a bloc of resource-rich monarchies in which Saudi influence is extensive — to recall ambassadors from Damascus.

The channel provided no further details immediately.

King Abdullah sent Saudi troops in March to help neighbouring monarchy Bahrain put down anti-government protests, and Saudi officials have criticised the decision to put Egypt’s ousted leader Hosni Mubarak on trial.

Saudi Arabia has acted as a mediator in neighbouring Yemen, and is hosting its President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who went there for medical treatment after being wounded in a bomb attack when protests against his rule turned into open conflict.


Assad Replaces Syria Defense Minister

President Bashar al-Assad named a new defense minister Aug. 8 as he faced regional isolation after three Gulf states recalled their envoys and Sunni Islam’s top authority urged an end to Syria’s bloodshed.

The announcement came as activists said security forces shot dead at least eight people including a mother and her two children in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where 42 people were reported killed Aug. 7 in an army assault.
State television said Assad signed a decree naming General Daood Rajha, 64, the former army chief, to replace General Ali Habib as defense minister.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was to visit Syria on Aug. 9 with the message that Ankara “has run out of patience” with the ongoing violence, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked Davutoglu to press Syria to “return its military to the barracks.”

On the diplomatic front, the recall of ambassadors by Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s Sunni Muslim heavyweight, and neighbors Kuwait and Bahrain marked a major escalation of pressure on Assad.

The regime’s repression of Syria’s pro-democracy uprising has left at least 2,059 people dead, including almost 400 members of the security forces, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Announcing the recall of his ambassador from Syria, the Saudi king urged Damascus to “stop the killing machine and the bloodshed… before it is too late” and called for “comprehensive and quick reforms.”

“The future of Syria lies between two options: either Syria chooses willingly to resort to reason, or faces being swept into deep chaos, God forbid,” the king warned.

Fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states Kuwait and Bahrain also recalled their envoys from Damascus. “The military option must be halted,” Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Sabah told reporters.

The U.S. reaction was that it was “encouraged, heartened” by a tougher stand from Arab countries.

“We are very much encouraged, heartened by the strong statements that we’ve seen over the weekend by the Arab League as well as by the Gulf Cooperation Council,” U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based top Sunni authority, also piled the pressure on the Assad regime, terming the crackdown a “tragedy” that “has gone too far.”

It wanted “Syrian leaders to work immediately to end the bloodshed and to respond favorably to the legitimate demands of the Syrian masses,” said the grand imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi urged Syria to launch a “serious dialogue” with protesters who have rallied almost daily since mid-March, urging democratic reforms in a country ruled by Assad’s Baath party for nearly 50 years.

And former Lebanese premier Saad Hariri urged the new government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati to denounce the “massacre” taking place in neighboring Syria, the former power-broker in Lebanon.

The Observatory reported more deaths on Aug. 8 in Syria, where seven people were killed including the mother and her two children shot dead as they were fleeing a military assault on Deir Ezzor.

An 18-year-old woman was also shot by a sniper in the city, while an elderly woman was killed in Al-Jura district, the Observatory said, quoting local residents.

It also reported that security forces shot dead three people in the southern protest hub of Deraa as they took part in the funeral of a man who died on Aug. 7.

It identified one of the victims as Maan Awadat, brother of prominent dissident Haitham Manaa. “He was hit in the head, it was an assassination,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory.

Witnesses and activists on Monday reported tanks and troops entering Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province bordering Turkey and carrying out “a large number of arrests,” while tanks also deployed outside the town of Sarakeb.

The website of Syria’s defense ministry was offline after being defaced by the Internet vigilante “hacktivist” group Anonymous to protest the crackdown.

Assad on Aug. 7 defended the actions of his security forces saying they were confronting “outlaws” while SANA news agency quoted an official military source as denying charges that tanks were shelling Deir Ezzor.

The European Union is mulling new sanctions against individuals and business linked to the clampdown, EU diplomats said, as Germany warned that Assad would lose legitimacy if his regime kept up the deadly crackdown.

Assad’s replacement of the defense minister is his latest in a series of measure since protests broke out in mid-March.

He ordered a new government in April after the former prime minister quit and has sacked several governors, including those of the flashpoint provinces of Hama, Homs and Deir Ezzor.


Turkey, Iran step up fights on PKK, PJAK

Increasing acts of violence by outlawed Kurdish organizations in the region have pushed Turkey and Iran to conduct separate operations on the Iraqi border, which has witnessed serious clashes between Iranian forces and militant groups.

The Iranian army has launched a powerful operation against the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, in Iran, reportedly crossing the Iraqi border as it intensified its efforts in recent days to reach the group’s headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq.

In a separate move, the Turkish military began a limited operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the Şemdinli district of Hakkari province, on the Iraqi border, the private channel CNNTürk reported Tuesday. It said additional troops have been sent to the military outposts in the region and claimed some targets had been shelled. Turkey’s anti-terror operations have intensified following the killing of 13 troops July 14 in Diyarbakır’s Silvan district.

Diplomatic sources said the two countries’ operations were not linked and no military coordination had been sought thus far despite their continuous cooperation in the anti-terror fight.

PJAK is a banned group with alleged links to the outlawed PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. PJAK operates mostly in Iran from bases in northern Iraq.

The Iranian army launched its recent operation July 16 and clashes between the Sipah Pastaran Army of Iran and PJAK forces intensified over the weekend, the pro-Kurdish Fırat News Agency reported Tuesday, claiming that militants repelled Iranian forces and killed at least five troops. The Iranian army offensive was supported by a strong bombardment, it claimed.

The Fırat News Agency is sympathetic to pro-Kurdish political parties in Turkey and often carries announcements from the PKK.

The Iranian army, however, announced Tuesday that PJAK militants were trapped by a group of Kurdish Basij (volunteer) forces Monday night in the Kandil, Haji Ebrahim and Doleto areas near the towns of Piranshahr and Sardasht in West Azerbaijan province. “The PJAK terrorists were killed by the local Kurdish Basij forces. The bodies of the terrorists were left in the area,” the army said, adding that the operations would continue until the last militant was annihilated.

Ankara mulls new measures

In Ankara, civil and military officials held a security summit Tuesday to review measures taken against growing terrorism acts, including the government’s fresh proposal of giving police a larger role in the anti-terror fight. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner’s weekly meeting turned into a summit as they were joined by Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay. No statement was made after the one-and-half-hour long meeting.

Search for effective ways to fight terror

The PKK’s deadly ambush of troops in Silvan, which has been followed by other attacks on soldiers, has increased public anger and pushed the government to seek more effective ways to fight terror, including the proposal about the police, which was seen by critics as marginalizing the army. Details of the proposal may have been discussed during Tuesday’s meetings though the government has not made the details of its plan public yet. Opposition parties have severely criticized the government over the proposal, claiming it is a punishment to the army and a sign that it distrusts its effectiveness. “Both our police and military are responsible for the security of our country,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ told reporters Tuesday in response to opposition criticisms. “We are of the opinion that this move will be to the advantage of our country.” Sending newly recruited soldiers to fight militants is not logical, Bozdağ said, adding that this is why the government was planning to deploy professional soldiers. Ankara has announced that it will recruit nearly 5,000 contracted soldiers to serve the army, especially along the mountainous borders with Iraq and Iran, where militants frequently attack Turkish military outposts. A senior official from the main opposition party on Tuesday demanded information on the developments in the fight against terror. “If you do not have a secret agenda in the fight against terror, we are ready to give support to you,” said Emine Ülker Tarhan, a deputy parliamentary group leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP. “Putting the police forward in this fight would cause a rift between army and police.” she added.


UN delays release of flotilla report at Israel’s request

A UN panel investigating a bloody Israeli interception of an aid flotilla on May 31, 2010, has postponed, once again, the release of its findings to allow for further efforts for Turkish-Israeli reconciliation.

The request for the delay came from Israel, officials said. The report was first expected to be released on July 7, but was postponed to July 27 to provide an opportunity for closed-door negotiations between Turkey and Israel on normalization of their relations to succeed. However, those negotiations failed to produce a solution. The UN panel’s report is now expected to be released on Aug. 20.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a proponent of reconciliation with Turkey, said on Sunday that he hoped the repeatedly deferred publication would again be pushed back “to provide more time to examine matters in-depth.”

Meanwhile, Turkey and Israel are preparing for a new round of discussions on reconciliation. Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu is set to travel to New York for talks with Israeli officials on Tuesday.

Turkey scaled down its relations with Israel after Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American on one of the ships that took part in the aid flotilla, the Mavi Marmara. Turkey wants an apology for the bloody raid, a demand that has created rifts within the Israeli Cabinet.

On Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a strong opponent of an apology, said he would not resign if the government decides to apologize to Turkey. “Whether or not there is agreement in the government about this matter, this government is strong,” he told reporters. “No one is looking for excuses and reasons to leave the government.”

Israel’s debate over apologizing to Turkey has been spurred by its expectation that the UN report on the high seas interception will largely vindicate its Gaza blockade strategy. But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, who has shown willingness to engage Hamas, the party that runs Gaza, on Saturday reiterated his view that the blockade is “illegal and inhuman” and insisted Israel must end it as another condition for rapprochement.

“He’s not exactly making it easy for us to apologize,” an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Reuters in response.

Servet Yanatma, TZ

US asks for action from Turkey for Armenian reconciliation

The United States is pressing Ankara to move toward rapprochement with Yerevan following the collapse of talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan last month to discuss the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

“The time is right for normalization. Some action to get the process moving, to give [it] momentum would be fine,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Turkish officials July 16 during a visit to Turkey.

Azerbaijan and Armenia had earlier failed to come to an agreement over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh during a June meeting in Kazan, Russia. The U.S. was reportedly infuriated by Baku’s U-turn during the talks.

The Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process has been blocked by Azerbaijan, which indirectly threatened to stop supplying natural gas to Turkey and to give Russia preference as its main energy partner. Turkey and Armenia signed two protocols to normalize relations and to open their border, sealed since the early 1990s, but both countries failed to ratify the accords due to domestic pressure. Turkey said ratification would only be possible after Armenia and Azerbaijan reach an agreement over Nagorno-Karabakh. Hopes for a deal disappeared after Baku rejected such an agreement in Kazan and criticized Armenia’s approach.

A flashpoint of the Caucasus, the region known as Nagorno-Karabakh is a constituent part of Azerbaijan that has been occupied by Armenia since the end of 1994. While internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, the enclave has declared itself an independent republic but is administered as a de facto part of Armenia.

With the U.S. home to a several-million-strong Armenian diaspora pressing the administration to recognize Armenian claims of genocide in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, Washington is seeking the completion of the process between Ankara and Yerevan. The top U.S. diplomat said they understood the domestic difficulties in the ratification of the protocols but hinted there could some other action to keep the momentum alive.

As reported by the Hürriyet Daily News last week, a set of confidence-building measures are planned to this end, starting with direct flights from Yerevan to the eastern province of Van, a destination for many Armenians who wish to visit an ancient Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van.

According to the Armenian press, a member of the Van Chamber of Commerce, Abdullah Tunçdemir, said the Yerevan-Van flights would begin Sept. 11 if the Van airport could be upgraded to meet international standards. Another planned measure is to open a Turkish Airlines, or THY, office in Yerevan to coordinate Armenians’ flights to the United States via Istanbul.

Such steps will, on the one hand, give a strong signal to Baku that its refusal to deal with Armenia will not stop Turkish-Armenian rapprochement; on the other hand, they will also help relieve growing pressure on the Turkish and American administrations from the Armenian diaspora.

Turkey’s move to begin flights between Van and Yerevan has drawn a reaction from Azerbaijan. “We do not interfere in the affairs of two countries but we still reserve the right to respond in the event of an infringement of the national interests of Azerbaijan,” Elman Abdullayev, the first secretary of the Azerbaijani press service MFA, told the Trend news agency in response to the possible flights.

“Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry is following the developments and will react according to the future scenario,” said Abdullayev.


Turkish armored vehicle exports soar

Turkish exports of armored vehicles are expanding, including purchases by the United States for the first time.

Otokar's Cobra APC supports a large array of mission-specific modifications and has become a huge export success for Turkey.

A senior Turkish military procurement official involved with supporting Turkish arms exports, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Hurriyet that Turkish armored vehicle manufacturers are expanding beyond their traditional Middle Eastern markets.

“We are happy to see these companies now chasing deals in parts of the Far East they have not yet sold their products to, and there are initial signs of penetration into difficult markets like the U.S.,” he said “All of that is very encouraging.”

Turkey’s Defense Industry Manufacturers Association Secretary-General Kaya Yazgan told Hurriyet, “The making of armored vehicles is one of the strongest sectors in our defense industry.”

Istanbul’s Otokar, which is owned by Turkey’s top business conglomerate Koc Holding, produces seven armored vehicle variants and its 2010 sales to civilian and military clients topped $313 million.

In May Otokar displayed Turkey’s first indigenously built tank, the Altay, at the IDEF’11 international defense industry fair in Istanbul.

Head of Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defense Industry Murad Bayar said Altay tanks would be entirely built in Turkey, with Turkish defense industry company Aselsan. It will build the Altay’s electronic systems, providing Identification Friend-or-Foe systems.

Otokar officials say that Altay tanks will be ready for sale by 2016.

Otokar exports products to the armed forces of nearly 20 countries.

Last December Otokar said that it had received its first order from a foreign military for its ARMA new armored combat vehicle, which comes as either a 6×6 or 8×8 wheeled armored vehicle.

The company added that the ARMA, a modular multi-wheel configuration wheeled armored vehicle, would be exported before making its debut in the Turkish military. The amphibian vehicle weighs 20 tons fully loaded for combat and has a crew consisting of a driver, a commander and eight personnel. ARMA is transportable by various means including C130 aircraft.

Otokar also builds the Cobra, a 4×4 vehicle, which comes in 10 models designed for different missions. Otokar has sold Cobras to more than 10 other countries and the vehicle has been utilized in a variety of both NATO and U.N. missions.

“There is increasing demand for the Cobra from an increasing number of countries,” Otokar said in a news release.

In 2009 Turkey’s total arms exports amounted to $832 million. Other leading Turkish arms manufacturing companies include Hiscar Automotive Industries, Ankara’s FNSS, which is 51 percent owned by Turkish business group Nurol and Izmir’s BMC, which is owned by the Cukurova Holding industrial conglomerate.


Syria tank assault kills 11 near Turkish border

A general view of a damaged school at Khrbet al-Zouz village in the northern province of Idlib, which the Syrian army has regained control over after a crackdown against alleged gunmen on 29 June.(EPA)

Syrian troops shot dead 11 villagers on Wednesday, residents said, as authorities pressed on with a tank-led assault that has driven thousands of refugees across the northwest border with Turkey.

The assault on Jabal al-Zawya, a region 35 km (22 miles) south of Turkey that has seen spreading protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, was launched overnight, a day after authorities said they would invite opponents to talks on July 10 to set up a dialogue offered by Assad.

Opposition leaders have dismissed the offer, saying it is not credible while mass killings and arrests continue. The Local Coordination Committees, a main activists’ group, said in a statement on Wednesday that 1,000 people have been arrested arbitrarily across Syria over the last week alone.

A resident of Jabal al-Zawya, a teacher who gave his name as Ziad, told Reuters by phone that among the dead were two youths in the village of Sarja.

“An eleven-year-old child is also badly wounded by random gunfire. We cannot get him out of the village for treatment because the tanks blocked all roads and troops are firing non-stop,” he said.

Ammar Qarabi, president of the Syrian National Human Rights Organisation, told Reuters from exile in Cairo that at least four villagers died in the village of Rama when tanks fired machineguns on surrounding woods then on the village. Residents reported killings in other parts of the region, which is home to more than 30 villages.

“Jabal al-Zawya, was one of the first regions in Syria where people took to the street demanding the downfall of the regime. The military attacks have now reached them and they will likely result in more killings and in more refugees to Turkey,” said Qarabi, who is from the northwestern province of Idlib.

He said he based his information on several witnesses’ testimony. Syria has banned most international media, making it difficult to independently verify accounts of violence.

“Explosions overnight”

A resident of Jabal al-Zawya said he heard large explosions overnight around the villages of Rama and Orum al-Joz, west of the highway linking the cities of Hama and Aleppo.

“My relatives there say the shelling is random and that tens of people have been arrested,” he said.

Another resident said 30 tanks rolled into Jabal al-Zawya on Monday from the village of Bdama on the Turkish border, where troops broke into houses and burnt crops.

Rights campaigners say Assad’s troops, security forces and gunmen have killed over 1,300 civilians since the uprising for political freedom erupted in the southern Hauran Plain in March, including over 150 people killed in a scorched earth campaign against towns and villages in Idlib.

They say scores of troops and police were also killed for refusing to fire on civilians. Syrian authorities say more than 500 soldiers and police died in clashes with “armed terrorist groups”, whom they also blame for most civilian deaths.

Protests against Assad have been spreading despite military assaults and a fierce security crackdown, with activists expecting more students to join street demonstrations after exams end on Thursday.

Night-time demonstrations have intensified to circumvent heavy security in the day. The Local Coordination Committees said security forces shot dead one protester at a large rally on Wednesday night in Homs, 165 km north of Damascus.

Residents in Deraa, the cradle of the uprising, said tens of people were arrested in old quarter of the southern city on Wednesday, following demonstrations that reignited following a military assault two months ago led by Assad’s brother Maher.

Assad said in a speech last week that he had met delegations representing most Syrians to discuss the crisis and “felt love… I have never felt at any stage of my life”.

One of his advisers, Bouthaina Shaaban, told Sky News on Tuesday: “We hope that by conducting and hastening the national dialogue, we will be able to isolate any militant or violent group and work together with the international community to overcome that big problem.”

“US sanctions”

In Washington, the U.S. Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions against Syria’s security forces for human rights abuses and against Iran for supporting them.

The Treasury named the four major branches of Syria’s security forces and said any assets they may have subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen and that Americans are barred from any dealings with them.

Ankara has also become increasingly critical of Assad.

Turkey shares an 840 km border with Syria, a mostly Sunni country ruled by a tight-knit hierarchy belonging the minority Alawite sect.

Assad had opened the Syrian market to Turkish goods, but Turkish container traffic to Syria has fallen sharply over the last month, businesses say.

Sawasiah, another Syrian rights organisation headed by lawyer Mohannad al-Hassani, said a security campaign that has resulted in the arrest of more than 12,000 people across Syria since March, has intensified in the last few days.

Security forces arrested Farhad Khader Ayou, an official in the Kurdish Mustaqbal party, on Tuesday in the eastern province of Hasaka, Sawasiah said.