Turkish Economy, Interior Ministers Quit over Corruption Scandal

ANKARA- Corruption scandals have hit the Turkish Justice and Development Party government under Recepe Tayyib Erdogan's leadership, leading to the resignation of two ministers.

Turkey's Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Interior Minister Muammer Guler resigned Wednesday following a high-level corruption investigation in which their sons and businessmen were arrested, according to the Turkish media.

The sons of both ministers are among the two dozen people who have been charged as part of a high-level bribery and corruption probe that has hit Erdogan with the biggest challenge yet to his 11 years in power.

Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Interior Minister Muammer Guler announced their resignations just hours after Erdogan returned from a trip abroad, expected to reshuffle his cabinet.

Erdogan's government has responded to the investigation by sacking dozens of police chiefs.

"The operation, which started on December 17, is a clear setup against our government, our party [the ruling Justice and Development Party or AKP] and our country," Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan claimed in a statement reported by the Anadolu news agency.

Interior Minister Muammer Guler told the agency that he had offered his resignation to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the day of the raids, but submitted it in writing Wednesday.

The environment minister's son was also implicated in the scandal, and Erdogan has been under pressure to investigate the crimes amid calls from the opposition for him to step down. Many other officials and businessmen affiliated to the Turkish government were arrested.

The scandal has erupted just months ahead of Turkey's local elections on March 30 that will include a contest for the control of Turkey's largest city Istanbul and which are now being seen as a key indicator of where the political fault-lines lie throughout the country.

H. Mustafa

Lavrov: President Al-Assad Represents Interests of Wide Category of Syrian People

 MOSCOW- President Bashar Al-Assad represents the interests of a wide category of the Syrian people, stressed Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, pointing out that attaining stability in Syria is a top priority.

Interviewed by RT on Tuesday, Lavrov stressed that the success in the Syrian and Iranian issues has been achieved thanks to collective efforts, saying that from the very beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, "our Western partners didn't take peoples' interests into consideration." 

Some parties are trying to benefit from the critical humanitarian situation in Syria to create tension before the holding of the International Conference on Syria "Geneva II".

He added that the attitudes of some Western countries towards the crisis in Syria have become more realistic after they realized the danger of terrorism there.

Lavrov asserted that Russia's Western partners have started to realize that changing the "regime in Syria is not the way to solve the crisis" but a way to facilitate the arrival of what the so-called "jihadists" to power.

"The attitudes are changing in Western countries, they are becoming more realistic in their approach towards settling the Syrian crisis," said Lavrov. "The threat of terrorism in Syria, the threat of jihadists coming to power, the threat of creating a caliphate with extremist rules are the main problems.

The issue of the humanitarian crisis in Syria has been exploited, just as the issue of the chemical weapons before it, to lay all of the blame on the Syrian government, Lavrov said. The Foreign Minister has warned against taking sides in the Syrian conflict now as it can put the nearing peace negotiations under threat.

Deadline to destroy chemical weapons in Syria to be met

On the issue of chemical weapons, Lavrov said Moscow is sure that destruction of Syria's chemical weapons will be finished by June 30.

"I believe that deadline 30 June to destroy chemical weapons in Syria to be met," Lavrov said.

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State Duma lawmaker considers Iran’s participation in Geneva II conference logical

MOSCOW_ Iran’s participation in the Geneva II Peace Conference would be logical, State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Alexei Pushkov said.

 “Iran’s participation in the Geneva II conference garnered more and more support because everyone realizes that whatever the attitude is this is the region’s most important state. The settlement without Iran is more problematic,” the lawmaker said.

He said the European Union states shared his view. “The U.S. has big doubts while Saudi Arabia and Israel have negative positions,” he added.

 “Iran should be involved in the process due to the fact that very important agreements on the fate of its nuclear programme were achieved,” Pushkov said.

 “The Geneva II conference will be ‘downsized’ because the country plays a big role in the settlement of the situation in Syria,” he said, according to ITAR-TASS .

R.S

Shoigu: Russia hands Syria equipment to dispose of chemical weapons

MOSCOW_ Russia handed over equipment to Syria to ensure security of chemical weapons and their disposal, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, according to ITAR TASS.

 “In compliance with your instruction of December 11, 2013 the Defense Ministry took measures to hand over equipment to Syria in order to withdraw chemical weapons and dispose of it,” Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Over three days (from December 18 to December 20) aircraft carried 75 pieces of automotive equipment, including 50 KAMAZ trucks and 25 armored Ural vehicles, the minister said.

Other equipment has been also delivered, he said, adding: "These are tanks for water, field kitchens, army tents for a contingent, which will deal with transporting and disposing of chemical weapons."

Thirty-eight flights have been made, Shoigu said. “Pilots carried out their tasks successfully. Ground services functioned well and operatively. Cargoes have been delivered as scheduled,” he said.

Earlier, chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov said, “Equipment to transport chemical weapons has been sent to Syria. This is our contribution to strengthening security and peace in Syria and the Middle East.”

 “The personnel of military transport aircraft showed professionalism,” Gerasimov said.

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Moscow wants inter-Syrian agreements to be stipulated in UN resolution

Agreements to be reached during the talks between the Syrian authorities and "opposition" should be approved by the international community and a resolution of the UN Security Council could be needed for this, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said.

"When Syrians agree on everything, the international conference will have to approve these decisions and agree on how the international community will help in implementing these decisions," Bogdanov told reporters on Sunday.

"I mean economic and financial assistance and probably some other assistance regarding a possible UN Security Council resolution in order to help Syrians most efficiently to implement the decisions they will reach themselves in the framework of the conference," Bogdanov said.

When asked by Interfax to comment on statements of Paris questioning the success of the Geneva II international conference, Bogdanov said that the French officials assured the Russian colleagues that their stance was misunderstood.

"Contacts at various levels took place and the French ambassador came to us and said that they have been quoted incorrectly, someone has misunderstood," the Russian deputy foreign minister said.

"We are in constant contact with our French colleagues. They started correcting and saying that the statements of their minister that the conference was destined to fail was misunderstood," Bogdanov said.

" the conference is gathered exactly for this, so that they exchange some stances. I realize that initially the stances could be requests and could be of little compatibility but the negotiations are begun in order to start searching for things in common on the basis of distant stances and to reach common denominator eventually," Bogdanov said,according to Voice of Russia, Interfax.

R.S

Lavrov: Nobody Will Hold Dialogue with Terrorists, Extremists in Syria

MOSCOW- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has stressed that nobody wants to hold dialogue with extremists and terrorists in Syria, calling for unifying all efforts to confront extremist forces. 

Interviewed by Interfax news agency, Lavrov suggested that the "Syrian government and "opposition" combine forces to fight "terrorists and extremists", according to the Voice of Russia.

"We realize that it will be quite difficult to achieve peace in Syria because, besides the parties to the Syrian conflict whose representatives will sit down at the negotiating table (during an international conference on Syria set for January 22), those fighting in that country include terrorists and extremists, with whom nobody is going to hold any dialogue. Moreover, it is essential to work for the government and opposition to combine efforts in taking action against the extremist forces in Syria," Lavrov said.

"I think it needn't be explained that, in trying to settle the Syrian crisis, in dealing with other key international problems, and in building global stability, much depends on whether Russia and the United States are ready to work together," he said

 Lavrov also said that Moscow expects US President Barack Obama to take part in a planned summit in Sochi, Russia, in June 2014 of the Group of Eight.

"We are open to the sustained development of cooperation with the United States on the basis of respect for each other's interests and non-interference in each other's internal affairs. A Russian-American summit is on the agenda. At the moment, it's hard to tell when and where it will take place. There are opportunities for contacts between the presidents on the sidelines of some international forums. We expect Obama to come to the G8 summit in Sochi on June 4-5, 2014," Lavrov said.

H. Mustafa

FM: Confirmation of Geneva II dates - main result of Russia-US-UN consultations

MOSCOW- Confirmation of the dates for an international peace conference on Syria became the main result of another round of the consultations among diplomats from Russia, the United States and the UN, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, according to ITAR TASS.

The diplomats met in Geneva to discuss the preparation for the conference dubbed as Geneva II due on January 22, 2014.

 “This fact reflects that the overwhelming majority of countries is aware that there is no alternative to political and diplomatic means in settling the crisis in Syria, what Russia has been insisting on from the very beginning,” the ministry said. “The consultations emphasized that the political process should contribute to consolidation of efforts of all Syrians in the war on terrorism.”

All participants in the consultations were unanimous in their opinion that the soonest possible start of the inter-Syrian talks under mutually agreed conditions and on the platform of the Geneva communique of June 30, 2012, would be targeted at stopping the bloodshed and violence in that country without delays.

“Delegates welcomed the information by UN special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi on the formation of the Syrian government’s delegation to Geneva II,” the ministry said.

At the consultations the Russian delegation placed a focus on importance of “finalising a representative composition of external delegates and inviting influential regional players to secure a lasting settlement in Syria and to fulfil future solutions of the conference.” “Russia and the United Nations believe that Iran should be added to this list,” the ministry said.

The Russian delegation to the Geneva consultations was led by deputy foreign ministers, Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov. The United States was represented by Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Jones, and the United Nations - by Lakhdar Brahimi.

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Almost all countries agree Iran should take part in Geneva-2 - Lavrov

Almost all the participants and organizers of an international conference on Syria which is to take place in Montreux, Switzerland, on January 22 next year, agree on the importance of Iran taking part in the forum, Russian Foreign Minister said in an interview.

“There are signs of positive impact Iran could have on the settling process /of the Syrian conflict/. Almost everybody talks about it in private conversations and some officials have started speaking publicly in favor of Iran taking part in the conference,” he said.

According to Lavrov, “those who oppose the participation of Iran do this coming from ideological considerations rather than common interests”.,according to Voice of Russia, RIA.

Brahimi says could work around Iranian absence from Syria talks

Iran remains a sticking point in plans for a conference to end the conflict in Syria, international mediator LakhdarBrahimi said on Friday, with the United States still refusing to let it participate.

But Brahimi said he would continue to work with Iranian officials if they were not officially invited. He said they had told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that it would not be the end of the world if they were not present, and they would continue to work with him on the sidelines,according to Voice of Russia, Reuters.

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