PACE invites Turkish FM to urgent session

Parliamentarians at Europe's human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, are preparing to discuss an ongoing closure case against Turkey's ruling party at an urgent session later this month, and they announced yesterday that Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has also been invited to the critical gathering, which observers fear could result in a decision to put Turkey back on a list of countries that require monitoring of their democratic practices, reported World Bulletin.

The proposal to hold an urgent meeting came after a state prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court in March to close down the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on charges of becoming a "focal point for anti-secular activities." The proposal was introduced at the initiative of the heads of the assembly's five political groups and approved by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Bureau during a recent meeting on May 29.

As of yesterday afternoon, officials at the Foreign Ministry were not able to say whether Babacan would accept the invitation by Strasbourg. The same officials, however, emphasized that the issue is being followed by Ankara "at highest level as a state affair."

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, an AK Party member and the head of the Turkish delegation to PACE, said Turkish parliamentarians have been exerting intense efforts for preventing a possible monitoring decision.

A monitoring process will do serious damage to Turkey and it will be more difficult to get released from that process compared to the past, Çavuşoğlu told Today's Zaman, noting that he believed that PACE is not aiming to punish Turkey. They aim to help Turkey "overcome ongoing problems without crisis," he added, reiterating that the idea of an urgent debate has not been welcomed at all by Turkey.

"If a decision for holding an urgent debate on a particular country is made, the possibility of that country being put under monitoring procedure is high," Luc Van den Brande, a Belgian member of PACE, told Today's Zaman, noting that the most important reason for holding the debate was the closure case against the AK Party.

Last week, Turkey's Constitutional Court overturned a constitutional amendment that would have ended a ban on the Muslim headscarf in universities, a move that has widely been interpreted as indicating that the court is positioning itself above Parliament as a legislative organ. The headscarf ruling will play a central role in the closure case against the AK Party -- which has been in power since 2002 and was re-elected last July with an overwhelming 47 percent of the popular vote -- on charges of anti-secular activities. The chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, who filed the case, is also seeking to ban 71 AK Party members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as President Abdullah Gül, from belonging to a political party for five years.

In June 2004 PACE decided to end the monitoring of Turkey, declaring that the country had "achieved more reform in a little over two years than in the previous decade" and had clearly demonstrated its commitment and ability to fulfill its statutory obligations as a member state of the Council of Europe. Then, the assembly resolved to continue "post-monitoring dialogue" with Turkish authorities on a twelve-point list of outstanding issues. Only two other countries, Bulgaria and Macedonia, are in the process of post-monitoring dialogue.

Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1949, when it undertook to honor obligations concerning pluralist democracy, the rule of law and human rights enshrined in the organization's founding statute. The assembly's monitoring procedure -- which involves regular visits to the country and dialogue with its authorities -- was opened in 1996.

The PACE Monitoring Committee currently has 11 countries under monitoring procedure: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine.

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