- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

TURKEY

Erdogan denies threat to secularism

ANKARA — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected yesterday suggestions that his country’s secular order is under threat, and promised not to let upcoming presidential elections become a source of instability.

His remarks came amid speculation about whether Mr. Erdogan, a conservative with an Islamist political past, will run for president, which could anger secularist Turks. “Turkey is a democratic, secular, social state based on the rule of law,” Mr. Erdogan told deputies of his Justice and Development Party.

Meanwhile in Brussels, the European Union welcomed a reform plan announced by Turkey to bring it into line with norms needed to join the EU. “This is, of course, very much welcomed by the European Commission,” a spokeswoman told reporters.

ISRAEL

Iran said to recruit emigres in Israel

JERUSALEM — Iran has been issuing tourist visas to Israelis of Iranian descent and recruiting some of them to spy on their new homeland, Israel’s Shin Bet counterintelligence agency said yesterday.

Tens of thousands of Iranian immigrants in Israel maintain ties with relatives in Iran, despite nearly three decades of hostility between the Islamic republic and the Jewish state. A Shin Bet official said that over the past two years, about 100 emigres have gone to Iran to see relatives.

Many “had intensive interrogations by Iranian intelligence officers. Some of the Israelis were refused permission to leave Iran until they agreed to cooperate,” the Shin Bet official told Reuters news agency.

GAZA

Palestinians rally for BBC reporter

GAZA STRIP — Palestinian police scuffled with reporters yesterday during a solidarity protest in support of British Broadcasting Corp. reporter Alan Johnston, kidnapped in Gaza more than a month ago.

As authorities probed an assertion by an Islamist group that it had killed Mr. Johnston, more than 100 Palestinian journalists gathered outside parliament to show support for him.

Police pushed and shoved the reporters as they tried to enter the building. Three of the journalists were slightly injured. “No, no to kidnappings,” shouted the journalists, who blame the authorities of not doing enough to obtain Mr. Johnston’s release.

Weekly notes …

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met Jordan’s King Abdullah II yesterday for talks on Iraq, Iran and the Arab-Israeli peace process on the first leg of his Middle East tour. Mr. Gates, in the region to rally support for Iraq’s government and counter Iran’s growing influence, told reporters after meeting the king: “We had very wide-ranging conversations.” … French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy saw Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in Paris yesterday and promised to maintain continuity in France’s Middle East policy if elected. “I told President Mubarak that if I am elected president of the republic, I would like to have the same relationship of trust that he enjoyed with President [Jacques] Chirac,” Mr. Sarkozy said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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