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Erdogan offers compromise over Turkey's judiciary bill

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will backtrack on his efforts to curb the powers of the country's judiciary if the constitution is changed. His offer comes as police raided an Islamic charity.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will withdraw his plan to curb the powers of the country's judiciary if certain constitutional changes are met. His offer comes as police raid an Islamic charity.

The tumult between the Turkish government and the police over the latter's anti-graft raids in December continues, with Erdogan on Tuesday describing the investigation as a "black stain on Turkey's democratic and legal history" and an "act of treachery."

Erdogan maintains the raids were an attempt to destabilize his government ahead of elections in March, and responded by sacking hundreds of police and prosecutors. He also proposed legislation to reduce the power of the country's judiciary and to give the government greater control over the naming of judges and prosecutors.

After Turkey's President Abdullah Gul intervened on Monday in an attempt to placate both sides, Erdogan indicated he would be willing to withdraw the bill if certain conditions were met.

"If the opposition agrees to constitutional changes governing this issue [the judiciary], we will freeze the proposal and if necessary will stop it from reaching the full parliament," he told lawmakers from his Justice and Development Party [AKP].

"We have defended the independence of the judiciary and made many reforms, but there is one thing more important than the independence of the judiciary and it is the impartiality of the judiciary."

It was unclear what changes to the constitution Erdogan would request, but the newspaper Hurriyet speculated these could include alterations to the article regulating the judiciary's structure.

Withdrawal first, says opposition

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said it would only enter negotiations if the bill was halted. "First they have to withdraw the proposal and that would create a platform for a possible consensus," CHP Vice Chairman Faruk Logoglu told Reuters.

Also on Tuesday, Turkish anti-terrorist police raided the offices of an aid agency close to the country's border with Syria. The raid, part of an anti-al Qaeda operation in six cities, resulted in the arrest of 25 suspects, according to the news agency AFP.

The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Islamic aid agency whose offices were raided, labeled the move a "smear campaign." The organization is the biggest of its kind in Turkey to send aid to neighboring Syria, but stands accused of smuggling weapons to rebels fighting the troops of President Bashar al-Assad.

"This smear campaign is backed by people inside and outside Turkey," IHH secretary general Yasar Kutluay told AFP.

"It is not only about IHH, he said. "They want to brand Turkey as a country which supports terrorism and want it to be tried before international courts."

ph/ipj (Reuters, AFP)