|ISTANBUL - Turkish President Abdullah Gul approved late Wednesday a controversial legislation that paves the way for civilian courts to try military personnel, but urged the government to take the necessary steps to soothe concerns. (UPDATED)
Tensions rose in Turkey after the legislation passed in a late-night session in Parliament, mainly with the strong support of deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
The new regulation requires civilian courts to try members of the armed forces that are accused of crimes during peace time that include threats to national security, constitutional violations, organizing armed groups and attempts to topple the government.
Gul underlined that the law was a requirement as part of Turkeys bid to join the European Union and found the law "compatible with the existing law on military courts, a statement from his office said.
However, it will be beneficial to undertake legal arrangements without delay to dispel concerns on legal guarantees and discipline during military service that might arise in the implementation of this law, said the statement posted by Gul's office.
Previously, Gul similarly approved a controversial headscarf legislation when he approved the law, but urged the government to soothe concerns.
Earlier media reports suggested that the General Staff has concerns over some aspects of the law and had conveyed its views to the presidency's legal department. The army believed the law to be unconstitutional and was concerned it would infringe on the inviolability of military areas and lead to rows between military and civilian prosecutors, according to reports.
Opposition parties criticized Gul's decision to approve the legislation, as the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, pledged to take the matter to the nations top court.
CHP's deputy chairman Onur Oymen said the decision was wrong. "The presidents approval was the wrong decision. We will ask the Constitutional Court as soon as possible to annul the law, which is technically flawed and unconstitutional," he said, according to news agencies.
CHP spokesman Mustafa Ozyurek slammed the president, saying Gul missed the chance to be "Turkey's president and instead he chose to be the AKP's president," the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
Another opposition party, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, backed CHP's decision to challenge the legislation in court, but said it will not join the CHP in its efforts. "[Gul] justified the criticism that he is not objective and neutral by approving the law," Cihan Pacacı of MHP told Turkish broadcaster CNNTurk.
AKP to mull Gul's call
AKP officials said they are going to assess Gul's call to make the necessary legislation amendments to ease concerns in the party's top bodies, daily Hurriyet reported.
Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek and Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin will lead a committee that will prepare the required regulation before Aug. 5 when the recess in Parliament ends, the report added.
"This is a legislation related to democracy," Cicek was quoted as saying. "We are planning to clarify the definition of military crime. Secondly we are planning to make arrangements that will give legal assurances to the army chief and other commanders on their military duties," he added.
Hurriyet also reported that the president's approval came after he concluded that the legislation was necessary to fulfill EU criteria. A source close to the presidency said the legislation was defined in Turkey's accession documents as a reform to be made in the short-term, which expires at the end of this year.