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Turkey: Parliament Votes In Favor Of U.S. Overflight Resolution

Ankara, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) - The Turkish parliament today approved a government motion allowing U.S. warplanes to fly over the country for raids on neighboring Iraq. Its not clear whether the motion on airspace would allow the U.S. to use Turkish air bases. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) yesterday said U.S. warplanes would not be allowed to use Turkish bases, even for refueling.

Turkey's NTV private television channel says the motion was approved by a vote of 332 to 202. One lawmaker abstained. Parliament also authorized the dispatching of Turkish troops to northern Iraq. The troops would not participate in combat operations but would carry out humanitarian duties.

The Turkish media this week has been harshly critical of the government and said that whatever the outcome, today's vote would come too late for the country to receive the billions of dollars in aid from the U.S Ankara would have received had it originally permitted the deployment of American troops on Turkish soil. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed to Ankara that an initial U.S. aid package -- reportedly worth up to $30 billion -- had been withdrawn. The money was intended to help the Turkish economy deal with the effects of war in neighboring Iraq. In addition to losing substantial economic aid, many Turks believe the votes have hurt the image of their country.

Young Turks, sitting at computers in an Ankara Internet cafe and checking the latest news on Iraq, say they are still proud of being Turkish but not proud about how their government has acted.

Twenty-three-year-old Haqan put overall reaction this way: "We are not happy with how our government handled the motion because I think what the government did in the name of being independent will not serve our national interests."

Other young Turks say there is nothing unexpected in the government's behavior in regard to the motion. Saadat is among them. "This outcome was very clear from the beginning," she said.

She said the government's indecisiveness in what she called a "very critical moment" is unforgivable. "We had a check for [billions of] dollars in our pockets," she said, "and then we tore it apart."

It is not only money at stake, however. Also at stake is Ankara's failure in political negotiations over the status of Turkish forces in northern Iraq and over security in Turkey's southeastern regions, mainly populated by Kurds.

Washington has said new Turkish troops can enter northern Iraq only for humanitarian operations. Turkey has already deployed thousands of combat troops in northern Iraq.

This scenario has created new tension not only between Washington and Ankara, but also between Turkish military leaders and the government. Some generals have gone as far as demanding the resignation of the government for betraying Turkish interests.

In an emotional reaction to the government's handling of the motion, Rami Ilker, a retired general from the Turkish Air Force, accused the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of damaging the interests of the Turkish state. "As a representative of the Turkish nation, I am very angry and want to cry at this very moment. I wish I could! I believe that all my fellow Turks feel the same way. Nobody has the right to play with the life of the Turkish nation. If you can't [defend Turkey's national interests], leave it, let the right people take this job!" Ilker said.

There are some voices of praise for the government, who maintain that by delaying the motion on Iraq, the Turkish government effectively sidelined itself from the war. Murad, a Turkish businessman, said there are more important things in life than money or economic well-being. "As for the motion, I think that the government took the right position. We don't want to enter the war. There should be no war in the world at all. It's not good when nations kill each other," Murad said.

Hundreds of protesters gathered today outside parliament to protest the start of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.