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Prosecutor asks Turkish court to close AKP

Latest update : 2008-03-15

A state prosecutor asked Turkey's top court on Friday to shut the ruling AK Party for anti-secular activities, a charge Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan denies. (Story: B. Harris)

ANKARA, March 14 (Reuters) - A state prosecutor asked
Turkey's top court on Friday to shut the ruling AK Party for
anti-secular activities, ratcheting up tensions between the
secularist judiciary and the Islamist-rooted government.

Turkish television channels quoted the Court of Appeals
Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya as saying he also wanted
President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and senior
AK Party members banned from politics for five years.

He said a government move to lift a ban on women students
wearing the Muslim headscarf amounted to anti-secular actions.

Turkey, which is seeking European Union membership, is
predominantly Muslim but has an officially secular system.

After an emergency meeting of senior party leaders on Friday
evening chaired by Erdogan, the AK Party issued a statement
describing the prosecutor's move as "a great embarrassment".

"A part of the judiciary should not turn the law into the
vehicle of a power struggle. If it does, it is the judiciary
itself and the supremacy of the law that will suffer the
greatest damage," said the statement, read out by senior party
lawmaker Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat.

"The target of the Court of Appeals state prosecutor in
opening this case is not the AK Party, it is Turkish democracy
and the will of the people," it said.

Gul said that as head of state he must stay above politics
but he added the prosecutor's move could harm Turkey.

"With a political party with such a large majority in
parliament, we must think what Turkey will win and what it will
lose from a demand like this," Gul was quoted by state-run
Anatolian news agency as saying during a visit to Senegal.

The AK Party has been locked in a battle with Turkey's
secularist establishment, including judges and army generals,
since it first came to power in 2002. Secularists says the AK
Party is seeking to undermine separation of state and religion.

The AK Party denies it has any Islamist agenda.

It was not immediately clear whether the move would hurt 
financial markets, which were closed when it came.



"We think that the application is really bad news as it will
increase political risk factors in the country," Ozgur Altug,
analyst at Raymond James Securities, said in a note.

"The court case has even the potential to slow down the
reform process, privatisation and foreign direct investment
inflows," he said.

Political tensions have grown since parliament, dominated by
the AK Party, approved constitutional amendments last month to
ease a ban on women students wearing the Muslim headscarf on
university campuses.

The file sent by the prosecutor to the Constitutional Court
said easing the ban on women wearing the headscarf and
tightening some regulations on alcohol consumption were evidence
of anti-secular activities, Anatolian said.

"The AK Party has become a hotbed of activities against
secularism," the prosecutor's file stated.

It is the first time the AK Party, which won a sweeping
re-election last July, has faced a serious bid to close it.

Ten years ago Turkey's Constitutional Court shut down the
ruling Welfare Party, a forerunner of the AK Party, on the
grounds that it was too Islamist.

"Recent changes to Turkey's constitution have made it much
more difficult to close down political parties in Turkey,"
Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Eurasia Group, wrote in a note.

"Even if the AK Party is not closed down, the case could
last anything from six months to a year, raising the possibility
of increased uncertainty and political instability."

The AK Party was obliged to present its preliminary defence
within one month, Anatolian said.

The Constitutional Court is already reviewing an appeal by
the fiercely secularist opposition Republican People's Party on
the validity of the constitutional amendments on the headscarf.

The secular elite regards the headscarf as a symbol of
political Islam and thus a threat to secularism, one of the
founding principles of modern Turkey.

Date created : 2008-03-15