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Turkey may ban Islamist party

Latest update : 2008-07-01

The Turkish constitutional court decides this week, as of Tuesday, whether to ban the ruling AKP party. The party and its leaders are accused of plotting to establish an Islamic state. (Report: N. Germain)

A court case to ban Turkey's Islamist-rooted ruling party moves closer to a verdict, with the prosecutor and party officials set to present their arguments before judges this week.
Chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya will be the first to appear before the Constitutional Court in a closed hearing on Tuesday to beef up his case on why the Justice and Development Party (AKP) should be outlawed for undermining Turkey's secular system.
An AKP team will then address the 11-judge tribunal on Thursday, again behind closed doors, to deliver the party's defence.
Following the hearings, the court's rapporteur will issue a non-binding report on what the ruling should be, paving the way for the court to set a date to debate the case and reach a verdict.
The prosecutor is also seeking a five-year political ban on 71 AKP officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, who belonged to the party before he was elected head of state last year.
Yalcinkaya launched the proceedings in March, arguing that the AKP had become a "focal point" of anti-secular activities aimed at installing an Islamist regime in Turkey.
The case is the latest round in a bitter battle between the AKP and Turkey's hardline secularists -- including the army, much of the judiciary and academia -- that has raged since the party came to power in 2002.
The AKP, the moderate offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, rejected the charges in written defence statements in May and June, saying that the case was politically motivated, and asserted its commitment to the secular system.
But it took a serious blow in the meantime when the Constitutional Court, in a separate case, scrapped an AKP-sponsored law aimed at abolishing a ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf in universities on the grounds that it breached the country's unchangeable secular principles.
Analysts say the ruling has increased the likelihood of the AKP being banned since the party's advocacy of headscarf freedom on campus is the prosecutor's key argument in the closure case.
The AKP, however, is expected to try to take advantage of the ruling and argue before the Constitutional Court on Thursday that the annulment of the headscarf bill has made the prosecutor's main accusation technically void, media reports say.
The AKP has disowned its Islamist roots and embraced Turkey's bid to join the European Union, but maintains that rigid interpretations of secularism in Turkey breach religious freedoms.
The AKP had argued that university students should be allowed the wear the  headscarf to guarantee freedom of conscience and equal education opportunities in "a democratic country that aims to ensure the co-habitation" of different lifestyles.
But the prosecutor maintains that other moves such as banning alcohol sales in restaurants run by AKP municipalities and attempts to promote Koranic courses, coupled with rhetoric in favour of broader religious freedoms, also indicate a secret Islamist agenda.
Many fear that disbanding the AKP, a coalition of religious conservatives, pro-business liberals and mainstream centre-right politicians, would trigger political chaos as the party still enjoys solid popularity in the face of a weak and fractured opposition.
The AKP was re-elected to a second five-year term with nearly 47 percent of the vote last year. Critics say it has since focused on moves enhancing its religious image at the expense of EU-oriented democratic reforms that had marked its first term in power.

Date created : 2008-07-01