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Turkey's ruling party stands trial

Latest update : 2008-07-29

The Consitutional Court in Turkey reconvened Tuesday to decide whether to ban PM Recip Tayyip Erdogan's (in picture) ruling AKP party, accused of steering the country towards more Islamist values.

Turkey's Constitutional Court convened Tuesday for a second day of deliberations on whether to ban the Islamist-rooted ruling party for undermining the country's secular system.

The 11 judges, whose first session lasted until late in the evening Monday, will meet on a daily basis until they reach a verdict.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), the moderate offshoot of a now banned Islamist movement, is accused of steering Turkey towards a hardline Islamist regime.

Outlawing the AKP, which dominates parliament and is still the country's most popular party, could spark political chaos, wreck Turkey's EU accession bid and deal a blow to the economy at a time of global financial jitters.

Chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya has also called for the court to bar President Abdullah Gul, Erdogan and 69 other AKP officials from party politics for five years.

The AKP, which won a resounding re-election victory last year, rejects the charges as politically motivated and argues that it is facing a "judicial coup" to oust it from office.

The court case is seen as the latest round in a bitter power struggle between the AKP and hardline secularist forces, including the army, the judiciary and academia, which has simmered since the AKP nominated Gul as president in April 2007.

The judges have three options -- they can throw out the case, shut down the AKP and impose political bans on party members, or slap financial sanctions on the party.

The prosecutor argues the AKP has become a "focal point" of anti-secular activity aiming to install a regime based on Sharia -- Koranic law.

He said in the indictment that "the secular republic has never been in such danger" and accused the AKP of using the advanatages of democracy to achieve a government model "which involves violence."

The prosecutor's key argument is an AKP-sponsored constitutional amendment passed in February that aimed to abolish a ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf in universities.

In a major blow to the AKP, the Constitutional Court annulled the amendment in a separate case in June, saying it violated secular principles.

The prosecutor also cites attempts by AKP municipalities to ban or restrict alcohol sales and promote religious education and Islamist lifestyle.

Most of the other evidence he has presented comprises statements by Erdogan and other AKP members in favour of broader religious freedoms.

A court rapporteur advised the judges in a non-binding assessment last week to acquit the party, saying that its actions fell under the scope of freedom of expression.

If the AKP is outlawed, its members of parliament are expected to regroup under a different name and call snap elections, most likely in the autumn, analysts say.

If the court bans Erdogan from party politics, he could return to parliament by running as an independent.

The AKP, a coalition of religious conservatives, pro-business liberals and mainstream centre-right politicians, first came to power in 2002 and won praise for its pro-EU, business-friendly policies.

Critics say, however, that since being re-elected last year it has focused on moves enhancing its religious image at the expense of EU-oriented reforms, strengthening suspicions that it has a hidden Islamist agenda.


Date created : 2008-07-29