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Turkish parliament debates constitutional change

Turkish parliament debates constitutional change
Turkish parliament debates constitutional change
Turkish parliament debates constitutional change
Turkish parliament debates constitutional change

Turkey's parliament began debating Monday a series of amendments to the Constitution that are fiercely contested by opposition parties who say the Islamic-oriented government's proposals are aimed at diluting the powers of secular opponents within the judiciary.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government says the reforms to the Constitution _ a legacy of the 1980 military coup __ would make Turkey more democratic and strengthen its bid to join the European Union.
The 29 draft amendments would make disbanding political parties more difficult, open the way for the trial of military commanders by civilian courts and give parliament a say in the appointment of senior judges.
But opposition parties have vowed to oppose the amendments, arguing they are meant to increase the government's power over the judiciary and safeguard Erdogan's party from attempts to close it down.
In 2008, his party narrowly escaped being disbanded by Turkey's highest court for allegedly undermining secularism, and Turkey's media have reported that the country's chief prosecutor may be preparing a new case against the party.
The proposed amendments have turned into the latest battleground between the Islamic-oriented government and the secular establishment, which draws support from the military and judiciary and accuses Erdogan's party of trying to turn Turkey into an Islamic state.
The party denies it has an Islamic agenda, citing the EU-backed reforms as proof.
"They are running away from democracy," Erdogan said of the opposition parties.
Debate on the reforms could last weeks. The government does not appear to have sufficient backing to pass the amendments outright and there is a strong possibility the reforms will be submitted to a referendum this summer.
Under the proposed changes, the number of justices of the Constitutional Court would increase to 17 from 11 and parliament would be given the power to appoint three of them. The number of prosecutors and judges on a council that oversees all prosecutors and judges in the country would increase to 21 members from 7, and enable the president to directly appoint four of them.
The amendments would make disbanding political parties more difficult, requiring consensus within the parliament before prosecutors can open a case against any party.
Lawmakers would keep their seats even if their party was shut down. People banned from politics by court decisions would be able to join a party again after three years instead of five.
The reform package seeks to put anyone who allegedly committed crimes against the state, including military officers, on trial in civilian courts. And it would allow those fired from the army by a high military council for alleged links to radical Islamic or other groups to appeal.
The amendments would also pave the way for the trial of those who carried out the 1980 coup, annulling a temporary clause in the current constitution drafted under the auspices of the military. The measure is symbolic and no one is likely to be put on trial, since the statute of limitations expired ten years ago.
Also in the package of draft reforms are measures that range from expanding rights of women and children to protecting privacy and extending collective bargaining to civil servants, although they would not have the right to strike.