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Turkish prime minister appeals for unity amid political turmoil

Turkish prime minister appeals for unity amid political turmoil

Turkey's prime minister appealed for stability and drew attention to his strong economic record in a national address, amid political turmoil that pits his Islamic-oriented government against the military-backed, secular establishment.
"Even four and a half years ago, this country was riven by serious problems, which thank goodness have been overcome one by one," said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government was elected in 2002 as Turkey struggled to recover from a financial crisis marked by soaring inflation and a declining currency.
"At this point, it's enough that we protect the environment of stability, it's enough that we protect the environment of peace. Enough that we don't harm the environment of confidence we have worked so hard to attain," Erdogan said Monday on national television.
Erdogan noted that the average growth rate was a robust 7.3 percent between 2003 and 2006, and said per capita annual income had almost doubled to US$5,477 (euro4,026) during the tenure of his government, which has implemented economic reforms and is pursuing membership with the European Union.
However, the stock market dropped Monday in reaction to the current political upheaval, a day after at least 700,000 pro-secular demonstrators protested against a government they believe is steering Turkey toward Islamic rule. Erdogan addressed the nation amid calls for early general elections and fears that the armed forces will intervene in a dispute pitting Turkey's ruling party against secular circles.
The benchmark index, the IMKB-100, closed down 4.01 percent at 44,984.45 points, after opening with a drop of 7.99 percent. Turkey's currency, the lira, closed at 1.369 against the U.S. dollar, compared to Friday's close of 1.33.
Turkey has been recovering from the financial crisis of 2001, curbing inflation and pushing ahead with banking reform and other initiatives backed by the International Monetary Fund.
Analysts said the markets would likely recover if the government defuses tension by agreeing to early elections for Parliament _ a move that could appease opposition groups who hope to make gains at the ruling party's expense. But they warned that sustained political uncertainty would take its toll.
In his speech, Erdogan made no direct reference to the challenges to his mandate, instead issuing a broadly worded appeal to Turks to safeguard the economic advances and social stability that they have gained after decades of polarization.
"There is no magic wand in our hand, we are working seriously, we are working well-informed, we weigh our targets and our capabilities well and, of course, we do not abuse Turkey's resources, and we will not," he said.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a close ally of Erdogan, is running for president with the backing of the government. But his candidacy has triggered an outcry from secular groups that think he would use the office _ a post with veto power over legislation _ to chip away at the separation of state and religion.
The head of Europe's top human rights organization expressed shock at the stance taken by Turkey's military, which has threatened to intervene in the presidential election in Parliament and urged the government to curb Islamic influences. The military has ousted several governments in past decades.
"This statement looks like a deliberate attempt by the armed forces to influence the election of a new president," Terry Davis, secretary general of the Council of Europe, said in a statement. "They should stay in their barracks and keep out of politics."
The United States expressed confidence in Turkey's democracy.
"We have confidence in Turkey's democratic institutions and Turkey's constitutional processes to work out any questions that may surround the election of the next Turkish president," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
Both Gul and Erdogan have pledged loyalty to Turkey's secular constitution, and cite their record as reformists.
Gul was expected to win the presidency because Parliament, which is dominated by his party, selects the candidate. But Turkey's Constitutional Court was evaluating an appeal by the opposition to cancel the voting.
The opposition has argued that there was no quorum during the first round of voting on Friday. Gul failed to win that round, and another round is scheduled for Wednesday.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an army officer in World War I, founded the secular republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. He gave the vote to women, restricted Islamic dress and replaced the Arabic script with the Roman alphabet.
But Islam remained potent at the grass roots level, and some leaders with a religious background have portrayed themselves as an alternative to the secular establishment.


Updated : 2021-02-28 21:45 GMT+08:00