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Turkish military says secularism under attack by 'centers of evil,' before presidential vote

Turkish military says secularism under attack by 'centers of evil,' before presidential vote

Turkey's military has issued a stern warning about the threat to secularism on the eve of an expected triumph of the Islamic-oriented government: the presidential election of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.
There were no signs that the military planned to disrupt parliament's vote Tuesday on Gul, but the statement was a reminder of its past interventions to enforce the separation of mosque and state. This time, the military is dealing with a government that renewed its mandate in a resounding election victory in July and an emboldened prime minister who has urged the generals to stay out of politics.
Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the military, said in a note on the military's Web site Monday: "Our nation has been watching the behavior of those separatists who can't embrace Turkey's unitary nature and centers of evil that systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish Republic."
The military often condemns separatist rebels who have been fighting for decades in the predominantly Kurdish region of southeast Turkey. But the potent reference to "centers of evil" and the timing of the announcement just before the presidential election suggested the conflict over the role of Islam in politics was its immediate concern.
The military, which has ousted four civilian governments since 1960, said its statement was issued to mark the 85th anniversary on Aug. 30 of a military victory that was crucial for the establishment of modern Turkey.
Gul, whose earlier bid to win election as president was blocked by the secular establishment because of concerns about his background in political Islam, was expected to win the post Tuesday. He has pledged to uphold secular principles enshrined in the constitution, and to use his contacts in foreign capitals to promote Turkey's role on the international stage.
The military-backed secular establishment, however, fears Gul is so loyal to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would not use the presidency's veto powers as a traditional check on the government. The staunchly secular incumbent, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, vigorously used his authority to block the promotion of officials deemed to have Islamic leanings.
"Nefarious plans to ruin Turkey's secular and democratic nature emerge in different forms everyday," Buyukanit said in his statement. "The military will, just as it has so far, keep its determination to guard social, democratic and secular Turkey."
The stark message underlined the challenges that Turkish democracy faces even as it struggles to join the European Union by implementing a wide array of reforms. The military keeps a much lower political profile than it used to, but time and again it has served notice that the nation's civilian leaders are under close watch.
In April, when Gul's candidacy first came to a vote, the military indicated it was willing to become more openly involved.
"It should not be forgotten that the Turkish armed forces are one of the sides in this debate and the absolute defender of secularism. When necessary, they will display their attitudes and actions very clearly," the military said at the time.
Gul withdrew his bid in the face of mounting criticism from the secular opposition, which was backed by the military and the top court. Huge crowds demonstrated in major cities to demand that secular ideals remain intact.
Erdogan, who had picked Gul as his candidate, called early general elections to defuse tensions. Erdogan's ruling party emerged with a strong majority, which most analysts here interpreted as the people's support for Gul's candidacy.
Gul renewed his presidential bid after the elections. In the first two rounds of voting, he failed to get support from two-thirds of the Parliament, which was required to be elected for the post.
He will need only a simple majority in the third round on Tuesday. His party holds 341 of the 550 seats in Parliament.
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AP reporter C. Onur Ant contributed to this report.