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Turkish foreign minister wins presidency, in victory for Islamic-rooted government

Turkish foreign minister wins presidency, in victory for Islamic-rooted government

A leader of Turkey's Islamic-oriented government has won the presidency after months of confrontation with the secular establishment, but he praised the idea that Islam and the state should be separate and promised to be impartial while in office.
Still, in a sign that tension could lie ahead, top generals did not attend the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday in parliament of Abdullah Gul, their new president and commander in chief. Local media interpreted the absence of the military brass as a protest against Gul, the former foreign minister whose earlier bid for the post was blocked by the secular opposition, which included the military and the top court.
Gul, a devout Muslim who has tried to engineer Turkey's entry into the European Union with sweeping reforms, received a majority of 339 votes in a parliamentary ballot Tuesday in the capital, Ankara. His triumph was assured by a ruling party that won a second term in general elections last month, but Gul, a burly, affable man, was careful to reach out to the many Turks who suspect he has a secret Islamic agenda.
"In democracy, which is a system of rights and liberties, secularism, one of the core principles of our republic, is as much a model that underpins freedom for different lifestyles as it is a rule of social harmony," Gul said. "I will continue my path, in a transparent and fully impartial manner, embracing all my citizens."
Gul, a former practitioner of political Islam who later cast himself as a moderate, vowed to campaign for gender equality and the rule of law, and he said "change and diversity" were not things to be feared.
"It is imperative for our country that we carry out the political and economic reforms geared towards EU membership more resolutely. The political climate in Europe may always change," he told lawmakers in a nationally televised speech.
He also praised the military as a necessary deterrent and a symbol of independence, a day after the military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, warned that "centers of evil" were plotting to corrode secular principles crafted nearly a century ago by Turkey's revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The military has ousted four governments since 1960, and Gul's initial bid for president was derailed over fears that he planned to dilute secular traditions. Some commentators said the generals' failure to show up for Gul's oath-taking was ominous.
"It shows that his presidency is a source of tension from the onset," Rusen Cakir, a leading analyst on political Islam, said on Turkey's private NTV television. "We will need to wait and see if the tension turns into a crisis or whether some kind of harmony is reached."
One of Gul's sons attended the ceremony, but his wife, Hayrunnisa, did not. She wears an Islamic-style head scarf, which is banned in government offices and schools and is viewed by secularists as a troubling symbol of religious fervor, and even militancy. Some who wear the headscarf say the Turkish state's restrictions on Islamic attire amount to a curb on freedom of expression.
Turkey's president has the power to veto legislation and official appointments, and Gul has failed to allay secularist fears that he would gladly approve any initiatives of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a close ally.
Erdogan said he planned to submit his new Cabinet to Gul for his approval Wednesday. Erdogan had presented his list earlier this month to outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who said the new president should approve it.
"I hope (Gul's presidency) is beneficial to the country, the people and the republic," Erdogan said. "God willing, together, shoulder to shoulder, we will carry Turkey forward."
Gul took the post from Sezer, a staunch secularist, in a low-key ceremony that was closed to the media. On his way out of the palace, Sezer stopped his car to say goodbye to guards and journalists.
"Keep well!," he said. Outside the palace gates, secularist Turks waved Turkish flags, threw flowers at his vehicle and shouted: "We are proud of you!"
Police also prevented two dozen demonstrators who were protesting Gul's election from approaching the palace.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department issued a statement congratuating Gul on his election, calling it a "testament to the maturity of Turkish democracy and the strength of the Turkish constitution."
Gul failed to win the presidency in two rounds of voting last week because the ruling Justice and Development Party lacked the two-thirds majority in parliament needed for him to secure the post. But the party _ which holds 341 of the 550 seats _ had a far easier hurdle Tuesday, when only a simple majority was required.
Secularist Turks had staged mass rallies and the military threatened to intervene when Erdogan nominated Gul for president in the spring. This time, Gul said his party's victory in the elections gave him a strong mandate to run again.
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AP reporters Suzan Fraser in Ankara and C. Onur Ant in Istanbul contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-15 14:02 GMT+08:00