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Turkish Islamic-oriented party faces closure bid amid tensions with secularists

Turkish Islamic-oriented party faces closure bid amid tensions with secularists

Turkey's Islamic-oriented government is considering legal ways to stop the country's chief prosecutor from disbanding the party on charges of undermining secularism, a party official said Monday.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government and officials from his Justice and Development Party were scheduled to hold several meetings Monday to discuss possible legal measures, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The government could change the law to make closing down political parties more difficult and strip prosecutors of some powers, preventing them from pushing for the disbandment of parties on their own, newspapers and television stations reported Monday.
The prosecutor on Friday asked that the governing party be shut down for allegedly undermining the country's secular traditions. The Constitutional Court began assessing Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya's request Monday and will decide whether to hear the case within 10 days, Osman Paksut, deputy chairman of the court, told reporters.
Over the weekend, the prime minister criticized the prosecutor's move as undemocratic and proclaimed his loyalty to the country's secular traditions.
The prosecutor also wants 71 people, including Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, banned from politics for five years.
The case, if heard by the court, could take several months. The top court has shut down four other pro-Islamic parties on similar grounds since the 1970s.
The Turkish stock market plunged nearly 7.5 percent on Monday in partial reaction to domestic political developments and amid negative developments in global markets. The lira also slid against foreign currencies.
The prosecutor's complaint says Erdogan's party violated secular principles by pushing Parliament to rescind a decades-old ban on wearing Islamic head scarves at universities.
The head scarf legislation _ which is also being reviewed by the Constitutional Court _ triggered a barrage of criticism that Erdogan was trying to raise Islam's profile.
The complaint says the party "aims to realize a model of society which takes religion as its reference."
The indictment also accuses Erdogan's government of harming the international image of Turkey, which it says has become a moderate Islamic republic during Erdogan's term, and divided the public into believers and nonbelievers.
Erdogan has insisted his party _ which won 46 percent in last year's general elections _ is loyal to Turkey's secular traditions, and his government says the head scarf measure is aimed at expanding democracy and freedoms as part of Turkey's EU membership bid.
"The distance between the Justice and Development Party and fundamentalism and violence is like the difference between day and night," Erdogan said in a speech Sunday.
Erdogan himself banned alcoholic beverages at city-run coffee shops in accordance with Islam when he was Istanbul's mayor in the mid-1990s. He also served a four-month jail sentence in 1999 for inciting hatred based on religious differences, by reading a poem at a political rally. The poem said: "Minarets are our bayonets, domes are our helmets, mosques are our barracks, believers are our soldiers."
Erdogan's government tried to criminalize adultery after coming to power but had to step back under pressure from the EU.
If Erdogan's party were to be shut down, a new party would likely be formed in its place _ as occurred when parties were shut down previously.
The threatened ban from politics on Erdogan and others would pose a trickier challenge. But since Erdogan's party members have a majority in the 550-seat Parliament, they could still lead a new government.
Slovenia, holding the presidency of the European Union, said Monday that it hoped the issue would be resolved and by respecting voters' wishes at the last parliamentary election.
"This issue should not distract attention from the necessary reforms related to the EU accession process," the EU presidency said in a statement.
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he trusted in the "judicial independence" of the constitutional court and believed the prosecutor's request would be rejected.


Updated : 2021-09-21 11:31 GMT+08:00