Sunday, April 29, 2007

Let's just say that Turkey's hopes to enter the EU are as good as dead

Turkey warned: Respect democracy

ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- The European Union and the U.S. have urged the Turkish army to respect the country's democracy after military chiefs voiced concerns over the current presidential election.

In a statement issued on Friday night, top soldiers warned the army could intervene if the election process threatened to undermine Turkey's secular system of government, The Associated Press reported.

"It should not be forgotten that the Turkish armed forces is one of the sides in this debate and the absolute defender of secularism," the military statement said.

"When necessary, they will display their attitudes and actions very clearly. No one should doubt that."

Friday's parliamentary vote to elect Turkey's next president has been marked by tensions between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist Justice and Development Party and members of Turkey's secular establishment.

Lawmakers will vote again next week after the ruling party's candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, failed to garner a clear win amid a boycott by the opposition Republican People's Party.

A government spokesman said Erdogan had spoken to Turkey's top general, Yasar Buyukanit, adding that the military statement was "not acceptable in a democratic order."

"The chief of the General Staff is answerable to the Prime Minister," Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said.

In Brussels, EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn said it was watching events in Ankara with concern, Reuters reported.

"It is important that the military leaves the remit of democracy to the democratically elected government and this is a test case if the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularism and the democratic arrangement of civil-military relations," said Rehn.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried called for democracy to be respected: "We hope and expect that the Turks will work out these political issues in their own way, in a way that's consistent with their secular democracy and constitutional provisions."

Turkish human rights campaigners also condemned the statement by the army, which has ousted four governments in the past 50 years -- most recently in 1997 when it overthrew an Islamist government in which Gul and Erdogan served.

"The statement has damaged our country's democracy and our state of law," said the Ankara-based Human Rights Association.

Mehmet Agar, leader of the center-right opposition True Path Party, told reporters: "Turkey's problems must be solved by civilian politics."
Emergency talks

Erdogan and Gul held emergency talks on Saturday following Gul's failure by 10 votes to secure the two-thirds parliamentary majority necessary to avoid a second round of voting.

Parliament members are slated to vote a second time next Wednesday. A two-thirds majority again will be needed to elect a president in the second round. If voting goes to a third round, then a simple majority will do.

Opposition lawmakers have asked Turkey's Constitutional Court to declare Friday's vote void and want an early general election instead, according to journalist Andrew Finkel in Ankara.

The probability that Gul, whose wife wears the traditional Muslim head scarf, will become the president of an already Islamic-rooted government -- possibly bolstering the role of religion in politics -- has caused unease in the vastly secular nation.

Part of the president's role includes veto power on legislation. With a record number of vetoed legislative bills, the country's current president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, is widely viewed as fulfilling a checks-and-balances roll in the government, according to Finkel. Sezer leaves office May 16.

Commentator Oktay Eksi of the Hurriyet newspaper said the army's statement amounted to a "straightforward ultimatum," AP reported.

"It expresses concern over the fact that if Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is elected, the presidential palace, which is considered the last bastion of secularism, will be handed over to a person who is anti-secular," Eksi said.

Original article posted here.

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