Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Wedding turns into diplomatic fest

TURKISH TIES The prime minister used his daughter's marriage as an opportunity to push his country's EU bid as well as highlight improved relations with Greece

AP , ISTANBUL

Bridegroom Berat Albayrak, left, bride Esra Albayrak, center, Emine Erdogan, second right, and her husband, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, are seen during the wedding ceremony in Istanbul on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Leaders of Muslim and Christian countries celebrated the wedding of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's daughter, a gathering that the Turkish premier show-

cased as a bridge between the West and the Islamic world.

Esra Erdogan married Berat Albayrak, the son of Turkish journalist Sadik Albayrak, amid tight security in downtown Istanbul.

Thousands of guests attended the ceremony on Sunday, including Jordan's King Abdullah II, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Greek Premier Costas Caramanlis and Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.

The wedding came as Turkey is pressing to become the first mostly Muslim member of the EU. Erdogan pointed to the wedding celebration as an example of Turkey as a crossroads between the East and the West.

"The people at this ceremony reflect this country: They're from East and West, with their heads covered and uncovered," private TV station NTV quoted Prime Minister Erdogan as saying at the close of the ceremony. "Our guests are the same way. Two are from the East and two from the West."

NTV earlier quoted Erdogan as describing his daughter's wedding as "a meeting of civilizations."

Erdogan's government, which has Islamic roots, has made Tur-key's bid to join the EU its top priority and the government often promotes the country as a bridge between the West and the Islamic world.

Many Turks, however, fear the EU may exclude Turkey because it is overwhelmingly Muslim.

The four foreign leaders -- two Christian and two Muslim -- served as witnesses at the secular ceremony. In Turkey, only secular marriages are legally accepted.

Ersa Erdogan studied in the US at Indiana University because she wears a headscarf which is banned at universities in this staunchly secular country. The bride's full white gown included a headscarf that glittered with sequins.

Many Turkish Islamists have pushed for EU membership in the hopes that EU laws might be more accepting of Islamic symbols such as the headscarf, which Turkish secularists see as a challenge to the secular state.

Caramanlis' attendance was another sign of improved relations between Turkey and Greece -- traditional rivals that came to the brink of war three times after 1974.

"This is something I couldn't have even dreamed a few years ago," NTV quoted Caramanlis as saying. "This shows that we're doing something right: that a Greek prime minister is a witness at the wedding of a Turkish prime minister's daughter."

The wedding took place amid extremely high security after four suicide bombings in Istanbul last November killed more than 60 people. The attacks were blamed on al-Qaeda.

Some 5,000 police, including snipers, were on duty for the wedding and guests were searched as they entered the site. Nearby streets were closed to traffic and police searched passing cars.

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