Mon, Aug 06, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Turkish PM calls on lawmakers to protect secularism


A new Turkish parliament dominated by the Islamic-oriented party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been sworn in, preparing the way for a new government that was reminded in the opening speech to safeguard the nation's secular principles.

At the start of Saturday's ceremony, interim Speaker of Parliament Sukru Elekdag of the main opposition Republican People's Party said Erdogan -- expected to head the new government -- should act with common sense to prevent polarization in politics.

"Pursuing a policy to protect secular and democratic values would help the country attain its goal of achieving the contemporary level of civilization," Elekdag said.

The opposition party and the country's fiercely secular military have stressed that the next president, who will be elected by parliament within a month, must sincerely uphold secularity.

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party will have 341 seats in the 550-member legislature -- 10 seats down from its position in the outgoing parliament -- but still firmly in control of a majority. In the two decades before Erdogan's first majority government in 2002, Turkey had been led by coalitions that often failed to pass legislation. Political infighting had led to instability that deterred foreign investors.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer was expected to ask Erdogan today to form the next government, the Anatolia news agency said on Saturday.

The main opposition Republican People's Party will have 99 seats. The far right Nationalist Action Party returned to the Parliament with 70 seats, after a five-year absence. The center-left Democratic Left Party has 13 seats.

A revived Kurdish party -- the Democratic Society Party -- will hold 21 seats. For many Kurds, the party's revival stokes hopes for a new era in their struggle for more rights. But many Turks are afraid of a party suspected of being under the influence of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, an organization labeled as terrorist by the US and the EU and which has fought to carve out a separate Kurdish state.

It is the first time the group is represented in the legislature since its ouster in 1994 over alleged ties to separatist Kurds.

The party officials promised not to stir up trouble during the swearing-in ceremony on Saturday as their predecessors did. But a leader of the Kurdish party, lawmaker Ahmet Turk, in an interview with private NTV television refused to declare the PKK a terrorist organization, claiming that it would be against his role in seeking peace.

All other parties in parliament have refused to cooperate with the Kurdish lawmakers unless they denounce the PKK as a terrorist group.

Once the new government is formed, parliament must choose a new president.

The Nationalist Action party has already pledged to help the government achieve the quorum needed to elect a president.

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