Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Turkey's Gul to try another bid

RETURN The Turkish Foreign Minister, who was blocked from the presidency, was expected to meet opposition party leaders yesterday to try to win their support

AFP , ANKARA

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist, announced yesterday he will stand again for the presidency, risking a fresh government showdown with army-backed secularist forces.

"My presidential candidacy is supported by my colleagues" in Turkey's Islamist-rooted ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Gul told reporters.

He was speaking after a meeting with leaders of the right-wing opposition Nationalist Action Party (MHP) aimed at drumming up support for his bid when parliament votes on the next head of state later this month.

"I explained to them how I will act if parliament elects me as president," Gul said, adding that he was planning to meet with other opposition parties.

The AKP decided late on Monday to re-nominate Gul, whose candidacy earlier this year had plunged Turkey into political turmoil and prompted snap legislative elections.

The polls handed the AKP a solid parliamentary majority that can easily secure Gul's election.

His nomination in April had prompted an opposition boycott as well as a warning from the military that it stood ready to protect the Muslim country's secular system.

Millions of Turks demonstrated against the prospect of a president from the AKP, the conservative offshoot of a now-banned Islamist party which secularists accuse of harboring Islamist ambitions.

Hardline secularists also hate the idea of a veiled first lady -- Gul's wife wears the Islamic headscarf which they see as a symbol of political Islam.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was forced to call early elections on July 22, in which his party won a strong second five-year mandate with 46.58 percent of the vote.

Gul portrayed the AKP's victory as a popular vindication of his presidential bid, but opposition to the foreign minister's candidacy remains strong.

"If Gul is elected, Turkey's political balances will change ... Turkey will be transformed into a country with an overbearing religious and Middle Eastern identity," Deniz Baykal, head of the main opposition Republican People's Party, was quoted as saying in the Radikal newspaper.

"The headscarf is on its way to the presidential palace," the secularist Cumhuriyet daily warned.

Other newspapers argued that the election result had legitimised the AKP nominee.

"Half of this country has approved Gul's presidency and the other half must respect that," the popular Vatan wrote.

"No matter how upset we may be seeing Mrs Gul in the presidential palace, the essential thing is how Mr. Gul does his job," it added.

The first round of voting is scheduled for next Monday, the second for Aug. 24, the third for Aug. 28 and the final and fourth round for Sept. 1.

Candidates can apply until midnight Aug. 19.

In the first two rounds, a candidate requires a two-thirds majority, or 367 votes, to be elected.

With 341 seats in the 550-member house, the AKP can be sure of electing Gul on the third ballot when an absolute majority of 276 votes is required.

The MHP, which returned to parliament with 70 MPs after a five-year absence, has promised not to boycott the sessions, a move that eradicates the risk of parliament failing again to reach the quorum required to hold a vote.

The AKP dismisses charges that it has a secret Islamist agenda as "fear-mongering" by opponents who have failed to stop its rise.

The party has pledged commitment to secularism and carried out reforms that led to strong economic growth and ensured the start of membership talks with the EU.

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