Wed, Aug 22, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Turkish PM gives army warning

FORCES The military, which has toppled four governments in four decades, has said it considered the secular system under threat and vowed to defend it

AFP , ANKARA

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the influential army to keep out of politics, following the start of a presidential election that a former Islamist is set to win, Anatolia news agency reported yesterday.

The military "should stay in its place ... All institutions should act in line with the mandate they are given by the constitution," Erdogan was quoted as saying overnight.

"If we believe in democracy, we should not involve the Turkish armed forces in politics," he said. "For us, the armed forces are sacred ... [but] they have their own place and politicians have another place in democracy."

On Monday, parliament began a series of votes to elect Turkey's next president.

The frontrunner, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, failed to secure the required two-thirds majority in the 550-seat house, but should easily win in the third round next week when the 340 members of parliament of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) can comfortably secure the absolute majority of 276 that is needed.

It is Gul's second bid to become head of state. His first attempt in April triggered a harsh secularist campaign against his presidency on grounds that the former Islamist is not truly committed to the secular system, forcing snap general elections on July 22.

At the climax of the crisis, the military, which has toppled four governments in as many decades, said it considered the secular system under threat and vowed to defend it.

It has remained silent about Gul's renomination for the presidency, which followed the AKP's landslide victory in the July 22 polls.

Gul has pledged to stay loyal to the secular system and be impartial if elected.

"Once Mr. Gul is elected, his link with our party would be over. From that moment on, he would be the president of the Turkish Republic," Erdogan said.

Opponents say that with Gul in the presidential palace, the AKP, the moderate offshoot of a now-banned Islamist party, will have a free hand to erode the separation of state and religion -- an intention he denies.

The AKP has disowned its Islamist roots, pledged commitment to secularism and conducted reforms that ensured the start of Turkey's membership talks with the EU.

It has dismissed accusations that it still harbors Islamist ambitions as "fear-mongering" by opponents who have failed to match its rising popularity.

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