Turkey's ruling party narrowly escapes outlaw

31st July 2008, Comments 0 comments

The ruling Islamist-rooted party escape being banned but face consequences of having state funds cut by half.

31 July 2008

ANKARA - Turkey's Islamist-rooted ruling party narrowly escaped being outlawed Wednesday for undermining secularism as the country's top court decided to punish it by cutting state funds to it by half.

The ruling appeared to be a compromise solution to political tensions that have polarised Turkey. It also avoided serious turmoil that a ban could have unleashed, while warning the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to toe the line.

Six of the court's 11 judges voted in favour of closing down the AKP, just one short of the seven required to impose a ban, court president Hasim Kilic said.

But the court, he stressed, is still sending the party a "serious warning" by cutting half of the treasury funds it was entitled to this year.

"I hope the party in question... will get the message it should get," Kilic said.

The judges who supported the financial sanctions agreed that the AKP had become a "focal point" of anti-secular activities as the chief prosecutor argued "but not that serious" to deserve a ban, he said.

A solemn Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the outcome, saying it would strengthen Turkish democracy, and pledged commitment to secularism.

"The Justice and Development Party, which has never been a focal point of anti-secular activities, will continue to defend the basic principles of the republic," he said.

The AKP will carefully study the ruling and step up efforts to heal political divisions, he said, reasserting commitment also to Turkey's European Union membership bid.

Closing down the AKP, which dominates parliament and is still the country's most popular party, could have sparked political chaos, wrecked Turkey's EU accession talks and hit the economy.

The AKP, which won a resounding re-election victory last year, was accused of seeking to install a regime based on Sharia, or Koranic law, charges that it vehemently denies.

The prosecutor had also asked the court to bar President Abdullah Gul, Erdogan and 69 other AKP officials from party politics for five years.

The EU and Western countries also welcomed the ruling.

"Turkey is leaving a tense situation and we very much hope that the decision by the court will contribute to restoring political stability," a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said "an attempt to stage a thinly disguised legal coup" against Erdogan's government had failed, while his British counterpart David Miliband urged Ankara to redouble its reform efforts.

"We have confidence in Turkey and confidence in the Turkish people and their democracy," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

"The court has rendered an opinion, and we're going to continue to work with this government. We work quite well with them," McCormack said.

The European Union's French presidency appealed to the political players "to resolve the divergences in a spirit of dialogue and compromise while respecting the state and fundamental liberties."

Six of the court's 11 judges voted in favour of closing down the AKP - just one short of the seven required to implement a ruling - but the court decided to punish the party with financial sanctions instead.

The case was seen as the latest round in a bitter power struggle between the AKP and hardline secularist forces - including the army, the judiciary and academia - which has simmered since the party nominated Gul for president in April 2007.

The prosecutor had argued that the secular system was in grave danger and accused the AKP of using the advantages of democracy to achieve a Islamist regime "which involves violence".

His key argument was an AKP-sponsored constitutional amendment passed in February that aimed to abolish a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the amendment violated secular principles and scrapped it in a separate case in June.

The prosecutor also cited attempts by AKP municipalities to ban or restrict alcohol sales and promote religious education and Islamist lifestyle.

The AKP, a coalition of religious conservatives, pro-business liberals and mainstream centre-right politicians, first came to power in 2002 and won praise for its pro-EU, business-friendly policies.

[AFP / Expatica]

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