Turkey Court Takes Politically Explosive Case |
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
April 1, 2008
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s highest court said Monday that it had decided to hear a case on shutting down the governing party and banning its political leaders, moving the country closer to a final confrontation between religious and secular Turks about who will rule the nation.
Alifeyyaz Paksut, deputy chairman of the Constitutional Court, said the court’s justices had voted unanimously to hear the case, which calls for shutting down the Justice and Development Party and banning 71 of its members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from politics.
In addition, 7 of the 11 justices voted to hear a ban on the president, Abdullah Gul, an ominous sign for the party, which has its roots in political Islam but has since disavowed them.
The case, filed this month by Turkey’s top prosecutor, calls for banning the party on the grounds that it has steered Turkey, whose citizens are mostly Muslim, away from its constitutionally mandated secularism. The standoff is part of a broader struggle between the party, whose members are observant Muslims, and the secular elite, which includes the military and judicial systems.
The party has largely defended Turkey’s secular system of government, but the indictment accuses it of trying to impose Islam.
The number of judges who voted to accept the case sharply increases the chances that its claims will be granted. The votes of seven justices are needed to ban the party.
Cengiz Candar, a political analyst in Istanbul, said, “This is not a legal act; it’s political.”
The 162-page indictment charges that because of Mr. Erdogan, Turkey is now seen as a “moderate Islamic republic,” an image that it says has become the official view in the United States. It cites former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as “having defined our country” that way, “disregarding the fact that Turkey is a secular democratic state.”
Mr. Erdogan, the indictment said, had bragged that he was co-chairman of the “Middle East Initiative,” which it called “a U.S. project aimed at installing moderate Islamic regimes in countries.”
The State Department unveiled a program in 2004 aimed at fostering democracy in the Arab world, called the Broader Middle East North Africa Initiative, but Mr. Erdogan has played no role in it, American officials said.
The charge echoes fears of secular Turks, who bristle at being placed in the Middle East instead of in Europe.
Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting.
Original article: NY Times
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