Islamic-rooted president wins in Turkey|
Updated: 8/28/2007 1:14 PM
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A devout Muslim with a
background in political Islam won the Turkish presidency on Tuesday, in a
major triumph for the Islamic-rooted government after months of
confrontation with the secular establishment.
Abdullah Gul follows in the footsteps of a national
hero who made secular principles the cornerstone of the
But while Gul is a devout Muslim whose wife wears an
Islamic headscarf in a nation where religious attire is
banned from government buildings, he is also a champion
of reforms needed for Turkey to qualify for European
For Europeans, Gul's Islamic-rooted party is
increasingly being seen as a truer friend of democracy
than the secular establishment, which is backed by a
military that in recent decades has not hesitated to
stage coups against governments in disfavor.
Secularists, however, fear that with Gul installed in
the palace, his close ally Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan will begin carrying out a hidden Islamic agenda
and there will be no presidential checks to
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul received a majority of
339 votes in a parliamentary ballot and took the oath of office, pledging
impartiality and loyalty to Turkey's historic separation of religion and
politics. Commanders from the fiercely secular military were conspicuously
absent — a decision many saw as a symbolic protest against the decision to
elect a president to a post traditionally held by a secular figure.
"Secularism — one of the main principles of our
republic — is a precondition for social peace as much as it is a
liberating model for different lifestyles," Gul said. "As long as I am in
office, I will embrace all our citizens without any bias. I will preserve
my impartiality with the greatest of care."
Gul's victory took place a day after the military,
which has ousted four governments since 1960, issued a stern warning about
the threat to secularism. Gul's initial bid for president was blocked over
fears that he planned to dilute secular traditions.
"Our nation has been watching the behavior of those
separatists who can't embrace Turkey's unitary nature, and centers of evil
that systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish
Republic," Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the military, said in a note on
the military's website Monday.
Turkey's president has the power to veto legislation,
and Gul has failed to allay secularist fears that he would sign into law
any legislation passed by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan — a close ally — without concern.
Also, his wife wears an Islamic-style head scarf —
which is banned in government offices and schools. Islamic attire has been
restricted in Turkey since the country's first president, Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk, ushered in secularism and Western-style reforms in the 1930s.
Gul, 56, failed to win the presidency in two rounds
of voting last week because the ruling Justice and Development party
lacked the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for him to secure the
post. But the party — which holds 341 of the 550 seats — had a far easier
hurdle on Tuesday, when only a simple majority was required.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey
said the United States welcomed "this exercise in Turkish democracy. We
think it continues the course of democratic development in that
Erdogan said he planned to submit his new Cabinet to
Gul for his approval on Wednesday. Erdogan had presented his list earlier
this month to outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who said the new
president should approve it.
"I hope (Gul's presidency) is beneficial to the
country, the people and the republic," Erdogan said. "God willing,
together, shoulder to shoulder, we will carry Turkey forward."
In Gul's hometown of Kayseri, in Turkey's
conservative heartland, hundreds gathered at a main square to celebrate
his victory, private NTV television reported.
Secularist Turks staged mass rallies and the military
threatened to intervene when Erdogan nominated Gul for president in the
Gul insisted that he be re-nominated for president
earlier this month, arguing that his party's victory in the elections gave
him a strong mandate to run. He rejected calls from secularist parties to
step aside in favor of a non-Islamist, compromise candidate.
"A person who has defied the (secular) republic, who
has said he finds it to be wrong, is about to move to the top of the
state. This is a contradiction," said Deniz Baykal, leader of the secular
opposition. His party boycotted the vote on Tuesday and has said it would
not take part in some state occasions, including presidential
As foreign minister, Gul — who speaks English and
Arabic — has cultivated an image as a moderate politician.
In a recent meeting with foreign journalists, Gul
said he would make use of his experiences as foreign minister to boost
Turkey's European Union bid and make the Turkish presidency more active on
the international scene.
"Turkey will be more active; Turkey will be
contributing more to world issues," he said.
The EU said the vote "represents a considerable
achievement for Turkey and the Turkish people,"
In a statement, European Commission President Jose
Manuel Barroso said he hoped the government "will be able to resume work
... to give fresh, immediate and positive impetus" to EU entry talks.
Original article: USA Today - World
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