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Ruling party retains mandate in Turkey

Mon., July 23, 2007

ANKARA, Turkey – The Islamic-rooted ruling party won parliamentary elections by a wide margin Sunday, and the prime minister pledged to safeguard the country’s secular traditions and do whatever necessary to fight separatist Kurdish rebels.

With more than 99 percent of votes counted, television news channels were projecting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party would win 341 of the 550 seats, down from 351 in the outgoing parliament.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, told supporters in his victory speech he would preserve pluralistic democracy and work for national unity.

“We will never make concessions over the values of people, the basic principles of our republic. This is our promise. We will embrace Turkey as a whole without discriminating,” he said at a rally in Ankara, the capital.

Ruling party supporters in Istanbul clapped, danced and waved flags depicting the party symbol, a light bulb. In Ankara, hundreds whooped as they watched election results on a big-screen TV outside party headquarters.

“We are very happy,” university student Reyhan Aksoy said. “God willing, great days await us.”

The election was called early to defuse a showdown with the military-backed secular establishment, which contended that Erdogan and his allies were plotting to scrap secular traditions.

Erdogan raised concern with his efforts as prime minister to make adultery a crime and appoint former Islamists to key positions. Critics also were troubled by his calls for lifting restrictions on the wearing of headscarves.

Although the ruling party’s success has been touted as proof that Islam and democracy can coexist, the new government is likely to face persistent tension over the role of Islam in society.

“Democracy has passed a very important test,” Erdogan said. “Whoever you have voted for … we respect your choices. We regard your differences as part of our pluralist democracy. It is our responsibility to safeguard this richness.”

The government also must decide how to deal with violence by Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy. NATO member Turkey is considering whether to stage an offensive into northern Iraq against separatist Kurdish rebels who rest, train and resupply at bases there.

Erdogan has warned the incursion could happen if security talks with Iraq and the United States fail. He has invited Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to visit Turkey.

“In our struggle against separatist terrorists, we are determined to take every step at the right time,” Erdogan said.

The commander of Iraq-based Kurdish rebels said in an interview that he believes Turkey will quickly follow the elections with a long-anticipated offensive against his remote mountain bases.

Murat Karayilan, leader of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, warned that his fighters were prepared for battle but denied charges that his group was using Iraq as a base for attacks against Turkish forces. He was speaking on Friday.


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