Protests in Turkey over Presidential candidate

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Monday, April 30, 2007

National symbols were prominently present during the rally.
Image: Miguel Carminati.

Hundreds of thousands of Turks rallied again in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul on Sunday to protest Abdullah Gül's presidential candidacy, which they fear would threaten Turkey's separation between religious and state affairs.

The "Çağlayan Demonstration for the Republic" was centered around the Çağlayan Square. While security forces estimated the number of demonstrators at 700 000, estimates around 1 million and more are reported in the Turkish media.

The scene of the previous "Protect your Republic" demonstration in Turkey's capital Ankara was repeated, with uncountable Turkish flags and many posters of Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish state. The protesters shouted slogans like: "Turkey is secular and will remain secular!".

Between 700 000 and 1,2 million Turks are reported to have demonstrated near the Çağlayan Square.
Image: Miguel Carminati.

The demonstrators fear that current Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, the presidential candidate of the ruling AK Party of Prime Minister Erdoğan, will allow Islamic influences in Turkey to become more powerful. The party officially denies having such a hidden agenda.

The army, traditionally loyal to the Turkish pro-secular side, accused the government on Friday of tolerating radical Islam. But Gül replied: "It is out of the question to withdraw my candidacy." In 1997 the democratically elected Islamic-oriented President Necmettin Erbakan was removed from office by the army, with public support.

In Turkey, the president is elected directly by the parliament, and Gül failed to get elected in the first round of the elections, when opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote. The opposition also appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare the process unlawful. A second round is to be held on Wednesday, and a third one on May 9.

Gül's wife Hayrunisa wears a head scarf and has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to be allowed to wear it at a university. But secular Turks want to keep the current ban on wearing such scarves in public places.

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File photo of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Image: Bertil Videt.

Prime Minister Erdoğan in a national television address on Monday called for national unity: "Unity, togetherness, solidarity, these are the things we need most. We can overcome many problems so long as we treat each other with love."

"Even four and a half years ago, this country was riven by serious problems, which thank goodness have been overcome one by one," the Prime Minister said, referring to the many reforms his government has implemented since it came into power. He also pointed out Turkey's steady growth rate during the last years. To maintain this, he asked the nation for stability: "At this point, it's enough that we protect the environment of stability, it's enough that we protect the environment of peace. Enough that we don't harm the environment of confidence we have worked so hard to attain."

In reaction to the ongoing uncertainty, the E.U. enlargement commissioner warned the Turkish Army about interfering: “It is important that the military leaves the remit of democracy to the democratically-elected government and this is the test case if the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularism and the democratic arrangement of civil-military relations,” commissioner Olli Rehn said. Erdoğan and Gül support Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

The Turkish stock market lost 4,01 per cent on Monday, which analysts attribute to the current political crisis.


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