Pro-secular Turks rally against Erdogan's possible presidential candidacy

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

File photo of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (source: Bertil Videt)

Several hundred thousand protesters marched on Saturday in Turkey's capital Ankara to ensure that Turkey remains a secular Republic, and to deter prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from candidacy for the presidency. Mr. Erdoğan leads a moderate islamist party, and the secular establishment, that organised the "Protect Your Republic"-protest, fears that he might be a threat to the separation between religion and state that modern Turkey has known since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Bussed into to the capital Ankara from the most far flung regions of Turkey, tens of thousands of Turks waving the Turkish flag chanted "Turkey is secular and will remain secular" and "We don't want an imam as president!". The organisation spoke of more than one million protesters, news source estimates range from 200 000 to 370 000. A lot of banners depicting Atatürk could be seen in the crowd, which marched on the cordoned-off mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish state.

One of the protesters, Ece Kaplan, told the Los Angeles Times: "We believe in Islam; we are Muslims. But we don't want it to become our whole way of life." Her sister Muge Kaplan said: "We don't want to become Iran."

Mr. Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party, founded by former Islamists, has a majority in the Turkish parliament, which is authorized by the constitution to elect the new president.

Erdoğan refutes allegations that he and his government are bent on steering Turkey, a key Western ally, toward an Islam-oriented path. Since coming to power more than four years ago, Erdoğan's government has overseen a swath of democratic reforms that helped Turkey win a date to open membership talks with the European Union two years ago.

Western diplomats agree that Mr. Erdoğan has done nothing substantive to alter Turkey's pro-secular course, though his efforts to outlaw adultery and to forge closer relations with Iran and Syria have provoked some concern.

As president, Mr. Erdoğan would be the commander-in-chief of Turkey's rigidly pro secular military. On Thursday, army chief of staff general Yaşar Büyükanıt released a message underlining this: "We hope that someone who is loyal to the principles of the republic - not just in words but in essence - is elected president." As president Erdoğan also would have the power to appoint members of the judiciary and university rectors.

With just days left for candidates to submit their names, only one person, a comedian named Metin Uca, has declared his intention to run for president. On Friday, President Sezer waded into the presidential debate saying that Turkey's secular regime faced its gravest danger since the founding of the Republic in 1923. Throughout his seven-year term, Mr. Sezer vetoed legislation and the appointment of scores of senior officials forwarded by Mr. Erdoğan, arguing that they posed a threat to secularism.


This article incorporates text from Pro-Secular Turks Stage Mass Anti-Islamist Rally, which has a license that is compatible with Wikinews.