Turkish Anti Islamists Closer to Government Control

ANKARA (Reuter)– Turkish secularist hope Mesut Yilmaz was within touching distance of a parliamentary majority to deny Islamists power after four members of paliament abandoned parties in a pro-Islamic partnership on Friday.

Resignations reduced the Islamists and their allies to 275 members on paper–compared with 272 deputies who are likely to back Yilmaz at a confidence vote in his left-right alliance.

"This government is not going to win by just a hair’s breadth–it will comfortably carry the confidence vote," Murat Basesgioglu–a senior member of Yilmaz’s Motherland Party told a news conference. The vote is due within two weeks. Istanbul shares jumped nearly five percent in morning trading on rising hopes that Yilmaz–a free-market conservative–can keep the Islam-based Welfare Party from returning to office.

Yilmaz–50–was appointed prime minister-designate last week to replace Necmettin Erbakan–who resigned after a stormy year as modern Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister. The Islamists’ unlikely coalition with conservative Tansu Ciller was hampered by frequent rows with secularists–led by the army–over the role of religion in public life and NATO member Turkey’s ties to the Moslem world. "The new government will heal the social wounds…and argumen’s about coups and the system will fall off the country’s agenda," Basesgioglu said.

Three deputies from Ciller’s conservative True Path Party and an Islamist from the Welfare Party resigned in one-paragraph letters given to the parliamentary speaker’s office on Friday. The resignees–two of whom joined a far-right grouping–were expected to back Yilmaz in the 550-member parliament. Two seats in the assembly are empty and the speaker does not vote.

Around a fifth of the True Path’s deputies have quit since leader Ciller–under pressure from corruption charges–dropped strong criticism of the Islamists and joined Erbakan in government last year.

The secularist establishment has turned on Ciller–who became the country’s first women leader in 1993–for helping the Islamists to power. Turkish papers on Friday quoted the army’s second-in-command as attacking Ciller–the caretaker foreign minister. The army said earlier this month the foreign ministry did not try hard enough to persuade Turkey’s neighbours not to back Kurdish rebels fighting Ankara’s rule in southeast Turkey. "Don’t misunderstand us–we were talking about the minister–not the foreign ministry itself," General Cevik Bir told the officials. The influential army took on a greater role in politics as the coalition between Ciller and the Islamists began to crumble earlier this year. Iraq condemned a Turkish decision to extend the mandate of a US-led air force that patrols northern Iraq–saying Ankara was implementing a "harmful" policy against Baghdad. Efforts by Erbakan to throw the air force out of a base in southern Turkey were frustrated by the generals. Analysts say Turkey’s foreign policy under Yilmaz would generally be pro-Western–but a left-wing veteran known for his opposition to close links with Washington has been appointed as the deputy prime minister. Secularist politicians were to begin drawing up the Yilmaz government programme and working out the further distribution of ministries on Friday. They hope to present President Suleyman Demirel with a cabinet list next Monday or Tuesday.

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