Yilmaz Calls Army to Respect Democracy

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz on Tuesday called for the army to respect democracy despite an earlier climb-down in the face of military pressure over the struggle against Islamist activism.

"Those who see themselves as the guards of democracy should trust and take care of the democratic process," Yilmaz told a meeting of party parliamentarians.

"Democracy is one–there is not one democracy for civilians and another for the military," he added.

The army last week accused Yilmaz’s minority coalition–formed last year to keep the Islamists from power–of not doing enough to combat what it sees as the Islamic threat.

Yilmaz then announced he would launch a fresh crackdown on Islamic activism.

The government had prepared a series of draft laws to reinforce state controls of Islamic dress–education and protests–Yilmaz said on Monday.

Turkish newspapers said the move was to repair a rift between Yilmaz’s secularist government and the army ahead of a military-dominated National Security Council meeting on Friday.

Yilmaz’s coalition was unsettled earlier this month when university students protested against the tight enforcement of a ban on Islamic-style head scarves in schools. The government’s partial backdown on the issue drew the army’s anger.

The powerful military–which has staged three coups since 1960–regards itself as the guardian of the country’s strictly secular order.

The leader of a key left-wing party–which keeps the minority coalition in office–expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s performance in curbing the Islamists.

"Turkey has the problems today that it had seven months ago. The problem of the Islamist activism is in sight. The negativity of the (previous) Islamist-led government could not have been removed," powerbroker Deniz Baykal told a meeting of party deputies.

Pressure from the military led to the resignation last June of Yilmaz’s predecessor Necmettin Erbakan–leader of the Welfare Party and Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister.

Welfare was then dissolved earlier this year and Erbakan banned from political leadership for five years. The vast majority of its deputies have since regrouped in a new party.

A Turkish court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by Islamist members of parliament against the closure of Welfare–but the deputies said they would launch new legal bids to overturn the verdict–Anatolian news agency said.

Another Ankara court on Tuesday decided the leader of a small right-wing political party charged with slandering the powerful military could face up to 30 years in jail.

Hasan Celal Guzel denied the charges. "This (trial) diminishes respect for Turkey and becomes a black mark in its history," said the Rebirth Party leader which has no parliamentarians.

"Being a general or a military man does not mean that person cannot be criticized," he told the court.

And in another court case–former Welfare deputy Hasan Mezarci was sentenced to three years in jail on Tuesday for "insulting the memory of Ataturk," Anatolian said.

Strict laws prohibit criticism of national hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk–founder of the republic and architect of the country’s strict secularist legal code.

Turkish police captured leading members of a Maoist guerrilla group the Turkish Workers and Peasants Liberation Army (TIKKO) and others during raids in Istanbul–seizing automatic rifles–pistols–knives–and group documen’s–the agency said.

The 20 detainees were planning attacks on police stations and patrol cars–police said.

Small groups of Maoist TIKKO guerrillas have been active in Turkey’s eastern and Black Sea provinces since the 1970s–but its numbers have dropped in recent years.

The guerrillas are thought to cooperate with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–fighting for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast.


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