Yilmaz Resignation Calls Increase Crisis Looms

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz looked set to fall after opposition deputies lodged censure motions on Thursday–but could use up to two weeks grace to save his government.

Crucial parliamentary backer Deniz Baykal withdrew his support following taped accusations by businessman Korkmaz Yigit of high-level graft in a $600 million state bank privatization tender this year.

Yilmaz has vowed to defend his conservative-led government against a barrage of censure motions that will not reach a head until late next week at the earliest.

"A prime minister should resign if he lies to the public. I have never lied," Yilmaz said in a live television broadcast on Wednesday. He said he would prove his innocence.

But Baykal was unconvinced and his Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a censure motion to the parliamentary speaker’s office on Thursday morning. It joins two other opposition motions awaiting a debate slot from the speaker’s office.

"Yigit has claimed he received support and encouragement from Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz and State Minister Gunes Taner over bidding in the tender," said the CHP’s censure motion.

"It cannot be expected that these claims be investigated properly…with a government which has fallen into a position where it can no longer govern," a senior parliamentarian from Baykal’s CHP–Onder Sav–told reporters.

Without the support of the CHP’s 55 members of parliament and weakened by the resignation of a deputy from a junior partner–the minority coalition will be hard pushed to survive what is effectively a vote of confidence in the government.

"The government will fall. Ten days at the most," Baykal was quoted as saying in the mass circulation Sabah newspaper. Parliamentary procedure says the vote must take place before November 26.

That leaves a maximum of 14 days for Yilmaz to try to discredit Yigit’s allegations–rally his supporters and–perhaps–strike some sort of deal with Baykal.

The two did have an agreement for the CHP’s support in return for Yilmaz’s pledge to resign at the end of this year ahead of polls set for April–1999.

That pact is now void–although the date for polls stands.

With Yilmaz’s administration under siege–attention turned to President Suleyman Demirel who would ask a leader to attempt to form a new government if Yilmaz falls.

Objections by the powerful army and his own secularist instincts would militate against Demirel following precedent and inviting parliament’s biggest group–the Islamist Virtue Party.

Instead–Demirel could choose a caretaker leader to take the country to April polls. Demirel and the generals could influence such a "neutral" government.

The political uncertainty has caused havoc on Turkey’s volatile stock exchange. Stocks fell 1.79 percent on Thursday after plunging nearly 15 percent on Monday in the biggest daily fall in the bourse’s history.

Central bank governor Gazi Ercel moved to calm markets ahead of the afternoon session–vowing no change in monetary policy.

The crisis broke late on Tuesday with the broadcast of video tapes by businessman Yigit–currently under police investigation for suspected impropriety in the bank sale.

Yigit denied accusations he had connived with an alleged underworld boss to win the August tender for Turk Ticaret Bankasi (Turkbank). He said he had been coaxed into competing by people closely involved in the tender–Yilmaz and Taner.

Taner also denied the charges.

Yilmaz said he faced the corruption accusations because of a government crackdown on underworld gangs and that his resignation would only help the gangs to flourish.

Yilmaz’s alliance of secularist parties was formed in June last year to keep the Islamists from power. A previous stormy year of Islamist-led government had alarmed the secularist army.

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