Turkey’s Prosecutor to Ban Islamists

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey’s hard-line chief prosecutor–likening the country’s Islamist Virtue Party to a vampire attacking secularist democracy–on Friday opened a case to ban it and expel its members from parliament.

Virtue is embroiled in a scandal over a deputy’s use of a Moslem head scarf in the assembly.

Vural Savas–launching one of the most draconian legal actions in the 75-year history of the modern Turkish republic–also compared deputy Merve Kavakci – the woman who caused a storm at the first session of the new parliament on Sunday by appearing in a head scarf–to Kurdish suicide bombers.

"Her task is to blow up the system," he said.

Savas–who presided over the banning of Virtue’s predecessor party–Welfare–last year–said he had applied to the constitutional court for closure of the party–which is likely to constitute the chief opposition following April polls.

"I have complete faith the Virtue Party has become a hub of anti-secularist activities," he said in an indictment–a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

"Closing down these parties which form a ‘clear and present danger’ to our constitutional order is the irrevocable condition of being able to forever keep alive the Turkish Republic."

"Like vampires which feed only on blood–they exploit the religious sentiment of some of our citizens in full knowledge they could provoke a conflict with our secular state order."

Istanbul stocks rose over two percent on news of the move.

Kavakci–a 30-year-old computer analyst–had made what is seen as a symbolic challenge to the western-style secularist order created from the ruins of the Ottoman empire by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Head scarves are strictly banned from institutes of higher education and from other public offices–but are not mentioned in parliamentary dress codes.

President Suleyman Demirel dubbed her an "agent provocateur" and cited documen’s linking her to foreign subversion. Media have published excerpts of a speech–purportedly given by Kavakci in Chicago–calling for "jihad," or Moslem holy war–in Turkey.

The storm around Kavakci overshadowed premier-designate Bulent Ecevit’s efforts to form a government. It has also caused unease in the political establishment and the army–which has carried out three coups since the 1960 and exerted pressure to ease an Islamist-led government from power in 1997.

It has also exposed early signs of a split between moderates and radicals in Virtue itself.

Kavakci withdrew from parliament under a flurry of protest from secularist deputies on Sunday without taking her oath. But she says she is determined to return.

"Turkey cannot digest a pluralist democracy," Virtue deputy leader Abdullah Gul told Reuters in an initial reaction to the prosecutor’s move.

"This will harm Turkey’s democracy and Turkey’s image abroad and it will prove there is an autocratic regime in Turkey,"

I don’t believe the party will be banned. I’m sure the courts will consider such a move would harm Turkey,” he added.

The Islamist Welfare Party was banned in January 1998–but its members remained in parliament under the umbrella of the newly-constituted Virtue Party.

This time–Savas has made it clear he wants the deputies expelled from parliament–making a continuation of what he regards as the Islamist challenge impossible.

Virtue was the biggest party in the old parliament–but its share of the vote dropped from 21 percent to 15 percent in the April polls.

Many saw in Kavakci’s action a resurgence of hard-liners in the party backed by former Welfare premier Necmettin Erbakan–who is now banned from politics.

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