West Concerned Over Ban On Turkish Islamist Party

ANKARA (Reuters)–The United States said on Friday it regretted a Turkish court’s decision to ban the chief opposition party–the Islamist Virtue Party.

“As a matter of principle the United States regards the closing-down of democratically elected political parties to be contrary to accepted international norms of democracy,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

“We regret the closure of this party,” he added.

The Virtue Party–banned by Turkey’s Constitutional Court–was the country’s only Islamist party of any significance and controlled 102 out of 550 seats in parliament.

The court said it was a focus of “Islamist and anti-secular activities” and had conducted activities “contrary to the principle of the secular republic.”

Reeker said the United States was encouraged that a parliamentary committee representing all of Turkey’s parties has tabled a proposal to reform the constitution to make it more difficult to close political parties.

“We understand that the President–the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice have all publicly supported reform in this area in recent weeks,” he added.

The European Union said the move undermined Ankara’s democratic credentials. “The European Union notes with concern the decision of the Turkish Constitutional Court on June 22 to order the closure of the Virtue Party–to confiscate its assets and to ban certain members from being members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly,” an EU statement said.

“This decision has implications for democratic pluralism and freedom of expression in Turkey,” said the statement–issued by Sweden which holds the Union’s rotating presidency.

Turkey was accepted as a candidate in 1999 but has yet to begin negotiations because of concerns over its human rights record and its commitment to democratic values.

“The (court) decision highlights the need for Turkey to move ahead with political reforms in order to implement the priorities of the Accession Partnership adopted by the EU on March 8–2001,” the EU statement said.

The Accession Partnership sets out the reforms Turkey must undertake before it can begin membership talks.

Earlier on Monday–German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin told reporters in Ankara that the court’s ruling worried Germany and the EU. "With due respect–this raises some concerns among the German and European public,” said the minister.

The ban against Virtue comes three years after Turkey outlawed another Islamist party–Welfare.

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