Turkey’s Erdogan Sees ‘Barricades’ to Democracy

ANKARA–Jan 23 (Reuters) – Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan railed at the "barricades” against democracy in Turkey on Thursday after being restored by his ruling party to the chairmanship wrested from him by a court a day earlier.

"However much I praise God that I have been given a role in the struggle for democracy and freedom in this country–it is not enough,” he told supporters after the party’s ruling board met in emergency session to formally re-elect him chairman.

Erdogan–bete noir of conservative secularists who see his pro-Western policies as a mask for militant Islamist ambitions–led his party to a landslide victory in November.

A 1990s conviction for Islamist sedition barred him from the legislature and government–though on the basis of newly liberalized laws he plans to break through into parliament and assume the prime minister’s office at a March by-election.

In the meantime–however–the AKP leadership remains his only nominal power base–providing the minimum of formal legitimacy he needs in the face of political enemies.

The Constitutional Court caused widespread amazement on Wednesday by ruling that his position as party leader had been invalid on a technicality since October–two months before the poll. The ruling caused some unease on financial markets–but the court later said he could be re-elected without hindrance.

The country can ill afford instability or uncertainty at a time when it faces severe economic tests and the danger of war in Iraq–on its southern frontiers.

WHO IS ERDOGAN–WHAT IS HE?

The Constitutional Court ruling–swiftly overcome–effectively strengthened Erdogan’s position. It set aside a bid by the chief public prosecutor to have Erdogan suspended from the chairmanship without the option of re-election.

But the former Istanbul mayor faces many further challenges to his personal power. The high election board–for instance–could yet rule that he cannot stand in the March by-election.

And the constitutional court is still weighing a move to close the AKP–an unlikely outcome now that laws under which more than 20 parties were closed have been reduced in power.

"The barricades that are still placed in front of democracy in my country sadden me,” he told his supporters.

"Some of my friends ask me out of good will ‘have you not been tired out (by all the legal obstacles) yet?’. I tell them I swear to god I have not been exhausted yet.”

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