Yilmaz Squeezes Islamists Out of Government

ANKARA (Reuter)–Conservative Mesut Yilmaz took over as Turkey’s prime minister Monday at the head of an uneasy secularist alliance that hopes to keep the Islamists out of power after months of political chaos.

He said his left-right coalition would put an end to intense argumen’s about the role of Islam in public life and possible intervention by the restive military.

But Yilmaz still has yet to win a confidence vote and the anti-Islamist forces in parliament have already shown signs of disunity.

"It will be a government that raises the profile of civilian–democratic and freedom-loving values," Yilmaz told reporters after his appointment by President Suleyman Demirel. His government is a minority administration shored up by a small left-wing party.

Yilmaz–50–replaces Necmettin Erbakan–who resigned two weeks ago in a stormy row with the army over religious activism. The pair shook hands in the prime minister’s office at a ceremony that came a year and a day after Erbakan became modern Turkey’s first Islamist leader.

Investors breathed a sigh of relief that months of political upheaval were over–at least temporarily. Istanbul stocks ended the day up more than two percent. A parliamentary vote of confidence in the new coalition is expected to be held on July 12 following debate on the government program two days earlier–a coalition spokesman’said.

A close aide of Erbakan cast doubt on the new secularist coalition’s chances of winning a confidence vote in parliament.

"It will not be as easy as has been said for the government to pass a confidence vote," Oguzhan Asilturk–a leading member of Erbakan’s Welfare Party–told a news conference.

A key leftist party gave Yilmaz a wake-up call. The Republican People’s Party said the support it has promised him should not be taken for granted.

"If this government thinks the CHP cannot withdraw support–and if it acts against the CHP…I am saying today that the CHP reaction will be very strong," senior party member Ali Topuz told a news conference.

The party has said its 49 members of parliament will back Yilmaz at the confidence vote in the coming days but it disagrees with him over the date of early elections.

Yilmaz–a staid conservative–said he would debate a date for possible early polls with the coalition members–in an apparent backtrack from a previous commitment to snap elections.

"Negotiations on an election date will be carried out among the coalition partners," Yilmaz said.

Yilmaz said no date for elections was mentioned in the government protocol. He said earlier this month that any government of his would hold polls in early 1998–some two years before they are due.

Many Turkish secularists fear that Erbakan’s Islam-based Welfare Party would return to power even stronger if elections were held soon–although there are few reliable surveys.

Welfare narrowly won general elections in 1995 with 21 percent of the vote and squeezed past squabbling secularists into office in an unlikely coalition with Tansu Ciller–a pro-Western economist and head of a conservative faction. Yilmaz faces a confidence vote in parliament in around 10 days’ time. He has been boosted by a wave of defections from Ciller’s group and now has around 12 more members of parliament on paper than his opponents in the 550-member national assembly.

He named former prime minister Bulent Ecevit as one of his two deputy prime ministers. Ecevit is a staunch secularist best known abroad as the man who ordered Turkish troops to invade Cyprus in 1974 following a Greek Cypriot coup.

An Ecevit aide–Ismail Cem–was named as foreign minister. The government says it will give priority to bolstering secularist education in line with military deman’s that civilian officials take action against Islamist activism over the long term.

Yilmaz–prime minister briefly twice before–offered nothing new on the festering Kurdish problem.

The coalition protocol–distributed on Monday–says a Kurdish campaign in the southeast of the country is caused not by ethnic sentiment but by poverty and foreign provocation.


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