Yilmaz Resigns Over Graft Probe

ANKARA (Reuters)–Conservative Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz’s minority coalition collapsed in a censure vote over corruption allegations on Wednesday–pitching Turkey into economic and political uncertainty.

Speaker Hikmet Cetin–himself a possible candidate to head a transitional government in the run-up to a general election in April–said 314 deputies had backed a censure motion accusing Yilmaz of corrupt dealing in the sale of a state-owned bank. Yilmaz’s opponents needed 276 votes.

"The nation will soon make its own–real judgment on this government’s service," Yilmaz said after the vote.

The fall of the government was the first involving a censure vote. It was the fifth to collapse in three years and its demise will deal a blow to efforts to reduce annual inflation–now running at a rate of 62 percent–and to cut a huge and costly domestic debt burden through international debt issues.

It could also further delay a key privatization campaign.

Yilmaz–51–formally submitted his resignation hours later at President Suleyman Demirel’s Cankaya palace.

With his Yilmaz’s fall–considerable power passes to Demirel. Having served as premier himself seven times–Demirel–74–has arguably the most refined sense for political power of any Turkish politicians.

"The country will not remain without a government," he said in the hours before the vote. "Everyone should know that."

"I will listen to everyone–all the parties represented in parliament. After these consultations–I will see what the chances are of forming a government."

Demirel–whose role in normal times is largely symbolic–asked Yilmaz to remain in office as caretaker until a new government is formed. Yilmaz said he had agreed.

The president now must name a prime minister-designate to form a new government.

That could prove a long and difficult search in a political culture characterized by deep–long-standing personal rivalries.

Recai Kutan–head of the Islamist Virtue Party–the biggest in parliament–was second leader to consult with Demirel.

Kutan said after the meeting that his Virtue Party was ready to attempt to form a government itself but was "open to dialogue and solutions so as to make his (Demirel’s) work easier."

He also called for no postponement of general elections scheduled for April 1999.

An Islamist-led government was forced from power last year under pressure from the secularist military. Since then–the secularist establishment has pressed a campaign against leading Virtue members and hinted at a possible ban on the party.

Demirel–nonetheless–is known to have a close personal relationship with Kutan.

Speculation in recent days has focused on a possible broad- based secularist coalition to exclude Virtue and lead the country to the April polls. This might include Yilmaz’s Motherland Party–the Truth Path Party of former Premier Tansu Ciller and Deputy Premier Bulent Ecevit’s Democratic Left.

Antipathy between Yilmaz and Ciller could hinder a deal.

Yilmaz said on Tuesday he wanted polls as soon as possible to end uncertainty. He said he would back a "caretaker" government that did not abandon spending targets for electoral gain.

"God willing–I hope we won’t go into a crisis," Economy Minister Gunes Taner–voted out of office minutes before Yilmaz’s defeat in a separate motion–said.

Taner and Yilmaz both deny accusations of wrongdoing in the $600 million sell-off in August of Turk Ticaret Bank.

Any new government–weak as it might be–would inherit a bitter dispute with Italy over the fate of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Turkey is furious over Italy’s failure to extradite Ocalan–arrested two weeks ago in Rome. Washington–which classifies the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) chief as a terrorist organization–is pressing for a diplomatic agreement whereby Ocalan could be put on trial.


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