ANKARA(Reuter)– Turkey’s secularist military gave evidence on Thursday in support of a court case to close the Islam-based Welfare Party–the biggest party in parliament.
Chief state prosecutor Vural Savas in May opened a case to close the Islamist party on the grounds that it was threatening Turkey’s secular constitution. Legal sources say the case is expected to last about six months.
Necmettin Erbakan–the country’s first Islamist leader–earlier this year alarmed Turkey’s establishment with a series of mainly symbolic challenges to its secular traditions.
The clash between Welfare and the staunchly secular military led to Erbakan’s resignation as prime minister last month.
Minister Ismail Cem said on Thursday solid steps to improve relations with Greece could take place soon and his Greek counterpart Theodoros Pangalos talked of new perspectives in bilateral ties.
The two rivals reached a U.S.-brokered agreement at a NATO summit in Madrid this week which calls for the respect of each other’s rights and renounces the use of force in their longstanding disputes over territorial waters in the Aegean Sea. "There is a serious possibility of concrete developmen’s in the coming days," Cem said in a statement. He did not elaborate.
Pangalos told a news conference in Athens that Greece had worked hard with Washington to put together the text agreed in Madrid.
"Turkey has now withdrawn the threat of violence which made impossible any contact between the two countries and proclaimed that it respects international laws.
"Now we have a positive answer and this opens a new perspective," he said.
Ankara and Athens have long been at odds over the divided island of Cyprus–whose Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders are holding talks this week in New York state.
The two NATO allies also differ on ethnic minorities and territorial rights in the Aegean.
They came close to war last year over an uninhabited islet near the Turkish coast called Imia by Greece and Kardak by Turkey.
Turkey had publicly warned that it would go to war if Greece extended its territorial waters in the Aegean from six to 12 miles–something Athens can do under the Law of the Seas.
Greece–a European Union member–responded by blocking millions of dollars of EU aid to Ankara and said it would not lift its veto unless Turkey withdrew war threats–proclaimed that it respected treaties on existing borders and dropped its claim on Imia/Kardak and a number of other disputed islets.
"Our third condition is still pending," Pangalos said. "Turkey must drop its claim on Imia or take the issue to the International Court at the Hague."
But senior government officials told Reuters that following the Madrid agreement Athens was for the first time considering lifting its veto.
New Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said in a letter to EU leaders this week that his country was committed to seeking full EU membership and that its bid should be treated equally with those from other candidate states.
Yilmaz said signs of equal treatment would support Turkey’s effort to overcome obstacles to membership – commonly seen as a poor human rights record–a troubled economy and disputes with Greece.
Frequent rows with Greece have prevented Turkey from fulfilling its decades-old ambitions to get closer to the European Union.