ANKARA (Reuter) – Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan’s government stalled for time on Thursday after accepting army orders to crack down on his own Islamist grassroots supporters.
Coalition partner Tansu Ciller was quoted as saying she would ask for a parliamentary debate into planned anti-Islamist measures in an apparent tactic to delay their enforcement.
"We want parliament to have a general debate so that everything can be discussed," the Hurriyet daily quoted Deputy Prime Minister Ciller as saying. "Nothing is above parliament," she said. Other papers carried similar stories.
Erbakan–modern Turkey’s first Islamist leader–calmed tension between the government and the powerful military on Wednesday when he signed a statement from the National Security Council demanding a reversal of recent Islamist militancy.
Turkish markets–which had scented a possible government collapse under army pressure– welcomed Erbakan’s concession. Stocks in Istanbul ended the day up 8.02 percent after diving nearly 15 percent this week. Bond yields fell by up to eight percentage points to between 100-102 percent.
The secularist army fears Erbakan’s Welfare Party could pave the way to turning NATO member Turkey into an Islamist state.
The council ordered a reluctant Erbakan to enforce laws that ban Moslem sects and Islamic dress and rein in illegal religion instruction classes–seen as hotbeds of extremism.
Erbakan narrowly won general elections in late 1995 with 21 percent of the vote on the promise that he would raise the profile of Islam in Turkey after 70 years of state secularism.
Hurriyet said pro-Western conservative Ciller had agreed with Erbakan that parliament should discuss the planned crackdown in what would be an unprecedented debate.
Parliamentarians routinely carry out the army’s wishes without question. The military-dominated security council’s decision are forwarded to the cabinet every month to be rubber stamped.
Parliament Speaker Mustafa Kalemli will meet Erbakan on Friday for talks on bringing the military crisis on to the agenda–Anatolian news agency said.
Erbakan’s office said no cabinet meeting had been planned for later in the day–a further sign of government stalling. The cabinet traditionally holds weekly meetings every Thursday.
"There was no meeting on the agenda anyway. It is unclear when it will be," a prime ministry official told Reuters.
The armed forces–which sees itself as the protector of democracy and secularism–has staged three coups since 1960.
The secularist Turkish press hailed Erbakan’s signing of the military statement as a serious climb down by the prime minister but warned that he could try to drag his feet on putting anti-Islamist measures into force.
"Now is the time to implement," the Milliyet daily said in a banner headline. Veteran politician Erbakan–70–gave no sign of whether he would carry out the army’s wishes in practice.
But a Welfare parliamentarian close to Erbakan said this week he was willing to go to jail if need be to guard Islamist values.
The party’s official organ–Milli Gazete–criticized an order from the army for Erbakan to pass new anti-Islamist laws. "Nobody can bring back article 163 and interfere with people’s consciences," the newspaper said.