ANKARA (AFP)–Turkey’s prime minister hit back Saturday at moves by a chief prosecutor to have his ruling AKP party banned, while an EU official warned against "meddling" by the courts in the country’s politics.
"The action taken yesterday is not aimed at the Justice and Development Party (AKP) but the will of the nation," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a party meeting in the southeastern town of Siirt, broadcast on television.
Erdogan was responding publicly for the first time to the formal decision of Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, chief prosecutor of the court of appeals, to ask the Constitutional Court to ban the AKP on the ground that it opposed the country’s secular system.
Erdogan, noting that 16.5 million people had voted for the AKP in elections in July, added, "No one can say that these people are a focal point of anti-secular activities."
Attacking Yalcinkaya, he warned that "those responsible for such shame and injustice will suffer the consequences of this irresponsible recourse."
Erdogan said the AKP, which emerged in 2001 from a banned Islamist party, was fighting for democracy, and stressed its economic achievemen’s since 2002.
The prosecutor called for the AKP to be barred and 71 people, including Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, to be banned from political activity, said Hasim Kilic, the president of the Constitutional Court, on Friday.
The court is to meet Monday to decide whether to accept the complaint, which charges that the AKP has become a focal point for attempts to overturn the strictly secular ethos that underlies Turkey’s constitution.
The Turkish prosecutor’s action brought a warning from EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn as Turkey seeks to implement reforms in its quest to join the European Union.
"In a normal European democracy, political issues are debated in the parliament and decided through the ballot box, not in the court rooms," Rehn told reporters in Brussels.
"The executive shouldn’t meddle into the court’s work, while the legal system shouldn’t meddle into democratic politics," he said.
Turkey’s Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin expressed his "consternation" at the move on Saturday, but said that the AKP and Turkish democracy would emerge strengthened.
"We should not make Turkey the graveyard of political parties," the Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.
The constitutional court has in the past banned every party accused of anti-secular activities, among them the Welfare Party of Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, who used to be Erdogan’s mentor.
Another leading AKP member, parliament speaker Koksal Toptan, said that "no one can move Turkey backwards" and that the party respected the principles laid down by the founder of the secular Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Television reports said that prosecutor Yalcinkaya, who had been drawing up his indictment for several months, had accused the AKP of trying to infiltrate all the institutions of the State to establish an "Islamist-inspired" system.
The prosecutor’s move is the latest round in the AKP’s bitter battle with Turkey’s secular forces–among them the army, the judiciary and academia–which has raged since the party came to power in 2002.
Secularists accuse the party of having a secret plan to introduce religious rule in the mainly Muslim country. The AKP rejects the charges and says it is fully committed to secularism.
Secularist pressure mounted last year when the AKP promoted Gul as president forcing Erdogan to call a snap election, which in the end handed the AKP a solid victory with 47 percent of the vote and a second term in power.
Tensions flared again last month when the AKP pushed through parliament a controversial reform to allow women to wear the Islamic headscarf–viewed by many as a sign of defiance against secularism–in universities.
Media reports said the headscarf change and failed AKP attempts to limit the sale of alcohol were presented as evidence by Yalcinkaya.
Many analysts here see the row as reflecting a transition of power from a secular urban elite to the more conservative middle-class circles in rural areas, which the AKP largely represents.