30 April 2007Gul Braves Turkish Army, Secularists
ANKARA ÔÇö Braving threats of intervention by the powerful military establishment and massive street protests, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul insisted Sunday, April, that he remains the ruling Justice and Development Party's sole candidate for the presidency.
"The process has begun and will continue ... There can be no question of my candidacy being withdrawn," Gul was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters in the capital Ankara.
Nominated by the AKP, Gul narrowly missed being elected in the first round of parliamentary vote on Friday, April 27, after the opposition boycotted the session.
The Republican People's Party, the main secularist opposition party, has asked the Constitutional Court to invalidate the vote and a ruling is expected by Wednesday.
If the strongly secularist court upholds the appeal, snap polls would be called and outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer would remain in office until a new parliament could choose a successor.
If the court backs the government, the presidential election process would continue.
"We all need to await the decision of the Constitutional Court," Gul said. "The court will undoubtedly make the best evaluation and reach the right decision."
Gul will be elected in a third round of voting on May 9 as an absolute majority of 276 votes would suffice, compared to the two-thirds majority of 367 required for the first two rounds.
The ruling AKP, with strong economic growth, booming foreign investment and the launch of EU membership talks since sweeping to power in 2002, is expected to win general elections due by November.
Waving red and white Turkish flags and anti-government placards, hundreds of thousands of secularists took to the streets of Istanbul, Turkey's largest city.
They denounced Erdogan and Gul as a threat to Turkey's secularism and praised the army.
"Turkey is secular and will remain secular," they chanted in the second mass rally against the AKP Party in two weeks.
"We want neither Shari`ah, nor a coup, but a fully democratic Turkey."
The military establishment, which carried out three coups since 1960, has warned it would intervene to safeguard the cherished secular order when necessary.
The government, the EU, human rights groups and even opposition parties have told the army not to meddle.
Secularists claim the AKP will show its "Islamist" face once it has the presidency, the last major state institution outside its control, and boost the role of religion in Turkish life.
"Turkey is under threat from the AKP Party leadership... We will not be able to express our thoughts like this if they stay in power," said protester Cigdem Yilmaz, 1 22-year-old student.
The Istanbul rally, supported by some 600 NGOs, mirrored a similar one in Ankara two weeks ago against a AKP candidate for the presidency.
In Turkey, the government holds most power but the president can veto laws, veto appointments of officials and appoint judges.
30 April 2007