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Islamism gains power in turkey { June 2007 }

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Associated Press
Turkey's Ruling Party Wins Election
By SUZAN FRASER 07.23.07, 10:04 AM ET

ANKARA, Turkey -

Turkey's prime minister pledged to work toward national unity and fight terrorism after his Islamic-rooted ruling party won parliamentary elections by a wide margin.

But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's new government faces a series of challenges, including a presidential election, Kurdish rebel violence and lingering tension over the role of Islam in society.

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party won 46.6 percent of the votes, according to results Monday, and state-run Anatolia news agency projected the party would take 340 of the 550 seats in parliament.

Sunday's election was called early to defuse a political crisis over the ruling party's choice of presidential candidate, which caused tensions with Turkey's military-led, secular elite. Erdogan's wide margin of victory is considered a strong rebuff to their intervention in presidential election process.

Soon after the party's victory, Erdogan, a devout Muslim, pledged to safeguard the country's secular traditions and do whatever the government deemed necessary to fight separatist Kurdish rebels. He also promised to press ahead with economic reforms and efforts to make the Muslim country of 73 million a member of the European Union.

"We will never make concessions over the values of people, the basic principles of our republic. This is our promise. We will embrace Turkey as a whole without discriminating," he said at a rally in the capital, Ankara.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed Erdogan's victory.

"This comes at an important moment for the people of Turkey as the country moves forward with political and economic reforms," Barroso said in a statement.

The EU chief said Erdogan "has given his personal commitment to the sustained movement" toward the EU.

The 27-nation bloc, while divided over whether Turkey should one day join the EU, continues to spur Ankara to continue reforms to keep its membership bid on track.

The stock market rose Monday over expectation of continuity in economic reforms and in Turkey's troubled efforts to join Europe. Under Erdogan, inflation has dropped, foreign investment has increased, and the economy has grown at an annual average of 7 percent.

The military-backed, secular establishment, was concerned that Erdogan and his allies were plotting to scrap Turkey's secular traditions despite their openness to the West.

Erdogan attributed his party's win to public reaction to military interference in his choice of presidential candidate. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was forced to abandon his presidential bid after opponents said Gul's election would remove the last obstacle to an Islamic takeover of government and the military - instigator of past coups - threatened to intervene to safeguard secularism.

"It was a public reflex against what was done to Gul," Erdogan was quoted as telling Milliyet newspaper.

One of Parliament's first jobs will be to elect a president. The post is largely ceremonial, but the incumbent has the power to veto legislative bills and government appointments. It was not clear if Erdogan would again push for Gul's candidacy or nominate a compromise candidate.

A group of the country's top industrialists urged the government to seek a consensus.

The government will have to decide how to deal with violence by Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy. NATO member Turkey is considering whether to stage an offensive into northern Iraq against separatist Kurdish rebels who are based there.

Two secular parties, the Republican People's Party and the Nationalist Action Party, won 112 seats and 71 seats, respectively, Anatolia said.

Politicians backed by a Kurdish party that seeks more rights for the ethnic minority returned to Turkey's Parliament for the first time in more than a decade. The Democratic Society Party, or DTP, won 23 seats in the Parliament, according to CNN-Turk television.

The party's candidates ran as independents to circumvent a 10 percent vote threshold required to win representation in Parliament.

The Nationalist party, which objects to concessions to Kurds, said it would avoid tensions with the Kurdish politicians.

According to projected results, 50 female lawmakers are expected to enter the Parliament, an all-time high of almost 10 percent, the Milliyet newspaper said.

Fourteen parties and 700 independent candidates competed for 42.5 million eligible voters. Voting is compulsory, and Sunday's turnout was more than 84 percent, election officials said.

Associated Press writers Christopher Torchia and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, and C. Onur Ant in Istanbul, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

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