Turkish Court Expected to Take up Case against Ruling Party

Turkey's top court is expected to decide this week whether to put the ruling party on trial for anti-secular activity, in a case that threatens the country's stability and European Union aspirations.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives to pray at a mosque on March 28. Turkey's top court is set to decide this week whether to put the ruling party on trial for anti-secular activities.(AFP/Dimitar dilkoff)

The chief prosecutor on March 14 asked the constitutional court to ban the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which hardline secularists suspect of undermining the republic's strict secular order.

Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya also called for 71 party members, among them Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, to be barred from politics for five years.

Last week, a court-appointed rapporteur completed a technical study on the charges, paving the way for the 11-member tribunal to decide whether the indictement is admissible. The court is expected to meet on Monday or Tuesday.

If the court -- which has banned more than 20 parties since the 1960s -- accepts the indictment, then the trial will formally begin. A verdict is expected to take up to six months.

The European Union urged the judges at the weekend to take Turkey's interests into consideration when making their decision, warning that the case could hit Ankara's drive to join the bloc.

"I hope the judges will consider Turkey's long-term interests... to be an important European democracy respecting all democratic principles of the EU," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told a press conference in Slovenia Saturday after a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

"The EU accession negotiation framework says that in case of a serious breach of democratic principles in Turkey, the Commission is obliged to look at what ramifications this could have for negotiations," Rehn said.

"Let's hope that reason will prevail, but we should not underestimate the potential ramifications," he stressed.

The prosecutor charges that the AKP, which emerged from a banned Islamist movement, is turning its religious rhetoric into action, attempting to infiltrate state institutions to establish an "Islamist-inspired" system.

The indictment cites moves such as the abolition of a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities last month and a ban on alcohol in restaurants run by AKP municipalities as evidence of the party's ambitions.

The AKP, which says it had disawoved its roots and fully embraced secularism, has rejected the charges and slammed the case as a blow to democracy.

Analysts fear that Turkey could fall prey to instability whatever the outcome of the case.

If the court bans the party and bars Erdogan, it could spell the end of a political force which won a re-election last year with nearly 47 percent of the vote, a rare feat in Turkish politics.

If the court spares the party, then the AKP might be emboldened to take steps that could further raise tensions with secularist forces, among them the army, the judiciary and academics.

The party announced last week that it is working on a constitutional amendment to make bans on political parties more difficult, drawing criticism that it is seeking to circumvent checks in the system to save itself.

Legal experts are divided on whether such an amendment would help the AKP fight an eventual ban, some saying the constitution forbids parliament from debating or ruling on issues under judicial process.

Source: AFP

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