Turkey faces difficult summer as AKP case goes to court

By Burak Akinci - Agence France-Presse

ANKARA – Turkey faces a politically long, hot summer with its Islamist-rooted governing party on trial before the country s highest court under threat of closure on charges of seeking to undermine secularism.

The trial before the Constitutional Court opens on July 1 with Turkey s chief prosecutor verbally presenting his case to the 11-member tribunal.

Representatives of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan s Justice and Development Party (AKP) will make their defense on July 3, after which the court will set a date for deliberations and the verdict.

In parallel to his request for the AKP to be outlawed, the prosecutor is also seeking five-year bans from party politics on 71 leading AKP members – including Erdogan and Abdullah Gul, the AKP s number two until he was elected president last year.

Analysts believe chances that the party will be closed down have increased since the tribunal threw out a government-sponsored constitutional amendment in early June lifting a ban on the Islamic headscarf in universities.

Hasim Kilic, the judge who heads the Constitutional Court, said Wednesday that he cannot forecast a date for the verdict, but Erdogan has said he expects one before the end of July – such procedures in the past have taken about one year.

AKP leaders say they want the verdict to fall as quickly as possible to put an end to economic jitters in Turkey, fueled in part by the political uncertainty.

Markets have suffered from the situation and observers fear this may hamper efforts at political and economic reform.

The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, has strongly opposed the trial, saying accusations against the government should be debated in parliament and an eventual verdict should come at the polls, not before a tribunal.

But the European Court of Human Rights has in the past given full approval to such procedures, as in the banning of the Islamist Welfare Party (Refah), a predecessor of the AKP.

Erdogan, who says the AKP has abandoned its islamist roots and is simply a “conservative democratic” party, has ordered his members of parliament to remain in the capital until a verdict is reached.

Source & Photo : http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_world_0_23/06/2008_97904

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 | 08:46 WIB 285