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Turkish ruling party secure
ISTANBUL | Turkey’s highest court on Wednesday narrowly rejected an indictment to outlaw the nation’s ruling party for Islamist activities - ending months of turmoil that had paralyzed the NATO ally, frightened foreign investors and stalled the nation’s bid to join the European Union.
The case reflected a split between pious Muslims with a Western-oriented reform agenda, who control parliament, and strict secularists who control the military and judiciary.
The court decision is likely to have repercussions in many nations throughout the Muslim world, where Islamic groups are vying for greater political participation.
“Had the party been banned, it would have had a devastating impact on other such groups in the region,” said Henri Barkey, a Turkey specialist and professor of international relations at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
After 30 hours of debate, six judges voted in favor of banning the Justice and Development Party (AKP), one shy of seven votes needed in the 11-member Constitutional Court.
The court also rejected prosecutors’ demands to oust Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul from office and impose on both a five-year ban from political activity.
The court instead agreed to fine the AKP, with all but one judge voting to remove half the party’s state funding, or about $15 million annually.
“There’s only one word to describe my reaction to the decision,” said Koksal Toptan, AKP’s speaker in parliament: “Phew.”
Edibe Sozen, a senior member of the government, which has its roots in political Islam, said she was “delighted.”
“Turkey’s democracy will be strengthened by this decision, I have no doubt about that,” she said as she walked toward AKP’s Ankara-based headquarters to celebrate with her colleagues.
The closure case was sparked by AKP’s efforts in February to end a ban on head scarves in universities, which shocked the military and judiciary in the predominantly Muslim nation with a staunchly secularist constitution.
Since a senior prosecutor brought the indictment in mid-March, politics here have been paralyzed, the country’s bid for EU membership has stalled and tensions between pious and secular-minded Turks have pushed to a boiling point.
“Turkey desperately needed an immediate lowering of pressure,” Minister of Culture Ertugrul Gunay told the private television CNN-Turk. “I think this decision will help with that.”
Since it was set up in 1963, the 11-judge Constitutional Court has outlawed 24 parties. Members of two of those parties form the bulk of the AKP, which retains an Islamic orientation but is credited with reforms that have helped attract foreign investment and expand the economy.
The court is packed with judges appointed by a fiercely secularist former president, and many Turks expected it to outlaw the party.
By Brahma Chellaney
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