- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Turkey's new party

A new Turkish political party that is Islamic-oriented, pro-Western and led by a man banned from politics is expected to win strong voter support in next week's national elections and could form the next government.

The Justice and Development Party, AKP by its Turkish initials, even expresses sympathy for the U.S. goal of replacing Iraq's Saddam Hussein, according to the Western Policy Center.

The AKP is benefiting from a "deep sense of despair over the country's economic mismanagement and growing anger toward mainstream parties," the center's adjunct fellow Asla Aydintasbas writes in a new analysis of the political scene in Turkey.

The party is led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the 48-year-old former mayor of Istanbul who was banned from holding political office after he was jailed briefly in 1998 for "inciting religious hatred" because of remarks he made in a speech.

"His services while at the helm of Turkey's largest city, with 12 million inhabitants, brought the approval of large sections of Istanbul's residents, although often winning the scorn of Turkey's political elite and media," Ms. Aydintasbas wrote.

She described the party as a broad coalition of conservatives and Islamist moderates determined to prove that Islam and democracy can coexist. The party attracts younger followers who endorse free-market economics, human rights and Turkish nationalism.

"This contrasts with the more traditionalist Islamist world view of serving the ummah, the global Muslim nation," Ms. Aydintasbas said.

Concerning Iraq, Mr. Erdogan has rejected the positions of other Turkish leaders. He has said he could support an operation "aimed at liberating the Iraqi people."

"A strong showing by the AKP may mean a stable majority government and an end to the tiresome decade of power-sharing and political fragmentation in Turkish politics," Ms. Aydintasbas said.

Afghan aid halts

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Robert Finn, yesterday said he has halted reconstruction programs in northern Afghanistan because he can no longer guarantee the safety of American aid workers there.

The area around the city of Mazar-e-Sharif is the scene of frequent clashes between forces loyal to rival warlords Abdul Rashid Dostan and Atta Mohammed.

Mr. Finn told Agence France-Presse: "We will not be able to institute any more programs of assistance in the area because of the continuing inability of leaders in that area to provide a security situation that we felt we could say to U.S. citizens, 'Yes, you can go and work there.'"

Appeal to Moscow

A former leader of the Russian parliament has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to open peace talks with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov.

"The time has come when personally President Putin and President Maskhadov should sit down at the negotiating table," Ivan Rybkin told a forum sponsored by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

He said the conflict is a separatist war, not terrorism, although some Islamic militants are supporting the guerrilla forces in the predominantly Muslim region of the Russian Federation.

"Any politician who has a drop of conscience left understands that what we're dealing with in Chechnya is pure separatism," Mr. Rybkin said. "Of course these separatists have many fellow travelers gangsters, all kinds of con artists, and terrorists, even al Qaeda people. But separatists should be addressed at the political level."

Mr. Rybkin, who helped negotiate a 1997 cease-fire, said a settlement should include a "cessation of hostilities, amnesty for participants in hostilities on both sides," including those suspected of war crimes, and the "widest possible autonomy while it remains part of the Russian Federation."

He also said that Mr. Maskhadov's special envoy Ahmed Zakayev told him that the Chechen government "would welcome direct president rule by President Putin" for an interim period.

Mr. Rybkin also questioned the official figures of Russian casualties in the war, which is estimated at 4,000 dead. He said the figure is probably closer to the 14,000 deaths claimed by the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers.

Russian military commanders, including the chief of staff and defense minister, are "sick and tired of this war," he said.

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