- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Problems are piling up for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan amid accusations that under Islamic influence, he is pulling Turkey away from Europe — despite its European Union candidacy.

The issues include the prosecution of writers for “insulting the state,” the continuing turmoil in the predominantly Kurdish areas and the widening Islamic ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol.

The watchful military added its voice to the growing imbroglio last week by announcing that a proposal to remove military buildings from the heart of Ankara, the capital, would be tantamount to distancing the army from the nation.

The military said it regarded the suggestion by Resul Tosun, a legislator from Mr. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, “with concern and dismay.”

The Turkish military carried out three temporary political coups between 1960 and 1980, acting as the “ultimate guardian” of Turkey’s secular and republican principles. In 1997, the military toppled Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s first Islamic prime minister in an unequivocal warning to the political class.

For the time being, Mr. Erdogan appears to find it easier to concentrate on foreign policy issues, ignoring domestic opponents exploiting his previous Islamic connection.

On a trip to Australia last week, he delivered a stinging criticism of the U.S. policy in Iraq, asserting that military operations there were merely transforming that country into a terrorist training ground.

Instead, Mr. Erdogan said, the United States should “fight poverty, ignorance and religious intolerance. Militaristic approach is not a solution.”

The European Union has not taken a stand on the control of alcohol sales, which so far has affected administrative regions controlled by Islamic supporters and apparently has begun to spread to Turkey’s scenic coastal tourist resorts.

Apart from the incompatibility of such restrictions with Turkey’s EU aspirations, Turkish economists are warning about the impact of such measures on the lucrative tourist trade.

“This could be a bigger blow to tourism in Turkey than the war in Iraq and Kurdish terrorism,” according to an assessment by the Center for Turkish Studies in Germany.

An estimated 20 million tourists, mostly European, visited Turkey in the first 10 months of this year, and Turkish wines are considered among the best in the eastern Mediterranean region.

Turkish officials said the measure is intended to curb drunkenness and has no political or religious significance.

Although Islam forbids alcohol, until now wine and anise-scented raki were sold freely, except in the immediate vicinity of mosques, on the anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the republic, and on election days.

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