- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A delayed handshake between Turkey“s leading soldier and its newly elected president has sealed a temporary truce between the government and a watchful army that suspects its of Islamic roots.

But the feud, which delayed the rise of Abdullah Gul to the post of president for three months, is not about to disappear overnight, analysts say.

The confrontation is now turning from the choice of a president to the draft of a new constitution that would replace a basic law imposed by the military after political purges in the 1980s.

The new constitution is expected to broaden personal freedoms but is also likely to increase tensions between the government and the army and test traditional Turkish taboos.

The military “clearly don’t like having Gul as president, but they cannot do anything about it now,” said William Hale, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Sabanci University.

Turkey’s army chiefs snubbed Mr. Gul on his first full day in office last month by refusing to salute him, and leading generals stayed away from his first formal reception.

The Turkish press described a subsequent meeting between Mr. Gul and Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the general staff, as “strained” and “very formal.” The two men posed for a photograph but issued no statement.

“The army remains watchful,” wrote the mass circulation daily Millyet, reminding its readers that the army, committed to strict observance of Turkey’s republican heritage, played a leading role in opposing Mr. Gul’s candidacy.

He was elected by the parliament on Aug. 28 after a prolonged crisis pitting secular forces against the leadership of the governing Justice and Development Party, which has Islamist roots but is pushing for reforms required by Turkey’s application for European Union membership.

Since his election, Mr. Gul, a former foreign minister who has been Turkey’s leading campaigner for joining the EU, has several times pledged his commitment to secularism and continuing reforms.

As president, he governs with a Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the same moderate Islamist party. Mr. Gul is also commander in chief of the army and can block laws and appointments.

In addition to the constitution, tensions between the government and the military are liable to emerge over Kurdish claims to autonomy, the easing of a law punishing insults to “Turkishness,” and the president’s power to appoint and fire officials.

The question of “Turkishness” or loyalty to the concept of “being Turkish” under Article 301 of the present constitution, has been used to imprison journalists and writers. It is a key obstacle to Turkey’s bid for EU membership.

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