Monday, March 17, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is battling against increasing pressures ranging from the crowded Turkish-immigrant ghettoes in Germany to domestic opponents challenging his secular commitment.

He vowed to oppose a formal demand by the chief prosecutor to outlaw his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), which includes himself and President Abdullah Gul.

Senior party officials held emergency meetings during the weekend in what diplomats described as an atmosphere of growing crisis.

Mr. Erdogan challenged the indictment by Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, the chief prosecutor, who had asked the Constitutional Court to invalidate the AKP mandate stemming from last summer’s elections. The prosecutor’s act was a move against “the national will,” Mr. Erdogan said, reiterating his commitment to secular values despite his Islamic past.

The crisis was further heightened by the disclosure that the prime minister’s party has been under official investigation for violating the principle of secular rule, which separates religion from state.

The problems piling up before the embattled prime minister include a stymied dialogue for Turkey’s membership in the European Union, the apparently unsatisfactory results of a recent offensive against Kurdish rebel bases in Iraq, and cries of alarm from Turkish immigrants in Germany who claim they fear for their safety.

Mr. Erdogan recently visited Germany, where he addressed a crowd of 16,000 resident Turks and urged them to resist assimilation, which is the German government’s objective.

“I have relatives in Germany, and they tell me they are scared,” Mr. Erdogan told the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung daily, referring to a recent fire in which nine Turks were killed.

The German government “must take severe measures” to guarantee the safety of resident Turks, he added.

According to a recent poll, four out of five of Germany’s 2.7 million Turks have lost faith in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s promise of better relations with the Turkish-immigrant population, many of whom feel discriminated against.

Meanwhile in Turkey, the simmering controversy over the lifting of the ban on head scarves at universities is still harming the political climate, foreign diplomats and Turkish analysts say.

Secularists consider allowing the head scarf to be an Islamic political signal. The Constitutional Court is still reviewing an appeal by the main secular opposition party against the validity of removing the head scarf ban by the Erdogan government.

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