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Battle Between Pro-Secular and Islamic Government Continues in Turkey


In Turkey the deep divisions between supporters of the secular state and the Islamic-rooted government have reopened again following the death of a well-known secular campaigner. The Tuesday funeral of Turkan Saylan, the founder of a pro-secular association committed to sending girls to school, turned into a rally against the government and in support of the secular state. Turkan Saylan, shortly before her death, became the target of an ongoing probe into an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Saylan personified Turkish secular state

"Turkey will always be secular," tens of thousands of people chanted as they followed the coffin of professor Turkan Saylan who died of breast cancer on Monday. The 74-year-old human rights activist in many ways personified the Turkish secular state.

Born in Istanbul, in the early years of the Turkish republic, she rose to become a world authority in leprosy and was in the forefront of eradicating the disease in Turkey. But it was her non-stop campaigning for the education of girls, many of them from very poor families, through her Contemporary Life Association, which secured her place in the hearts of thousands of people in Turkey.

"She touched some people lives, she made it so much more beautiful, she gave some many opportunities to children, to students with economic difficulties. She gave them a chance to choose," said a woman. "This is why I am here, this why so many tens of thousands of people are here, because we want to show Saylan we appreciated her, we love her and despite all the work she has done she was treated as a guilty person by the state, and we do not approve of that."

Police searched Saylan's home, association offices

Only weeks before her death, Saylan's home and offices of her association across the country were searched by police. Several leading members of the society were detained. Police also seized computers and records of her group.

Saylan's associates said the seizures and arrests paralyzed their work in providing financial support to 70,000 girls attending school.

The police raids were part of an ongoing investigation of an alleged conspiracy movement against the Islamic-rooted government. But with many of the 200 people detained being critics of the government including journalists and academics, public criticism of the authorities has been growing.

The pro-secular campaigners charged that the probe is an attempt by the government to silence the opposition force.

During Saylan funeral Tuesday, thousands chanted "we will not be silenced." Many of the country's most well know public figures attended the funeral. Writer Pinar Kur was one of them.

"She has nothing to do with the military coup that was supposed to be being prepared. She is very anti-militarist person," said Kur. "The house was searched, the whole organization was searched because what they do most: they send girls to school. And the religious persuasion of the government would rather keep women at home."

Government denies accusations of religious motives

Such accusations are strongly denied by the government. But newspaper columnist and political scientist Nuray Mert says the search of Saylan's home has caused great unease among many secular people in the country.

"More and more [of] these people, they feel as a member of a minority in Turkey. And anything can happen, this is the feeling of minorities," she said. "You know any thing may happen anytime to them. Now secular people have started to think and perceive like this, that anything may happen to them that they may even end up in a jail one day. This is perception, whether it is true or not."

Even within the government, concerns were raised by some ministers about the targeting of Saylan, especially during the final days of her life. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to defend the action, pointing to the recent discovery of arms caches claimed to be part of the conspiracy.

As the investigation of Saylan's organization continues, the ongoing struggle between those wanting a secular government and the islamic government, took another turn.

Abdullah Gul could faces prosecution for embezzling state funds

An Ankara court on Monday ruled that the Turkish president Abdullah Gul should face prosecution for embezzling millions of dollars in state funds. The case dates back to the 1990s when Mr. Gul was a senior member of the Islamist Welfare party which was closed by the constitutional court.

Mr. Gul condemned the ruling, saying a president can only be prosecuted for treason. That stance was supported by Koksal Toptan, speaker of the parliament.

He said in his opinion, the president has the same immunity as the members of parliament, so it is not possible for President Gul to be tried as long as he is president. But, he said, the court has made a decision and the legal process can continue so it can go up the Court Appeals.

Legal experts remain divided over the issue. However many political observers in Turkey say it is unlikely the president will end up in court.

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