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Former Istanbul Mayor Launches New Islamic Party - 2001-08-14

A popular former mayor of Istanbul has announced the formation of a new Islamic-leaning political party in Turkey. The new Justice and Development Party is expected to mount a serious challenge to its secular political rivals.

A former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, declared that nothing would be quite the same in Turkey with the launch of his new party. With a lightbulb as its emblem, the Justice and Development Party is seeking to become the country's leading party on the right - an ambition that analysts say it may well fulfill.

Turkish opinion polls consistently place Mr. Erdogan ahead of most of his political rivals, many of whom are tainted by allegations of corruption.

Like Mr. Erdogan, many of the party's founding members belonged to the now-banned Islamic Virtue Party. Mr. Erdogan and a group of Virtue lawmakers who see themselves as reformers broke away from the Virtue Party. The remaining members of Virtue last month formed their own party called Felicity.

Mr. Erdogan says his party's aim is - unlike the Felicity Party - to embrace all Turks rather than simply religiously pious ones. As if to prove that point, one of the founding members of the Justice and Development party is a female Turkish singer.

Analysts say a key issue facing the new Islamic party is whether Turkey's powerful armed forces will be prepared to believe that it is not opposed to Turkey's secular order. The military played a central role in bringing down Turkey's first ever Islamist government in 1997, only one year after it came to power.

Mr. Erdogan was stripped of his mayoral title, banned from politics, and served four months in jail in 1999 for reciting a nationalist poem deemed to incite a religious rebellion. Mr. Erdogan says a controversial amnesty law passed last year allows his return to politics. But analysts warn Mr. Erdogan's legal status is not clear.