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Turkey's Coalition Government Debilitated By Foreign Minister's Resignation - 2002-07-11

Turkey's foreign minister has announced his resignation, joining six other ministers who have left the government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit since Monday.

The resignation of Turkey's popular foreign minister, Ismail Cem, is widely seen as the harshest blow yet to Mr. Ecevit's crumbling coalition government.

The country's economy minister, Kemal Dervis, also said he was resigning. But, a few hours later, Mr. Darvis abruptly withdrew his resignation. Observers said it is not clear if Mr. Dervis' change of heart will be enough to save the government.

Six other cabinet ministers and more than 30 lawmakers from Prime Minister Ecevit's Democratic Left group have quit this week over the ailing prime minister's refusal to step down and name a successor.

The developments have thrust Turkey into a political crisis that is threatening to unravel a crucial economic recovery program being financed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The stalemate also has stalled democratic reforms being sought by the European Union as a condition for beginning membership talks with Turkey.

And the political crisis is being watched with increasing concern by European governments and the United States. Turkey is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's only predominantly Muslim member and Israel's closest regional ally.

Many commentators say early elections are almost certain if the government should fall.

But others say the resigning foreign minister, Ismail Cem, might try to form a new government, backed by rebel deputies from Mr. Ecevit's party. Many western diplomats have said a new government led by Mr. Cem, who is widely respected and firmly committed to Turkey's membership in the European Union, would help stabilize the country.

But analysts said it is not clear if a grouping led by Mr. Cem could gain the necessary support in parliament to form a new government.