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Turkey: Cem Moves to Form New Left-Wing Group - 2002-07-12

Turkey's beleaguered prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, faces a fresh political challenge; this time from his former foreign minister, Ismail Cem, who announced plans Friday to form a new left-wing group.

Ismail Cem, who on Thursday became the seventh cabinet minister to quit the Ecevit government, said he had formed a new leftist bloc whose chief aim would be to secure Turkey's membership in the European Union.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr. Cem, said he was acting together with Economy Minister Kemal Dervis and Husammettin Ozkan, the former deputy prime minister from Mr. Ecevit's Democratic Left Party. It was Mr. Ozkan's departure from the government earlier this week that triggered the spate of resignations from the prime minister's party that culminated in Mr. Cem's defection.

Mr. Cem said he had left the government and his party, because neither was in a position any longer to meet the expectations of the Turkish nation. Stressing that his new party, which has not yet been named, would remain faithful to the secular principles laid down by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. Mr. Cem made clear that his party's chief priority would be to push through democratic reforms being sought by the European Union as pre-conditions for launching membership talks with Turkey.

Hours after Mr. Cem announced the formation of his party, Mr. Ecevit appeared on the private NTV news channel and acknowledged that his government might be forced to relinquish power, but he added that he had no immediate plans to step down. The 77-year-old prime minister has been under mounting pressure to quit because of his continuing health problems, which critics say make him unfit to run the country.

The political uncertainty gripping Turkey has undermined efforts to rescue its economy from the worst recession in its modern history and cast doubt over the country's chances of joining the European Union.