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Turkish Prime Minister Indicates Willingness to Resign - 2002-07-15


Turkey's embattled Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has said he would consider stepping down, amid mounting pressure for his resignation. In remarks published in the newspaper Milliyet, Turkey's ailing prime minister conceded he would have to step down if his economy minister, Kemal Dervis, quits the government.

Mr. Dervis's presence in the cabinet is seen as crucial because he is supervising a reform program aimed at pulling Turkey out of its worst recession in modern history.

The International Monetary Fund has pledged $16 billion to help with the recovery. And, many Turkish officials say that IMF officials want Mr. Dervis to remain in charge of the program as a condition for disbursing the money.

But Mr. Dervis has signaled his support for a group of rebel lawmakers from Mr. Ecevit's Democratic Left Party, and last week said he was resigning. Mr. Dervis withdrew his resignation after Turkey's president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, urged him to stay on.

The political uncertainty gripping Turkey during the past months has undermined efforts to improve the economy and has stalled democratic reforms that are meant to pave the way for membership talks with the European Union.

More than one-third of lawmakers have defected from the prime minister's party during the past week because of Mr. Ecevit's refusal to hand over power. Critics say the prime minister's ailing health makes him no longer able to govern Turkey.

Former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem is among those who have left the government and is at the forefront of a new group in parliament that is seeking to replace Mr. Ecevit's government.

Mr. Ecevit is also facing dissent from members of his three-way coalition. The ultra-nationalist wing of the coalition is pressing for elections to be held in November, saying the current government is too weak to govern until its term ends in April 2004. A special session of Turkey's parliament is set for September First to vote on whether to hold early elections.

But ultra-nationalist leader Devlet Bahceli reaffirmed some support for the government, saying it should see the country through to early polls.

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