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Turkey's Chief Prosecutor Urging Ban of Political Party with Islamic Roots - 2002-10-23

Turkey's chief prosecutor has asked the country's constitutional court to ban the conservative Justice and Development Party, which is expected to win parliamentary elections on November 3. The party's status has been controversial because of its Islamic roots.

Chief prosecutor, Sabih Kanadoglu, says the Justice and Development Party should be banned because it failed to fully comply with an earlier ruling by the constitutional court.

The court ordered the party chairman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to withdraw from the party's founding board because he was convicted of seeking to incite religious hatred through a poem recited at a political rally. Mr. Erdogan withdrew from the founding board, but remained as party chairman and continued to campaign for its candidates.

Earlier, he was barred from running himself because of the same conviction.

Analysts say it remains unclear what impact if any the new legal challenges facing the party will have on the elections. Opinion polls continue to indicate that the Justice and Development Party is well ahead of its chief rival, the pro-secular Republican People's Party. Some polls even show that the Justice and Development Party could capture enough votes to come to power on its own, without needing any coalition partners.

Although the party officially advocates a pro-secular line, many of its members, including Mr. Erdgoan, began their political careers as members of two Islamic parties that were banned over the past four years on charges of seeking to introduce Islamic law.

Mr. Erdogan vigorously denies charges that his party has an Islamist agenda. He says he does not and never has believed in mixing religion with politics. But Turkey's pro-secular establishment including its firmly pro-secular army remain unconvinced by Mr. Erdogan's denials.

The army has brought down three Turkish governments in the past four decades when generals were not happy with the direction in which politicians were taking the country.