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Polls Close in Turkey

Ballot counting has begun in Turkey, where voters are expected to have tossed out ruling parties in favor of an untried group with Islamic roots.

Early results are expected later Sunday, but pre-election surveys indicate around 30 percent of Turkish voters support the new Justice and Development Party. Despite its Islamic origins, the party insists it is a modern, conservative party more interested in social welfare than religion. Turkish voters said they support the new party because it promises to fight poverty, corruption and unemployment.

Outgoing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and Turkey's secular establishment, including the powerful military, accuse the party of harboring a secret Islamist agenda that could threaten the state. Justice and Development leader Recep Tayip Erdogan rejects the Islamist label. However, Mr. Erdogan, the former mayor of Istanbul and one of Turkey's most popular politicians, cannot serve as prime minister or in parliament because he was convicted of inciting religious hatred by reciting a poem deemed inflammatory at a political rally several years ago.

Opinion polls also suggest that the secular, left-of-center Republican People's Party will place second in the vote count and win the 10 percent necessary to remain in the legislature.

The election results are being watched closely by the United States, Turkey's NATO partner and close ally, and the European Union. Washington is counting on Ankara's support in case the U.S. military launches attacks on Iraq. E.U. officials say Turkey must carry out extensive human rights and economic reforms as a condition for E.U. membership.