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New Prime Minister Promises to Tackle Turkey's Problems - 2002-11-16

In Turkey, Abdullah Gul, a moderate member of the Islamist-rooted party which won national elections this month, has been installed as Prime Minister and asked to form a new government.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the prime minister-designate said Turkey had problems, but he promised that his government was ready to tackle them immediately.

Mr. Gul, a highly respected economist who served under Turkey's first Islamist-led government in 1996, is well known to the international community. He is a strong advocate of Turkish membership in the European Union.

However, his appointment is regarded as temporary, until Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party that swept to victory in the November 3 elections, can take over as prime minister.

Mr. Erdogan is unable to do so now, because he was convicted of seeking to stir religious hatred in a poem he recited in 1996. That conviction cost him his job as Istanbul's mayor in 1998 and also barred him from running for Parliament.

Under Turkish law, only elected lawmakers are eligible for the post of prime minister. However, the new parliament, which is dominated by the Justice and Development Party, is expected to come up with legislation in the near future that will enable Mr. Erdogan to become prime minister.

Even though he holds no office, Mr. Erdogan remains firmly in control of his party. On Saturday, just as Prime Minster-designate Gul was meeting with the president, Mr. Erdogan outlined his government's program at a news conference.

He pledged to press ahead with reforms aimed at securing Turkey's long-cherished goal of joining the European Union. He promised to crack down on corruption, and to make the government more transparent and accountable to the people. Mr. Erdogan also pledged to largely abide by a radical fiscal recovery program that is being funded by the International Monetary Fund.

Western governments and Turkey's business community have welcomed a single-party government. The Justice and Development Party will be the first to rule Turkey without a coalition since 1987. Since then, a series of shaky coalitions have brought the country to the brink of economic collapse. Economic mismanagement and widespread corruption among government officials and politicians are seen as the main factors contributing to Mr. Erdogan's stunning electoral success.