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Turkish President Approves New PM Erdogan's Cabinet - 2003-03-14


Turkey's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer approved a cabinet presented by new Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan Friday. The action paves the way for a possible second vote on the presence of U.S. troops in Turkey.

Mr. Erdogan is expected to seek a vote of confidence for his new government early next week after presenting its program to the parliament.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with the president, Mr. Erdogan gave no indication as to whether or when he would resubmit the parliamentary bill that was rejected by lawmakers on March 1. That proposal could allow 60,000 U.S. combat troops to use Turkey as a springboard to open a northern front against Iraqi government forces.

The motion was defeated once with the help of some 100 deputies from Mr. Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party. Recent public opinion polls indicate that nine out of 10 Turks are opposed to a war against Iraq.

Party chairman Erdogan was asked to form a new government after winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election Sunday in the southeastern province of Siirt. Mr. Erdogan was barred from becoming prime minister earlier because of legal obstacles stemming from a prior conviction on sedition charges. He was convicted of reading a poem in public that the government said incited religious hatred.

Abdullah Gul, who stood in as premier following the ruling party's sweeping victory in the November 3 parliamentary election, was named foreign minister in the new cabinet that otherwise remained essentially unchanged.

The Bush administration has been hoping that the new government will be able to push through the resolution to base U.S. troops here. But some analysts say if a war starts in the next week or so there will not be time to move the troops and heavy equipment into Turkey, and the U.S. military may go with a different strategy for attacking Iraq from the north, involving lighter units transported by air.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is reported to have called Mr. Erdogan this week to seek the use of 11 air corridors over Turkey for use by the U.S. military.

Turkish officials say the prime minister wants a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq before he would get Turkey involved in supporting such a move.

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