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Erdogan Confirmed as Turkey's Prime Minister - 2003-03-23

The leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, Tayyip Erdogan, has been officially confirmed as prime minister, after the parliament dominated by his party gave his new government a firm vote of confidence.

Mr. Erdogan was supported by 350 lawmakers, with 162 voting no.

Mr. Erdogan, took over from his deputy, Abdullah Gul, who has served as prime minister since late November. Mr. Erdogan won a parliamentary seat in a by-election on March 9.

He had been earlier barred from running for parliament and therefore becoming prime minister because of a prior conviction of sedition charges stemming from a poem he recited in 1997 that was deemed to incite a religious hatred.

Mr. Erdogan faces many challenges in his new job, chief among them the U.S.-led war against neighboring Iraq. Mr. Erdogan and his party have been widely criticized for its management of the Iraq crisis. Turkey's relations with its long-time ally, the United States, have come under mounting strain over Turkish footdragging in the face of U.S. requests for cooperation in the war against Iraq.

The chill in relations grew after March 1, when Turkey's parliament narrowly voted down a bill that would have enabled U.S. combat forces to attack Iraq from Turkish territory.

On Friday the Bush adminstration's frustration grew after the Turkish government refused to open Turkish airspace to coalition aircraft, even after the country's parliament voted to do so. Later, Turkey backed down on demands that the United States approve the deployment of thousands of Turkish troops in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

The United States is firmly opposed to any massive Turkish intervention, as are the Iraqi Kurds, who fear Turkey's military presence would invite intervention from neighboring Iran.

But former Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, who is now foreign minister, said Turkey will send troops into the enclave, but he denied widespread media reports that some 1,500 Turkish troops are already there.