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Turks Bury Veteran Prime Minister Amid Secularist Chants


The funeral of former Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit Saturday turned into a protest when thousands of mourners vowed to defend the country's secular regime against radical Islamic influences.

Crowds thronged the procession, chanting Turkey is and will remain secular. They jeered Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as he arrived at the state funeral in Ankara. His party's roots are in political Islam.

The anti-government protests during Mr. Ecevit's funeral have highlighted growing concerns about the rising profile of Islam in the predominantly Muslim, but officially secular nation.

Since taking power in 2003, Mr. Erdogan has increased those concerns by speaking out against restrictions on women wearing Islamic-style headscarves in government offices and by supporting religious schools.

Many secularists are concerned that he may run for president when staunchly secular President Ahmet Necdet Sezer retires next year.

Mr. Ecevit served five times as Turkey's prime minister. He is best known for ordering the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. That led to the division of the Mediterranean island but made him a hero at home.

He won European Union candidacy for Turkey in 1999, paving the way for the start of accession talks in 2005.

Mr. Ecevit died of circulatory and respiratory failure last Sunday, after nearly six months in a coma following a stroke.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.