Turkey's Islam-rooted ruling party has nominated Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as its presidential candidate. Amberin Zaman reports for VOA from Istanbul the announcement follows news that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has put aside his own ambition to be president.
Speaking at a news conference, Foreign Minister Gul said if elected he will abide by the secular principles laid down by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Gul was apparently responding to pro-secular critics who say that no member of the ruling Justice and Development Party should replace the incumbent, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, when he steps down in May.
Pro-secularists are backed by the country's powerful military and charge that a Justice and Development Party presidency would steer Turkey away from more than 80 years of pro-Western rule.
Secularists reserve their strongest opposition for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamic cleric by training who used to espouse political Islam. Nearly 500,000 Turks gathered in Ankara last week to protest Mr. Erdogan's presidential ambitions.
Speaking to the Turkish parliament the leader of the main pro-secular opposition, Deniz Baykal, claimed Mr. Erdogan dropped his presidential bid because of popular opposition.
Baykal says his party will boycott the first round of parliamentary voting for Mr. Gul.
But ruling party officials shrug off the challenge by saying they have a firm majority in the parliament.
Western observers welcomed Gul's nomination. As foreign minister he lobbied hard for Turkey's membership in the European Union, while forging closer ties to Muslim nations.
A former employee of the Saudi Arabia-based Islamic Development Bank, Gul is a devout Muslim and is untainted by charges of corruption. He commands strong support within his party.
Some analysts say Gul's only drawback is that his wife wears the Islamic headscarf, which is banned in government offices, schools, and universities.
The analysts predict that Gul's pro-secular opponents will seek to portray his wife's headscarf as a symbol of Muslim radicalism. He called for the public to respect his wife, saying her decision to wear a headscarf is a personal choice. More than half of Turkish women cover their heads.