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Turkey's Top Court to Hear Case to Ban Ruling Party

The Turkish Constitutional Court has announced it will hear the closure case against the ruling AK Party. The case accuses the party of seeking to undermine the secular state and includes a possible political ban of five years for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul on how Turkey is bracing itself for months of political instability.

The Constitutional Court's decision to accept the closure case against the ruling Justice and Development Party, called the AK Party, was given in a short announcement by the deputy chairman of the court, Osman Paksut.

He says the court has decided to examine an indictment prepared by the prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals on closure of the ruling Justice and Development Party. He adds the decision was unanimous.

Turkey's top prosecutor prepared a 162-page indictment accusing the AK Party of systematically undermining the secular state.

The central pillar of the case is the government's changing the constitution to ease a ban on religious headscarves in universities. The decision outraged supporters of the secular state.

Under the same case Prime Minister Erdogan and the President Abdullah Gul along with 69 other leading members of the AK Party are facing a political ban of five years if convicted.

The constitutional court has banned 18 parties since the 1982 constitution.

Political commentator Mehmet Ali Birand says Turkey is now in dangerous waters.

"There is a great risk. It is unbelievable. I could not believe it when I heard, but it is serious. Can they close the party down? When you look at the record of the court it is possible," he said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls the case an attack on democracy. Mr. Erdogan won last year's general election with a landslide victory.

The European Union has condemned the case. EU enlargement commissioner Oli Rehn, warned it could effect Turkey's membership bid. But supporters of the case say the AK's predecessor, the Refah Party, was closed down on similar charges in 1998, a decision upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

Political-columnist Nuray Mert says that ruling strengthen the hands of the prosecutor.

"They are referring quite often to the confirmation of the European court decision confirming the closure of the Refah Party, and they will come up with this argument," said Mert.

The case is expected to last months, threatening to paralyze the government.

The European Union is pressing Ankara to push through political and economic reforms.

Prime Minister Erdogan has indicated he may try to change the constitution to block the case, although opposition parties are opposing such a move. He does have enough votes to put the reform to a national referendum, but observers warn such a vote risks further polarizing the country and deepening the crisis.