Turkey's constitutional court has begun hearing a case calling for the ruling Justice and Development Party to be shut down on the charge of undermining the secular state. The prosecutors are asking the court to disband the party and ban the prime minister and president from politics. As Dorian Jones reports for VOA from Istanbul, just as the case got started, Turkish authorities arrested more than 20 hardline nationalists, including two retired generals.
In a 90-minute argument before the constitutional court, Turkey's chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya called for the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as the AK, to be closed down. Yalcinkaya accused the party of seeking to replace Turkey's secular state with Sharia rule.
The prosecutor is also calling for banning 71 leading and former members of the party from politics, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.
Ayse Bohurler is one of those facing a political ban. She says the case against her is absurd.
She says she is facing a ban because she believes teachers and judges should be able to wear a headscarf. She says banning her will not make much of a difference because she cannot be a member of parliament anyway.
Turkey, since its creation in 1923, has been a strictly secular state. The wearing of religious dress in universities, schools and courts has been banned by the constitution.
But the AK Party is has tried to change the constitution to lift the religious dress ban in universities, but its reforms have been struck by the constitutional court. But easing the ban is a central part of the prosecutors case against the party and its leaders.
Lawyers for the AK Party argue the charges against it, which run to 162 pages, are baseless and filled with inaccuracies.
While a majority of Turks are deeply suspicious of the AK Party's Islamic roots, most - 51 percent in the latest poll - oppose its closure and only 34 percent support a ban on the AT Party.
Political columnist Nuray Mert says the case is creating deep divisions in the Turkish society. "This tension will go on and on; I cannot see any solution at the moment, neither the government takes a step back nor the opposition. They are not inclined to take a step, so I cannot see any future of compromise."
Only hours before the case opened, Turkish authorities arrested more than 20 high-profile government critics, including two retired generals and a leading journalist. The arrests are part of an investigation into an alleged attempt to overthrow the government.
The government is scheduled to present its case to the constitutional court on Thursday.