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Turkey's Top Court Rejects Ban on Ruling Party

Turkey's constitutional court Wednesday ruled against banning the governing Justice and Development Party, or AK party, and instead opted to fine it after finding it guilty of undermining the secular state. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul the ruling is seen as a last warning to the party.

The head of Turkey's constitutional court, Judge Hasim Kilic, said the justices decided to cut half of the treasury funds to which the AK party was entitled. He said six judges voted in favor of closure and four supported fining the party.

Under Turkey's constitution, seven of the court's 11 judges are required to agree on a motion to close a politcal party .

The verdict came after three days of deliberations on whether the party had been seeking to steer Turkey toward Islamic rule.

The court's ruling also ended the threat of expulsion for 71 senior members of the ruling party, including prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and president Abdullah Gul.

Despite being found guilty by the court of undermining the secular state, Erdogan saw the verdict as a victory. He said the ruling saved not only the AK party but Turkey itself. He said his party will continue its road to a democratic and secular Turkey.

The verdict is also seen as a relief to the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join. EU officials welcomed the decision, describing it as a positive step for democracy. But that euphoria may be tempered by the warning Kilic made while explaining his verdict.

He said he hopes the party will evaluate this outcome very carefuly and get the message it should get. He said even though the party was not closed, the ruling is a very serious warning.

Kilic's warning carries even more weight because he was one of the judges who opposed the closure of the party. He also said the state prosecutor was free to file a new closure case in the future, saying the court would consider it.

The leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal said the crisis over the AK party continues.

He said the verdict has put the government back in control of its own fate.