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Turkey's Top Islamist Politician Barred from Parliamentary Seat - 2002-04-19

Turkey's constitutional court has barred the country's top Islamist politician, Tayyip Erdogan from holding a parliamentary seat. The move is a sharp blow to his hopes of becoming Turkey's next prime minister. The ruling is the latest in a series of legal obstacles that stand in the way of Mr. Erdogan's political career. In January the constitutional court ruled that Mr. Erdogan's conviction barred him from running for parliament and becoming a founding member of his Justice and Development party. Publication of that ruling in Friday's official Gazette made the decision final and effective under Turkish law.

Mr. Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, was stripped of his mayoral seat and banned from politics for life in 1999 over a speech he made in the largely Kurdish province of Siirt on charges of inciting religious hatred. The 48-year-old Islamist politician spent four months in jail and has since been seeking to move closer to the political establishment saying he does not believe in mixing religion with politics.

Mr. Erdogan's newly founded Justice and Development Party, formed by moderate members of another Islamic party, Virtue, that was banned last year on charges of seeking to establish religious rule, consistently tops opinion polls. Mr. Erdogan has long argued that his criminal record was cleared under an amnesty law that was passed in 1999.

But Turkey's pro-secular military rulers and judiciary remain unswayed by Mr. Erdogan's recent efforts to portray himself as what he calls a conservative democrat.

Turkey's generals remain at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to snuff out Turkey's beleaguered Islamist movement, saying religious radicalism remains the main threat to Turkey's officially secular and determinedly pro-western democracy.

According to Turkish law only members of parliament are eligible to become prime minister. Under Friday's ruling Mr. Erdogan is also required to step down as chairman of his party and resign from its board of founding members. Under Turkish law he is required to do so within a maximum of six months.