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Turkey's Ruling Coalition in Trouble Following Resignations - 2002-07-08

Turkey's fragile coalition government is coming under further pressure after several resignations from the Democratic Left party of ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. The resignations cast doubt on the government's ability to survive.

At least three cabinet ministers from Prime Minister Ecevit's Democratic Left party announced their resignations. Their decision to step down came after Husammettin Ozkan, a deputy prime minister who until recently was counted among Mr. Ecevit's closest aides, said he was leaving the government.

Mr. Ozkan is widely credited with bridging differences within Turkey's fractious coalition of left and right wing parties. Reports say he resigned over differences with the prime minister and his influential wife, Rahsan Ecevit.

Mr. Ozkan is thought to have been backing a growing number of politicians, businessmen, and commentators who are calling for Mr. Ecevit's resignation. The 77-year-old prime minister has been in and out of the hospital for the past two months with complaints ranging from an intestinal disorder to blood clots in his leg.

The prime minister's illnesses and his weakening grip over government have all but stopped action on key democratic reforms being sought by the European Union as a condition for starting membership talks with Turkey. An economic recovery program backed by about $16 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund also has been stalled.

Mr. Ecevit has insisted that he remain in power until April 2004, when parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held. Analysts say that Monday's resignations make it unlikely that Mr. Ecevit can remain in power. Many say that early general elections now seem inevitable.

Opinion polls show that Istanbul's former Islamist mayor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his Ak (White) Party would most likely receive the greatest number of votes. The polls indicate that none of the parties in the ruling coalition would receive even the minimum 10 percent of the national vote needed to get seats in the parliament.

Turkey's fiercely pro-secular and influential armed forces are strongly opposed to the pro-Islamic group, saying it is a threat to Turkey's pro-western and secular policies.