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Another Top Official Calls on Turkish PM to Quit - 2002-07-09

In Turkey, another top official has added his name to the list of those who want the country's ailing prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, to step down. Mesut Yilmaz, the deputy prime minister from the center-right Motherland Party wing of Mr. Ecevit's three-party coalition, joined calls Tuesday for the prime minister to resign.

Mr. Yilmaz also called for early elections to clear the atmosphere of uncertainty that he says has paralyzed the Turkey. Since Monday, five ministers have left the Ecevit government, and 25 legislators have resigned from his Democratic Left Party.

Monday's exodus began with the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Husamettin Ozkan. Until recently, Mr. Ozkan was one of Mr. Ecevit's closest aides, but he was asked by the prime minister to quit because he was believed to be siding with those who want Mr. Ecevit to step down.

The 77-year-old prime minister has stayed away from office for the past two months because of a variety of ailments, including a neurological disorder and blood clots in his leg.

The prime minister's absence has stalled wide-ranging reforms being demanded by the European Union as a condition for launching membership talks with Turkey. The political turmoil has also cast doubt over the future of Turkey's multi-billion dollar economic recovery program that is being supported by the International Monetary Fund.

But Mr. Ecevit continues to insist that he must remain in power until April 2004, when parliamentary elections are next due to be held.

Analysts say the spate of defections from his party do not appear to have diminished the prime minister's appetite for power. On Tuesday, he replaced the four cabinet ministers who resigned and appointed another deputy prime minister to succeed Mr. Ozkan.

Analysts say such moves are unlikely to prevent an early general election from taking place. Both Devlet Bahceli, the deputy prime minister who leads the ultra-nationalist wing of the government, and Tansu Ciller, leader of the main opposition True Path Party, have also called for early polls.

Opinion polls indicate that Istanbul's former Islamist mayor and the leader of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would win the greatest share of votes. Turkey's highly influential armed forces are strongly opposed to the Islamist group, saying it poses a threat to Turkey's pro-secular direction.