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Turkish Coalition Faction Pressing for Early Election

The ultra-nationalist wing of Turkey's shaky coalition government is keeping up pressure for early general elections. The call for elections follows major defections from Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left Party.

A spokesman for the Nationalist Action Party said his group is gathering signatures in Turkey's parliament to force a special session on September 1 to vote on a proposal for an early general election. The party needs the signatures of at least 110 members in order for parliament to hold the meeting.

The Nationalists became the single largest party in Turkey's parliament with 127 seats after the resignations this week of five cabinet ministers and at least 20 lawmakers from Prime Minister Ecevit's Democratic Left Party.

The exodus was triggered by the resignation Monday of Husammettin Ozkan, a close Ecevit aide and a deputy prime minister. The prime minister asked Mr. Ozkan to leave the government because of his support for calls that Mr. Ecevit step down because of his ailing health.

Mr. Ecevit has been resisting the demands, but he admitted in a newspaper interview published Wednesday that general elections may have to be held before April 2004 when they are scheduled.

Some officials have voiced concern that the political crisis could derail an economic recovery program being backed by the International Monetary Fund to bring Turkey out of its worst recession since 1945.

Analysts say the political deadlock also is likely to further delay reforms being sought by the European Union as a condition for talks about EU membership for Turkey.

Some commentators say early general elections might not help stabilize the political situation but could make things worse.

Recent opinion polls indicate that Istanbul's former Islamist Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK (White) party would get the largest percentage of the national vote.

In recent years, Mr. Erdogan has sought to portray himself as a moderate who does not believe in mixing religion with politics. But, Turkey's influential and determinedly pro-secular military continues to distrust him and his Islamic-oriented group. Analysts say they could therefore seek to block Mr. Erdogan from office.

Some observers say Turkey's pro-secular establishment is hoping for a new government from within the present parliament. They say such a government would be led by Ismail Cem, the pro-western foreign minister from Mr. Ecevit's leftist group, and also would likely include Economy Minister Kemal Dervis. Mr. Dervis, is widely credited with pushing through reforms that have helped rationalize Turkey's debt-laden banking system.