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Turkish Elections Scheduled for November 3 - 2002-07-16

Turkey's beleaguered three-party coalition government has agreed to hold early elections on November 3. In a statement, leaders of the three parties governing Turkey said they had agreed on November 3 as the date for elections that were scheduled originally to take place in April 2004.

The announcement follows weeks of political turmoil triggered by mass defections from the Democratic Left Party of ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

A majority of lawmakers in the Turkish parliament will need to support the call for early elections. Parliament is set to meet September 1 to vote on the proposal.

Mr. Ecevit's three-party coalition edged a step closer to collapse Tuesday as six more lawmakers announced their resignations.

Opposition leaders say the government has lost all legitimacy now that it no longer has a majority in the 550-member parliament. Prime Minister Ecevit had suggested earlier that he would step down if his government lost its majority in the parliament.

After recent signs of recovery from a crippling recession, Turkey's economy has taken a turn for the worse amid the mounting political crisis.

The political turmoil has stalled sweeping economic reforms supported by the International Monetary Fund. It also has delayed democratic reforms demanded by the European Union before it will begin talks on Turkey's possible EU membership. The question now is if the early elections can produce a lasting government

Opinion polls consistently show Istanbul's former Islamist Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the likely winner of any election. Turkey's influential armed forces are strongly opposed to the Islamists' gaining power, saying they would undermine Turkey's pro-secular policies.

Analysts say Mr. Erdogan and his Ak party now face a serious challenge from Turkey's former foreign minister, Ismail Cem. Mr. Cem quit the government last week to set up his own party, which he said would work to secure Turkey's membership in the European Union.