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Ecevit's Coalition Erodes Further as Another Deputy Threatens to Resign - 2002-07-22

In Turkey, there is more trouble for the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. A leading politician in Turkey's ruling coalition announced Monday that his party will quit the government if early elections are delayed beyond November third.

The leader of the far-right Nationalist Action Party, Devlet Bahceli, warned Monday that his group would withdraw from the ruling coalition if early elections are not held on November 3. Mr. Bahceli's comments came after Turkey's ailing prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, voiced his opposition to early elections, saying they should not take place before next spring. Mr. Ecevit, who is under mounting pressure to step down because of his poor health, had earlier agreed to the November 3 date proposed by Mr. Bahceli.

Meanwhile, the Turkish parliament failed on Monday to set a date for early elections when not enough lawmakers showed up at a special session of parliament called by two opposition parties. Elections are normally scheduled to be held in April 2004.

Mr. Ecevit has seen his power steadily erode over the past weeks as scores of deputies defected from his party over his refusal to step down and hand over power to a new leader from within his Democratic Left Party.

With those defections Mr. Ecevit's group is no longer the largest in the parliament. It has been supplanted by Mr. Bahceli's Nationalist Action Party. Mr. Bahceli says early elections will help end the climate of uncertainty that has gripped the country ever since Mr. Ecevit's health began to deteriorate. The 77-year-old prime minister has stayed away from office for nearly two months now.

His absence has stalled key reforms aimed at securing Turkey's membership of the European Union. However, a visiting team of officials from the International Monetary Fund said Monday that the political instability had not, as widely feared, derailed a crucial economic recovery program designed to pull Turkey out of its worst recession since 1945.

The head of the IMF team, Juha Kankonnen, said targets such as reducing inflation and increasing growth remained, as he put it, well within reach.