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Turkey to Hold General Elections November 3

Turkey's parliament Wednesday approved a proposal to hold early elections. The proposal won overwhelmingly, despite the objections of the country's prime minister.

Four hundred forty-nine of the 550 members of parliament voted in favor of the proposal to hold national elections on November 3, 18 months ahead of schedule.

Most Turkish politicians view the early elections as a way to end more than two-months of political turmoil, but the proposal had been fiercely opposed by Turkey's ailing prime minister, Bulent Ecevit.

Mr. Ecevit has said early elections would destabilize Turkey at what he terms a critical time. Analysts say Mr. Ecevit is referring to a possible U.S.-led military operation to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Turkey, which borders Iraq, has expressed concern about such an operation.

Turkey is also seeking to pass a wide range of reforms in order to pave the way for membership negotiations with the European Union.

The political crisis rocking the country during the past months has undermined such efforts, prompting concerns that EU leaders will not set a date for opening membership talks with Turkey when they hold their last summit of the year in Copenhagen, Denmark in December.

Mr. Ecevit has also warned that an Islamic-leaning group, the Justice and Development Party, would win the early elections, posing a threat to Turkey's secular orientation.

Recent opinion polls indicate that the party, led by Istanbul's former pro-Islamic mayor Tayyip Erdogan, would be the big winner in any elections.

Turkey's determinedly pro-secular military leaders are among those opposed to Mr. Erdogan taking charge of the government, saying he would likely deviate from the nation's traditionally pro-Western policies.

Mr. Erdogan vigorously denies such claims and insists his party is not religion-based.