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New Turkish Government Wins Parliament's Confidence Vote - 2002-11-28

Turkey's new government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, easily won a confidence vote in the parliament Thursday. One of the major goals of the new government is to secure Turkey's membership in the European Union.

Prime Minister Gul's Justice and Development Party has an overwhelming majority in parliament, and it showed in the voting: his government received 356 votes in the 550-member chamber.

Mr. Gul's Islamic-rooted party swept to power in the November 3 elections, giving Turkey its first single party administration since 1987.

Following the vote, Prime Minister Gul, who is deputy chairman of the Justice and Development Party, said it was now time to stop talking, as he put it, and to get down to work.

One of the chief objectives of the government is to fulfill all the conditions that are being demanded by the European Union in exchange for Turkey's membership.

These include amending the constitution to permit, among other things, greater freedom of speech.

Such changes are aimed, in part, at enabling the chairman of the Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to take over as prime minister from Mr. Gul. Mr. Erdogan was unable to fill the post because of a past conviction on charges of seeking to incite religious hatred in a poem he recited in public. If the constitution is changed to permit greater freedom of speech, it would, in effect, overturn Mr. Erdogan's conviction.

Although he holds no official title at present, Mr. Erdogan is nonetheless being treated as Turkey's real leader across European capitals, where he has been lobbying leaders to push for Turkey's entry into the European Union. Mr. Erdogan, who just returned from France, where he met with President Jacques Chirac, is demanding that the EU give Turkey a date to start accession negotiations when EU leaders meet next month in Copenhagen.

In return, Mr. Erdogan has pledged his backing for a United Nations-sponsored peace plan announced earlier this month to reunite the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus.