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Turkey's Parliament Moves to Limit Power of Military - 2003-07-30

Turkey's parliament on Wednesday approved landmark legislation significantly curbing the powers of the country's influential military. The reforms are aimed at enhancing Turkey's chances of joining the European Union. A majority of deputies in the 550-member chamber raised their hands in approval of a package of reforms that effectively dilute the influence of the country's powerful armed forces in domestic and foreign affairs.

Specifically, the measures are aimed at redefining the role of the country's National Security Council. That body was established by the military following their government takeover in 1980. The council gave Turkey's generals a mechanism through which they have heavily influenced domestic and foreign policy ever since. Key civilian leaders, including the president and the prime minister, also sit on the council.

Under the new laws, the Secretary-General of the council can be a civilian. Until now, the position was always held by a general appointed on the recommendation of the Army Chief of Staff. In the new system the council head will be nominated by the government and will no longer have an executive role.

The reform package also provides for greater scrutiny of the military's budget.

It was approved by the parliament that is dominated by the ruling Justice and Development Party, which has its roots in Islam.

Members of Turkey's pro-secular establishment are expressing concern over the changes. They see the Turkish military as the chief guarantor of Turkey's secular and pro-western orientation, introduced by the founder of the modern Turkish republic Kemal Ataturk.

Many pro-secular Turks fear that the Islam-rooted government is seeking to steer this predominantly Muslim nation toward religious rule. Turkey's Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan rejects those charges, saying his government's chief aim is to secure Turkey's membership in the European Union.