Turkish markets on the decline as political tension escalates

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish assets weakened yesterday as investors’ concerns over upcoming presidential elections intensified ahead of an important political meeting late last night. Istanbul’s main share index dropped 1.2 percent to 45,339.77 points after returning last week to levels not seen since last May 2006, which was the start of last year’s sell-off of Turkish assets. Yesterday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and top military figures held a National Security Council meeting and the issue of upcoming presidential elections was expected to be on the agenda. Turkey’s secularist elite, which includes the army and the current president, fears that Erdogan, who has roots in political Islam, plans to take the top job, and protest rallies are planned. Parliament, where Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a big majority, will elect the president next month. «I think the political scenario is starting to change. Last week some players thought the prime minister would not be a candidate for presidential elections, but now the scenario is starting to change, and that is not a best-case scenario,» a banker said. Another banker said markets could strengthen today if there was no negative announcement from the meeting. Investors are also concerned about any decision that could come from the meeting over northern Iraq after Ankara rapped Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani on Monday over comments he made about Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. The lira closed at 1.3720 against the dollar on the interbank market, a shade weaker than Monday’s closing level of 1.3711. Bonds also weakened for the second straight day, with the yield on the November 26, 2008, benchmark paper rising to 19.40 percent from 19.26 percent on Monday. Asset prices were unchanged in after-hours trade by data released after the close showing Turkey’s current account deficit came in at $3.256 billion in February, wider than a $3 billion forecast in a Reuters poll. In positive news for markets yesterday, sources familiar with the situation said leading Turkish pay-television company Digiturk planned an initial public offering this year. The deal would be one of several offerings coming onto the market in 2007.

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