Major Turkish business body slams decision to shut ruling AKP Party

ANKARA – Turkey’s top business forum said yesterday a decision by state prosecutors to seek the closure of the ruling AKP Justice and Development Party and ban the prime minister and president from politics violated democratic principles. But TUSIAD also tacitly criticized the AKP, which has Islamist roots, by suggesting its recent actions had fanned tensions in Turkish society – a clear reference to government efforts to ease a ban on the Muslim headscarf in universities. A top prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court on Friday to shut the AKP because he said it threatened Turkey’s secular system and was trying to turn the country into an Islamic state – accusations the party has strongly denied. The case is likely to last many months, overshadowing a slowing economy and unnerving investors already worried about the global credit crunch and sensitive to any signs of increased political tension in Turkey. «Requests to shut political parties, which are indispensable elements of a democratic lifestyle, are unacceptable for Turkish democracy, which has experienced a pluralist parliamentary regime for almost a century,» TUSIAD said. «Past experiences have shown that closing political parties does not contribute to Turkey’s political, economic and social problems,» its statement said. Turkish authorities have banned more than 20 political parties in the past on accusations of peddling Islamist or Kurdish separatist agendas viewed as threatening Turkey’s secular and strongly centralized state. Matter of balance TUSIAD, the mouthpiece of Turkey’s business elite, also urged the government to eschew policies which could disrupt the country’s delicate political balances. «What we expect from all political parties is to take Turkey away from an atmosphere that feeds polarization to an atmosphere that produces projects of compromise and prosperity,» it said. Turkish business and many liberal intellectuals and media who have broadly backed the AKP’s economic and political reforms have been critical of the government’s recent heavy focus on the headscarf issue. Turkey’s Constitutional Court is expected to rule shortly on whether constitutional amendments that would allow women students to wear the headscarf on campuses are legal. Secularists, who dominate Turkey’s judiciary, military and universities, see the headscarf as a symbol of political Islam and thus a threat to the separation of state and religion. They have long accused Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his government of harboring a secret Islamist agenda, a claim the AKP strongly rejects. Erdogan, a pious Muslim whose wife and daughters cover their heads, says lifting the headscarf ban is a matter of religious freedom. His government, in power since 2002 and re-elected last year with a large majority, has presided over strong economic growth and the launch of Turkey’s European Union membership talks. Yesterday, Erdogan said the prosecutors’ bid to close his party was an attack on Turkish democracy. «What they fear is not the AKP but the national will. What they are damaging is not the AKP, it is democracy and the state of law,» he told a rally in southeast Turkey. In their indictment, the prosecutors call for Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul and scores of other senior AKP officials to be banned from politics for five years. The Constitional Court is expected today to start studying the indictment, drawn up by the chief prosecutor at the Court of Appeals. The AKP will then have to draw up its defence arguments.

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