A case to close down Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on suspicion of anti-secular activities is to go ahead after the country's Constitutional Court decided in favor of hearing the case.
Voters, not courts, should determine a country's political landscape, the EU said
In a short statement made to reporters on Monday, March 31, a Constitutional Court spokesman said the court had voted to hear the case, including a prosecutor's move to have Prime Minister Redep Tayyip Erdogan and dozens of his party colleagues banned from politics for five years.
The spokesman said the court will not make any moves to have President Abdullah Gul banned from politics.
The court said Monday it would hear the case -- a verdict is not expected for months
The AKP now has one month to present its preliminary defense to the court, which has banned more than 20 parties since the 1960s. The court is expected to issue a final verdict in six months.
Threat to secular state?
Turkey's Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya earlier this month lodged an indictment against the AKP seeking to have the party banned on the basis that it was a focal point for anti-secular activities.
Yalcinkaya listed a range of activities in his indictment arguing they were proof that the AKP sought to undermine the secular state.
They included moves to allow women to wear Islamic-style headscarves at universities, attempts to restrict public drinking of alcohol to "red light zones" and appointments to public sector positions seemingly based on the religious convictions of applicants.
Government has other priorities
Erdogan's AKP has fought a number of battles with hard-line secularists who fear that moderate Islamist moves by the party will ultimately lead to Turkey becoming an Islamic state with Shariah law.
The government worked to move the focus away from the court ruling, emphasizing that it had other priorities.
"We are more concerned with issues like reforms, economic development and the process of EU accession," Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said after a cabinet meeting.
EU: No justification for case
The ruling could affect Turkey's accession talks with the EU
The European Union, which opposed the court ruling on a party ban, has urged the Constitutional Court to take Turkey's interests into consideration when making its decision, warning that the case could hit Ankara's drive to join the bloc.
"I do not see any such justification for this case," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Monday.
He added that "the kind of political issues referred to in this case are debated in the parliament and decided through the ballot box, not in courtrooms."
EU sources told Reuters news agency that talk of suspension was premature since the court had not yet heard what was likely to be a lengthy case and the outcome was uncertain. Constitutional reforms might also change the picture.
Turkey began entry negotiations in 2005 but has made only slow progress, partly because of the unresolved Cyprus dispute but also because of slow progress in EU-mandated reforms and reluctance in some EU countries.