The German government sharply criticized a Turkish prosecutor's attempt to ban the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for anti-secular activities, saying it will undermine Turkey's efforts to join to join the EU.
Turkey could be headed for a political crisis
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday, March 17 that he could not understand the chief proescutor's ruling. Steinmeier said the AKP has shown itself to be committed to democracy and the rule of law and that he believes the court will ultimately reject the request to outlaw the party.
"I have taken noted of the banning application against the Turkish ruling party, the AKP, with incomprehension," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, adding that he had faith in Turkey's judiciary.
Steinmeier sharply criticized the proposed ban
Deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg said Berlin was "worried" by the Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya's indictment of the AKP Friday, calling the move undemocratic.
Turkey's top court was reviewing Yalcinkaya's indictment of the AKP on Monday, which seeks to shut down the AKP and ban many of Turkey's top politicians, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from participating in politics for five years.
Skirmish over secularism
Yalcinkaya's move is the latest round in the battle between Turkey's secularist forces and the AKP since the party came to power in 2002.
Analysts see the current fight as a clash between secularists and the more religious, conservative AKP. While anger has been simmering since the AKP won snap elections last year, tensions flared last month when the AKP pushed through a bill allowing university students to wear the Islamic headscarf.
A culture clash
Turkey, a strictly secular country, is seeing a power shift away from secular urban elites to the more conservative, rural middle-class circles which supports the AKP.
"The system is resisting (the change). The polarization between the judiciary and the government is a major political crisis," political expert Nuray Mert said in an interview published in the popular Vatan daily Monday. "No one can know where it will end," she said.
AKP rejects Islamist charges
Yalcinkaya's indictment accuses the AKP, which emerged from a banned Islamist movement, of attempting to infiltrate state institutions to establish an "Islamist-inspired" system in Turkey, which is a strictly secular country.
As proof, it points to the AKP's move 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 the applicants.
Erdogan said the court case will only increase his popularity
The indictment seeks to have Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul and 69 other AKP figures, from ministers to local council mayors, banned from politics for five years.
Secularists claim that the party has a secret agenda to replace the secular order with religious rule in the mainly Muslim country. The AKP rejects the charges and says it is fully committed to the strict separation of state and religion enshrined in the constitution.
Erdogan remains defiant
Prime Minister Erdogan has slammed as an attack on democracy. Erdogan said the attempt to shut down the AKP would only make his party more popular.
"Our votes will increase. We are in charge. No one can take us off our path," Erdogan said after a meeting with colleagues in Ankara.
Turkish newspapers speculated that the AKP might try to force through constitutional changes that would make it very difficult for the court to shut down the party. The party has a clear majority in parliament but would need the support of an extreme right-wing opposition party in order to get constitutional changes passed.
Ban decision not final
One more hurdle to joining the EU?
"The indictment has been distributed to our members and we are in the process of appointing a rapporteur to study the indictment," the court's deputy chairman Osman Alifeyyaz Paksut told reporters.
Paksut said a "preliminary study" would be finished within 10 days. The 11-member tribunal has to approve Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya's indictment against the AKP before a court case can begin. A final verdict is not expected for several months.
A blow to Turkey's EU aspirations
Berlin shares the view of EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who warned Saturday that "the legal system shouldn't meddle in democratic politics."
Turkish Labor Minister Faruk Celik told Reuters that the entire case was a bid by nationalists inside the judiciary to try and block Turkey's EU membership bid.
"There are people with nationalist sentiments and they are upset about Turkey's march towards the EU. They are trying to reverse this but this is against the founding philosophy of the republic, which is a march towards the West," Celik said.
Turkey's EU bid already faces opposition from many current members. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes Turkey's bid to join the EU although her left-right coalition government formally supports Ankara's ongoing membership talks with the bloc.
There are some 2.5 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, most of them descendants of "guest workers" who came to the country in the 1960s.