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Europe

Prosecutor Presses Turkish Court to Ban Ruling Party

Turkey's chief prosecutor argued Tuesday to ban the Islamist-rooted ruling party for anti-secular activity as police detained a group, including two retired generals, for a suspected coup plot against the government.

A demonstration in Turkey against the headscarf

Secularists in Turkey have been vocal in their opposition to the AK Party's policies

Turkey's Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya argued before the Constitutional Court in Ankara on Tuesday that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) should be closed down on the grounds that it was actively undermining the secular nature of the state, the Anadolu news agency reported.

"It is found that it is clear there is a very close danger that (the AK Party) wants to impose sharia (Islamic law)," Anadolu quoted Yalcinkaya as saying to judges hearing the case. "The secular Republic is facing an unprecedented danger because the counter-revolutionary forces are no longer in the margins but in government," he said.

Allegations of secret Islamist agenda

In the court session that was held behind closed doors, Yalcinkaya repeated claims made in an indictment presented to the court earlier that attempts by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to allow women to wear Islamic-style headscarves at universities were proof that the party's aim was to impose Islamic-style law.

Erdogan's government recently sponsored a constitutional amendment lifting a ban on the wearing of the headscarf in universities. That amendment was thrown out by the Constitutional Court last month on the grounds that it violates the principle of secularism.

Young girls in Turkey wearing headscarves

The Islamic-style headscarf has been a flashpoint in Turkey in recent months

Yalcinkaya also cited moves such as banning alcohol sales in restaurants run by AK Party authorities and attempts to broaden Koran courses as an indication of a secret Islamist agenda.

Yalcinkaya is seeking to not just have the AKP closed down but also to ban 71 members of the party, including Erdogan, from joining another political party.

The AKP has rejected the charges as baseless and politically motivated.

"There is no justifiable reason in this court case to sanction our party," it said in its final written defense to the court earlier this month.

Arrests for suspected coup against government

Yalcinkaya's address to the court came on the same day that Turkish authorities detained at least 24 ultra-nationalists, including two retired generals and the head of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce suspected to be members of a shadowy group of right-wing nationalists who are accused of plotting to bring down the government.

One of those arrested was Mustafa Balbay, Ankara bureau chief of fiercely secular Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Balbay's colleague Sukran Soner told the NTV television station that the timing of the arrests was designed to take attention away from the closure case.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the detentions were linked to a long-running investigation into Ergenekon, a shadowy, ultra-nationalist and hardline secularist group accused of seeking a coup.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

Turkish Premier Erdogan says attempts to ban his party are an attack on freedom of expression

"It is not the AK Party which they cannot tolerate. What they can't tolerate is democracy, the national will, the people's feelings and thoughts," Erdogan said.

Erdogan has warned that banning his party would violate the principles of freedom of expression and association and could see Turkey convicted by the European Court of Human Rights.

Turkey's Constitutional Court has a history of closing down political parties: It has banned 24 parties since its establishment in 1963, including the AK Party's predecessors.

Majority opposes ban on AK Party

Most political analysts believe that the AK Party is already preparing to launch a new party and that Erdogan would continue to pull the strings behind the scenes.

Any such new party would most likely easily win a fresh general election that could be called if the AK Party is closed down.

At elections in July last year the AK Party received 47 per cent of the vote, giving it a massive majority in parliament.

According to a poll published in the Milliyet newspaper on Monday, 53.3 per cent of those surveyed oppose the court banning the AK Party with 34.3 per cent in favor.

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