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Turks protest amid fears of 'secret plan' to overturn secular state

Turks protest amid fears of 'secret plan' to overturn secular state

Author: Suna Erdem in Istanbul
Publication: The Times
Date: April 16, 2007
URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article1657904.ece

Hundreds of thousands of Turks took part in two days of protests hoping to persuade the Prime Minister against running for president, amid concerns that his election would put at risk the separation of religion and state in the predominantly Muslim country.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to decide this week whether to stand for president next month. Since his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has roots in political Islam, has a substantial parliamentary majority, its candidate is assured of succeeding Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the President, who is a staunch secularist.

Mr Erdogan, who has presided over strong economic growth and has worked hard to secure Turkey's European Union candidacy, presents himself as a conservative democrat. But opponents remain suspicious of his Islamist past. Mr Erdogan has served a prison term for sedition and his wife covers her head in the Islamic manner. During his leadership his party has attempted to criminal-ise adultery, banish alcohol from some establishments and relax restrictions on religious education and headscarves.

His opponents, who include top bureaucrats, academics, judges and generals, believe that he has a hidden Islamist agenda to undermine the strict separation of religion and state, which he could put into practice if AKP held all the top government and state posts.

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