Turkish PM, rivals make final appeal to voters

Turkey's politicians made a final pitch for votes on the eve of a parliamentary election the ruling AK Party is tipped to win, despite rivals' claims this would boost Islam in the secular nation's public life.

Turkish PM, rivals make final appeal to voters
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, 53, believes his centre-right AK Party's record of strong economic growth, rising living standards and falling inflation will persuade voters to grant him a fresh five-year mandate in Sunday's election.

"Let's keep going forward in unity and solidarity," said AK Party campaign adverts in Saturday's newspapers, contrasting five years of economic and political stability with the mismanagement of previous weak coalitions.

Erdogan, Turkey's most charismatic public speaker, was due to address rallies on Saturday in southern towns near Turkey's Mediterranean coast, in sweltering summer heat.

His rivals have campaigned heavily on security, especially a surge in separatist Kurdish violence in the troubled southeast which is home to most Kurds, who make up about a fifth of Turkey's 74 million people.

The rivals accuse Erdogan of being soft on terrorism and want an army incursion into neighboring northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels hiding there -- a move U.S. officials say they are increasingly worried about.

Underlining security fears, a Kurdish rebel rocket strike wounded two Turkish policemen on Friday near the Iraqi border.

In its election campaign, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has also played on Erdogan's Islamist past, saying he poses a threat to secular Turkey's separation of state and religion, a claim the prime minister strongly rejects.

"The black tableau of 4.5 years (of AK Party government)," said the pro-CHP Cumhuriyet daily on Saturday, decrying Kurdish separatism, the sale of Turkish banks to foreigners and the AK Party's alleged Islamist agenda in the education system.

The paper showed a black ballot box on its front page and a woman's eyes behind a rectangular cut-out to evoke a facial veil. The caption reads "Are you aware of the danger?"

SECULARIST FEARS

Turkish secularists, who include army generals and top judges, say Erdogan wants an Iranian-style theocracy in Turkey.

Erdogan says his record, which includes the 2005 historic launch of now rocky European Union entry talks, shows such fears are baseless. He has dumped many Islamic-minded deputies in this election and has fielded more women and centrist candidates.

Apart from Erdogan's party and the CHP, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and a number of independents, mostly pro-Kurdish activists, are expected to enter parliament.

Erdogan has expressed concern about likely tensions in the new assembly between MHP deputies and supporters of Kurdish rights, whom Turkish nationalists view as a mouthpiece for outlawed rebels fighting security forces in the southeast.

But in Turkey's current nationalist mood, Erdogan also has to handle the Kurdish issue with great care.

Both he and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul condemned comments by Kurdish firebrand Leyla Zana on Friday calling for a federal system of government in Turkey, with more power to the regions.

Erdogan said prosecutors should examine her words. Zana, who spent years in jail for speaking Kurdish in Turkey's parliament in the 1990s, is barred from running in this election.

Nationalists see questioning Turkey's strong central government as leading to a bid to break the country up.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Temmuz 2007, 11:15
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