Mass Turkish protests for secular, non-military government

By staff writers
April 29, 2007

Up to a million people have taken to the streets of the Turkish capital, Istanbul, this weekend. They carried placards calling for the maintenance of the country’s secular tradition of neutrality in governance and opposing both the imposition of shariah or military rule.

The protest is the culmination of several waves of pro-democracy demonstrations, sparked by fears that Abdullah Gul, the ruling party’s candidate for the upcoming presidency will move the country towards Islamic domination, in spite of his protests that he is a moderate.

Nearly 400,000 people took part in a comparable rally a fortnight ago.

Gul failed to be elected in a first round parliamentary vote which opponents say was unconstitutional. Opposition MPs boycotted the vote. They are also challenging its validity in the country’s Constitutional Court.

Demonstrators also carried pictures of Ataturk, the iconic father of the nation who pioneered its secular tradition and founded the Republic.

Gul steered Turkey's European Union accession talks as foreign minister. He is is seen as less confrontational than Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development (AK) party.

"The president must be loyal to secular principles. If I am elected, I will act accordingly," he said after his nomination for the presidency.

The military, which has led coups in the past, said it was concerned by the AK party's choice of presidential candidate.

Bur protestors made it clear that they area as opposed to a coup and military action as they are to the drift toward Islamism – a politicised and coercive form of the Muslim faith rejected by a great many of its adherents from the religion’s major traditions.

There has also been shock and horror at the recent brutal killing of three Christian literature workers by fanatics recently.

The Lebanon Daily Star newspaper declared in an editorial comment today: “The challenge facing Turkey is similar to that which confronts much of the Middle East: how to reconcile populist and Islamist identities that define much of the citizenry with the modern secular tradition and the armed forces' focus on security and national unity?”

It said: “The generals' sudden pronouncements of caution on the Gul nomination must be taken seriously, given that the armed forces have carried out three coups in the last 50 years; only a decade ago they forced the resignation of Turkey's first democratically elected Islamist prime minister and banned his party, which was later replaced by the incumbent Justice and Development Party.”

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