(Reuters) - A Turkish court ruled Monday that President Abdullah Gul should stand trial for a fraud case dating to the late 1990s, a move that will highlight tension between the ruling Islamist-rooted party and a conservative secularist establishment.
The fraud case refers to Gul’s role in the Welfare Party, a predecessor to the AK Party, which has been accused of misappropriating funds from the Treasury.
Here are some details about the AK Party:
* The Justice and Development or AK Party emerged from the ruins of the Virtue Party, itself heir to Turkey’s first ever Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party, and banned like Welfare as a focus of Islamist militancy. Leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always insisted the party has broken with political Islam and sees the country’s future in moving closer to the European Union.
* The center-right party swept to power in November 2002 elections, months after being founded by ex-Islamists led by former Istanbul mayor Tayyip Erdogan.
-- Deputy leader Abdullah Gul was appointed premier until March 2003 when Erdogan won a seat in parliament. Gul then became Foreign Minister.
-- The party pledged to continue the pro-business, free market policies that delivered five years of stellar economic performance.
-- This helped the ruling AK Party win parliamentary elections in July 2007. The party boosted its share of the vote in the elections to 47 percent despite opposition efforts to portray the party as a Trojan horse set to turn Turkey into an Iran-style theocracy.
* A failed 2008 court attempt to close the AK Party plunged Turkey into political chaos and hurt markets.
* A Turkish prosecutor accused the party of maintaining ties with previously banned Islamist parties from the 1990s and said AK Party supporters wedded to Islamist ideas were infiltrating state structures.
-- He said lifting the ban on headscarves, restrictions on serving alcohol at municipal restaurants and trying to ease restrictions on religious education pointed to this.
-- The secularist establishment has long accused the AK Party of plotting to erode the strict separation of state and religion, something the government denies.
-- Secularists said an amendment to the constitution to lift a ban on students wearing the Muslim headscarf at university was proof of this. The Constitutional Court overturned that reform on June 5, which analysts said increased the chances of the party being banned.
* The AK Party denied the charges and said the court case was politically motivated.
* The Constitutional Court narrowly voted July 31, 2008 against closing the AK Party for Islamist activities and instead fined it for undermining the country’s secular principles, a warning shot not to cross the state’s red lines again.
* The AK Party won 39 percent of the municipal vote in March 2009, but the results were below its 47 percent target and the worst since it first came to power in 2002.