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Turkish government says to hold new president vote

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government said on Tuesday it would put its presidential candidate to a new vote in parliament on Wednesday, after the Constitutional Court annulled a ballot held last week.

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Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan left the door open to possible early national elections to resolve the standoff between his government and Turkey’s secularists, including the army which has threatened to intervene.

Turkish financial markets recorded their biggest falls in a year on Monday and the currency lost more ground on Tuesday as the standoff rocked the predominantly Muslim European Union candidate nation.

The Constitutional Court ruled not enough parliamentarians were present when the first round was held in the assembly last week. “What we have cancelled is the first round of voting,” Hasim Kilic, deputy head of the court, told reporters.

Government spokesman Cemil Cicek said shortly afterwards the cabinet would seek the required attendance of 367 parliamentarians for Wednesday’s vote in which Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist, would be the sole candidate.

Cicek told a news conference the government was ready to hold early national polls as sought by opposition parties and the business elite, provided parliament agreed to legislation lowering the age threshold for parliamentarians to 25 from 30.

The AK Party believes this change would bolster its chances in national elections, which must be held by November in any case.

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The army, which sees itself as the final guarantor of the secular state, has ousted four governments in the last 50 years, most recently in 1997 when it acted against a cabinet in which Gul served.

Secularists fear if the AK Party secures control of the presidency it will chip away at the secular system. The party denies the charge.

Economy Minister Ali Babacan said the economy was ready for early elections, a comment seen as an attempt to calm markets.

Parliament, in which the AK Party has a big majority, elects the president for a seven-year term.

Analysts say early national polls are the only way to defuse the standoff.

Earlier, riot police beat and detained hundreds of May Day protesters in Istanbul.

Police detained 700 people in Istanbul in street battles with leftist demonstrators protesting on the May Day anniversary of a mass shooting 30 years ago by unknown gunmen.

Riot police fired tear gas and used water canons to break up the crowds. Youths threw Molotov cocktails and set cars ablaze.

Additional reporting by Gareth Jones in Ankara and Emma Ross-Thomas in Istanbul