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Turkish ruling party condemns headscarf ruling

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s ruling AK Party accused the country’s top court on Friday of violating the constitution by overturning a government-led reform that lifted a ban on Muslim headscarves at universities.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting in Istanbul June 6, 2008. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Thursday’s Constitutional Court ruling was the most serious setback for the Islamist-rooted AK Party since it came to power in 2002. It increased the likelihood courts would, in a separate case pending, ban the party on charges of Islamist subversion and bar the prime minister and president from party activity.

“The Constitutional Court decision is direct interference in parliament’s legislative power and this is an open violation of the principle of separation of powers,” AK Party deputy chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat told reporters after a 6-hour emergency meeting of top party members.

The secularist establishment, including army generals and judges, suspects the AK Party of harboring a hidden Islamist agenda. The Party, which embraces nationalists, market liberals and centre-right politicians as well as religious conservatives, denies such accusations.

Mustafa Unal, a columnist for religious-leaning daily Zaman, wrote: “This verdict will affect the closure case negatively.”

The Constitutional Court -- whose rulings cannot be appealed -- is expected to rule on the separate AK Party closure case in the coming months; but if the party feels it has been boxed in, it may make a preemptive move, analysts said.

Firat declined to comment on the party’s next move except to say Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would speak on Tuesday. Firat said the party executives had not discussed early elections.

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The political uncertainty sent the lira currency more than 1 percent lower against the dollar, hit stocks as well as bonds.

Analysts fear reforms in the European Union candidate country will be put on hold as the AK Party fights for survival.


Analysts expect the AK Party to be outlawed, although some say the court could decide only to punish AK Party leaders, given that forming a new party would be easy under Turkish electoral law.

Senior AK Party members told Reuters recently the party had begun to believe it would be closed and Erdogan banned from politics for up to five years. The sources, who declined to be named, said party members had begun planning to create a new party.

Turkey has a history of banning political parties and the AK Party’s predecessor was banned in 2001 for Islamist activities.

The courts and the military see themselves as guardians of a strict separation of religion and politics, which is rooted in the foundation of the modern state in the 1920s from the ruins of the dismembered Ottoman Empire.

The party denies charges of Islamist activities, which it regards as an attempt by arch-secularist opponents to dislodge a government with a large parliamentary majority and a leader, Erdogan, who enjoys broad popular support.

The headscarf reform has rekindled a decades-long dispute over the role of Islam in a country of 70 million that is officially secular but predominantly Muslim and has yet to reconcile the two sides.

Additional reporting by Hidir Goktas; Writing by Paul de Bendern; Editing by Ralph Boulton