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By Dorian Jones
Istanbul
15 March 2008

Turkey's top prosecutor has filed a complaint against the country's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, aiming to ban it from politics. The prosecutor accuses the party of seeking to undermine the country's secular state. As Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul, the case comes less than one year after the party won a landslide victory in national elections.

In a 162-page document, top prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya calls for the closure of the Justice and Development party or AKP, for systematically undermining the secular principles of the Turkish state.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan (09 Apr 2007 photo)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (09 Apr 2007 photo)
The prosecutor's complaint also calls for Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and its president, Abdullah Gul, to be barred from politics, along with about 70 other leading members of the AKP.

Speaking at a party meeting in southern Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan condemned the case.

"The action taken yesterday is not aimed at the Justice and Development Party but the will of the nation," Mr. Erdogan said. "No one can say that we are the focal point of anti-secular activities."

The case is shocking to many Turks, with much of the media condemning it. It comes as tensions are escalating between the secular establishment - including the military and the courts - and the Islamic-rooted AK party.

Conservative Turkish women protest against prosecutor's move to disband ruling party, in Istanbul, 15 Mar 2008
Conservative Turkish women protest against prosecutor's move to disband ruling party, in Istanbul, 15 Mar 2008
Last month, the prime minister pushed through parliament constitutional amendments easing the ban on women's religious headscarves in universities.

Polls indicate there is strong support for the reform. But political commentator Murat Yetkin says because the reform was rushed through parliament, secularists are concerned about where the government is heading.

"There will be escalation in tension in many sectors of society. I don't think the reaction will be limited to public demonstrations," said Yetkin.

Although Turkey is largely Muslim, it has been a strictly secular state since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey in 1923. It is unclear whether the constitutional court will accept the closure case, but the head of the country's constitutional court, Hasan Killic, said it will be treated like any other case.

Kilic says procedures followed in previous lawsuits demanding the closure of political parties will be followed in this case.

Since the 1982 constitution, 18 political parties have been banned, including two Islamist parties in the last decade. The prime minister and president were members of both.

If the constitutional court agrees to hear the case, it is expected to deliberate for months.

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