Party with Islamic roots comes to power in Turkey

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

ANKARA, Turkey -- A party with Islamic roots formed Turkey's first majority government in 15 years Monday, promising to maintain close ties with the West and lift the country from its worst economic recession since World War II.

The new prime minister, Abdullah Gul, announced a 25-member Cabinet, and the government assumed power after it was approved by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

The Justice and Development Party won 363 of the 550 seats in elections Nov. 3. That majority means it will avoid much of the rancorous debate of the outgoing coalition government and shouldn't have as much trouble passing its programs.

"May it be beneficial for the country and the nation," Gul said. "May God not put us to shame."

The party has announced an ambitious reform agenda to eradicate torture, overhaul taxes and reduce the income gap between rich and poor.

Income has fallen dramatically in Turkey since an economic crisis cut the value of the lira by more than half and left some 2 million jobless over the past two years.

Fighting corruption

The government has also promised to fight corruption, lower inflation and increase privatization. It must read out its program in the parliament within a week before facing a confidence vote, which it is sure to win.

The only other party that won enough votes to get seats was the secular Republican People's Party, with 178 seats. Nine other seats went to independents.

The Justice and Development Party has tried to calm concerns it has a secret Islamic agenda. Gul, a moderate politician, has said he will prove to a skeptical West that a Muslim country can be democratic.

The United States wants to showcase Turkey as an example of a secular, democratic country that is overwhelmingly Muslim. Turkey, NATO's sole Muslim member, houses U.S. warplanes at its Incirlik air base, and would be crucial to any possible action against neighboring Iraq.

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