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Court convenes on AKP ban case
Turkey's constitutional court to decide whether ruling party should be banned.
Last Modified: 28 Jul 2008 13:00 GMT
The court can bar Erdogan and other AKP members from politics for five years [AFP]

Turkey's highest court has convened to decide whether the country's ruling party should be banned on charges that it is steering the secular nation towards Islamic rule.

The constitutional court began deliberating on Monday on charges facing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for violating the principle of secularism enshrined in the country's constitution.

A decision could come as early as this week. Hoda Abdel-Hamid, Al Jazeera correspondent in Turkey, said that it will take the judges "at least three to 10 days" to reach a verdict.

 The court sitting came shortly after bomb blasts rocked Istanbul late on Sunday evening, leaving at least 11 civilians dead and 70 wounded.

Turkey's chief prosecutor asked the constitutional court in March to disband the AKP and bar Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, along with 70 other party members from joining the political party for five years.

Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, is also on the prosecutor's list.

Erdogan told The Hurriyet, a Turkish daily: "The Turkish Republic is our firmament. 

"The column that supports it is union and unity; if it collapses, we will all be trapped underneath," he said.

Odd coincidence

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, Ilnur Cevik, editor-in-chief of the New Anatolan daily, noted that the bombings "coincide with a court case against ultra-nationalists in Turkey".

"We hope there isn't a link but there seems to be a very big chaotic atmosphere in Turkey," he said.

Referring to the alleged coup attempt by "far-right activists", the indictment for which is due out on Friday, Cevik said that all these different issues "seem to be related one way or another" and that the people involved aspire to "disrupt Turkey".

He said that even though the AKP may attempt to use these attacks to its advantage in the court, the judges will see "the court case on its own merits".

Fault line

The case against the AKP highlights the political rift between Turkey's secularist circles, mostly active in the judiciary, military and academia, and the ruling party, whose many members are devout Muslims with ties to the country's Islamist movement.

The AKP and the secularist opposition were locked last year in a dispute over who should be Turkey's president, a largely symbolic post. However, the AKP won that round by easily winning a quick election.

The party later attempted to lift a decades-old ban on the wearing of headscarves at universities, but the top court overturned the bill, saying it was anti-secularist.

Dozen parties banned

Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, the chief prosecutor, cites the headscarf bill as proof that the government is trying to scrap secularist principles enshrined in the constitution.

The court has banned two dozen political parties since it was established in 1963.

Observers say outlawing the party could plunge Turkey into political chaos, affect membership talks with the European Union, and hit the economy at a time of global financial jitters and rising energy prices.

Shutting down the AKP could force quick elections and unsettle markets as well as damage ties with the European Union.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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