The constitutional court has yet to say whether it will agree to hear the complaint, which charges that the AKP or Justice and Development  Party has become a focal point for attempts to undermine separation of state and religion.

"With a political party with this much of a majority in parliament, we must think what Turkey will win and what it will lose from a demand like this," Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, said in Dakar, Senegal.
 
Secularist establishment

The AK Party has been locked in a battle with Turkey's secularist establishment, including judges and army generals, since it first came to power in 2002. 

"The target of this case is not the AKP,
but Turkish democracy and Turkish people"

Mehmet Mir Dengir Firat,
deputy AKP chairman
The AK Party has its roots in a now banned Islamist movement but has repeatedly rejected accusations that it plans to introduce religious rule and says it is committed to secularism.

"The target of this case is not the AKP, but Turkish democracy and Turkish people," Mehmet Mir Dengir Firat, deputy party chairman, said after an emergency meeting of the AKP leadership.
  
"This is the biggest injustice committed against Turkey, our democracy, the will of our nation, our peace and stability, our prestige in the world."

The party received more than 46 per cent of the vote in the general election last July.

Onur Oymen, a politician from the secular opposition Republican People's Party, said that the prosecutor's move was not unexpected.

"I'm not really surprised. Parties following the same ideological line were banned in the past," he said.

Banned parties

The constitutional court has previously banned several political parties, including the Welfare Party of Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamist prime minister and mentor of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current premier.

However, Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said: "Recent changes to Turkey's constitution have made it much more difficult to close down political parties in Turkey.

"Even if the AK Party is not closed down, the case could last anything from six months to a year, raising the possibility of increased uncertainty and political instability."

The AK Party will have to present its preliminary defence to the prosecutors accusations within one month, the state Anatolian news agency said.

AK Party members expressed shock at the move.

Speaking to the private televsion channel NTV, Zafer Uskul, an AK Party deputy, said: "It is a really shocking development. There is no proof that the AK Party is against secularism.

"The party, the prime minister have said at every opportunity that they adhere to secularism. I don't find it likely that AK Party will be closed, but even opening such a case is unfortunate."

The constitutional court is already reviewing an appeal by the opposition Republican People's Party on the validity of parliament's constitutional amendments last month to partially lift the headscarf ban.