The court closed two political parties deemed to be anti-secular in 1998 and 2001.


Yalcinkaya asked the court to bar 71 people, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, and Abdullah Gul, the president, from politics for five years.

The judges on Monday ruled in a majority vote that Gul, who left the AKP when he was elected head of state in August, should be included in the trial.

Ruling party

 

The Justice and Development party has 330 seats in the 550-seat parliament, and its members could regroup under the banner of a new party to lead the government if the AKP is shut down.

The party was founded in 2001 as an offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, but it has repeatedly pledged commitment to the secular system and embraced Turkey's European Union membership bid.

The prosecutor argued that moves such as the abolition of a bar on headscarves in universities last month and an alcohol ban in restaurants run by AKP municipalities indicate the party's aim to establish a state based on Sharia law.
  
"All actions and rhetoric of the party are aimed at establishing an Islamist society in which Islamic rules and values have the priority ... and then carrying out legal arrangements to move towards Sharia," the indictment said.

 

The government has criticised the prosecutor's move as being anti-democratic. One ruling party official said it was planning a constitutional amendment making it harder to ban political parties.

"I think this case reflects ... that there is significant resistance to the changes we are taking and its a sad day for democracy, its a sad day for the reflection of popular will in this country," Suat Kinikliglu, deputy chariman of external affairs at AKP, told Al Jazeera.

The AKP now has one month to present its initial defence to the court, the case is expected to last up to six months.

Uncertainty

 

Ilnur Cevik, a columnist with the New Anatolian newspaper, said Turkey will enter six months or more of uncertainty while it is established whether or not the party will be closed down.

 

"Parties are elected into parliament by the people and should be brought down by the people if they are unhappy"

Ilnur Cevik, 
New Anatolian newspaper columnist
"Some say it is a foregone conclusion," he told Al Jazeera.

 

"Some say this is a political and not a legal case aimed directly at AK party. Thus, in the next six months to one year we will be agonised to see what will happen to Turkey.

 

"Our stock market is down, the dollar is high and euro has climbed against the Turkish lire. A lot of people are concerned that the hard-earned stability of Turkey is in jeopardy."

 

He also said that many Turks feel that the party was voted in by the people and it should not be the decision of 11 judges to remove them.

 

"Parties are elected into parliament by the people and should be brought down by the people if they are unhappy," he said.

 

EU concerns

The party was founded in 2001 as an offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, but it has repeatedly pledged commitment to the secular system and embraced Turkey's European Union membership bid.

 

Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, said he was concerned about the case, suggesting the issue could have ramifications for Turkey's bid to join the union.

 

"In a normal European democracy this kind of political issue should be debated in parliament and decided in the ballot room, not in court," he said.

 

Turkey's EU campaign, which is expected to last many years, has already been damaged by French and German misgivings, a dispute over the divided island of Cyprus, freedom of speech issues and divisions within the predominantly Muslim nation that have reduced domestic support for accession.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies