Turkish government facing political pressure

Türkiye Materials 30 April 2007 17:30 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - The Turkish stock market plunged Monday, reacting sharply to political tensions as the Islamic-rooted government comes under strong pressure from secular circles to call parliamentary elections.

At least 700,000 people marched Sunday against the ruling party's candidate for president, Abdullah Gul, an observant Muslim who is currently the foreign minister.

Many Turks, including powerful generals, fear Gul would use the presidency - a post with veto power over legislation - to assist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in chipping away at the separation of state and religion.

Gul was expected to win because in Turkey the president is picked by parliament, which is dominated by his pro-Islamic party.

The Istanbul benchmark index opened with stocks down about 8 percent, but analysts said the market will recover quickly if political tensions ease or the government decides to call early elections.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said the ruling party had made no decision yet on parliamentary elections. Sener said the government was watching market reactions and offered assurances that there was confidence in the Turkish economy both at home and abroad.

Turkey's top judicial body, the Constitutional Court, was evaluating an appeal by the main opposition pro-secular Republican People's Party to cancel the presidential vote. The court was expected to announce its decision on Tuesday or Wednesday morning.

Erdogan was scheduled to address the nation Monday night, and analysts speculated that he would stress his government's loyalty to secularism.

Turkey has struggled with its national identity since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an army officer in World War I, founded the secular republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. He gave the vote to women, restricted Islamic dress and replaced the Arabic script with the Roman alphabet.