Saturday, January 17, 1998 Published at 00:05 GMT
US criticises Turkish Welfare Party ban
Welfare held 27% of seats in the Turkish parliament
The United States has sharply criticised a ruling by the Turkish constitutional court banning the pro-Islamic Welfare Party, the biggest group in parliament.
The court banned the party leader, Necmettin Erbakan and several colleagues, from politics for five years.
"As we have often said, the answer to many of Turkey's problems is to enhance democracy, to adopt reforms that would allow greater freedom of expression and wider political participation," he said.
The ruling has also drawn criticism from Britain, the current president of the European Union.
The EU was already unhappy with Turkey's human rights record and the BBC's correspondent in Ankara says this latest action will not help Turkey's case for membership.
Welfare was pressured out of power last June by the military after leading a coalition government for a year.
The case, which has been deliberated for several weeks, is thought to be one of the most politically-sensitive judgements the constitutional court has ever been asked to make.
The attempts to increase the Islamic tenor of life in this predominantly Muslim country angered army generals.
Expectations that a ban on Welfare could lead to early elections has weighed on Turkish shares in recent weeks and many brokers have discounted a closure decision.
In an unprecedented move earlier this week, the courts froze more than $5m of treasury aid due to Welfare as a precautionary measure in case the party was closed down.
The court ruling is only a temporary victory for opponents of the Islamic political movement.
The party is likely to be resurrected under a new name. But the seizure of assets and cash reserves could hurt its chances in the elections that may follow the court ruling.
It apparently was already in the process of being reformed under a new name, as it did after being closed twice before since 1970.
Mr Erbakan has said he will appeal against the decision to the European Court of Human Rights.