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Tuesday, November 18, 1997 Published at 18:06 GMT


Ex-Turkish PM fights to stop party closure

Necmettin Erbakan: forced out of government in 1997 by Turkey's military

The leader of the Turkish Welfare Party, Necmettin Erbakan, has appeared in court charged with seeking the downfall of the secular state.

If convicted, the former prime minister faces a five-year exclusion from politics and his Islamist party - the biggest in the country - could be banned.

Mr Erbakan, who is 71, won power with 21% of the vote in June 1996, but was removed from office by the military within a year.

The Attorney-General, Vural Savas, accuses the Welfare Party of trying to convert Turkey into an Islamist state, going against the secular principles contained in its constitution.

He is strongly supported by the powerful military high command which forced Welfare out of government earlier this year.

Mr Erbakan told the court a decision to close the party down would violate international human rights. He said his party had acted within the legal norms of a democratic society.

If Welfare loses its legal status, Mr Erbakan and other MPs could face further charges of incitement to hatred.

Mr Savas said: "If the decision is taken to close the party, the people who have been the cause of this by their actions and words - those mentioned in the court decision - will no longer be MPs and will be banned from politics for five years.

"This could open the way to their prosecution."

The Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, is understood to be among those wary of punishing Mr Erbakan and his party too severely if the case goes against them.

The party's supporters could be pushed underground or to more extreme groups.

One MP, Temel Karamollaoglu, said: "Welfare won six million votes in the last election and now has 4,250,000 members. If Welfare is closed hundreds of people who have given their heart to Welfare will rise up."

The testimony of Mr Erbakan and his colleagues before 11 judges in the Constitutional Court in Ankara is expected to around two days.

A verdict in the case could be reached before the end of the month.

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