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Friday, January 16, 1998 Published at 15:20 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Chris Morris ]Chris Morris

The constitutional court in Turkey has decided to shut down the largest party in parliament - The Pro-Islamist Welfare Party. The 11 judges voted nine to two in favour of closing the party down for violating the constitution. The decision will take effect when the full court ruling is published officially in a few days' time. Chris Morris reports from Ankara.

The verdict was as severe as the Welfare party had feared. The Chief Justice said Welfare had violated its constitutional obligations, which demand that all parties must respect the principles of Turkish secularism.

The party leader, Necmettin Erbakan, and a number of his associates, will be banned from active politics for five years. The party's assets will be transferred to the state treasury.

There is no right of appeal against the court's verdict. Most of Welfare's parliamentary deputies will be allowed to retain their seats, but they'll have to serve in the first instance as independents.

In an initial reaction the party spokesman said a shadow had been cast over Turkish democracy. Welfare had more than 4 million members around the country, and it won just over 20% of the vote at the last election - enough for it to become the largest party in parliament.

It's now been dissolved at a time when Turkey is trying to persuade the outside world that it has made real progress towards strengthening its democracy.

This verdict may also increase tensions within Turkey between those who believe religion should be allowed a more open role in public life and those who argue that any move away from strict secularism would be a betrayal of the country's founding principles.

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