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Thursday, November 13, 1997 Published at 17:50 GMT

Despatches: Europe
Chris Morris
From Ankara

The constitutional court in the Turkish capital Ankara has heard evidence from the country's chief prosecutor, who wants to close down the largest party in parliament, the pro-Islamist Welfare Party. The prosecutor, with enthusiastic support from the military High Command, says Welfare is trying to undermine the secular state. The Welfare leader and former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan was expected to testify today as well, but he has been granted another week to prepare his defence. Chris Morris reports from Ankara.

"As he entered the court this morning the Chief Prosecutor Vural Savas said it was his duty under the constitution to protect the secular Turkish Republic. He believes the Welfare Party has a hidden agenda to promote Islamic fundamentalism. It should be shut down, he argues, and its leaders prevented from taking an active role in politics. In his testimony the prosecutor gave details of how Welfare tried to encourage an Islamic resurgence through education reform and the placement of its sympathisers in the bureaucracy. After about four hours Mr Savas emerged to say only that everyone should respect the court's decision. The Welfare Party leader Necmettin Erbakan, who was Turkey's Prime Minister until military pressure forced him to resign earlier this year, had to fight his way through a scrum of photographers to enter the court. He asked for an additional twenty days to prepare his case, arguing that new evidence had recently emerged. The court granted him another week and said the evidence would now be heard on November the Eighteenth. Mr Erbakan believes the charges against him and his party are vague and misleading. His advisers say he will argue that a truly democratic country should not shut down a political party because of what it believes. This verbal testimony follows lengthy written arguments which have already been submitted by both sides. The eleven judges are expected to issue a ruling in a few weeks time. Political parties have been shut down before in Turkey but never one with such broad appeal, which remained the largest party in parliament, even after it was forced out of government."

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