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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 22:57 GMT 23:57 UK
Turkish opposition faces ban
Muslim in prayer inside the Sehzade mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Despite its Muslim majority, Turkey is a secular state
By Firdevs Robinson in Ankara

The constitutional court in Turkey is meeting on Tuesday to begin its deliberations on the opposition Virtue Party.

Recai Kutan
Recai Kutan, the leader of the Virtue Party
The chief prosecutor wants it closed down and the members expelled from the parliament.

If this happens, the country may have to go to an early election - an unwelcome prospect for many.

It would come at a time when Turkey is struggling to implement an economic rescue package. Markets have been watching the developments closely.

Alleged subversion

The case against the pro-Islamic Virtue Party was started two years ago by the then chief prosecutor, Vural Savas.

Mr Savas alleged that the party was behind anti-secularist subversive activity and that it was the continuation of the Welfare Party, which was banned in 1997.

The prosecutor asked the constitutional court to ban the party and expel some or all of its deputies from the parliament.

Merve Kavakci
The Virtue Party deputy who caused protests by wearing a headscarf in parliament
Later his successor, the present chief prosecutor, recommended that only two members be removed.

The 11 judges may choose to impose a ban, expelling all 102 Virtue Party deputies.

This would bring the total number of vacant seats above the 5% threshold, making it necessary to call an early election.

If the court decides to ban the party and expel only some of its members, this would leave Virtue deputies without an affiliation and would open the way for transfers which may upset the balance within the coalition.

The Virtue Party has two distinct wings - the traditionalist and the reformist.

Once the verdict is announced, it is thought almost certain that the party will split into two.

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See also:

07 May 99 | Europe
Analysis: A headscarf too far?
16 May 01 | Europe
Turkey gains $8bn loan
06 Jun 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Turkey
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