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The BBC's Chris Morris
"Its critics believe it had a hidden agenda"
 real 56k

Friday, 22 June, 2001, 22:59 GMT 23:59 UK
Turkey bans Islamic party
A supporter of the Virtue Party wearing a traditional Islamic black scarf
Turkey could be bracing itself for international criticism
Turkey's top court has banned the pro-Islamic Virtue Party - the main opposition to the government.

I regret the closure of the Virtue Party

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit
The constitutional court said the party was being shut down because it had become a focus of anti-secular activities.

The Virtue Party has always denied the charge - and accusations that it is the legal successor to the Welfare Party, which briefly held power five years ago and which was itself banned.

The verdict could send shock waves through a political system already shaken by a deep economic crisis.

Speaking after the ruling, the Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, said he regretted the decision but hoped it would not de-rail current negotiations with the International Monetary Fund aimed at getting Turkey out of an economic crisis.

"Our economy is undergoing a very sensitive period. Our economy should not be shaken," he said.

In Turkey in its present state, there is no democracy

Virtue leader Recai Kutan
The IMF and the World Bank have agreed to lend Turkey billions of dollars to help it recover after its currency, the lira, lost some 40% of its value.

Thousands of firms have folded and about half a million Turks have lost their jobs since February.

The court's ruling is likely to draw criticism from the European Union, which is pushing Turkey for democratic reforms before it can join the union.

Virtue leader Recai Kutan said the verdict was a "a blow to Turkey's search for democracy and law".

"Let nobody be deceived," Mr Kutan added. "In Turkey in its present state, there is no democracy."

Recai Kutan
Recai Kutan said the decision was "wrong and unfair"
The Virtue Party has become the latest in a series of pro-Islamic parties to be closed down under Turkey's strictly secular system.

The court ordered that Virtue's assets should be handed over to the treasury.

Most of the party's 102 members of parliament will be allowed to remain as independents.

But two deputies have been banned for politics for five years.

The court's ruling could also lead to a split in the Islamic movement and mark the end of an era, stretching back three decades, in which political Islam in Turkey was represented by a single party.

Virtue was widely seen as more moderate than some of its pro-Islamic predecessors.

The party did not call for an Islamic state, but pressed for a relaxation of secular laws which, for example, forbid women working in government offices or students from wearing Islamic-style head scarves.

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See also:

11 Jun 01 | Europe
Turkish opposition faces ban
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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