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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Ecevit defies pressure to go
Husamettin Ozkan (l) and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit (r)
Mr Ozkan was a key aide to the prime minister
Turkey's ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has appointed new ministers after a string of resignations from cabinet and party colleagues demanding early elections.

But he is refusing calls to step down. Opposition leader Tansu Ciller said he had told her on Tuesday that he "had not yet come to the point of resignation".


Elections must be held because there is no other foreseeable solution to this mess that we are in

Ahmet, Turkey
Six government ministers, including one of the deputy prime ministers - Mr Ecevit's key ally Husamettin Ozkan - have abandoned both the prime minister and his Democratic Left Party (DSP) in the past two days.

Another deputy prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, has called for a new Turkish government, while the leader of the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) - a member of Mr Ecevit's three-party coalition - called on Sunday for early elections.

At least 26 MPs have departed since Monday, causing the DSP to lose its status as the largest party both in parliament and the fragile coalition.

Determined

The crisis has been triggered by Mr Ecevit's prolonged ill-health, which has kept him away from office since early May.

But the prime minister is insisting on staying on.

"I had the opportunity to ask him whether he would resign and he told me that he saw the difficulty in the continuation of the government but that he had not yet come to the point of resignation," True Path Party leader Tansu Ciller told reporters after meeting the prime minister.

"He also said that he wanted general elections to take place on schedule [in 2004]," she said.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul says, however, that it seems unavoidable that elections will be brought forward.

But it remains wholly unclear what kind of political set-up a national poll would produce.

Current opinion polls suggest that, were elections held now, the principal winner would be the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party - which would almost certainly upset the army-led secularist elite of the mainly Muslim country.

Key ally lost

The United States is said to be monitoring the situation "with interest".

As the only Muslim-majority member of Nato, Turkey's political and economic stability are important to a variety of US interests abroad - including the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Our correspondent says the catalyst for the ministers' resignations seems to have been a call on Sunday for early elections from MHP leader Devlet Bahceli.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit
Mr Ecevit's ill health has created a climate of political uncertainty
Correspondents say the departed deputy Mr Ozkan, once seen as a likely successor to Mr Ecevit, played a vital role in keeping the shaky coalition together.

He acted as a mediator, resolving disputes over economic reforms with other parties.

According to NTV, Mr Ozkan was replaced by Sukru Sina Gurel, who had been in charge of the Cyprus affairs portfolio.

Market tumble

Markets are worried that a new government will not stick to the programme hammered out with the International Monetary Fund in return for a massive $16bn loan agreed earlier this year.

Ministers have also been in a rush to pass the reforms needed to start membership negotiations with the European Union. The end of the year is the effective deadline.

But with early elections looking like a necessity, there will be no legislative progress for months, which is likely to unsettle the business community still further, and jeopardise the country's bid to start talks with Brussels.

"It's a big political mess and I don't see anyone stepping up to offer a political solution," said Emre Balkeser, a senior bank trader at Alfa Securities in Istanbul.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"Bulent Ecevit is an ailing giant"
Istanbul Businessman Ali Pamir
"The level of frustration is increasing"
Ambassador for the Virtue Party Yasar Yakis
"We are far ahead of all the other parties"

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25 Jun 02 | Europe
09 Jun 02 | Europe
09 Jul 02 | Business
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