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Saturday, January 9, 1999 Published at 02:48 GMT

World: Europe

Turkish generals warn against fundamentalists

Turkey: A mostly Muslim nation with a secular constitution

Turkey's powerful military has warned that Islamic radicals are preparing to go on the offensive and has called for new laws against fundamentalism.

And the armed forces accused the Islamists of trying to topple the secular system.

The BBC Correspondent in Ankara, Chris Morris, says Turkey's secular establishment is on edge over the upcoming parliamentary elections, fearing the nation's Islamic party will make decisive gains.

The military pressured the nation's first Islamic-led government out of power two years ago. Courts later shut down the main Islamic party called Welfare.

Our correspondent says the military's warning, the third and sternest this week, appears to aimed at Welfare's successor, the Virtue Party.

Virtue has tried to portray a more moderate image and it is expected to perform well in the general election on 18 April.

The military called on secular parties to redouble their efforts to pass laws which will regulate religious education and purge Islamist officials from the state bureaucracy.

'We will intervene'

Turkey's generals also stressed that they intend to follow political events extremely closely and intervene if they deem necessary.

"The fact that these (radical Islamic) people ... have an intention to topple the republic, democracy and secularism increases the importance of the army's position," the military stated in a pamphlet.

The Turkish army staged three coups between 1960 and 1980. Our correspondent says it now prefers to work behind the scenes, but still wields decisive influence.

Its move against the Welfare Party was seen as a "soft coup" and criticised by Western allies as anti-democratic.

But the military defended the intervention in its pamphlet issued on Friday.

"No democracy is obliged to allow political groupings to eliminate democracy even if they come to power through democratic means,'' it said.

"Thus, the banning of political groups which will eliminate democracy by lifting secularism is not against democracy but to the contrary strengthens democracy."

Virtue is the largest party in Turkey's 550-member parliament. However, its strength is partly due to the fragmentation of the pro-secular right-wing and left-wing parties.

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