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 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 16:10 GMT
Erdogan closer to Turkish PM job
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan can stand in a by-election
The Turkish President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, has approved constitutional changes that open the way for the leader of the governing party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to become prime minister.

Mr Erdogan had been barred from public office because of a 1999 conviction for inciting religious hatred.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer,
President Sezer objected to the reforms
He will now be allowed to stand in a by-election expected in February and could replace current Prime Minister Abdullah Gul soon afterwards.

The president had initially rejected the reforms, but he agreed after the government - strongly supported by the opposition - re-submitted the amendments unchanged.

Mr Sezer had to either approve them or call a referendum.

Limited ban

Although the law under which Mr Erdogan was convicted has since been scrapped, he was unable to stand in the poll because the Turkish constitution still upheld the ban.

Mr Sezer initially said the constitutional amendments were unacceptable because they were designed specifically to benefit Mr Erdogan, whose Justice and Development (AK) Party won a landslide election in November.

But analysts say the public was likely to have backed the reforms if a referendum had been called.

The amendments limit the ban on running for office to those who have convicted on terrorism charges.

Mr Gul, the AK Party's vice president, is serving as prime minister in Mr Erdogan's absence, but correspondents say Mr Erdogan is the power behind the scenes.

Now Mr Erdogan is expected to stand as a candidate in the south-east province of Siirt where the parliamentary election is having to be re-run because of problems in November.

The AK Party has its roots in Turkey's Islamic political movement, but denies it has an Islamist agenda.

Its victory in the November polls allowed it to form Turkey's first one-party government in 15 years.

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  The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul
"It's a New Year's gift to savour"
Turkey's election

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26 Dec 02 | Europe
08 Nov 02 | Europe
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