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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 11:58 GMT
Turkish army issues Islam warning
Turkish soldiers
The army has carried out three coups since 1960
The head of the Turkish army has accused the new government of encouraging Islamic activism.

It is the first public sign of tension between the military and the new government led by the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development (AK) Party, which was elected in November.

The comments by General Hilmi Ozkok came after Prime Minister Abdullah Gul entered formal reservations last month against an order expelling soldiers from the army for Islamic agitation.

He said that by raising his "opposition" to the expulsions, Mr Gul had "undoubtedly encouraged those involved in anti-secular activities".

Headscarf warning

The country's military views itself as the guardian of the secular principles of the Turkish state, and has carried out three coups since 1960.

In 1997 it led a campaign to force from power Turkey's first Islamist-led government, led by the AK Party's predecessor, the Virtue Party.

General Hilmi Ozkok
Gen Ozkok says the army's role is to protect Turkey from radical Islam

At the time of the election last year, General Ozkok said the army would protect the state from the dangers of radical Islam.

He also said on Wednesday that the military would not look kindly on any moves to change laws banning the Islamic headscarf in public life.

The Islamic head covering is banned in Turkish government offices, schools and universities - a measure that the AK Party sees as a violation of human rights.

Mr Gul said before the election that it would seek to lift the ban, but has since back-pedalled, saying this is not a priority.

No appeal

"We respect the religious faith and the manner of its expression in the private lives of individuals. We criticise no-one for their belief, non-belief or manner of worship," General Ozkok said.

"However, we should not be expected to tolerate the use of these [privileges] and in particular the headscarf, as a symbol and action aimed at eroding the republican traditions."

Mr Gul's objection to the army's expulsion of soldiers for Islamic agitation centred on the fact that there was no right of appeal.

He said that the government would seek to rectify this by amending the law.

General Ozkok said that Mr Gul had, by placing a reservation against a "constitutional document", violated his responsibility to ensure the implementation of laws .

The reservation was therefore "devoid of legal foundation" he said.

Turkey's election

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08 Nov 02 | Europe
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