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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 23:21 GMT
Crucial Turkish poll delayed
Recep Erdogan
Erdogan is the real power behind the scenes
Election officials in Turkey have postponed a by-election which could pave the way for ruling party leader Recep Erdogan to become prime minister.

Mr Erdogan, who heads the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is hoping to contest the seat after a law barring him from standing for parliament was recently revoked.

US plane at Turkey's Incirlik air base
Instability in Turkey could harm US plans for war
The party won general elections in November, but Mr Erdogan was banned from holding political office because of a conviction for inciting religious hatred.

Turkey's election board said it was delaying the by-election in the south-eastern province of Siirt from 9 February to 9 March.

Mr Erdogan is widely expected to win the seat and replace his deputy, Abdullah Gul, as prime minister.

Ban overturned

One of the AKP's first acts in government was to overturn the law, making Mr Erdogan eligible to stand for parliament even though he had a conviction.

His party also passed a law delaying the start of the by-election to ensure it would not take place before Mr Erdogan could contest it.

Despite his ban, Mr Erdogan has been treated as the de facto Turkish leader by the international community since the AKP swept to power.

The election board said it had decided to delay the by-election to conform with the constitutional changes.

The poll in Siirt was originally rescheduled after it emerged that ballots had been tampered with.

Instability fears

Mr Erdogan still needs the approval of the election board before he is declared eligible to stand.

The situation is being closely watched abroad, where observers fear any move to prevent Mr Erdogan from competing could lead to political instability at a time when Turkish help is being sought in a potential war with Iraq.

The AKP has its roots in Turkey's Islamic political movement, but Mr Erdogan says the AKP is a secular party which seeks close ties with Europe.

Mr Erdogan was convicted of inciting religious hatred in 1999, but says he has since changed his ways.

Turkey's election

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31 Dec 02 | Europe
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08 Nov 02 | Europe
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