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Saturday, February 27, 1999 Published at 15:43 GMT

World: Europe

Turkey's Islamists launch election campaign

Turkey's pro-Islamist Virtue Party has launched its general election campaign with a rally in the party's stronghold of Konya.

About 3,000 supporters gathered to hear a speech by their leader Recai Kutan.

It came as Turkey's election board barred the former Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, from taking part in the April election. Mr Erbakan presided over Turkey's first Islamic-led government until he was forced from office by the pro-secular military in June 1997.

Correspondents say the Virtue Party aims to emulate the success of the Mr Erbakan's now-banned Islamist Welfare Party, which won Turkey's 1995 election.

The former conservative prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, has however warned that the country would face a very difficult time if it fell into the hands of Islamists.

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