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Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 06:25 GMT 07:25 UK

World: Europe

Turkish PM claims victory

Turnout was reported to be high

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left Party has taken an early lead in the general election, with his main rival, the pro-Islamist Virtue Party, unexpectedly slipping into third place behind an ultra-nationalist party.

Chris Morris in Ankara: Unexpected results
With 70% of the votes counted, Mr Ecevit's party was leading with just under 22% support, up eight points from the last election in 1995.

[ image:  ]
These unofficial results, broadcast on a private Turkish television station, indicate dramatic gains for the extreme right-wing Nationalist Action Party, or MHP. Their share of the vote is put at just over 18%.

BBC Ankara correspondent Chris Morris says both the Democratic Left and the MHP both appear to have benefited from the surge of nationalism following the capture in February of the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

In local elections also taking place, the pro-Kurdish HADEP party may for the first time take control of local councils in the south-east of the country.

It has complained of systematic police harassment during the election campaign.

Caution on coalition plans

Mr Ecevit, a political veteran who first became prime minister 25 years ago, claimed victory at a late night news conference.

Ankara Correspondent Chris Morris: "Surprise success for far right"
But he refused to be drawn on which other parties he planned to bring into his government.

"The results show the DSP will be the first party in these elections," he said. "But before results are officially declared ...I don't think it right to enter into coalition calculations."

[ image: Devlet Bahceli: His party doubled its share of the vote]
Devlet Bahceli: His party doubled its share of the vote
By a quirk of the electoral system, the Nationalist Action party, with its widely spread votes, could yet win the most seats in parliament despite lagging Mr Ecevit in percentage terms.

Leader Devlet Bahceli, a 51-year-old with an economics doctorate, told cheering supporters at party headquarters: "The nation has given us an important duty and we can fulfil it.

"The election is a crossroads for the Turkish nation and democracy."

His party appears to have taken its votes from the pro-Islamic Virtue Party, the successor of the Welfare party which won 21.4% in 1995. Early results gave it less than 16% of the vote this time.

Our correspondent says the protest votes which went to the Islamists at the last election seem to have gone to the nationalists this time around.

Poll deaths

Voting was marred by sporadic outbreaks of violence. Three people were killed in Sanliurfa, in the south-east of the country, when families of rival candidates opened fire.

And four people, including two election monitors, are reported to have been killed when Kurdish rebels attacked a military vehicle in the central province of Sivas.

There were also incidents reported in Istanbul, the eastern city of Agri where a woman was shot, and Aydin in the south west.

[ image: Bulent Ecevit: Fourth premier in as many years has promised stability]
Bulent Ecevit: Fourth premier in as many years has promised stability
Turnout was high, at 81% of the electorate. Election officials say the rush to vote far exceeded that of previous elections. In the main cities, long queues formed at many polling stations even before they opened.

Security was reinforced for the elections after a surge in violent attacks following the capture of Mr Ocalan, whose PKK rebels have fought a bloody 14-year struggle for autonomy in the south-east.

The general election was not officially due until late next year, but the date was brought forward when the current parliament produced nothing more than a series of weak coalitions.

But our correspondent says the new parliament may be just as divided as the old one.

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