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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK

World: Europe

Turkish nationalists reject coalition

The MHP: Has tried to appear more moderate

Turkey's largest opposition party has pulled out of coalition talks with the ruling party, leaving the country without a government almost a month after the general election.

The BBC's Chris Morris: "Baptism of fire for an alternative coalition"
The far-right Nationalist Action Party, or MHP, withdrew from negotiations over comments made by Rahsan Ecevit, the wife of caretaker Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit.

Mrs Ecevit, who is also deputy chairwoman of her husband's Democratic Left Party, recalled MHP's involvement in street clashes during the 1970s, saying she was deeply suspicious about the nationalists' violent past.

The leader of the MHP, Devlet Bahceli, branded her comments "illegal" and "prejudiced" and demanded an apology.

He said he would not be attending fresh coalition talks on Monday, because Mrs Ecevit's criticism had destroyed the atmosphere of trust.

[ image: The Virtue Party was pushed into third place by the MHP]
The Virtue Party was pushed into third place by the MHP
Mr Bahceli has tried to present a new image of moderation despite the continued presence of some hardliners in his party's ranks.

It is not clear where this leaves Mr Ecevit's efforts to form a new goverment. The prime minister had hoped to forge a strong coaltion with the MHP and the centre-right Motherland Party.

BBC Ankara Correspondent Chris Morris says such public posturing often hides hard political bargaining, although plenty of bad blood remains in Turkey between left and right.

But the formation of a government is becoming an increasingly urgent priority with several pressing economic issues to be tackled.

Headscarf row

Mr Ecevit may now try to stitch a different coalition together, but risks leaving the MHP in oppositon with the Islamist Virtue party.

The Turkish Parliament has been locked in an increasingly bitter row since the election because Mr Ecevit refuses to allow the Virtue Party's Merve Kavakci to be sworn in as a deputy until she removes her headscarf.

The wearing of a headscarf is seen as a provocative political statement by Turkey's strictly secular establishment.

Moves are now under way to revoke Ms Kavakci's Turkish citizenship and to ban the Virtue Party if it persists in supporting her.

Last month's elections saw the MHP take 18% of the vote, surging ahead of the Virtue Party which had previously been the largest opposition group.

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