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Last Updated: Friday, 19 May 2006, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Profile: Turkey's Bulent Ecevit
Bulent Ecevit
Bulent Ecevit: A major figure in Turkish politics for decades
Veteran Turkish politician Bulent Ecevit, 80, is in an induced coma in hospital after suffering a stroke.

He has been the great survivor of Turkish politics, with a high-profile career spanning 45 years.

He was still applauded by the crowds at the funeral of murdered judge Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin on Thursday, shortly before he was taken ill.

He is well known abroad for having ordered the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, leading to the island's division which still exists today.

Two issues that dominated his later periods in office remain highly sensitive in Turkey today - the state's secular character and the bid to join the European Union.

Mr Ecevit, whose fifth term in office ended in 2002, strongly opposed the country's Islamists and championed the secular state - as he continued to do at the judge's funeral on Thursday.

It was concern over his health that led in part to his defeat in 2002 by the Justice and Development (AK) Party, which has Islamist roots.

The 77-year-old had refused to bow to pressure from his own allies and resign as prime minister during months of failing health, and he was blamed in part for the economic crisis which rocked Turkey.

But it was his very tenacity which had characterised a long political career.

His refusal to budge on many issues earned him a reputation for intransigence.

Poetry and politics

Bulent Ecevit was born in 1925, the son of a professor of medicine and a painter.

He graduated in literature from Istanbul's Robert College. A class yearbook entry reads: "A cup of tea, a piece of paper, a pencil, and a poetry book are the most faithful friends of Bulent."

But he was interested in politics too.

Turkish invasion of Cyprus 1974
Mr Ecevit ordered the invasion of Cyprus in 1974

After a stint in the Turkish embassy in London, Mr Ecevit became the youngest member of the Turkish parliament, standing for the Republican People's Party (CHP) in 1957.

His rise was steady. After serving as a government minister, he became the secretary general of the CHP.

He was a bitter opponent of martial law imposed in 1971 and resigned from the post to fight against the party leadership's decision to support a government imposed by the military.

The next year, he took the party reins.

In the general election campaign which followed, Mr Ecevit toured the country outlining his social democratic ideals. He promised political and social reform and fairer distribution of land.

In 1974, he became Turkey's first left-wing prime minister.

But despite his social democrat views, he was also a strong nationalist - a quality that particularly emerged after the coup on the island of Cyprus by Greek Cypriots later that year.

He ordered the invasion to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, leading to the division.

He enjoyed hero status in Turkey in the aftermath, but his coalition broke up before the end of the year and he was out of office.

Thereafter, his political career was a rollercoaster. He served as prime minister for two brief periods during the late 1970s, but was also imprisoned by the military following coups during the early 1980s.

Banned from politics for 10 years, he nonetheless managed to cultivate a reputation as a moderate elder statesman - which was to serve him well.

Unexpected return

He was briefly caretaker prime minister in the run-up to the 1999 general elections, which saw him re-elected by a nation eager for stability as the country faced financial crisis.

But this last period in office was marred by a very public row with the country's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, over how to tackle corruption.

In early 2001, as fears grew over the stability of the country, the Turkish lira lost a quarter of its value and the International Monetary Fund was called in to rescue the economy.

He has also had to deal with right-wing nationalists in his own coalition who were opposed to many of the reforms designed to enable Turkey to join the European Union.

Poor health dogged him through much of 2002, as he battled fresh political and economic crises. After failing to lead his party back into the National Assembly, he later retired from active politics in 2004.

Islam tests secular Istanbul
07 Oct 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Turkey
05 Apr 06 |  Country profiles

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