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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 July 2007, 22:34 GMT 23:34 UK
Turkey to vote in key elections
Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan. File photo
Mr Erdogan has been emphasising the government's economic record
Polls are to open shortly in Turkey's general election, in what is seen as one of the most important votes in the country's history.

The early poll was called after MPs from secular parties and the ruling AK Party reached deadlock, after failing to agree on a candidate for president.

The government has been focusing its campaign on its economic record.

The opposition accuses the Islamic-based AK Party of threatening Turkey's secular system.

Many here believe it is the army that really calls the shots, without needing to fire any
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell

Some 42 million people are eligible to vote, while 14 parties are vying for seats in the 550-member parliament.

Polls open at 0700 (0400 GMT) in eastern Turkey, and then an hour later in the rest of the country.

Voters have been heading home from the beaches by the coach load, interrupting their holidays to take part in the polls, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in the capital Ankara says.

Some of them say they have made a special effort to come back this time because they believe that the secular system needs to be protected, our correspondent says.

She says that the role of religion here will be a key issue at the ballot box, and so will Turkey's relations with the outside world.

Nationalist sentiment is running high, fed by bitter disappointment with the EU. Renewed fighting with separatist Kurds and talk of an incursion into northern Iraq will also influence the result, our correspondent adds.

All election banners, slogans and party flags were taken down on Saturday night, in accordance with Turkey's electoral law.

Tension

The election has been called in an effort to break a stalemate over a package of constitutional reforms proposed by the current government of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan.

A man carries Turkish flags in Ankara. File photo

Those reforms include a proposal for the country's president to be elected directly by the people, rather than by parliament.

They were put forward by the AK Party, whose candidate for the presidency, Abdullah Gul, was repeatedly rejected by parliament.

Turkey's current president and its secularist establishment have vowed to resist what they regard as the Islamist agenda of the AK Party.

Mr Erdogan's government denies the claims, saying its record in office proves the contrary.

The government has overseen almost five straight years of economic growth and opened membership negotiations with the European Union.




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