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Thursday, 10 August, 2000, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Turkey split over controversial decree
Body found in Istanbul during probe into Hezbollah activities
The Turkish Islamist group Hezbollah is accused of numerous killings
By Chris Morris in Ankara

The Turkish Government has become embroiled in a constitutional tussle with the country's new President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who assumed office in May.

The government has said it will resubmit to the president a decree which would allow it to fire thousands of civil servants who are suspected of supporting radical Islamist or separatist groups.

Earlier this week, Mr Sezer refused to sign the decree because he said it was unconstitutional.

Bulent Ecevit
Bulent Ecevit: Rooting out alleged subversives

The government has decided that it will not modify the document which has been strongly criticised by opposition politicians and trades unions.

The Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, said the decree should become law as soon as possible because, in his words, subversive and separatist movements have recently begun to gain strength.

He gave no specific evidence to back up his allegation, but he insisted that the president was now obliged to sign the decree. It would give the government the power to sack thousands of civil servants, most of whom are suspected of sympathising with radical Islamist groups.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer
Ahmet Necdet Sezer: Government's decree is "unconstitutional"

President Sezer has been keen to emphasise that he shares the government's concern about threats to the secular system, but the former judge wants any reform of this kind to be enacted by parliamentary legislation.

The government and the president have now come to something of an impasse, probably not what Mr Ecevit had in mind when he unexpectedly put forward Mr Sezer's name as a presidential candidate earlier this year.

Speculation of a rift between the two men is now likely to grow, following Mr Ecevit's revelation that Mr Sezer has cancelled their next two regular weekly meetings.

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See also:

06 May 00 | Europe
Profile: Ahmet Necdet Sezer
06 May 00 | Europe
Judge elected Turkish president
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