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The BBC's Chris Morris
"Conservative religious beliefs are still deeply entrenched"
 real 28k

Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Army chief demands Islamist purge
Huseyin Kivrikoglu
General Kivrikoglu: Islamists are expelled instantly by army
The head of the Turkish army has called for a purge of all Islamist government employees, accusing them of trying to undermine the secular state.

Huseyin Kivrikoglu, chief of the army's general staff, is quoted by newspapers as saying that Islamists have penetrated official positions at every level.

They have spread everywhere... They have seeped into the judiciary

Huseyin Kivrikoglu
"There are thousands of civil servants who want to destroy the state. They are working against the state every day in order to overthrow it," the general is quoted as saying in Hurriyet.

In a related development, a Turkish prosecutor has filed charges against one of the country's most prominent religious leaders, Fethullah Gulen, accusing him of trying to overthrow the secular system and set up an Islamic state.

The general's comments come in the wake of a dispute between the president and prime minister over a decree enabling the sacking of civil servants linked to Islamist and Kurdish movements.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer
Comments put President Sezer under pressure
The Turkish military regards itself as the protector of the secular state and has frequently intervened in national politics.

"The army expels this kind of people as soon as it detects them," the general is quoted as saying. "If (the government) wants public offices to function properly it should do the same,"

"They have spread everywhere... They have seeped into the judiciary," he added.

Cleric charged

The indictment against Fethullah Gulen accuses the sect leader of wanting to establish an Islamic state and running an illegal organisation of followers implanted in the civil service, police and education service.

The charges come despite an earlier court order quashing an arrest warrant for Mr Gulen, who is currently in the United States having medical treatment.

Our correspondent in Ankara, Chris Morris, says it is estimated that Mr Gulen has hundreds of thousands of followers.

He portrays himself as a moderate religious leader, but videotape evidence leaked last year showed him urging his supporters in the civil service to wait for orders to undermine the system from within.

Blocked decree

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer has twice refused to approve a decree which would allow the dismissal of thousands of public employees suspected of Islamist or separatist leanings.

Victory Day celebrations in Ankara
Politicians defy the Turkish armed forces at their peril
The draft is now to be submitted to parliament when its summer recess ends in October.

Correspondents say the general's intervention will increase pressure on parliament to approve the proposals for a purge.

Mr Kivrikoglu said the military would closely follow the passage of the bill, reports say.

Army role

Correspondents say the general's comments are unusually candid for the normally taciturn soldier.

He was speaking to journalists at a reception on the national Victory Day holiday, which commemorates the end of the 1922 war with Greece.

The army has staged three coups against elected Turkish governments since 1960.

It also spearheaded the campaign to force Turkey's first Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, to resign in 1997.

Although Turkey is a Muslim country, the state is constitutionally secular, and the army is the cornerstone of the secular establishment.

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See also:

31 Aug 00 | Europe
Gulen: The face of secular Islam
23 Aug 00 | Europe
Turkey moves against Islamists
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