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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Turkish military's role in politics
President Sezer (far left) and PM Ecevit (right)
President Sezer (left) is refusing to go along with PM Ecevit (right)
By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala

The Turkish army chief's call for a purge of all government employees with alleged links to Islamist groups is a continuation of a long tradition of the involvement of the powerful military in the country's politics.

The military deposed the civilian government in coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. In between, it has maintained a dominating role over civilian governments.

Most recently, the military was behind the removal of the country's first Islamist government in 1997.

The military sees itself as the guardian of Turkey's secular system, and intervenes whenever it feels that this is threatened.

In this case the military is arguing that civil servants linked to Islamic groups are trying to undermine the secular state.

Purge 'unconstitutional'

The current military intervention in politics concerns a controversial government decree proposing the purge of the civil service. The decree has been strongly opposed by the President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Kivrikoglu, the army chief of staff says Islamists have penetrated official positions at every level.
Mr Sezer is a known secularist, and was expected by the government to approve the bill without question.

The president has however argued that such a measure should be backed by parliamentary legislation, and early in August he sent the decree back to the government saying it was unconstitutional, provoking the anger of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

Concerns over what is and what is not constitutional have not troubled the Turkish military in the past.

"The army expels this kind of people as soon as it detects them. If [the government] wants public offices to function properly it should do the same," Huseyin Kivrikoglu, chief of the army's general staff, has said.

Islamists, along with separatist Kurds, are identified by the military as serious threats to Turkish stability.

Islamist government

Turkey's main Islamic political party, Welfare, was banned in August 1998. It was the biggest party in parliament, and in the general elections in December 1995, it took more than 20% of the vote.

The following year, Welfare leader Necmettin Erbakan became the country's first Islamist prime minister, as part of a coalition government.

PM Ecevit and the military
Mr Ecevit (foreground) has the backing of the military
But Mr Erbakan's rule proved short-lived, when Turkey's military grew increasingly angered by what it saw as Welfare's attempts to Islamise the country, accusing the party of secretly planning to introduce Islamic rule.

Less than a year after he took office, Mr Erbakan was forced to resign under pressure from the military.

Though actual military coups in Turkey appear to be a thing of the past, the military still has a decisive role to play in the running of the country.

EU watches

On paper, Mr Ecevit's current government has the parliamentary majority needed to pass whatever legislation it wants to. But in reality, it is not clear that the proposals will be supported by all of the government coalition's MPs.

With an eye on Turkey's application to join the European Union, the government and military may have to take a softer approach on this issue.

The European Union has made it clear that real movement on constitutional change and improvements in Ankara's human rights record are a prerequisite to joining.

The European Commission is hoping to finalise an accession partnership with Turkey by the end of this year.

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31 Aug 00 | Europe
Army chief demands Islamist purge
23 Aug 00 | Europe
Turkey moves against Islamists
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