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Turkey’s Cem Aims to Topple Premier

July 13, 2002

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Saying that Turkey’s teetering government has failed, former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem announced Friday that he is forming a new political party that aims to topple the ailing prime minister.

The announcement was the biggest blow so far to the rule of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who said he has no plans to step down. But three more deputies deserted Friday, shaving Ecevit’s majority in the 550-seat parliament to 14 seats, and one of Ecevit’s key allies suggested he might withdraw his party from the coalition.

``Turkey needs an effective administration,″ said Cem, who resigned Thursday. Cem was one of the government’s most popular ministers and was instrumental in warming ties with traditional rival Greece.

``Because of its internal strife, the government has moved away from being a ruling power ... It has become a structure which is unable to take the steps needed,″ Cem said.

Ecevit was widely regarded as the glue that held together his three-party coalition. Since he fell ill in May, coalition members have been divided on whether Turkey should move forward with reforms aimed at meeting European Union membership requirements, such as abolishing the death penalty.

``A key element of our program will be to make Turkey a member of the European Union, to complete the requirements,″ Cem said. ``Turkey must not miss this chance.″

He said the new party would include economy minister Kemal Dervis and former Deputy Premier Husamettin Ozkan. No name for the party has been announced.

Turkey’s stock market soared after the announcement of the creation of the new party, with the benchmark stock index closing nearly 6 percent higher.

``Markets see this as an opportunity not to miss the EU train,″ said Tolga Ediz, an economist in London with Lehman Brothers.

The nationalists, who are now the largest party in parliament following the defections from Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party, oppose many of the EU reforms.

About an hour after Cem’s announcement, Ecevit said he would not resign and that he hoped the nationalists would reconsider their call for elections in November.

He said he was naming his close ally, Sukru Sina Gurel, to replace Cem as foreign minister.

``We have to carry on until the end,″ Ecevit said, referring to scheduled elections in 2004. ``At this stage, I am on top of my duties.″

He said, however, that he would have no choice but to leave the government if his coalition loses its majority in parliament.

Since Monday, 44 deputies have stepped down. With those losses, Ecevit’s party has fallen from the largest in parliament to the third-largest. Cem was the seventh and most prominent Cabinet member to resign this week.

In his hour-long interview with NTV television, Ecevit said his health has been improving. His voice sounded hoarse, however, and his speech was a bit slurred. The 77-year-old Ecevit has been suffering from several ailments, including a spinal injury.

Deputy Premier Mesut Yilmaz hinted Friday that his center-right party might withdraw from the coalition if the government fails to move toward carrying out reforms before December.

``Our most important priority is to accelerate Turkey’s EU membership process,″ Yilmaz said. ``We see that as our most important mission above the government formulas and early elections.″

Asked about Cem’s new party, Yilmaz said: ``It is natural that we will look warm to any (political) formations that we believe would contribute to this mission.″

Dervis said he supports the new political party despite serving as an independent minister in Ecevit’s government, private NTV and CNBC-E televisions reported.

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