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3 Turkish Cabinet Ministers Resign

July 8, 2002

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ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ Three Cabinet ministers, including a deputy prime minister, resigned Monday, private NTV television reported, departures that will fuel calls for early elections and the resignation of ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

Deputy Premier Husamettin Ozkan, who was considered one of Ecevit’s closest aides, stepped down along with the culture minister and a state minister, NTV reported.

The deputy speaker of parliament also resigned, NTV reported. The Anatolia news agency said a total of 17 lawmakers from Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party, including the ministers, resigned Monday.

With the resignations, Ecevit’s party loses its slim majority in parliament to the nationalists, the coalition’s second-largest party.

The departures will increase speculation that the government is on the verge of collapse. On Sunday, Devlet Bahceli, leader of the nationalists, called for an early election in November to end uncertainty over Ecevit’s health and divisions within the government.

Ecevit has refused the call to step down, despite his having been in the hospital or confined to his home because of illness for the past two months.

The resignation of Ozkan is an especially sharp blow.

Ozkan, one of three deputy premiers, was considered Ecevit’s closest aide and his possible successor. He was seen as a key player in keeping the coalition, whose partners differ on many issues, together for over three years.

But the two men have drifted apart in recent weeks.

Ecevit was apparently angered that Ozkan failed to quash rumors that Ecevit was too ill to govern.

Ozkan ``has created deep sadness among our organization and our friends in the party,″ Ecevit told private CNN-Turk television in an interview Sunday.

Ozkan enjoyed good relations with the other two coalition partners _ as well as with the influential military and the business world _ and often brokered compromise solutions when the government was divided.

``If Ozkan goes then the coalition goes too,″ Bilal Cetin wrote in daily Sabah on Monday.

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