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Turkey Shuts Down Islamic Party

January 16, 1998

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Turkey’s high court today outlawed the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party, a powerful political force that the military and other leaders accused of undermining the government’s secular doctrines.

But the Constitutional Court ruling is only a temporary victory for opponents of the Islamic political movement. It apparently already is in the process of being re-formed under a new name _ and possibly renewed commitment _ as it did after being abolished twice before since 1970.

The ban may also further strain Turkey’s ties with the European Union and other Western allies, which characterized attempts to quash Turkey’s largest party as undemocratic.

Chief Justice Ahmet Necdet Sezer announced the 9-2 vote a month after deliberations began.

The court’s decision limits the political activities of Welfare leaders, including former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, for the next five years. All its assets now must be turned over to the state.

Welfare won 21 percent of the votes in 1995 elections. Party chief Erbakan led the country in a center-right coalition for a year until June, when he resigned under pressure from the military.

Despite its overwhelmingly Islamic population, Turkey constitutionally is a secular nation _ and the armed forces consider themselves the protector of that status.

Speeches by Welfare leaders and actions by the government led by Erbakan were part of the basis for the indictment.

Erbakan once called Welfare an ``Islamic jihad army″ and insisted that the party’s Islamic-guided principles will one day rule Turkey, regardless if the transition is ``sweet or bloody.″

Welfare backers protested that the party was being unfairly punished by a system incapable of recognizing that religion and politics can co-exist, as they do in Christian Democratic parties in Europe.

The verdict followed Monday’s decision to freeze about $6 million of government funds allocated for Welfare for this year.