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Turkey Islamic Leader Defends Party

November 19, 1997

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan defended his Islamic party today before the Supreme Court, which is considering banning it as a threat to Turkey’s secular system.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the court scrutinized a July meeting in which Erbakan angered Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by suggesting he ease a crackdown against an outlawed Islamic group, Turkey’s Hurriyet daily said today.

``They are our friends, treat them well,″ Hurriyet quoted Erbakan as saying of the group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

During his five hours of testimony Tuesday, Erbakan insisted his statements were not binding on his party, Welfare.

Prosecutor Vural Savas has based most charges on speeches by Erbakan and other party figures. He contends that the party has to be shut down to prevent Turkey _ a constitutionally secular nation despite its predominantly Muslim population _ from becoming an Islamic state.

A decision is expected in about a month. Except for the prosecutor, no one but Erbakan has been called testify. All the sessions are closed.

Erbakan, who has seen the Supreme Court and the military shut down previous Islamic movements he led, argues that his party doesn’t aim to topple the secular system but only tries to serve the needs of Turkey’s Muslims within existing legal boundaries.

Erbakan led the country in a center-right coalition for a year until June, when the military, which considers itself the guarantor of the secular system, pressured him into resigning.

If his party is disbanded, Erbakan will lose his parliamentary immunity and be banned from politics for five years.

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