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Turkish Leader Sweeps By-Elections

March 9, 2003

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ The charismatic Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a huge victory in parliamentary by-elections Sunday, opening the way for him to become prime minister and strengthening his hand to unite a government divided over whether to deploy U.S. troops for a war in Iraq.

Erdogan has advocated basing the U.S. troops in Turkey and analysts say one of his first moves as premier may be to purge ministers opposed to a U.S. deployment.

Preliminary results showed Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party capturing 84.7 percent of the vote in by-elections in the southern town of Siirt, with 87 percent of the ballot boxes counted.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul is expected to resign on Wednesday to make way for Erdogan to take over the government.

It was not clear when parliament would be ready to take up a new resolution to let in the U.S. soldiers. Turkish media say a vote could come as early as Thursday, but Justice Party members said it could take another two weeks before a new government is in place.

Erdogan’s election would likely end some of the confusion within the Turkish government. Gul is head of the administration, but Erdogan leads the ruling party and is widely regarded as the power behind the scenes. It was Erdogan who was invited to the White House to meet with President Bush after Turkey’s national elections in November.

Some analysts say those muddled lines of authority contributed to the failure of the resolution that would have allowed in the U.S. troops. The resolution failed by a mere four votes in the 550-seat parliament despite the party’s huge majority of 362 seats.

``In the November elections, the person who was the prime minister in our hearts was not able to become a deputy. This week this mistake, this shame is being rectified,″ said Deputy Prime Minister Ertugrul Yalcinbayir.

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