Hundreds of thousands protest against the steady erosion, at the hands of the Erdogan government, of the separation of religion and state in Turkey. Of course, if Erdogan didn’t have his own supporters, he wouldn’t be Prime Minister now, and apparently the inevitable next President.
From the TimesOnline, with thanks to Kemaste:
Hundreds of thousands of Turks took part in two days of protests hoping to persuade the Prime Minister against running for president, amid concerns that his election would put at risk the separation of religion and state in the predominantly Muslim country.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to decide this week whether to stand for president next month. Since his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has roots in political Islam, has a substantial parliamentary majority, its candidate is assured of succeeding Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the President, who is a staunch secularist.
Mr Erdogan, who has presided over strong economic growth and has worked hard to secure Turkey”s European Union candidacy, presents himself as a conservative democrat. But opponents remain suspicious of his Islamist past. Mr Erdogan has served a prison term for sedition and his wife covers her head in the Islamic manner. During his leadership his party has attempted to criminal-ise adultery, banish alcohol from some establishments and relax restrictions on religious education and headscarves.
His opponents, who include top bureaucrats, academics, judges and generals, believe that he has a hidden Islamist agenda to undermine the strict separation of religion and state, which he could put into practice if AKP held all the top government and state posts.
Although in Turkey the Government makes the decisions, the President has the power of veto and traditionally only the staunchest secularists have occupied the most senior position in the State. Kemal AtatÃ¶rk, the creator of modern Turkey 84 years ago, who dismantled the Islamic Caliphate as part of his political reforms, was the first President of the country, and his successors include several top generals.
Mr Erdogan, still testing the waters, has played down his ambitions publicly and told his MPs that general elections due by November are more important. His failure to confirm so far whether he will stand has sparked prolonged debate and led to what amounts to a grudging acceptance of his inevitable ascent, and even the pragmatic financial markets have factored in his election after some volatility. But as the moment of truth approaches, feelings run higher than ever.
Increasingly alarmist talk surrounding the possibly candidacy culminated in strident speeches last week by the outgoing President Sezer and General Yasar Buyukanit, the head of the powerful military.
“The political regime in Turkey has not faced as big a threat as it does today at any stage since the Republic was founded,” said Mr Sezer, referring to a period in which the military dislodged the elected Government four times.