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Turkey's economy minister resigns

A police officer salutes Dervis as he leaves Ecevit 's office after a meeting with the premier on Friday
A police officer salutes Dervis as he leaves Ecevit 's office after a meeting with the premier on Friday  

ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Kemal Dervis, the man credited with pulling Turkey's economy out of crisis, resigned from the country's crumbling coalition government on Saturday, pledging to try to unite an array of centre-left parties ahead of November elections.

Dervis, who was not an elected official, quit briefly last month to join a new political party formed by defectors from Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's party but he withdrew his resignation after pleas from President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

More than 50 members of Turkey's parliament and Cabinet members of Ecevit's Democratic Left party have resigned in recent months, in part because of the 77-year-old premier's refusal to leave the prime minister's post despite suffering from a number of ailments over recent months.

This week, Ecevit warned Dervis about his attempts to set up a rival political group while still a member of the government. Dervis is believed to be trying to form a broad, pro-Western political alliance ahead of elections but has yet officially to join any party. (Dervis: architect of Turkey's recovery)

Bulent Ecevit 
Kemal Dervis 
Ismail Cem 

"It is not acceptable for the treasury minister to be going from door to door trying to direct the course of politics," the prime minister told CNN Turk television on Tuesday.

"Our patience as a party is exhausted. The time has come for a warning, a reminder ... It is up to Mr. Dervis whether to part company or not."

Ecevit was again reported to have told Dervis on Friday that the minister should make up his mind if he wanted to join politics or stay on as economy minister.

"[Ecevit) said it was not right to be in the government while pursuing political activities together with other political parties," Dervis said on Saturday. "I have taken these comments into consideration. I am resigning from the government today.

"Wish me luck," he added.

The beleaguered Ecevit is facing early elections on November 3  

Dervis said he would create a new political movement, but stopped short of saying whether he would run in November elections.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit chose little-known Democratic Left Party lawmaker Masum Turker to replace Dervis. The appointment was sent to the president for approval on Saturday.

Political uncertainty is threatening economic and political stability in Turkey, which is trying to join the European Union and is a key NATO member.

The guidance of Dervis, a former World Bank official, has been crucial in securing the IMF loans as Turkey struggles to recover from its worst recession since World War II. Turkey is the International Monetary Fund's largest borrower with a total of $31 billion in loans.

Cem and Ecevit
Dervis has lent support for a new party led by former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem (front)  

Turkey's jittery financial markets have been bracing for the resignation. But because it was widely expected, the move might not have a strong impact on markets. The IMF earlier this week approved a further $1.1 billion loan to Turkey and said its economic recovery programme was on track.

Last month, Ecevit also told the Milliyet newspaper that he would leave his post if Dervis was forced to resign or if he lost his majority in the 550-member parliament.

"It is a very interesting case, defections from my own party," Ecevit said. "I have no problems with them. They have no problems with me. For about a year there was a consistent rumor spread around the country by various circles about my health ... Now I am perfectly all right."

"I'm sure we can get over this mini-crisis without much harm to country or my party."

Noting the call for elections this year, Ecevit said he preferred "to see the government continue" till the end of its tenure "so we can accomplish the reforms programme effectively."

Opinion polls ahead of the November 3 election suggest many parties may not get the 10 percent of the national vote requires to win seats in parliament.

That could put the Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose Islamist roots make many fear a clash with Turkey's staunchly secularist military, in a strong political position.

With a possible U.S.-led strike on Iraq looming, Washington will also be hoping that a pro-Western party emerges in a powerful position after the election.

-- Journalist Andrew Finkel contributed to this report


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