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Main opposition leader to form Turkish government

Ex-prime minister calls appointment undemocratic

June 20, 1997
Web posted at: 4:32 p.m. EDT (2032 GMT)

Latest developments:

ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- A staunch secularist conservative on Friday was handed the difficult task of forging a new coalition government following the resignation of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan under pressure from the military.

In naming Mesut Yilmaz, 50, as the next prime minister, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel rejected an Islamic party's bid to stay in power until new elections.

Yilmaz has been Turkey's prime minister twice before and will now have to patch together a coalition from among a host of squabbling secularist leaders after Erbakan stepped down Wednesday as modern Turkey's first Islamist leader.

Erbakan called the president's action "wrong" and undemocratic. "To suddenly make the appointment after talking only to the opposition is against democratic practice," he said.

Yilmaz, the head of the Motherland Party, said he would try to submit the new government to Demirel for approval by June 30. The government must then win a vote of confidence in the 550-seat Parliament.

Change in leadership pleases military

The decision will likely satisfy Turkey's pro-secular military, which forced Erbakan to resign after accusing him of trying to increase the role of Islam in Turkey.

But it is sure to anger his supporters in the Islamic-led Welfare Party.

In addition, Yilmaz could easily fail to gain parliamentary approval for his government, leading to a long period of political maneuvering and possible early elections.

He has the backing of two leftist parties which have said they were prepared to support Yilmaz in an "Islamist-free" coalition.

But Yilmaz would still require substantial defections from a rival conservative party, led by rival Tansu Ciller, the leader of the True Path Party who served as Erbakan's deputy prime minister.

Yilmaz said he would meet with the leaders of the other secularist parties, including Ciller, on Tuesday.

Bid to name Ciller prime minister fails


Pro-Western Ciller was also in the running for the top job. She has the backing of 282 members of Parliament, at least on paper.

But Ciller, who became Turkey's first woman prime minister in 1993, is distrusted by the secularist establishment for going into coalition with the Erbakan's Islam-based Welfare Party last year after pledging not to do so.

Erbakan had proposed that Ciller replace him. That way the Welfare Party would have stayed in government, holding key Cabinet posts.

But Demirel believed such a power swap wasn't possible under Turkish law and tradition, his office said on Friday.

The first term for Yilmaz as prime minister lasted for five months in 1991. His most recent government was formed last year and collapsed three months later when he backed corruption investigations against Ciller.

Trained as an economist, Yilmaz also has served as foreign minister.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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