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Secularist coalition takes reins in Turkey

June 30, 1997
Web posted at: 12:22 p.m. EDT (1622 GMT)

ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Secularist Mesut Yilmaz was appointed by the president Monday to succeed Necmettin Erbakan as Turkish prime minister. Yilmaz officially took over the post from a smiling Erbakan in a brief ceremony later in the day.

As the two men shook hands, the curtain came down on Turkey's first Islamist-led government. Yilmaz becomes the head of a coalition government replacing Erbakan's, which had repeatedly angered Turkey's military with its pro-religious policies.

Turkey is officially secular, and the military considers itself the guardian of secularism, the basic principle of Turkey's constitution.

Yilmaz's coalition faces a confidence vote in the next two weeks.

Erbakan resigned two weeks ago in an attempted power swap, hoping junior coalition partner Tansu Ciller would take over his post. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel blocked the attempt, asking Yilmaz to form a government rather than Ciller.

Demirel approved Yilmaz's cabinet on Monday. The new coalition government brings together members of Turkey's right and left.

Yilmaz named former prime minister Bulent Ecevit as one of his two deputy prime ministers. Ecevit is a staunch secularist best known abroad as the man who ordered Turkish troops to invade Cyprus in 1974 following a Greek Cypriot coup.

Former journalist Ismail Cem, a member of Ecevit's Democratic Left Party, was named as foreign minister, the post Ciller held until this week.

Although the coalition has support from both ends of the political spectrum, it is a minority three-party coalition and will depend on support from others. Yilmaz will know where he stands almost immediately: A parliamentary confidence vote must be held in early July.

Under Turkish parliamentary procedure, Yilmaz or one of his cabinet members must read out the government's program in parliament and officially apply for a confidence vote by next Monday. The parliament will debate the government's newly debated policies for two days, then break for another full day before the confidence vote is held.

Yilmaz has been boosted by a wave of defections from a conservative faction allied to Erbakan's Islam-based Welfare Party and now has around 12 more parliament members on paper than his opponents in the 550-member national assembly.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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