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Turkey's Government Criticizes Military's Statement on Presidential Election

28 April 2007

Turkey's Islamic-rooted government has harshly criticized the military after it expressed concern about the country's presidential election.

A government spokesman, Cemil Cicek, Saturday called the military's comments unacceptable in a democracy. He said the General Staff remains under the orders of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey's generals said Friday it should not be forgotten that the armed forces are a staunch defender of Turkey's secular order.

The military issued the statement after the candidate of the Islamic-rooted ruling AK party, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, failed to win enough votes in parliament to become president in the first round of balloting.

The European Union Saturday called on Turkey's military to stay out of politics.

The EU expansion affairs commissioner, Olli Rehn, said the election is a test case for the Turkish military's respect for democracy.

Secular Turks fear that Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan are trying to undermine the country's secular system of government.

Mr. Erdogan has said he has broken with his Islamist past and does not have an Islamic agenda. Gul has said if he is elected, he will abide by the secular principles laid down by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Gul fell 10 votes short of the required 367 to be elected in the first round. A second round is set for next week.

In 1997, Turkey's military helped engineer the ouster of an Islamist-oriented government.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's term expires on May 16.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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