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About a Million Turks Protest Pro-Islamist Government

29 April 2007

About a million people have rallied in Turkey's largest city to protest the country's pro-Islamic government and to show support for secularism.

The crowd waved red and white Turkish flags Sunday in Istanbul's Caglayan square and chanted that Turkey is secular and will remain secular.

Protesters also invoked the memory of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who laid down secular principles as the founder of modern Turkey.

A similar demonstration took place in the capital, Ankara, about two weeks ago.

Today's protest came after Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a member of the Islamist-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party, narrowly missed becoming Turkey's next president in the first round of parliamentary voting Friday.

The protest also followed a rise in tension between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey's military, which says it will defend the country's secular traditions.

Mr. Gul said in televised remarks today he will remain his party's presidential candidate. On Friday, he fell 10 votes short of the required 367 in parliament to be elected in the first round. A second round is set for this week.

Secular Turks have expressed fear that Mr. 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. Mr. Gul - a former prime minister - has said if he is elected, he will abide by the secular principles laid down by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

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

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

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