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Tens of Thousands of Turks Demonstrate for Secular Government

05 May 2007

Tens of thousands of flag-waving Turks took to the streets Saturday to demonstrate in favor of a secular government.

Large rallies were held in the western cities of Canakkale and Manisa.

Marchers called for the presidential candidate of the ruling Islam-rooted AK Party to withdraw, demanding that Turkey remain strictly secular. They also held pictures of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who laid down the secular principles as the founder of modern Turkey.

Also Saturday, two center-right opposition parties - the True Path and Motherland - announced they are uniting as the Democrat Party in order to challenge the ruling party in July 22 general elections.

Turkey's Constitutional Court annulled the first round of voting in parliament to elect a president in late April, citing lack of a quorum. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul of the ruling party was the only candidate.

Following the parliamentary vote, the military issued a statement warning that it will defend secularism.

The parliament approved July 22 as the date for early general elections.

The AK Party introduced constitutional amendments that included proposals to lower the voting age and allow the Turkish people, instead of parliament, to elect the president.

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

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