Monday, May 14, 2007

Another huge anti-Islamist protest in Turkey

Anti-Islamist Turks turned out in droves today in the coastal city of Izmir, keeping up pressure on the Islamist-rooted Erdogan government after protests forced the country into early elections due July 22nd.

Islamic radicals set off a bomb blast on the eve of the protest in an open air market place, killing a stall owner and injuring 14 other people.It didn't scare off the crowds in the least, and may have even intensified them.

Demonstrators packed a large seafront square in Izmir, Turkey's third largest city, brandishing Turkish flags and portraits of the country's secularist founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The crowds were in the hundreds of thousands, and Sky News in Turkey estimated the throng at as much as 1 million people.

Sunday's anti-Islamist rally follows similar mass demonstrations held recently in the capital Ankara, the largest city Istanbul and the large city Manisa in the west.

As you'll notice, a large number of the demonstrators are women, who arguably have the most to lose in an Islamist state.

It's also noticeable that the rallies have occurred primarily among Turkey's urban, more educated, affluent and secular population and not in the poorer rural areas, which tend to support the Islamist cause much more.

The mass rallies began last month over the prospect of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) taking over the entire government by appointing Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to the presidency.

Parliament, blocked by a non-Islamist opposition boycott, failed twice to elect a president.

This led to stiff warning from the military that it stood ready to defend the secular constitution, which forced Prime Minister Erdogan to hold early elections.

The problem, and the reason that the AKP is still the ruling party is the divisions inherent in Turkish politics, exacerbated by some peculiarities in the contitution.The ruling Islamist AKP party holds two thirds of the seats in parliament, even though they only won 34 % of the vote.

AT Izmir, there was some expectation that the two main opposition parties, The Republican People's Party (CHP), and the smaller Democratic Left Party would annouce an alliance to defeat the AKP. They didn't, and in fact are still fencing with each other over the details.

This is a major battle for Turkey's soul, and one that has important implications in the War on Jihad. Will Turkey remain a secular democracy or move steadily into the Islamist camp?

We'll find out.

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