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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutor Seeks Ban On Turkey's Islamists

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey's chief prosecutor on Tuesday charged the mainstream Islamist Welfare Party with plotting to impose Moslem holy law and said he was bound by the constitution to demand its closure.

Staunch secularist state prosecutor, Vural Savas, told the constitutional court that Welfare, pushed out of power under army pressure last June, posed a threat to the very fabric of the modern Turkish republic. As such, it had to be banished from politics.

"If there was ever a party that deserves to be closed down, both in our country and in the rest of the world, it is the Welfare Party," said Savas in support of his demand that the party be banned for sedition.

The hearing was closed to the public but a copy of Savas' testimony was made available.

He said that Welfare, led by former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, was bent on turning officially secular Turkey into an Islamic state like Iran or Afghanistan.

"If Welfare got its way, nobody should doubt that the Turkish republic would be any different from those countries ruled by religious rules."

But Savas told reporters before the hearing that he was up to the job: "Our laws and constitution state that it is my duty to protect the secular Turkish republic. You can be sure I will be worthy of the task."

Political analysts are divided on the party's likely fate at the hands of the conservative court. The timing of a verdict remains unclear.

Aides to Erbakan, deposed as Turkey's first Islamist prime minister, said the leader would appear in court later in the day to answer charges that his party threatens official secularism.

"In democracies, parties cannot be closed because of their opinions, so he [Erbakan] will convince the court," Welfare deputy chairman Abdullah Gul said.

Despite the very real threat of closure, the party faithful appeared confident of vindication, either in court or in the broader political arena.

"We have not been involved in any violence, we did not use force, and we are not involved in terror," Gul said, predicting the party would bounce back at the next election. "We will come [back] even stronger, it is very clear."

The Welfare Party daily Milli Gazete was in a fighting mood. "Democracy Will Defend Itself Today," read its banner headline.

Commentators say a court decision to ban Welfare, Turkey's biggest political party, could drive the Islamists underground and make them far more dangerous to secularist interests.

They also point to unease in the West toward a ban as an improper curtailment on free speech and political activity.

All the same, the authorities have banned numerous parties -- mostly those with leftist or Kurdish orientation -- throughout the history of the republic.

State prosecutors, backed by the military brass which has provided evidence for the case, in May demanded the party's closure for seeking to undo the secularist system created by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s to replace the fallen Ottoman Empire.