Leave Turkey's presidential election alone, says EU

BERLIN - Turkey's presidential election must be fully democratic and untainted by outside interference, the EU said Saturday amid fears the army could step in to defend the country's secular system.

"The presidency of the European Union is following closely the situation in Turkey ahead of the first round of the presidential election," the German EU presidency said in a statement issued in Berlin.

The EU "expects that all political leaders involved in this presidential election will behave in accordance with the democratic laws of state set down by the constitution," the statement said.

In particular, the EU urges "that the election and the Constitutional Court are not influenced by external pressures," it said.

The Turkish army, responsible for three past coups, warned late Friday that it was determined to defend the country's secular system, weighing in on a presidential vote that has sharply divided secularists and the Islamist-rooted government.

The parliament held Friday an inconclusive first round of voting to elect a new president with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) the sole candidate.

The AKP's nomination of Gul has fanned unease in an increasingly polarised society where many fear the secular order is under threat from a growing Islamist influence.

Many are unconvinced by the AKP's arguments that it has disavowed its Islamist past and fear the government will have a free hand to implement a suspected agenda that will erode the separation of state and religion if Gul is elected.

The main opposition Republican People's Party, which strongly opposes the idea of a former Islamist becoming president, on Friday evening petitioned the Constitutional Court to cancel the first round of voting, citing violation of a quorum rule.

If the court annuls the vote, general elections -- originally scheduled for November 4 -- must be called within 90 days.

04/28/2007 18:54 GMT

Copyright © 2007