ANKARA, (Reuters) – Turkey’s ruling AK Party said on Wednesday it will not seek more time to prepare its defence against a prosecutor’s bid to close it for Islamist activities, in an apparent move to accelerate the court process.
The court case has triggered political instability and unsettled financial markets in Turkey and there had been speculation that the party would seek such an extension to the May 2 deadline to present its defence. “We will not seek an additional period (to prepare our defence). Our work is completed. I think we can most probably give our initial response today,” state-run Anatolian news agency reported Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as saying at a news conference.
Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government is at odds with the secular establishment, focused on the military, judiciary and opposition parties, over the role of Islam in the European Union candidate country.
It could have sought an extension of up to three months to prepare its defence after the prosecutor’s call last month for the Constitutional Court to close the party. The AK Party, which rejects the charges, has said the closure case is politically motivated and an attack on democracy. Erdogan said earlier this month he would not rule out changing the constitution to avoid the party’s closure.
The indictment was sent to the AK Party on April 2 with an initial one-month deadline to prepare its defence.
The Court of Appeals prosecutor said on March 14 he had asked the Constitutional Court to shut down the party for anti-secular activities and to ban 71 party officials, including Erdogan, from politics for five years.
Within the indictment, the prosecutor points to the role of Erdogan and other leading AK Party figures in previous parties closed for anti-secular activities.
It also cites comments from Erdogan and other party leaders about the secular system and Islam, arguing that they indicated anti-secular attitudes.
The Constitutional Court agreed at the start of this month to hear the case, which is expected to drag on for many months.
The case was brought after parliament passed a constitutional amendment to lift a ban on university students using the Muslim headscarf, viewed by secularists as a symbol of political Islam.
The European Union, which has been pushing for more democratic reforms in Turkey, has criticised the lawsuit. On Wednesday it welcomed parliament’s reform of a controversial law used to prosecute writers in Turkey for “insulting Turkishness”. Parliament approved the amendment early on Wednesday.
Turkey has banned a number of political parties in the past for alleged Islamist or Kurdish separatist activities. Many commentators expect the AK Party to suffer the same fate. The political instability has added to downward presssure on
the lira and shares in Turkey, which has enjoyed years of strong
economic growth and political reform since the AK Party came to
power in 2002.
Erdogan’s announcement did not have significant impact on
markets, which were already under pressure from worsening
inflation expectations which prompted the central bank to say on
Wednesday that it expected to hike interest rates.