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Turkish Court Says PM Involved In Antisecularism

Prime Minister Erdogan

Prime Minister Erdogan

ANKARA (Reuters) -- Turkey's top court singled out Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a few allies for criticism when it explained why it had fined the governing Justice and Development (AK) party for undermining Turkey's secular principles.

By specifically blaming Erdogan, Turkey's most popular politician, the Constitutional Court statement is likely to renew tensions in the EU candidate country at a time when it is trying to limit the impact of a global financial crisis.

"It was found that the head of the party Recep Tayyip Erdogan, member of the party and former parliament speaker Bulent Arinc, Education Minister Huseyin Celik...were involved in determined and intense activities which were against the Article 68 of the constitution," it said.

The Constitutional Court was referring to an attempt by the Islamist-rooted AK to lift a ban on Muslim head scarves at universities as it set out its reasons for its July ruling fining the party.

The lira currency, which has lost a third of its value against the dollar this month, opened stronger as Turkish markets focused on the global economic crisis rather than domestic politics.

Erdogan said on October 23 he might seek to trim the powers of the Constitutional Court after its June ruling overturning an amendment to lift the restriction on wearing head scarves at university.

In its latest 370-page statement, the court said the AK party used people's religious sensitivities as an instrument for advancing "pure political interests" and blocked discussion of basic economic and social problems on the political arena.

The court imposed financial penalties on the party in July but dismissed the prosecutor's case to have the AK party closed down and Erdogan and other leading members barred from party activity for five years.

The AK party has been locked in a battle with Turkey's powerful secularist establishment, including judges and army generals, since it first came to power in 2002. Secularists say the party is seeking to bring back religion to public life, contrary to the constitution.

The AK party, which includes former Islamists, conservatives, and also pro-business liberals, won a sweeping reelection last year. It denies charges it has any Islamist agenda.

It has pushed wide-ranging reforms, including giving more rights to minorities and easing restrictions on free speech, as part of Turkey's drive to enter the European Union.