ANKARA, June 16 -- Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan said Monday his Islamist co-ruling Welfare Party, currently facing charges of breaching Turkey's secular constitution, cannot be shut down. 'Closing down political parties can only occur in backward democracies,' he told a news conference in Istanbul. 'Welfare Party is the guarantee of democracy and secularism in this country.' A state prosecutor last month filed a law suit against Welfare, the senior partner in Turkey's coalition government, accusing it of Islamic radicalism and of dragging the country into civil strife. Erbakan has been under pressure from his deputy prime minister, Tansu Ciller, leader of the coalition partner True Path Party, to step aside in July after they complete their first year in office. The Constitutional Court, which is empowered to close down a political party found to have violated the constitution, is currently investigating the case against Welfare. The charges arise from alleged actions and statements by Erbakan and other senior party members. These have been echoed in a series of 'briefings' by senior officers in the armed forces, who spelled out for civil servants, trade union leaders and journalists what they perceived to be threats the Erbakan government posed to the constitution. Erbakan said the duties of the Turkish military were clearly stated in the constitution and 'there is no point of creating a confusion on this matter'. 'Turkey is a lawful state and the Armed Forces come under the government,' he said. Individuals in a party might be involved in acts against the constitution, the prime minister said, 'but there cannot be collective crime.
You cannot ignore the will of people.' Asked about the future of the year-old coalition government, Erbakan said Welfare and the True Path parties were working in harmony and had agreed to take the country to early elections. 'We deem it useful to go to elections soon,' he said. Erbakan compared swapping office with Tansu Ciller with 'refuelling during a flight. It would be very practical,' he said. ---
Copyright 1997 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---