Turkish opposition leader says army coup not answer

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ANKARA, Sep 12 (Reuters) The leader of Turkey's main opposition party, worried that the secular republic is in danger under an Islamist-rooted government, was quoted today as saying an army coup would not solve the country's problems.

Appearing on the 27th anniversary Turkey's last full-blown military coup, Deniz Baykal's remarks to the liberal newspaper Radikal underlined the delicacy of relations between Turkey's politicians and its soldiers.

The 1980 coup, which ousted the government of Suleyman Demirel, led to suspension of parliament and civil liberties and the imprisonment, torture and deaths of many Turkish citizens.

The fiercely secular army has in recent months reaffirmed its right, under the military-inspired 1982 constitution, to intervene in politics if it feels the ruling AK Party threatens Turkey's separation of state and religion.

Baykal, leader of the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), which is seen as close to the military, shares the army's misgivings about the AK Party government but said it was for the politicians to oppose it.

''Today both democracy and the republic which gave birth to it are experiencing problems. We are in a worrying process...

but a military coup is not the answer to the problems facing Turkey,'' Baykal told Radikal.

''The solution lies in politicians standing up for democracy and the republic,'' he said.

Critics accused Baykal of trying to lure the armed forces into politics during his vocal campaign to stop an ex-Islamist, former foreign minister Abdullah Gul, becoming president.

Parliament finally elected Gul head of state in August after a row over secularism triggered early parliamentary elections in which the AK Party won a second five-year mandate. The CHP lost some seats but is still the biggest opposition party.

Both Gul and the AK Party deny Baykal's charge that they harbour a secret Islamist agenda. In power since 2002, they have pursued liberal economic reforms and European Union membership.

Last week, Baykal repeated his claim that the secular republic is in danger. But although the generals are closely watching the situation, few predict a coup in today's Turkey, whose economy is booming and whose government is popular.

Some Turks staged candle-lit vigils in Ankara and Istanbul last evening to remember the victims of the 1980 coup.

Turkey's government is currently drawing up plans for a new constitution that will emphasise individual freedoms and rights and replace the more authoritarian military-era charter.

REUTERS SG RK1623

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