ANKARA, Oct 2 (Reuters) Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan today tried to reassure his secularist opponents that a planned new constitution would be broadly based and would reflect the values of the whole nation.
Secularists, including top judges and university rectors, fear the ruling AK Party, which has Islamist roots, is using constitutional reform as a cover to erode the separation of state and religion in Turkey, a notion Erdogan rejects.
The secularists have accused the government of preparing the constitutional changes in secret, without proper consultation and discussion.
''We will prepare a constitution that can be accepted by all sections of society ... It will take into account our citizens' sensitivities and the basic values of our nation,'' Erdogan told a televised gathering of AK Party member of parliament.
''Our constitution will be prepared with maximum agreement and will eventually be presented to our nation for its approval,'' he said, referring to a planned referendum on the final text, most likely next year.
Erdogan has said previously the new constitution will strengthen individual rights and freedoms and bring Turkey closer to the European Union, which it aspires to join.
He has not said whether the draft text will include a specific article removing or easing a ban on the Muslim headscarf in universities, a goal of pious conservative AK Party supporters which is anathema to the secularists.
Turkey's powerful military, which views itself as the ultimate guarantor of the secular order, said on Monday it, too, was closely watching the constitutional debates but would reserve judgment until the final text was published.
Turkey's current constitution is the product of a 1980 army coup and critics say it is too authoritarian and biased in favour of the state for a modern democracy considering EU membership.
Erdogan today urged Turkish voters to vote 'yes' to other planned constitutional changes in a referendum set for October 21. The changes include allowing voters instead of parliament to elect Turkey's presidents in future.
Voters are widely expected to back the changes. However, Erdogan made it clear that a 'yes' vote would not affect the status of President Abdullah Gul, a former senior AK Party member and foreign minister whom parliament elected head of state in August.
Turkish voters would be able to elect their president directly only when Gul's term expires in 2014.
REUTERS ARB AS1627