Turk govt to tweak referendum text to avert dispute

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ANKARA, Oct 4 (Reuters) Turkey's ruling AK Party will amend a text on constitutional reform to be submitted to voters in a referendum this month to avoid any challenge to the status of President Abdullah Gul, party sources said tpday.

Turkish voters are due to vote on October 21 on constitutional amendments proposing the people, not parliament, elect the president.

Gul was elected by parliament in August for a seven-year term. If voters back the reforms in the referendum, as expected, some legal experts say he must then resign and re-submit his candidacy in a nationwide election for a new head of state.

An AK Party official said the party would scrap an article in the referendum text that stipulates Turkey's 11th president must be elected by voters. Gul is Turkey's 11th head of state.

All presidents after Gul will then be elected by popular vote.

The AK Party will seek the support of opposition parties for the amendment, Turkish media said.

The issue has threatened more political upheaval in Turkey, a European Union candidate nation with a fast-growing economy.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government initially proposed the reforms after Turkey's powerful secular elite, including army generals and judges, successfully blocked parliament's first attempt to elect Gul as president in May.

Erdogan also called a snap parliamentary election in July which the AK Party won decisively, allowing the assembly to elect Gul in August under the old constitutional rules.

The secularists dislike Gul's Islamist past and his wife's Muslim headscarf and fear he will try to erode the separation of state and religion, claims both Gul and Erdogan strongly reject.

The amendments to be submitted to voters in the referendum would also cut the president's term to five years, renewable by another five, and parliament's term to four from five years.

Now, the president can only serve a single seven-year term.

REUTERS JK RN1449

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