Turkish president's mandate cut to 5 yrs-speaker

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ANKARA, Oct 24 (Reuters) Turkish President Abdullah Gul's mandate will now end in 2012, not 2014, after voters approvedconstitutional reforms in a weekend referendum, but he can run for a second term, the speaker of parliament said today.

Gul was elected by parliament in August for a seven-year term, but under reforms backed by voters last Sunday presidents will from now on be elected directly by the people for five years, renewable for a further five.

Some legal experts had suggested Gul would not be affected by the referendum results and that only his successor would be directly elected by voters in 2014.

''With the changes made in the constitution ... the next presidential election will be held in five years' time and Abdullah Gul can again be a candidate,'' Koksal Toptan, speaker of the Turkish parliament, told reporters.

Voters in the referendum also approved reducing parliament's term to four years from five.

Toptan said the next parliamentary election would be held in July 2011, barring objections from Turkey's election board.

Gul and Toptan are both from Turkey's ruling AK Party, which won another big majority in July's parliamentary elections.

In Sunday's referendum, more than two thirds of Turkish voters backed the constitutional changes. The AK Party had argued that having the president directly elected by voters instead of by parliament would strengthen Turkish democracy.

The AK Party proposed the changes initially in order to overcome stiff resistance from Turkey's secular establishment, including army generals and top judges, to Gul's candidacy.

The secularists fear Gul, an ex-Islamist, will undermine Turkey's separation of state and religion, a claim the urbane former foreign minister strongly denies.

REUTERS SG RK2111

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