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Wave of violence perils Turkey's democracy

Political violence in Turkey has reached such alarming proportions that it is seen now as a serious threat to the future of the nation's unity and its political system.

Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel said the wave of terror is taking on an "antistate" character and is aimed at turning Turkey into a Vietnam, Korea, or Afghanistan.

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Many politicians regard the recent escalation of violence as a move toward civil war. In the words of Sen. Husamettin Cetebi, "The terrorists are staging a rehearsal for a nationwide strife," and now are openly challenging the forces of the state.

Newspaper commentators are stressing that political violence has gone far beyond the limits of terrorist acts and has reached the proportions of guerrilla warfare. The newspaper Hurriyet sees the action as aimed "at the collapse of the democratic regime," while the pro-government Tercuman says the target is "to destroy the structure of the state and national unity."

Amid violence mainly organized or provoked by leftist militant groups, concern also is mounting about intervention by the Turkish armed forces, which are said to be increasingly uneasy about the situation. Some Turks are seriously worried that the military leaders, who early last month issued a warning regarding the deteriorating political and economic conditions in the country, may lose patience in view of recent developments.

The latest flare-up of violence is rioting in the city of Izmir, which has continued for about a week now. The trouble started after the dismissal of a few hundred workers at a state-owned company, Taris. Control of various factories belonging to this company has been contested by rival ideological groups, seeking to take over.

Dismissal of some workers said to be of leftist tendency sparked off protest demonstrations and strikes by Marxist-leaning labor unions and other leftist organizations.

In recent days, militants have set up road-blocks in Izmir, seized factory buildings, and urged inhabitants in the slum areas to join in their armed confrontation with the security forces. Izmir is not under martial law, as are Istanbul, Ankara, and other major cities, and the police have had great difficulty in bringing the situation under control. The militants have been fighting with automatic weapons and setting police vehicles on fire.

Large slum areas now are controlled by the militants, who have started to set up so-called people's committees. With skirmishes still going on, strikes continuing, most of the shops closed down, and the main streets deserted Izmir looks like a war-torn city.

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Terrorist attacks have spread to other parts of Turkey, too. In Istanbul, a train was attacked last week and three passengers were killed. Leftist militants have claimed responsibility for raids on police stations and seizure of arms.

In some quarters of Istanbul, militants have forced hundreds of shopkeepers to close down in protest against recent price rises. In spite of warnings from martial law authorities, many frightened shopkeepers complied with the militants' threats. Further closings of shops in Istanbul have been called for by leftist groups.

Kurdish separatists also are taking advantage of the disturbances. In Izmir, slogans for kurdish independence have been widely echoed in the chorus of "anti-fascist" propaganda conducted by leftist militants.

A map showing the various "liberated areas" in Turkey, just published by Hurriyet, reflected the scope of the trouble. The map indicates that 31 of the country's 67 provinces are divided into areas controlled by either leftist or rightist militant groups. In some cases, cities or towns are divided -- and opposition groups are not admitted.

In provinces that are not under martial law (only 19 provinces are), even police are unable to enter those "liberated" areas contested or controlled by rival ideological, ethnic, or sectarian groups.

A disturbing report in the local press revealed that even state-owned hospitals in Ankara now are under the control of either leftist or rightist extremists -- and they refuse to admit their rivals for medical treatment.

Diplomats here see the situation as critical. "These are not ordinary terrorist acts," said a Western envoy. "There is a systematic effort to destabilize the country and ruin its democratic regime."

Mr. Demirel's government, now approaching its 100th day in office, has been unable to cope with the problem any better than its predecessor. The question is whether or not the uneasy and disturbed Turkish Army is prepared to let the present situation continue, for the sake of preserving the democratic system.


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