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Want to buy a bridge? Turkish politicos spar over future of span

Should the state sell a bridge - such as the one in Istanbul, that connects Europe and Asia? This is one of the hottest topics in the current election campaign in Turkey.

A party leader maintains that the state could and should sell the Bosporus Bridge to obtain financial resources for the construction of another such bridge.

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The leaders of the two other main parties in the race for the Nov. 6 elections (after three years of military rule) strongly oppose the idea. They say state property cannot be put on sale.

The row started when Turgut Ozal, leader of the Motherland Party, suggested in a speech that the Bosporus bridge should be ''sold'' because the state could not provide the funds for the construction of the projected and badly needed ''second Bosporus bridge.''

He said the bridge should be sold ''to the citizens'' as well as any foreigners interested in buying shares in it. Thus the state would get some $100 million and carry on with the second bridge project.

Strong reaction came simultaneously from the two rival parties. Necdet Calp, leader of the left-of-center Populist Party, said no one had the right to sell state property. ''We will never allow anyone in Turkey to sell the Bosporus Bridge,'' he said, and he accused Ozal of being irresponsible.

A leading member of the center-right Nationalist Democracy Party, Memduh Yasa , said: ''Selling a bridge is different from selling tomatoes.''

Ozal, who is regarded as Turkey's economic wizard and who introduced in 1980 the economic stabilization program that saved the country from near-bunkruptcy, retorted: ''I certainly know the difference, but those who mix the idea of selling a bridge and selling tomatoes cannot build dams - even if they have the reputation of being a professor of economy.'' Professor Yasa teaches economics at Istanbul University.

As politicians and commentators - not to mention cartoonists - joined in a chorus of criticism and abuse against him, Ozal tried to make his idea clearer by talking about the sale of the bridge in almost every speech and statement. He pointed out that he would sell not only the Bosporus Bridge (the world's fourth-largest and Europe's biggest suspension bridge) but also the Keban dam.

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''The purpose is to provide revenue for the state and profit for the shareholders,'' he said. ''The bridge will still be at the service of the public. . . . No one is going to take the bridge away.''

Ozal, a firm believer in the free-market economy, says the selling of shares for such big state services would contribute to the establishment of a stock market in Turkey for the first time.

The idea has received support from a man who is known throughout Turkey for his ability to sell bridges and public buildings. Sulun Osman, a ''con'' man who over the years has made a living (whenever he has not been in jail) by cheating naive peasants and small business men who have come to Istanbul for the first time.

His specialty is to sell them bridges, the Istanbul tower, or historic monuments. His ability to convince and to sell anything has won him great popularity - and publicity in the local and European press.

Osman agreed to express his views on Ozal's idea to a local news agency, after receiving a fee ''for selling his ideas.'' He praised Ozal for advocating the sale of the Bosporus bridge and added: ''Here is a man who has imagination close to mine. I think he deserves my vote for that. . . . But Mr. Ozal should know that a bridge cannot be sold with words.

''First of all, he is talking too much about it. Such transactions should be done discreetly, smoothly. My advice to him is to contact me and learn how to sell a bridge. After all, I know the secret and all the bridges of Turkey know me, too.''

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