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Turkish case revives secular vs. Islam debate

Court will hear arguments on whether to shutter Turkey's Islamic-rooted ruling party.

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Turkey's highest court decided unanimously to hear a closure case this week against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for "anti-secular activities," heralding months of political uncertainty and casting more doubt on Turkey's chances to join the European Union.

Scorned by critics as a "judicial coup" aimed at damaging a party with Islamist roots that won a landslide victory in polls last summer, the Constitutional Court decided this week also to rule on a ban of 71 AKP members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.

Analysts say the dramatic steps yield multiple interpretations. They expose the weaknesses of Turkish democracy, which in turn weaken the country's bid for EU membership. They are also the latest chapter in the battle between a hard-line secular elite that consider Turkey's tradition of fierce secularism under threat and the popular AKP that has been making religious changes in the name of increasing freedoms. And raised anew are existential questions about the role of Islam in modern Turkey.

The AKP is fighting back with a series of constitutional changes to make party closure more difficult, after recent steps that have included controversially ending the decade-old ban on head scarves for women at universities.

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