World

1.5 million Turks rally to support secularism

As many as 1.5 million people attended a rally in Izmir, Turkey, on Sunday to defend their country's secular political system, which they say is threatened by an Islamist-rooted government.

As many as 1.5 million people attended a rally in Turkey's coastal city of Izmir on Sunday to defend their country's secular political system, which they say is threatened by an Islamist-rooted government.

It was the fourth major protest in Turkey since the ruling AK party — which has its roots inthe Islamist political movement — tried to put forward Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as a candidate for president.

Criticshave accused Gul, and theAK party, of havinga hidden Islamist agenda that would undermine Turkey's traditional separation of church and state.

Gul — a former prime minister, a key figure in the country's talks to join the European Union and firm ally of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — has denied the accusation and promised to protect secularism.

Similar demonstrations have been held in Ankara and Istanbul in recent weeks.

Gul decided to suspend his bid on May 6 after the opposition boycotted two rounds of voting in parliament. Since then, he has indicated he could still run for president in a popular vote.

In response to the political deadlock, Erdogan's government called an early general election for July 22 and parliament passed a constitutional amendment to let the people, instead of legislators, elect the president.

The amendment, backed by more than two-thirds of legislators, will only become law if it is signed by the current president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Sezer, who is often at odds with Erdogan's government, has signalled he might veto the law.

The demonstrators in Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city, waved red and white Turkish flags and carried pictures of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic in 1923.

Some protesters wore paper hats with the slogan: "No to Islamic law, no to military coups: a democratic Turkey." The military has ousted civilian governments in the past.

Many members of the AK party, including Gul and Erdogan, are pious Muslims who made their careers in the Islamist political movement.

With files from the Associated Press