Turkey approves constitutional reforms

Turkish
voters have given strong backing to a package of constitutional changes.

With 99 per
cent of votes in the referendum cou     nted, 58 per cent voted “Yes” to
amending the constitution, Turkish media said.

The
opposition argues that the governing party, which has its roots in political
Islam, is seeking dangerous levels of control over the judiciary.

The
government says it wants to bring the constitution more in line with European
Union standards.

“We
have passed a historic threshold on the way to advanced democracy and the
supremacy of law,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said to the
applause of party activists.

Early
opinion polls had predicted a close result. Analysts say a strong
“Yes” vote will boost Mr Erdogan’s government.

His Justice
and Development Party (AKP) will be seeking a third consecutive term in office
in a general election due to take place before July 2011.

The AKP has
clashed repeatedly with Turkey’s highest courts, which see themselves as
guardians of the country’s secular values.

Bad-tempered
campaign

The
opposition say two of the 26 planned amendments would give the government
excessive influence over the judiciary.

They accuse
the AKP of trying to seize control of the judiciary as part of a back-door
Islamist coup.

The bad-tempered
campaign preceding the referendum has once again highlighted the polarisation
between secular and religious Turks, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Istanbul.

There was a
substantial “No” vote in many western cities where suspicion of a
possible religious agenda by the governing party still runs very high, our
correspondent says.

The present
constitution was drawn up by a military junta which seized power in a coup
exactly 30 years ago, on 12 September 1980.

In all, the
reform package includes 26 amendments to the 1982 constitution, many of them
backed by the EU.

Civilian
courts will have the power to try military personnel for crimes against the
state, while sacked military officers will have the right to appeal against
their dismissal.

Gender
equality will be strengthened, and discrimination against children, the old and
disabled banned.

Workers
will be allowed to join more than one union and the ban on
politically-motivated strikes will be removed.

In
parliament, elected lawmakers will be able to stay on if their party is
disbanded by the court.

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