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Which way, Turkey? Update: 17 hurt in election violence Update: Secular opposition losing Update: A promise from Erdogan

By Michelle Malkin  •  July 22, 2007 09:20 AM

7/23 8:45am Eastern update: We shall see

Turkey’s prime minister pledged to work toward national unity and fight terrorism after the Islamic-rooted ruling party won parliamentary elections by a wide margin.

Although the ruling party’s success has been touted as proof that Islam and democracy can coexist, the new government is likely to face persistent tension over the role of Islam in society.

State-run Anatolia news agency was projecting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party would win 340 of the 550 seats, as votes in all but six of more than 158,000 ballot boxes across the country were counted.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, pledged to safeguard the country’s secular traditions and do whatever the government deems necessary to fight separatist Kurdish rebels.

“We will never make concessions over the values of people, the basic principles of our republic. This is our promise. We will embrace Turkey as a whole without discriminating,” he said at a rally in the capital, Ankara.

Update: 1:19pm Eastern. Election results coming in

Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party was headed for victory Sunday with more than half the votes counted in parliamentary elections that pitted the government against opponents warning of a threat to secular traditions.

With 56 percent of votes counted, the ruling Justice and Development Party won 48.5 percent and two secular opposition parties had 18.8 percent and 14.7 percent respectively, according to results on television news channels.

CNN-Turk television predicted that the ruling party would secure a majority of 334 seats in the 550-member Parliament after all the votes were counted. It based its projection on a survey of 400 polling stations.

“We are doing very well throughout Turkey,” said Nevzat Cetinkaya, deputy chairman of the ruling party.

Turkey is holding parliamentary elections today. The importance of the vote there can’t be emphasized enough. The choice in the minds of many Turks is this: sharia or secularism? East or West? Submission or resistance? A battle over Muslim headscarves prompted the elections:

A general election on Sunday in this mostly Muslim nation might help answer a divisive question: whether women should be allowed to wear head scarves in official settings and state institutions.

It was a tempest over a head scarf that helped trigger the elections in the first place. Secularists reacted with outrage when the Islamic-oriented ruling party proposed a presidential candidate whose wife covered her head.

The opposition boycotted the presidential vote in Parliament and secularists held massive rallies in several cities to protest the nomination of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

A key element of the opposition’s position was that it would be a disgrace for a headscarf-clad first lady to live in the mansion once occupied by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — who established the modern secular state from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. The government was eventually forced to withdraw Gul’s candidacy and called the July elections.

The ban imposed on Islamic-style headscarf is a long running problem that has increasingly dominated the agenda here, in parallel to the rise of the country’s political Islamic movement.

In 1999, Huda Kaya and her two daughters were accused in court of “attempting to forcefully dissolve the Turkish Republic,” a charge carrying a possible death sentence at the time.

Their alleged crime? Like thousands of others, they had participated in a rally against a government ban on wearing Islamic headscarves in universities.

Michael Rubin posts a backgrounder here.

See also: Robert Spencer’s May Jihad Watch video, “Can Turkey resist Islamification?”

The WSJ looks at the Turkish Test.

Update: It has been a “largely peaceful” election process, but there have been outbreaks of violence at polling places throughout the country. A glimpse:

The Anatolia news agency reports scuffles between rival party workers have left two people slightly injured in Demre, a tourist haven in southern Turkey.

A row erupted between supporters of the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over claims AKP workers had dumped leaflets on the streets, breaching an election day campaign ban.

Both sides have pressed charges.

Officials in the mainly Kurdish south-eastern province of Diyarbakir say three men were also injured when two groups attacked each other with knives and sticks during voting at a polling station in Bismil.

Anatolia says one of the men was badly wounded.

In the village of Buyukakoren, also in Diyarbakir, villagers and rival party workers fought after a man tried to help his illiterate wife to vote inside the polling booth.

Officials say three villagers sustained knife wounds and another three suffered head injuries from flying stones and sticks.

Anatolia also reports six men were hurt when a political discussion at a coffee house erupted into a free-for-all in Sason, in the eastern province Batman.

Barry Rubin reports from Istanbul.

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