Islamic Party Returned to Power in Turkey

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Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to work for national unity and fight terrorism after his Islamic party easily won parliamentary elections, returning it to power in the largely secular country.

Although the success of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party 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 Erdogan's 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.

When the results were in, Erdogan took to the stage and chanted "one nation, one flag, one country, one state."

In his speech, he sent a conciliatory message to his political opponents calling for unity.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, pledged to safeguard Turkey's secular traditions and 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.

Turkey has been polarized after a political crisis last spring led to fears of a possible military coup.

The election was called early to defuse a showdown with the military-backed, secular establishment, which contended that Erdogan and his allies were plotting to scrap Turkey's secular traditions despite their openness to the West.

Erdogan raised concern with his efforts as prime minister to make adultery a crime and appoint former Islamists to key positions. Critics also were troubled by his calls for the lifting of restrictions on the wearing of Islamic headscarves.

The government will have to decide how to deal with violence by Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy. NATO member Turkey is considering whether to stage an offensive into northern Iraq against separatist Kurdish rebels who rest, train and resupply at bases there.

Erdogan has warned the incursion could happen if security talks with Iraq and the U.S. fail. He has invited Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to visit Turkey.

"In our struggle against separatist terrorists, we are determined to take every step at the right time," Erdogan said of the conflict with the Kurds.

Erdogan frightens many people from turkey's traditional secular elite, but the prime minister's populist touch continues to capture the imagination of more conservative, working-class Turks.

The country's economy has also boomed during Erdogan's nearly five-year tenure - chronic hyper-inflation has been tamed and per capita income has doubled.

From NPR and Associated Press reports

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