Devout Muslim Wins Turkish Presidency

Abdullah Gul - a devout Muslim with a background in political Islam – became Turkey's new president Tuesday after months of confrontation with the secular establishment.

Gul, who has served as the country's foreign minister, received 339 votes in a parliamentary ballot, Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan said. Ruling party legislators broke into applause.

The vote took place a day after the military, which has ousted four governments since 1960, issued a stern warning about the threat to secularism. Gul's initial bid for president was blocked over fears that he planned to dilute secular traditions.

"Our nation has been watching the behavior of those separatists who can't embrace Turkey's unitary nature, and centers of evil that systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish Republic," Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the military, said in a note on the military's Web site Monday.

Gul, 56, has promised to uphold secularism. But Turkey's president has the power to veto legislation, and Gul has failed to allay secularist fears that he would sign into law any legislation passed by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a close ally - without concern for the separation of religion and politics.

Also, his wife wears an Islamic-style head scarf - which is banned in government offices and schools. Islamic attire has been restricted in Turkey since the country's first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ushered in secularism and Western-style reforms in the 1930s.

Gul failed to win the presidency in two rounds of voting last week because the ruling Justice and Development party lacked the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for him to secure the post. But the party - which holds 341 of the 550 seats - had a far easier hurdle on Tuesday, when only a simple majority was required.

Gul was scheduled to be sworn in as president in Parliament later Tuesday. He was to take over the presidency from outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer soon after, in a low-key ceremony closed to the media.

In Gul's hometown of Kayseri, in Turkey's conservative heartland, hundreds gathered at a main square to celebrate his victory, private NTV television reported.

Secularist Turks staged mass rallies and the military threatened to intervene when Erdogan nominated Gul for president in the spring.

Gul insisted that he be re-nominated for president earlier this month, arguing that his party's victory in the elections gave him a strong mandate to run. He rejected calls from secularist parties to step aside in favor of a non-Islamist, compromise candidate.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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