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28 Aug, 2007 10:09

Abdullah Gul elected Turkish president

The Turkish Foreign Minister has been elected as the country’s new president. Abdullah Gul backed by the AK party received 339 votes in a parliamentary ballot. It makes him the first head of state with a background in political Islam.

The elections came a day after the Turkish army, which has ousted four governments since 1960, warned about a threat to secularism. The army considers itself the guardian of founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's secular legacy and regards the popular AK party as a threat.

The result of the election can once again raise tensions between the country's two camps: secular and Islamic.

“If Mr Gul shows a very different personality when he is elected, as he is promising now, then we can revise our attitude. However, all the signs suggest that during the presidency of Mr Gul, Turkey will become a moderate Islamic state, step by step,” said Mustafa Ozyurek, Vice Chairman of the People's Republican Party, ahead of the elections.

The political powers in European Union applicant Turkey have been at loggerheads since April, when the AK Party first put forward Abdullah Gul's candidacy for the president.

In May middle-class secularist voters took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to protest against the country's possible slide towards the rule of Islamic law. Mr Gul's wife, who is often seen wearing a headscarf, was seen as a provocative symbol ahead of the elections.

“We consider ourselves very modern in Turkey, very westernised and of course this image of the first lady doesn't really go hand in hand with how we like to see ourselves,” believes Leyla Melek, Editor-in-Chief of  Cosmopolitan magazine.

Though largely ceremonial, the president can block laws and  also appoints judges to top positions. However, the AK party, which swept to power on the back of a strong economic record, insists it has no intention of making Turkey a religious state.