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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approves new government

Published 24/05/2016 | 10:41

Binali Yildirim is Turkey's new Prime Minister (AP)
Binali Yildirim is Turkey's new Prime Minister (AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has approved a new government formed by his trusted ally who has pledged to push through constitutional reforms that would expand the powers of the presidency.

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Binali Yildirim, who replaces the outgoing prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, announced his cabinet on Tuesday after a meeting with Mr Erdogan.

Mr Erdogan invited Mr Yildirim to form a new government on Sunday after Mr Davutoglu stepped down amid differences with the president on a range of issues, including Mr Davutoglu's stance towards an overhaul of the constitution to give the largely ceremonial presidency executive powers.

The president took a break from hosting the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul and returned to Ankara to approve Mr Yildirim's government.

Soon after his nomination, Mr Yildirim vowed to follow Mr Erdogan's path and transition Turkey into a presidential system.

Many fear such a presidential system will concentrate too many powers in the hands of Mr Erdogan, who has adopted an increasingly authoritarian style of governing and has cracked down on media and government critics.

Domestically, the political reshuffling takes place as Turkey faces serious security threats including increased attacks by Kurdish and Islamic State militants. It also comes at a time when the country's parliament is in disarray after a government-backed constitutional amendment has left 138 politicians vulnerable to prosecution.

Internationally, Turkey is also traversing a delicate moment in its relations with the European Union. The implementation of a Turkey-EU deal to help stem the influx of migrants to Europe - which Mr Davutoglu had helped negotiate - has repeatedly come into question.

Mr Erdogan has warned that the migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel. The EU said Ankara must meet all of the EU's conditions to secure visa-free travel, including narrowing its definition of "terrorist" - which Mr Erdogan said is out of the question.

Mr Yildirim has served as transport and communications minister since 2002 with a short interruption in 2015. The engineering-trained politician who is a founding member of the ruling party, has been credited for his role in developing major infrastructure projects which have helped buoy Turkey's economy and boost the party's popularity.

Critics, including the leader of the main opposition party, have accused him of corruption - an accusation Mr Yildirim rejects.

In his first speech after taking office Mr Yildirim told politicians from his Justice and Development Party (AKP): "We will immediately start work to achieve a new constitution, including a presidential system.

"Our priority is to render the constitution more in harmony with the de-facto situation regarding our president's ties to the people."

The new government, which Mr Yildirim is widely believed to have formed in consultation with Mr Erdogan, includes nine new names, although most ministers from Mr Davutoglu's previous cabinet retained key portfolios.

They include Mevlut Cavusoglu, who remains foreign minister, and Mehmet Simsek, who kept his seat as deputy prime minister although it was not immediately clear if he would still be in charge of the economy.

Volkan Bozkir, the minister in charge of relations with the European Union, was replaced by Omer Celik, a founding member of the AKP who is known to be close to the president. Mr Erdogan's son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, kept his position as energy minister.

In a clear sign that Mr Erdogan would continue to influence government, he was scheduled to chair the new cabinet's first meeting at his palace on Wednesday.

Mr Yildirim reaffirmed his determination to press ahead with military operations against Kurdish rebels, saying the fight would continue until the insurgents end attacks and abandon arms. The decades-long conflict against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, flared up again last year with the collapse of a fragile peace process, costing hundreds of lives.

The new prime minister also promised to mend Turkey's ties with a number of countries, in an apparent jab at Mr Davutoglu, a former foreign minister, who conceived Turkey's troubled policy on Syria and under whom relations with Israel, Russia, Egypt and others were soured.

"We will increase the number of our friends; we will decrease the number of our enemies," Mr Yildirim said.

Mr Yildirim called in his speech on opposition parties to support efforts to write a new constitution. The ruling party lacks the super-majority needed in parliament for constitutional amendments and is believed to be hoping for the support of the nationalist party. That party's leader, however, said he would not support the plan.

"With the introduction of a presidential system the fragile balance between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary will be disrupted, all power will be concentrated in one hand," nationalist leader Devlet Bahceli said. "While searching for democracy, we will inevitably find despotism."

Press Association

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