ANKARA (Reuter)–Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said on Friday he favored elections in the second half of 1998–pushing back the several months of previous polling date prediction.
"I think the most appropriate time in that year would be the autumn. If the pressure is on–it could be the spring," Anatolian news agency quoted Yilmaz as telling reporters on holiday in the coastal resort of Bodrum.
Conservative Yilmaz came to office in June at the head of a coalition designed to keep the former ruling Islamists out of power. He said at the time that the government would seek early elections in the spring of 1998.
Discussions were continuing on a date for the vote.
"We are in ongoing talks with other political parties on a timetable for elections," said Yilmaz–leader of the Motherland Party.
A left-wing party which supports the government has exerted pressure on him to call polls as soon as possible–though general elections are only due in the year 2000.
Necmettin Erbakan resigned as Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister in June. The move came after a bitter row with the secularist military–which accused him of allowing an increase in religious activism.
Erbakan’s Islam-based Welfare Party is now the main opposition grouping and the biggest fraction in parliament.
A constitutional court ruling is expected in the next few months on a case in which Welfare is alleged to be a threat to secularism in Turkey. If the party loses the case–it faces banning.
Thousands of Islamists took to the streets of Istanbul–Turkey’s biggest city–for the fourth week running after Friday noon prayers–to demonstrate against an attempt by Yilmaz to curtail religious education.
Around 2,000 Islamists chanted: "This is Turkey–not Israel" outside the Beyazit mosque in the city center. Some protesters brandished red roses as a symbol of their peaceful intent.
Police in the conservative eastern town of Elazig arrested 23 Islamists at a protest against the education plans on Friday–security officials said.
Earlier this month parliament passed the reforms–under which compulsory secularist education is to be expanded to eight years from the current five.