Ghosts haunt Turkey's feast

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The Independent Online
MOVED TO tears, an old woman in a headscarf prayed over the tomb of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. She was one of thousands who visited Ataturk's mausoleum in the centre of Ankara yesterday to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic.

This is a fiercely patriotic country, and the streets were a sea of red as Turkish flags flew from windows. Public buildings were adorned with giant images of Ataturk. At night, anniversary messages were hung in fairy lights between the minarets of Istanbul's mosques. But there were plenty of ghosts at Turkey's feast. Two weeks ago, thousands joined hands along streets across the country to protest at a government ban on Muslim women wearing headscarves in universities and public buildings. Istanbul's highly popular Islamist mayor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, presided over the city's celebrations yesterday. Soon he will leave office and begin a 10- month jail sentence that will bar him from politics for life. He was convicted for "inciting hatred among people", by reciting an Islamic poem during a speech at a political rally.

Beside Mr Erdogan at the anniversary parade stood a senior general, representing Turkey's powerful military, which is behind the crackdown on Islam in public life. It forced a democratically elected Islamist government from office, and is believed to have prompted the prosecution of Mr Erdogan and many other leading Islamists.

The crowds at Ataturk's mausoleum yesterday cheered and thrust their fists in the air. It is in the name of Ataturk and his principle of secularism, enshrined in Turkey's constitution, that the generals have launched their campaign against Islam. Mr Erdogan is not the only prominent figure facing imprisonment.

The sentencing of the country's leading human rights campaigner to a year's jail on Tuesday brought human rights under scrutiny once more. Akin Birdal was convicted of threatening Turkey's unity in a speech about the Kurdish problem. The European Union has named human rights as a key reason for rejecting Turkey as a future member.