Critic of West named for top Turkish post

A WIDENING political gap between Turkey and Europe was underlined yesterday by details of a cabinet reshuffle due to be finalised this week.

Surprisingly, Mumtaz Soysal has been offered the job of foreign minister, despite being the man who has done most to wreck the economic plans of Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's 13-month- old coalition government.

Mr Soysal is an articulate academic and a former champion of human rights in Turkey, but is now better known for voicing sympathy for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the coup plotters against Boris Yeltsin and the Chinese massacre of the Tiananmen Square demonstrators.

What will disturb Turkey's allies more than anything is Mr Soysal's suspicions about his country's Nato membership, integration with Europe and the six-monthly renewal of Operation Provide Comfort, the allied force that protects the Kurds of northern Iraq.

Despite the fact that his own Social Democrat party is a minority member of the ruling coalition, Mr Soysal led 90 MPs in suing the government for the way it was conducting its privatisation programme. The court case succeeded, putting in doubt planned privatisation income of nearly dollars 3bn ( pounds 1.9bn) this year, a major plank in an IMF-approved stabilisation plan for Turkey.

The reshuffle is principally an attempt by Murat Karayalcin, the Social Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister, to strengthen his position.

Mrs Ciller told reporters she thought Mr Soysal as foreign minister would make little difference since she is the most senior policy-maker. She also knows that polls abroad show that her dashing image is still Turkey's biggest trump card as it comes under increasing pressure over continued torture, death squad- style killings and a failure to find a political solution to its Kurdish problem.

The most distasteful aspect of the affair has been the callous ditching of Hikmet Cetin, who in the past three years has proved to be one of Turkey's most successful, well-travelled and likeable foreign ministers.

However some of Mr Soysal's views will find an echo among the growing minority of Muslim Turks who feel a sense of injured nationalism and friction with the West over a range of policies including those towards Iraq, the Bosnia conflict, European Union enlargement and Russia's free hand in the Caucasus and Central Asia.