Turkish vote on US troops ends in chaos

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The Independent Online

A crucial Turkish parliamentary debate on allowing US troops into the country ended in confusion last night, with the Speaker ruling that a narrow majority in favour was invalid, because the number of abstentions was greater. He then adjourned the session until Tuesday.

A crucial Turkish parliamentary debate on allowing US troops into the country ended in confusion last night, with the Speaker ruling that a narrow majority in favour was invalid, because the number of abstentions was greater. He then adjourned the session until Tuesday.

Although the country is under intense American pressure to act as a base for an invasion of Iraq, The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Turkey is refusing to accept any British soldiers on its soil. Ministry of Defence sources confirmed that an official request to this effect was made six weeks ago, but there has been no agreement.

Significantly, it was assumed for months that 16 Air Assault Brigade, the British military's newest combat unit, would be stationed in Turkey to assist American operations in northern Iraq. Instead the unit has deployed to Kuwait.

"Negotiations with Turkey are ongoing, and no decisions have been taken about the basing of British troops," said an MoD spokeswoman. Sources said details would not be given due to "diplomatic and military sensitivities", but it appears British commanders have been forced to change their plans.

Yesterday's parliamentary vote, crucial to US military plans and Turkey's relations with Washington, was carried out behind closed doors It ended with 264 votes for and 251 votes against with 19 abstentions – an apparent majority of 13 for the government. But the Speaker, Bulent Arinc, said the decision did not stand because the votes in favour were not a majority of the legislators present in parliament, as the Turkish constitution demands. He then closed parliament until Tuesday.

The government must now decide whether to try to present a similar resolution to the assembly again and gather the few votes it needs. The resolution, which would also have cleared the way for dispatching Turkish troops to Iraq, had drawn widespread opposition, with some 50,000 demonstrators in the streets of Ankara yesterday, opposing moves towards war. "No to War," and "We don't want to be America's soldiers," they shouted as around 4,000 police stood guard. Some protesters carried banners that read: "The people will stop this war," and "Budget for education not war."

The bill's rejection is likely to cause a serious increase in tensions with the US, which had been expecting a positive vote. Washington has been looking to use bases in Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq, which would have divided Saddam Hussein's army. Turkish and American generals said the strategy would lead to a quicker and less bloody war.

Washington had been offering Turkey some $26bn in aid if the troops were allowed in, to cushion the Turkish economy from the impact of any war. A signing of that agreement had been expected after the vote.

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