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Ozal death 'no bar to progress': Pragmatic Turks ponder succession

SHOCKED but showing the strength of a new pragmatic outlook, Turkey has barely stumbled as the news gradually sinks in of the death of President Turgut Ozal. He was 66.

Ozal's sudden death of a heart attack on Saturday came well after the peak of his influence. The country's great advances he sponsored in telecommunications, trade and financial services are probably safe in the hands of a dynamic young generation of Turks.

'Turkey is no longer a closed-off, Third World country. People are not thrown into jail for holding foreign currency any more. We are in a position we could not have dreamt of 10 years ago,' wrote the columnist Gungor Mengi in the daily newspaper Sabah. 'We believe the ideas behind the positive changes in Turkey will not be abandoned, but will multiply.'

In some areas, progress will undoubtedly be slower without Ozal forcing the pace.

Much depends on who is elected as Ozal's successor, a choice that is certain to upset the delicate political balances of the conservative-social democrat coalition led by the right-wing Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel.

Parliament must elect a new president within 40 days to a post that has substantial powers of veto over government actions. Front-runners are Mr Demirel, the parliamentary Speaker, Husamettin Cindoruk, or Mr Demirel's coalition partner, the politically weak but gentlemanly Erdal Inonu.

Flags are at half mast for five days of official mourning. One newspaper cleared a whole front page for a photograph of Ozal and state television has switched its programmes over to haunting music from Sufi mystic orders to sombre tracks from Pink Floyd.

But so far Turks have mostly reacted in private as Ozal's body lies in state at the Turkish parliament. Funerals will be held in the capital Ankara on Wednesday and on Thursday in Istanbul, where Ozal asked to be buried near the grave of right-wing 1950s Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, outside the old Byzantine walls of Constantinople.

Ozal outshone Menderes as the country's most influential leader since the republic was founded by Kemal Ataturk 70 years ago, although nothing in Turkey's reaction this weekend compared to the mass outpouring of grief at Ataturk's death in 1938.

Turks are just hoping that history does not get stuck again remembering that much of the impetus of Ataturk's reforms died with him and for decades Turks barely altered even the style of their dress.

Obituary, page 18