Veteran leader's shocking rhetoric

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The Independent Online
Istanbul - Having found a niche defending the Islamic vote with two parties in 1970s, Necmettin Erbakan thrived on brinkmanship in the terrible Turkish political morass of that decade, writes Hugh Pope. He became deputy prime minister three times for a total of more than three years.

Although there is now a hard-working, modernist wing in Mr Erbakan's Welfare Party, which enabled it to capture many votes that used to go to the left wing, he himself appears to have changed few of his ideas about taking taxes in kind, a banking system without interest rates and the imminent advent of an Islamic currency in a Muslim commonwealth.

Asked what he would do with a recent Customs Union agreement with Europe from 1 January, the culmination of a 32-year-process that he has vowed to tear up, Mr Erbakan said: "We want to develop relations with everyone, but that agreement was one-sided. We will call those Westerners over and make an agreement that is not exploitative."

It is hard to tell where Mr Erbakan's rhetoric ends and his real intentions begin, but shivers go down the spines of the Turkish establishment on hearing his ideas about dropping out of Nato and rejecting all talk of compromise on Cyprus.

As neighbouring Tehran radio cheered a "change of orientation towards the Islamic world", Mr Erbakan's first proposal on election night was to freeze foreign currency in the Central Bank because it had signed futures contracts amounting to about a quarter of more than $10bn of reserves.

Seeing weeks, if not months, of such political instability ahead, the Turkish lira slumped against the dollar and the stock market dropped sharply.