Turkish President Names New Prime Minister

A moderate politician from a party with Islamic roots was chosen Saturday to be Turkey's next prime minister, but he was widely regarded as a stand-in for the party's real leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Abdullah Gul was named to the post by Turkey's president and charged with forming Turkey's first majority-party government in 15 years.

But Erdogan is the undisputed leader of the Justice and Development Party, which swept Nov. 3 elections. He is barred from the top post because of a conviction for inciting religious hatred, but is expected to run things from behind the scenes until legislators can change the constitution to allow him to become prime minister.

On Saturday, it was Erdogan who announced the new government's action plan.

He promised a series of legal changes to expand freedom of religion and expression and promote a more transparent government. He also said that privatization would be quickened.

"With the power of governing alone, our government will provide urgent solutions to problems that have been piling up for years," Erdogan said. "We've said 'from now on, nothing will be the same in Turkey,' now we're at the beginning of those days."

The Justice party captured 363 seats in the 550-member legislature, enabling it to form the first majority government in 15 years.

Gul said he will submit a Cabinet list to President Ahmet Necdet Sezer for approval on Monday.

"Turkey has lots of problems," Gul said. "But our party is ready. From now on it is time to get to work."

Erdogan earlier proposed several names for prime minister to Sezer. Allowing Sezer to chose the prime minister and not the Justice party may make it easier for Erdogan to take control of the government once he can lift the constitutional ban and serve in government.

In an interview published Friday, Gul vowed to maintain the secular country's ties with the West.

"Our aim is to show that world that a country which has a Muslim population can also be democratic, transparent and modern and cooperate with the world," Gul said in an interview with the English-language Turkish Daily News.

The party has tried to distance itself from its Islamic roots and says that it is looking to pursue policies promoting social welfare, but many opponents fear it could have a hidden Islamic agenda.

The Justice Party was founded last year by members of a pro-Islamic party banned by Turkish courts.

Gul on Friday said that the government would give first priority to recovering from a deep economic crisis and promoting the country's bid to join the European Union.

"Of course, our most important priority will be the economy," Gul said. "Turkish people have suffered a lot in recent years."

Only one other party, the pro-secular Republican People's Party, managed to get more than the 10 percent of votes required to hold seats in parliament. The Republican Party won 178 seats, while nine other seats went to independents.