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Erdogan Assumes Post of Turkish PM

Recep Tayyip Erdogan formed a new Turkish government Friday and assumed the post of prime minister, a shift that comes as the United States presses Turkey to authorize the use of its airspace for a war against Saddam Hussein.

Erdogan made the announcement after President Ahmet Necdet Sezer approved his Cabinet list in a brief meeting at the presidential palace.

Parliament must approve the new government before lawmakers can consider any resolution on opening Turkey's airspace or allowing U.S. troops to deploy on its soil for a northern front on Iraq. A vote of confidence was expected next week.

Already Turkey's top politician and seen as running the country behind the scenes, Erdogan was appointed to form a new government after winning a seat in parliament in elections Sunday.

In a sign that Washington may be losing hope that Turkey will allow in U.S. combat troops, U.S. officials were urging Ankara to consider opening up its air space.

Turkey's parliament rejected an earlier request to allow in some 60,000 U.S. troops, and the government has not given any indication as to when a new resolution authorizing deployment would be submitted. That resolution would also include the right to use Turkish airspace.

Washington has appeared increasingly impatient with Turkey, a close ally and the only NATO member bordering Iraq. Officials said the Pentagon was moving about 10 Navy ships out of the Mediterranean into the Red Sea, where they could launch missiles on a path to Iraq that would not go over Turkey.

Erdogan has advocated a U.S. troop deployment in the past. But he also has said Turkey was seeking new assurances from the United States over Turkey's role in the future of Iraq before parliament can vote on a new resolution.

Vice President Dick Cheney called Erdogan late Thursday and asked that Turkey hastily open its airspace, the daily Hurriyet and other newspapers reported. The call came after President Bush sent a letter to Erdogan urging the same, the reports said.

Erdogan made no promises but said the new government would take up the issue, Hurriyet reported. The paper characterized the telephone call between Cheney and Erdogan as "tense." No comment was immediately available from U.S. or Turkish officials.

Private CNN-Turk television said Washington had requested the use of 11 separate air corridors.

Parliament is scheduled to work through the weekend, ostensibly to debate a new labor law. But the extra sessions would allow a new government to quickly present its program and win a vote of confidence early next week.

With the public overwhelmingly opposed to war, Turkish lawmakers are uneasy about the idea of letting in tens of thousands of U.S. troops. They could, however, be more inclined to let U.S. warplanes use the country's airspace.

Turkey fears a war in Iraq will lead to the creation of an independent state by Iraqi Kurds, and boost aspirations of rebel Kurds in Turkey who fought a 15-year war for autonomy in the southeast.

Refusing the United States military access to Turkish soil, however, would cost Ankara $15 billion in promised aid to help cushion the country's economy if war breaks out.

Erdogan was constitutionally barred from running in November elections because he was jailed in 1999 for anti-secular activities. The party's legislators amended the constitution to allow him to hold office.