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Turkey's New President Abdullah Gul Approves Cabinet

Turkey's new president approved a cabinet Wednesday comprised of figures with both Islamist and secular backgrounds, a day after promising to respect secular principles.

Abdullah Gul, a practicing Muslim who has the power to veto legislation and official appointments, swiftly signed off on a cabinet proposed by his ally, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who nominated him for the post.

Gul's opponents have said they will watch him for signs of cronyism at the expense of the presidency's traditional role as a check on government.

"We will work for more freedoms and for more economic welfare," Erdogan said after Gul approved the list. "We will continue on our path, with a new enthusiasm, with the new blood that we have brought in. We have formed a strong team."

One of the most prominent Cabinet members is Ali Babacan, the former economy minister who takes over the post of foreign minister that was left vacant when Gul won election to the presidency in a parliamentary ballot on Tuesday. The U.S.-educated Babacan played a key role in lifting Turkey out of recession and is a firm advocate of European Union membership.

Babacan, 40, was a close associate of Gul in the government's campaign to join the European Union. He one of the youngest ministers in the government, and retains his title as chief EU membership negotiator.

Babacan, who earned a business degree at Northwestern University in the United States, acted as steward of economic reforms that were backed by the International Monetary Fund. The reforms helped Turkey emerge from an economic crisis and attain an average annual growth of 7 percent.

Erdogan brought in at least three ministers with no history of involvement in the Islamic movement. They included Mehmet Simsek, a British-educated banker who resigned from his job with Merrill Lynch to stand for election from his hometown in southeast Turkey. Simsek was made a state minister with responsibility for the treasury portfolio Babacan once held.

Ertugrul Gunay, appointed culture and tourism minister, had joined the ruling Justice and Development Party after leaving the Republican People's Party, the secular opposition group that helped derail a presidential bid by Gul in the spring.

Another newcomer is Zafer Caglayan, who headed the chamber of industry in Ankara, the capital, and is now industry minister.

Bulent Arinc, the former parliamentary speaker who is considered strongly religious and less given to compromise, was not included in the Cabinet even though he had been mentioned in local media as a possible minister. Arinc, who co-founded the ruling party with Erdogan in 2001, drew the ire of secularists earlier this year by calling for the election of a "religious" president.

In a sign that tension could lie ahead, senior military generals did not attend the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday in parliament of their new president and commander in chief.

Local media interpreted the absence of the military brass as a protest against Gul, whose earlier bid for the post was blocked by the secular opposition, which included the military and the top court.

However, Gul attended a graduation ceremony Wednesday at a military medical academy where generals stood to attention as he entered. Gul's wife, who wears an Islamic-style headscarf that is banned on military premises, did not attend the event.

Gul received a majority of 339 votes in a parliamentary ballot. His triumph was assured by the ruling party that won a second term in general elections last month, but Gul was careful to reach out to the many Turks who suspect he has a secret Islamic agenda.

"In democracy, which is a system of rights and liberties, secularism, one of the core principles of our republic, is as much a model that underpins freedom for different lifestyles as it is a rule of social harmony," Gul said.

He also praised the military, a day after the military chief, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, warned that "centers of evil" were plotting to corrode secular principles.

The military has ousted four governments since 1960, and Gul's initial bid for president was derailed over fears that he planned to dilute secular traditions.