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Turkey's Erdogan flaunts democratic credentials in Muslim world

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sun, 30 Sep 2012 14:22 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Regional leaders among thousands attending party congress

* Erdogan says Turkish democracy is example for Muslim world

* Erdogan vows more pluralist constitution

By Jonathon Burch

ANKARA, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan trumpeted Turkey's credentials as a rising democratic power on Sunday, saying his Islamist-rooted ruling party had become an example to the Muslim world after a decade in charge.

Addressing thousands of party members and regional leaders at a congress of his Justice and Development (AK) Party, Erdogan said the era of military coups in the nation of 75 million people was over.

He vowed to forge a more diverse constitution and turn a new page in relations with Turkey's 15 million Kurds, in a speech lasting almost two and half hours and meant to chart the AK Party's agenda for the next decade.

"We called ourselves conservative democrats. We focused our change on basic rights and freedom," Erdogan told thousands of cheering party members at the congress in a sports stadium in the capital Ankara.

"This stance has gone beyond our country's borders and has become an example for all Muslim countries."

Leaders including Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev and Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, were among the guests.

Under Erdogan's autocratic grip, the AK Party has won three consecutive landslide election victories since 2002, ending a history of fragile coalition governments punctuated by military coups and marking Turkey's longest period of single-party government for more than half a century.

Per capita income has nearly tripled in that time and Turkey has re-established itself as a regional power, with its allies seeing its mix of democratic stability and Islamic culture as a potential role model in a volatile region.

"Turkey has shown the bright face of Islam," Khaled Meshaal, Hamas's leader in exile, told the congress. "Erdogan, you are not only a leader in Turkey now, you are a leader in the Muslim world as well."

But critics denounce Erdogan's authoritarian style, accusing him of stifling dissent and using the courts to silence his enemies. They also say he has failed to bring any hope of an end to a 28-year-old conflict in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

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