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Turkey Elections Show Division

The staunchly secular party of Turkey's prime minister led in early elections results Monday, while the top pro-Islamic party suffered a major setback.

An ultra-rightist group made stunning gains in Sunday's election and could emerge as the second-largest group in Turkey's parliament, according to results based on a count of 75 percent of the vote.

Turkey has had six governments since 1995 and the early results indicated that yet another coalition government would have to be formed. An unstable coalition would make it difficult for the country, a NATO member, to tackle economic reforms and would undermine its push to join the European Union.

Analysts said voters may have abandoned the Islamic Virtue Party -- the largest party in parliament -- because of its friction with the military, instead opting for the ultra-nationalist movement, which is also deeply religious.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left Party was leading with 22 percent of the ballots. Ecevit, who is widely respected, appeared to be picking up votes from people disillusioned by the constant scandals that have plagued other administrations.

"I am happy with this result," Ecevit said. "I think the period of using religion for political purposes is over."

According to the early results, the Islamic Virtue Party took just 16 percent of the votes, a sharp decline from the 21 percent that its predecessor, the Welfare Party, garnered in 1995 to win parliamentary elections and eventually take power before being pushed out by the military.

But with its strong reputation for delivering social services, Virtue appeared to retain control of the municipalities of Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, and Ankara, the capital.

The Nationalist Movement Party took 18 percent of the vote. In 1995, the party did not pass the 10 percent mark necessary to gain seats.

Ecevit's Democratic Left was expected to win 135 seats, only six more than the Nationalist Movement Party. Virtue was expected to win 112 seats in the 550-member assembly.

The Nationalist Movement Party, known as the MHP, probably will be part of a future coalition.

Turkish shares fell sharply Monday, down 5.1 percent. Traders said the emergence of a divided parliament sparked stock selling, while the sharp rise of the Nationalist Movement party irritated many investors.

The Nationalist Movement Party has called for no compromise with Kurdish activists. It advocates supporting Muslims in the Balkans and closer ties with the Turkic states of the former Soviet Union.

It apparently benefited from the emotional outpouring after the February abduction of Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan by Turkish commandos, and anger at the treatment of Kosovo Muslims.

Hundreds of overjoyed ultra-nationalists rallied in the streets of Istanbul on Sunday, waving the party's red, three-crescent flag and chanting "Stand, Kosovo, we are coming!"

Turks ruled the Balkans for hundreds oyears during the Ottoman Empire. Millions of Turks have Balkan ancestry.

In the largely Kurdish southeast, the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HADEP, appeared to have won the mayorships of four cities. They include Diyarbakir and Siirt, two of the largest in the region, where Kurdish guerrillas have battled government forces for more than a decade. The fighting has led to 37,000 deaths.

The party, however, won only 4 percent of the national vote, according to the preliminary results, far below the 10 percent threshold needed to win parliamentary seats.

The two center-right parties were among the big losers of Monday's polls. Motherland Party fell to 14 percent. The rival center-right True Path Party of former Premier Tansu Ciller garnered 12 percent. Each lost at least five percentage points since the last election.

Results were broadcast on the private NTV television.

The elections are unlikely to have a major impact on Turkish foreign policy, because all the major secular parties support the country's pro-Western foreign policy and economic privatization.

Written By Louis Meixler