Turkish Energy Minister Resigns

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Turkish Energy Minister Resigns

by LOUIS MEIXLER Associated Press Writer

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) -- Facing pressure to crack down on corruption, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit on Friday accepted the resignation of his energy minister, the highest-ranking official to leave office amid a graft scandal.

The resignation of Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer came amid reports that Turkey is close to securing $10 billion in fresh loans from international lenders, who are demanding that the country reform its political system and tackle corruption that is stifling economic growth.

Many Turks believe corruption helped trigger a financial crisis that has led to a 40 percent slide in the value of the lira and 500,000 layoffs. Economy Minister Kemal Dervis is in Washington negotiating a financial rescue package that Turkey desperately needs to recover from the crisis.

Ersumer denied allegations Friday that he illegally steered millions of dollars in government contracts to favored companies. Ecevit said Ersumer was asking for his parliamentary immunity to be lifted, a step that is necessary if the minister is to face trial.

Ersumer, who said he submitted his resignation Thursday, accused officials he had removed from office of bearing a grudge against him and spreading allegations of misdeeds. Ecevit did not say who will replace Ersumer.

Opposition parties, newspaper editorials and even members of the coalition government have been demanding Ersumer's resignation since a prosecutor earlier this week filed charges against top officials from his ministry, the state-owned electric company, and businessmen involved in energy contracts.

''Dervis could not wrap up the (foreign aid) package ... without answering the question of is Turkey going to be a more transparent country,'' said Bulent Aliriza of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. ''How can you start a new page with a minister ... named in a scandal and with several of his bureaucrats charged?''

Turkish police launched a broad crackdown against corruption last year, but many observers feared that it was only targeting lower-level officials and not top politicians.

''There was no way the minister could have actually stayed in government without causing a significant loss of credibility and prestige,'' said Ilter Turan, a political scientist and dean of Istanbul Bilgi University. ''It was an act of damage control. But the fact that the minister went under public pressure ... has created the room to be optimistic that a clean-up can take place.''

Turkish business leaders welcomed Ersumer's resignation.

''It's the right decision; it means they have shown political responsibility,'' said Tuncay Ozilhan, the head of one of Turkey's largest business groups, TUSIAD.

AP-NY-04-27-01 1340EDT< 

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), April 27, 2001

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