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Turkish PM to stand down

Victory speech
Erdogan makes his victory speech at AKP headquarters in Ankara.

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Tayyip Erdogan's win in by-elections, clearing the way for him to become Turkey's prime minister, may also be a victory for the U.S. CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports (March 10)
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ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Turkey's ruling party chief Tayyip Erdogan has won a by-election that clears the way for him to take over as prime minister.

Erdogan's election may also pave the way for a new vote in parliament on Washington's urgent request to deploy up to 62,000 troops in the NATO member ahead of a possible invasion of Iraq.

Erdogan, 49, and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), won in the southern town of Siirt with 84.7 percent of the final vote count.

Speaking at a victory rally on Sunday night, Erdogan said he accepted the outcome of the by-election and thanked everyone for his victory. "Democracy is alive and well," he told supporters.

Former Istanbul mayor Erdogan steered AKP to a resounding victory in a November general election but was excluded from office due to a political ban for "inciting religious hatred."

He is expected to take over the prime ministry from current incumbent and fellow AKP member Abdullah Gul in the next few days.

The poll was being watched closely in Washington. The installation of Erdogan, possibly in two weeks or less, may provide the chance for him to re-submit to parliament the U.S. troop deployment plan, which was unexpectedly rejected by parliament. (Full story)

The powerful military last week threw its weight behind a resubmission.

Diplomats believe the four-month-old "dual power" between Gul and Erdogan, who has wielded enormous influence behind the scenes, has led to some uncertainty in talks with the United States and in preparation of a 2003 budget crucial to a $16 billion IMF crisis programme.

Erdogan, a popular figure in the south east, faced little opposition in the town set amid snowcapped mountains.

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