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Europe hails AKP victory in Turkey

Erdogan won votes on his promise to clean up Turkish politics

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ANKARA, Turkey -- Europe has reacted with guarded optimism to the landslide election victory of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has deep Islamic roots.

The Justice and Development Party scored a resounding win in Sunday's vote, taking more than 60 percent of parliamentary seats.

The AKP declared victory early Monday morning, with its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, moving quickly to assure the West that he does not have an Islamic agenda and is committed to the secular principles that govern Muslim Turkey. (Profile)

Erdogan also promised support for Turkey's bid to join the European Union and backing for an International Monetary Fund austerity programme.

In a first goodwill gesture, Erdogan said he would visit historic rival Greece within 10 days for talks on EU issues with Prime Minister Costas Simitis, the first foreign leader to call to congratulate him.

Although leader of the AKP, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is barred from becoming prime minister due to a past conviction for Islamist sedition.

Turkey's main stock index ended more than 6 percent higher, while the lira recovered from a record low of 1,703,500 to the U.S. dollar to end trading Monday at 1,672,000 -- up slightly from Friday's close. (Full story)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was "very encouraged" by the party's statements after its victory.

"It's not for me to say who should have won the Turkish election, we work with whatever government the Turkish people elect," he said, adding his country remained "a strong ally of Turkey in relationship to European Union membership."

In Germany, which has significant ties to Turkey due to its large Turkish immigrant population, the government said it viewed "the first signals favourably," The Associated Press reported.

"Cooperation with the International Monetary Fund is to be continued along with the pro-European course," said Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's spokesman Thomas Steg.

The IMF itself -- which has extended $31 billion in loans to Turkey, including $16 billion to help Turkey's economic recovery -- welcomed the reduction in political uncertainty, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

"Regarding relations with the European Union, all the declarations of the election campaign have been positive," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the French daily Le Monde in an interview.

"There is clearly a will to pursue rapprochement with the European Union," he said. "We will have to judge the next Turkish government by its acts."

The EU executive Commission said it expected Turkey to stay the course on its bid for EU membership and "will continue to monitor closely the progress made."

U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman said Monday in Greece that "Turkish people have a right to choose who will be their leaders and we... look forward to working with the new Turkish government."

The United States, gearing up for a possible war against Turkey's neighbour Iraq, has put heavy pressure on the EU in recent months to offer Ankara, a staunch NATO ally, a date for entry talks at the Copenhagen summit.

Erdogan has hinted an AKP government would support a U.S.-led operation in Iraq, if it has U.N. approval. (Full story)

George Papandreou, foreign minister of Turkey's traditional rival Greece, offered congratulations and hoped for a "leap in our relations to resolve various long-standing and historical problems."

Observers say the vote reflects popular dissatisfaction with the country's deepening economic crisis and the inability of outgoing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to turn things around.

Ecevit, 77, who saw his long political career brought to a humiliating end with the election results, tendered his resignation Monday, agreeing to continue as a caretaker until a new government is formed.

The AKP describes itself as a moderate, conservative party, but its roots in outlawed Islamist movements have stirred concern in Turkey's secular establishment, especially among the powerful armed forces.

Some analysts have pointed to the AKP's lack of experience in government or international affairs, though they noted that Erdogan had been mayor of Istanbul, a city whose population of 10 million plus exceeds that of many EU countries.

EU diplomats said Erdogan has privately made conciliatory remarks about Cyprus, a long-standing flashpoint in EU-Turkey relations, suggesting his party favoured a settlement that would allow the island to join the EU in 2004 under a single federal government representing both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The Turkish army would have to be fully on board for a Cyprus settlement. The EU has said it is willing to admit only the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot half of the island in the absence of a settlement.

Voting in Turkey is mandatory, and there are 41 million eligible voters.

Turkey has shut down a series of Islamic parties since they began rising to power in the mid-1990s, sparking criticism from the European Union.

CNN's Walter Rodgers said AKP leader Erdogan was "the most exciting and perhaps most frightening figure on Turkey's political stage."

-- CNN's Jonathan Mann and Senior International Correspondent Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.

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