Broadening of Turkish police powers provokes political uproar

A new law broadening the powers of the Turkish police has provoked a political uproar here. The law, sponsored by the government and passed by parliament over the weekend, is intended to fill the void that the government fears may result as it gradually lifts martial law.

Under the law, police:

Have the right to detain suspects before trial.

Have the right to use force in case of resistance or illegal gatherings.

Have wider powers of search and arrest.

Face softer legal sanctions for abuse of power.

Have the authority to deal with ``moral'' matters. Police will be able to detain people who dress or act in an ``obscene'' fashion, seize pornographic films, and close clubs deemed to be engaging in ``immoral'' activity.

The law has brought various opposition groups and the news media together in their criticism of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's administration. Observers say this is the first time that the present government has faced such a concerted and strong opposition.

This political issue, combined with rising inflation and economic hardship, has jeopardized Mr. Ozal's popularity. Moreover, the new law has also come under criticism from the European Community. And it has not helped restore the image of a more democratic Turkey abroad.

Ozal's critics, including opposition parties, independent organizations, academics, and newspapers, regard the new law as a step backward in restoring full democracy to Turkey.

Some of the opposition say the law will create a ``police state.'' The government has sharply refuted this claim.

Mr. Ozal and other government spokesmen stressed during a stormy five-day debate in parliament that the main purpose of the new law -- replacing an old one dating from 1934 -- is to enable police to deal with current problems: terrorism, political violence, and arms and drug smuggling.

``We have presented this bill in order to avoid the recurrence of the past,'' Mr. Ozal said. ``It is not intended [to be] against the people. On the contrary it is for the people''.

Ozal said that Turkey's experiences during the 1970s showed that terrorist and smuggling networks were closely cooperating to destablize and divide Turkey. The purpose of the new legislation is to enable the police to deal effectively with such activities, short of a military intervention.

The wave of terrorism in Turkey led to a military takeover in September 1980. Steps for the return to civilian rule were taken with the elections of November 1983, and since then the Ozal government has been trying to restore democratic life in the country. In fact martial law has been gradually lifted in several provinces (except the major cities) and restrictions on political activities and the press have been eased.

Ozal and his government ministers share the view that political extremists and militants might reappear and resume their activities unless necessary security measures are taken, while the Army returns completely to the barracks. He feels that with a well-organized and effective police force, this danger -- and the risk of driving the Army to intervene again -- can be averted.

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