ANKARA, Turkey, March 9 (UPI) — By-election results Sunday made Tayyip Erdogan eligible to form a new government that is likely to change lawmakers vote to allow the stationing U.S. troops in the country for a possible northern front against Iraq.

According to unofficial results of local elections in the eastern province of Siirt, the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Erdogan won about 84 percent of the votes cast and became a member of the Parliament.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul is now expected to resign and the president, under the constitution, would ask the leader of the majority party — Erdogan — to form a new government.

As the electors in Siirt cast their votes today Erdogan was talking with U.S. Ambassador Robert Pearson regarding plans for any war against Iraq.

On March 1, Parliament narrowly rejected a resolution to allow up 62,000 U.S. troops to be stationed on Turkish soil. Washington hoped to use its fellow NATO member as a staging point for a possible northern front against Iraq. A revised resolution is expected to be placed before the Parliament next week.

Erdogan’s new government with expected reshuffle as well as last week’s Turkish military declaration clearly backing the resolution, are likely to increase the chances of approval, political analysts noted.

Pearson, after the talks at the ruling AK party headquarters, said that he did not bring any proposal but came “to explain and clarify” certain misunderstandings.

Pearson also said that they have gone through all the details in the document on the three areas — economic, political and military — on which we have number of questions, he added.

Although the negotiations on the document of momentum of understanding are continuing, both sides have started military preparations and buildup near and across the border, in northern Iraq. A number of Turkish armored vehicles entered northern Iraq Sunday and arrived at Bemerni town where the Turkish base is set up, local agencies said.

The Turkish military convoy during the trip was escorted by members of Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of two main factions of the Iraqi Kurds.

Ships carrying U.S. cargo on Sunday unloaded at the southern port of Iskenderun, local media reported. The cargo was put onto trucks, which headed to a base at Gaziantep. Late last week, U.S. equipment was shipped to the southeastern town of Kiziltepe town of Mardin, close to the Iraqi border.

The expected encounter with Iraq aside, Sunday’s voting leaves Erdogan the task of tackled a struggling economy, the problem that soured the electorate on his predecessors. The economy badly needs the billions in compensation the United States is offering for the damage war with Iraq would be sure to cause, as happened after the Gulf War.

Erdogan also must weigh the cost to his popularity of retaining U.S. backing for a resumption of International Monetary Fund aid, even though it is linked to increasingly unpopular reforms, especially in Erdogan’s home region of Siirt.

President Bush has pledged continued support of Turkey regardless, but opposition to the U.S. request for help is widely seen jeopardizing that support.

Turkey is already working for better terms of trade with Saudi Arabia, also experiencing difficulty accommodating the realities of the threatened U.S. attack on Iraq.

Even without war, Turkey’s fledgling democracy, especially its tradition of a secular government, is seen to be at stake. Erdogan’s ruling political party has Islamic roots in a country where religion has traditionally been separated from government.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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