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Party tied to Islam takes over in Turkey

A party with Islamic roots formed Turkey's first majority government in 15 years Monday, promising to maintain close ties with the West and lift the country from its worst recession since World War II.

The new prime minister, Abdullah Gul, announced a 25-member Cabinet, and the government assumed power after it was approved by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

The Justice and Development Party won 363 of the 550 seats in elections Nov. 3. That majority means it will avoid much of the rancorous debate of the outgoing coalition government and shouldn't have as much trouble passing its programs.

"May it be beneficial for the country and the nation," Gul said. "May God not put us to shame."

The party has announced an ambitious reform agenda to eradicate torture, overhaul taxes and reduce the income gap between rich and poor.

Income has fallen dramatically in Turkey since an economic crisis cut the value of the lira by more than half and left some 2-million jobless over the past two years.

The government has also promised to fight corruption, lower inflation and increase privatization. It must present its program in the Parliament within a week before facing a confidence vote, which it is sure to win.

The only other party that won enough votes to get seats was the secular Republican People's Party, with 178 seats. Nine other seats went to independents.

The Justice and Development Party has tried to calm concerns it has a secret Islamic agenda. Gul, a moderate, has said he will prove to a skeptical West that a Muslim country can be democratic.

Tired of the ailing economy and corruption, Turks voted out five-time Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and his party, along with two coalition partners.

One of Parliament's first moves will likely be to amend the constitution so Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan can become prime minister. Erdogan was barred from running for Parliament because of a conviction for reading a poem that incited religious hatred.

Erdogan was visiting Athens and Madrid to lobby for Turkey's EU membership bid as the new government was formed.