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Published: Saturday, 4/5/2014


A test for Turkey

Turkey and its once admired prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are slipping from what was a few years ago a position of great promise in its region and the world.

Turkey is strategically located between East and West — a large, majority-Muslim nation with some Western ways and aspirations. That aspect seemed to suit Turkey ideally to serve as a bridge between the European Union and United States and the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

Turkey’s economy is still reasonably healthy. Yet questions about its leadership and future direction have dampened investor and trader enthusiasm.

Mr. Erdogan and his family are believed by many Turks, with some evidence, to be corrupt. Even though his AKP (Justice and Development) party has continued to do well at the ballot box, his reaction to criticism has been, in general, to take undemocratic actions against his critics and opponents.

Before last weekend’s municipal elections in Turkey, his government absurdly sought to suppress Twitter. That lack of political judgment was uncharacteristic of Mr. Erdogan and his party.

Still, Mr. Erdogan’s party finished first in the elections, with more than 45 percent of the vote. His party won in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, and Istanbul, its largest city, with only minor violence and charges of fraud.

But problems persist. Mr. Erdogan has been in power for 11 years. Turkey has taken a battering from the continuing war in Syria next door: About 700,000 refugees have fled across the border, stretching Turkey’s resources. Some Syrian rebels are operating out of Turkey, creating friction with the government forces of Syria’s president, Bashar Assad.

Turkey is also feeling the strain, as a NATO member across the Black Sea from Ukraine and Crimea, from the diplomatic conflict between Russia and the United States and other European nations. Based on its geography, Turkey could pay dearly for any heightening of hostilities.

Turkey can right itself fairly easily if Mr. Erdogan eases off on his defensive domestic measures, matters in Syria continue to cool, and the United States and Russia reach a reasonable accommodation on Ukraine. A Turkey restored to good operating health benefits everyone.

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