President Suleyman Demirel escaped an assassination attempt today by a gunman reportedly angry about a recent Turkish-Israeli military agreement.
A presidential bodyguard and a newspaper reporter were wounded when the man, described as a militant Muslim, tried to shoot the president in the western Turkish city of Izmit.
Demirel, surrounded by bodyguards, had just delivered a speech at the opening of a shopping mall and had left the podium when an undercover guard spotted a man pointing a gun at the president, the semiofficial Anatolia news agency reported. Guards overwhelmed the assailant, and one shot was fired in the scuffle, the agency said.
Television footage showed Demirel, 71, being rushed from the chaotic scene as a Milliyet newspaper reporter, Ihsan Yilmaz, lay on the ground with a gunshot wound above the knee. The assailant was taken by car to a police station in Izmit, about 60 miles southeast of Istanbul.
The wounded bodyguard, Sukru Cukurlu, said, "If I had not jumped on the president, he would have been shot," the Associated Press reported.
The media identified the gunman as Ibrahim Gumrukcuoglu, 48, an Izmit pharmacist, and said he is known to be a militant Muslim. He reportedly was able to move within close range of the president by mingling with undercover guards.
Interior Minister Ulku Guney said the assailant told police he had acted to protest the Turkish-Israeli military cooperation accord signed in February that allows the Israeli air force to train in Turkey and provides mutual access to naval ports.
The agreement has been widely criticized in Turkey, which has a secular political system but whose population is mostly Muslim. The accord strengthened a new and growing partnership between the Jewish state and Turkey that includes increased economic ties and cultural exchanges.
Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the pro-Islamic Welfare Party, condemned the attack, calling it "a detestable act," the AP said.
Demirel has been on the Turkish political scene for more than 30 years. He rebounded after being ousted from politics following military takeovers in 1970 and 1980 and served a record seven terms as prime minister before becoming Turkey's ninth president in 1993.
Demirel is the second Turkish leader to survive an assassination attempt in the past decade. President Turgut Ozal was shot in the hand during an assassination attempt when he was prime minister in 1988.
Known as "Baba," or father, Demirel had his nose broken in the 1970s by an assailant who had a vendetta against the then-prime minister.
Today's attempt on Demirel's life comes amid considerable political uncertainty in Ankara, where a fragile governing coalition is near collapse.
The Welfare Party, narrow winner of indecisive parliamentary elections last December, was shut out of the government last March when two center-right parties, Motherland and True Path, formed a coalition. Welfare is an anti-Western, anti-establishment party whose commitment to Turkey's secular democratic system has been questioned. Fears that Welfare could come to power reportedly led the military and other powerful forces to urge Motherland and True Path to set aside a longtime rivalry and cooperate in a coalition.
The Welfare Party has since succeeded in driving a wedge between coalition members and has shown itself to be a formidable opponent. CAPTION: Bodyguards rush President Suleyman Demirel to a waiting car after a failed assassination attempt in Izmit, Turkey.