Turkey's Government Teetering

A long-running corruption scandal in Turkey picked up steam on Thursday, two days after taped accusations against the government were broadcast on television.

The minority government of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz looked set to fall after opposition deputies lodged censure motions and a coalition ally appeared to waver.

The motions, which accuse Yilmaz of abuse of power and ties to organized crime, were not expected to be debated before next week. Even Yilmaz appears to realize it's unlikely he can survive such a vote.

A crucial supporter in parliament, Deniz Baykal, withdrew his backing for the government following taped accusations by businessman Korkmaz Yigit of high-level graft in a $600 million state bank privatization tender this year.

Yilmaz has vowed to defend his conservative-led government against a barrage of censure motions that will not reach a head until late next week at the earliest.

"A prime minister should resign if he lies to the public. I have never lied," Yilmaz said in a live television broadcast on Wednesday. He said he would prove his innocence.

But Yilmaz hinted that he may not be able to maintain his rule.

"I am a minority government, I cannot resist. If Baykal withdraws support, that is the end of the government," Yilmaz said early Thursday on private Kanal D television.

Yilmaz still has a grace period of up to two weeks to avoid the government's collapse.

Pressure for Yilmaz's resignation built after a businessman linked to organized crime claimed the premier rigged the privatization of a state-run Turkbank by pledging him loans that would ensure his bid was the highest.

Yilmaz has said he wanted to keep organized crime out of the deal and was trying to get the highest price possible from the sale.

Yilmaz came to power in July 1997 after the military pressured an Islamic-led government out of office because of its anti-secular policies. With the Republicans' backing and at the military's urging, Yilmaz since has campaigned against radical Islam and organized crime.

Turkey has witnessed the collapse of three governments since the last elections, held in 1995. It was unclear who would be appointed to replace Yilmaz until elections scheduled for April.

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