Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Ankara - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan took a step closer to strengthening his power in creating an executive presidency on Friday when the Constitutional Court rejected an opposition bid to amend the term of the current largely ceremonial president.

Opponents of Erdogan fear replacement of the current parliamentary system, the probable outcome of a constitutional review now in progress, would allot too much power to a man they view with suspicion for his Islamist background.

The court confirmed a government-backed law extending President Abdullah Gul's term, due to end in August, to 2014.

Had the bid by the CHP opposition to overturn the law succeeded, Erdogan could have been forced to stand for the presidency before introduction of any constitutional changes. He would then have found himself at least for a while in a largely powerless post.

Such a situation could also trigger power struggles within the AK Party, an amalgamation of conservative religious elements, centre right figures and nationalists.

Under a 2007 reform package presidents will in future be elected by a popular vote rather than by parliament.

Having overseen a decade of unprecedented prosperity in Turkey, Erdogan is easily the most popular politician with the country's new, conservative-minded middle class, and he would almost certainly win any election. The opposition is too fractured to mount a credible challenge.

But critics say he has amassed too great a degree of personal power after reforming courts and police and excluding from politics a powerful military that had toppled four governments since the early 1960s. - Reuters