The Turkish parliament has voted down a motion to allow the deployment of 62,000 US soldiers in the country for a possible attack on neighbouring Iraq, the parliament speaker announced.

'The motion has been rejected because it has failed the muster the necessary majority,' the parliamentary speaker, Bulent Arinc, said.

Of the 534 MPs present in the assembly hall, 264 voted in favour of the motion, 250 voted against and 19 abstained.

Parliamentary sources had earlier said the motion, which also proposes sending Turkish troops to northern Iraq, had been invalidated but this turned out not to be the case.

Government to consider a second vote

The Turkish government will debate whether it will ask parliament a second time to vote on allowing the deployment of US troops in Turkey ahead of a possible war in Iraq, Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said.

'We will sit down and evaluate whether to submit a new motion asking parliament's authorisation to allow US troops into the country,' Mr Gul told reporters.

US seeking 'clarification'

Officials in the US were reported to be stunned by the move.

A State Department spokesperson said America was 'seeking clarification and waiting to see what the Turkish Parliament's decision is'.

Protests in Ankara

Earlier thousands of protesters marched through the Turkish capital, urging parliament to reject the US request to use the country as a launch pad for an attack on Iraq.

Up to 20,000 people marched in central Ankara, making the rally one of the largest anti-war protest in Turkey.

Hundreds of riot police and several armoured cars blocked a main road leading to the parliament building.

Leader says deployment motion will not be withdrawn

Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan had said he saw no prospect of a motion on deploying US troops in Turkey for a war on Iraq being withdrawn, in comments ahead of the parliamentary debate on the issue.

Mr Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has already deferred the parliamentary vote from Thursday amid widespread concerns about the impact of any war on Turkey's borders, further delaying US military preparations.

Asked if he thought there was a possibility of the motion being withdrawn, Mr Erdogan replied: 'I don't see the possibility of anything like that. Nothing like that will happen.'

He was speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting of the AKP, which was gathering for a closed session to discuss the resolution before parliament is set to meet at 12pm.

He declined to comment on whether he thought the measure would pass.

Fearing turmoil on its borders and political conflict at home, Turkey has been reluctant to commit itself to a role in the war. But a rejection of the US troop request would mean losing billions of dollars in financial aid and being unable to influence the fate of northern Iraq, where it has vital interests.