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Turkey's PM Says EU Membership on Track

Turkey's prime minister says his government remains fully committed to efforts to join the European Union.

In an interview with VOA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan brushed off criticism that his government has slowed down the pace of reforms as untrue and unfair. Four months after European Union leaders agreed to open membership negotiations with Turkey that are scheduled to start October 3, concerns are mounting among EU governments that Turkey is failing to implement a broad range of reforms it adopted over the past two years.

E.U. officials complain that, police brutality persists, non-Muslim minorities continue to face discrimination and the country's powerful military leaders still influence internal politics. Critics say Mr. Erdogan's failure to appoint an E.U. negotiator to lead talks with the European bloc so far is further proof of what they term his Islam-rooted government's reform fatigue.

In a recent interview with VOA, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called such criticism unfair, and said his government remains as committed as ever to leading Turkey into the European Union. He says it will do everything it needs to do to move the process forward.

Mr. Erdogan notes that, since coming to power two years ago his conservative Justice and Development Party has passed a set of laws that once seemed unimaginable. These include easing restrictions on the dialects spoken by Turkey's estimated 14-million Kurds and trimming the powers of the National Security Council, where until recently the military would dictate internal and foreign policy.

The Turkish premier acknowledges, however, that the mindset and attitudes of officials charged with implementing the laws also need to change. Mr. Erdogan points out that some of the new laws clash with Turkey's cultural traditions and that the process of adaptation will take time and patience.

He adds that the European Union is not always sincere in its dealings with Turkey. Take Cyprus for example, he says. Mr. Erdogan says the European Union continues to block trade with the Turkish Cypriots even though they backed a UN-sponsored plan last year to reunite the Mediterranean island as an E.U. member. The majority Greeks, who rejected the deal, were permitted to join the bloc last May on their own dimming hopes for a settlement. Bowing to E.U. pressure, Turkey this year finalized a free trade agreement with 10 new E.U. members, including the Greek Cypriots.

Turkish opposition leaders charge that this amounts to official recognition of the Greeks as the legitimate representatives of the whole island and to a betrayal of the Turkish Cypriots.

Greek Cypriots have begun talks with United Nations officials in New York to work out a new framework for re-launching peace negotiations. Greek Cypriot leaders have called on Turkey to withdraw its 35,000 troops from Turkish controlled northern Cyprus as a precondition for resuming the talks. Mr. Erdogan has ruled out any such move.