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Turkey' Gul Gives Denmark PM Thumbs Up to Head NATO

Turkey said on Friday it was not opposed to Denmark's prime minister becoming the next head of NATO. That message was delivered by Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Brussels, where he was visiting to push Ankara's stalled candidacy to the European Union.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul praised Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, calling him one of the most important and successful prime ministers in Europe. Mr. Gul's remarks, made to reporters in Brussels, appeared to mark a turnaround.

Key NATO member Turkey was previously considered a stumbling block to Mr. Rasmussen's candidacy to be the next head of the Atlantic alliance. He is considered the favored candidate of Washington and a number of other NATO members to take over the post after outgoing NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer leaves steps down. NATO leaders gather on the French-German border next week to mark the alliance's 60th anniversary.

Mr. Gul's visit to Europe was largely to push Turkey's candidacy to join the 27-member European Union. Turkey's prime minister also visited the EU in January. Talks have slowed over a number of issues, including over EU member Cyprus which Turkey does not recognize. And several EU members have reservations about offering Ankara full membership status.

But the Turkish government is now working hard to convince them. On Thursday, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, praised Turkey for pushing reforms in a number of areas.

"As concerns political reforms, I welcome Turkey's intention to move ahead on political issues such the rules governing the closing of political parties and gender equality," he said. "It is also particularly important to pay attention to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and particularly freedom of the press. The independence and pluralism of the press are fundamental values in any democracy."

Mr. Barroso also praised Mr. Gul for paying a landmark visit to Armenia last year. The two countries have no ties and are at still at odds over the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman soldiers during World War I.

But he said it was important the Cyprus question was resolved.