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Turkey Angrily Defends Right to Join EU - 2002-10-10

Turkish leaders on Thursday reacted angrily to the European Union's failure to give Turkey a date to begin talks for full membership in the organization.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer described as unfair a report issued by the European Commission in Brussels that failed to include Turkey among the list of 10 applicant countries recommended for entry into the European Union.

Mr. Sezer said it was a political decision. The president argued that Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation, would help bridge cultural differences in Europe.

Turkey formally applied for full membership in the European Union in 1987. But the country has been denied entry so far, chiefly because of its human rights record. In 1999, EU leaders finally agreed to designate Turkey as an official candidate for membership.

Turkey has since been lobbying the European Union to set a date for beginning accession talks. And in August, the Turkish parliament enacted a set of sweeping reforms aimed at satisfying EU conditions for full membership. Capital punishment was abolished, except in times of war, and bans on broadcasting and education in the Kurdish language were lifted.

In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry insisted that Turkey deserved to be given a date for the launching of membership talks with the European Union as a result of such measures.

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, for his part, argued that the EU's decision to withhold a date was a clear warning to Turkish voters not to back what he termed anti-secular groups in nationwide elections that are due to be held on November 3.

According to recent opinion polls, the newly formed Justice and Development Party, led by Istanbul's former mayor, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is set to win the election. Many of that party's leading candidates were formerly part of an overtly pro-Islamic group that has been banned by Turkey's constitutional court over charges that it was seeking to introduce religious rule.

Meanwhile, Turkey's membership bid in the European Union was given a boost from its traditional rival Greece. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said in an interview Thursday that EU leaders should give Turkey a positive message when they meet for their last summit of the year in Copenhagen in December. Asked if Turkey should be given a specific date for starting accession talks, the Greek foreign minister responded: "Why not?"