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Turkey Adopts Democratization Package to Boost EU Membership Chances - 2003-06-19

Turkey's parliament approved a set of reforms Thursday that are aimed at strengthening the country's bid to become a full member of the European Union. Parliamentary approval of the bill came during a summit of EU leaders that began Thursday in Salonika, Greece.

The so-called "mini democratization package" is the sixth in a series of reform bills adopted in recent months. Under the bill, Turkey's estimated 12 million ethnic Kurds will be allowed to broadcast in their own language for the first time on private and state-run television and radio stations.

It also does away with a controversial anti-terror law that bans separatist propaganda and has been used to justify the jailing of thousands of politicians and journalists over the years.

In welcome news for Turkish women, the bill also scraps reduced sentences for so-called honor killings, the murders of women accused of bringing shame to their families for their involvement with men they are not married to.

Western diplomats hail the reforms, saying they will bolster Turkey's chances of beginning membership negotiations with the European Union. But many warn that the reforms will need to be fully implemented, in order for Turkey's case to be convincing.

Lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party say another bill is likely to be drafted in the coming days that will reduce the Turkish military's role in politics.

The military has seized power three times in the past four decades, and in 1997, forced out the country's first Islamist-led government, saying that it was seeking to introduce religious rule.

The army's continuing involvement in politics has been widely criticized by the European Union.