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Blair Reaffirms Full Support for Turkish EU Membership - 2004-05-17


During a visit to Ankara, British Prime Minister Tony Blair reaffirmed his country's full support for Turkey's membership in the European Union, saying EU leaders must give the predominantly Muslim nation a date to begin accession talks at the end of this year.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr. Blair praised the Turkish government for adopting a wide range of democratic reforms since coming to power 18 months ago.

The British prime minister emphasized efforts made by Mr. Erdogan to help resolve the decades-old Cyprus dispute.

This was the first trip to Turkey by a British prime minister in 14 years.

A U.N. plan to reunify the island was shelved last month after Greek Cypriots voted against it. Mr. Blair said the political and economic isolation of the island's Turkish Cypriot minority, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of the agreement, should end.

Mr. Blair also touched on the latest developments in Iraq, and notably on the assassination just hours before his arrival in Ankara of the Iraqi Governing Council President, Izzidin Salim.

Mr. Blair said there could be no "cutting and running", as he put it, from Iraq, where Britain is a key member of the U.S.-led coalition

Mr. Blair said Monday's tragedy underlined once again the need to stay on in Iraq until stability and democracy are restored.

Prime Minister Erdogan voiced concern over human-rights violations by coalition troops in Iraq and echoed Mr. Blair's hopes for restoring order and democracy in the country. He said Turkey would do its utmost to help its southern neighbor achieve that goal.

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