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EU Paves Way for Turkey's Accession with Stiff Conditions  - 2004-10-06

Turkish leaders struggled Wednesday to put a brave face on a landmark EU report that attaches unprecedented strings to its long-sought accession to the European club.

At a news conference in Strasbourg, France, Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, struck a confident note, saying he fully expected EU leaders to act on the recommendation by the EU's executive commission to start membership negotiations with Turkey. Turkey has fulfilled all its obligations, Mr. Erdogan said, and expects a positive result.

But top commission officials say they reserve the right to suspend negotiations with Turkey if Ankara backtracks in any way on implementation of democratic and human rights reforms that it has enacted to meet EU standards.

Mr. Erdogan argued that denying Turkish entry would prove that the EU was a Christian Club rather than a union of shared principles and values and would send a negative message across the Muslim world. If you are declaring that you are Christian club, then do so now, a defiant Mr. Erdogan said.

Back in Ankara, Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister, said an historic step has been taken for Turkey and for Europe.

Most Turks agreed Europe's true intentions would be revealed in December, when EU leaders are expected to deliver a final opinion on whether to open talks with Turkey.

Turkey has won strong praise from EU leaders for a set of wide-ranging reforms adopted by Mr. Erdogan's conservative Justice and Development Party. Over the past year the country's 12 million Kurds have been permitted to broadcast in their long banned language for the first time. Also, Christians can now open their own churches, albeit after jumping through a slew of bureaucratic hoops.

Still, analysts say, some of the provisions of Wednesday's report did not augur well for Turkey's prospects of joining the Union any time soon; in particular one that allows the EU to suspend talks with Turkey if it backtracks on reforms. Another provision calls for indefinite curbs on labor migration from Turkey into EU countries. This is the first time the EU has, in writing, called on a candidate country to meet such requirements.

Another proposal, this one by French President Jacques Chirac, has also provoked anger among Turks. Mr. Chirac says France should hold a referendum on Turkish entry. Mr. Erdogan described the French position as unfair and said it would destroy the motivation of Turkey to stay the course on economic and political reforms to get into the EU.

Resistance to accepting a large, poor and predominantly Muslim nation of 70 million has been growing across Europe particularly in France, Austria, Holland, Belgium and Hungary. European fears were further fanned by Mr. Erdogan's insistence last month on criminalizing adultery, a proposal he hastily shelved following sharp warnings from EU leaders.