Turkey's parliament has approved a ground breaking package of democratic reforms. Turkish leaders say the reform package sets the stage for Turkey to join the European Union.

The 14 point reform package abolishes the death penalty except in time of war. It also legalizes broadcasts and education in the Kurdish language.

The death penalty issue was fiercely defended by members of the far-Right Nationalist Action Party who share power in Turkey's three-party ruling coalition. Although nationalists command most seats in the 550 member chamber they failed to quash the measure that is hailed by Western diplomats as a major step towards raising Turkey's democracy to European Union standards. Under the new law some 50 death row prisoners will have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment once the package is approved by the country's president.

The nationalists have long campaigned for carrying out the death sentence handed to the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan. He was convicted of treason following his capture in 1999.

The nationalists also resisted easing bans on broadcasting in Kurdish and teaching the language. They predicted the reforms would reignite separatist sentiment among Turkey's estimated 12 million ethnic Kurds.

Some analysts say Ocalan's renouncement of his armed campaign for Kurdish independence during his trial and the relative peace that has prevailed in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeastern provinces since that time helped overcome the language ban.

The reform package also gives rights to own religious property to non-Muslim communities such as Greeks, Armenians and Jews.

Turkish lawmakers were apparently swayed by recent opinion polls showing that an overwhelming majority of Turks want to join the European Union and are willing to carry out the reforms demanded by the EU as a precondition for membership.