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10 04 2008 - EU toughens criticism against Turkey as AKP set to speed reforms
The head of the European Commission on Tuesday criticised Turkey's chief prosecutor's move to close the ruling party AKP, saying the process is "not normal" and added secularism can't be imposed. Jose-Manuel Barroso and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn will visit Turkey on Thursday. (UPDATED)

"This process is not a normal one. I am not an expert of the Turkish legal system. I am not discussing whether these events are in line with the law or not. I am telling you the EU's perspective, principles and criteria," he told in an interview with Turkish Kanal D on Tuesday.

Turkey's chief prosecutor filed a lawsuit against the AKP claiming the ruling party became the focal point of anti-secular activities and demanded its closure on March 14. This move raised political tensions and drew criticism from the EU.

Barroso said the EU was "surprised and concerned" by the lawsuit against the AKP. "We hope the (Constitutional Court) will make its decision under the rule of law and democracy," he added.

Barroso also told a news conference in Brussels on the eve of his departure for Ankara, "It is not normal that the party that was chosen by the majority of the Turkish people is now under this kind of investigation," adding that, "Europe can accept only a democratic Turkey, a Turkey where there is consensus on democratic values."

It is important that the state affairs and religion should be separated but secularism cannot be "imposed" on the people as if it was a religion and it cannot replace the beliefs, the head of the European Commission said.

Barroso said the EU would show the same reaction to any such cases in a European country and they want to work with Turkey, and support reforms in the country. He was not going to "teach lessons" to Turkey , adding he would review common responsibilities regarding Turkey's negotiation process and convey the European Commission's support to carry forward relations between Turkey and the EU, he said.

Several other EU officials repeated their criticisms regarding the lawsuit on Tuesday. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the prosecutor's move poses a "grave'' risk to Turkey's EU bid, while Rehn said Turkey's EU process would be "tested" as an anchor for political stability by the case.


Barroso and Rehn will pay an official visit to Turkey on April 10-12. The two EU officials are scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul as well as opposition leaders. Barroso also will make a speech to parliament.

The AKP government, under pressure due to the closure case, is set to give a new impetus to the EU process and as a first step sent a proposal containing along-awaited amendment to the controversial article of the Penal Code to parliament.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said on Wednesday the visit of Barroso and Rehn were scheduled 6-7 months ago. "So it is not related to the recent developments in Turkey," he told reporters in Istanbul.

Babacan said a decision to suspend the accession negotiations will be made by the EU however he expected common sense and rationality to dominate in Turkey. He added Turkey's EU process and reforms will be discussed with the EU officials during their visits.

Barroso said two more chapters will open during Slovenia's EU presidency and the union expect Turkey to continue reforms on freedom of expression, religious freedoms, cultural rights, civil control over political parties and the military.

The EU has opened six chapters in Turkey's accession negotiations, which started in 2005. The EU suspended negotiations in eight policy chapters because of Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels.


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