Fri, Nov 10, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Commission says Turkish EU talks may be suspended

AP , BRUSSELS

In a tough progress report, the European Commission threatened Turkey with possible suspension of membership talks unless Ankara does more -- by the middle of next month -- to protect human rights and implement a customs pact with EU member Cyprus.

The commission decided against recommending the immediate suspension of year-old entry talks with Turkey.

"We decided to give a chance for the diplomatic efforts to find a solution," Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday.

But Ankara must forge ahead with political and economic reforms -- "with full determination" -- and open its ports and airports to Cypriot goods before EU leaders meet at a Dec. 14-15 summit in Brussels, he said in a statement.

"Failure to implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations," Barroso said, adding that the bloc now expected "words to lead to deeds as soon as possible."

Ankara, however, insisted that Cyprus was a political issue that should have no bearing on Turkey's entry negotiations.

"The Cyprus problem is a political one and is not an obligation for the negotiation process, which is a technical one," the Turkish government said in a statement.

The commission, issuing a key progress report on EU membership talks a year after opening entry negotiations with Turkey, criticized Ankara's human rights record on torture and freedom of expression, and the pace of political reforms. It also cited a "slowdown" in its overall reform agenda.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Turkey was not backtracking on reforms -- but has not kept up the pace needed to qualify for membership.

New anti-torture laws went into effect, but cases of torture are "still being reported," Rehn's report said, adding that the bloc was concerned about reports of violations in southeastern Turkey, where the Kurdish minority has rioted in recent months.

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