Turkey to push for EU reforms

The Turkish parliament is to consider a set of reforms to boost its bid for European Union membership despite reported concerns among senior brass in its powerful army, the government announced Monday.

    The EU is expected to review
    Ankara's membership bid in 2004

    If approved, the bill would allow for the airing of Kurdish language radio and television programmes and would lift restrictions on the largest minority group to give their children ethnic names.

    It would also abolish an infamous article on "propagating separatism," which has been widely used to jail advocates of Kurdish rights.

    Some army generals are said to be concerned that certain reforms may play into the hands of Kurdish separatists and radical Islamists.

    The army officially supports the country’s EU bid. But a report from a senior general recently leaked to the press caused a stir raising questions over whether the army genuinely supported EU membership.

    Army officials were forced to publicly declare that the army did in fact back the government’s efforts to join the EU.

    When asked whether the government would also heed EU calls for reforms aimed at curbing the army's political influence, Cicek said: "Let's first pass this package. Work is underway on many issues."

    Concession

    The Justice and Development Party of Tayyib Erdogan made a concession by removing an article that would have allowed residential buildings to house places of worship.

    Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said the amendment was made to facilitate and regulate the activities of "non-Muslim missionary groups

    ."

    Groups, including the army had criticised the article, saying it would encourage Islamist groups to expand their activities.

    The government says the draft package is aimed mainly at expanding the rights of the Kurdish minority, freedom of expression and religious liberties.

    The EU is expected to review Turkey’s democratisation progress in December of 2004 before deciding whether they will open accession talks with the country.

    Turkey’s bid to enter the EU has been a sensitive topic for some European countries concerned about losing ‘European identity’ due to Turkey’s largely Muslim population.


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