Columnists accused him of everything from naivety to incompetence to fickleness to letting religious groups influence his politics.

 

A columnist in the liberal daily Radikal, under the headline "How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot," wrote that Erdogan's "Justice and Development Party (AKP) has committed an act of great - very great - amateurishness".

 

The AKP, in the face of criticism from what the newspapers say is "public opinion" and EU leaders had dropped an attempt to introduce a motion making adultery a crime into an otherwise widely admired reform of its 78-year-old criminal code.

 

Erdogan was out of the country when his number two, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, and Justice Minister Cemil Cicek struck a deal with the main opposition, the social-democratic Republican People's Party (CHP), to drop the adultery clause.

 

Parliament approved the articles in the bill at record speed.

In a surprise move, the AKP pulled the bill back from the assembly floor after having approved 343 of its 346 articles, presumably to reintroduce the adultery clause, and effectively froze the reform.

 

The crisis came before a 6 October  report by the EU Commission that will recommend or not that EU leaders set a date in December for the start of membership talks with Turkey.

 

EU reaction

EU officials have said that both the failure of the penal code reform to be enacted and the inclusion of the adultery clause will harm Turkey's membership attempt.

  

In Brussels, the European Union's Commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, called on Ankara for "clarification" of the government's position, warning that failure to pass the bill on schedule would "have an impact" on the report.

 

He said he was "strictly against" any postponement in issuing the EU report. "I don't see any reason why we should delay," he said.

 

Bowed to pressure

 

Secular newspapers blame Erdogan
for endangering Turkey's EU attempt 

The latest twist of events has opened Erdogan's government up to criticism that it is being held hostage by hardliners.

 

"The correct diagnosis," wrote a columnist in the mass circulation daily Hurriyet, "is that the government failed to resist the pressure of the groups.

 

"The Prime Minister sends his number two to strike a deal with the opposition, then turns his back on it," he wrote. "How is he going to explain these discrepancies to the EU?"

 

An editorialist for another mass circulation daily, Sabah, wrote that Erdogan had succumbed to pressure from the party's grassroots was not an excuse for endangering Turkey's future relationship with the EU.

 

"Politicians become statesmen when, instead of running after their grassroots, go to the fore and open up new vistas for them," he wrote.
 

'Own goal'

Another columnist for the same paper asked, "Why did this happen? Why did the government ... score an own goal and muddle the minds of the EU?"

 

"The AKP, which has solved none of the country's important problems, uses the penal code and adultery to raise tensions at home and in relations with the EU," the leftist Birgun wrote on its front page.