Turkey urged to re­sume talks with rebels, lift me­dia curbs

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BRUS­SELS: The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion urged EU can­di­date Turkey yes­ter­day to lift re­stric­tions on me­dia free­dom, re­spect hu­man rights and re­launch peace talks with Kur­dish mil­i­tants in the vi­o­lence-racked south­east of the coun­try. In its an­nual progress re­port on Turkey, whose decade-long ac­ces­sion talks with the Euro­pean Union have largely stalled, the Com­mis­sion also noted with con­cern Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan’s push for a con­sti­tu­tional over­haul that would give him much greater pow­ers.

But the EU ex­ec­u­tive’s crit­i­cisms were cloaked in diplo­matic lan­guage, re­flect­ing the po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity of deal­ing with a large, strate­gi­cally im­por­tant coun­try whose co­op­er­a­tion Brus­sels sorely needs in tack­ling Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis. “Turkey needs to move be­cause there are many ar­eas where they need to deal with ba­sic prin­ci­ples, the fun­da­men­tals,” EU en­large­ment com­mis­sioner Jo­hannes Hahn told the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, re­fer­ring to hu­man rights and free­dom of ex­pres­sion. The Com­mis­sion re­port comes at a dif­fi­cult time for Turkey, where fight­ing has re­sumed be­tween se­cu­rity forces and mil­i­tants of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party (PKK) af­ter the col­lapse of a cease­fire. Turks have also just handed Er­do­gan’s AK Party, in power since 2002, a fur­ther four years in power in a Nov 1 elec­tion that saw a sharp rise in so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ten­sions. “The Com­mis­sion hopes to see an end to the es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence in Turkey and the re­turn to ne­go­ti­a­tions on a last­ing so­lu­tion on the Kur­dish is­sue,” said Hahn, an Aus­trian politi­cian from the cen­tre-right.

As Hahn spoke in Brus­sels, Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu told state broad­caster TRT his new gov­ern­ment would pur­sue ma­jor eco­nomic, so­cial and ju­di­cial re­forms in the next six months, with­out giv­ing de­tails. He also called for an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­den­tial sys­tem. Er­do­gan’s crit­ics say his push for a stronger pres­i­dency in a coun­try where the head of state has mainly played a more cer­e­mo­nial role is ev­i­dence of his grow­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.

Mi­grants

The EU crit­i­cism of Turkey and of Er­do­gan, who served as prime min­is­ter for a decade be­fore mov­ing to the pres­i­den­tial palace, has been rel­a­tively muted due to the mi­grant cri­sis. The progress re­port, whose pub­li­ca­tion was de­layed un­til af­ter the elec­tion to avoid up­set­ting Er­do­gan and the mildly Is­lamist AK Party, praised Turkey for shel­ter­ing mil­lions of refugees flee­ing the civil war in neigh­bor­ing Syria. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, who vis­ited Is­tan­bul be­fore the vote, says there can be no so­lu­tion to the mi­gra­tion cri­sis with­out Turkey, which shares a long bor­der with Syria and Iraq.

The Com­mis­sion is ne­go­ti­at­ing a deal for Turkey to ab­sorb more Syr­ian refugees in re­turn for eas­ier visa ac­cess to the EU, cash and an ac­cel­er­a­tion of mem­ber­ship talks. As well as Turkey, the Balkan coun­tries of Mon­tene­gro, Ser­bia, Mace­do­nia, Bos­nia, Al­ba­nia and Kosovo are all seek­ing mem­ber­ship of the EU, the world’s largest trad­ing bloc. But ad­mit­ting Turkey, a mainly Mus­lim na­tion of 75 mil­lion peo­ple, has al­ways been much more con­tro­ver­sial. — Reuters

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