EU Wants Turkey to Reform Before Joining Bloc

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The European Union plans to issue a highly critical report next week accusing Turkey of dragging its heels in political reforms and demanding significant improvements in 2007 if Ankara is to stay on track to join the bloc.

The draft report, seen by The Associated Press, says Turkey is failing to meet minimum human rights standards and cites problems in freedom of expression, women's and trade union rights and civilian control over the military.

While reported cases of torture and ill treatment are down, "the pace of reforms has slowed down," says the report which calls for "determined efforts" in 2007 to improve the situation.

The annual report by the European Commission, the EU executive, will be delivered to Ankara on Wednesday and comes at a time of increasing opposition to Turkish membership. Many Europeans are questioning the merit of bringing a large and poor Muslim nation into the bloc. Turkey's refusal to recognize EU member Cyprus is also proving a major obstacle.

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Turkey Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan said Turkish officials had not yet seen the report and that Turkey would withhold comment until the official text was released.

Finland, which holds the EU presidency, has threatened to suspend Turkey's entry negotiations unless Ankara drops its refusal to open its ports and airports to cargo from Cyprus. Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja met with Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, in Brussels on Friday in a frantic effort to defuse tensions.

The draft report is particularly critical of Turkey's resistance to amending Article 301 of its penal code which sets out punishments for insulting the Turkish Republic, its officials or "Turkishness."

That law has been used to press charges against dozens of authors, journalists, publishers and scholars, including the internationally known novelists Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak.

"It is necessary to ensure freedom of expression without delay by repealing or amending Article 301 of the penal code," the draft says.

It says "further efforts are needed to strengthen" freedom of religion, women's rights and trade union rights. It also highlights the "serious economic and social problems" of the Kurdish population and urges Ankara to do more "to ensure the full enjoyment of rights and freedoms by the Kurdish people."

It states that "civilian democratic control over the military needs to be asserted and law enforcement and judicial practice (must be) further aligned with the spirit of the reforms."