Turk army tells govt to go slow on EU reforms-paper

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ANKARA, Oct 1 (Reuters) Turkey's military has urged the government to move slowly on key reforms sought by the European Union, the Referans business daily said today.

Quoting unnamed officials, the paper said the generals had come out strongly at a recent meeting against any fresh moves on Cyprus, against repealing a law that curbs freedom of expression, and against a bill to help non-Muslim religious foundations.

''The General Staff is watching the reform process very closely and has asked the government to behave very sensitively on the issues of Cyprus, article 301 (of the penal code) and the foundations law,'' Referans said.

The paper said Lieutenant General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, head of the General Staff's planning and principles department, had relayed the go-slow message to Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and other senior officials at a meeting last month.

Despite a flurry of EU-inspired reforms aimed at curbing its influence, Turkey's army continues to insist on the right to speak out when it feels the secular system of government or vital national interests are at stake.

With public backing, the army ousted an Islamist-minded cabinet it deemed a threat to national security 10 years ago.

Turkey began EU accession talks in October 2005 but Brussels has halted negotiations in eight of 35 policy areas due to Ankara's refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from EU member Cyprus, a country Turkey does not recognise.

The army is especially opposed to concessions on Cyprus, where it keeps an estimated 30,000 troops stationed.

Cyprus has been split into an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north backed by Ankara since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded after a Greek Cypriot coup engineered by Athens.

EU officials had hoped the centre-right government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would revive Turkey's flagging reforms after his AK Party's decisive victory in July elections.

But Turkish officials have signalled in recent weeks that the government will not rush to please the EU despite the publication next month of the European Commission's annual progress report, which Ankara expects to be critical.

Even without the military pressure, analysts say, the government had shown little appetite to amend or scrap article 301, which makes it a crime to ''insult'' Turkish national identity or state institutions.

The article has been used by nationalist prosecutors against writers and journalists, including Nobel Literature Laureate Orhan Pamuk and slain Turkish Armenian editor Hrant Dink.

REUTERS SKB KN1532

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