EU urges Turkey reforms on freedom of expression

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BRUSSELS, Nov 6 (Reuters) The European Commission today said that Turkey must make ''significant further efforts'' on freedom of expression and religion to move forward in its bid for EU entry now it has overcome a constitutional crisis.

In an annual progress report on the European Union's biggest and most controversial candidate, the EU executive also demanded more effort to enable the mainly Kurdish population of southeastern Turkey to enjoy full rights and freedoms.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said democracy had prevailed over military intervention in politics in this year's crisis over the election of a new president, and Ankara must now renew the momentum of reforms that had slowed since 2005.

''The new momentum should now be used to relaunch the reforms to improve fundamental freedoms, particularly the freedom of expression and religious freedom, so that they prevail in all corners of the country and in all walks of life,'' Rehn said.

He recommended that the EU should not open accession talks with Turkey on the key policy area of justice and human rights until Ankara had repealed or amended what he called the ''infamous article 301'' of its penal code, used to prosecute journalists and intellectuals for ''insulting Turkishness''.

The report, issued amid tension between Turkey and Iraq over attacks by Turkish Kurdish separatists, highlighted the need for progress on the rights of Kurds, as well as women, children and trade unions and civilian oversight over the military.

Rehn strongly condemned terrorist attacks and said Turkey had the right to protect its population but urged Ankara and Baghdad to solve the crisis over cross-border attacks by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) through cooperation.

''It is important Turkey continues to work with Iraq, with regional authorities (in Kurdish northern Iraq) and with the international community in order to tackle this serious problem of terrorism by means of cooperation to achieve a political solution to this problem,'' he said.

Turkey began accession negotiations in 2005 but the EU suspended talks last December on eight of the 35 chapters into which EU law is divided after Ankara refused to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, elected in May, has said Turkey is not geographically in Europe and should not join the 27-nation bloc.

Rehn said the EU must stick to its word and open new negotiating chapters as and when they are ready to maintain the visibility and credibility of the accession prospects.

REUTERS SS HS1755

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