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Ex-pro Erdogan to join EU leaders in soccer match

Written by: Staff

VIENNA, May 5 (Reuters) Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan may make a playful pitch for European Union mimbership when he joins EU leaders to play a charity soccer match before a Vienna summit with Latin American leaders next week.

Erdogan is an ex-professional forward who earned the nickname ''Imam Beckenbauer'' in his playing days. He was invited to the summit as Turkey is a candidate for EU membership and will play in the May 11 match, Ankara's Vienna embassy said.

Match host Austria, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, is the most critical among the union's 25 member states of Turkish EU entry and 80 percent of all Austrians oppose Turkey joining the bloc, according to opinion polls.

Turks are huge soccer fans and were stunned when their national team did not make the World Cup that gets underway in Germany next month.

The charity match is to be held in a Vienna sports hall a day before the summit gets underway in earnest.

Players will also include Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, prime ministers Janez Jansa of Slovenia, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz of Poland, Calin Tariceanu of Romania, Ivo Sanader of Croatia and Sergei Stanishev of Bulgaria; and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, a former soccer professional in Finland.

Austria said each participating country was asked to bring a former international player to take the field as well.

Reuters PDS GC0932

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