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Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Europe welcomes Turkish reforms
Nationalist Action Party deputies voting
Nationalists tried to block the vote - without success
The European Commission has welcomed the Turkish parliament's "courageous" approval of a package of key democratic reforms.

We were looking to Turkey to take those steps long ago, but better late than never

Akif Bozat
Kurdistan National Congress
A statement by the commission described the package as "an important signal of the determination of the majority of Turkey's political leaders towards further alignment to the values and standards of the European Union".

But it added that the package still had to be carefully analysed and that its practical implementation would be carefully monitored.

Turkey's reform package
End the death penalty
Allow Kurdish broadcasts and education
End penalties for criticism of state institutions
Ease restrictions on public demonstrations
Ease restrictions for foreign organisations working in the country
Toughen measures against illegal immigration
Greater freedom for non-Muslim minority religions
The measures, which include abolition of the death penalty and the lifting of a ban on education and broadcasts in Kurdish, are designed to improve the country's chances of EU membership.

Turkey wants the EU to set a firm date by the end of the year when the country can start membership talks.

But the BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul says European officials are keen to dampen Turkish hopes of a speedy start to negotiations.

They say the culture of government is very different to that of other applicant states, with a lack of accountability and too much power in the hands of the military and security forces.

"We can give encouragement in the way we say that this is an important step forward in the right direction - that Turkey is a serious candidate for the membership of the EU," Elmar Brok, a member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told the BBC.

"But also we have to see that Turkey still has some way to go."

PM happy

European Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said the vote meant the EU's position on human rights and the protection of minorities was starting to pay off.

"Not to give in on these issues makes our partners better understand why we so strongly defend our values and that they are precious for us," he said.

Final parliamentary confirmation came after a marathon all-night session, and now only requires the formality of presidential approval to become law.

Abdullah Ocalan
Ocalan will escape the death penalty
Nationalist deputies strongly opposed the moves, seeing them as a concession to Kurdish rebels and their 15-year campaign for autonomy in the south-east of the country.

"We are happy that the death penalty is being lifted in Turkey," embattled Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said after the vote. "It is important that the EU's door opens up for Turkey."

The death penalty will be replaced by life imprisonment without parole, although it will remain on the statute books in wartime.

The change will save the life of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

< The largest group in parliament, the Nationalist Action Party, made Ocalan's execution the centre of its 1999 election campaign.

No executions have been carried out since 1984, although dozens of people are on death row.

Members of the party told parliament that the families of those killed by the rebel Kurdish PKK were watching the debate.

But such arguments failed to deter deputies from abolishing the death penalty by a large majority - a move which set the mood for further votes.

Kurdish welcome

Early on Saturday, parliament legalised Kurdish radio and television broadcasts - one of the most controversial elements of the reform package, which ends years of severe state restrictions.

The country's estimated 12 million Kurds will also be allowed to have private Kurdish-language education.

Kurdish representatives welcomed the moves.

"Our reaction has been very positive," exiled Kurdistan National Congress member Akif Bozat told the BBC.

"We were looking to Turkey to take those steps long ago, but better late than never. We are pleased to see reforms, and hopefully they will be applied in reality and put in practice."

The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"Entry into the European Union is the most important foreign policy goal"

Key stories



See also:

02 Aug 02 | Europe
03 Aug 02 | Europe
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